Read below for the Katie's short story The Children of Muspell.
Katie Drake fell in love with books when she found the author V.C. Andrews. Ever since, she has been hooked on stories which span several books--she is a series fan.
To support her author networking, Katie is a member of The Missing Comma Club, her local writing group Novel Ideas, and the Writers' League of Texas.
Read her interview on their blog.
She writes young adult fantasy and science fiction. Her novels The Ragnarok Recurrence and Torrent are both about the coming of the new Ragnarok and use themes and stories from Norse mythology as a base. A short story she wrote as a parallel to the novels, The Children of Muspell, recently placed as a finalist with Chanillo and will be published with them this year.
Next, she plans to increase her short story output and contest entries, as well as add to her sci-fi work in progress. Querying agents is on the list, too.
Katie's full-time job lets her create all day long. As a Gifted Education teacher, her main focus is on helping students find their strengths and foster their interests. She is a proponent of #schoolhacking and an active member of the Texas Association of the Gifted and Talented.
THE CHILDREN OF MUSPELL
Mara left the shelter of the almond tree behind. Sandstone tiles burned the bottoms of her bare feet and the little bells on her ankle bracelet jingled as she approached the patch of shade near the patio wall.
Aedan, stretched out precariously on top of the wall and basking in the sun, turned his head at the sound. “Do you not understand your position at all, Sinmara?” he asked, picking up the previous night’s discussion.
Mara blinked at the stark whiteness of the sky behind him. “I do,” she said. Aedan planned to kill their father, King Sutr, and rule the world of Muspell. He needed her help.
Mara blinked at the stark whiteness of the sky behind him. “I do,” she said. Aedan planned to kill their father, King Sutr, and rule the world of Muspell. He needed her help.
“Well then, sister,” he said, his eyes on her feet, “let’s take a walk and discuss what we shall do.” Aedan met her gaze before sitting up and then vaulting from the wall as he’d done a thousand times. Mara didn’t expect his smile. Nostalgia swept her back like a feather on one of Muspell’s rare breezes—he was a little boy again, triumphant over reaching the top of the wall for the first time.
Aedan steered Mara to the shaded colonnade surrounding their garden courtyard. Mara focused on the black and white tiles as they walked, the domestic sounds of the palace surrounding them, and thought of what to say to make Aedan understand his plan for what it was—treason.
Mara linked her arm through his and rested her head against his shoulder. They’d often enjoyed time together this way. Before Aedan wanted for things he could not have. “Please, Aedan,” she said, still hoping to talk him out of his plan. “Can’t you see father is protecting us?”
Aedan came to a sudden stop, causing Mara to slip on the smooth tiles. With a snort—of humor or frustration, she could not tell—he pulled her up hard by the arms. “Mara, stop. I’m doing this.” The muscles at his jaw flexed. “He keeps us cut off from the other worlds,” he said. Aedan cracked his knuckles as he always did when he was nervous or unsure.
Mara straightened her skirt and her back. “He doesn’t want Muspell to fight any more.” Their father was not afraid of battle. He still boasted of his fight with the Asgardians during the last Ragnarok. “Think of the ravaged worlds. The desperate survivors.”
“Loki’s sword, Laevateinn,” Aedan added. Father said he’d found it on the ground after the battle, reflecting the rolling thunder clouds overhead. He’d taken it as a prize. And security.
After the war, Lake Kavum, their only means of transport, dried up and their people—the Sons of Muspell—lost touch with the other worlds. Father was content to let the lake, and the doorway it contained, shrink away.
Aedan was not.
Last night, in the privacy of Father’s chambers, Mara revealed Aedan’s plan. He’d not raged at the news as she’d feared. Instead, he barely looked up from the letters he wrote and said it was normal for a young man to want to travel and stretch his legs. Father thought Aedan was blustering and wouldn’t follow through.
