Gloom settled over their marble house. Inga shuffled in and out, eyes red and puffy, devastated by the news of Gudrun's death. Freya turned pensive. Diana grew more determined. "We only have a short time," she finally said, trying to galvanize her friends into some plan of action. "We can't let Heid pick and choose her skirmishes. We need to take the lead. How do we do it?"
Freya spread her hands. "We can't be sure which giants have joined Heid. We can't afford to alienate any who are our friends by invading their lands."
"Is that where Heid lives, in Giantland?"
"I'm not sure." Freya licked her lips, thinking. "The fire giants live in Muspelheim, but I don't think Heid would join with them."
Diana stared. "Are you telling me there's more than one Giantland?"
"It has many parts. If I had to guess, Heid's hiding with some of the frost giants. They're sworn enemies of the Aesir."
"But not every frost giant?" Diana guessed.
Freya grimaced. "Not all of them."
"So it's almost impossible to hunt down Heid and corner her with her allies."
"It wouldn't be wise."
"Why not?" Inga demanded. "Heid has to be stopped! She's hurt too many people, and she'll hurt more." When Diana stared at her in surprise, she said, "Don't look at me like that. I watched Tyr grow. You can match a giant's size, too, can't you? And you have magic. They killed Gudrun! Why not stomp into Giantland and kill anyone who gets in your way?"
"You've been through a lot. You're upset. But…" Diana reached out to put a hand on Inga's shoulder, thinking to calm her.
Inga pulled back, out of reach. "The giants smashed the rowan trees! They tried to kill Jorunda!"
"And how many giants would we slaughter who are innocent, who'd only battle us out of fear or panic?" Freya said. "Is that what you want?"
Inga lowered her eyes. "I've never met a good giant."
"And you told me that you'd never met a good witch." Diana reached out again, and this time, Inga leaned into her. "That doesn't mean they don't exist, and they deserve as much respect as we give you."
Inga crumpled, plopping onto an edge of the wooden table. Noir opened one eye to glare at her. She'd disturbed his sleep. He was curled around the wooden bowl filled with fruit, blithely ignoring Diana’s rule that cats weren't allowed on the table.
Diana sighed. "We can't storm Giantland. It wouldn't be right. Are there any other options?"
"We could lure Heid here." Freya shrugged. "I can't think of anything else."
Inga was interested now. "How?"
There was a knock at the door and Tyr entered the room. He quickly took in Inga's swollen eyes and Freya's pinched expression. His gaze slid to Diana. "You three look serious."
"We're talking strategy—some way to lure Heid out of her hiding spot. We've already lost one week. We only have three more before she has too many allies for us to defeat her."
He didn't answer immediately. He came to sit at the table, opposite Inga, and took his time to think things through. Diana liked that about him. He didn't brag and boast like Donar or Mars. "Heid trampled the rowan trees. She must be worried we'll grow too strong. If she thinks we're building our defenses, making it difficult for her to attack, she might be tempted to stop us."
Freya brightened at that idea. "The giants took the same route from Giantland each time they came. If we could strengthen our defenses there, set up some kind of warning system, maybe that would intimidate her."
"Can we stop them from coming?" Inga asked.
Tyr shook his head. "No, but that's not the point. If we rattle Heid, we've done enough."
"Where is Giantland?" Diana asked. "Below the cliffs?"
"Yes, east of Midgard." Freya motioned in the general direction.
"Where mortals live?" Surely, the two didn't mix.
"Rivers and Iron Wood separate them. No one can pass through that forest."
"So the giants are contained in one area?" Diana tried to picture the Norse world. "And that area must lie near the woods where they destroyed the first grove of rowan?"
"How much of the cliff would we have to protect?"
"A good fourth of the drop off," Tyr said. "Harder than you'd think."
"How do you stop a giant?" Inga asked. "The three of us working together could hardly keep a small one from killing Jorunda."
All three of the Norse looked to Diana. She looked to Noir. If she was hoping for inspiration, she didn't find it. The cat was napping, uninterested in strategy. "Giants are too big to block," she said. "But we can slow them down."
"How?" Inga, apparently, couldn't picture even that possibility.
Tyr looked doubtful too. "Can you actually devise something for that?"
"I might be able to."
"That doesn't sound encouraging." Skepticism tinged Tyr's voice. He ran a finger along Noir's spine. Noir lifted his head and glared at him.
