Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 21

The dwarves found armor that fit both me and Kanesha in their vaults. It was surprisingly light and I found I could move completely freely.


If you want armor, get a dwarf. Trust me. They really do live up to their reputation.


But they were so worried that they’d invited Loki here and were trusting him not to steal anything. Or maybe they figured that if he helped enough anything he stole would be fair payment.


He would definitely steal something. Heck, I was tempted myself. So much shiny, beautiful stuff.


But they were giving me what I needed. I wondered why. It could not, at this point, just be the bear.


“You want something,” I jokingly accused Jorun.


“No, it’s what we don’t want. Is that fitting right?”


I shrugged my shoulders. “Seems to be.”


“First of all, I personally don’t want you dead.”


“I should be okay on that front.”


“Your father’s not so sure. Second of all, the idea of…okay, I’ll be honest. If we can have peace and trade with the fire giants, then not only is that likely to put off Ragnarok by centuries, but…”


“But it will help your economy.” It was clear. “You want a friendly person in charge there.”


She opened her mouth to say something. Apparently she thought better of whatever it was, because she closed it again with no words passing her lips.


I elected not to push. “So…”


“So, we should move quickly.”


“I’m bait,” I said, finally. “I’m the only thing that will draw him out.”


“Just as long as you don’t have to kiss him.”


I made a face. “I would if it would help, but ugh.”


“So, you don’t think he’s at all cute?”


“Physically, yes. Mentally, no.”


“Good answer,” Jorun quipped.


“Do you have anyone?” I asked abruptly.


“Not right now. I’m picky.”


“String of exes.”


She grinned. “Like I said. Picky.”


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 20

Council of war. Not the dwarven king. The twins. Myself. Kanesha. Thruor. Loki.


Not Mike. I’d seen him, he was apparently enjoying himself talking to the dwarven police. Yes, they had police, although the penalty for most things short of murder seemed to be a fine and a night in the drunk tank.


Loki’s presence really had been solicited. “We may need a trickster,” Jorun said with a grin.


“Oh, I agree. I was just surprised.” He wasn’t, after all, the most popular person in the Nine Realms. “Given…”


“Given he’s generally viewed to be on the side of speeding up Ragnarok not stopping it.”


At that he gave her a sardonic grin. “Well, my daughter went and put herself right in the middle of things.”


That made me relax. Maybe I really had stopped Ragnarok. I had certainly done my best. “Not my fault Surtur developed a crush on me.”


The sardonic grin was turned on me. “Oh, I don’t know.”


“If I’m subtly altering my appearance I’m not doing it on purpose!”


He laughed. So, after a moment, did everyone else.


I laughed too, but my cheeks had turned slightly scarlet. Maybe I was…no. If I was doing something subconscious wouldn’t it be to keep Surtur away?


Unless I was more attracted to him physically than I wanted to admit. Not much I could do about that.


“So, Loki suggested ambushing Surtur and taking him out and hoping his army melts away. He’s using conscription, so…”


Ebba shuddered. “Ugh. Although at least conscripts are generally easier to fight. Just…ugh.”


Clearly she thought it was utterly dishonorable. Or maybe she didn’t want to fight people who didn’t want to fight. Maybe she felt that was something akin to murder.


Or, no, that was my own personal feeling, and I probably shouldn’t transfer it over to her or anyone else. That it was wrong to kill somebody who had not chosen to fight, freely and willingly.


That had to…no, maybe it did come from my father.


“And he’s about to come after my daughter,” Loki said grimly. “Who has the right…” He glanced at Kanesha. “…to choose her own consort.”


He might not agree with my choice, although I knew it was because he was worried about me being hurt by transience, not because he cared about her being a woman.


“So does Surtur,” I joked. “The problem is that his right to choose stops at somebody else’s right to not be chosen.”


That got a round of dwarven laughter.


“So, let’s come up with a plan.”


We were talking assassination. As the more honorable option. I wondered what that said about us or the situation.


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 19

Not enough echoed through my mind. Jorun had indeed tried to convince Kanesha to stay here, safe.
She returned to me with a wry smile. “Everyone wants to wrap me up in cotton wool.”


“You are fragile to them.”


“And to you?”


I answered by slipping my arms around her. “Infinitely fragile and precious, but far too precious and stubborn to try and give orders to.”


She laughed then kissed me on the nose. “I appreciate that.”


“Get a room,” came a voice from behind us.


I turned. “What are you doing here and why should we?” I asked of the red haired figure.


“It seemed an appropriate greeting,” Loki said, moving over towards us. “So…”
“So things aren’t going well.”


He shrugged. “Everything will work out one way or another.”
“Says you. I think it might be…”


I stepped away from Kanesha to regard him. “Is this what you wanted?”


He shook his head. “No. None of what’s happening is exactly what I wanted. Surtur has lost it.”