Now, Aedan bowed his head slightly and a lock of his hair fell out of place. Mara reached up and smoothed it behind his ear. His expression lightened. “I’d bring you with me, Mara.” Then, his eyes wide with expectation, he asked, “wouldn’t you enjoy seeing other worlds?”
“No, Aedan. This is our home.” Adventure did not call to her as it did her brother.
“I’ve got the support of the younger men. They’re as sick of Muspell as I am.” He placed his hands on her shoulders, gripping tight. “I need that sword.”
Loki’s sword. Because Loki betrayed them, the Asgardians locked him away. The sword was the key to Loki’s cell. “I can’t just take it.” Heat rose in Mara’s cheeks. She’d said no many times, but he kept asking. “You’ve never seen the protection around it.”
Their mother created the Vralia order to protect the sword. Entry passed from mother to daughter. At their mother’s death, Mara took an oath to keep the sword hidden away and never let another Ragnarok begin.
Aedan gave her a dark look. Mara touched his arm, offering condolence for her refusal.
“I cannot make you betray him.” He caught her hand, removed it from his arm, and turned away. “Once father is gone, you will do as I say,” he said, looking over his should at her.
She understood the heartache in Aedan’s eyes. Even though he disagreed with their father, Aedan loved him. Killing their father would kill a part of Aedan. Aedan made an irritated sound and left in huff.
Mara didn’t linger, but headed up the nearest set of stairs. From this terrace viewpoint she watched the spaces between the wide leaves of the courtyard trees. She spotted the men camouflaged like dense shadows and witnessed her brother appear beside them. They stood close together, hair shining blue-black in the slivers of sunlight. Mara knew them from her father’s retinue—the younger men Aedan trained with and who enjoyed her Father’s hospitality.
Perhaps drawn by a flash of sun from her golden earrings, Aedan looked up at Mara. Unease settle upon her and she hastily retired to her rooms. Mara was glad to find her friend Kareena lounging on the chaise, looking as if she belonged in the royal palace and not across the sand dunes.
Kareena took one look at Mara, popped a grape in her mouth and said, “You’ve gone all wide eyed. What’s wrong?”—all while crunching the grape and picking one of the spicy little potato balls from Mara’s tea tray. The spice brought a sheen of dew to Kareena’s skin and she popped another grape in her mouth.
Mara closed the door behind her. “Aedan still wants it. The Laevateinn.” She crossed the room, the tiled floor blessedly cool beneath her feet, and sat by Kareena.
“The only way Aedan will get that sword is if one of us gives it to him,” Kareena said. “Come. Let’s try to catch a breeze on the balcony.” She stood up and extended a hand to Mara. Mara took it, admiring the way Kareena’s fire glowed under the delicate skin of her wrist and the curving Vralia symbol tattooed there.
Created at the beginning of time, Muspell was a land of fire. It had melted the ice of one world and helped to spawn new ones. Even the stars were born from the fires of ancient Muspell. Now mountainous volcanoes held the remnants of that fire. Carved from the side of one of those mountains, the palace boasted precipitous drops which—while affording far reaching views—required the placement of balconies. High above the desert, the balconies were some of the only places in Muspell to experience a breeze caused by the downdraft of heat from the volcanic mountain chain.
With fig trees and palms placed to provide shade from the sun, Mara’s balcony held a special gift from her father—a water fountain. The stone of the fountain was skillfully carved in the shape of the World Tree; complete with delicate leaves and a branch for each of the nine worlds. The roots of the tree were plentiful and bare. As the water flowed from the ends of the roots into the pool below, the spray caught each sparse breeze. The sensation on her skin was exquisite. She was told it felt like rain.
The girls sat on the stone snake coiled around the rim of the fountain pool and trailed their fingers in the shallow water. Mara looked over the terraced city below her, past the first city wall, and out over the Kayama Dunes. “What’s it like to live out there,” she gestured towards the dunes, “in the temple?”
“Hot and sandy.” Kareena trailed dripping water from her fingertips across her collarbone and along her arms.
