The dark had fallen cold and thick about them like a shroud. The moon was hidden. Odin did not allow it to slow his pace and Frigga, to her credit, did not complain. Grudgingly, he respected her the more for it.

Neither had spoken during all of the day's march, each resentful of the other's presence. Odin thought her a fool, persisting in her belief that she might be able to slay such a beast. She! A woman. There were ways about such thing and dragon's blood could strengthen many an article, but without a weapon to pierce the hide and free the blood he was at some loss. Surely some plan would occur to him as he went. Some thing leap at him in the dragon's hoard that might light his imagination. Surely, if he could contrive to trick the dragon into a vulnerable shape…

But with a magic-wise girl on his heel, he was crippled. Not only now must he find some way of killing the beast, he must protect the chieftain's daughter.

They'd been going uphill for hours and the climb was becoming rocky and more steep as they went through the belly of the night. A stone jerked loose under his foot and he fell to one knee, casting his arm back only just too late to warn his companion.

She gave a little cry.

Odin came back the few steps to where she was. She'd turned and sat down on the pebbled ground. He couldn't make out more than her vague outline, and the fact that she remained more-or-less upright on the stones. He cupped his hands to summon a light.

"Look," she whispered.

Forgetting the little were-light just beyond his reach he followed the wavering line of her pointing finger that he could only just make out in the dark.

Deep below them in the valley-land of her father's dun, tendrils of fire were springing to light in the blackness.

"It must be near," Odin said. "No more than three days' march – at most. Are you hurt?"

A motion in the darkness made him think she denied it.

"Let me see."

"They burn my father's dun," she murmured.

Odin drew out the were-light. It glowed in the palm of his hand. "It is better protected than most, with the river beside it."

As it was, only her ankle had been bruised. She must have heard the stones falling and leapt out of their way as they fell.

She said no more and as he glanced back up he found her looking at him coldly with tear-tracks wavering on her cheeks, luminous in the light from his hand. "Do they matter so little to you?" she whispered. "That you care-not to watch them die?"

"The fact that they are there," he said, indicating the fire-red streaks, "and so early in the evening, would tell me that the dragon is near. Nearer than it was last night. We would do best to keep on. She is on the move."

He turned and strode a few steps higher on the slope.

"She?" Frigga's voice floated behind him. She hadn't moved from her place.

Odin stopped and stood, turning back to look after her. "Only a woman would be so passive in attack."

Frigga gave a low, scornful laugh. But she did not otherwise answer. She'd drawn her knees up and looked out and down the long slope to the thin, molten veins that cut across the pressing dark.

"And besides," Odin winked out the light, "No drake alive has ever been proven to know the way of castlings. It is a feminine art. We should keep on."

"And lack our strength for the challenge ahead? That seems wise."

Heat flared in Odin's breast, "Here?" he demanded, gesturing to the rock-covered slope, though he knew she could not see him.

"Do you know a better place we could reach before morning?"

"You would sleep, watching your father's dun burn?"

She did not answer.

Odin stepped farther down the slope toward her, "You accuse me of callousness?" he snapped, "At the least I would press on."

The rocks shifted as she turned on him. "I never said that I would sleep."

Odin took a long breath. She had not risen, only shifted. She would not move, he was certain, for some time. "Then," he decided, "you keep watch."

And pulling his cloak tighter about him he lay down a ways away among the rocks.


Lol. They're fun.

Just as a side note, I know I warned you not to expect daily updates, but I'm gonna be out of town until Sunday night, and I'm not sure about internet. Promise I'll get back to you by Monday if not before!