Read the first chapter from Dwarves Remember: Valda & the Valkyries Book Two:

Quacking Up

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Valda Gimaldottir held her head high. She was a Valkyrie: a shield-maiden; a servant of the gods; and a chooser of the slain. She was the very first Dwarf in all of history to hold such a position. She imagined the looks on the faces of all the Dwarfs back home in Jordenheim when they saw her for the first time in her gleaming armor. The Elders would nod sagely and realize that women could do just as much as men. They would meet in their councils and change the laws that prevented women from holding so many of the jobs that men held. The other Dwarven girls would look up to her now. They would realize that she wasn’t a trouble-making misfit. They would see her as a role model and they would say…

“Valda, what are you doing?”

Valda gave a sudden start and looked around. She wasn’t back home in the Dwarf city of Jordenheim. She was in Asgard in the hall called Valhalla. While she was a Valkyrie, she wasn’t wearing beautiful armor and carrying a magnificent spear. No, she was wearing a plain linen dress and holding a scrub brush in her hand.

“You haven’t answered my question. What are you doing?” It was Kara, of course, the person devoted to making Valda’s life miserable. It didn’t help that Kara was in charge of the Valkyries which meant that she was in charge of Valda.

Valda held her scrub brush in the air and wiggled it back and forth. “I think it’s pretty obvious. I’m scrubbing the floor.”

“It looked more like you were staring off into space. Get back to work. Now.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Valda nodded in agreement but she still stood there for a moment chewing on her lower lip. Finally she said. “Look, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry about Alfie, your horse. I had no idea Forsetti would give him to me.”

The look in Kara’s eyes was colder than the heart of any Frost Giant. “Little Dwarf girl, what you think and feel is worth nothing to me. You are still under the terms of your Trial by Ordeal. You must still obey my orders.” Kara leaned in towards Valda. “When you fail your trial, and you will fail your trail, you and your family will be banished to the icy cold wastes of Niflheim. Everything will be back the way it should be and I will have my horse back.” She spun on her heel and walked out of the hall without another word.

Valda took a deep breath. The thought of failing her family sent tendrils of ice racing through her body. She shuddered for a moment but then forced herself to stand tall once more. “No, I have beaten every challenge they have thrown at me. I will win this Trial.” But first she had to scrub the floors.

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Valda stood up with a groan and double-checked the floors for any spots she might have missed. She was the only Valkyrie who was required to clean Folkvangr, the hall of Freya, and Valhalla, Odin’s own hall. It was just another one of the ways that Kara made her life miserable. At least that bossy girl spent most of her time over in Folkvangr. Time away from Kara was a good thing in Valda’s mind. On the bad side, Valhalla lacked that woman’s touch that Freyja brought to Folkvangr. In other words, it was a pigsty and took that much longer to clean.

“Valda, come here!”

Valda looked up and saw a small half-circle of Valkyries that had formed up in the aisle between the tables. She dropped her brush into her bucket of soapy water and hurried over.

It was Sangrior who had called her. The girl was a member of Kara’s group but she was one of the quieter ones. She smiled at Valda now. “As you may know, Valkyries are also called Swan Maidens. This is because of the special cloaks we have.” Mist, one of the other Valkyries, stepped forward then, turning in a circle so that Valda could see the white feathered cloak that she wore.

“It’s beautiful!” Valda knew she was gushing, but gosh, it was beautiful.

“Yes, it certainly is, but it does more than just look good.” Sangrior nodded to Mist, who reached up and touched the golden clasp on her cloak. She whispered a few quiet words. The outline of her body was filled with a brief glowing light. When the light faded a graceful swan stood in the exact same spot. Sangrior went on, “When in the swan form you can travel through the air or over the water with ease.” With another glow of light Mist returned to human form. Sangrior held out a package to Valda. “Now that you have passed your riding test we have a cloak for you. You are a bit shorter than the normal Valkyrie, so a friend of ours made some special alterations to this one.” While she was speaking two of the other Valkyries took the cloak and draped it across Valda’s shoulders. It fit perfectly and she clapped her hands in delight.

Mist went down on one knee so she was face-to-face with Valda. “Just place your right hand on the clasp and repeat after me.”

As soon as Valda said the words she felt as if invisible hands had picked her up and spun her about like a top. The feeling quickly passed, leaving Valda standing there looking up at all of the Valkyries—way up. Wait a minute, she thought, something was wrong. She only reached up a little past the ankles of the sword maidens surrounding her. Why was she so low to the ground? And how the heck did she change back to her normal form? She had to tell the other Valkyries something was wrong so they could help her. Valda took a deep breath and let out a resounding “Quack!”

