“Right?” Suttung agreed. “I would have slaughtered them as payback, but they offered me Kvasir’s Mead instead. It is mine by right of wergild!”
“Oh.” That kind of took the wind out of my argument. “Still, that mead was created from the blood of Kvasir, a murdered god. It belongs to the gods!”
“So you would make things right,” the giant summed up, “by stealing the mead yet again for yourself? And killing my brother’s thralls in the process?”
I may have mentioned that I don’t like giant logic.
“Maybe?” I said. Then, in a stroke of genius, I thought of a signal for my avian allies: “EAT CROW!”
Sadly, the crows were slow to recognize my brilliance.
Suttung yelled, “DIE!”
Jack tried to intercept the ax, but it had gravity, momentum, and the force of a giant behind it. Jack did not. I dove aside as the ax split the field where I’d been standing.
Meanwhile, the crows had a leisurely conversation.
Why did he say “eat crow”? one cawed.
It’s an idiomatic expression, another explained. It means: to admit you were wrong.
Yes, but why did he say it? asked a third.
“RARRRR!” Suttung yanked his ax from the ground.
Jack flew into my hand. “We can take him together, señor!”
I really hoped those were not going to be the last words I ever heard.
Crows, one of the crows said. Hey, wait a minute. We’re crows. I bet that was the signal!
“Yes!” I yelped. “Get him!”
“Okay!” Jack yelled happily. “We will!”
Suttung raised his ax over his head once more. Jack pulled me into battle as the murder of crows rose from their tree and swarmed Suttung’s face, pecking at his eyes and nose and Frosted Flakes beard.
The giant roared, stumbling and blind.
“Ha, HA!” Jack yelled. “We have you now!”
He yanked me forward. Together, we plunged Jack into the giant’s left foot.
Suttung howled. His ax slipped from his hands, the heavy blade impaling itself in the skull of its owner. And that, kids, is why you should never use a battle-ax without wearing your safety helmet.
The giant fell with a thunderous THUD, right on top of the pile of thralls.
The crows settled on the grass around me.
That wasn’t very chivalrous, one remarked. But you’re a Viking, so I guess chivalry doesn’t apply.
You’re right, Godfrey, another agreed. Chivalry was more of a late-medieval concept.
A third crow cawed: You’re both forgetting about the Normans—
Bill, just stop, said Godfrey. No one cares about your doctoral thesis on the Norman invasion.
Shiny things? asked the second crow. We get shiny things now?
The entire murder peered at me with beady, greedy black eyes.
“Uh…” I only had one shiny thing—Jack, who was presently doing his victory dance around the giant’s corpse, singing, “Who killed a giant? I killed a giant! Who’s a giant killah? I’m a giant killah!”
As tempting as it was to leave him with the crows, I thought I might need my sword the next time a giant had to be stabbed in the foot.
Then I glanced at the pile of dead thralls.
“Right over there!” I told the crows. “Nine extremely shiny scythe blades! Will those do?”
Hmm, said Bill. I’m not sure where we’d put them.
We could rent a storage unit, suggested Godfrey.
Good idea! said Bill. Very well, dead mortal boy. It was nice doing business with you.
“Just be careful,” I warned. “Those blades are sharp.”
Oh, don’t worry about us, squawked Godfrey. You’ve got the most dangerous path ahead of you. You’ll only find one friendly port between here and the Ship of the Dead—if you can even call the fortress of Skadi friendly.
I shivered, remembering what Njord had told me about his estranged wife.
It’s a wretched place, Bill cawed. Cold, cold, cold. And no shiny things, like, at all. Now if you’ll excuse us, we have to start picking our way through all this carrion to get at those shiny blades.
I love our job, said Godfrey.
Agreed! squawked the other crows.
They fluttered over to the pile of bodies and went to work, which was not something I wanted to watch.
Before the murder could murder themselves on the scythe blades and blame me for it, Jack and I began our long hike back to the Big Banana.
OUR CREW had taken care of the other giant.
I could tell because of the badly hacked-up, decapitated giant body sprawling on the beach next to our dock. His head was nowhere to be seen. A few fishermen made their way around the corpse, holding their noses. Maybe they thought the giant was a dead whale.
Samirah stood grinning on the dock. “Welcome back, Magnus! We were getting worried.”
I tried to match her smile. “Nah. I’m fine.”
I explained what had happened with the crows and Suttung.
The hike to the ship had actually been pleasant—just me and Jack enjoying the meadows and rural back roads of Norway. Along the way, goats and birds had made critical comments about my personal hygiene, but I couldn’t blame them. I looked like I’d trekked through half the country and rolled down the other half.
“Kid!” Blitzen came running down the gangplank, Hearthstone right behind him. “I’m glad you’re okay—Oh, yikes!” Blitz stepped back hastily. “You smell like that Dumpster on Park Street.”
“Thanks,” I said. “That’s the smell I was going for.”
I couldn’t tell much about Blitz’s condition since he wore his anti-sun netting, but he sounded cheerful enough.
Hearthstone looked much better, like a solid day of sleep had taken the edge off our experiences in Alfheim. The pink-and-green scarf from Alex looped jauntily across his black leather lapels.
Stone was useful? he signed.
I thought about the pile of dead bodies we’d left in the valley. We got the mead, I signed. Couldn’t have done it without the w
Hearth nodded, apparently satisfied. You do smell, though.
“So I’ve been told.” I gestured at the corpse of the giant. “What happened here?”
“That,” Sam said, her eyes twinkling, “was all Halfborn Gunderson.” She yelled toward the deck of the ship, “Halfborn!”
The berserker was having a heated conversation with T.J., Alex, and Mallory. He looked relieved to come to the railing.
“Ah, there he is!” Halfborn said. “Magnus, would you please explain to T.J. that those thralls had to die? He’s giving Mack a hard time about it.”
Three things struck me about this:
The nickname Mack had been officially adopted.
Halfborn was defending Mallory Keen.
And, oh, right. It figured that T.J., being the son of a freed slave, might have a wee bit of a problem with us slaughtering nine thralls.
“They were slaves,” T.J. said, his voice heavy with anger. “I get what happened. I get the reasoning. But still…you guys killed them. You can’t expect me to be okay with that.”
“They were jotuns!” Halfborn said. “They weren’t even human!”
Blitz cleared his throat. “A gentle reminder, berserker. Hearth and I aren’t human, either.”
“Ah, you know what I mean. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Mack did the right thing.”
“Don’t defend me,” Mallory snapped. “That makes it so much worse.” She faced Thomas Jefferson Jr. “I’m sorry it had to happen that way, T.J. I really am. It was a bloody mess.”
T.J. hesitated. Mallory so rarely apologized that when she did, it carried a lot of force. T.J. gave her a grudging nod—not like everything was okay, but like he would at least consider her words. He glared at Halfborn, but Mallory put her hand on the infantryman’s shoulder. I remembered what Sam had said about T.J. and Halfborn once being enemies. Now I could see just how much they needed Mallory to keep them on the same team.
“I’m going below.” T.J. glanced over at the corpse of the giant. “The air is fresher down there.” He marched off.
Alex puffed out her cheeks. “Honestly, I don’t see that you guys had much choice. But you’ll have to give T.J. some processing time. He was already pretty miffed since we spent our morning searching Fläm and found nothing but tourists and troll souvenirs.”
Blitzen grunted. “At least we have the mead now. So this wasn’t all for nothing.”
I hoped he was right. Whether I could defeat Loki in a flyting…that remained to be seen, and I had the feeling that no matter how magical the mead was, my