Sif and the Dwarfs’ Treasures
1 Runes Class
TWELVE-YEAR-OLD SIF PULLED a handful of thumb-size stone tiles from a small cloth bag and placed them on the floor in front of her. The girlgoddess frowned at the angular symbols carved into their surfaces. Other students in her fourth-period Runes class were also studying tiles they’d taken from the cloth bag when it had been passed around the room. Sif’s eyes darted left and then right. She couldn’t help noticing that kids nearby seemed to be
having an easy time with today’s assignment. Well, she wasn’t!
If she had a choice, she wouldn’t even be taking this class. However, everyone’s classes had been assigned two weeks ago, when they’d all first arrived at Asgard Academy. She worried that requesting a change might cause the formidable Odin, coprincipal of AA with his wife, Ms. Frigg, to question her abilities. To wonder if they’d made a mistake in inviting her here. Plus, Ms. Frigg was actually teaching the class!
Odin had created this special school right after the famous war between the worlds of Asgard and Vanaheim had ended. The academy had been established to try to “promote better relationships and mutual understanding among all nine of the Norse worlds.” These worlds were located on three enormous, ring-shaped levels stacked one above the other, with three worlds to each ring.
Some students from each of the nine worlds had
been invited (well, ordered, really) to attend the new academy. Odin had summoned girlgoddesses and boygods from Asgard and Vanaheim, plus dwarfs, light-elves, frost giants, humans, and other beings. Pretty much everyone who’d been invited had come, except the dreaded fire giants, that is!
A sudden brisk breeze blew in through the open windows of the classroom, which was named Fensalir Hall. Brr! Built of logs and topped by a steep, slanted roof of overlapping triangular wooden shakes, the hall was one of many within the academy. Shifting to sit cross-legged in her place among the circle of students seated on the classroom’s wood floor, Sif caught a glimpse of huge leaves outside the window. These grew from the ginormous World Tree, named Yggdrasil, which protected the nine worlds. Like all the classrooms at AA, Fensalir Hall magically hovered high within that ash tree’s branches.
Sif tucked the hem of the linen shift she wore beneath her navy-blue hangerock (an apronlike wool
overdress) under her knees for warmth. Then she stared at her eight tiles again and tried to make sense of them. Their symbols shifted around crazily as she studied them, sometimes appearing upside down and other times facing the wrong direction. They weren’t really moving. It was her mind that was mixing things up, as usual. No one else at the school had this same problem with rune-letters, as far as she knew. And she wasn’t about to reveal her difficulty to anyone!
Ms. Frigg looked up from her chair at the center of the circle, where she sat knitting an orange-and-white ruffled sock. Or maybe it was a hat? Hard to tell. Anytime she had a few minutes, she was always knitting. Mostly gifts for other people, like for instance, the ear warmers she’d made for some dwarfs that the girlgoddess Freya had encountered recently. The teacher spun the most beautiful, strong yarn in all the worlds and gave her creations away generously. Everyone cherished her kind gifts, even if they did turn out a little, um, quirky.
Ms. Frigg flipped back the single long blond braid that hung forward over one of her shoulders. “I’ll give you all a few more minutes,” she told the class. As coprincipal of the academy, she kept pretty busy with day-to-day school stuff, while Odin oversaw the well-being of all nine worlds from a perch at the top of Yggdrasil. Fourth-period Runes was the only class Ms. Frigg taught.
“Don’t forget,” she went on. “While I expect you always to do your best thinking, prophecy is more of an . . .” She paused, waiting for the class to finish her sentence.
“More of an art than a science,” Sif and the other students dutifully replied. It was something their teacher reminded them of almost every class. It meant that prophecy, unlike science, was often based on sketchy information. So you had to use guesswork, guided by gut feelings, to make prophetic connections with the runes—as in, use them to see into the future.
However, before doing any of that, Sif would need to actually read the runes carved on her dumb tiles. And that was a struggle for her.
She twisted a strand of her waist-long golden hair around one finger and fought down panicky feelings as she tried to make sense of the symbols before time was up. Her hair was her pride and joy, the source of her goddess powers, and also her best feature. Some compared its color to that of ripe wheat. Fitting, since she was the girlgoddess of bountiful harvests. Right now, though, she kind of wished she were the girlgoddess of expert rune reading!
The symbols on her tiles surprised her by abruptly settling down and righting themselves. As sometimes happened for no reason at all, her mind had stopped scrambling them. She read the symbols quickly, just in case they started wiggling again. Hmm. They spelled the runeword mjollnir.
What a relief to have solved that mystery! But she
now faced a new challenge. A word definition. Because mjollnir could mean several things. Most often, it was associated with the verbs “grind” and “crush.”
