“Did you like the pyrotechnic display?” the man asked.
No one responded, except Elleya who asked. “The what?”
“The lightning,” Wlvn explained.
“Oh!” Elleya squealed in delight, jumped a little and clapped her hands.
“’S all right,” Badl said at last. Wlkn shook his head. He did not like violent storms.
“One for, one against and one in the middle. How about you?” The man asked, looking at Wlvn.
“You are not allowed to lay hands on my head,” Wlvn said.
The blond giant took a half-step back and Wlvn could almost see the denial going through the god’s mind as the gears in there did not turn too swiftly. “Actually, I just came to say that we are aware of the creatures following you. I am not authorized to remove them, mind you, but I may slow them down a little. I figured you wouldn’t mind. It is sort of a compromise. The whole last week has been exceptionally dry, if you haven’t noticed. Actually, there should be a first snow by now in these climes.”
“Thank you, Thor,” Wlvn figured out who this god was. “Tell Sif hi when you see her.”
“Why should I tell her hi?” Thor asked. “Sif?” But by then, Wlvn moved on, and Badl came right with him. Wlkn and Elleya were a little slower to catch on.
“I thought I handled that rather well,” Wlvn bragged to Badl.
“Slick as an elf, sir.” Badl agreed, “But…”
“Well, it’s just that, you see, Thor is rather easy.”
“Hmm.” Wlvn frowned and began to look around. That little cliff under which they had sheltered grew in height, and what is more, a second cliff rose up on the other side of the river. “We must be going through a little gorge. I am sure it will let us out on the plains again, soon, do you think?”
“This goes on for a bit if I remember rightly,” Badl said. “But I was wondering something.” Badl paused. Wlvn did not say anything, but he looked over, so Badl continued. “Do you think the mist and drizzle we had all morning was just the leading edge of that cloud buster that fell on us at lunch? I was wondering if it rained as hard as that in the uplands, you know, above the swamps, and then in the swamps before it got to us.”
Wlvn still said nothing, but he kicked his horse to a gallop. Badly shouted, “Hey!” and tried to catch up. Wlkn shouted something more substantial.
“Why the rush?”
Hardly a minute later, the horses ran through ankle deep water. The river overflowed its banks. Another minute and it got up to the horses’ knees, and a minute more, and they started swimming in it, or rather being carried along by a greatly increased current. It felt like riding a rubber boat through the rapids, except they were trying to hang on to a horse’s mane. Just when it got up to their necks, Wlvn caught Badl out of the corner of his eye. He saw the dwarf had nudged Strn’s horse up to the cliff side and he grabbed on to something and hauled himself up above the rushing water. Wlvn felt glad to know at least one of them would make it, but then he came around a bend and found Thred ripped from his hands. The water drove him down under, and he gulped a great deal of water. He expected to drown, but the water did not bother him at all. In fact, he found he could breathe under water, and see perfectly well, and that was good because he needed both arms and legs to keep from smashing into rocks and trees in his path. He knew Njord, God of the Sea, had to be responsible for this, and as grateful as he felt for his own sake, he got concerned about Wlkn and Elleya. Drowning was something he did not wish on anyone, even if it was something that now he would never experience.
Wlvn bobbed his head up and saw no sign of the others, but he did see his swan circling overhead, apparently in a panic. He shouted up. “I’m all right. Find Badl.” Then he got pulled under again.
The current stayed very swift through the gully. It pushed him farther and faster than they could have ridden on their own. He wondered briefly if it might obliterate their trail for the night creatures. He decided probably not, but it might slow them down a bit. After another minute, the cliffs fell away, and as he had surmised, he came out on to a broad plain where the water spread out and quickly became merely ankle deep.
“Over here.” Wlvn heard a woman’s voice and he walked back up to the edge of the gully, and up the side of the cliff a short way where he could watch the water come gushing out. He thought it might already be decreasing, but it felt hard to tell. “Here.” The woman handed him a towel and Wlvn gratefully dried himself. “And I thought you might need these,” she said, and she pointed to where all five horses were quiet and contentedly grazing.
“Thank you, um.” Wlvn said, because he did not know who he was thanking.
“Frigga,” she said. There seemed to be a scowl on her lips, but it appeared to be directed toward the gushing water, not toward Wlvn, and he felt grateful for that, too. This looked like one woman that he did not want to cross.
“Majesty,” he called her. Frigga was the queen of the gods. “Haven’t we met before?”
Frigga seemed fine with that question. “You were a woman,” she said. “Now that was a real adventure, not like the foolish and unnecessary game these boys are playing.”
“Game? I’m sorry, I don’t—”
“You are going to kill the Titan, aren’t you?” Frigga asked outright, and Wlvn nodded his assent. At least he would try.
“Foolish and unnecessary.” Frigga frowned again. “But here.” She had her hands on his head before he could blink. “Something useful, I hope.” And she vanished.
When he reached them, Elleya looked up at him. “That was fun,” she said as he handed her the towel. As she dried herself, the fish tail vanished, and her legs came back.
“Fun for you, maybe.” Wlkn looked spent. “I had to keep her from crashing into every rock, stump and tree in the gully. She wanted to stop and examine it all. Said it was lovely underwater.
Elleya nodded. “But you should see my underwater forest.” She smiled broadly before a look of apprehension quickly covered her face. She looked up at Wlvn. “My Lord, I am sorry. I could only save one. I saved my Wilken. I should have saved you.” She looked down with a look that expressed deep regret and failure.
“But I am fine.” Wlvn said, having recovered some by then.
Elleya looked up again and the smile returned. “And you are, so everything worked out.” She bent over Wlkn who lay on his back, and she stroked his cheek tenderly. “And I saved my Wilken.”
“Lord!” Badl caught up.
“Excuse me, Skinny Wilken.” Wlvn smiled.
Wlkn pushed Elleya’s hand back. “Not now, woman,” he said sternly and stood. She got right up beside him.
“Lord.” Badl caught his breath, his hands were on his knees. “We’ve reached the Dnapr.” He pointed and Wlvn had to turn around and shade his eyes against the sun which appeared to be dropping rapidly.