Episode Thirty-Three: Taken: Scene 31

I did not see the interior of the swan room right away. Surtur had a private dining room. Once in it, he released Kanesha.


She stumbled into a chair.


“If Kanesha leaves the spire, then she will die. Unless you thought of that.”


“This isn’t a negotiation,” I told him. I looked at Kanesha. “Has he touched you?”


“No,” she said, and I saw the truth of it in her eyes.


“I respect that much of her being yours. I understand your choice now.”


I couldn’t help but smile. I wondered what Kanesha had done to convince him she was worthy of the love of a goddess. I would ask her. Later. “Then perhaps you understand…that what you ask would be the starting of a war that would end in her death.”


“Ah, but if we wed, she will have my protection to add to yours. When we stand as masters of the Nine Realms.”


“You really think that line will work on me now, any more than it did before you showed you have no honor?”


Now he glared at me, eyes narrowing, leaning slightly on the table. “My people will die.”


“They will die faster if you do this. You think that having me will get you the apples, you think it might even ensure my father as an ally. What will your people do after you start a war and then leave them?”


“I would be leaving them with you.”


I shook my head. “Whatever my bloodlines, you would be better off with Helgr, who has experience leading men into battle. I don’t.”


“You have the bloodlines. We will win, we will rule the Nine Realms, and then I will do what I have to do.”


“If you start Ragnarok, you will not have to. I thought you intended your life to stand for thousands.”


“I had thought about that, but it will only happen again, and then you will face it.”


Kanesha rolled her eyes. “The two of you. Can’t you see the obvious?”


We both turned towards her, looked at her. Maybe she did have an insight. “Maybe it’s not obvious to us.”


“Siglaugr’s never going to agree to marry you, and she would gladly trade your life for that of thousands. So, forget that part.”




“You do not love her. That is obvious. I’m watching you and all I see in your eyes is wary respect. Let this go and worry about finding a better way to save your people.”


I paused, looked at her. “I want you dead,” I told Surtur. “But if you release her, I will help save your people. And there is a woman here who loves you.”


He shook his head. “Never.”


And I knew I had lost.

Episode Thirty-Three: Taken: Scene 30

It would have sat even more ill with me to leave her if I hadn’t seen her body turn to smoke and then rainbow light as I ran past.


Unfortunately, it encouraged the giants to press the attack. Mike had the sense to grab the spear so its owner could not retrieve it.


He was even more angry. And I could only reassure him to a point. “She’s not dead.”


“I know. But it still hurts, doesn’t it.”


I could spare him only a nod before the spear thrower was on me with a pair of short knives. I batted them away, and although I did not kill him, I disarmed him.


Literally on the left side, leaving him howling and clutching at the stump. “That’s for Thruor,” I growled as I kept running upwards.


What I saw at the top was inevitable. I knew in my heart it would come to this.


Surtur stepped onto the top landing, and he had Kanesha. She was wearing a gown of lilac, all the way down to the floor. He had indeed dressed her as a princess.


I did not stop to think why, because he also had a blade to her throat.


“This is for me now,” I said to Mike. “Get the dwarves out of here.”




I nodded. “Trust me. Jorun?”


She handed me the medallion, without a further word. Then they fled.


Well, retreated. But I was letting them go. In fact, I was more or less begging them to go. Then I turned to face him.


“I have sent three of your men to Hel’s Realm,” I told him. “Unless the valkyries like the souls of fire giants.”


“And I will send this one there for sure if you take one step closer.”


Which I did not. I looked at her. At him.


I trusted my sister, but I still would not let this happen.


“Sheath your sword,” he told me.


I did so.


“Now you can come up.”


Which I also did. I didn’t need weapons to fight, but I knew one move and I would be dealing with Hel for my lover’s soul.


One false move…and this had already gone south.


Or perhaps it had gone exactly where it needed to go.


Episode Thirty-Three: Taken: Scene 29

It was, of course, too late. Or it would have been without the enterprising dwarves. We could hear guards come running. Then they stopped, and we heard footsteps in various directions.