“But not everything.” He had implied he wanted Ragnarok. Exactly what he wanted.


Maybe he was accepting it wasn’t time yet.


Maybe he just didn’t want me to get hurt. That was more likely.


“Not everything?”


“He still has his connection to the realm. Somebody tried to take him down in single combat.”


“Then we need more than one person.”


I considered. “Yeah, we can’t be too honorable at this point.”


“Dogpile him.”


It was a reasonable strategy and maybe if we pulled it off they wouldn’t be able to pin it…and the crown…on any one of us. But… “Catching him alone is going to be…”


“You’re the one who tried to play by their rules.”


I grinned. “Hey, it might have worked, and then I’d have been scot free.”


“It might have,” he admitted. “But it didn’t.”


“So. Dogpile. Ambush. But we have to get him on his own turf.”


“Always a challenge.”


“What are you doing here anyway?”


“Believe it or not, the dwarves invited me.”


I was inclined towards not.


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 17

Ebba led me down towards the forges.


“I feel privileged.”


“I trust you because, no offense, I don’t think you would understand what we do here.”


I laughed. “You’re right. I’m not meant to be a smith or an enchanter.”


“No. You are meant to be a protector.”


And would I live long enough to find out what it was my task to protect. “I…”


“I see things sometimes. It radiates from you. You want to keep Kanesha safe. You respect her enough to know you can’t do so, but it hurts.”


“It does,” I admitted to the dwarfmaid. “I want to know she will always be waiting for me, and…”


“And you don’t trust your own ability to preserve her essence.”


“No. I don’t. I’m not sure I know what I’m doing.”


We stopped at a sort of balcony. Below, a dwarf was making an axe blade. Preparations for war.


“At least you know you might not. Far too many refuse to admit the basic fact that we are all ignorant of something.”


I laughed.


“Take Balur down there, for example. Fantastic weaponsmith. Never eat his cooking.”


I laughed again. “You’re trying to cheer me up, aren’t you.”


“No, I’m reminding you that people, like tools, have their purpose. Try not to use them against it.”


“I’ll try,” I promised. “Although learning to see it clearly…”


“Pheh. I think you’ll manage.”


“If I survive.”


She seemed to consider that. “That I can’t guarantee. The fire seeks you.”


I let a bit of fire form on my palm. “I think it’s found me.”


“Not quite yet. You could still turn and walk away and be something else.”


And live, went unspoken.


But the fire sought me, and I knew that whatever happened, if I took one more step towards stopping Surtur it would claim me.


One way or another.


“Maybe I can, but…”


“But you are trying to find a way to stop Ragnarok and there’s no sense walking away if there’s nothing else to be.”


“I’m afraid it’s too late.”
Ebba looked down again, the forgelight brightening her features. “No. It is not too late.”


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 16

The twins showed up after breakfast. “So…”


“So? I explained…”


“You explained drunken incoherence last night.”


I laughed a bit. “Who’s fault was that? Anyway. We supported a noblewoman named Helgr who thought she could defeat Surtur in fair challenge.”


“He cheated.”


“No. He won fair.” I let out a breath. “But then refused to give us the traditional night and day. We had to flee pretty hard.”


Ebba nodded. “Of course he cheated. But if he beat her, that cements his position.”


“The land is still with him, for some reason.”


“The land probably has Stockholm syndrome,” Kanesha joked.


I glanced at her. “You might be right. Old patterns. Familiar evils. Or maybe he does still love his realm.”


Ebba nodded. “He does. I suspect he is torn between dying to save it and trying to save both it and himself.”


“And somebody has to be sacrificed.”


“Let’s make it him.”


I shook my head. “If his heart isn’t in it, it not only won’t work, but we won’t be able to do it. We can’t just kill him.”


“Maybe we can,” Kanesha mused. “I’ll think about it.”


I smiled. “Everyone needs to think about it.” Of course, part of me might have argued that she couldn’t know much.


But she did. No goddess with eternal wisdom, but Kanesha was the smartest person I knew with the possible exceptions of my father and Odin.


Ebba nodded. “Everyone should try to come up with plans and then put it together. Jorun, why don’t you give Kanesha the tour.”


Kanesha recognized the dismissal, but didn’t argue with it. My only surprise was it being Ebba who wanted to talk to me privately, not Jorun. I had always thought Jorun liked me more.


After the two left, she turned to me. Then sighed. “My people prepare for war.”


“I know.”


“I want to trust you to end this, but I don’t.”


“That’s fine. I don’t trust me either.”


She paused, and then laughed. “Good. People who trust themselves to succeed tend to fail.”


I grinned, although it was still weak. “So, what did you want to talk about in private?”


“Well, Jorun is going to talk to your lady about keeping her safe, but I have a feeling that’s…”


“Kanesha won’t accept being hidden away somewhere.”