The temple, built far out in the dunes and protected by an outcropping of ages old magma, was left behind from the disasters of the last Ragnarok. The sun did not reach the temple as it reached the palace because a small oasis, one of the last in her world, provided a shady canopy. It was also far from Aedan and his demands to help overthrow Muspell.
“I mean, what is it like to live with the Vralia?” Like most of the other ladies of her order, Mara only visited for ceremonies. Kareena’s mother was once part of the palace court, but had exiled herself from the city upon the queen’s death, taking Kareena with her to the temple.
Kareena turned a keen eye on her. “You belong here.” She nodded her chin toward the city.
“I don’t want to go, but Aedan will never leave me alone.”
“What about all those people down there?” Kareena asked.
Mara left Kareena at the fountain and went to the balcony’s edge. She leaned heavily on the railing, examining her dark skin against the creamy gold of the stone and the way her fire simmered and flowed within her. Within her, and within each person below, the fire from the creation of the worlds remained kindled, fated to smite the other worlds. It bound them together.
“Father spent so long rebuilding.” Mara ran a finger over the curves of her own Vralia tattoo. “He’s one of the few men left with battle experience. He says the rest are too young to understand why he’s done with wars. Aedan would have them as conquerors. But giants never win a Ragnarok,” Mara said. It was why her father wanted them the stay in Muspell. He was done losing.
Kareena joined her at the railing. “What is Aedan thinking? Even if he gets out of Muspell, even if he finds Loki and uses Laevateinn to free him, what does he want with Loki?”
“Loki is a giant, too. Aedan thinks he’ll want revenge against the Asgardians for keeping him trapped in that cave,” Mara said.
Kareena smiled. “Loki’s an Ice Giant. He won’t work with a Fire Giant anyway.”
Mara felt better. Aedan’s plan had too many holes. If her father wasn’t worried, maybe she shouldn’t be. Mara spotted a bright flash far out in the dunes and squinted her eyes. “Look,” she said and pointed. Another flash. “The sunlight on metal.”
“Yes, I see. There are two.” The sound of horns signaling an alert cut off Kareena’s words. The girls shaded their eyes with their hands and watched the shapes, hazy in the hot desert air. Within minutes the gate of the outer wall opened and two city guards, mounted on horses, entered the dunes.
Excitement coursed through Mara. She squeezed Kareena’s hand. “Strangers.”
No one else would come from the direction of the lost lake. She’d seen it once, when touring the realm with her father. Lake Kavum was just deeply fissured, hard-baked clay with a shallow puddle at its center; far too small for her people to use as a doorway to the other worlds.
Kareena squeezed her hand back. “Let’s go meet them at the gate.”
It took time to manage their way through the serpentine streets of the city. When they entered the large market square, they found the bazaar as crowded as ever. Musicians played on stages and little boys practice stealth to rifle the pockets of the careless. Merchants and craftsmen called out to passers-by. Tender meat turned on spits and the musky scent of cooking spices filled the air. Brightly colored cloths hung high over head on poles and stretched across the vast square, casting a riotous set of shadows across the ground.
Mara spotted her brother, her father, and several men of his retinue—including a few of the young men Aedan spoke with in the courtyard—on a side street and pointed them out to Kareena. “If we join them, we’ll get a closer view,” Mara said.
The men kept a brisk pace. The girls had to run to catch up to them. Hearing the rushing steps, and the little bells on the girls’ ankles, the men turned. Her father left the group and walked back to the girls.
“You’ll not come with us, Mara,” her father said. His dark hair was pulled to a club at the back of his head. He wore not only his silks, but a long jacket stitched with intricate flowers and snakes—a deadly sharp scimitar barely hidden under it. Several of his largest gold necklaces hung upon his chest, a ruby pendant dangling from one of them. He dressed as if to meet another member of royalty.
“But, why not?” Mara asked.