The Valkyries burst into laughter.

Valda looked at her hands. They weren’t really hands anymore, they were wingtips. Real life, honest-to-goodness wingtips. They were covered with a golden downy coat of soft, feathery, yellow fuzz. Her eyes crossed a bit as she noticed her bill, partly out of consternation and partly because that is the only way a duck can really look at its own bill. She couldn’t deny the fact that her feet were now webbed. Valda was now a duck, a duckling to be more precise. She owed it all to the other Valkyries. It was enough to make her blood boil.

Valda let loose then, describing the Valkyries in the worst possible language. She wasn’t cursing. Valda didn’t like to curse aside from the occasional “Hel.” But what she did say sounded ten times worse than cursing. Well, it would have sounded that way, but her present condition made the words emerge as a series of angry little quacks. This only set the Valkyries to laughing even harder. Some of them laughed so hard they were soon doubled over and gasping for air.

Just when Valda thought it couldn’t get any worse, she heard Loki’s unmistakable, braying laugh join in. He and Kara stepped forward from out of a nearby alcove where they had been watching the whole time. They were laughing so hard that tears streamed from their eyes.

“Oh my, would you listen to the bill on that little duckling?” Loki said. He picked Valda up in his hand, holding her this way and that so he could get a good look. “I see by your golden fuzz that the magic hair is still at work. Interesting.” Valda cut loose with a few more choice quacks.

Loki brought her right up to his face. “Uh, uh, uh. Is that any way to thank me for the effort I put into having that cloak made especially for you? I do believe we need to teach our little feathered friend a lesson in gratitude.” With that he strode over to Valda’s bucket. Placing Valda down on the table, he overturned the bucket, splashing the contents everywhere before he dropped it onto the table, trapping the tiny duckling beneath it. He leaned close so that Valda could hear his words, muffled though they were. “Careful, little one. You mustn’t ruin things before the proper time.” The sounds of laughter faded away as they left Valda alone in the dark.

Valda sat down to take stock of her situation. It wasn’t good. She was trapped, trapped in more ways than one. Not only was the bucket too heavy for her to lift, she didn’t even have hands to lift it. Plus, Valda had no idea how to reverse the cloak’s magic and return to normal. If she somehow got out from under the bucket she was still going to be a duckling.

It was enough to make anyone cry. Valda wondered if ducks could cry. It didn’t seem like it should be the most important issue to her right then and there, but the more she tried to push the thought away the bigger it grew in her mind. Do ducks cry? Valda figured her mind was simply latching on to something, anything, to keep it from dwelling on the current sad state of her life. Why the Hel should she know the answer anyway? She’d never been close to a duck, either physically or emotionally. They could be the most unrelentingly happy bird in all of the Nine Worlds for all she knew. It just wasn’t an area where she had any knowledge whatsoever. Valda shrugged her tiny feathered shoulders. Hey, she thought, ducks can shrug!

That thought started her giggling. Here she sat on her tiny feathered butt, instead of thinking up a solution to her problem she was actually debating herself over how emotionally stable ducks could be.

Since she was a duck, the giggles came out as a chortling kind of quacking. That sound was so funny that it got her laughing even harder. The louder laughs sounded more like a duck afflicted with the worst case of hiccups in history. It was a self-feeding loop. The more Valda laughed the funnier it sounded and that made her laugh even more.

She was howling with laughter and getting dangerously short of breath when the bucket rose up into the air. Valda gasped in surprise. The two wolves were there. Geri had the bucket gripped in his mouth. He moved his head to the side and let the bucket drop with a clatter. Freki just stared at Valda intently, turning his head from side to side.

“Don’t eat me!” Valda quacked. Oh gods, did they understand duck?

“Calm down.” Freki said. “I can’t understand what you’re saying.”

“You speak duck?” Geri asked.

“No. Did I not just say that?”

“Your phrasing was somewhat vague.” Geri said. “From the wording it was implied that if she calmed down and spoke slower that you would in fact be able to understand her.”

Freki rolled his eyes. “You grow more pedantic by the year.”

“Because your grammar grows sloppier.”

“Quack!” The wolves snapped their gazes down to the table to find a very irate duckling, wings on hips, glaring at them. They might not be able to understand it but the duckling quite clearly understood them and wasn’t happy with their conversational detours.

“I think it’s Valda.” Freki said.

“Hmm.” Geri sniffed the little bird. “Tiny, golden, more than a little bossy. I do believe you’re right.”

“I heard those clod-stomping Valkyries braying like idiots just now.” Freki said.

