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Authors: Tessa Gratton

The Apple Throne

BOOK: The Apple Throne
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The United States of Asgard Book 3:
THE APPLE THRONE
By Tessa Gratton

The Apple Throne
Copyright © 2015 by Tessa Gratton. All rights reserved.

Cover design by Saundra Mitchell

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author or publisher.

There is only one person in the whole world who remembers the famous prophet Astrid Glyn: the berserker Soren Bearstar.

Ever since Astrid agreed to give up her life, her name, and her prophetic dreams to become Idun the Young, the almost-goddess who protects the apples of immortality in a secret mountain orchard, she’s been forgotten by everyone. Everyone except Soren.

For the last two years he’s faithfully visited her every three months. Then one day he doesn’t come. Though forbidden to leave the orchard, Astrid defies the gods by escaping with a bastard son of Thor to find Soren. But ancient creatures are moving in the mountains beneath the country. They are desperate to leave the shadows and Astrid’s quest might be the key they need.

Not-quite-a-goddess, but no longer only a girl, Astrid must choose a path that will save herself and the people she loves without unraveling the ancient magic that holds the entire nine worlds together.

For Maggie and Brenna, my writing comitatus.

“And someone called me by my name:

It had become a glimmering girl

With apple blossom in her hair

Who called me by my name and ran

And faded through the brightening air.”

—William Butler Yeats

“I am fire and air; my other elements

I give to baser life. So, have you done?

Come then, and take the last warmth from my lips.”

—William Shakespeare

Table of Contents

Part One

Three Nights
|
Seven Nights
|
Eleven Nights
|
Fifteen Nights
|
Twenty-One Nights
|
Twenty-Seven Nights
|
Twenty-Eight Nights
|
Thirty-Three Nights
|
Eighty-Two Nights
|
Eight-Four Nights
|
Eighty-Five Nights
|
Eighty-Six Nights
|
Eighty-Nine Nights
|
Ninety Nights

Part Two

Chapter One
|
Chapter Two
|
Chapter Three
|
Chapter Four
|
Chapter Five
|
Chapter Six
|
Chapter Seven
|
Chapter Eight
|
Chapter Nine
|
Chapter Ten
|
Chapter Eleven
|
Chapter Twelve
|
Chapter Thirteen
|
Chapter Fourteen
|
Chapter Fifteen
|
Chapter Sixteen
|
Chapter Seventeen
|
Chapter Eighteen
|
Chapter Nineteen
|
Chapter Twenty
|
Chapter Twenty-One
|
Chapter Twenty-Two
|
Chapter Twenty-Three
|
Chapter Twenty-Four
|
Chapter Twenty-Five
|
Chapter Twenty-Six
|
Chapter Twenty-Seven
|
Chapter Twenty-Eight
|
Chapter Twenty-Nine

Part Three

Chapter Thirty
|
Chapter Thirty-One
|
Chapter Thirty-Two

About The Weight of Stars

Acknowledgements

Also By Tessa Gratton

PART ONE
The Lady of Apples

Three nights.

It has been three nights since I’ve dreamed.

My entire life before, I dreamed both sleeping and waking, seeing the future any time I closed my eyes. Two weeks before I had my ears pierced, I dreamed of the woman who would hold the needle. I dreamed of a cobblestone courtyard with a fountain of Sigurd Dragon Slayer before I even knew about the school where it existed. I saw visions of things I would never personally witness: the crack of a fist against flesh; the shine of an unsheathed sword; the last breath of a man in a faraway kingstate; the first kiss of a girl I’d not met. One night, I dreamed of a boy with dark honey skin and a spear tattoo below his left eye like an inky tear. And always there was an unending orchard of apples, filling the cracks and shadows of my dreams with a rainbow of promises.

I stand in that orchard now, alone with the trees for the first time since Freya, the goddess of magic, made me an offer: become Idun, the Lady of Apples, and protect this orchard or watch Baldur the Beautiful, god of light and hope, die forever.

It was an impossible choice.

If I chose to become Idun, my name would be torn from the world and forgotten by anyone who’d ever known it. Friends and family, all of history would forget me, and I would look into even Soren Bearstar’s eyes and see no hint of remembering.

But also, if I chose to become Idun, I could serve the gods I’d always loved, I could take my place in this apple orchard I’d dreamed of my entire life. I would save Baldur the Beautiful from unjust death and be the keeper of the apples of immortality. I would come to know Baldur and Freya, Odin Alfather and Thor Thunderer, Tyr the Just, Frigg Cloud-Spinner, Freyr the Satisfied, and Loki Changer. All the gods of the United States of Asgard.

Since I was a child, I had thought to serve my gods and my country as a seether, a prophet who sees possibilities and futures in her dreams. I thought to spend my life among frenetic crowds—reading runes to help people, seeking answers, dreaming and dancing and traveling as my mother dreamed and danced and traveled, being known across the country as my mother was known. I would be loved for my gifts, for my name. I would be Astrid Glyn, prophet and shining strand in fate’s web.

I never imagined serving in any other way until that moment when Freya made her offer.

I say it was an impossible choice, but that is a lie. It was really no choice at all. I could never consign Baldur to death and Hel forever if there was anything I might do about it. I was born to be Idun, ushered here by fate and dreams. So my name would be forgotten? So my past would be erased? So I would lose my friends, and Soren? The god of light would live for my sacrifice. It would be hard, but faith is hard. Life is hard. Love itself is the impossible thing. I would still be myself. I would still remember. And I would build myself into this new destiny with faith and devotion and hope.

