Elves and more elves.

One moment Hans was looking at Seidr, the next he was standing in a large room built of timbers, lit by an orange glow.

This getting yanked here and there was becoming annoying.

The exit was guarded by several warriors, elven warriors, female elven warriors.

Their armor was made up of horizontal, overlapping strips running across the chest and down the shoulder. A skirt of vertical linked plates, simple helm, greaves and bracers of the same material completed the ensemble. It was all painted in mottled earth tones.

Hans turned to look behind him. A brazier, full of coals, was the only light source. Opposite the brazier, stood Gná, wearing a blue kimono this time, but with almost the same Celtic patterning as before.

Gná broke the silence. “Welcome to my hall, Friend Madison.”

Hans scowled. “I wasn’t expecting to get here so soon. Am I your dog then, Your Highness? To come and go at your command?”

He drew his sword. “You’ll find chaining me a difficult prospect, I assure you.”

He heard other blades hiss as they were drawn. Gná waved dismissively and Hans heard them sent back home.

It was the exact gesture Seidr had used on Gná. That thought was replaced by a fierce itch down his spine as he wondered if maybe one or two hadn’t been put away.

Gná smiled indulgently and held her hands wide, almost welcoming. “You are under Seidr’s influence yet, Friend Madison. I assure you. I have your best interests, and hers, at heart in removing you from her side.”

Hans’ sword dipped. “Like you did when you tricked me into coming to this world in the first place?”

Gná’s right hand went to her breast bone. “Tricked? I asked your help and showed you your reward. You entered of your own free will.”

Hans held his right index finger up accusingly. “I got sucked in and dumped at the feet of the Fenris Wolf.”

Gná stepped around her brazier, close to Hans. She sounded sincere enough. “Intent is what matters. If you didn’t want to cross, it wouldn’t have taken you. I apologize for putting you there directly, but had Loki any warning of your presence, you would have had no chance. You succeeded wonderfully, as I knew you would. It is that witch’s interference that nearly got you killed.”

Hans put his hand to his brow. This wasn’t going to be fun. “She. . . Be that as it may, I’ve done you your service.”

Gná placed a hand on Hans’ chest. “You have done me great service indeed, but I require more of you. You must help me defeat Loki and free my land of his minions.”

Hans felt like a little boy told to clean his room. It would have served her right to have gotten nice static shock just then. But that only seemed to happen when it could most embarrass him, not someone else.

“So it’s my duty is it?” Hans stepped back to sheath his sword and looked Gná in the eye. “The only duty I feel is to my father, at the very least to let him know I’m alive and well, and to the woman I love. I feel none to you or your cause.”

She reached out to take his right hand in both of hers, looking him back in the eye. “Consider a hero’s reward then, good Madison. Loki has plundered my land. Slain my people. Great riches lie in his inner sanctum. If all you left my realm with was but what little you could carry, you would still be accorded a wealthy man, and even here we know that wealth buys power in your realm.”

Hans shook his hand free, gently. Trying to sound wise, he said, “Riches are of no use to a dead man.”

Gná fumed for a moment, hands on her hips. “I would not have made the effort of bringing you to my realm were you not up to the task.”

Hans kept his cool. “The task being to help you defeat Loki. I don’t for a moment imagine that my survival is critical to your plans.”

Gná put both hands to her breast as though speared through the heart. She looked up at him through her long lashes, fluttering pale blue eyes at him. “And if I said your life was important to me, what then? I knew you for what you were immediately, Madison. You are Thor’s heir, with all of his power, and now, I see, his strength as well.” She swept an arm out. “Look about you. Do you see any children? Do you see any men? I could take you out among my people, and across this world and you will find none. My race is all but extinct, thanks to the depredations of Loki.”

Gná untied her sash and bared one, then the other shoulder. Her gown fell to ground. She stood naked before Hans. “Is this not the reward I first offered you? There will be no more Aelfkind after we are gone. But you could sire a new race, halflings, but mighty, to take our place and lead this and other realms to a new golden age. I would even welcome Seidr and her child to that destiny.”

Hans’ back went up straight. “Child? I didn’t know Seidr had any children.”

She stepped close to him again. “Do you even know what she really is?”

More statement than question, Hans asked, “Dark elf necromancer, outcast by her own people?”

That set Gná back a step, for a moment. “Yes. Well, she likely has a child now. By you, or did she forget to mention that? And now that she has what she wanted of you, she perhaps let me take you. You could be inconvenient to the manner in which she may want to raise your son.”