“What were they doing?” Geri asked.

“I try not to pay any more attention to them than I absolutely have to.” Freki paused. “But Loki was with them.”

“Ah! Then they must have had something to do with this.”

“Took all of your formidable intellect to arrive at that conclusion, did it?”

Geri assumed his most put-upon look. “How about doing something a little more productive? Run along and fetch that human who makes the cloaks. Bring her here.”

“They have humans making the cloaks? I thought the Elves did that.”

“They used to. But then the Elves… they…” Geri’s eyes glazed over for a second. “Never mind about the Elves. And never mind about the woman. I’ll go fetch her myself. You watch Valda.” Geri loped his way down the hall and out of the door.

Freki stared at Valda for several long moments. “I don’t suppose we’re going to have any scintillating conversations while we wait on him, eh?”

“Quack!”

“Ah, there we go. I can try to piece together what you’re saying. A little investigative linguistics ought to help pass the time.” Freki sounded quite pleased about this idea. “All right. Let’s start simple. Say the word ’no.’”

“Quack.”

“Very good. Now say the word…”

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They were still at it when Geri returned, shepherding a worried looking old woman into the hall, nudging her along every time she stopped moving. She gave a little start when she saw the other wolf waiting for them in the hall. As Geri forced her closer she noticed how Freki was staring intently at the table and her curiosity overpowered her fear. Following the direction of the wolf’s gaze she noticed the duckling sitting on top of the table. “By the All-Father, a golden duckling!” she exclaimed.

Valda looked from one wolf to the other, waiting for them to explain what had happened. The two of them just sat there quietly. She realized after a while that they weren’t going to do any more and it was up to her. With a huffy little quack she got up and waddled across the table. There was still a puddle of water that had splashed there when Loki turned her cleaning bucket over. Valda dipped her wingtip into the water and started writing on a dry section of table.

“Aah!” The woman was simply astounded. She half thought that this all must be a dream. Getting tugged out of her bed by one of Odin’s wolves kind of set the stage for that assumption. The thought that this was all some sort of strange dream was the only thing that so far had kept her from collapsing into a little ball of quivering fear. Now the dream had brought her a duckling that could write! She stared closely at the watery words. It was obviously a message for her, but… “I’m sorry, little duckling. I don’t recognize the language.”

Valda slapped her little downy forehead. Obviously Odin’s spell of understanding only applied to speech. She had to find another way to communicate. She thought furiously. She had it! She hoped.

Finding a new dry spot Valda quickly sketched out a stick figure of a horse.

“A wolf!” the woman said.

Valda sadly shook her head no.

The woman gestured at Freki and Geri. “You can’t blame me for having wolves on my mind at the moment, can you?”

Valda added a swirl that she hoped looked like a mane onto the stick figure.

“A horse?” the woman asked.

Valda jumped up and down excitedly, shaking her head yes. Then she added a stick figure of a person on top of the horse.

“A man riding a horse?”

Valda thought for a moment before dipping her wingtips back into the water and adding two circles to the chest of the stick figure.

“Oh, a woman on a horse. Not many women on horses around here…except for Valkyries.” The old woman slapped the table. “Of course, a Valkyrie!”

Valda started quacking excitedly, jumping from one leg to the other and flapping her wings in the air. Her dancing slowed down as she realized the woman was still not getting the whole situation yet. Valda pointed at the drawing of the Valkyrie and then at herself. She repeated the gesture a few more times. Valda was screaming the answer inside of her head, trying to get the words to fly into the woman’s skull by force of will.

The woman just stared right back. She rubbed at her hip for a moment. Just like the darn thing to start bugging her now, even if she was in the middle of a dream. She sat down on the bench next to the table. Sitting down like that and taking some weight off of her leg always helped in real life, especially when she was making cloaks for the… “Valkyrie!” she blurted out again. “You are a Valkyrie. Is that it?”

Valda shook her head yes and danced around in a little circle. Finally they were getting somewhere.

The woman was immensely pleased with herself. This was the best dream she had had in at least ten years. “Okay, you are a Valkyrie but right now you’re a duckling. I’ve never heard of that. Usually if the Valkyries change into a bird they change into a swan.”

Valda launched into a lengthy explanation filled with frantic gestures and lots of quacking. None of it made any sense to the woman. “Look,” she interrupted Valda’s story, “let’s keep it simple, did a cloak change you into a duckling?”

Valda nodded yes.

“That must be why the wolf came to get me, since I make the cloaks. But I never made a duckling cloak.” She lost herself in thought for a moment. “Why don’t you just change yourself back?”

