The Sword of Summer, Page 2Rick Riordan
‘Why?’ I said aloud.
Behind me, a deep voice said, ‘Hello, Magnus.’
I nearly jumped out of my shoes. Standing in the library doorway was a barrel-chested man with a trim white beard and a skullcap of grey hair. He wore a beige cashmere overcoat over a dark wool suit. His gloved hands gripped the handle of a polished wooden cane with an iron tip. Last time I’d seen him his hair had been black, but I knew that voice.
He inclined his head a millimetre. ‘What a pleasant surprise. I’m glad you’re here.’ He sounded neither surprised nor glad. ‘We don’t have much time.’
The food and milk started to churn in my stomach. ‘M-much time … before what?’
His brow furrowed. His nose wrinkled as if he detected a mildly unpleasant odour. ‘You’re sixteen today, aren’t you? They’ll be coming to kill you.’
Don’t Accept Rides from Strange Relatives
Well, happy birthday to me!
Was it 13 January? Honestly, I had no idea. Time flies when you’re sleeping under bridges and eating from dumpsters.
So I was officially sixteen. For my present, I got cornered by Uncle Freaky, who announced that I was marked for assassination.
‘Who –’ I started to ask. ‘You know what? Never mind. Nice seeing you, Randolph. I’ll be going now.’
Randolph remained in the doorway, blocking my exit. He pointed the iron tip of his cane at me. I swear I could feel it pushing against my sternum from across the room.
‘Magnus, we need to talk. I don’t want them to get to you. Not after what happened to your mother …’
A punch in the face would’ve been less painful.
Memories from that night spun through my head like a sickening kaleidoscope: our apartment building shuddering, a scream from the floor below, my mother – who’d been tense and paranoid all day – dragging me towards the fire escape, telling me to run. The door splintered and burst. From the hallway, two beasts emerged, their pelts the colour of dirty snow, their eyes glowing blue. My fingers slipped off the fire-escape railing and I fell, landing in a pile of garbage bags in the alley. Moments later, the windows of our apartment exploded, belching fire.
My mom had told me to run. I did. She’d promised to find me. She never did. Later, on the news, I heard that her body had been recovered from the fire. The police were searching for me. They had questions: signs of arson; my record of disciplinary problems at school; neighbours’ reports of shouting and a loud crash from our apartment just before the explosion; the fact that I’d run from the scene. None of the reports mentioned wolves with glowing eyes.
Ever since that night I’d been hiding, living under the radar, too busy surviving to grieve properly for my mom, wondering if I’d hallucinated those beasts … but I knew I hadn’t.
Now, after all this time, Uncle Randolph wanted to help me.
I gripped the little domino stone so tightly it cut into my palm. ‘You don’t know what happened to my mom. You never cared about either of us.’
Randolph lowered his cane. He leaned on it heavily and stared at the carpet. I could almost believe I’d hurt his feelings.
‘I pleaded with your mother,’ he said. ‘I wanted her to bring you here – to live where I could protect you. She refused. After she died …’ He shook his head. ‘Magnus, you have no idea how long I’ve looked for you, or how much danger you’re in.’
‘I’m fine,’ I snapped, though my heart was thumping against my ribs. ‘I’ve been taking care of myself pretty well.’
‘Perhaps, but those days are over.’ The certainty in Randolph’s voice gave me a chill. ‘You’re sixteen now, the age of manhood. You escaped them once, the night your mother died. They won’t let you escape again. This is our last chance. Let me help you, or you won’t live through the day.’
The low winter light shifted across the stained-glass transom, washing Randolph’s face in changing colours, chameleon-style.
I shouldn’t have come here. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Over and over, my mom had given me one clear message: Don’t go to Randolph. Yet here I was.
The longer I listened to him, the more terrified I got, and the more desperately I wanted to hear what he had to say.
‘I don’t need your help.’ I set the strange little domino on the desk. ‘I don’t want –’
‘I know about the wolves.’
That stopped me.
‘I know what you saw,’ he continued. ‘I know who sent the creatures. Regardless of what the police think, I know how your mother really died.’
‘Magnus, there’s so much I need to tell you about your parents, about your inheritance … About your father.’
An ice-cold wire threaded its way down my spine. ‘You knew my father?’