When Sif checked the circle of students to see how others were doing, her eyes landed on Thor, who sat directly across from her. The red-haired boygod was the biggest and strongest kid in the whole school. And his already incredible strength was doubled by the magic belt he wore, which everyone called his Belt-o’-Power. The large, oval gold buckle at the heavy belt’s middle was engraved with the rune for T, which stood for “Thor,” of course.
Just then he looked up and met her gaze. She quickly looked away.
This wasn’t the first time their eyes had met. Not that she looked at him often! She looked at lots of people. It was only that Thor always seemed to be looking at her at the exact same moment her eyes (accidentally) settled on him.
Suddenly a boygod sitting right beside her recrossed his legs, kicking her tiles and sending them skidding halfway across the floor under the teacher’s chair. “Oops, sorry,” he said with an impish grin. “My bad.”
Sif glared at the black-haired, blue-eyed boy. She was pretty sure his scattering of her tiles hadn’t been an accident. He sometimes did stuff like this to her and other students for no other reason than to stir things up. If only Ms. Frigg had noticed this time! However, the teacher’s chair was angled slightly away from the two of them.
“You did that on purpose, Loki!” Sif accused softly. The boygod of fire, who was a shape-shifter, too, was as spontaneous and unpredictable as . . . well . . . fire. He wasn’t one of the fire giants, though, thankfully. No one she knew had ever actually seen one of those.
Loki’s grin widened. “Sorry,” he said, not looking sorry at all. “I’m done with my runes and bored. Hey, watch this.” He glanced over at Ms. Frigg, who now appeared to be counting the stitches along one knitting
needle. While she was distracted, he leaped up.
In a flash he darted behind the teacher, scooped up all eight of Sif’s scattered tiles, then was back in mere seconds. “Here you go,” he said with a charming, mischievous smile. He dropped the tiles into the palm of her hand.
Many girls found Loki cute, and Sif supposed he was, with his dark-blue eyes and the way his longish black hair curled up a bit at the back of his neck. But she believed that a person’s behavior, not his appearance, was what made him attractive. Like in the saying “Handsome is as handsome does.”
“How’d you do that?” she asked, nodding toward the path he’d just run.
“Magic shoes!” he replied. Sticking his legs straight out in front of him, he gestured to his feet. It was only then that Sif noticed the bright-yellow shoes he was wearing today. “With these babies, I can race like the wind over land and water. And I can also escape a teacher’s notice when I want to.” He grinned. “I named them Yellow Fellows.”
Sif tried not to laugh at the silly name, but she couldn’t help giggling a little. Despite his troublemaking ways, there was no denying that Loki could be entertaining!
Still, he was causing her to waste precious time. “Back to work,” she muttered. She quickly arranged her tiles in order again. She’d spent so much time deciphering her rune-letters that she had little left for pondering what event her runeword might foretell.
Ironically, despite her reading difficulties, she actually had some talent with prophetic predictions. She mostly kept that information to herself, though. Because in the past her talent at divining the future had caused her nothing but trouble!
“Trouble?” asked a girl named Angerboda, nosily leaning over to study Sif’s runes. The girl was a frost giant and so could make herself grow five times normal-girl size if she wanted to. Which was often the case whenever she got mad! Like Loki, who was half-giant himself, she was a troublemaker.
“Huh?” Sif replied, thinking Angerboda had read her mind or something. But then she realized that the girlgiant had only been asking if Sif was having trouble reading her tiles.
“No,” Sif said, cupping her tiles closer with her hands.
Her talent at prophecy had been revealed long ago by a wandering fortune-teller named Völva, who’d visited Sif’s home village at the outskirts of Asgard. Though Sif had been barely three years old at the time, Völva had recognized her potential and told her parents of it. They had encouraged Sif’s ability. So, proudly, Sif had begun blurting out every single prophecy that came into her mind.
And some of them had embarrassed or hurt others. Like the time she told a beautiful lady, “You will get a wart on your nose.” Or the time she told a much older girl at school, “Your BFF will start crushing on your boyfriend.” Before long she’d gotten the kenning
(a hyphenated nickname) of fortune-tattler instead of fortune-teller. The final straw had involved a fortune-tattling, er, fortune-telling rune experiment gone dreadfully wrong. This had happened in second grade, and she’d wound up hurting, and ultimately losing, a very good friend.
Not wanting to think about that, Sif pushed it out of her mind. Still unable to figure out the meaning of her own runes, she glanced over at Loki’s six carefully lined-up tiles. For whatever reason, it took only a few moments this time for the rune-letters on them to stop swimming and hold steady for her. Sometimes it happened that way—if she was lucky.