“Go, Mara.” He kissed her forehead, turned on his heel, and headed back to his men.
Aedan caught her eye and shook his head. He didn’t want her there. She felt it, part of Aedan’s plan clicking into place.
Mara stepped forward. Kareena held her back. “Wait. We’ll take another way. They’ll be headed for the barbican.”
Located just inside the first city wall, the long, thin passage of the barbican held the stables, a visitors’ market and the city’s guards. Anyone let through the gate filtered into the narrow yard and could be dealt with before ever entering through the next set of doors into the city proper.
The girls had almost closed in on her father and Aedan when a deep, angry bellow startled them. “A fight?” Mara turned an ear toward the sound, holding her breath to hear. “It’s my father,” she said.
Mara charged around the corner and down a tapered street to the ancient bronze-gone-green door her father would pass through to greet the strangers. She found her father, his men, and Aedan in a fierce struggle. One of the younger men made to grab her father’s sword, but her father blocked the grasp and gave the man a tight fisted blow to his kidney. Her father pulled his sword and held it level with his shoulders, ready to strike down into anyone who approached.
Aedan stepped around and stood back to back with their father, in a defensive move. Mara heard the sound of his own sword being pulled from its sheath. The men formed a circle around the pair, ten swords to their two.
Mara called out. “Father.”
He stilled just long enough to search for her and meet her eyes. The men took advantage of his distraction. His long curved blade dipped and they swarmed. Her father and Aedan were buried. A sword—her father’s—was kicked out of the pack and scraped across the paving stones.
She sensed a change in the tension of the group and a second later the men wrenched her father’s arms behind his back. He gasped from the pain.
Aedan wiped away blood pooling at the corner of his mouth and ran his hands through his hair to smooth it away from his face. He pulled a bunched up black cloth from his belt and shook it out. It was a sack. Defending their father had been a ruse.
“Aedan. No. Please,” Mara yelled.
Aedan pulled the sack over their father’s head with a rough tug. Father struggled against the hold of the men, but together they were too strong. Aedan bade them follow. The group disappeared out the bronzed gate and into the barbican.
She could hear her father hollering at them, his voice carrying over the wall.
“Mara, don’t go,” Kareena said. She had backed up against a wall and stood there, worrying her bottom lip, ready to run away.
Mara shook her head. It felt heavy on her shoulders. “It’s happening. I’ve got to stop it. Aedan will kill him.”
She burst through the door to find her father forced to his knees. Mara ran to him, but Aedan was there and stopped her. He held her back with a firm arm wrapped around her waist.
“Father. I’m here,” she called. The people who had gathered for an entertaining bit of punishment, murmured. They recognized Mara and Aedan and looked around for the king. At the sound of her voice, her father managed to get one foot on the ground and nearly overcame the captures. Without his arms free to give himself leverage, he was pushed back to his knees.
Aedan’s breath fanned across her cheek as he whispered to her. “I told you to stay away, Mara. I tried to spare you this.”
One of Aedan’s partners pulled the sack off her father’s head. His neat club had come undone and his hair hung in messy tangles about his face and shoulders. A collective gasp rose from the crowd. Her father called out for help. Mara searched the crowd. The market goers were too startled by the scene in front of them. At an unspoken signal the young guards in the barbican moved closer to the king.
Mara spotted two small figures, a dark-haired girl in shining battle armor and a silver haired older man, tucked in front of the two returned horsemen like little children. The girl looked around with worry, but the man’s face held a barely present smile.
Mara had seen no one like them. She never understood what it meant to be a giant until that moment. The strangers had to be from Asgard.
“Why are you doing it this way?” she asked Aedan. She never thought he would try to kill their father in public.
“Because Thor asked for a public display to show I am in earnest.” Aedan gave a dry laugh. “Not much like his namesake is he? Hunched over. No hammer. He’s the advisor to the Asgardian king.”
A cry came from someone in the crowd. “Help King Sutr!” This pulled the crowd from their stupor and the buzz of voices began to rise in volume around them.
