The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard 1) - Page 15

Sam and Hearth both knelt. Sam elbowed me to take a knee.

‘Lord Mimir,’ Sam said. ‘You honour us.’

The head opened his mouth and spewed water. More came out of his nostrils, his ears, his tear ducts. He reminded me of a catfish dragged from the bottom of a lake.

‘Man, I hate –’ The head coughed more water. His eyes turned from chalk white to blue. ‘I hate travelling in that bag.’

Blitzen bowed. ‘Sorry, Capo. It was that or the fish tank. And the fish tank breaks easily.’

The head gurgled. He scanned the faces on the dock until he found me. ‘Son of Frey, I’ve come a long way to speak with you. Hope you appreciate it.’

‘You’re the mysterious classified boss,’ I said. ‘Hearth and Blitz have been watching me for two years … because they got orders from a severed head?’

‘Show some respect, boyo.’ Mimir’s voice reminded me of the longshoremen down at the Union Hall – their lungs half nicotine, half seawater.

Hearth frowned at me. Told you C-A-P-O. Capo means head. Why surprised?

‘I am Mimir,’ said the head. ‘Once I was mighty among the Aesir. Then came the war with the Vanir. Now I got my own operation.’

His face was so ugly it was hard to tell whether he was giving me an ugly look.

‘Did Frey cut off your head?’ I asked. ‘Is that why you’re mad at me?’

Mimir huffed. ‘I’m not mad. You’ll know when I’m mad.’

I wondered what that meant. Maybe he would gurgle more threateningly.

‘Your dad was part of the reason I lost my head, though,’ said Mimir. ‘See, as part of the truce to end the war, the two godly tribes exchanged hostages. Your father, Frey, and his father, Njord, came to live in Asgard. The god Honir and I – we were sent to live in Vanaheim.’

‘I’m guessing that didn’t go well.’

More water spouted from Mimir’s ears. ‘Your father made me look bad! He was this great general among the Vanir – all golden and shiny and handsome. He and Njord got all kinds of respect in Asgard. As for me and Honir – the Vanir weren’t so impressed.’

‘No kidding.’

‘Well, Honir was never very, how you say, charismatic. The Vanir would ask his opinions on important business. He’d mumble, “Yeah, whatever. It’s all good.” Me, I tried to pull my weight. I told the Vanir they should be getting into casinos.’

‘Casinos.’

‘Yeah, busloads of retirees coming to Vanaheim. Easy money. And the Vanir had all these dragons. I told them, racetracks. In the sky. With dragons. They’d make a killing.’

I looked at Blitz and Hearth. They seemed resigned, like they’d heard this story many times before.

‘So anyway,’ said Mimir, ‘the Vanir didn’t like my worthy counsel. They felt cheated in the hostage swap. As a protest, they cut off my head and sent it to Odin.’

‘Shocking. When they could’ve had casinos.’

Sam coughed loudly. ‘Of course, great Mimir, both Aesir and Vanir honour you now. Magnus didn’t mean to insult you. He is not so stupid.’

She glared at me like, You are so stupid.

Around Mimir’s head, the water bubbled faster. It trickled from his pores and streamed from his eyes. ‘Forget about it, son of Frey. I don’t hold a grudge. Besides, when Odin received my severed head, he didn’t take revenge. See, the All-Father was smart. He knew the Vanir and Aesir had to unite against our common enemy, the Triads.’

‘Uh …’ Blitz adjusted his hat. ‘I think you mean the giants, boss.’

‘Right. Those guys. So Odin carried me to a hidden cave in Jotunheim where this magical spring feeds the roots of Yggdrasil. He placed my head in the well. The water brought me back to life, and I soaked in all the knowledge of the World Tree. My wisdom increased a thousandfold.’

‘But … you’re still a severed head.’

Mimir made a sideways nod. ‘It’s not so bad. I operate across the Nine Worlds – loans, protection, pachinko machines –’

‘Pachinko.’

‘Pachinko is huge. Plus I’m always working to delay Ragnarok. Ragnarok would be bad for business.’

‘Right.’ I decided to sit down, because it seemed like this could take a while. Once I did it, Sam and Hearth followed my example. Chickens.

‘Also,’ Mimir said, ‘Odin visits me for advice from time to time. I’m his consigliere. I guard the well of knowledge. Sometimes I let travellers drink from its waters, though that kind of intel never comes without a price.’

The word price settled over the dock like a heavy blanket. Blitzen sat so still I was afraid he’d turned to stone. Hearthstone studied the grain of the planks. I began to understand how my friends had got involved with Mimir. They’d drunk from his waters (gross) and paid the price by watching me for the past two years. I wondered if what they’d learned had been worth it.

