(This image makes me think of Tyr in battle, but you have to imagine him with a ragged stump where his right hand is now.)
Freya stared at the familiar bones that Diana shook from her pouch. Twenty-four, Freya knew. Diana had carved a set of runes for her from the blackened bones of a giant they’d killed. Hers held plenty of magic, but nothing like Diana’s. She recognized the pinkie of Hippolytus, a mortal Diana had favored. There was a chunk off the Minotaur’s hoof, part of a Cyclop’s eye socket. Diana had explained that each held a special meaning.
Diana gathered them in her hands and nodded to her.
“Where can we find Odur?” Freya asked.
Diana tossed the runes. Most fell, face down, telling them nothing. But the seven that landed, face up, began to sing. An indistinct melody filled the room, and an image formed on the marble walls. Tyr frowned, studying it.
Odur sat, leaning against the rock walls of a darkened cave. His arms rested on his knees, and his eyes were closed against the gloom. A heavy stone blocked the cave’s entrance.
Freya pressed her hand to her heart. He was alive, unharmed. Then she watched as he opened his eyes for one instant, seemed to stare directly at them, and then bent forward to rest his head on his arms. The look in his eyes was so sad, she reached out a hand to comfort him, but he was only an image.
Diana tilted her head. “We need to see more,” she told the runes.
The view widened to show outside the cave. Craggy hills rolled in the distance. A river meandered between them.
“I know that place.” Tyr glanced at Freya. “The foothills before Bald Mountain.”
As Diana gathered the bones and returned them to her pouch, Freya turned to leave them abruptly. She caught Diana’s worried glance to Tyr, but he gave a short shake of his head. “She’ll be back,” he said.
She certainly would, but not in a thin gown meant to seduce her husband. She hoped someone was guarding the stone outside Odur’s cave, because she lusted for blood. Norse took vengeance seriously, and she was in the mood for retribution.
A few minutes later, she returned, dressed in leather pants and a leather corset, cinched over a white tunic. Her short blade rested in its shield against her back. Knives were strapped to her thighs. Her daughters stared.
“Mom?” Hnoss looked at her in wonder.
The Valkyrie’s lips curled in admiration.
A chill filled the room, and Diana said, “Stop it. I get it. You’re pissed, but you don’t need to freeze your friends.”
The girl had such a potty mouth.
Freya started for the door. When she was angry, all of her warmth and passion turned to cold fury. Diana, who was cool under pressure, erupted into a fiery temper when she lost control. Freya called to Tyr and Diana over her shoulder, “No one sticks my husband in a cave. Let’s go to him.”
Diana raised an eyebrow. She pointed to the pouch of runes around her neck. “We know he’s alive now and where to find him. I’d rather transport than walk.”
Freya stopped short. What was she thinking? Of course, it would be faster to find Odur with Diana’s runes. She turned on her heel and returned to them. She took Diana’s hand and curled her fingers around the stump of Tyr’s arm. “Do it.”
Before Diana could chant her magic, Donar walked through the room toward them. His fiery red hair and beard framed his rugged face, and he held his hammer, ready for action. “You called?” he asked Tyr.
“I’ll tell you once we get there.” They reformed their circle, Diana gripped the runes and Tyr said, “Odur at Bald Mountain.”
Freya heard Gresemi’s gasp as the four of them whirled from view. Trees and fields blurred past them. Colors blended, and soon they landed abruptly inside a dark, musky cave. Freya ran to Odur, who stood to wrap her in a tight embrace. He felt strong, solid, and safe. If anyone had hurt him…. Odur shivered, and she realized she’d grown cold again. She immediately stepped away to look him over properly.
“Did they harm you in any way?”
He shook his head. “One minute, I was drinking mead at home, and the next, I was surrounded by dark shadows. I couldn’t get enough air and tried to run, but the shadows were firm. I couldn’t push through them. I remember crashing onto my chair and falling sideways, and then I woke up here.”
Donar looked at their surroundings. Dank, stone walls. “It’s always fun when you’re involved,” he told Diana. Freya rolled her eyes. Donar loved to give people grief, but especially Diana.
Tyr explained what had happened, and Donar’s humor faded. “Old gods?” he asked.
“Not Titans,” Diana said. “Before them.”
They all turned to Odur for answers.
“On my wanderings, I found a new settlement in a wild area near the north coast. Always before, it was rocky terrain. Now, it’s lush and green. It spoke of the old ways, of stone cottages with wooden or peat roofs. There was a temple in its center, built of logs with a stone altar. A huge god, carved from a tree, stood at its entrance, but was none of our own. The temple and statue were pitch-black.”
Donar’s grip tightened on his hammer. “Old gods have come to our lands to claim them for their own?”
Tyr sought more information. “Were there mortals living there? Are they Norse?”
“I counted a dozen cottages, and each held mortals. Some were working in gardens. Some worked at carving a new statue.”
“Were there children?” Diana asked. Adults might make foolish choices, but children had no such luxury. The father’s sins were, indeed, visited upon them.
Odur frowned. “I didn’t see any, only young men and women. They all wore flowing black pants and tunics.”
