Magic Gifts Page 9

As we dismounted before the horse rail, I saw a familiar black Shire stallion in the pasture, segregated by himself. The huge horse stood almost eighteen and a half hands tall, the white feathers at his huge feet shaking every time he moved. A pale scar snaked its way up the horse's left shoulder. Hello, Magnus. Where is your master?

The stallion stared in my direction and bared his teeth. Now horses were giving me crap.

"Mind your manners," I murmured.

"Best behavior," Ascanio assured me.

Mentioning that I was talking to a horse who couldn't hear me would've totally cramped my boss style, so I nodded and walked up to the mead hall.

A large, raw-boned woman barred my path. A large gun hung on her right hip and a small axe hung on her left.

"Hrefna," I acknowledged her. We had run into each other in the Guild before. She was good with both knife and sword and rarely lost her temper.

"Kate." Her voice was quiet. "The lion has to stay outside."

"He won't like it."

The lion shook his mane.

"I can't let him inside," Hrefna said. "You bring him in, someone's going to make trouble just to see if they can put his head on their wall. I've got to do my job. It's your call."

I looked at Curran. The lion melted. Skin stretched, bones twisted, and human Curran straightened. He was completely nude. Gloriously nude.

Hrefna raised her eyebrows.

Curran pulled jeans and a shirt from my saddlebag.

"Well," Hrefna said. "I always wondered why you went all shapeshifter. Explains things."

The vampire next to me rolled his blood-red eyes.

We walked inside the mead hall. The vampire, shapeshifters, the dog, and the lion man followed me.

A huge room greeted me. Twin rows of evenly spaced out tables ran parallel along the chamber. Originally the Vikings had tried to have the tables joined in two lines, but they couldn't sweep under them, so they went to plan B, which made their mead hall resemble a barbarian cafeteria. People mulled around the tables. Some ate, some talked, some oiled their weapons. The tables ran into a raised platform at the opposite end of the hall. On the platform a man sat in a large chair carved from driftwood and lined with furs. His shoulders stretched his blue woolen tunic. His face, framed by a glossy black mane of hair, was dark and carved with sharp precision. A narrow gold band sat on his head.

He glanced at us. Dark eyes took our measure. He noted Curran, frowned, and looked away pretending he didn't see us. Curran preferred to stay anonymous. Not many people besides the city heavyweights knew what he looked like. Ragnvald was trying to decide if the polite thing to do was to acknowledge Curran or pretend he wasn't there.

Before we left on this fun trip, we had discussed our strategy, and I volunteered to take the point. If Curran came in his official Beast Lord capacity, there would be ceremony and the whole thing would take much longer than needed. Besides, I knew the neo-Vikings better than he did, so it made sense for me to take the lead. Curran decided to go as a redshirt. Apparently it was some sort of disposable attendant term from some old TV show.

"Is that the jarl?" Ascanio whispered behind me.


"But he's an Indian."

"Choctaw," I told him. "The vikings don't care how you look. They care how well you swing your axe."

I headed down between the tables with my little parade at my back. This would have been so much easier if I had come by myself.

About ten feet from the platform Ragnvald decided he couldn't ignore us any longer. "Kate! Vestu heill! Long time no see."

Not long enough. "Hello, Ragnvald. These are my associates." There. I didn't mention Curran by name. That should clue him in.

Ragnvald pushed himself off the chair. Upright he was over six feet tall. He took a step off the platform and nodded to me. "I was just thinking of you."

"It's probably because you saw me walk through the door and then pretended I wasn't here for the last couple of minutes."

Ragnvald's face split in a grin. "I just couldn't believe my eyes. Alpha of the shapeshifters popping in unannounced. I'm shocked."

Oh you sonovabitch. He was still trying to turn this into some sort of spectacle. "I'm not here in that capacity."

Ragnvald tapped his band. "This never comes off. Best to remember it now. But come on, we'll talk business." He raised his voice, shaking the nearby cups. "Someone bring drinks to our guests."

Why did everyone have to be so damn loud all the time?

Ragnvald nodded to a side table. "Please."

He took a seat and I sat across from him. Curran joined me. The vampire tried to follow but a large woman in chain mail barred his way.

A girl half my age swept by and slammed two giant tankard filled with beer on the table. Ragnvald held his up. I smashed my tankard against his. Beer splashed. We raised the tankard and pretended to take much bigger gulps than we did.