The force which descended on us was thus somewhat reduced and much easier to handle, especially as we got out of the entrance and into a room. The room appeared to be occupied by the guards – what better way to protect a little-used entrance than have a couple of soldiers sleep next to it, I supposed.


But it was enough space to bring all of our weapons to bear without being so much that we could easily be surrounded.


I had to kill another of them, though. And Thruor did for a third – the one who had fled us was nowhere in evidence.


Maybe he’d decided he was too injured to continue and seen the better part. I hoped so, anyway.


But once we had the five of them knocked out or dead, we kept moving. “Helgr said his quarters are at the top of the spire. I’d imagine the swan room is close to there,” Thruor reminded, taking point for now.


Mike between us. Me as rearguard. My blade glimmered with flame and blood. I really, though, would rather have avoided all of this.


Even as I enjoyed the fighting itself. I wanted to be fighting for something that wasn’t this, not fighting my way in to rescue the princess in the tower.


Kanesha would like the image of herself as a princess, though. She would like that very much, and that emboldened me to push forward.


Then the dwarves came rushing in from the side. “He’s got Helgr, but…”


“Let’s keep moving. We can go out the way I got in. It’s an easier route than Helgr thought. Not quite mountain goaty.”


“You know us dwarves don’t like to climb.”


“You’d rather stay here?” And Thruor was rushing upstairs. The dwarves reluctantly followed her, but at least this was enclosed.


Maybe the real reason they’d insisted on the two pronged approach…well. They were here and I would trust them with my life or Kanesha’s.


And then Thruor cried out. There were fire giants everywhere – and one of them had got lucky, tossing a spear into her chest.


“Leave me,” she hissed.


I knew that if she died she would only go home. But I still…then I steeled myself.


She was right.


I had to stop thinking in mortal terms. We could get in and out without her. She was not in true danger, this being Muspelheim, not Asgard.


The only one in true danger was Kanesha.


Episode Thirty-Three: Taken: Scene 28

We almost managed that. The one tussling with Mike fled to raise the alarm, but me and Thruor got the woman pinned, eventually, against the inside wall.


“Who are you?” She added a couple of choice swear words.


“I hope you won’t get fired for losing to us.”


She spat.


“Look. I’m here to retrieve a woman. One with skin the color of dark wood.”


“Surtur’s pet,” the woman said with a snort. “Not sure what he wants with her.”


“Nothing.” I looked at her. “Where is she?”


“If I tell you.”


I hit her. “If you tell me, then you can also tell him I beat it out of you.”


This time she didn’t spit on me. Maybe the blow had triggered at least the edge of respect.


“He might not…”


“I think your friend went and told them half an army is invading.” Rather than admit he got beaten by Mike. Who was still catching his breath.


“Which is bad for you,” she said, evenly, “As you did not bring one.”


“I was hoping for a rather quieter approach. Now where is she?”


“The swan chamber. The one set aside for the queen.”


“No wonder you thought she was his pet.”


But she was there to get me there, perhaps he felt that if I set foot in the queen’s chambers I would wish to stay. It would not happen, but I could see it. Could see what was going on in his mind.


I suddenly feared, though, what he might have done with her. Done to her. That went cold through my heart.


I did not think I could restrain myself.


“Then is she your pet?” the giantess inquired.


Mike glared at her.


I shook my head. “A person does not own another person.” I glanced at Thruor. “Tell me you brought rope.”


She had, and she tied up our prisoner before we moved on.


The swan chamber. I envisioned a bed surrounded by feathers. It did not seem to fit what I had seen so far, but didn’t absolute rulers often have luxuries in their own quarters that did not reflect the spartan world outside?


I rather thought so. But now we had to be quiet.


Quiet and quick.


Episode Thirty-Three: Taken: Scene 27

It was as if that was an omen, because now it started to rain. Yes, it does rain in Muspelheim, and it rains water – but hot water that almost seems to scald the ground as it touches.


It makes rock as slippery as any other kind of water, though, and while it was not exactly a storm, it slowed our progress.


