Thursday, 16 July 2020

FREEZE

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As a nearly immortal Valkyrie, Mist is the guardian of the greatest of the Norse god’s Treasures—Odin’s spear Gungnir. But Mist believes all the gods are dead, and she’s slowly settling into a normal life in San Francisco. Just when Mist is ready to give up the duty the All-father laid on her, she meets a mysterious woman, Bella Stratus, and a man who helps her save Bella’s life:  Eric Larsson, the perfect embodiment of a Viking warrior. He’s charming, good-natured, and nearly her equal in strength; and for the first time in centuries Mist has found someone she might be able to love… and trust. “Freeze Warning” is set in the world of Susan Krinard’s Midgard series.

This short story was acquired and edited for Tor.com by editor Melissa Frain.

 

Gungnir seemed to hum in Mist’s hands as if it had a life of its own.

And it did. Odin’s life. The life of the All-father, who sat in his throne before Mist and her sister Valkyrie, a father stern and uncompromising and pitiless.

Outside the walls of the vast hall known as Valaskialf, the battle raged: Einherjar and Alfar against Jotunar, the Aesir facing Loki and his fell children. Surtr and the fire giants on their way from across the sea, and the World Tree, Yggdrasil, groaning and writhing as its roots began to rot.

But it was only the beginning of the Last Battle. And when it ended . . .

“By your sacred oaths, you will protect these Treasures with your lives,” Odin said, sweeping them once more with his burning, one-eyed gaze. “No matter what transpires in the other Homeworlds, you will remain on Midgard, and you will see that no one finds these objects of power.”

“But if this is Ragnarok,” Mist said, daring Odin’s wrath, “all the enemies will be destroyed. Whatever becomes of Midgard—”

“Silence.” Odin scowled at her, with an expression that could knock any of the Aesir off his feet if the All-father chose. “You forget yourself, Valkyrie.”

Mist lowered her head, trembling with fear and anger and the desperate need to join the other warriors of Asgard in battle. But the sword she wore at her side was only symbolic, and Gungnir—the Swaying One, the Spear that never missed its mark—was not hers to wield.

“You will be set down in the Northlands of Midgard,” he said, relieving Mist of his terrible attention. “You will be concealed from Loki and his allies. Even the Aesir and Alfar will not be able to find you.”

Because they will be dead, Mist thought. Odin will meet Fenrir and be destroyed. The Homeworlds will fall, and there will be nothing left but ash. Midgard may become a paradise as the seeress foretold, but no one will ever come for what we guard, neither ally nor enemy.

We will be utterly alone.

“And our mounts?” Bryn asked in a soft, very respectful voice.

“They remain in Asgard until the end. You will have but this one purpose. Do not fail.”

The Sisters looked at one another, fearful and bewildered and desperate: Hild gripping the reins of Odin’s eight-legged steed, Sleipnir; Regin with mighty Mjollnir, Thor’s Hammer; Bryn with Freya’s cloak, which let its wearer fly like a falcon; Sigrun with Gleipnir, the chain that could not be broken, which had snapped when the world began to crumble and released the Great Wolf Fenrir upon Asgard.

The others—Kara with the Gjallarhorn, already sounded by Heimdall to mark the beginning of the end; Eir with the apples of Idunn, which kept the gods forever young; Horja, Olrun, Rota, Skuld, Hrist, each with her own Treasure—waited without speaking. Waited for the final command.

“Go into the antechamber,” Odin commanded all but Mist, “and wait for me there.”

The others drifted away, some stumbling in shock, others feigning acceptance Mist knew they didn’t feel. When they had closed the doors behind them, Odin beckoned to Mist, calling her up to the dais where he sat on his golden throne. His wolves, Geri and Freki, sniffed and circled her as she climbed the steps.

“You have ever rebelled against your Fate, Valkyrie,” he said, Draupnir glittering on his finger as he gestured his disapproval. “Yet now you have been given a greater one than ever you imagined.” He reached inside his coat and withdrew a leather cord. At the end of it hung a piece of stone, carved with a raven and Rune-staves of power and protection. “Take this. You will wear it as a sign of my favor, and as a ward against evil.”

Mist bowed her head, stunned by Odin’s favor. “Why am I worthy of this?” she whispered.

“Ask not what I will not tell you.” He draped the cord around her neck. She gripped Gungnir so tightly that she thought her fingers might break.

“It is done,” Odin said, rising from his throne. He sighed, the first time he had shown even the slightest weariness or regret. “Join the others. I will follow presently.”