A disturbance at the dinner table.

In Gná’s hall a great table had been set, Gná at the head, Hans to her right. To her left, sat Za, unarmored and dressed in an unadorned blue kimono, though her sword was still at her side. Tiek, assuming that she hadn’t traded colors with her twin, stood between Hans and Gná, and Kiet, between Za and Gná. Hans mused that there must have been close to a hundred women in the room.

“I hope you do not mind giving your usual place at the table to Lord Madison, Captain Za.”

With affable formality, Za replied, “It is ever the custom for the guest or champion to sit at My Lady’s right. I have no trouble giving my place to one who is both.” The corners of her mouth twitched up in an almost smile.

Gná turned to Hans. “I pray the food is to your liking, My Lord? I fear there is no meat among our fare but you’ll find it hearty nonetheless.”

He held up his fork with what was clearly a variation on tofu, though its flavor hinted at walnuts.

“My friend, Hasaki, doesn’t eat meat either, so I’ve gone vegetarian before. It’s a welcome enough change, but I have to warn you, if you didn’t like the smell of bacon on me, you aren’t going to care for the effect of beans either.”

Gná laughed, a lovely laugh, but not the music that was Seidr’s. Hans thought that it had a strange edge to it. But then she was surely under a lot of stress, eight centuries worth.

“That would be poor diet at cause. Worry not. As my champion you will be fed well and rightly.”

Hans frowned, “You talk like I’m a prize bull or something.”

Gná placed an elegant hand softly on Hans’ wrist. He tensed momentarily, but she ignored it.

“You are a great prize, indeed, Lord Madison. But you may do as you will, come or go as you wish, none will stop you.”

Gná breathed audibly. “I spoke to your dear Seidr while you were bathing. Alas you had finished your bath when I finished my business with her. So this is my first chance to say she sends her love, but will not leave her cave.”

“What is it about her cave anyway?”

“She has little power outside it. Aelfheim is a higher realm and so Necromancy would be of little use here, much as my powers would likely be useless in Nifelheim, the low realm she comes from.

“Then there is Urd’s Well. It fascinates her. She says she must protect it, but I sometimes wonder if it is for herself instead of for the future, as she claims. Still, she has done me a great favor in finding the pieces of my mirror.”

Gná tapped a box setting on the table.

Za commented, “It was originally our mother’s mirror. I was there when she saw Ragnarok in it and smashed it. She would never tell me what she saw.”

Gná frowned. “How fortunate that Urd collected the pieces. That the last shard turns up just as Lord Madison joins us can only be a good portent.”

Tiek placed a hand on Hans’ shoulder as she refilled his cup. Hans shied away.

Gná noticed. “Is something wrong? Does she offend you somehow?”

Hans shook his head. “No, not at all. I’m just not used to people touching me. At least not without them getting shocked. It’s weird though. No one’s gotten zapped once since I came here.”

Gná nodded knowingly. “Then that was likely your first manifestation of Thor’s power on Midgard. You have gained, or learned, control of it here. I had not considered this, but I may have done you a favor in bringing you here after all.”

“How’s that?”

“Thor’s power, even on Midgard was not limited to little ‘zaps.’ He wielded the very lightning. You might have become a danger to those you loved. It may not even be possible for you to return lest you inadvertently harm or kill someone. Unless we can help you train in its use and control.”

Hans held up his hand, focused his eyes on them and much to his surprise, sparks flew between his fingers.

“I see your point. I’ll have to be careful here as well. In our fight I got so angry that I literally blew Fenrir apart.”

Za dropped her fork, regained her composure, and picked it back up. “Remind me, My Lord, to not anger you the next time we share a bath.”

“I’ll try to control myself. I think I did pretty well at controlling myself as it is.”

Za turned to Gná. “He was most polite. Once he got over the initial shock you would think he had been bathing that way his whole life.” She grinned evilly, “Were it not for his attempts at not noticing.”

Gná laughed as Hans blushed.

She placed her hand on his wrist again, it felt almost possessive.

“You must have pity on us, Lord Madison. We have been without menfolk for so very long. Yet we remain women and so we yearn to be noticed. I know that Dear Seidr holds sway over your heart, but surely there can be no harm in seeing us as women?”

Hans blushed.

Gná set a strand of hair back behind her ear. “I almost wish I had been able to join you, but I don’t regret the time spent consoling poor Seidr. Perhaps you will bathe with me next time, instead of the captain of my guard. I have found it an excellent way to get to know someone. There are no pretenses in the bath.”

Hans turned a deeper red and noticed “the effect” coming on him again. At least he was sitting down.

