Valerie Gunnar thought her days working as Odin’s Chooser of the Slain were over. A successful college professor in the mortal world, this Valkyrie would have been happy never getting involved in the business of the supernatural again. But someone’s trying to bring about the fall of Asgard and Valerie must return to her natural form of Gunnr (“Battle”), sword-wielding Valkyrie.
Along the way she picks up a partner in the form of Detective Jace Heffernan, who’s not as human as he seems. He’s looking for a little revenge for the death of his partner. Together the two of them must find the missing Thunder God Thor and restore order to Valhalla, while a very powerful enemy stands in their way.
Once Gunnr is stripped of her powers, she must decide between finally having her mortality and freedom back and the family she left behind a long time ago.
In accordance with multiple confidentiality agreements, Melinda Skye would like to affirm that the events in this book bear no resemblance to her life. None at all. She swears.
She lives a mundane quiet life in Portland, Oregon with her husband and their menagerie of crazy pets and does not fly off to Paris at a moment's notice to avert international disasters. And that wasn't her you saw on the plane to Istanbul.
My sword slid back in its sheath with a metallic hiss. The day dawned, fresh and crisp, incongruous with the carnage around me. Three men lay dead at my feet, their blood spilling into the alley. I stood amongst it all, staring at the bodies as if their ghosts would talk to me. Even as I watched, the day grew brighter and the air around the lifeless men grew hazy. Slowly, under the creeping sunlight, the corpses dissipated into mist until I was left alone in the now spotless alley.
I turned a full circle to make sure nothing remained. Satisfied, I gestured with my hand and whispered into the sky. When the black hole of a portal gaped open in front of me, I stepped through. The night was over, but my job wasn’t.
“And so, following the prophetic dream about his own death, Baldr’s mother, Frigg, made every object in the nine worlds swear never to harm her son. Only mistletoe, considered an insignificant weed, did not make this vow. Loki, upon learning this, made a mystical spear from the plant and convinced Baldr’s blind brother, Höðr, to throw it at Baldr, telling him it would not harm him, since nothing could.”
The door to the classroom opened, and two men stepped through. I continued with my lecture—I could probably give it in my sleep—while I examined the men. Both had an alertness that indicated they saw more than the average person did. Cops, perhaps.
“Most myths reveal Loki to be the trickster god, similar to Coyote in Native American lore, but the story of Baldr’s death shows a darker side to Loki. It is Baldr’s death that ultimately leads the Norse pantheon to Ragnarök. Loki is not as harmless as he occasionally seems.”
A few minutes ahead of schedule, I wound up the story and dismissed the class. Dedicated college students that they were, they burst into loud chatter at the unexpected freedom and rushed from the lecture hall before I could change my mind.
I gathered the papers on my lectern and shut off the overhead projector where I had written the correct spellings of the Norse names. “Can I help you, gentlemen?”
It always paid to be polite with the police. At least until I knew what they wanted.
“You’re an excellent storyteller, Professor.” This came from the older of the two who stepped forward and showed me his badge. “I’m Detective Acker and this is my partner, Detective Heffernan.”
I didn’t extend my hand.
Acker put his badge away and pulled out his notebook. “You’re Professor Gunnar, and you teach folklore and mythology, correct?”
“That’s right. I just finished a class on the Norse.” I could see students gathering in the hall for the next class and decided to move the interview along. “I have office hours now, so I’d appreciate it if you’d come with me to continue the conversation.”
“Of course, ma’am,” Acker said.
As we walked, I pondered the younger detective. Heffernan. Odd name. Physically impressive. Both men were taller than I, not a huge feat given my average height, but Detective Heffernan seemed to tower over me, whereas Acker just walked alongside me. I couldn’t quite pinpoint why Heffernan was so much more imposing when he stood only two, maybe three inches higher than his partner.
I had to clear stacks of books from the tiny visitor chairs so the detectives could squeeze in. Once I was seated behind my desk, I leaned back, eyebrows raised. “So what do the police need my help with?”
Detective Heffernan spoke for the first time. “We were told that you are an expert in Scandinavian antiquities, as well as their folklore.”
They had done their research. Heffernan’s voice reminded me of a cat’s tongue, gentle but raspy. If he spoke too long or too loud, it would hurt, but for now, it just tickled the back of my mind.
“That’s correct,” I said. “I have a doctorate in that field as well.”
Acker took over again. “This morning, we had a strange report come in. Apparently, a man witnessed a triple homicide.”
I stilled. “Tragic, of course. But what does this have to do with me?”
The detectives exchanged glances. Acker checked his notebook again and continued, “According to our witness, three Vikings were slaughtered in an alley downtown by a sword-wielding Amazon.”
Valkyrie. “And this person has been playing too many video games, obviously.”
They both smiled. “It’s more likely that our witness has spent too much time in the bottle. But any time there’s a homicide reported, we have to investigate.”
“Of course.” I nodded, trying to encourage them to move it along.
They were drawing this out, and I still had no idea what they wanted. If they knew my secret … No, it wasn’t possible. My body thrummed with energy, but I resisted the urge to let even the smallest gesture tell them how nervous I was.
“At first glance, it seemed we found nothing,” Acker said. “Not a horde of dead Vikings, no sword-wielding Amazon, not even a little bit of blood spatter.”
Valkyrie, not Amazon. “I’m still not seeing the relevance.”
“When the officers swept the alley more thoroughly, they found something,” Heffernan spoke up again, the gravel in his voice rumbling along my spine. “It may be related, it may not, but someone told us they thought it looked like a rune stone. That led us to you.”
My laugh filled the small office, causing the two detectives in front of me to stare. I tamped down my nervous energy. “I certainly hope it’s not a rune stone. And if it is, I hope you aren’t carrying it with you.”