I chose. Baldur the Beautiful came back to life, and Soren made a bargain of his own so as not to forget me.

But I haven’t dreamed in the three nights since.

That wasn’t part of my bargain.

I do not know if losing my name and past somehow stopped my dreams, or if I was given this gift of dreaming the future only to bring me here to my destiny, here to the orchard, and now that I’ve arrived, I need my dreams no more. But if that is so, shouldn’t I at least have a normal girl’s dreams? Fears and hopes, random images and memories, fever dreams and imagination?

Perhaps it’s only weariness, change, or trauma, and my dreams will return to me some night when I’ve settled.

I want them back, even if they have no power. I thought my dreams would connect me to the world I left behind, would keep me myself. Who am I without dreams?

And the orchard itself is so very dreamlike.

It sprawls in a colorful valley, cupped by a circle of purple mountains. Rows of trees stripe the land, some braided together into thickets of apples, some straight and proud. Because it is spring, ghostly blossoms tangle in the wind and the leaves are sharp green. Most of the orchard will follow the seasons, Freya told me, and I may tend it as I wish or let it grow wild. A few limbs hang with fruit now, but in the summer, the apples will crowd out the sky: yellow and bright red, palest pink and green like emeralds.

It is only the tree at the center of the orchard that grows fruit every day of the year.

I kneel before it.

The apples of immortality are puckered little things adorning the squat, twisted tree. They’re ugly and fit five in the palm of my hand. It’s charitable to call them golden; their wrinkled skin is nearer a filthy yellow or the unpleasant color of the sky before a tornado.

Who could imagine inside each one is a seed of life-eternal?

I asked Freya this morning, as the sun rose and we sat together at the hearth of my small cottage beside the tree:
What is the magic in them? Will you tell me how it works?

And the goddess of witches, of magic and fate, told me a story.

Long ago,
she said
, before the age of humans, we gods lived under the mountains, hidden in the shadows and under the ice. We were one with the frost giants and one with the elves—all of us a secret people together, apart from humanity. So long ago there are no hints of our ancient words in these modern tongues, we argued amongst ourselves. Those who became the giants wished to conquer and own the new humans. Those who became the elves wished to maintain our secrecy and quiet worship. Those who became the gods wished to emerge into the light and befriend the people, nurture and teach them and see what wonders we might create together.

There was war, as always follows new thought and change. The frost giants broke away first, driven high onto the ice sheets, and my brother Freyr and I, along with Tyr and Odin, founded Old Asgard where we might be discovered by humans. For a time, there was peace. But there were so few of us Asgardians, and we were vulnerable to the giants. You see, we do not grow old, we hardly age, but we can die. It was our greatest weakness.

The giants were great in number and the elves hid themselves deep in the honeycomb mountains, but we lived vulnerable under the sky with humankind. Although we learned much power and magic, death culled our strength. We could not convince our cousin-elves to ally with us, for their fear of dying on a field of battle or in a mortal king’s hall was too great.

We needed something to regain balance, to strengthen us against our enemies. For one hundred years, I gathered the necessary elements: heartwood from the World Tree, the breath of babes, hair from the most ancient giants and the most beautiful elves, scales and fossilized heart-stones from long-dead dragons, the coldest ocean water and the ever-renewing fire of the earth, a thread of Fate itself, a tooth from the mouth of Hel.

On and on I gathered elements you’ve never known and those barely whispered of in our oldest tales. And thus I wove the greatest charm in all our history before and since: an apple tree that would bear fruit to rescue my cousins from death. Once eaten, for a year’s time, the apple will revive anyone from death into life again.

But the tree was weak and decrepit. Though its roots were fed by the energy of the Nine Worlds, still it did not flourish. I spent much time tending it, watering and feeding, trimming and singing and pushing what love I could into the life of the tree.

My charm was missing a key ingredient: death itself and the promise of death.

I thought of it one cool autumn day: only youth that will fade, a life that will end, is enough of a knot to bind this power.

So Idun the Young was born. A girl from the human race, chosen by fate to tend the apple tree, to breathe her unique life into the leaves, to stomp her ever-nearing death into the roots beneath her feet.

She is a renewable resource, as you say now, for when one Idun grows old or dies, a new young girl is called to take her place. Always youthful, always reborn, Idun is the paradox of life and death united: truly immortal and always dying.

Freya the Witch knelt at my side; my heart turned to fire as she took my hands in supplication. Her gray eyes seemed almost warm, and the right side of her face tightened with her Hel-mask—her shrunken, black, death-goddess skin. “You, my beloved, are the center of Asgard’s life. Your hand gives us the apples, and your life binds the charm. That unique spark within you, so long as you burn with it, makes you Idun. So long as you are here to tend your tree, the apples flourish.”

I shuddered, awed and excited. For a moment I felt it, that spark of magic tingling in my heart and in the palms of my hands.

The goddess of dreams said, “Give yourself to the tree, to the apples. Befriend it, speak to it, or sing—whatever makes you feel as though it is your friend. You will hear it, feel it, in return, like it has become a piece of you.”

Sinking out of my chair, I grasped at her cold hands. “How long?” I whispered. “How long does this magic burn in me?”

She smiled, and her death-mask shifted away until she was only a beautiful woman, glimmering with inner light. “I cannot say, beloved. Some of my Iduns grow old by their fifteenth birthdays, and others are young still at fifty years. You will feel it before I know, and then a new girl will be called by fate.”

BOOK: The Apple Throne
3.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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