If you’ve been hanging out on that cliffhanger ending from The Monster Chained, allow me to give you a little sneak peek at what comes next…
Cold water closed around my body as Týr pulled me beneath the waves of Lake Amsvartnir. His hand felt like a band of iron over my lips, and his arm crushed my chest against his body. He’s killing me, I thought, as the water swept over my eyes. I imagined the life growing within me, the child Fenris and I made with our love and passion. Suddenly, I had the strength to pull back my arm and ram my elbow into Týr’s stomach.
He grunted, but his grip did not loosen. I pulled back again—
Wait. He grunted? Underwater?
Slowly, I eased my eyes open. They did not burn with the sting of fresh water. Instead, gray mists swirled before me. My dress clung to my ankles, heavy and wet. I staggered forward, tripping over the sopping fabric of my own skirts. The weight of Týr’s body sagged against my back.
“Quiet,” Týr whispered.
He lurched forward, shoving me before him. The mists parted. A small cottage wavered before us, undulating like a ship on the water. Týr groaned with such agony and frustration that a stab of sympathy shot through my stunned consciousness. The cottage solidified. Týr staggered toward it, pushing me before him.
My feet slipped over grass. The mist vanished, leaving Týr and me on a moonlit hillside before the neat little cottage. Candles glowed cheerfully in the windows. Týr let go of my shoulder and threw himself across the cottage’s arched wooden door.
“Now!” he cried.
The door opened, and Týr collapsed to his knees. His body curled around his injured arm; his face and chest were streaked with dark crimson.
A woman screamed. I had just enough time to recognize the person standing in the doorway before Týr staggered back onto his feet, this time pressing his lone remaining, blood-smeared hand against her lips.
Freyja. Týr had brought me to Freyja’s house.
The two of them staggered backward. A moment later, Freyja appeared in the doorway, frantically waving me inside. I stared at her, my mind refusing to make sense of her gestures. Týr’s blood was streaked across the right side of her face, reaching from her lips to her ear. It could have been a kind of armor, I thought. Bloody, beautiful armor. My entire body felt strange, as though I were still underwater, and my thoughts were floating away from me.
“Get her in!” Týr snapped.
Freyja came through the doorway, grabbed my arms, and yanked me over the lintel. I blinked in the candlelit warmth of Freyja’s house. Týr leaned heavily on a chair. Blood spurted dully from the stump at the end of his left wrist. His face had gone as pale as the first snow that had blanketed the Ironwood.
“Fenris is chained,” Týr said. His voice sounded as wan and pale as he looked.
The words snapped me out of my revery.
“You don’t have much time,” Týr continued, speaking to Freyja as if I wasn’t even there. “You know where to take her?”
Freyja nodded. Týr pushed off against the chair, came to his feet, and swayed forward. Freyja caught him.
“My father,” Týr panted. “He’ll be…after her.”
“I understand,” Freyja murmured.
“Because of the baby,” Týr said.
“Yes. I know.”
Týr rocked backward. His eyes rolled up in his head and, for a moment, I thought he would collapse again.
“Go,” Freyja urged. “Heal your arm. You’re no good to anyone dead.”
Týr closed his eyes. I shivered as the chill from my wet dress soaked into my skin. Dead. Týr looked dead already.
“Please go,” Freyja whispered. “Don’t let this kill you. Don’t let your father kill you.”
With a sigh, Týr raised his head. Freyja opened the door to her cottage and muttered something soft and musical under her breath. As I watched, the moonlit expanse of grass faded. A moment later, I was staring at the wooden walls of Val-hall. Voices murmured in the distance. The scent of roast meat drifted through the air.
“Go,” Freyja urged.
Týr staggered forward. He dragged himself through the door, and Freyja pulled it closed behind him. I stared at the dark pool of blood where Týr had been standing. Freyja spun on her heels to face me.
“Under the table,” she barked. “Now!”
Behind her, the solid wood of her door looked like it was melting. Now, instead of polished wooden planks, all I could see was her front step. A dark trail of Týr’s blood led across the grass. Beyond the blood-smeared path, a full moon shone down on the churning ocean.
“Your door—” I stammered.
Freyja clicked her tongue. “Yes, it’s magical. Every damned thing in this place is magical. Now, get under the table.”
I frowned and turned to her table. A heavy, red cloth lay draped across the surface, its soft folds brushing the floor. My head felt thick and heavy, as though I’d been frozen in a block of ice.
“Why–” I asked.
Freyja glanced at her door, then sucked in her breath with a sharp hiss. I followed her gaze. There, across the grass, a brilliant rainbow spun in the darkness. Fear spiked in the pit of my stomach. Freyja’s hands closed around my cheeks, forcing me to meet her eyes.
“You carry the child of the man Óðinn just imprisoned.” She glanced at her doorway, now as smooth and transparent as a sheet of glass, then fixed me again with her dark eyes. “Do you understand why you’re in danger?”
My mind churned. The image of three lonely graves floated upward from my memories, and my eyes blurred with tears. Curse me, I hadn’t understood the danger when I first ran away with Fenris. All we’d wanted was to be together, to love each other. To have a family.
“Óðinn can’t risk your child growing up to seek vengeance,” Freyja said. “Fuck, Óðinn can’t risk you growing up to seek vengeance.”
A long, slow shiver worked its way up my spine. My hands crept around the gentle swell of my stomach and clenched together.
“Sol, if Óðinn finds you, he will kill you,” Freyja growled. “Now, get under the stars-damned table.”