"Magic is about nature. The giants have to climb something to get here, right?"
"The cliffs." Tyr waited.
"Then take me to where they climb."
"This will work, right?"
Diana gave an exasperated sigh. "Unless you come up with something better, take me to the stupid cliffs!"
He pushed himself to his feet.
Diana didn't feel overwhelmed by his confidence in her, but at least he was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. She set off after him. Freya and Inga followed. Even Noir roused himself enough to traipse after their group.
They walked in the direction opposite the village, just as they had when they'd searched for the rowan grove. This time, when she passed the ruined trees, she didn't look at them. She didn't want to. They followed the path of destruction—the trail the giants made, with broken spruce branches and snapped-off trunks, to the edge of the cliff. Diana went to the last brim of dirt and looked down. Tree tops stretched far below her. Noir joined her, studying the long distance from Midgard to the meadow. No easy climb.
"If we followed them, where would we land in Giantland?" Diana asked.
Tyr spoke with confidence. "In Utgard, citadel of the frost giants."
"Loki's realm," Freya added.
"Loki—your enemy?" Diana asked.
Tyr's voice turned hard. "We invited Loki to live with us in Asgaard. To thank us, he tricked Woden's blind son, Hodr, into killing his brother, Baldr. In the final battle, Loki will be freed and he and Heimdall will die, battling each other."
He sounded so angry, so bitter, Diana could only stare.
He took a deep breath. "Who knows? Maybe villains must play their parts in destiny, but I have no tolerance for Loki."
Diana nodded understanding. She knew her fair share about vengeance and was not apologetic. She had no remorse for removing wrongdoers when she met them at a crossroads. Some higher deity could judge their souls. She judged their actions. "Are the giants who joined Heid sympathetic to Loki?" she asked.
Freya answered before Tyr could. "It's more that they share anger and belligerence. I'm not sure any of them have empathy of any kind."
"Got you." Those words painted a clear picture for Diana. They attacked more out of hatred than any shared ideals. "But they all come from the same area?"
"Utgard," Tyr repeated.
"That makes it easier for us," Diana said. "That's the first border we need to protect."
Tyr's curiosity got the better of him. "How?"
Diana knelt and placed her palm on the ground. Noir nestled beside her. She muttered a chant and motioned for the others to join her. Freya, Inga, and Tyr knelt on hands and knees and repeated the words. Soon, a tremble rumbled beneath them.
"Thank you, earth," Diana said.
"Thank you, earth," the others joined in.
When Diana stood, they followed.
"What will that do?" Inga asked.
"When the giants step here, the ground will buckle and toss them back where they belong."
Inga stared. "You can do that?"
"No, but I can convince the earth to."
"Same thing." Freya smiled.
"It won't keep the giants from coming. We'll have to go up and down the cliff and cast the spell over and over again. They'll still find a way up, but it won't be easy." "I wish I had your powers." Inga pushed her hands in the pockets of her long skirt.
"You have others of your own." That made Diana think. She looked at Noir. "Am I right?"
The cat nodded his head.
She turned to Freya. "You and Gudrun both worked together to shelter Inga."
"Yes, as goddess of love, I knew she was meant for Jorunda…."
Diana didn't let her finish. "Maybe it was more than that. You have the gift of divination. Maybe you sensed something more. Perhaps Inga isn't a witch, but that doesn't mean she's not a seer."
"A seer?" That caught Freya off guard.
"That's what you've been trying to tell me, isn't it?" Diana asked Noir.
The cat nodded his head again.
Freya turned to study their apprentice. "Gudrun chose you. She foresaw her own death and sent Diana to train you."
Inga jammed her hands deeper into the seams of her pockets. "Why couldn't she save herself then? Why didn't she see her killer?"
"You watched me read the runes. Answers aren't that simple." Diana remembered the last time she'd been with Gudrun. The old woman had been upset. "Gudrun asked me to tell her what I saw when I threw the bones. I think some sign told her she'd die soon."
"And she couldn't stop it?"
"No. Greeks have the Fates. You have the Norns. Our threads are measured at birth. Our times of death are foretold."
Inga hugged her arms around her body. "I don't want to know."
"I wouldn't either, even though some do." Diana looked at Tyr.
He shrugged. "It gives me an advantage. I know I'll destroy Garm. We'll die fighting each other."
