The two Frost Giants, Nott and Dagr, were standing guard over the five singers. The youths had cleaned up and been given new clothes. The galactic styles in which they were now garbed didn’t look too out of place. If anything, their outfits were less outlandish than what they’d worn previously. One of them seemed especially pleased with his calico scarf.
Nott’s voice was gruff as she addressed her captain. “If we do this, I think they will be most out of the way there,” she said, pointing to a relatively empty spot.
“Well,” Zia said with a slight smile, “it’s not every day that we’re offered entertainment by a star band. Why not?”
“Let me speak with them,” Horangi said abruptly. “It will be good to spend some time with my people.” She clasped her hands behind her back; Thor could see that her knuckles were white.
Nott hesitated, but acquiesced at a nod from Zia. Horangi headed toward the singers.
Zia shook their head slightly once Horangi’s back was turned. “I’m not persuaded the feeling is entirely mutual,” they murmured. “None of our business, though.” They nodded at Thor. “I’d like to hear more of your past involvement with the crown we seek. If we pool our knowledge, we might be better prepared for any upcoming hazards.”
“Agreed,” Thor said, glad of Zia’s pragmatism. He caught sight of Skarra, who was hanging back. She held an abacus-like device, her agile fingers dancing over it as she worked some computation. “That is a tale worth the telling.” He waved at Horangi. “Perhaps you will find this enlightening.”
Horangi hesitated, then returned to within earshot. The singers were busy setting up in the unoccupied area of the deck Nott had indicated, and were running through some warm-ups and stretches.
Thor took up a wide-legged performance stance, imitating a favorite bard from his childhood. “Several decades ago,” he began to the sounds of scales and arpeggios, “I journeyed to the planet of Miskandar at the request of its rulers, the Ragarian Royal Family. The royals were known for trade in minerals and the like. One such mineral had incredible properties of power generation, all the more remarkable as it did so without waste, heat, or side effects.”
Zia cocked an eyebrow. “That’s unusual.”
“Indeed,” Thor said. “They ordinarily asked a high price for it. It was exceedingly difficult to refine, and only occurred in the smallest deposits. They had brought with them a princely amount of the material. Not tribute, but a gift.”
This detail got the attention not only of Horangi, but also the two Frost Giants and Skarra. It didn’t escape Thor’s notice that the Giants were loath to stray far from him. That distrust was mutual, even if he intended to deal honorably with their captain as long as they returned the courtesy.
He continued his tale, emphasizing his points with gestures. “Of course, when it comes to interstellar diplomacy, no gift comes without strings attached. The Ragarian Royal Family’s representatives pleaded for Asgard’s assistance in maintaining their benevolent rule, which was threatened by rebels. A portion of Miskandar’s population had begun engaging in acts of terror. No city was safe from the rebels, who brought down everything from bridges to monuments.”
Skarra stirred. Thor thought of saying something to her directly, for he imagined that she might have memories of that terrible time, or might have heard stories from her elders, and he regretted bringing them up. But this was information that Zia and Horangi needed. And perhaps the tale’s tidy ending would bring Skarra some comfort.
“Did the rebels cause Miskandar’s demise?” Horangi asked, her brow furrowing.
“Not as such,” Thor said with a sidelong glance at Skarra, wondering if she had suffered due to the attacks, and when she had left her homeworld. “The request from the Ragarian Royal Family was simple. Their military was stretched thin, unable to handle the rebels’ cunning assaults. The situation was complicated by Miskandar’s harsh terrain, which made it difficult to police the inhabited areas. They needed a show of force from an ally so that peace could be maintained and order restored.”
“Let me guess,” Zia said, stroking their chin thoughtfully. “That’s where you came in.”
Thor nodded. “I was accompanied by a faithful bard, the Rigellian android Recorder 211. He was interested in archiving history as it happened, and he saw this as a remarkable opportunity. Together we went to Miskandar, marveling in its stark beauty, with...