Anxiety about how Helgr and the dwarves were handling their side of the operation did not help. We had no way of communicating, of course. Nothing but planning and trust.


I did not trust Helgr. I did trust Ebba and Jorun, and that part of things had been their idea.


Maybe one day they would be here for real. Maybe. But I kept climbing, through the miserable rain.


Then, thank the Aesir, the path ducked inside the edge of the spire. It was not enclosed, mind, but rather running behind pillars and a sort of rail of stone. I had a feeling that meant we were almost at our destination.


Then I heard a yell from ahead and Mike was charged by a fire giant wielding an axe.




We had not expected it to be entirely unguarded. I had my blade out in a moment, even as Mike and the guard started to trade blows, sending sparks from where his sword – and he had clearly been practicing – struck the solid haft of the axe.


“My quarrel is not with you,” I snarled, but he was undoubtedly a palace guard and it might well have been more than his job or life was worth to not do his best to stop me.


The bad part was that it was too narrow for me to help him. The same was true on the other side, of course. Nobody else could come up on Mike, but I needed to work out a way for him to fall back if needed.


He was holding his own for right now, though. I glanced around, and then something occurred to me.


And I turned to face the outside just in time. A smaller fire giant, a woman, came swinging through the opening.
A daring move, but I didn’t want to think about how she had known. The yell, perhaps. Perhaps that single syllable had carried more information, to one trained in a code.


Either way, I slashed at her with my sword, not trying to get this one to surrender without a fight.


She didn’t quite have her blade out, it having taken both hands for her to pull off that move. I stepped to the side so I was back to back with Mike, knowing that if I dealt with her, we could then spin so I could handle the other if he needed me to.


And that put Thruor on her other side. She seemed to realize her misjudgment, but it could have been worse for her. She drew not one sword but two and was fighting both of us off.


For now. I could already see her flagging, though. I mouthed ‘Don’t kill her’ to Thruor.


I wanted them alive.


Episode Thirty-Three: Taken: Scene 26

Letting Jorun and Ebba go ahead was not the plan I had intended, but the truth was that the rest of us would never be mistaken for fire giants.


Maybe me – I was a creature of fire and although I did not look like one physically, I rather thought my aura was close enough that with a bit of glamor I could pull it off.


That, though, would have meant leaving Thruor and Mike behind. Instead? We were taking another route in.


No, not the sewers, although we definitely considered it. We would, though, be spotted as soon as we came out – fire giants have as good a sense of smell as humans if not better.


But Helgr knew another possible way in…the downside being that it went up the side of the spire – and was not the nice, sweeping main entrance.


I was worried about falling. Falling was not something I wanted to think about too much after the dragon incident. Besides, I did not want to have to find my way back.


Of course, they were to keep going and get her without me. The worst part was that I had surrendered the medallion to the dwarves.


If they got caught I was not sure how we were going to get her out. Mike went first. He was the lightest of the three of us – he hadn’t changed visually.


He was still Mike, albeit still a subdued Mike. When he had spoken it was with anger. He was every bit as mad as I was about what had happened.


So I had been letting him fume, as much as I wanted to talk, to catch up. To tell him what was going on.
Well, he knew the important parts. He knew and he cared and that was all I really needed. The path was perhaps designed as an escape route, and looked rather more to have been made by mountain goats than fire giants. Being smaller meant it was not quite as crazy as it might have been.


It still could have used a hand rail in places and although steps had been cut, they were worn. I took that as heartening, though. If this path was not being well maintained, it made it less likely it was guarded.


I still hoped we would not have to come back this way, especially not under fire or pursuit.


Besides, I was not convinced it was unguarded, so I was having to climb with one hand on my sword hilt. I had Kanesha’s sword across my back too.


That was not something the dwarves had wanted to fall into fire giant hands, and they thought it likely that they would try and take it as a sample.


I hoped they didn’t see the medallion in the same way – but, of course, it was not a weapon and thus not something Surtur would care about that much. I could not imagine him going for pretty jewelry.