“Klippa,” she read aloud. The word meant “to clip or cut.” “You can clip or cut a lot of things,” she mused. “What do you think it means?”
Loki gave a little start, as if she’d caught him by surprise. Then his eyes took on a hooded look. “Who knows?” he said evasively.
Why was he acting so secretive? Sif wondered.
“Time is up.” Ms. Frigg put down her knitting and stood from her chair. “Who would like to share their work?”
One by one, students began sharing aloud their runewords’ meanings and suggesting prophecies that might be connected to them. “Mine’s atlaga,” announced a boydwarf named Alviss. “Means ‘attack.’ Pretty sure it’s a foretelling of coming trouble from enemies of Asgard.”
Since grown-up frost giants were constantly trying to breach the newly repaired wall that surrounded Asgard (a wall that had nearly been destroyed during the Asgard-Vanaheim war), this prophecy was likely accurate. Several students shot uneasy glances at Angerboda. Like them, Sif sometimes suspected that the frost giant students at AA might be plotting trouble just like their grown-up relatives.
As others spoke up about their runes, Sif kept her hand down. If Ms. Frigg eventually called on her
anyway, she planned to say as little as possible. Since Loki loved to be the center of attention, she was surprised that he kept quiet too. He’d even jumbled up his tiles already.
“My runeword is uggligr,” Thor told everyone when Ms. Frigg called on him. “Since it means ‘dreadful,’ I think it’s a warning that we can expect the fire giants or the frost giants to do dreadful things in the future.”
“Yeah, like attack us!” Alviss blurted out.
“You never know,” Angerboda said, smiling smugly.
Alviss and Thor exchanged a grim glance as a murmur of concern swept the classroom. Looking to settle old scores, giants and trolls—not all, but some—were a constant threat.
“Attacks are always possible, but no one should be worried. Our security is top-notch, including our new wall,” Ms. Frigg assured the class.
As she bent to help another student with his rune-letters, Loki began drumming his fingers against the
floor. Was he feeling anxious about the idea of invading giants? Sif wondered.
She soon discovered the answer was no. Instead, as usual, his mind was fixated on making mischief. Now that the teacher’s attention was focused elsewhere, he took the opportunity to say, “You know, another meaning of the runeword uggligr is ‘ugly.’?” He looked around the room and grinned, adding, “Like Thor’s face.” Then he cracked up laughing.
What?! Thor might not be as handsome as some boys, but he was not ugly! Sif sat up straighter, annoyed by Loki’s mean joke. Loki had spoken plenty loud enough for Thor to hear, though not loud enough for his words to reach the teacher. Why, oh, why did he like to push Thor’s buttons like this? Everyone knew Thor was hot tempered when provoked. (Such stormy behavior was actually kind of fitting, since he was the boygod of storms.) This time Loki had gone too far.
In an instant Thor was across the room, his fists balled
to punch Loki out. Before he could follow through, however, Loki shape-shifted into fire.
“Yow!” Thor leaped back, blowing on his singed fingers to cool them. As Loki shifted back to his boygod form, Thor glowered at him. “I’ll get you for that!”
Loki just laughed. “You and what army, Mr. Stormy-Pants?” he taunted as Ms. Frigg sternly separated the two boys.
Thor didn’t need an army, Sif figured. With his strength and his Belt-o’-Power, he was practically an army of one. She watched him as, red-faced, he struggled to rein in his anger at Loki’s insults. She wished Loki could manage the self-control not to tease others. And that Thor could find the self-control to direct his superstrength without anger!
And that’s when a hazy prophecy regarding her runeword, mjollnir, began to form in her head. She sensed that someone among the students—maybe Loki or Thor, or maybe her or someone else—would soon
acquire a new means to fight off any troublemaking giants. A means that would keep Asgard even safer. And that would be a very good thing!
Still, she didn’t raise her hand to share this prophecy. Why not? Well, after the Horrible Thing that had happened in second grade, she didn’t quite trust herself. What if she accidentally said (or did!) something that wound up hurting someone else . . . again? No, it was safer to let events play out without her interference. Even if she was pretty sure her prophecy was on the right track.
Suddenly a long, loud blast rang out. Tooot! It was the horn signaling the end of the period. At last! Just one more class and she’d be done for the day. Then, since today was Friday, the weekend could officially begin.
“Everyone may go except for Thor and Loki,” Ms. Frigg announced.
Uh-oh, thought Sif as she rose to her feet. Those two were sure to get a lecture about their behavior. She
didn’t feel a bit sorry for Loki, only for Thor. Because in her humble opinion, Loki was the guilty party. Thor was merely his victim! Before leaving Fensalir Hall with the rest of the students, she sent the red-haired boygod a sympathetic glance. Thor caught her look and smiled back.