Not good enough, Diana decided. Norse always thought about how to achieve victory. She thought about quality of life. Sometimes, ignorance was bliss.
Tyr smiled, watching her expression. "We seem odd to you, don't we?"
"Odd? That's putting it mildly."
"And you seem extraordinary to us. Should we move on and enchant more of the cliff line?"
Always practical, Diana decided. She gave a quick nod. "Sure, let's go."
Freya hurried to walk by her side, nudging Tyr out of the way. "What you said about Inga—do you really think she might be our next seer?"
The more Diana thought about it, the more she was convinced it was true. "Yes. Why else would Gudrun protect her so fiercely?"
Freya gave a slow smile. "It would be a sweet irony, wouldn't it? Someone eliminated a seer, but there's a new to take her place. Can you train her?"
"In the runes? Yes. In the ways of her village? No. But once she casts her own bones, she'll gain wisdom of her own."
"Can you teach me too?"
"It couldn't hurt me to read runes."
"I'll try. As you've seen, you either have a talent or you don't." Diana raised her chin. "Can you teach me shape shifting?"
"If you have a gift for it."
"A fair trade. We Greeks like to barter."
Freya smiled. "If your vision was right—and they all have been—and I’m to survive Ragnarok, I'd like as many talents as I can muster. Rebuilding isn't going to be easy. And if you're immortal, as you like to believe, shape shifting might come in handy."
"Nothing's easy," Diana told her. "You already know that. Let's hope we're fast learners."
"As fast as Hermod. I'm ready for change."
Diana laughed. "You want too much. If challenges were that simple, we'd all get lazy. We wouldn't grow."
"Fine by me." Freya slowed her steps to lace her arm through Tyr's and looked up at him, smiling. "If Diana and I dallied day after day and grew fat and lazy, you'd learn to like big women, right?"
"I won't be around that long." His voice was sour.
Freya stared at him, surprised. "Oh, for Woden's sake! You don't know that. Why are you so grumpy?"
"I liked Gudrun. I even felt sorry for Snorri."
"So did I." Something was bothering Tyr. Diana suspected it was more than what he'd told them. "We have work to do, though," she said. "Might as well get to it."
"I don't need a Roman to whip me into shape!"
Diana let out a deep breath and counted to ten. The sky god was in a mood. She didn't appreciate his taking it out on her, but these were his people, his responsibility. It would affect him more. She tried to smooth things over. "Hey, I'm a mixed bag—a little Greek with a little Roman and Spartan thrown in. We like to get things done."
She expected a laugh. She didn't get one. He gave a curt nod, his expression serious. "What should we do?"
So much for humor. This was going to be a fun day. "We need to protect the entire cliff at Giantland. We need to enchant the earth and make the giants work to visit us."
Noir stopped walking and sat on his haunches.
"I'll carry you if you don't want to walk," Diana offered.
Noir gave a flip of his tail and set off toward the wood, ditching them.
"Will he be safe?" Freya asked.
"I wouldn't want to fight him." Diana watched him disappear, damn cat. "If I had to bet on him or a hell hound, I'd put money on my cat."
Inga shook her head, confused.
Tyr went to stand beside her. "Freya can take the lead with you."
Diana blinked, surprised. The Norse god had just ditched her too. What the hell was his problem?
Freya shared a meaningful glance with Diana. "Men! Don't let him bother you. He's in a snit, but it's not because of you."
Maybe. Maybe not. But Tyr had hurt her feelings, and that aggravated Diana even more. What did she care what he thought? What did it matter? She tried to concentrate on the work at hand. "Does he think I should do more?"
"He's not thinking. That's the problem. He's not a happy boy, so he's pouting. But your spells will make it harder for the giants to surprise us. And he knows that. He's just not ready to stop sulking yet."
Diana frowned, worried. She'd disappointed Tyr somehow, and that bothered her.
Freya broke into her thoughts. "What next? What do we do when we finish this?"
Freya was trying to distract her, and Diana appreciated it. "We alert the birds. They'll warn us if giants climb the cliffs."
"They'll do that?"
"They're part of Nature, my realm. And then I start teaching Inga the runes."
"Me, too. You'll teach me too, right? We have a deal."
"And you teach me shape shifting." Diana pushed Tyr from her mind. No wonder she'd stayed clear of men all her life. They were babies! She had enough to tackle for the moment. She didn't need to coddle a man.