“If she fights in this battle she will die.”


“It’s her choice. I’m not going to wrap her up in cotton wool.”


Ebba considered that. “Then perhaps you will succeed after all.”


“Because I let the people I care about help me instead of trying to be the one sole protector.”


“It definitely helps. Now…I want to show you something.”


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 14

Helgr wanted to rule. Or perhaps it wasn’t that simple. I had wanted her to win.


She was dead. And I realized I was grieving her. And she was dead for real, gone.


Somebody had to die, and if that was the case, I knew it had to be me. For real, because…because…


I leaned against a fire tree, and felt warm fur under my hand. “You found me.”


Still no name. I still could not name him.


I wanted…no, I did not want this to be over. I wanted it to have never happened.


Heck, right now I wanted it to all be some kind of delusion, to find out I was, after all, nothing more than a mortal girl.


A mortal girl who could marry the woman she loved, perhaps raise a child or two with her, live her life and die.


Because if I was insane and hallucinating this entire thing, it meant the world was not about to end. It meant that the feeling of everything going to hell in a handbasket was, well, just that. A feeling. Imaginary.


Heck, I would definitely rather be dead than this at some levels, except for having to leave Kanesha.


I dropped into a sitting position and the fyrhund crawled into my lap. “What do you think I should do?”


No answer, of course. Magical being he might be, bound to me…I knew that he had returned from apparent death because I held some part of his spirit…he was still essentially a dog. Thus, he was not overly smart.


Just a dog. Adorable, of course. Useful, definitely. Smart enough to give me advice? No.


Then a portal opened. I stood up. There was a dwarf on the other side. “Come on,” Jorun said.


It was even large enough for the horses, although they seemed none too keen on stepping through into a dwarven tunnel. Smart horses they might be, they still had some instinct.
The fyrhund followed, and we were out of Muspelheim. For now.


I knew it could not be for long. I needed a plan.




“Somebody challenged Surtur to single combat. They lost,” I explained to the twins. “His tie to the land is too strong.”




“I wouldn’t mind some advice on what to do next.”


“I think what you really need is some ale.”


I managed a weak laugh. “Uh huh, I’m not letting you guys get me drunk again.”


“Yes you are.”


I did not, of course, win the argument.


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 13

We rode into the night. Still no stars.


No moon either, I noticed. Should there be a moon? I had no idea. Even our steeds tired, walking now with heads down.


“I think we lost him,” Kanesha ventured.


“Not forever.” After what I’d seen. “I know what we have to do. Sort of. But I have no idea where to actually start on it.”


No clue whatsoever. I turned to Thruor. “Can we warn the dwarves?”


“I have a way, yes.” She dismounted and walked a distance away, pulling out something which looked like a locket.


More dwarven magic, bound into objects as it so often was. I almost envied them.


Well, right now I definitely envied them. They were in a much safer place than I was. For now. It would not last.


I turned to Kanesha. “I’m sorry. I love you.”


She slid down from the horse and I followed.


“It’s not…”


“Maybe it is.” She couldn’t feel it. What the rest of us could feel. Or could she? I realized I had no idea what she felt, what she sensed.


Not from the inside. I knew what it was like to think myself human. I did not know what it was like to be human.


To be fragile and powerful all at the same time. To be what we protected and why we existed.


How could I love her?


“What can you feel?” I asked, finally.


“I feel cold. In the midst of all of this.” She turned to me. “Is it starting?”


“Not if I can help it. There’s one way to stop it.”


And it might mean I had to die. Permanently. Leave her. I didn’t want to.


“What is it?”


I let out a breath. “The king is the land. The king is also the sacrifice. Helgr lost because she forgot that, because she wanted to rule.”


“Somebody has to die.”


I frowned. “I don’t know that for sure.” It was my reading of it, but I also knew many things could be meant.


Prophecies. If I never heard another one, or another cryptic utterance, it would be far too soon.


And I would. If I managed to get myself and the world through this, I had a feeling there would be plenty more of them in my life.


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 12

It ended as quickly as it had begun, and I was already moving towards Kanesha and the steeds. “We need to go.”


Surtur would not give us the day and night. I knew that. He was too insane, and now drunk with power.




“A day and a night!” said several voices.


Well, we had that at least. Backup. People who did not want us to be held and kept here.


“Anyone who gets in my way dies.”


Okay. That wasn’t so good. I vaulted into the saddle, pulled Kanesha up behind me, felt the son of Sleipnir gather himself to run.


People might not want to get in Surtur’s way. They did not want to get in ours either, and his own horse was absent.


Well, no, I could see it, almost sense it, running towards him. I had no idea what had happened to Helgr’s.


I was sure the fire giant horses could not keep up with the sons and daughters of Sleipnir. Sure of that.


