The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard 1) - Page 30


‘Of course it didn’t work,’ Gjalp growled. ‘You never do that trick right. I told you, it has to be something without a back, like a stool. And we should have installed those spikes in the ceiling.’

‘You were trying to kill us!’ I said. ‘That can’t be in the rules for good hosts.’

‘Kill you?’ Gjalp looked offended. ‘That’s an absolutely baseless accusation. My sister only did as you requested. She asked your permission to raise the chair.’

‘You just said it was a trick.’

‘Did I?’ Gjalp blinked. Up close, her heavily mascaraed lashes looked like the obstacle course for a mud run. ‘Pretty sure I didn’t.’

I looked at the Sword of Summer, which was still in my hand. ‘Jack, have they broken the host rules yet? Because trying to kill us seems kinda borderline.’

‘Not unless they admit their intent,’ Jack said. ‘And they’re saying it was an accident.’

The giantesses both straightened.

‘A talking sword?’ Gjalp said. ‘Well now, that’s interesting.’

‘You sure I can’t raise your chair for you again?’ Griep offered. ‘I could run to the kitchen and get a stool. It’s no trouble.’

‘Honoured hosts,’ Sam said, her voice shaky, ‘please put us gently and safely on the top of your table, so we may barter with you.’

Griep muttered unhappily, but she did as Sam asked. The giantess deposited us next to her fork and knife, which were roughly the same size as me. Her mug would’ve made a fine water tower for a rural town. I just hoped it wasn’t named Boom Daddy.

‘So …’ Griep plopped back in her chair. ‘You want freedom for the swan? You’ll have to wait until our father gets home to negotiate terms. She is his prisoner, not ours.’

‘She’s a Valkyrie, of course,’ Gjalp added. ‘Flew in our window last night. She refuses to show her true form. Thinks she can fool us by staying in that silly swan costume, but Dad is too clever for her.’

‘Bummer,’ I said. ‘Well, we tried.’

‘Magnus …’ Sam chided. ‘Gracious hosts, will you at least consent not to kill the swan until we’ve had a chance to speak with Geirrod?’

Gjalp shrugged. ‘Like I said, her fate is up to Dad. He might let her go if you surrendered yourselves in exchange, but I don’t know. We need something spicy for the stew tonight.’

‘Let’s put a pin in that,’ I said.

‘Which is only an expression,’ Sam added hastily. ‘By no means is my friend granting you permission to put a pin in anything, especially us.’

‘Nice save,’ I told her.

Sam gave me a you’re-such-an-idiot look. I was getting used to that.

Gjalp crossed her arms, forming a new mesa against her chest. ‘You said you also wanted to barter for a stolen weapon?’

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Something thunder-goddish, if you have it – not that any particular thunder god is missing any particular weapon.’

Griep cackled. ‘Oh, we have something like that … something that belongs to Thor himself.’

Since Thor wasn’t there to creatively cuss, Sam did the honours, muttering a few comments that I doubted her grandparents would’ve approved of.

‘Those are just expressions,’ I added hastily. ‘In no way was my friend giving you permission to do … any of those rude and colourful things. Will you barter with us for the h– for the weapon you spoke of?’

‘Of course!’ Gjalp grinned. ‘In fact, I’d like to wrap up these negotiations quickly since my sister and I have an appointment –’

‘With hot frost-giant twins,’ Griep said.

‘– so we’ll make you a fair deal,’ Gjalp continued. ‘We’ll give you Thor’s weapon for that lovely talking sword. And we’ll release the swan – I’m pretty sure Dad will be okay with that – as long as you give yourselves in exchange. You won’t get a better deal than that.’

‘That’s hardly a deal,’ Sam growled.

‘Then you can refuse,’ Griep said, ‘and leave in peace. It’s all the same to us.’

Jack thrummed indignantly, his runes glowing. ‘Magnus, you’d never give me up, right? We’re friends! You’re not like your dad – not gonna toss me aside as soon as you see something you like better?’

I thought about Loki’s suggestion that I give the sword to my Uncle Randolph. At the time, I’d actually been tempted. Now, the idea seemed impossible – and only partly because the giantesses wanted to put us in a cage and have us for dinner. Jack had saved our lives at least twice now. I liked him, even if he did occasionally call me señor.