Valda shrugged and threw her wings up in the air.

“You don’t want to? No. That doesn’t make sense because you come across as pretty irritated. Unhappy with your life. I’m guessing here but maybe…Maybe you don’t know how to change back?”

Valda jumped up and down shaking her head ’yes’ like there was no tomorrow.

The woman scratched an eyebrow. “Well, like I said, I don’t think that is one of my cloaks. But I can teach you how to reverse the spell of a swan cloak. Maybe they are close enough that it works the same way.” The old woman had Valda stand up straight and close her eyes. “Now cross your arms over your chest. Get a picture in your mind of yourself the way you really are. Now for the last bit, you just take a deep breath. Hold it a second. Then let it out and at the same time open your arms like you’re wearing a cloak and throwing it back over your shoulders. Okay? Go ahead now and try it.”

Valda did just as instructed. When she opened her arms she had that same sensation of being picked up and whirled around in the air. She opened her eyes to find the old woman and the wolves staring at her. Valda quickly looked down to check herself over. Hands with actual fingers? Yes! Webbed feet gone? Yes! Totally back inside of her normal body? “Yes, yes, yes!” Valda shouted, jumping in the air.

“Oh, how can I ever thank you, uhm, er… I am so sorry, but I have no idea what your name is. The wolves didn’t tell me your name.”

The old woman laughed. “I am Una.” She reached over and playfully tousled Geri’s head. Geri was so shocked by this that he forgot to bite her hand off. He just gaped at the woman with his jaws open. “Don’t blame the wolves,” Una continued, “after all it’s not like they can talk to us, right?”

“Actually…” Valda began, but a warning look and a subtle shake of the head from both wolves cut her off.

Una got to her feet with a grunt and waved to indicate that Valda should come closer. “I want to take a look at that cloak of yours, if I may.”

She fussed over the entire thing, turning it this way and that, and holding it right up to her eyes. Finally she sat back down. “It’s almost one of mine.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that someone took one of my cloaks, removed all of the swan feathers, cut it down to size and then sewed in a new set of duck feathers. Why anyone would do such a thing—I have no idea.”

“That’s alright, Una. I think I can figure that part out for myself.”

Una groaned a bit and rubbed her hip again. “Well, if everything is settled then I expect I will be waking up in my own bed any minute now.”

“How’s that?”

“This is obviously a dream. A real humdinger of one, too, but it’s time to get back in my bed.” The woman’s eyes flashed with excitement. “Oh, maybe I should just turn into a raven and fly back. Help me up onto that table so I can jump into the air from there.”

“Well, yeah, about that, maybe it would be better if you dreamt yourself walking back to your room and climbing into bed.” Valda smiled hopefully. “I am sure that Geri would be happy to make sure you get home okay.”

Geri’s head snapped around to glare at Valda.

“Yes,” Valda put her hands on her hips, “you would be happy to walk her home, Geri.”

Geri let out an exasperated sigh that would have done any actor proud. He nudged the old woman to get her going, but then he walked beside her so she could lean on him as needed.

As soon as they were out of the hall Valda whirled to face Freki. “What was that all about?” she demanded.

“What was what?”

“Why wouldn’t you talk in front of Una? Why did you make me go through that whole routine? You could have saved us so much time.”

“First of all,” Freki said, “this may be Heaven but that doesn’t mean miracles happen to take away all of your problems. You have to solve things for yourself. You have a brain and Geri and I expect you to use it. Which you did.” He paused to let that sink in. “Second of all, not everyone knows that we can talk and we like it that way. Gods, if everyone knew then everyone would be talking to us all of the time. We’d have no peace, no time for quiet contemplation and reflection upon the nature of being. Have you listened to some of these Einherjar? The extent of their conversational skills is who they fought, what they ate and how much they drank. We want no part of that.” Freki turned and went to his usual spot up by Odin’s throne, signaling in no uncertain terms that the conversation was over.

Valda wasn’t sure what to do next. She had walked right into Kara and Loki’s little prank. In the future she would have to be twice as careful about everything she did. She was risking more than a little egg on her face if she messed up—Valda was putting the well-being of her family on the line. She tried not to think about that too much, but how was she supposed to think about anything else?

She ticked off the points in her head: watch out for Loki; watch out for Kara; watch out for anyone or anything associated with Loki or Kara. That covered everything. It also covered almost half the people that Valda had to deal with until her Trial by Ordeal was over. The truth was now inescapably clear to her. “Trust no one.” she said out loud.

“A somewhat bleak assessment.” Geri answered without even lifting his head, “but undoubtedly good advice.”

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