We had a head start, but it might not be enough of one. And now even more had seen that their king lacked honor.


The king is also the sacrifice. And he had hinted he would do it.


Then changed his mind. He would rather trigger Ragnarok, and the energies I felt rising, flowing around us, were the energies of the ending and change of the world.


I could not stop it. I might not survive it.


No. None of us would survive it in the forms we were in, even those who lived.


I clutched the horse’s mane, not bothering to steer, letting him run. Trusting him to take me where I needed to go.


But the Old Man had given me the clue.


Somebody willing to be the sacrifice in Surtur’s stead. Could I?


I was not bound to Muspelheim. It had to be somebody bound to this land, some being of this place.


Not me. I did not want to die, and perhaps I was making excuses.


But not me.


Or we had to find a way to take Surtur out that would be accepted as the sacrifice.


The Old Man had hinted that was not the solution.
Give themselves to the land without seeking power.


Who could we ask that of? Who could I ask what I was not sure I could give myself?


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 11

Blades met in a clash of fire, and both were enveloped in it. Not that either could be harmed by it.


Not harmed, no, but I understood that this was a fight not just of arms but of will and fire and who was closer bound to Muspelheim.


I understood then that Surtur was going to win. Oh, it did not appear inevitable to start with, but Muspelheim did not want Helgr.


Was rejecting her, painfully, I heard the gasping of her breath as the blades met again as if I was standing right next to her.


How did I know this? I feared that I knew and understood too much in that moment, too much to stay aloof.


But I also could not help. Had this been treason by Surtur, then it would have been my task and honor to.


Why was this happening?


Fire flickered, and a spark landed at my feet. I jumped back instinctively, as if not yet ready to let it touch me, even though I knew it would not harm me.


Worse, what they were doing was draining the land further. It was my fault.


It was all my fault. “I should have stopped this.”


A hand reached out, pulled me back. An old fire giant. “You could not have stopped her.”


“I encouraged her.”


“Because you believed her right.”


“Because Surtur is insane.”


And this meant Muspelheim was insane too. Perhaps. Could a realm go mad? Or was it that the king was the land was the king? Something dwarves and giants knew and mortals had once well understood.


Something I knew now.


The king was the land was the king. Surtur’s madness was too deep. The land writhed against his touch, but it was a touch it knew, like a beaten horse that still turned to its master to seek treats.


It was too late. But I had still…the prophecy.


“What can we do?”


“Find somebody who will give themselves to the land without seeking power.”


Then the old fire giant was gone, and I knew he had never really been there.


Or rather, he had, but he was no fire giant.
Give themselves to the land without seeking power. Except if they knew they would get it…


I closed my eyes. If they knew they would get it then it could be no true test.


And then I knew. The king was the land was the king.


The king was also the sacrifice.


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 10

There were apparently quite a few formalities. We finally dismounted, and servants led away Helgr’s horse.


They tried to take the steeds too, but neither were willing to leave, snorting at them instead. Thruor shrugged. “Let them watch – they are more intelligent than many men.”


The fire giants seemed to accept this. We moved to the lists, for want of a better term. I was not sure whether this was one of those cases where the challenged chose the weapons, or what the rules were.


I had a feeling this had not happened often. The challenge had to be upheld. There had to be grounds.


And now it would be decided. As Helgr’s second, I handed her her sword. Surtur drew his blade. Their eyes met and I moved back.


I knew this would not take long. Not between two such combatants. A memory. Watching Einherior spar, sometimes against each other, sometimes with Freya’s warriors in the mix.


Thor taking on six of them at once, laughing.


Accepted. But I knew, somehow, I could not go back. The prophecy stood as a barrier between me and that life. Whatever else I remembered, I did not recall or had never known what it said.


Likely had never known. Just that there was a prophecy and the future demanded that I learn.


Learn lessons I had to learn on Midgard.


Learn to love.


The child I had been had had no idea how to do that. Not too much like my father after all.


Too much the reverse of my mother. Understanding the commitment of love and fearing it, fearing it would tear me apart. Right, perhaps, for the daughter of chaos and fidelity.


I had learned to love.


I had learned to accept that it would tear me apart. That it was inevitable, that even if it lasted it would still tear you apart.


That was Sigyn’s lesson. That love was supposed to hurt, and the point was that it was also what put you back together.


With bits of the other person in the way you were. I glanced at Kanesha, watching safe from the sidelines. The necklace glinted at her throat.


Then I turned back to the fighters. It was about to begin, but they held back. A pregnant moment.


A moment in which I sensed the entire world was in the balance. If he won, then the fight continued.


If she did, then it was over.


Yet I still felt that threat, the fire rising and threatening to burn the realms, to explode as it met the ice of Jotunheim.


It felt now as if this was not the solution, but I could not stop it. Not now.


It was far too late for that.