I didn’t want to give Randolph any leverage. Living on the street had taught me how dangerous leverage could be. But he had me hooked. I needed to hear this information. Judging from the appraising gleam in his eyes, he knew it.
‘Yes, Magnus. Your father’s identity, your mother’s murder, the reason she refused my help … it’s all connected.’ He gestured towards his display of Viking goodies. ‘My whole life, I’ve been working towards one goal. I’ve been trying to solve a historical mystery. Until recently, I didn’t see the whole picture. Now I do. It’s all been leading to this day, your sixteenth birthday.’
I backed up to the window, as far as I could get from Uncle Randolph. ‘Look, I don’t understand ninety per cent of what you’re saying, but if you can tell me about my dad –’
The building rattled like a volley of cannons had gone off in the distance – a rumble so low I felt it in my teeth.
‘They’ll be here soon,’ Randolph warned. ‘We’re running out of time.’
‘Who are they?’
Randolph limped forward, relying on his cane. His right knee didn’t seem to work. ‘I’m asking a lot, Magnus. You have no reason to trust me. But you need to come with me right now. I know where your birthright is.’ He pointed to the old maps on the desk. ‘Together, we can retrieve what is yours. It’s the only thing that might protect you.’
I glanced over my shoulder, out of the window. Down in the Commonwealth Mall, Hearth had disappeared. I should have done the same. Looking at Uncle Randolph, I tried to see any resemblance to my mother, anything that might inspire me to trust him. I found nothing. His imposing bulk, his intense dark eyes, his humourless face and stiff manner … he was the exact opposite of my mom.
‘My car is out back,’ he said.
‘M-maybe we should wait for Annabeth and Uncle Frederick.’
Randolph grimaced. ‘They don’t believe me. They never believed me. Out of desperation, as a last resort, I brought them to Boston to help me look for you, but now that you’re here –’
The building shook again. This time the boom felt closer and stronger. I wanted to believe it was from construction nearby, or a military ceremony, or anything easily explainable. But my gut told me otherwise. The noise sounded like the fall of a gargantuan foot – like the noise that had shaken our apartment two years ago.
‘Please, Magnus.’ Randolph’s voice quavered. ‘I lost my own family to those monsters. I lost my wife, my daughters.’
‘You – you had a family? My mom never said anything –’
‘No, she wouldn’t have. But your mother … Natalie was my only sister. I loved her. I hated to lose her. I can’t lose you, too. Come with me. Your father left something for you to find – something that will change the worlds.’
Too many questions crowded my brain. I didn’t like the crazy light in Randolph’s eyes. I didn’t like the way he said worlds, plural. And I didn’t believe he’d been trying to find me since my mom died. I had my antenna up constantly. If Randolph had been asking about me by name, one of my street friends would’ve tipped me off, like Blitz had done this morning with Annabeth and Frederick.
ad changed – something that made Randolph decide I was worth looking for.
‘What if I just run?’ I asked. ‘Will you try to stop me?’
‘If you run, they’ll find you. They’ll kill you.’
My throat felt like it was full of cotton balls. I didn’t trust Randolph. Unfortunately, I believed he was in earnest about people trying to kill me. His voice had the ring of truth.
‘Well, then,’ I said, ‘let’s go for a ride.’
Seriously, the Dude Cannot Drive
You’ve heard about bad Boston drivers? That’s my Uncle Randolph.
The dude gunned his BMW 528i (of course it had to be a BMW) and shot down Commonwealth Avenue, ignoring the lights, honking at other cars, weaving randomly from lane to lane.
‘You missed a pedestrian,’ I said. ‘You want to go back and hit her?’
Randolph was too distracted to answer. He kept glancing at the sky as if looking for storm clouds. He gunned the BMW through the intersection at Exeter.
‘So,’ I said, ‘where are we going?’
That explained everything. There were, like, twenty bridges in the Boston area.
I ran my hand along the heated leather seat. It had been maybe six months since I’d ridden in a car. The last time it had been a social worker’s Toyota. Before that, a police cruiser. Both times I’d used a fake name. Both times I’d escaped, but over the past two years I’d come to equate cars with holding cells. I wasn’t sure my luck had changed any today.