Hans shook his head. “I . . . I find that hard to believe.”

She placed her hand on his chest again. “That she would use you and set you aside? All you know of her is the few hours you spent in her care. I have known her for nearly two centuries. She has aided me and hindered me many times, all to her own whim.”

Hans frowned at that. “No. I don’t believe she meant to deceive me. But that doesn’t matter. If she’s pregnant by me, I have to go back to her.”

Gná raised a hand to wipe a tear. “Do you not see, you are my last and only hope, to defeat Loki, save my people, and, even if I must share you with that witch. Beloved.”

Sobbing, and still naked, Gná threw herself into Hans’ arms. Her head fitting under his chin as Seidr’s did. “She’s good,” he thought as he surreptitiously rolled his eyes. He patted her on the back, not quite knowing why.

“Stop crying, and, get dressed. My love belongs to Seidr, wholeheartedly. I can’t simply give it to you. And I will be faithful to her. But I have decided to help you against Loki.”

Still pressing herself against Hans, Gná looked up into his eyes. Hans wondered if she was actually batting her eyes at him.

“Oh thank you so, Madison. But tell me, do you not find me at all attractive? Look at me and tell me you feel nothing stirring inside you.”

Hans thought briefly that she would be feeling something stirring outside him pretty soon. Especially with her breasts pressed against his chest that way. His left hand, seemingly of its own accord, started to trace its way down her spine.

Hans shook his head to dislodge those thoughts. And moved his hands to her shoulders, holding her in position as he took a small step back.

“You’re very beautiful, Gná. And I would be lying if I said I felt nothing. I may be young, even among humans, but I still know the difference between desire and love. I hope you find love someday. I truly do. But I can’t offer it to you.”

Still wiping tears, Gná set her head back against his chest, “You do not deserve the ill use I have put you to. I shall see to it that you do not regret helping us.” She sniffed, then drew back. “Oh my.”

“Is something wrong?”

Gná placed her hand to her nose. “Lord Madison, I hope this does not offend you, but you smell of that, charred meat, you were eating this morning.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. I guess I could use a shower.”

Gná dressed, while Hans tried not to watch, assisted by her two handmaidens. Twins, with long black hair, like Gná, but not quite as pretty. The only real difference between them being that one wore a red dress with a blue bodice, and the other wore the same colors reversed.

Gná smiled. “Would a bath do, Lord Madison?”

“If it’s not too much trouble.”

He got an odd look from the twins. That must have been a pretty good social faux-pas.

Gná turned to each of them in turn, “Tiek, Please take Lord Madison to the bathhouse. Kiet, see to it we have a feast for tonight. Set out extra eggs and cheese for him. Not all humans are fond of bean curd or fermented bean loaf.”

The one with the blue bodice stepped up to Hans. Tiek, he guessed. In the most adorable, little-girl voice she addressed him, “This way, My Lord.”

“H. . . Er, just ‘Madison’ will be fine.”

Gná watched Tiek titter and lead him away. She motioned Za, her Captain of the Guard, and sister, to approach her. She would need her help in this matter.

Za commented, “You place much faith in a boy, My Lady. Can he really best Loki and rejuvenate our race?”

Gná smiled at her sister. “I intend to see to Loki’s disposition myself in the end. But we need him to first remove Hel and Jormungand from our way. Should he fail, Seidr’s child may serve that purpose just as well when he reaches manhood, perhaps better should he inherit his mother’s powers as well.”

She feigned inspiration. “See to it that the bathhouse is well used and that none demure in his presence.”

“My Lady?” Poor Za looked confused.

Gná placed a hand on her sister’s wrist. In a conspiratory tone she whispered, “He is but a youth. In his culture, men and women do not bathe together and rarely see one another unclothed. I want his blood raging when next I offer myself to him. Be there yourself to ensure the others remember that I am to be his mate.”

A frown lived but half a moment on Za’s face. “It will take time to arrange. He might become suspicious if the bath becomes occupied after he’s started to soak.”

“He is about to bathe. Help him work up a sweat.”

Za nodded, catching the hint. “With pleasure, My Lady.”

Gná waved her sister off and turned back to her brazier. Poor Za, an excellent tactician, but absolutely no talent for deception. It was just as well.

Next: CHAPTER 8–RELAXATION

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