An alternative came to me. A bad idea, yes, but better than the giants’ offer.

‘Jack,’ I said, ‘hypothetically speaking, if I told these giantesses how we killed their sister, would that break the rules of guest etiquette?’

‘What?’ Gjalp cried.

Jack’s runes glowed a more cheerful shade of red. ‘No etiquette problem there, my friend, because that happened before we were guests here.’

‘Okay.’ I smiled at the giantesses. ‘We killed your sister – big ugly lady, trying to block the river and drown Thor? Yeah. She’s dead now.’

‘LIES!’ Gjalp shot to her feet. ‘Puny humans! You could not possibly have killed our sister!’

‘Actually, my sword flew up her nose and scrambled her brains.’

Griep howled in outrage. ‘I should have crushed you like bugs! Curse my lack of a stool and strategically placed ceiling spikes!’

I’ll admit, having two giantesses tower over me bellowing death threats was a wee bit unnerving.

But Sam kept her cool.

She pointed her axe accusingly at Griep. ‘So, you were trying to kill us just now!’

‘Of course, you dolt!’

‘Which violates the rules of hosts.’

‘Who cares?’ Griep cried.

‘Magnus’s sword does,’ Sam said. ‘Jack, did you hear that?’

‘I sure did. I’d like to point out, though, that the effort required to kill these two giantesses might be too much –’

‘Do it!’ I hurled the sword.

Jack spiralled upward, straight into Griep’s right nostril and out of her left. The giantess collapsed, shaking the room at 6.8 on the Richter scale.

Gjalp stifled a scream. She covered her nose and mouth and stumbled around as Jack tried in vain to stab his way through her fingers.

‘Oh, this one is getting smart!’ Jack yelled. ‘A little help over here?’

‘Magnus!’ Sam pushed the giantess’s steak knife to the edge of the table until the blade extended like a diving board.

I got what she wanted me to do. It was stupid crazy, but I didn’t give myself time to reflect. I ran full tilt at the knife and jumped towards the end of the blade.

Sam yelled, ‘Wait!’

By then I was already in mid-air. I landed on the knife, which catapulted upward as I dropped. The plan worked, sort of. I landed on the empty seat of the chair, which was not far enough down to kill me, but was enough to break my leg. Hooray! The pain drove a hot nail up the base of my spine.

Gjalp got it worse. The spinning steak knife hit her in the chest. It didn’t impale her. It didn’t even go through her dress, but the poke was enough to make her yell. She lowered her hands, grabbing instinctively for her chest, which allowed Jack full access to her nose.

A second later, Gjalp was lying dead on the floor next to her sister.

‘Magnus!’ Sam lowered herself off the table and dropped next to me on the chair. ‘You fool! I wanted you to help me throw a salt shaker on the blade! I didn’t expect you to jump on it yourself!’

‘You’re welcome.’ I grimaced. ‘Also, ow.’

‘Is it broken?’

‘Yeah. Don’t worry, I’m a fast healer. Give me an hour –’

‘I don’t think we have –’ Sam started to say.

From the next room, a deep voice boomed, ‘Girls, I’m home!’

FIFTY-FIVE

I’m Carried into Battle by the First Dwarven Airborne Division

There’s never a great time for Daddy Giant to come home.

But when you’re sitting in his dining room with your leg broken, the corpses of two of his daughters sprawled nearby … that’s an especially bad time. Sam and I stared at each other as the giant’s footsteps echoed louder and louder in the next chamber.

Sam’s expression said: I got nothing.

I, also, had nothing.

Which is exactly the sort of moment when you might welcome a dwarf, an elf and a swan parachuting onto your chair. Blitzen and Hearth were lashed side-by-side in the harness, with Gunilla the waterfowl cradled in Hearthstone’s arms. Blitzen pulled the steering toggles and executed a perfect landing. Behind him pooled the parachute – a swathe of turquoise silk that exactly matched Blitz’s suit. That was the only fact about his entrance that did not surprise me.

‘How?’ I asked.

Blitzen scoffed. ‘Why do you look so amazed? You distracted those giantesses long enough. I’d be a poor dwarf indeed if I couldn’t rig a grappling hook, shoot a line from the window to the birdcage, shimmy across, free the swan and use my emergency parachute to get down here.’

