location and prevent further breaches. We will reforge his bonds, making sure they are stronger than ever. The best dwarven smiths have agreed to undertake this task.”
“The best dwarven smiths?” Blitz asked.
Heimdall nodded enthusiastically. “We got a package deal on all four bindings from Eitri Junior!”
Blitz started to curse, but Hearthstone clamped a hand over his friend’s mouth. I thought for sure Blitzen would get up and start throwing expand-o-ducks in a fit of rage.
“I see…” said Samirah, clearly not excited about Odin’s plan.
“What about Sigyn?” I asked. “Will you let her stay by Loki’s side again, if she wants?”
Odin frowned. “I had not considered this.”
“It wouldn’t do any harm,” I said quickly. “She…she means well, I think. I’m pretty sure she didn’t want him to escape in the first place.”
The gods muttered among themselves.
Alex gave me a questioning look, no doubt wondering why I cared so much about the wife of Loki. I wasn’t sure myself why I felt it was important. If Sigyn wanted to be by Loki’s side, whether it was for compassion or some other reason, I figured it was the least the gods could do for her. Especially considering they’d murdered her kids and used the guts as chains for their dad.
I remembered what Loki had told me about good and evil, gods and giants. He had a point. I wasn’t necessarily sitting with the good guys. I was just sitting with one side of the final war.
“Very well,” Odin decided. “Sigyn may stay with Loki if she wishes. Any other questions about Loki’s punishment?”
I could tell that a lot of my friends wanted to stand up and say Yes. ARE YOU CRAZY?
But no one did. None of the gods raised objections or pulled out weapons.
“I must say,” Freya noted, “this is the best godly meeting we’ve had in centuries.” She smiled at me. “We try to avoid having too many of us together in one place. It usually leads to trouble.”
“The last time was the flyting with Loki,” Thor grumbled. “In Aegir’s hall.”
I didn’t like being reminded of Aegir, but it made me remember a promise. “Lord Odin, I—I was supposed to bring Aegir a sample of Kvasir’s Mead, as payment for him sort of not killing us and sort of letting us go, but—”
“Never fear, Magnus Chase. I will speak with Aegir on your behalf. I may even grant him a small sample of Kvasir’s Mead from my special reserve supply, assuming he’ll put me on the list for his Pumpkin Spice.”
“And me,” Thor said.
“And me,” said the other gods, raising their hands.
I blinked. “You…have a special reserve supply of Kvasir’s Mead?”
“Of course!” said Odin.
This raised some interesting questions, such as why had the gods made us run all around creation risking our lives to get that mead from the giants when Odin could have just handed me some? That simple solution probably hadn’t even occurred to Odin. He was a leader, not a sharer.
My father caught my eye. He shook his head like Don’t ask. Aesir are weird.
“Well, then!” Odin pounded his fist on the table. “I agree with Freya. This meeting has gone surprisingly well. We will take the walnut. We will send you heroes back to Valhalla to enjoy a great feast in your honor. Any other business before we adjourn?”
“Lord Odin,” Frey said. “My son and his friends have done us a great service. Shouldn’t we…reward them? Isn’t that customary?”
“Hmm.” Odin nodded. “I suppose you’re right. I could make them all einherjar in Valhalla! But, ah, most of them already are.”
“And the rest of us,” Sam added quickly, “would like to stay alive a little longer, Lord Odin, if you don’t mind.”
“Well, there you are!” Odin said. “As a reward, our living heroes will get to stay alive! I’ll also give you each five autographed copies of my new book, Motivational Heroism. As for the einherjar, in addition to the celebratory feast and the books, I’ll throw in a complimentary Hotel Valhalla Turkish bathrobe for each of you! Eh?”
Odin seemed so pleased with himself, none of us had the heart to complain. We just nodded and smiled halfheartedly.
“Hmm, Turkish bathrobe,” T.J. said.
“Hmm, staying alive,” Blitz said.
Nobody mentioned the autographed motivational books.
“Finally, Magnus Chase,” said the All-Father, “I understand you were the one who stood toe-to-toe with Loki and took the brunt of his withering insults. Would you ask any special boon of the gods?”
I gulped. I looked around at my friends, trying to let them know that I didn’t find it fair for me to get special treatment. Defeating Loki had been a group effort. That was the whole point. Waxing poetic about our team was what got Loki trapped, not my skill itself.
Besides, I didn’t keep a list of boons in my back pocket. I was a man of few needs. I was happy being boonless.