Tyr crossed his arms over his chest, his expression grim. “A cult.”
Donar began to pace. He was too large to enjoy small spaces, Freya knew. He rolled his shoulders impatiently. “Enough. We can barely see each other. Let’s leave this cave, then decide what to do.”
Diana raised her hands to push the stone away, but Donar walked to it, drew back his hammer, and smashed it to rubble. He looked at them and grinned. They rushed outside, turning to see if anyone stood guard.
Freya reluctantly put away her short sword. There was no one in sight. She breathed a sigh of relief when Odur walked into the sunlight. Relief flooded her, but just as quickly, anger replaced it. She strode to her husband, ready to do him bodily harm.
He held up his hands to defend himself. “Let me explain.”
Freya hesitated. He wasn’t the most handsome god. He wasn’t even the most charming, so why couldn’t she leave him? Gods would line up to take his place. Her hand went to a knife handle at her thigh. “I’m listening.”
“If I’d have told you what I saw, you’d have insisted on coming with Tyr and me, and I didn’t want you to.”
“At the settlement, one of the mortals saw me. He pointed me out to the others. They looked upset and started after me, but I know the terrain. I easily lost them. Still, I was afraid. I didn’t know what god the statue represented, and I didn’t want you to return there with me. If something happened to me, you’d be here to raise our daughters.”
Her shoulders sagged. Damn it! He’d been thinking of her, of Hnoss and Gresemi. She balled her hands into fists. She wanted to hurt somebody, and there was no one to pound.
Odur went on. “When the shadow gods took me and I woke in the cave, I realized how wrong I’d been. You’d think I’d wandered off again, that I’d left you as soon I’d returned. I’d never hurt you that way, but what else could you think?”
“We never keep things from each other,” she said through gritted teeth. “That’s one of our strengths.”
He nodded. “I’m sorry.”
She blew out a long breath. What could she say? He’d meant to protect her. It hadn’t been a wise decision, but she understood it.
Tyr interrupted her thoughts. “Old gods took your husband and locked him away so that he couldn’t tell us of their presence and location. That bodes ill in itself.”
She nodded, focusing on their new threat. She didn’t know what these gods had in mind, but they weren’t welcome here. They’d leave, or she’d kill them. She turned to Diana. “How did the Olympians defeat them?”
“We all worked together. It was a long, hard battle that used as much magic as power. We fought them as shadows and gods, and thought we locked them back in the bowels of the earth, but they must have found a way out.”
Tyr turned to Odur. “Can you take us to their settlement?”
“No.” Freya crossed her arms over her ample bosom. “He can tell us where to find it.”
“I’m going.” Odur crossed his arms, too. They faced each other, toe to toe.
Freya blinked. She couldn’t remember a time Odur had gone head to head with her. Tyr, yes. Donar, every chance he got. But Odur? Never.
“If something happens to me, you’ll be there for our girls,” she told him.
He shook his head. “We all know the predictions. You survive Ragnarok. You’ll be here for Hnoss and Gresemi longer than I’ll be.”
Freya winced. Odur wasn’t destined to survive the final battle.
“I’m going,” Odur repeated. “If they’ve picked up and moved, I can find them. I know every inch of our worlds.”
Freya didn’t like it, but she gave a quick nod. If this meant so much to him, how could she deny him? He never denied her.
Donar, who looked slightly bewildered, glanced from one of them to the other. “Are we ready?”
Freya yanked on his red beard. “All you understand is action. It’s a good thing your sweet Sif thinks enough for both of you.”
He grinned. “I can’t deny that. She loves me as I am.”
“I won’t hold that against her.” Freya motioned to her husband. “Lead the way. Is it far from here?”
“A half day’s journey.”
Diana reached for her runes, but decided against it. Her hand returned to her side and she fell into step behind the others. Freya was grateful. She needed some time to readjust her thoughts and emotions.
They trudged over rocky landscape as they climbed to the top of the foothill and then descended to its base. Sparse grasses grew, providing a small amount of color. A stream ran between this foothill and the next. They climbed that foothill, too, and finally saw the green valley that stretched toward the northern coast. It hadn’t existed before. It was as though a small paradise had sprung from the stony soil. The settlement was nestled in its curves.
They walked another hour before they reached it. This time, the mortals noticed them immediately. They turned to wave and greet them.
“What trick is this?” Donar asked.
Tyr studied them, a thoughtful expression on his face. “They’ve changed tactics.” He pointed. A second wooden statue stood at the temple entrance now. Male mortals were busy working on a third. The aromas of meat on spits wafted toward them. On purpose? A young woman raised a wineskin and motioned for them to join them.
Freya’s hand went to her short sword. “It’s a trap.”
“Then let’s spring it.” Donar started forward. “Let’s find out what our enemies are made of.”
Freya turned to Diana. “Is that wise?”
Diana looked at their group. “You have seidr magic and I have witch magic. We have a sky-god and a thunder-god. Your husband can help us retreat, if we have to. We’ve walked into worse danger.”
Freya smiled. At last, she’d get to bust some heads. She and Odur followed behind Tyr and Diana. As Diana would say, time for some payback.