The king locked eyes with the small old man on the horse. “Thor, you bastard! I told you to leave us out of your scheming!”
Mara dug her nails into Aedan’s skin causing him to suck air in through his teeth at the pain. He passed her off to one of the other men. Mara could only watch while Aedan stalked up behind their father and unsheathed his own curved blade.
The crowd burst into movement like the explosion of a hornet’s nest. People ran away, ran towards their king, ran towards Aedan and the men surrounding him. Mara’s stomach rose into her throat when the young guards step between the rescuers and the king.
After that it was quick.
Aedan placed a hand on his father’s shoulder in a silent communication she didn’t understand. The king closed his eyes. Aedan raised his blade high above his own head. Then brought it down with a fierce yell.
Mara squeezed her eyes closed. The fire contained in her father’s body erupted with a sound she’d never heard before. The power of it knocked her back into the man holding her. Startled, she opened her eyes to the sight of her father’s head rocking silently back and forth on the ground. Singed up to the jaw, the mouth still moving and eyes still blinking.
His body slumped to the ground. Mara screamed.
The man holding Mara let go. She fell next to her father’s body. Hot blood soaked the ground, soaked her skirts, the white silk turning red. She couldn’t bring herself to look at the lifeless limbs and turned her head, gagging at the memory of Aedan’s sword cutting into her father’s skin.
Suddenly, Aedan was there on his knees in the blood forcing her to stare at the head now lying still on the ground. “Your father, your king, is dead,” he said. He spoke low, his tone controlled, yet Mara sensed the tremble of his hands against her skin.
Her own body shook as worn out as child’s old rag doll. Only Aedan’s rough support kept her upright. She wanted to scream at him, scratch at his hands against her cheeks. His nearness was an insult to her grief.
People ran about the barbican, the flurry of movement at once sharp in her vision, yet blurry to her mind. Mara couldn’t make her body move. Instinct told her to get away, but it felt like a betrayal to leave her father’s corpse alone on the ground.
Aedan leaned in closer. “On the bright side, you’ll have another royal lady in the palace to keep you company.” He took his hands from her face and pulled her up to stand by him, one arm supporting her around the waist, and pointed across the barbican. “Her. There. In the armor?”
Mara caught glimpses of the girl through quick gaps in the crowd. She hid under a horse though her face did not show fear. The set of her mouth told Mara the girl was mad. “Who is she?” Mara asked.
“She is my new wife,” Aedan said and smiled at Mara. “She is the daughter of the King of Asgard.”
What kind of father sent his daughter to be the wife of his enemy? Mara felt instant sympathy for the girl. Then another thought came to her. “Did she agree to come marry you?”
Aedan took his arm from around her waist and shook his head. “What she wants doesn’t matter. Don’t you see, Mara?” He looked at her with surprise. “Thor will help us fix the doorway to the other worlds. I’ll be married to Asgardian royalty. I’ll claim her land and her father won’t attack us because I have her as hostage. And you,” he said, his eyes shining, “will bring me the Laevateinn sword so I can free Loki. With him on my side no one will stop the Sons of Muspell.” He left her then, just as suddenly as he had appeared, melting into the crowd.
Mara was alone with her father. He was dead because he wanted Muspell to stay out of the other worlds. If Aedan’s plan worked, and the Sons of Muspell allied themselves with Loki, it would be the start of a new Ragnarok. The worlds Aedan wanted so badly would be torn apart by disasters and war. There would be nothing left for him and their people would die. Didn’t her brother realize?
Mara traced the dark lines of her Vralia tattoo, confirming her oath to prevent another Ragnarok. Aedan’s plan was stronger than she’d known. It was up to her to stop him. She’d never give her brother the sword or let him marry the girl from Asgard. She wouldn’t let the traitorous old man fix the doorway.
Her brother’s question from earlier in the day came back to her. Did she know her position?