I waited for Randolph to answer any of the nagging little questions I had, like, oh: Who’s my dad? Who murdered my mom? How did you lose your wife and kids? Are you presently hallucinating? Did you really have to wear that clove-scented cologne?
But he was too busy causing traffic havoc.
Finally, just to make small talk, I asked, ‘So who’s trying to kill me?’
He turned right on Arlington. We skirted the Public Garden, past the equestrian statue of George Washington, the rows of gaslight lamp posts and snow-covered hedges. I was tempted to bail out of the car, run back to the swan pond and hide in my sleeping bag.
‘Magnus,’ said Randolph, ‘I’ve made my life’s work studying the Norse exploration of North America.’
‘Wow, thanks,’ I said. ‘That really answered my question.’
Suddenly Randolph did remind me of my mom. He gave me the same exasperated scowl, the same look over the top of his glasses, like, Please, kid, cut the sarcasm. The similarity made my chest ache.
‘Fine,’ I said. ‘I’ll humour you. Norse exploration. You mean the Vikings.’
Randolph winced. ‘Well … Viking means raider. It’s more of a job description. Not all Norse people were Vikings. But, yes, those guys.’
‘The statue of Leif Erikson … Does that mean the Vikings – er, the Norse – discovered Boston? I thought the Pilgrims did that.’
‘I could give you a three-hour lecture on that topic alone.’
‘Suffice it to say, the Norse explored North America and even built settlements around the year 1000, almost five hundred years before Christopher Columbus. Scholars agree on that.’
‘That’s a relief. I hate it when scholars disagree.’
‘But no one is sure how far south the Norse sailed. Did they make it to what is now the United States? That statue of Leif Erikson … that was the pet project of a wishful thinker in the 1800s, a man named Eben Horsford. He was convinced that Boston was the lost Norse settlement of Norumbega, their furthest point of exploration. He had an instinct, a gut feeling, but no real proof. Most historians wrote him off as a crackpot.’
He looked at me meaningfully.
‘Let me guess … you don’t think he’s a crackpot.’ I resisted the urge to say, Takes one to believe one.
‘Those maps on my desk,’ Randolph said. ‘They are the proof. My colleagues call them forgeries, but they’re not. I staked my reputation on it!’
And that’s why you got fired from Harvard, I thought.
‘The Norse explorers did make it this far,’ he continued. ‘They were searching for something … and they found it here. One of their ships sank nearby. For years I thought the shipwreck was in Massachusetts Bay. I sacrificed everything to find it. I bought my own boat, took my wife, my children on expeditions. The last time …’ His voice broke. ‘The storm came out of nowhere, the fires …’
He didn’t seem anxious to share more, but I got the general idea: he’d lost his family at sea. He really had staked everything on his crazy theory about Vikings in Boston.
I felt bad for the guy, sure. I also didn’t want to be his next casualty.
We stopped at the corner of Boylston and Charles.
‘Maybe I’ll just get out here.’ I tried the handle. The door was locked from the driver’s side.
‘Magnus, listen. It’s no accident you were born in Boston. Your father wanted you to find what he lost two thousand years ago.’
My feet got jumpy. ‘Did you just say … two thousand years?’
‘Give or take.’
I considered screaming and pounding on the window. Would anybody help me? If I could get out of the car, maybe I could find Uncle Frederick and Annabeth, assuming they were any less insane than Randolph.
We turned onto Charles Street, heading north between the Public Garden and the Common. Randolph could’ve been taking me anywhere – Cambridge, the North End, or some out-of-the-way body dump.
I tried to keep calm. ‘Two thousand years … that’s a longer lifespan than your average dad.’
Randolph’s face reminded me of the Man in the Moon from old black-and-white cartoons: pale and rotund, pitted and scarred, with a secretive smile that wasn’t very friendly. ‘Magnus, what do you know about Norse mythology?’
This just gets better and better, I thought.
‘Uh, not much. My mom had a picture book she used to read me when I was little. And weren’t there a couple of movies about Thor?’
Randolph shook his head in disgust. ‘Those movies … ridiculously inaccurate. The real gods of Asgard – Thor, Loki, Odin and the rest – are much more powerful, much more terrifying than anything Hollywood could concoct.’
‘But … they’re myths. They’re not real.’
