Part 3

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27

When air moves across the world, the word we use is wind.

Wind stirs the leaves in the trees, the grain in the fields, the fur and feathers of the beasts, the hearts and minds of men and women. It may bring life or death, hope or despair, health or sickness, or all of these together.

And if its cause is the turning of the world, the breath of gods, or the motions of four strong dwarves lifting the sky, the tale of wind's origin matters little to those who feel its breath.

What matters is the change it carries.

28

The north wind blew in Thorvald's face, nearly warm next to the touch of the iron rivets under his palm. As he touched the mast, the sail billowed and snapped taught. With a long rasp, the ship freed itself from the gravel bank and the hair on Thorvald's neck pricked up, dropping back just as quickly.

Next to the Wild Hunt come to life before his eyes, if the square sail worked against both wind and current, he could not call it unnatural, not with the Runelord's help at his back.

Whatever magic moved the ship, he stood safe within.

29

Under the Moon's waning light, Thorvald watched Midgard pass into shadow, dwindling to a smudge while he watched and finally merging into the dark water. Somewhere behind lay everything he'd ever known and more.

Drawn to the prow, he watched for some hint of Jotunheim, wondering if he had words to express how long it might take to pass between worlds.

Mani slipped below the horizon, leaving only the cold northern stars to watch over him. He found some small solace in the familiar patterns and stories and, after a time, Thorvald lay down under the sail's shelter to sleep.

30

Gravel grinding under the keel jerked him from sleep and Thorvald rose to look out over a glittering field of stars. The vision lasted only a moment. A flash of silver to the east drew Thorvald's eyes as Mani pushed his glowing face into the sky. Hardly the burning glory of Sunna, yet the Moon's light wiped away the illusion of stars below, replacing it with an endless sparkling plain of snow and ice.

Standing by the dragonhead, Thorvald hesitated, wondering what to do, where to go, but the Wanderer's voice whispered in his ear. "Go North, into the wind."

31

A strange unease soured the pack leader's guts, jerking him from a dreamtime filled with fierce joy and easy kills. His hackles rose as the faint scent of lost honour tickled his nostrils.

Somehow the prey had come to them.

Rising, a long growl curled from his throat. His pack began to stir as a shadow blurred into his mate. She shook snow from her coat, the question blazing in her eyes as the others roused from slumber to gather around him.

He met each gaze then, with a single snort, turned and began to run, knowing they would follow.

32

Snow crunched under Thorvald's feet as he trudged northward. The wind had fled almost the moment his boots touched the Plain, coming now and again only in short gusts to sting any foolishly exposed flesh.

He wondered how far he'd walked, and how long. Minutes, hours, even days. It occurred to Thorvald late that he might trace time by the stars' paths in the sky. When he looked, familiar figures jumped from the veil, the constellations of summer dusk. Many hours at least, but he'd eaten nothing, misplacing hunger when Gungnir struck his door.

Alerted, his stomach began to growl.

33

As the Moon gained height in the sky, the Plain glowed, sparkling under the silver radiance and swallowing the stars beneath his feet. A wise man once told him Mani had no light of His own, only reflecting a bit of Sunna's brilliance out of love for his sister.

Yet with Sunna imprisoned under the Mountain of Ice, He had nothing to reflect, yet still shone, and as He rose higher, His light began to shift and change, veins of red spreading to swallow silver.

Thorvald began to think the god might hold something other than love in His heart.

34

A howl sliced through the night and into Thorvald's dreams. He started, limbs jerking as if waking from a fall. Mani's red gaze swept across the Glittering Plains, half past zenith and seeking the far horizon. For long moments, Thorvald waited, memories of other howls echoing in his head.

The north wind whispered past his ears but brought him no other sound. He relaxed, closing his eyes, then grimaced. Sleep would not find him again without effort. With a grunt and a sigh, he rose to bend that effort toward the Mountain and Sunna's freedom.

Thorvald began walking north again.

35

From far across the Glittering Plain, the faintest breath of air brought the prey's scent to his nose. Foiled once, the pack would not have allow its kill to be stolen a second time. They all tasted it now, pride within the reach of jaws strong enough to grasp it, redemption and shattered honour made whole again.

Tiny crystals sprayed from feet too fast to be more than a blur of motion. Great breaths left fog hanging in the air behind them. With no thought of rest or hunger, the pack drove forward into the icy darkness of frozen Jotunheim.

36

Thorvald tried to conceive of some circumstance that would bring wood of any kind to so cold and forbidding a place even frost giants shunned it. His imagination failed, yet the heap of weathered planks lay directly in his path. The practical part of his mind, the man who built his farm, guessed enough material waited there for a lean-to more than capable of sheltering Thorvald while he slept.

How long did he stand in the snow, transfixed by wood? He looked up into the glittering sky, then back down at the unexpected gift and considered how cold he was.

37

Warm for what felt like the first time in his life, Thorvald curled beside the ash and embers, staring up at the sky. Images and tales flew through his mind as he watched the frozen stars with more attention and intensity than since his Viking days.

The Wagon caught his eye, its seven stars twinkling in the air far beyond his reach. Did the All Father speak through the stars or just in the secret places of his heart? Then Thorvald remembered the God's words just outside his home.

He closed his eyes and left the stars to their dance.

38

Behind and around him, the pack panted and growled. They hadn't run so long or so hard without the Cold One's help in a long time. Far too long. But honour and the heat of vengeance drove them. When the time arrived to fight, they would be no less fierce for fatigue. And if, no when they brought down their prey, the meat would be all the sweeter for the taste of pride regained.

Lips pulled back from the Pack Leader's teeth and the wind of his passing bled excess heat from his mouth.

Soon. Every step brought them closer.

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