Read The Strange Maid Online

Authors: Tessa Gratton

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #Legends; Myths; Fables, #Norse, #Love & Romance

The Strange Maid

This is an uncorrected eBook file. Please do not quote for publication until you check your copy against the finished book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2014 by Tessa Gratton
Jacket art: photograph of girl copyright © by Lauren Bates/Flickr Select/Getty Images; photograph of glaciers copyright © by Ron Bambridge/OJO Images/Getty Images

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

Random House and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

“The Creation Story,” from
The Woman Who Fell from the Sky
by Joy Harjo, copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Gratton, Tessa.
The strange maid / Tessa Gratton.—First edition.
pages cm.—(The United States of Asgard ; bk. 2)
Summary: “In order to become one of Odin Alfather’s Valkyrie, Signy Valborn must solve a riddle. With the help of Ned the Spiritless and Soren Bearstar, Signy embarks on a journey in search of her destiny.”—Provided by publisher
ISBN 978-0-307-97751-9 (trade)—ISBN 978-0-307-97752-6 (lib. bdg.)—
ISBN 978-0-307-97753-3 (ebook)
[1. Fate and fatalism—Fiction. 2. Gods—Fiction. 3. Prophets—Fiction.
4. Valkyries (Norse mythology)—Fiction. 5. Mythology, Norse—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.G77215bStr 2014 [Fic]—dc23 2013039568

Printed in the United States of America

First Edition

Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

To Catherine,
the first of our next generation.
You’re strong, smart, and loud:
my favorite things, and Signy’s, too.

* * *

Contents

Cover

eBook Information

About This Book

Books by Tessa Gratton

Title page

Copyright page

Dedication

Epigraph

The Child Valkyrie

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

FOURTEEN

FIFTEEN

SIXTEEN

SEVENTEEN

EIGHTEEN

NINETEEN

TWENTY

TWENTY-ONE

TWENTY-TWO

TWENTY-THREE

TWENTY-FOUR

TWENTY-FIVE

TWENTY-SIX

TWENTY-SEVEN

TWENTY-EIGHT

The Valkyrie of the Tree

About the Author

I’m not afraid of love
or its consequence of light.
… 
It’s not easy to say this
or anything when my entrails
dangle between paradise
and fear.
—Joy Harjo
* * *
Don’t you know people
write songs about girls like you?
—The Naked and Famous

THE CHILD VALKYRIE

I was born under a frenzied star, so our poets would say. Which meant only that I was wild and loud as a child, always running off, crying or laughing at nothing my parents could see.

But when I was seven years old, I went truly mad.

It was winter, a week after my birthday, and my parents had been dead for a month. Shot down far away from me, with nothing to protect them but prayers and hymnals, neither of which could stop bullets. A bruise ached on my chest over my heart where I pressed my fists every morning, every night, and all through the funeral service staring at the empty pyre, for we had no bodies to burn. I had to hold in the wail of grief beating through my blood because the god my family served did not scream.

My adoptive parents, old friends of the family and fellow devotees of Freyr, the god of family, wealth, and joy, thought a trip to the New World Tree might help me. It might calm the fury that kept tears in my eyes when I demanded, “Why did they die? Why did our god let them die?”

“You’ll see,” said my wish-father, wiping tears from my face even as they gathered in his. “The Tree will show you, for it connects life and death and all the nine worlds together.”

The Tree’s garden was still and claustrophobic, a frozen park surrounded by high brick walls and a gate of wrought iron. A heart of nature in the center of Philadelphia. It is said that if you climb high enough among the branches you will find a road to Asgard, the home of the gods.

Freyr’s home. He was responsible for their deaths. I would make him answer for it.

I shucked off my coat and squeezed between two iron rails before my wish-family noticed, though my wish-brother, Rathi, caught the hem of my dress in his fingers and hissed my name. I ignored the clamor behind me; I was so hot, so burning with anger, my feet could melt the frost on the grass as I ran.

The massive Tree rose out of the ground, forbidding as a giant’s tower, and thick snaking roots wove out in all directions, leaping and diving through the earth like sea monsters. Elf-lights strung through the layers of canopy cast a pale, broken glow as I toed off my shoes and dug my hands into the trunk’s ropy bark. I climbed.

My fingernails broke and my feet scraped raw as I scrambled higher up the trunk. I had little time before the holy gardeners, the death priests, came after me, pulled me down, and threw me out.

I reached the first branch and kept climbing. Higher, harder, until my entire world was narrow leaves and branches, the pinprick surprise of elf-lights wound through the darkness.

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