Sam pinched her nose. ‘You’ve had an emergency parachute this entire time?’

‘Don’t be silly,’ Blitzen said. ‘Dwarves always carry emergency parachutes. Don’t you?’

‘We’ll talk about this later,’ I said. ‘Right now –’

‘Girls?’ called the giant from the next room. His speech sounded a little slurred. ‘Wh-where are you?’

I snapped my fingers. ‘Come on, guys, options. Sam, can you and Gunilla camouflage us?’

‘My hijab can only cover two people,’ Sam said. ‘And Gunilla … the fact that she’s still a swan might indicate she’s too weak to change back to normal.’

The swan honked.

‘I’ll take that as a yes,’ Sam said. ‘It could be a few hours.’

‘Which we don’t have.’ I looked at Hearth. ‘Runestones?’

No strength, he signed, though he hardly needed to tell me that. He was upright and conscious but still looked like he’d been run over by an eight-legged horse.

‘Jack!’ I called to the sword. ‘Where is Jack?’

From the table above us, the sword yelled, ‘Dude, what? I’m washing off in this goblet. Give a guy some privacy, huh?’

‘Magnus,’ Sam said, ‘you can’t ask him to kill three giants in a row. That much effort really will kill you.’

In the next room, the footsteps got louder. The giant sounded like he was stumbling. ‘Gjalp? Griep? I swear – HIC! – if you’re texting those frost-giant boys again, I will wring your necks!’

‘The floor,’ I decided. ‘Get me to the floor!’

Blitzen scooped me up, which almost made me black out from pain. He yelled, ‘Hang on!’ and leaped from the chair, somehow managing to paraglide me down safely. By the time I regained my senses, Sam, Hearth and his new pet swan were standing next to us, apparently having used the chair leg as a fire pole.

I shivered with nausea. My face was slick with sweat, and my broken leg felt like one enormous open blister, but we had no time for minor concerns like my unbearable pain. Across the threshold of the dining-room door, the shadows of the giant’s feet got closer and darker, though they did seem to be weaving back and forth.

‘Blitzen, carry me under that door!’ I said. ‘We have to intercept Geirrod.’

‘Excuse me?’ asked the dwarf.

‘You’re strong! You’re already holding me. Hurry!’

Grumbling, he jogged towards the door, every bounce sending a stab of pain into the base of my skull. The parachute slithered behind us. Sam and Hearth followed, the swan honking unhappily in Hearthstone’s arms.

The doorknob started to turn. We ducked under the sill and charged out the other side, right between the giant’s feet.

I yelled, ‘HI! HOW YA DOING?’

Geirrod stumbled back. I guess he hadn’t been expecting to see a paratrooper dwarf carrying a human, followed by another human and an elf holding a swan.

I wasn’t prepared for what I saw either.

For one thing, the room we entered was about half the size of the one we’d just left. By most standards, the hall would’ve been considered grand. The black-marble floor gleamed. Rows of stone columns were interspersed with iron braziers filled with burning coals like dozens of barbecue grills. But the ceilings were only about twenty-five-feet tall. Even the door we’d come through was smaller on this side, though that made no sense.

Squeezing back under the sill would be impossible. In fact, I didn’t see how Gjalp or Griep could have fitted through the doorway, unless they changed size as they moved from room to room.

Maybe that’s what they did. Giants were shape-shifters. Magic and illusion were second nature to them. If I spent much more time here, I’d have to bring a large supply of motion-sickness medicine and some 3-D glasses.

In front of us, Geirrod was still staggering around, sloshing mead from his drinking horn.

‘Whoeryou?’ he slurred.

‘Guests!’ I called. ‘We have claimed guest rights!’

I doubted those applied any more, since we’d killed our hosts, but since my etiquette-minded sword was still in the next room, washing the nostril goo off his blade, nobody challenged me.

Geirrod frowned. He looked like he’d just come from a wild party at the Jotunheim Marquee, which was weird, since the day was young. Giants apparently partied 24/7.

He wore a rumpled mauve jacket, an untucked black shirt, striped slacks and shiny shoes that many patent leather animals had died to create. His dark hair was greased back but springing up in unruly cowlicks. His face had a three-day stubble. He reeked of fermented honey. The overall impression was less ‘fashionable nightclub dude’ and more ‘well-dressed wino’.

