Cold burrowed into my knees, digging icy claws deep into bone. Despite the pain, I didn’t move. I just knelt there on the white marble floor of Odin’s Hall, time suspended in a maelstrom of seconds and minutes and unshed tears.
Bright red blood, Aidan’s blood, dripped from my quivering hands, warm and sticky like honey. Yet there was nothing sweet or pleasant about having the warm ruby liquid seep into the whorls of my fingers and stain my hands and my clothing.
The sounds of the Great Hall simmered around me, fading into the shadows of my despair. Only the rabid cackle of Loki’s laughter filtered through my sorrow. The rattle of his chains echoed in my ears as Fenrir dragged him away.
Loki’s treachery should not have taken us by surprise at all. I’d never trusted him, not for a minute. Neither had Aidan. We’d expected Loki to show his hand at some point. But when he finally made his move, we never saw it coming. In the end he’d driven his poisoned dagger deep into Aidan’s flesh. And now Aidan’s blood marred the bold purity of the white tiles, while I sat bereft, haunted by a god’s callous laughter and my own pathetic tears, which refused to fall.
I exhaled, a sobbing, shuddering sound that felt too loud and yet not loud enough. I wanted someone to make it all right, or to just make everything go away.
I wanted to curl into a ball and tell everyone to just shut up and leave me the hell alone.
Grief and anger and guilt warred inside me, and I clenched my fingers. The darkening blood beneath my nails glared at me, mocking my grief. A desperate urge engulfed me, a need to scrub the flesh of my fingers raw, to get every last spot of blood out, to erase the rosy tint from my skin.
My vision dimmed, eyes unfocused, time passing unnoticed.
Someone touched my shoulder, and I flinched, hand flying to my sword. My knuckles tightened on the hilt beneath my fingers. But when I looked up, it was only Joshua, his brow wrinkled with concern. And Aimee, who stood behind him, gazing at me with watery eyes.
“Bryn,” Joshua said, crouching beside me, the heat of his hand warm on my shoulder. “There’s nothing more you can do here.”
I tried to focus, tried to tell him to leave me be, but instead I said nothing, just let him help me to my feet, let them lead me away to the deafening silence of my room. A pitcher of water sat waiting for me, the people around me preempting my needs. I should have been grateful, should have said thank you.
I said nothing.
Just rubbed the rose-petal-encrusted soap bar all over my fingers and grabbed a little brush, whose intricate dragon carvings barely made any impression on my blurring vision. Rubbing and scrubbing, I was lost in a desperate need to get the blood off my hands, and off my skin.
And my soul.
I was lost. Until Aimee’s warm hands grasped mine, tugging the brush from my deadened fingers, rubbing them dry with a clean washcloth. Aimee handed me a clean dress and shooed Joshua out. He threw me a sad, apologetic grin, and all I managed in the way of thanks was a weak smile before Aimee shut the door in his face.
Changing into the fresh garment, I kicked the bloodstained clothes away from me. They landed a bit too close to the fire. Fitting, really. They deserved to burn.
I sat on the bed, and the wool-filled mattress sank as Aimee plopped beside me, giving my arm a sisterly squeeze. I guess I was projecting my mood pretty well because she just sat with me, saying nothing. I was grateful for her silence, and even more for the fact that she wasn’t Sigrun, thank goodness.
I wasn’t ready to face Sigrun yet.
In my room, I sat unmoving on the fur-laden bed and glared at the red and yellow flames of the fire as it crackled merrily and tried its best to warm me. But my heart remained a blackened, useless lump of ice. I could think of nothing but Aidan— unconscious, abandoned in Hel, alone.
The memories of everything we’d been through together burned like accusatory flames. We’d fulfilled the goddess Freya’s demands; we’d found her precious necklace. But in the end it had been for nothing.
In the end, I’d still lost Aidan.
A large part of me blamed Asgard for Aidan’s predicament, along with everyone who had anything to do with the realm of Odin. Another part of me blamed my father for messing with DNA and inadvertently creating a Valkyrie. A tiny part of me blamed myself for not paying enough attention to spot Loki’s treachery.
So many places where I could lay the blame.
But it was Asgard itself that I now hated with a violent, visceral passion. Asgard had called Aidan to Valhalla, to serve Odin as his Warrior. A goddess of Asgard had played with him, and with me, as if we were just pieces on a chessboard: used, manipulated, then discarded.
And a god of Asgard had poisoned him.