At their frowns, I explained, “Rune stones were most often used as memorials, similar to how we use gravestones today. They’re very large. I was concerned your backs were going to give out while bringing it to me to study.”
Enlightenment dawned on their faces. Acker pulled a plastic bag out of his pocket. “Not a rune stone, then,” he said. “Would you mind taking a look at it anyway?”
Snatching the bag out of the man’s hand would seem suspicious, right? So I paused, trying to seem casual. “Of course. Now you’ve got me curious as well.”
I took the proffered bag and examined the object. The medallion glittered, even through the plastic. Awed, I smoothed my hands across it, feeling the ridges of the characters through the bag. My fingers itched to touch it, to pull it out of the bag and … Seeing the red evidence tape convinced me otherwise. It would not do to touch this in front of the police.
“An impressive find, Detectives. Bracteates in such excellent condition are extremely rare.”
Acker wrinkled his forehead. “Brac-what?”
Heffernan just leaned back in his chair and stared. His eyes were a unique amber color and seemed to see more than I wanted him to. The edges of his lips curled up slightly, but even with his gaze on me, I couldn’t say I thought it was a smile.
I dragged my eyes off of his not-smile and back to the minor miracle in front of me. Things were finally becoming clearer. “Bracteates are one-sided metal coins, most often used during the fifth through seventh centuries BCE. Many were worn as amulets. Yours is classified as a C-bracteate because of the figure in the center, a man on a horse. Usually this character represents Odin, the Allfather. But in this case, there appears to be something …” I squinted at the runes along the edges of the coin. The air in the office seemed to get thinner, and I gasped.
“Professor?” Acker, the closer of the two, leaned forward, reaching for my elbow. I sat back, avoiding contact.
“Sorry. I just think that you might actually have an authentic gold bracteate on your hands.”
The question came at me in unison, and I smiled. Nothing like the hint of treasure to get two men focused on something else. “Yes. Gold. That was the common metal used. However, since gold is so soft, it’s near miraculous that this is in such good shape. I have no idea how it came to be found in your alley, gentlemen.”
Heffernan straightened from where he’d been slouching in his chair. I could feel his eyes on me, but I stayed focused on the coin. I dragged my fingers across the plastic again. The inscription called to me.
“Professor Gunnar,” Heffernan asked. “What do you make of the characters along the edge?”
At that, I glanced up. He couldn’t possibly know what I was thinking. “Of course, I’m sorry. These are in fact runes from the Elder Futhark alphabet. I think it … well, I believe it translates to, uh …” I played the uncertainty card, hiding the fact that I could read it as easily as I spoke English. “God grant me life.”
“Is that a typical inscription for something like this?” Detective Heffernan asked, leaning forward to look at the bracteate.
I nodded. “Very common. They were used as talismans, thought to be protection for those who carried them. Of course, if I had more time to work on the translation, I could maybe get a clearer read on what it means, but since I’m sure this really has nothing to do with your imaginary homicide, you probably don’t need me to spend the time or effort …”
Babbling. I was babbling. The pressure of the room had increased exponentially since we’d started this discussion. A deep steadying breath helped, and I continued, “That is, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to make a photocopy of the coin so I can study it later.”
Nodding, Acker said, “That would be fine with us. We’ll have to see how the investigation plays out, but we might ask you to come in for further consult.”
Oh, this wasn’t good.
“Investigation?” I asked, attempting innocence. “I thought there would be no need for that.”
“Not a homicide investigation,” Acker said, “but now we need to know how something so valuable got into an alley where a drunk homeless man claims to have seen Vikings.”
His coarse-voiced partner added, “You say that these coins come from around the Viking era, correct? There must be some connection. We’ll find it.”
I swore to myself. I knew I needed to get better at this whole hiding-information-from-the-police thing, but in my fascination with the bracteate and my tendency to lecture, I’d let slip a little more than wise. Heffernan had caught the connection and, judging by the way he’d emphasized his last statement, I might find myself in trouble.
Not that I wasn’t used to trouble.
“Right. Well, if you’ll excuse me, I need to head home.”
Of course, my office hours weren’t over yet, but my students wouldn’t miss me. I needed to escape. At least I was being subtle, wasn’t I?
The detectives stood and waited while I used the small copy/fax machine in my office to scan the coin and print out a copy. I was ready to have them out of my hair, but Acker offered to walk me to my car. Already twitchy, I wanted to refuse but caught sight of Heffernan’s eyes glinting with amusement—or was it suspicion?—and decided to accept, graciously.
Okay, maybe I wasn’t so good at gracious.
In the dimming sunlight outside, I slipped on my sunglasses and took a deep breath. The May air was just warm enough to not need a jacket. Once at my car, I dumped my stuff inside and turned back to the detectives.
“Thank you for the information, Professor Gunnar,” Acker said politely. “If you think of anything else, please let us know.” He held out his card, and I took it.
Ingrained politeness dictated that I do the same. I produced a card from my blazer pocket. “Anytime …”
Formalities finished, I was finally free to leave. Then, of course, acting like the gentleman that he appeared to be, Acker held out his hand for a goodbye handshake. Time slowed, and my vision narrowed until all I could see was his hand. Why did I have to live in a culture that insisted on body contact?
Damn. I had no choice but to take him up on his offer. As his callused palm closed around mine, I was grateful for the sunglasses I’d slipped on. I felt my power blaze and knew my eyes were glowing behind the shades. I’d had centuries of practice at hiding my reactions in my encounters with mortals, but I still had to stifle a gasp of dismay when I realized Detective Acker’s aura had flared bright white, giving him a halo effect.
Thankfully, Heffernan didn’t offer his hand, and the two men left. I watched them go, not sure what to do now that I was alone. He seemed like a nice man. But I knew what I had seen.
Detective Acker was going to die.