Some of the others I’d seen, on the other hand…


A rock fell from under my feet. I caught myself, listening to it plink down the side of the spire – which I suspected to have been shaped by magic not by tools.


Episode Thirty-Three: Taken: Scene 25

“So, he is holding your mortal lover in the spire.”


“There was…was the guy in the bar yours?”


She nodded. “Yes, although I beat on him some for getting drunk and foolish.”


I shrugged. “He deserved it.” I hoped she’d done no permanent damage. “But that’s what we think. We are also absolutely sure it is a trap.”


“Of course it is. He might not expect me, though. And here…” She pulled out some paper. It was blank, then she murmured a word and a map appeared.


“Neat, I want to know how to do that.”


She grinned. “It’s an enchantment on the paper. I could probably find you some.”


“I’d be willing to trade for an invisible map.”


“Oh, it’s more than that. It puts whatever map is in my memory.”


I grinned. “Oh, I like that. Anyway…so, this is the spire?”


She nodded. “Now, the tradesmen’s entrance is here. It goes up inside because sometimes they take horses up there, and horses spook at the heights.”


“You need mules,” said Ebba.


“Maybe we do. But…that’s the way he’s going to expect us to come in. I think we should use the front door.”
I grinned. “Disguise?”




“Surtur will see right through my glamors. He has before.”


“Which is why you don’t use glamor.”


I nodded. “Makeup won’t make me giant tall, though, and it certainly won’t do a thing for Ebba and Jorun.”


“And you can’t shapeshift, I suppose.”


“Not yet.” I had a feeling I could learn, but was still not sure why Loki would not teach me. Maybe something to do with part of my fate still being open.


“But you are part fire giant. We can work with that. The dwarves…” She studied them. “Hrm.”


“What if,” Jorun suggested. “We claim to be from a dwarven faction that wants to work with the fire giants. Offer to sell him weapons.”


“Brilliant. He’d swallow that,” Thruor said.


The giantess – her name was Helgr – grinned. “I like you. Wouldn’t have thought dwarves would be that sneaky.”


Jorun grinned. “We’re traders, remember.”


I decided she had a point. It still did not quite explain how the rest of us were going to be disguised.


But we had the beginnings of a plan.


Episode Thirty-Three: Taken: Scene 24

Whether it was the trap or not, we moved to where we were hiding outside the city. Taking different routes and separately, just in case.


He knew I was here.


And I was starting to get sure this guy was the trap. It was just too convenient.


The thing is? Surtur was not the only person who knew I was here.


The giantess showed up later that night. At least she had the decency to knock on the door of the barn we were in, but then she bellowed, “Siglaugr Lokisdottir!” loud enough to reach Hel’s Realm.


I sighed. “Thanks,” and went and opened the door, figuring she would only make noise until I let her in.


“Surtur is mine.”


I shook my head. “You can have him as far as I’m concerned.”


“As long as you live he will long for you.”


Did she intend to kill me?


“He can long all he likes. I’m here to get the person I actually want and then go home.”


“He won’t stop chasing you.” She had a hand on her blade.


“Well, maybe you can convince him he’s better off with you. And fixing problems rather than fighting wars.” I kept my gaze on her. “I don’t want to fight you.”


“I will be queen.”


“Like I said. You’re welcome to it.” I studied my rival for unwanted affections. “I don’t know what you see in him.”


At least she wasn’t rushing in, although that might have had something to do with the fact that I now had a dwarf on either side of me.


Her lips quirked. “There’s plenty to see in him. When he is not going crazy, and who’s fault is that?”


“His.” I kept my voice even. “We’re not opposed here. Do you have any idea how to stop what’s going on?”


“The blasted lands…no.”


“I might.” I did not want to fight her. She might be the solution to the problem if we could convince Surtur that she would be a worthy queen.


And then I could…but I knew I could not. It was as if raven feathers drifted across my vision for a moment.




I would try, regardless of what Odin might have to say about the matter. If I failed, so be it, but… “If we work together.”
She took her hand off of her sword. “You and your rag tag band.”