The weirdest thing about him was his size. I’m not going to say he was short. Twenty feet tall is still good if you’re looking for somebody to play point in the NBA or change those hard-to-reach lightbulbs. But the guy was minuscule compared to his daughters, who were, of course, now dead.

Geirrod belched. Judging from his expression, he was making a mighty effort to form rational thoughts. ‘If you’re guests … why have you got my swan? And where are my daughters?’

Sam forced a laugh. ‘Oh, those crazy girls? We were bartering with them for your swan.’

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Right now they’re on the floor in the other room. They don’t look so good.’ I mimed drinking from a bottle, which probably confused Hearthstone, as it looked like the sign for I love you.

Geirrod seemed to get my meaning. His shoulders relaxed, as if the idea of his daughters passing out drunk on the floor was nothing to be concerned about.

‘Well, then,’ he said, ‘as long as they weren’t – HIC! – entertaining those frost-giant boys again.’

‘Nope, just us,’ I assured him.

Blitzen grunted as he shifted me in his arms. ‘Heavy.’

Hearthstone, trying to keep up with the conversation, signed I love you at the giant.

‘Oh, Great Geirrod!’ Sam said. ‘We actually came here to bargain for Thor’s weapon. Your daughters told us you have it.’

Geirrod glanced to his right. Against the far wall, almost hidden behind a column, was a human-size iron door.

‘And the weapon is behind that door,’ I guessed.

Geirrod’s eyes widened. ‘What sorcery is this? How did you know that?’

‘We want to barter for the weapon,’ I repeated.

In Hearthstone’s arms, Gunilla honked irritably.

‘And also for the freedom of this swan,’ Sam added.

‘Ha!’ Geirrod sloshed more mead from his drinking horn. ‘I don’t – HIC! – need anything you could offer. But perhaps you could – BELCH – earn the weapon and the golden goose.’

‘The swan,’ I corrected.

&n

bsp; ‘Whatever,’ said the giant.

Blitzen whimpered, ‘Heavy. Very heavy.’

The pain in my leg made it hard to think. Every time Blitzen moved I wanted to scream, but I tried to keep a clear head.

‘What did you have in mind?’ I asked the giant.

‘Entertain me! Join me in a game!’

‘Like … Words with Friends?’

‘What? No! Like catch!’ He gestured disdainfully towards the dining room. ‘I have only daughters. They never want to play catch with me. I like playing catch! Play catch with me.’

I glanced at Sam. ‘I think he wants to play catch.’

‘Bad idea,’ she murmured.

‘Survive ten minutes!’ Geirrod said. ‘That’s all I ask! Then I’ll be – HIC! – happy.’

‘Survive?’ I asked. ‘A game of catch?’

‘Good, so you agree!’ He stumbled to the nearest brazier and scooped up a red-hot coal the size of an easy chair. ‘Go long!’

FIFTY-SIX

Never Ask a Dwarf to ‘Go Long’

‘Run!’ I told Blitzen. ‘Run, run, run!’

Blitzen, who was still trailing the parachute, only managed a dazed stumble. ‘Heavy, very heavy,’ he wheezed again.

We made it about twenty feet before Geirrod yelled, ‘CATCH!’

The four of us ducked behind the nearest column as a coal cannonball slammed against it, burning a hole straight through the stone and spraying ash and sparks over our heads. The column groaned. Cracks spread all the way up to the ceiling.

‘Run more!’ Sam yelped.

We shambled across the hall as Geirrod scooped coals and threw them with appalling accuracy. If he hadn’t been drunk, we would’ve been in serious trouble.

The next salvo set Blitzen’s parachute on fire. Sam was able to cut it off with her axe, but we lost valuable time. Another chunk of flaming apocalypse blasted a crater in the floor next to us, singeing Gunilla’s wings and Hearthstone’s scarf. Sparks flew into Blitzen’s eyes.

‘I’m blind!’ he yelped.

‘I’ll direct you!’ I shouted. ‘Left! Left! Your other left!’

Meanwhile, across the hall, Geirrod was having a grand old time singing in Jotunese, staggering from brazier to brazier, occasionally dousing himself in mead. ‘Come on now, little guests! This is not how you play. You’re supposed to catch the coals and throw them back!’


Tags: Rick Riordan Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Fantasy
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