Unforgettable.

Za waited until the others were asleep. The raven sat on the perch Lord Madison had provided. It was watching her, of course. She would have to be very careful.

“Ah, Poe. My, you are a handsome bird, are you not?”

The raven preened.

“Always have I thought ravens are the finest of avians. The way those black feathers glisten under the moonlight and shine in the sun.”

It flapped its wings. Showoff.

“And so smart. It was you and your kind that saved my people this morning. I must think of some reward.”

Za opened her pouch and fumbled in it. She had its full attention, judging from its cocked head.

“Ah, the perfect token of my esteem.”

She held out a shiny stone and stepped toward the bird. The moment she got close enough her hands shot out and grabbed it by the throat and legs.

“Sound out and die,” she hissed.

It stopped struggling and folded its wings. Just as she’d thought.

“You have to be one of Odin’s birds. Which one are you? Huginn or Memnir?”

Za removed her hand from its neck.

It replied hoarsely, “I am Memnir, Lady Za. I beg you keep my secret. I’ve no desire to be subject to your esteemed sister’s plans, and I would not survive Loki’s attention should my existence become known.”

She glared at him. “You are the one leading this expedition then? You know where Mjolnir is?”

“Yes, Lady Za.”

“We could have used its help eight centuries ago. Why have you waited so long to reveal its location?”

“Mjolnir can only be wielded by one that is worthy, such as Lord Madison. His heart is true, his will is strong, and his mind quick. Your lady has done better in bringing him here than she dreams.”

Memnir coughed. “How did you know, Lady Za? That I was not a humble raven?”

≪I like her.≫

She allowed one of her half smiles. “A good warrior is ever mindful of her surroundings. You are a little too grand and a little too watchful. There is no such thing as a ‘humble’ raven, but I knew right away you were uncommon.”

Memnir bobbed his head. “So busy was I watching that I never realized I was being watched. I bow to your prowess and beg once more you keep my secret.”

The first Za heard of Madison was his voice behind her. “I beg it of you as well. He has put himself in my service and I would not see his trust betrayed.”

“You are quiet, Lord Madison,” she said, not taking her eyes off of Memnir.

“I am the student of someone that turns out to be a three hundred year old ninja.”

To which Hasaki said, “And still noisy as a buffalo in heat.”

Za was very glad to not have either of these men as an enemy. That could clearly lead to an abbreviated existence.

“I knew you were there,” Madison claimed.

“No, you didn’t. Za, as a friend I too beg you to keep his secret.”

Za sighed and set Memnir back on his perch. Turning toward the two men, she commented, dryly, “About the only one that has not asked is Seidr.”

Stepping out the darkness, Seidr added, “If it makes a difference, then I too beg it of you.”

Everyone looked at Seidr, jaws agape.

Seidr held up her hands. “I cheated. I can step from shadow to shadow. It’s a necromancer thing. Very useful. That’s how I got from here to the castle so quickly last night. Also comes in handy for making sure someone doesn’t get ‘frisky’ with your man.”

≪’A Necromancer thing?!’ I taught you that trick!≫

Za shook her head in resignation. “Very well. For you, Memnir, for you have borne my people no ill will. For you, Lord Madison for we could not bear your ill will. For you, Hasaki, for I could not survive your ill will. And for you, Seidr, for you have borne our ill will. I will keep this secret, even from my queen.”

She faced Memnir. “I also apologize for handling you roughly, Friend Memnir.”

Hans looked at Memnir. “How did she catch you anyway?”

Memnir flapped his wings as if shrugging. “I’m a sucker for flattery. All crows and ravens are. Though I’m not sure how you knew that, Lady Za.”

“Aesop’s Fables of course. ‘The Fox and the Crow.'”

Memnir hopped closer to Za and looked her in the face. “Ah, then you are aware of the other reward for flattery.”

“I am?” Za pulled back.

“I get to sing to you and you have to pretend to like it.”

Memnir flapped away, cawing triumphantly.

Za said softly, to everyone’s amusement, “Maybe I should have pretended to not know.”

≪Well, at least someone else understands why cats don’t like corvids.≫

Next: CHAPTER 23–REVISION (in edit)

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