Gná went on. “When you were trying not to notice, Lord Madison, did you see Za’s scars? She got those fighting Fenrir as well. She would have fought him to her death had I not summoned her back to my side. I am as yet unsure she has forgiven me for ending that contest as I did.”

Hans thought about the scars, right under her round little nipple. It was a very good thing he was sitting down.

Za closed her eyes and slowly shook her head, a half smile on her face. “Having tested Lord Madison today and learned how he used Thor’s power to beat Fenrir, I have cast aside that shame.”

Za suddenly shuddered, placing a hand just below her breasts, right on the scars. “I got my worst scars as he broke my armor, and they did not go as deeply as they could have. I had not till now considered that Fenrir may have intended other things than to slay me right off. You perhaps saved me deeper shame, by plucking me away when you did, Sister.”

Casting the unpleasant thought aside, Za asked Hans, “Still, I am surprised, Lord Madison. You have not so much as a scratch. Was besting Fenrir so easy for you?”

Thank goodness, the subject had changed.

“No, he nearly killed me. And it was that giant snake, Jormungandr that had me dead to rights. But Seidr saved me.”

Gná put a hand each on Hans and Za’s wrists, looking to Za first. “I must confess that I did not think necromancy could do such a thing. You should see her, Za, she took his wounds herself and now she is covered head to toe in scars. Even that lovely face has been marred.” She looked to Hans. “Does it not bother you, Lord Madison, that she bears the mark of your injuries?”

“Yes, but she seems, well, proud. That only seems to make her more beautiful, but I’d take them back if I could.” Hans sighed, “I wish I could see her again.”

A memory of Seidr in her skirt, teasing him with the front pulled to one side, came unbidden. He really wished he could be more shameless and enjoy the attention, and views, he was getting this day.

Gná’s hand on his wrist turned to a gentle grip. “I near begged her to join us, I truly did, but, as said, she declined. And should I send you back, even for a moment, Loki might find you and that would be the end of everyone’s hopes.”

Hans waved his free hand. “How is it that this place safe? Seidr said you were in hiding but everything seems out in the open.”

Gná swept her hands out. “This hall and everything about it is contained in a valley well hidden and protected by spells that obscure and confuse. It has been safe against discovery for many, many decades now. Only betrayal would make us vulnerable to Loki’s searching eye.”

As if in denial of Gná’s statement, a ring of electric fire took shape behind her. All eyes turned its way as all conversation stopped.

With suppressed alarm, Za asked, “My Lady?”

“This is not my doing,” said Gná, her alarm considerably more noticeable.

Za leapt to her feet and drew her sword.

“Guards, to me.”

Za and the guards approached the portal, just in time to watch two men tumble through the portal, each clutching a large bag.

Jinsoku sat up, completely unconcerned by the drawn swords around him. “Told ya,” he said to Dave.

* * *

Jinsoku and Dave were seated next to Hans. Hans noticed they were getting many suspicious looks even though he’d pronounced them his friends. Even Gná seemed less than pleased at hosting additional guests.

Dave seemed totally unconcerned, his rich voice echoed through the hall as he happily explained how he and Jinsoku had managed to create a portal. “. . . so we figured that it might be possible to duplicate the phenomenon with a great enough static charge generated in the same location. Hasaki is the one that was expecting a doorway to another dimension though.”

Gná still unhappy, nodded. “I see. Perhaps this spot has become a stable locus from its years of use. I will have to see about disrupting that. Next time, visitors may not be so afable.”

She looked at Hans sorrowfully. “I had originally thought Lord Madison seeking me out when the first window appeared before me. I see I was mistaken and assumed overmuch his intent. For that, Lord Madison, I apologize, and for thinking you recalcitrant in not taking up a duty you were not actually seeking.”

Hans shrugged. “It’s alright. I understand your situation now. If I knew then, I would have gladly come to help. I would have come better armed, though. An M16 would have been nice.”

Gná shook her head, “I know the weapon of which you speak. You will find several of them within Jormungand’s Pit should you ever have a chance to look. The young men carrying them went eagerly, but we never thought to first ensure their weapons would function in this realm.”

Gná shook her head sadly, then looked up with interest. “Friend Hasaki, how is it that you knew a portal when you saw it?”

“I guessed, My Lady,” said Jinsoku. His voice no longer seemed to come from down in his chest and there was no sign of the breathey “surfer dude” overtones he used when he usually spoke.

Hans and Dave goggled at each other over Jinsoku’s dropped accent.

“Hoped might be a better word.” Jinsoku held his hands out and looked around. “I’ve sought passage to this realm most of my life. You see, I’m a changeling.”