Then I recalled my Uncle Randolph’s last act of atonement, trying to steer me toward Kvasir’s Mead. I thought about how sad and lonely his house seemed now, and how happy and peaceful I’d felt on the roof deck with Alex Fierro. I even remembered a bit of advice Andvari’s ring had whispered in my mind, right before I’d given the golden treasure back to the fish.
Othala. Inheritance. The hardest rune of all to make sense of.
“Actually, Lord Odin,” I said, “there is one favor I would ask.”
YOUR TYPICAL trip back home.
Golf-cart rides, trying to remember where we parked our warship, sailing into the treacherous mouth of an unknown river, getting sucked into rapids that shot us into the tunnels underneath Valhalla, jumping off a moving ship and watching the Big Banana disappear into the darkness, no doubt on its way to pick up the next lucky group of adventurers bound for glory, death, and Ragnarok-postponing shenanigans.
The other einherjar welcomed us as heroes and carried us to the feast hall for a big celebration. There we found that Helgi had arranged a special surprise for Samirah, thanks to a tip-off from Odin himself. Standing by our regular table, looking very confused, wearing a name tag around his neck that proclaimed VISITOR. MORTAL! DO NOT KILL! was Amir Fadlan.
He blinked several times when he saw Sam. “I—I am so confused. Are you real?”
Samirah tented her hands over her face. Her eyes teared up. “Oh. I’m real. I so want to hug you right now.”
Alex gestured at the crowds pouring in for dinner. “You’d better not. Since we’re all your extended family here, you’ve got several thousand heavily armed male chaperones present.”
I realized Alex was including himself in that group. At some point during the voyage home, he had shifted to male.
“This is…” Amir looked around in wonder. “Sam, this is where you work?”
Samirah made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a joyful sob. “Yes, my love. Yes, it is. And it’s Eid al-Fitr, isn’t it?”
Amir nodded. “Our families are planning dinner together tonight. Right now. I didn’t know if you would be free to—”
“Yes!” Samirah turned to me. “Would you give my apologies to the thanes?”
“No apologies necessary,” I assured her. “Does this mean Ramadan is over?”
I grinned. “Sometime this week, I am taking you out for lunch. We’re going to eat in the sunlight and laugh and laugh.”
“Deal!” She spread her arms. “Air hug.”
“Air hug,” I agreed.
Alex smirked. “Looks like they’ll need me for chaperone duty, if you all will excuse me.”
I didn’t want to excuse him, but I didn’t have much choice. Sam, Amir, and Alex rushed off to celebrate Eid and eat massive quantities of tasty food.
For the rest of us, the evening was all about drinking mead, getting patted on the back a few thousand times, and hearing the thanes give speeches about how great we were, even if the quality of heroes was much better back in
their day. Above, in the branches of the Tree of Laeradr, squirrels and wombats and tiny deer ran around as usual. Valkyries zipped here and there serving food and mead.
Toward the end of the feast, Thomas Jefferson Jr. tried to teach us some of his old marching songs from the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts. Halfborn Gunderson and Mallory Keen alternately threw plates at each other and rolled around in the aisles, kissing, while the other Vikings laughed at them. It made my heart glad to see them together again…though it also made me feel a little empty.
Blitzen and Hearthstone had become such fixtures in Valhalla that Helgi announced they were being made honorary hotel guests, free to come and go as they pleased, though he made a point of saying they did not have rooms, or minibar keys, or any sort of immortality, so they should act accordingly and avoid flying projectiles. Blitz and Hearth were given large helmets that said HONORARY EINHERJI, which they didn’t look too happy about.
As the party was breaking up, Blitzen clapped me on the back, which was sore from all the other clapping that my back had received that night. “We’re heading out, kid. Gotta get some sleep.”
“You guys sure?” I asked. “Everybody is heading to the after-party. We’re doing a tug-of-war over a lake of chocolate.”
Sounds fun, Hearthstone signed. But we will see you tomorrow. Yes?
I knew what he was asking: Was I really serious about following through with my plan—the favor I’d asked Odin?
“Yeah,” I promised. “Tomorrow it is.”
Blitz grinned. “You’re a good man, Magnus. This is going to be awesome!”
The tug-of-war was fun, though our side lost. I think that’s because Hunding was our anchor and he wanted to bathe in chocolate.
At the end of the night, exhausted, happy, and doused in Hershey’s syrup, I staggered back to my room. As I passed Alex Fierro’s door, I stopped for a moment and listened, but I heard nothing. He was probably still out enjoying Eid al-Fitr with Sam and Amir. I hoped they were having a great celebration. They’d earned it.