‘So, Great and Well-connected Mimir,’ I said, ‘what do you want with me?’

Mimir spat out a minnow. ‘I don’t have to tell you, boyo. You already know.’

I wanted to disagree, but the longer I listened to Mimir the more I felt like I was breathing pure oxygen. I don’t know why. The Capo wasn’t exactly inspiring. Yet, being around him, my mind seemed to function better, weaving together bits and pieces of weirdness I’d experienced over the last few days into one strangely cohesive picture.

An illustration from my old children’s book of Norse myths came back to me – a tale so terrifying, even in its watered-down kiddie version, that I had buried it in my memory for years.

‘The Wolf,’ I said. ‘Surt wants to free Fenris Wolf.’

I was hoping somebody would contradict me. Hearth lowered his head. Sam closed her eyes like she was praying.

‘Fenris,’ said Blitzen. ‘There’s a name I was hoping never to hear again.’

Mimir kept crying ice water. His lips curled in a faint smile. ‘There you go, son of Frey. Now tell me: what do you know about Fenris Wolf?’

I buttoned my hunting jacket. The wind off the river seemed cold even to me. ‘Correct me if I’m wrong. I’d love to be wrong. Ages ago, Loki had an affair with a giantess. They had three monstrous kids.’

‘I was not one of them,’ Sam muttered. ‘I’ve heard all the jokes.’

Hearthstone winced, like he’d been wondering about that.

‘One,’ I said, ‘was a huge snake.’

‘Jormungand,’ Sam said. ‘The World Serpent, which Odin threw into the sea.’

‘The second was Hel,’ I continued. ‘She became, like, the goddess of the dishonourable dead.’

‘And the third,’ Blitzen said, ‘was Fenris Wolf.’

His tone was bitter, full of pain.

‘Blitz,’ I said, ‘you sound like you know him.’

‘Every dwarf knows of Fenris. That was the first time the Aesir came to us for help. Fenris grew so savage he would’ve devoured the gods. They tried to tie him up, but he broke every chain.’

‘I remember,’ I said. ‘Finally the dwarves made a rope strong enough to hold him.’

‘Ever since,’ Blitzen said, ‘the children of Fenris have been enemies of the dwarves.’ He looked up, his dark shades reflecting my face. ‘You’re not the only one who’s lost family to wolves, kid.’

I had a strange urge to hug him. Suddenly I didn’t feel so bad about all the time he’d spent watching me. We were brothers in something more than homelessness. Still … I resisted the impulse. Whenever I’m tempted to hug a dwarf, that’s usually a sign I need to move along.

‘On Ragnarok,’ I said, ‘the Day of Doom, one of the first things that’s supposed to happen is Fenris gets freed.’

Sam nodded. ‘The old stories don’t say how that happens –’

‘But one way,’ Blitz said, ‘would be to cut him loose. The rope Gleipnir is unbreakable, but …’

Frey’s sword, Hearth signed, is the sharpest blade in the Nine Worlds.

‘Surt wants to free the Wolf with

my father’s sword.’ I looked at Mimir. ‘How are we doing so far?’

‘Not bad,’ the head burbled. ‘Which brings us to your task.’

‘Stop Surt,’ I said. ‘Find the sword before he does … assuming he hasn’t got it already.’

‘He doesn’t,’ Mimir said. ‘Believe me, an event like that would make the Nine Worlds tremble. I’d taste fear in the waters of Yggdrasil.’

‘Yuck,’ I said.

‘You have no idea,’ said Mimir. ‘But you must hurry.’

‘The Norns’ prophecy. Nine days hence, blah, blah, blah.’

Water bubbled out of Mimir’s ears. ‘I’m pretty sure they didn’t say blah, blah, blah. However, you’re correct. The island where the gods imprisoned Fenris is only accessible on the first full moon of each year. That’s now seven days hence.’

‘Who makes up these rules?’ I asked.

‘I made up that rule,’ Mimir said. ‘So shut up. Find the sword. Reach the island before Surt does.’

Sam raised her hand. ‘Um, Lord Mimir, I understand finding the sword. But why take it to the island? Isn’t that where Surt wants the sword?’

‘See, Miss al-Abbas … this is why I’m the boss and you’re not. Yeah, bringing the sword to the island is dangerous. Yeah, Surt could use it to free the Wolf. But Surt is gonna find a way to free Fenris with or without it. I did mention I can see the future, right? The only person who might be able to stop Surt is Magnus Chase – assuming he can find the sword and learn to wield it properly.’

