Ebba, I thought, was talking about leadership.
No, Ebba was talking about ruling. She was, after all, a princess. A princess who wanted to ensure peace for her people.
Ebba could be right or wrong, but I was sure of one thing: I really would do whatever it took short of sacrificing somebody else to stop the war.
Which might mean starting a war, ironically. Would invading Muspelheim with force do it?
No. No people could have a king enforced on them from outside. Or democracy, or anything else. I knew my history. It was never stable, never lasting. Besides, it was not my style.
My style was to sneak back in and deal with Surtur. I could not challenge him to single combat.
What about convincing the land to reject him and accept somebody else? I had no clue where I would start on that, except that the image of falling stars came back into my mind.
I decided that the best way out of this was a spar, and I found the sparring grounds of the dwarves.
And no shortage of potential partners. I might not be a fire giant to practice again, but I was not a dwarf. I crossed practice blades with a particularly short, even by dwarf standards, man with a red beard.
“You’re good,” he told me after a few blows.
“So are you.”
He grinned. “Lots of practice. And I suspect your answer is the same. But you leave your lower left a bit open.”
I corrected my form. I hoped never to fight a dwarf for real, but I knew it might happen. Even if the dwarf was, say, a criminal. But it was good practice. The different angles.
No doubt he felt the same way.
“So,” he said finally as we lifted our blades. “You failed to stop the war.”
“It’s not too late.”
He raised his hand. “You did not fail to stop Ragnarok. You failed to stop the war.”
I understood the difference. A controlled war, one that did not sweep across all Nine Realms might be the answer. “I don’t think war against Muspelheim is the answer.”
He snorted. “Muspelheim does.”
“Surtur does. There’s a difference.”
The king is the land is the king – but the king is not the people.
“As long as they’re loyal to him and he’s alive, no practical difference. Is how kingship works.”
My lips quirked. “Not all of them are loyal to him.”
It wasn’t heartening, though. If there was war, then people would die, and it was my responsibility. I had done everything I could.
It had not been enough.