She released my cheeks, and I dropped to my knees. I shoved the red cloth aside, crawled under the table, and pulled my knees to my chest. My dress clung to my skin, raising shivers. A vast, howling darkness opened inside my chest, something like the mass of Fenris’s body rising against the sky, blotting out the very stars; I pressed my hands over my lips to keep it from escaping.
A sharp rap echoed from Freyja’s door. I jumped, hitting my head on the table. My heart rose in my throat until it felt like it would block the air to my lungs.
“Just a minute,” Freyja called with perfect, melodious calm.
“Open your damn door,” a man barked from the other side.
I froze. That was Óðinn’s voice. The heavy red cloth draped across Freyja’s table suddenly seemed thin and insubstantial.
“In a minute,” Freyja sang.
There was a loud huff from the other side of the door, followed by the scrape of a chair across Freyja’s floor. Wooden chair legs butted into the red fabric. I pulled my knees closer to my chest. Was she trying to hide me? The rage and terror of a moment ago began to drain out of me, replaced by a cold sort of peace. If Freyja meant to betray me to Óðinn, then my life was over. The underside of this table was one of the last things I’d see in the living Realms.
Freyja’s door hummed as it swung open.
“Thank the Realms you’re here,” Freyja said with an exaggerated sigh. “Your son just absolutely fucking ruined my dress! And don’t even get me started on the front steps— Oh, stars! What happened to you?”
“Týr was here?” Óðinn asked.
“Uh, yes. Bleeding like a stuck pig. Look what he did to my dress!”
Heavy footsteps boomed across Freyja’s floor.
“Was he alone?”
Freyja made a sort of disgusted growl. “I’m expecting you to replace this entire outfit. He’s your son, after all.”
Óðinn snorted. “Was he alone?”
“Of course he was alone!” Freyja snapped. “Who in the Nine damned Realms would he have brought with him?”
The footsteps approached Freyja’s table. My breath caught in my throat. The sound of my own heartbeat suddenly seemed very loud in the still, small space beneath the table. A chair squealed across the floor, then bumped into the red fabric. A moment later, Óðinn’s heavy boots kicked into the space beside my thighs. I stared at the thick, black mud on their soles with horrified fascination.
“What did Týr want?” Óðinn asked.
“Oh, he wanted a quick fuck before he bled to death!” Freyja spat.
Óðinn sighed. His boots scraped across the floor as he stretched his feet. I pressed myself against the far leg of Freyja’s table to avoid touching him.
“What did he say?” Óðinn’s voice was calm and cold.
Freyja huffed. “Well, between the screaming and the moaning, he didn’t exactly say much.”
Silence. Freyja’s feet shifted across the floor, then came to rest next to Óðinn’s chair.
“What happened to him?” she asked, this time in a much softer voice. “Where were you?”
Óðinn pulled back his feet, and his hand thudded across the tabletop. I flinched at the noise.
“I was doing my stars-damned job,” Óðinn said. “Keeping this fucking Realm safe. Keeping all of you insolent little shits protected.”
Freyja’s feet scuffed against the stone as she backed up. “And here, for just a moment, I thought you were trying to get back in my good graces.”
Óðinn’s chair squealed against the floor as he shoved away from the table. “Why was Týr here? Just tell me, Freyja.”
Freyja sighed. My chest tightened. Stars, please. No.
“I think it was a mistake.” Freyja sounded utterly defeated. “You know he’s shit when it comes to controlling the Bifröst, even if he’s not missing body parts. I think he just crashed here.”
Óðinn stood. I watched a clump of dried mud fall from the heel of his boot to shatter on Freyja’s floor.
“He didn’t say anything?”
“He wouldn’t even tell me what had happened.” Freyja’s voice was high and tight now; it sounded like she was on the verge of tears.
“Fine,” Óðinn sighed. “You sent him away?”
“I sent him to Val-hall. But, damn it, you should probably check on him. I don’t know if he even made it to the mead.”
Óðinn’s boots stomped away from the table, and I dared to breathe again. The door hummed as it opened.
“Óðinn?” Freyja asked.
Óðinn snorted in acknowledgment.
“Ah, Freyja.” There was a silence, then a wet sort of sucking noise. I shuddered. Stars, had she just kissed Óðinn?
“Don’t worry about it,” Óðinn said. His voice sounded thicker and deeper. “It’s over.”
There was another thick, slurping kiss before the door closed with a soft smack. The room fell silent. I forced myself to count to thirty before I shifted forward on my hands and knees and lifted a corner of the red cloth.
Freyja leaned against her door, her arms crossed over her chest. She wore a strange, almost pained expression which vanished as soon as she saw me.
“Well, that’s that,” she said. “Come on out.”
Hesitantly, I crawled from beneath the table, pulled myself to my feet, and wrapped my arms around my shivering, wet chest.
“Why did you do that?” I asked.
Her brow wrinkled. “Do what?”
“Why did you ask Óðinn what happened? You know what happened.”
Her composed, serene expression faltered, but only for a moment.
“Óðinn and I have a very complicated relationship. I suppose…” Her voice drifted off, and she stared at the translucent pane of her front door as if she could still see Óðinn standing on the other side.
“It’s what he expected me to say,” she finally said. “And maybe I hoped he’d do the right thing.”
Her face contorted into a frown, then smoothed into her typical smile. Armor, I thought.
“Anyway,” she said breezily. “He’ll be watching the house for a couple of days.”
My heart jolted against my breastbone. “A couple of days? But, Fenris—”
“Hush.” Freyja’s smile widened, and her eyes danced. “There’s a back door, darling.”
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