“We are a bit of a motley crew,” Mike said from the corner, grinning.


“One valkyrie, two dwarves, one einherior.” She counted us off like that. “And you, not yet fully decided. Definitely a motley crew.”


It did not sound as insulting the second time around.


Episode Thirty-Three: Taken: Scene 23

So, I was quite surprised when he actually showed up.


He was quite surprised – because this time Thruor was with me.


“I know you. By reputation. Thorsdottir.” He couldn’t seem to manage a coherent sentence.


“I am Siglaugr,” I said, simply. “Surtur has my mate.” This time I was being obvious. Honest.


“Lokisdottir.” He glanced between us. “The two of you are working together?”


“We manage it somehow,” Thruor said, dryly.


“And he…”


“He kidnapped my lover to use as bait. I intend to get her back. If he gets me, he will start the war he is preparing for. He somehow thinks I’m key to winning it.”


“Key to getting Loki on his side more like.”


I stared for a moment. Could it be that simple, that obvious?
But no, Loki…but then, Loki was only arguing that the time was right. Surtur did not care. “Loki will do what Loki does,” I said, finally.


“Can’t argue with that.” He looked at me. “You need somebody who can get you into the spire.”




“I can’t. But there are those who, well, would do it just to annoy Surtur. Those who are hoping to annoy him into making a mistake.”


“Trying to force somebody into his bed isn’t a mistake?” I kept my tone even. “I’m told that’s as dishonorable here as anywhere.”


“It is, but nobody knows.” He studied me. “You sneak in, grab your lover, and…well…”


“We make it known what he did?” It wasn’t a crazy idea. I glanced at Thruor. “There’s three more of us.”


He nodded. “I’ll talk to…”


“And don’t get drunk again, okay?”


A sheepish look and he slipped out. I glanced at Thruor.


“Don’t trust him. But use him, sure, and maybe…”


“Maybe his friends will be tighter-lipped. Surtur knows I’m here, though. If we get in easily…”


“This could be the trap too.”


I frowned, but I knew she was right.


Episode Thirty-Three: Taken: Scene 22

The plan required local help. And I had to be alone to find it. Alone and vulnerable.


And I worried that they would think I was taking some position, making some claim. The streets were built to giant proportions – I was tall, but not that tall – so I felt a little small and awkward. And half-naked, as I had left Kanesha’s sword with Thruor. Not the necklace, mind.


The fyrhund padded next to me as I slipped into a tavern. I was not sure how I looked to them – I was exercising power to not be noticed which here? I probably looked like a nondescript giantess.


I found a corner table, ordered beer and listened while sipping it slowly. Slowly because I could not afford to be drunk. Like dwarves, fire giants seemed to have a drinking age of “Large enough to raise a tankard.”


But the crowd was subdued, then I heard a voice raised. “I know, but look at what he’s doing.”


Perhaps I had found what I was looking for. I set down my tankard and turned slightly to face the speaker.


“He’s the king. You speak treason. Sit down and sober up.”


“I speak truth.”


Well, this guy was going to be in the drunk tank if I did not do something. I nudged the fyrhund under the table and it got up and padded over there…and then as the giant stood to face his opponent, neatly tripped him into the table.


It was probably a Loki thing to do, but it deflected him from his rant. “I’m sorry. He slipped his collar.”
The man stalked over.


“Let me make up for it by buying you another drink. Sit down?”


He did so, warily. Glancing at me. “I should probably not have another. I forgot myself.”


“Or remembered yourself,” I said to him, seriously. “Tell me…”


“You are one of his spies.”


I shook my head. “Far from it, and we don’t have to talk here.”


He glanced around. “Tomorrow. When I’m sober. If I still want to talk, there’s a livery stable on Hercus Street.”


I nodded. I could find that easy enough. “Sure you won’t accept a drink. How about a bar snack?”


He considered, and finally let me buy him a snack to soak up the beer. I did not, though, expect to actually see him the next day.