There were many gasps about the table. Even Hans gasped as Jinsoku’s features changed slightly and his ears become pointed.

Gná, oddly calm, said, “I had thought we would never see any of our lost children again. Are there many others?”

Jinsoku shook his head sadly. “I’ve met very few. From what I’ve learned most eventually chose mortal lives. It’s not easy seeing family and friends pass on so quickly as humans are prone.”

Hans felt it was time to start an intelligent conversation, “You’re an elf?”

Dave rolled his eyes. “He’s a changeling, H . . . Madison. He was born an elf and substituted for a human child to be raised in its place. Though the legends don’t say what happens to the human child.”

Somewhat defensively, Gná replied, “I assure you that in every event the infant had already perished. It was the only payment we could offer for having our children cared for, to have their new parents never know their loss. We set our children to be raised among humans that our race might survive should Loki destroy us here.” She continued in an almost absent tone, “You don’t know what it means to me to discover that we aren’t extinct after all.”

Hans did his part to keep the discussion going, “You’re an elf.”

“Fraid so, Dude,” replied Jinsoku, then dropping his accent again, “A bit over three hundred years ago I was raised by a human couple in Japan. But I’ve been sticking close to your family for three generations now.”

Hans was amazed, “You knew, even then?”

Jinsoku chuckled, “Heck no. Your grandfather just helped keep me out of the internment camps of World War II. He’s one of the few human beings I’ve ever shared my secret with. He was a good friend and I still miss him.”

Hans sighed and said, “I miss him too.” Then his tone turned cross. “Wait a minute. This means you were Great-uncle Hasaki. I always thought it was my fault he, you, died.”

Jinsoku wondered, “What? You weren’t supposed to think that.”

“I thought it was from too much excitement from the amusement park he, er, you, took me too.”

“You never said anything.”

“Like I’m going to walk up to my new best friend and say, ‘By the way, I murdered your grandfather.'”

“Wow. I’m sorry. I never considered that. It was supposed to be one last happy day before the old coot passed on.”

“I would have given anything to have not heard the next day that, um, he, died in his sleep. But it was a fun day. I’m glad to know you really didn’t die that day, Grunkie.”

Dave laughed, its depth drawing startled glances.

Jinsoku nodded. “I’m sorry I had to do that to you. I have to establish a new identity periodically. That’s why the first time you met, um, me was at the funeral.”

Jinsoku stood. “Now that I’m here, I can live the life I was born for.” He pulled a sheathed katana from his bag and knelt before Gná. “My queen, I offer my sword to your service.”

Gná placed a hand on the scabbard, momentarily. “Stand Hasaki. I ask none to kneel before me. You need not do so now. But I gladly accept your service.”

Showing considerable interest, Za said, “I think you will find him a great swordsman, My Lady. Lord Madison is as good as any I have crossed blades with, and he speaks highly of his trainer’s skill.”

Gná turned to Dave, “And what do you bring to my table, Friend Gordon?”

“Huh? I- I didn’t-“

“Dude, remember the ‘Space Doc’ stuff I had you bring? Put on your gauntlet.”

Dave rummaged in his bag and put what looked like an oversized white gauntlet on his left arm. It chirped.

“Huh?” Dave pressed a button and a screen tilted up. “It’s working. But it’s just a toy. Isn’t it?”

“That’s weird,” Hans noted. “I was told that Earth electronics don’t work here.”

Gná concurred. “To my knowledge, this device is unique in functioning at all.”

He held the screen up to eye level and moved it and himself about. He focused it on the elf across from him.

Jinsoku looked at the screen and reached over to flip it shut before anyone else caught the image of the scanned elf, sans clothing. “I’m actually a little surprised, myself. On Earth it’s a toy. But to you it’s always been real.”

Gná looked at Dave. “You did not expect to find yourself here, Friend Gordon. I could send you back to your home if that is your wish.”

Dave sat up straight. “Are you kidding? This is a real, true to life adventure. I wouldn’t pass this up for the world.”

Gná smiled and nodded. “Then I bid you welcome to Aelfheim, Friend Gordon. And welcome you to our ’cause,’ as Lord Madison puts it.”

“Cause?” Dave was mystified.

“I’ll explain later,” Hans offered.

Gná let forth a sigh, clearly meant to conceal a yawn, “It grows late and I was weary before we started. The excitement of this evening overcomes me. Lord Madison, one of the empty homes has been cleaned and set aside for your use. I trust you will not mind sharing it with your friends from Midgard.”

Next: CHAPTER 11–CONVERSATION

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This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to persons living or dead is coincidental.