I’d shut up for almost a whole minute, so I figured I could raise my hand. ‘Lord Mister Bubbles –’

‘Mimir.’

‘If this sword is such a big deal, why did everybody let it sit on the bottom of the Charles River for a thousand years?’

Mimir sighed foam. ‘My regular minions never ask so many questions.’

Blitz coughed. ‘Actually, we do, boss. You just ignore us.’

‘To answer your question, Magnus Chase, the sword can only be found by a descendant of Frey upon reaching the age of maturity. Others have tried, failed and died. Right now, you’re the only living descendant of Frey.’

‘The only one … in the world?’

‘In the Nine Worlds. Frey doesn’t get out much any more. Your mother – she must’ve been really something to attract his attention. Anyway, a lot of people in the Nine Worlds – gods, giants, bookies, you name it – have been waiting for you to turn sixteen. Some wanted you killed so you couldn’t find the sword. Some wanted you to succeed.’

Hot pins pressed against the base of my neck. The idea of a bunch of gods peering through their Asgardian telescopes, watching me grow up, creeped me out. My mom must have known all along. She’d done her best to keep me safe, to teach me survival skills. The night the wolves attacked our apartment, she’d given her life to save me.

I met the Capo’s watery eyes. ‘And you?’ I asked. ‘What do you want?’

‘You’re a risky bet, Magnus. A lot of possible fates intersect in your life. You could deal the forces of evil a great setback and delay Ragnarok for generations. Or, if you fail, you could hasten the Day of Doom.’

I tried to swallow. ‘Hasten it, like, by how much?’

‘How does next week work for you?’

‘Oh.’

‘I decided to take the bet,’ Mimir said. ‘After the children of Fenris killed your mother, I sent Blitz and Hearth to guard you. You probably don’t realize how many times they’ve saved your life.’

Hearth held up seven fingers.

I shuddered, but mostly from the mention of Fenris’s two children, the wolves with blue eyes …

‘To succeed,’ said Mimir, ‘you’re gonna need this team. Hearthstone here – he’s dedicated his life to rune magic. Without him, you’ll fail. You’ll also need an able dwarf like Blitzen who understands dwarven crafting. You might need to strengthen the Wolf’s bindings, or even replace them.’

Blitz shifted. ‘Uh, boss … my crafting skills are, well, you know –’

‘Don’t give me that,’ said Mimir. ‘No dwarf has a stouter heart. No dwarf has travelled further in the Nine Worlds or has more of a desire to keep Fenris chained. Also, you’re in my service. You’ll do what I say.’

‘Ah.’ Blitzen nodded. ‘When you put it that way …’

‘What about me, Lord Mimir?’ asked Sam. ‘What’s my part in your plan?’

Mimir frowned. Around his beard, the water bubbled a darker shade of green. ‘You weren’t part of the plan at all. There’s a cloud around your fate, Miss al-Abbas. Taking Magnus to Valhalla – I didn’t see that coming. It wasn’t supposed to happen.’

Sam looked away, her lips pressed tight with anger.

‘Sam’s got a part to play,’ I said. ‘I’m sure of it.’

‘Do not patronize me, Magnus. I chose you because –’ She stopped herself. ‘It was supposed to happen.’

I remembered what she’d said in the feast hall: I was told … I was promised. By whom? I decided not to ask that in front of the Capo.

Mimir studied her. ‘I hope you’re right, Miss al-Abbas. When Magnus first took the sword from the river, he couldn’t control it very well. Maybe now that he’s an einherji, he’ll have the strength, in which case you’ve saved the day. Or maybe you’ve completely messed up his destiny.’

‘We’re going to succeed,’ I insisted. ‘Just two questions: where is the sword, and where is the island?’

Mimir nodded, which made him look like an oversize fishing bobber. ‘Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it? To find that kinda information, I’d have to tear the veils between the worlds, grease a lot of palms, see into the realms of the other gods.’

‘Couldn’t we just drink your magic well-water?’

‘You could,’ he agreed. ‘But it would cost you. Are you and Samirah al-Abbas ready to be bound to my service?’

Hearth’s face froze in apprehension. From the tension in Blitz’s shoulders, I guessed he was trying very hard not to leap to his feet and scream, Don’t do it!

‘You couldn’t make an exception?’ I asked the Capo. ‘Seeing as how you want this job done?’

‘No can do, boyo. I’m not being greedy. It’s just, well, you get what you pay for. Something comes cheap, it ain’t worth much. That’s true for knowledge especially. You can pay for a shortcut, get the information right now, or you’ll have to find it on your own, the hard way.’