Randolph gave me a sort of pitying look. ‘Myths are simply stories about truths we’ve forgotten.’
‘So, look, I just remembered I have an appointment down the street –’
‘A millennium ago, Norse explorers came to this land.’ Randolph drove us past the Cheers bar on Beacon Street, where bundled-up tourists were taking photos of themselves in front of the sign. I spotted a crumpled flyer skittering across the sidewalk: it had the word MISSING and an old picture of me. One of the tourists stepped on it.
‘The captain of these explorers,’ Randolph continued, ‘was a son of the god Skirnir.’
‘A son of a god. Really, anywhere around here is good. I can walk.’
‘This man carried a very special item,’ Randolph said, ‘something that once belonged to your father. When the Norse ship went down in a storm, that item was lost. But you – you have the ability to find it.’
I tried the door again. Still locked.
The really bad part? The more Randolph talked, the less I could convince myself that he was nuts. His story seeped into my mind – storms, wolves, gods, Asgard. The words clicked into place like pieces of a puzzle I’d never had the courage to finish. I was starting to believe him, and that scared the baked beans out of me.
Randolph whipped around the access road for Storrow Drive. He parked at a meter on Cambridge Street. To the north, past the elevated tracks of the Mass General T station, rose the stone towers of the Longfellow Bridge.
‘That’s where we’re going?’ I asked.
Randolph fished for quarters in his cupholder. ‘All these years, it was so much closer than I realized. I just needed you!’
‘I’m definitely feeling the love.’
‘You are sixteen today.’ Randolph’s eyes danced with excitement. ‘It’s the perfect day for you to reclaim your birthright. But it’s also what your enemies have been waiting for. We have to find it first.’
‘Trust me a little while longer, Magnus. Once we have the weapon –’
‘Weapon? Now my birthright is a weapon?’
‘Once you have it in your possession, you’ll be much safer. I can explain everything to you. I can help you train for what’s to come.’
He opened his car door. Before he could get out, I grabbed his wrist.
I usually avoid touching people. Physical contact creeps me out. But I needed his full attention.
‘Give me one answer,’ I said. ‘One clear answer, without the rambling and the history lectures. You said you knew my dad. Who is he?’
Randolph placed his hand over mine, which made me squirm. His palm was too rough and calloused for a history professor’s. ‘On my life, Magnus, I swear this is the truth: your father is a Norse god. Now, hurry. We’re in a twenty-minute parking spot.’
I’ve Always Wanted to Destroy a Bridge
‘You can’t drop a bombshell like that and walk away!’ I yelled as Randolph walked away.
Despite his cane and his stiff leg, the guy could really move. He was like an Olympic gold medallist in hobbling. He forged ahead, climbing the sidewalk of the Longfellow Bridge as I jogged after him, the wind screaming in my ears.
The morning commuters were coming in from Cambridge. A single line of cars was backed up the length of the span, barely moving. You’d think my uncle and I would be the only ones dumb enough to walk across the bridge in sub-zero weather, but, this being Boston, half a dozen runners were chugging along, looking like emaciated seals in their Lycra bodysuits. A mom with two kids bundled in a stroller was walking on the opposite sidewalk. Her kids looked about as happy as I felt.
My uncle was still fifteen feet ahead of me.
‘Randolph!’ I called. ‘I’m talking to you!’
‘The drift of the river,’ he muttered. ‘The landfill on the banks … allowing for a thousand years of shifting tidal patterns –’
‘Yo!’ I caught the sleeve of his cashmere coat. ‘Rewind to the part about a Norse god being my pappy.’
Randolph scanned our surroundings. We’d stopped at one of the bridge’s main towers – a cone of granite rising fifty feet above us. People said the towers looked like giant salt and pepper shakers, but I’d always thought they looked like Daleks from Doctor Who. (So I’m a nerd. Sue me. And, yes, even homeless kids watch TV sometimes – in shelter rec rooms, on public-library computers … We have our ways.)
A hundred feet below us, the Charles River glistened steel grey, its surface mottled with patches of snow and ice like the skin of a massive python.
Randolph leaned so far over the railing it made me jittery.
‘The irony,’ he muttered. ‘Here, of all places …’
‘So, anyway,’ I said, ‘about my father …’