Curran drank his beer. Apparently my taking the lead meant he went mute.

The young woman sashayed over to Ascanio and Derek and led them to a neighboring table. Judging by how hard her hips were working, she was open for business.

"So, what brings you to our mead hall?"

"I'm looking for Dagfinn."

Ragnvald grimaced. "What has he done now?"

"Just got some weird runes I need him to translate for me."

Ragnvald spread his arms. "We haven't seen the man. You should talk to Helga about the runes."

I had made some calls this morning. "We did talk to Helga. Talked to Dorte and old man Rasmus, too. They can't help us. Dagfinn is our best lead for now."

A huge older man staggered into the hall. Thick through the shoulders and slabbed with what my adoptive father had called hard fat, he moved in that peculiar careful way drunks do when they have trouble putting one foot in front of the other and don't want to pitch over. His leather vest sat askew on his large frame, his face was ruddy from cold or too much booze, and his long greying hair hung down in two braids, tangling with a mess of a grey beard.

It's all fun and games until the drunk Viking Santa shows up.

"I don't know what to tell you." Ragnvald drank a tiny swallow of his beer. "He isn't here. We expelled him months ago."

"Is that so?" Curran said.

"It is," Ragnvald insisted.

The soused Saint Nick zeroed in on the vampire sitting on the floor by the table where the shapeshifters were looking at their beer. The drunk blinked his bleary eyes and shambled toward the vamp.

"I hear the Guild is having a meeting soon," Ragnvald said.

"That's what I've been told," I said.

The older Viking pointed at the vampire. "What is this shit?"

Nobody answered.

Santa upped his voice a notch. "What is this shit?"

"Settle down, dad," a younger man said from the corner.

Santa pivoted to the speaker. "Don't tell me to settle down, you stupid son of a whore."

"You don't talk about mom that way."

"I'll talk about her... I'll... what is this shit?"

"I also hear that the Pack has been called in to mediate." Ragnvald looked at me for a long moment so I'd register that it was important.


"We have fifteen full time members in the Guild," Ragnvald said.

I nodded. "I know. You put in what, eight years?"

"Seven and some change."

Santa rocked back, took a deep breath and spat on the vamp.

Awesome. "Are you going to do anything about that?"

Ragnvald glanced over his shoulder. "That's Johan. He's just having a bit of fun. About the mediation, Kate."

"What about it?"

The vamp unhinged his maw. "Only a fool fights with drunks and idiots," Ghastek's voice said.

"Are you calling me an idiot?" Johan squinted at the vamp.

People at the other tables stopped eating and trickled over to watch closer. They smelled a fight coming and didn't want to miss the show. This wasn't going well.

The vampire shrugged, mimicking Ghastek's gesture. "If a certain drunk spits on my vampire again, he will regret it."

Johan leaned back, a puzzled expression on his face. Apparently, Ghastek managed to stump him.

"Which way are you leaning?" Ragnvald said.

Nice try. "Where is Dagfinn, Ragnvald?"

"I've told you twice now, he isn't here."

"You've got to be kidding me. His house is here, his mother still lives here, and his stallion is out in the pasture."

"He gave him to his mother," Ragnvald said.

"He gave Magnus to his mother?"


"That horse is a bloody beast. Nobody can ride him except Dagfinn. The only reason Magnus hasn't bitten Dagfinn's hand off by now is because every time he tries, Dagfinn bites him back. And you're telling me Dagfinn gave him to his mother? What is she going to do with him?"

Ragnvald spread his arms. "I don't know, use him for home protection or something. I'm not a psychic. I don't know what goes through that man's head."

"You mean me?" Johan roared. "You mean I'll regret it?"

Oh no. He finally got it.

"Do you see any other fat old drunks making a spectacle of themselves?" Ascanio asked.

Johan swung over to Derek. "You! Slap a muzzle on your girlfriend."

Derek smiled. It was a slow controlled baring of teeth. I fought a shudder. The couple of guys to the left of us grabbed their chairs.

"Derek, we're guests," I called out.

Curran chuckled quietly to himself. Apparently he found me amusing.

"They need a lesson in hospitality," Ghastek said.

"I'll show you hospitality." Johan sucked in some air.

"Don't do it," Ghastek warned.

Johan hacked. The gob of spit landed on the vamp's forehead.

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