Sam crossed her arms. ‘Apologies, Lord Mimir. I may have been kicked out of the Valkyries, but I still consider myself bound to Odin’s service. I can’t take on another master. Magnus can make his own choice, but –’

‘We’ll figure it out on our own,’ I agreed.

Mimir made a low sloshing sound. He looked almost impressed. ‘Interesting choice. Good luck, then. If you succeed, you’ll have a house account at all my pachinko parlours. If you fail … I’ll see you next week for Doomsday.’

The god’s head swirled and disappeared into the icy water of the lagoon.

‘He flushed himself,’ I said.

Hearth looked even paler than usual. What now?

My stomach rumbled. I hadn’t eaten anything since last night, and apparently my system had been spoiled after a couple of all-you-can-eat Viking buffets.

‘Now,’ I said, ‘I’m thinking lunch.’

TWENTY-NINE

We Are Falafel-Jacked by an Eagle

We didn’t talk much as we headed back through the park. The air smelled of incoming snow. The wind picked up and howled like wolves, or maybe I just had wolves on the brain.

Blitz limped along, zigzagging from shadow to shadow as best he could. Hearth’s brightly striped scarf didn’t match his grim expression. I wanted to ask him more about rune magic now that I knew he was the best (and only) mortal practitioner. Maybe there was a rune that could make wolves explode, preferably from a safe distance. But Hearth kept his hands shoved in his pockets – the sign language equivalent of I don’t want to ta

lk.

We were passing my old sleeping spot under the footbridge when Sam grumbled, ‘Mimir. I should’ve known he was involved.’

I glanced over. ‘A few minutes ago, you were all, Lord Mimir, you honour us; we’re not worthy.’

‘Of course I showed respect when he was right in front of me! He’s one of the oldest gods. But he’s unpredictable. It’s never been clear whose side he’s on.’

Blitzen jumped to the shade of a willow tree, alarming several ducks. ‘The Capo is on the side of everybody in the world who doesn’t want to die. Isn’t that enough?’

Sam laughed. ‘I suppose you two work for him of your own free will? You didn’t drink from his well and pay the price?’

Neither Blitz nor Hearth responded.

‘That’s what I thought,’ Sam said. ‘I’m not part of Mimir’s plan because I would never blindly go along with it and drink his magical knowledge Kool-Aid.’

‘It doesn’t taste like Kool-Aid,’ Blitz objected. ‘It’s more like root beer with a hint of clove.’

Sam turned to me. ‘I’m telling you, this doesn’t add up. Finding the Sword of Summer – I get that. But taking it to the very place where Surt wants to use it? Unwise.’

‘Yeah, but if I have the sword –’

‘Magnus, the sword is destined to fall into Surt’s hands sooner or later. At Ragnarok, your father will die because he gave his sword away. Surt will kill him with it. That’s what most of the stories say, anyway.’

I got claustrophobic just thinking about it. How could anybody, even a god, avoid going crazy if he knew centuries in advance exactly how he was going to die?

‘Why does Surt hate Frey so much?’ I asked. ‘Couldn’t he pick on a big strong war god?’

Blitzen frowned. ‘Kid, Surt wants death and destruction. He wants fire to run rampant across the Nine Worlds. A war god can’t stop that. Frey can. He’s the god of the growing season – the god of health and new life. He keeps the extremes in check, both fire and ice. There’s nothing Surt hates worse than being restrained. Frey is his natural enemy.’

And by extension, I thought, Surt hates me.

‘If Frey knew what his fate would be,’ I said, ‘why did he give up his blade in the first place?’

Blitz grunted. ‘Love. Why else?’

‘Love?’

‘Ugh,’ Sam said. ‘I hate that story. Where are you taking us for lunch, Magnus?’

Part of me wanted to hear the story. Part of me remembered my conversation with Loki: Will you search for your heart’s desire, knowing it may doom you as it doomed your father?

A lot of Norse stories seemed to have the same message: knowing things wasn’t always worth the price. Unfortunately for me, I’d always been the curious type.

‘It’s … uh, just up ahead,’ I said. ‘Come on.’

The food court at the Transportation Building wasn’t Valhalla, but if you were homeless in Boston it was pretty close. The indoor atrium was warm, open to the public and never crowded. It was only half-heartedly patrolled by private security. As long as you had a drink or a plate of half-eaten food, you could sit at the tables for a long time before anybody made you move.

On the way in, Blitzen and Hearthstone started towards the garbage cans to check for lunch leavings, but I stopped them.

‘Guys, no,’ I said. ‘We’re eating actual meals today. My treat.’

Hearth raised an eyebrow. He signed, You have money?

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