“Ah, yes.” Red frowned at us. “Sorry, my new friends, but by helping us, you have clearly trespassed on our master’s field, and so you are not our friends and we must kill you.”
I wasn’t a fan of this giantish logic. Then again, we’d just given nine huge enemies sharper weapons to kill us with, so I wasn’t in a position to criticize.
“Hold on, boys!” Mallory shouted. She waggled the whetstone between her fingertips. “Before you kill us, you should decide who gets the stone!”
Red frowned. “Who gets…the stone?”
“Well, yes,” Mallory said. “Look, the field is already growing back!”
Sure enough, the wheat stubble was already up to the giants’ ankles.
“You’ll need the whetstone to keep your blades sharp,” Mallory continued. “Otherwise they’ll just get dull again. The wheat will eventually grow back as high as it was before, and you won’t have any more breaks.”
“And that would be bad,” Red concluded.
“Right,” Mallory agreed. “You can’t share custody of the stone, either. It can only be owned by one of you.”
“Really?” said Tattoo. “But why?”
Mallory shrugged. “Those are the rules.”
Red nodded sagely. “I think we can trust her. She has red hair.”
“Well, then!” Mallory said. “Who gets it?”
All nine thralls shouted, “ME!”
“Tell you what,” Mallory said, “how about a toss-up? Whoever catches it wins.”
“That sounds fair,” Red agreed.
I saw where this was going a little too late. Sam said uneasily, “Mallory…”
Mallory tossed the stone above the thralls’ heads. All nine rushed in to catch it, piling into each other while holding sharp, long, awkward blades. In such a situation, what you end up with is a large pile of dead thralls.
Sam stared wide-eyed at the scene. “Wow. Mallory, that was—”
“Did you have a better idea?” Mallory snapped.
“I’m not criticizing. I just—”
“I killed nine giants with one stone.” Mallory’s voice sounded hoarse. She blinked as if sparks from the whetstone were still flying in her eyes. “I think that’s pretty good for a day’s work. Now come on. Let’s open those doors.”
I DIDN’T think Mallory was as okay with killing the thralls as she let on.
When we failed to open the doors with Jack, brute force, or any amount of yelling open sesame, Mallory screamed in rage. She kicked one of the doors, broke her foot, then hopped off cursing and crying.
Samirah frowned. “Magnus, go talk to her.”
“Why me?” I didn’t like the way Mallory was slashing the air with her knives.
“Because you can heal her foot,” Sam said, annoyingly sensible as usual. “And I need time to think about this door problem.”
That didn’t strike me as a good trade-off, but I went, Jack floating along next to me, saying, “Ah, Norway! Good memories! Ah, a pile of dead thralls! Good memories!”
I stopped just out of reach of Mallory’s knives. “Hey, Mack, can I heal that foot for you?”
She glowered. “Fine. Seems to be Heal Mallory’s Stupid Injuries day.”
I knelt and put my hands on her boot. She cursed when I mended the bones, popping them back into place with a burst of summery magic.
I rose warily. “How you doing?”
“Well, you just healed me, didn’t you?”
“I wasn’t talking about the foot.” I gestured toward the dead thralls.
She scowled. “I didn’t see any other way. Did you?”
In truth, I didn’t. I was pretty sure Mallory’s solution was the way we’d been meant to use the whetstone. The gods, or our wyrd, or some twisted sense of Nornish humor had dictated that we would sail halfway across the world, undergo many hardships to win a gray rock, then use it to trick nine miserable thralls into killing one another.
“Sam and I couldn’t have done it,” I admitted. “You’re the doer, just like Frigg said.”
Jack floated over, his blade shuddering and warbling like a hand saw. “Frigg? Oh, man, I don’t like Frigg. She’s too quiet. Too devious. Too—”
“She’s my ma,” Mallory grumbled.
“Oh, that Frigg!” Jack said. “Yeah, she’s great.”
“I hate her,” Mallory said.
“Gods, me too!” Jack commiserated.
“Jack,” I said, “why don’t you go check on Sam? Maybe you can advise her on getting through those doors. Or you could sing to her. I know she’d love that.”
