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Mist

Mist - 1

by

Susan Krinard

To Serge, with love

In the time of Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods—

As darkness descended, and Loki’s horde beset the Aesir;

As the Alfar fell and Fenrisulfr opened his jaws, Odin to consume;

When the World Tree shuddered and

Surtr set the Rainbow Bridge aflame;

Thus spake the All-father:

To you, my servants, Valkyrie, Choosers of the Slain,

I entrust the greatest Treasures of the Aesir:

To Horja, Gridarvoll, the Unbreakable Staff;

To Eir, the Apples of Idunn,

without which the gods cannot survive;

To Hild, Six-legged Sleipnir, Swiftest of Horses;

To Bryn, Freya’s Cloak, giver of the power of flight;

To Olrun, the lost Sword of Freyr, which needs no hand to wield it;

To Regin, Mjollnir, the Hammer of Thor, Mightiest of Warriors;

To Rota, that glove called Jarngreipr,

to which the Hammer must return;

To Skuld, Megingjord, the Belt of Power;

To Hrist, Bragi’s Harp, whose voice charms all creatures;

To Kara, the Gjallarhorn, Summoner of Warriors;

To Sigrun, Gleipnir, the chain that cannot be broken;

To Mist, Gungnir, my own, the Spear that can never miss its mark.

All these you must hold, by your Oaths, untouched,

Until the Aesir come again.

PROLOGUE

Norway, 1942

“Just a little further, skatten min,” Mist said, helping the little girl to her feet. The ramparts of snow to either side of the narrow path were as high as the child’s hips, but Rebekka had refused to stay on the trail Geir and Horja had broken through the nearly trackless wilderness. Snow was falling more and more thickly, reaching down like a smothering hand and flattening the dense forests into shadowy silhouettes.

“I’ll take you back to your uncle,” Mist said. “Do you think you can hold onto my pack if I lift you up?”

The girl gave Mist a scornful look from beneath her close-fitting hood and woolen cap. “I don’t want to stay with Uncle Aaron,” she said. “He talks too much. Where is my papa?”

Rebekka should have been born a Valkyrie, Mist thought. She had the spirit, the strength, and an excellent judgment of men in one so young.

But the days of open, honorable battle, when the bravest fighters were chosen to join the gods in their great hall, Valhalla, had gone long ago. Once Mist and her Sisters had swept over blood-soaked battlefields on elf-bred steeds, selecting the victors and sweeping up the souls of valiant warriors to live on forever as Einherjar, the army of the Aesir. Forbidden to join in battle themselves, the Valkyrie had borne the trappings of war but never hurled their spears or bared their swords. They’d had to be content with basking in borrowed glory.

No more. Now a handful of Odin’s Shield-maidens carried Sten guns with the Norwegian Resis tance, creeping and skulking and striking from silence without warning, shooting down the murderers of women and children like the dogs they were. Killing them— not with magic, but with the skill of their own hands—and making sure at least a few of the Nazis’ victims escaped.

Rebekka stared at up at Mist expectantly. “I want to stay with you until Papa comes.”

The girl was too young to understand. She would likely never see her father again.

“You know your papa has gone a different way,” Mist said, kneeling to help Rebekka remove her skis. She tied them onto the girl’s pack and waited while Rebekka scrambled up onto her back. The child let out a little puff of excitement as she settled into her lofty position astride Mist’s shoulders.

“How much longer?” she asked.

If they were lucky and the weather got no worse, they might reach the Swedish border before dark. But it was not hours Mist was thinking of. It was the years ahead, long years in a world that no longer held any memory of her kind except in myth.

Mist fingered the talisman pendant hung on a sturdy leather cord around her neck, the one Odin All-father had given her before the Last Battle.

“You will go to Midgard,” he had said. “You and each of your Sisters will bear a weapon that must not fall into the hands of the evil ones. As long as you live, you will guard them. Until . . .”

Mist had never seen him again, nor understood why the Allfather had sent the Valkyrie away when there would never be anyone to wield the Treasures, let alone steal them, when the Last Battle ended. Evil would die along with the Good.

And yet Mist’s duty remained. Until the German invasion of the Northlands, her only reason for existing was to carry her burden through eternity.

This war, among all the countless that had come and gone in two millennia, had ended her self-imposed exile. She had found a new purpose, and it resided in this little girl and hundreds like her. Rebekka would know an end to conflict and a life that, for all its smallness, would find meaning in simple pleasures, in love, in future generations. All the things Mist had learned to live without.

The guttural cry of a gyrfalcon overhead pulled Mist from her thoughts. White against white, her Sister Valkyrie, Bryn, was only a flicker of motion in the colorless sky, almost invisible. As Mist watched her circle, Bryn faltered as if caught by a noose and pulled abruptly toward the earth. Her wings trembled, and a shower of pale feathers fluttered down amid the snow.

“What is wrong with that bird?” Rebekka asked, following Mist’s gaze.

Mist caught a puff of white down and clenched it in her fingers. From the beginning of the war Mist had refused to accept that, even with the gods so long dead, the Valkyrie were still forbidden to use the Treasures. It was she who had suggested that Bryn take advantage of the magic cloak she had vowed to protect.

So far, it had been invaluable. But lately Bryn had been giving disturbing reports, claiming that it was becoming increasingly difficult to put on the cloak and change her shape.

“It’s as if it doesn’t want me to wear it,” the dark-haired Valkyrie had said at their last camp. “As if Freya is punishing me for my blasphemy.”

Mist had scoffed. “Blasphemy for using it to aid her people in their time of greatest need?”

Bryn had shivered and shook her head. “The Treasures were ours to guard, not to use. We have no right.”

They had spoken of such things, Mist and Bryn and Horja, when they had found each other after Minister- President Quisling had taken control of the Norwegian government under the German Reich. All three of the

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