“Yeah? Cool!” Jack zoomed off to serenade Sam, which meant Sam would want to hit me later, except it was Ramadan, so she had to be nice to me. Wow, I was a bad person.
Mallory tested her weight on her foot. It seemed to work fine. I did good healing for a bad person.
“I’ll be okay,” she said, without much confidence. “Just been a lot for one day. Learning about Frigg, on top of…everything else.”
I thought about Mallory and Halfborn’s constant arguments on the ship. I did not understand their relationship, but I knew they needed each other as much as Hearthstone needed Blitzen or our Viking boat needed to be yellow. It didn’t make much sense. It wasn’t easy. But it was just the way things had to be.
“It’s eating him up inside,” I told her. “You two arguing.”
“Well, he’s a fool.” She hesitated. “I mean…assuming you’re talking about Gunderson.”
“Smooth, Mack,” I said.
“Shut up, Beantown.” She marched off to check on Sam.
At the doors, Jack was trying to help by suggesting songs he could sing to inspire new ideas for getting inside: “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “I Got the Keys,” or “Break on Through (to the Other Side).”
“How about none of the above?” Sam said.
“‘None of the Above’…” Jack mused. “Is that by Stevie Wonder?”
“How’s it going, guys?” I asked. I didn’t know if it was physically possible to strangle a magic sword, but I didn’t want to see Sam try.
“Not well,” she admitted. “There’s no lock. No hinges. No keyhole. Jack refuses to try cutting through the iron—”
“Hey,” Jack said. “These doors are a masterpiece. Look at that craftsmanship! Besides, I’m pretty sure they’re magic.”
Sam rolled her eyes. “If we had a drill, maybe we could make a hole in the iron and I could slither through as a snake. But since we don’t have a drill—”
From the other side of the doors, a woman’s voice called, “Have you tried prying apart the seam?”
We all jumped back. The voice had sounded very close to the door, as if the woman had been listening with her ear pressed to the metal.
Jack quivered and glowed. “She speaks! Oh, beautiful door, speak again!”
“I’m not the door,” said the voice. “I am Gunlod, daughter of Suttung.”
“Oh,” Jack said. “That’s disappointing.”
Mallory put her mouth to the door. “You’re Suttung’s daughter? Are you guarding the prisoner?”
“No,” Gunlod said. “I am the prisoner. I’ve been locked in here all by myself for…Actually, I’ve lost track of time. Centuries? Years? Which is longer?”
I turned to my friends and used sign language, which was helpful even when there wasn’t a Hearthstone around. Trap?
Mallory made a V and whacked the back of her hand against her forehead, meaning stupid. Or duh.
Not much choice, Sam signed. Then she called through the doors, “Miss Gunlod, I don’t suppose there’s a latch on the inside? Or a bolt you could turn?”
“Well, it wouldn’t be a very good prison if my father put a latch or a bolt where I could reach it. He usually just yanks the doors open with my Uncle Baugi. It takes both of them with their super giant strength. You don’t have two people out there with super giant strength, by chance?”
Sam sized me up. “I’m afraid not.”
I stuck out my tongue at her. “Miss Gunlod, is Kvasir’s Mead in there with you, by chance?”
“A little,” she said. “Most of it was stolen by Odin a long time ago.” She sighed. “What a charmer he was! I let him get away, which of course is why my father locked me up. But there’s still some left at the bottom of the last vat. It’s my father’s most prized possession. I suppose you want it?”
“That would be great,” I admitted.
Mallory elbowed me in the ribs. “If you could help us, Miss Gunlod, we’d be happy to free you, too.”
“How sweet!” said Gunlod. “But I’m afraid my freedom is impossible. My father and my uncle have bound my life force to this cave. That’s part of my punishment. I would die if I tried to leave.”
Sam winced. “That seems a bit harsh.”
“Yes.” Gunlod sighed. “Though I did give the most valuable elixir in the Nine Worlds to our greatest enemy, so…there’s that. My son tried to undo the spell on the cave, but even he failed. And he’s the god Bragi!”
Mallory’s eyes widened. “Your son is Bragi, god of poetry?”
“That’s him.” Gunlod’s voice filled with pride. “He was born here, nine months after Odin visited me. I may have mentioned, Odin was a charmer.”