They sprang toward us. Though stupefied by the sudden treachery of Aesir warriors, I retained enough presence of mind to draw my long sword. I pushed Freya aside, struck up a blade that was stabbing at my face. My sword sliced deep into the warrior's neck. His helmet rolled off as he fell, and his yellow hair came off with the helmet!

"These are Jotuns!" I shouted to Freya. "Run and give the alarm!"

I heard her cry pierce the night, but she did not run. A sword-point grazed my shoulder, through my mail. The sting made me yell with rage, and I flung myself at the disguised Jotuns. My whirling blade cut away half the face of one. Another reeled back, clutching an almost severed arm. Then two blades crashed down on my helmet, and I collapsed to the ground.

As I fought to rally my senses, I glimpsed the disguised Jotuns dragging Freya, struggling like a wildcat, toward the cliff. The last thing I remember was trying to rise…

The next thing I knew, I was being pulled to my feet. Thor was supporting me, and Frey was examining me with desperate anxiety. Torches flashed as men poured from the nearby castle.

"What happened?" roared the Hammerer. "Where is the lady Freya?"

"Jotuns!" I gasped. "They got into Asgard, disguised as Aesir. They were after the rune key, and must have seen Odin give it to Freya. They seized her and took her that way."

I pointed to the cliffs.

"The stair down to the harbor!" Frey cried. "They must have come in a ship!"

As they rushed forward toward the cliff-edge, I staggered after them. My head still ached from the shock of two swords clashing on my helmet. At the edge of the cliff was the narrow stairway, chiseled down the solid rock of the precipice to the fiord below. Two dead Aesir warriors who lay on the stair showed what had become of the guards. Thor started down the steps, but Frey's heart-stopping shout halted him.

"Look! We are too late!"

Out on the ocean, a ship was forging southward through the raging waves, its sail taut in the screaming winds. It was heading straight along the precipitous coast of Midgard. Swiftly it vanished beyond the cliffs.

"The Jotuns and Freya!" moaned Frey. "They have her and the rune key. Now they can loose dark Loki and bring destruction on Asgard!"

Thor shook his great hammer in terrible rage.

"Loki's work!" he roared savagely. "It was the arch-traitor who put the thought of that cunning ruse into the heads of the Jotuns, by his telepathic tricks."

"Are we just going to stand here?" I cried wildly. "They've got Freya, as well as the rune key."

It was Freya I was thinking of in that moment, rather than the key. Though the key might loose Loki and bring about the final attack on Asgard which the Aesir feared, that possibility was less dire to me than the threat to Freya. To have her snatched from my arms in this very hour when I had won her love! I felt a red fury that made me long to destroy every Jotun in payment for any harm they might do to the Viking maid I loved.

"We can overtake them if we're quick," said Frey. He swung around to the Aesir warriors who had come running from his castle. "Down to the harbor!"

At top speed, we ran down the narrow stairway in the cliff. Thor led, with Frey and me close behind the Hammerer, and a score or more of warriors following. The Moon shone out from behind the flying storm clouds. It lighted our way down the dizzy path that the Aesir had hewn to their harbor. The steps were no more than four feet wide, and there was no protective rail of any kind.

The shouting wind that buffeted us threatened to hurl us off the steps. Below, the black sea thundered, smashing the white foam of bursting waves against the cliffs of Asgard. As we neared the bottom, the steps were so wet with spray that our feet almost slipped from beneath us. Where the stairway ended on the rock ledge that rimmed the harbor, three more Aesir warriors lay dead in their own blood.

"The Jotuns dared do this!" bellowed Thor, his red face dark with rage in the moonlight.

"My own ship!" Frey was shouting above the howling wind to his men. "Cast loose the moorings!"

Dozens of dragon-ships floated in the deep, narrow fiord between the cliffs, moored to iron rings in the ledge. The craft into which Frey leaped was seventy feet long, undecked, and with seats for twenty rowers. Its brazen prow gleamed like a live metal monster. We followed him as the moorings were loosed. The yelling warriors sprang in, taking their accustomed places. Frey grasped the tiller. I stood beside him, while Thor climbed into the bow.

"Push off!" Frey shouted over the roar of breakers. "Up sail!"

Warriors strained their muscles to fend off with long oars. The dragon-ship shot out of the protection of the fiord, into the open sea. Great waves lifted us sickeningly, threatening to hurl us back against the cliffs. But the square, painted sail rose at that moment, as Frey's men frantically pulled the ropes. The wind swung our heavy craft away from the looming cliffs.

The brazen prow buried itself in dark water and came up dripping as vast black waves smashed and lifted us. Cold salt spray dashed our faces. Through the roar and swing of the storm-piled sea, the ship strained southward with increasing speed. The high cliffs of Asgard dropped behind, I glimpsed torches flaring around Valhalla castle as the alarm spread.

We surged past the strait between Asgard Island and the mainland, Midgard. Far overhead, on our left, gleamed the arch of Bifrost Bridge. Then Asgard and Bifrost dropped from sight behind us as our speed quickened. We shot along the mighty cliff coastline of Midgard.

"Can you see them, Thor?" Frey called anxiously to the yellow-headed giant.

His beard glistening with spray as he stood in the plunging and rising bow, Thor was peering ahead.

"Not yet!" the Hammerer roared back against the howling wind.

"What will they do with Freya?" I cried.

Frey shook his head. His handsome face was drawn and desperate beneath his gleaming helmet as he shifted the tiller.

"What will they do to us all, Jarl Keith, if they succeed in using the key to loose Loki? That devil will lead the hosts of the Jotuns in the last terrible attack on Asgard."

"It is all my fault," I said bitterly. "If I had not brought the rune key with me, this never would have happened."

The flying clouds had again obscured the Moon, and black shadow shrouded the stormy sea. Close on our left rose the sinister cliffs of Midgard, soaring sheer from the water. Frey was keeping our ship hazardously near the precipices, to lose no time in the pursuit. So close were we that each mountainous wave threatened to capsize us. The howling winds were bitter cold, freezing the salt spray on our faces. Each time the ship buried its brazen beak in the waves, we shipped water and Frey's warriors were bailing furiously.

A high black promontory jutted from the cliffs ahead, and Frey swung the rudder to carry us outside that rocky point. As the ship heeled around in answer, a smashing mass of icy water almost tore both of us away from the helm. Then we rounded the point, and the Moon broke forth again.

"There they go!" roared Thor's great voice from the bow as the giant Aesir pointed with his hammer.

Far ahead on the wild, moonlit waters, a single ship was flying south along the ominous coast.

"They're heading straight for Jotunheim!" Thor shouted. "We can catch them—"

"Ware ambush!" yelled one of our warriors at that moment.

Simultaneously a shower of arrows rattled down like hail into our craft, instantly killing two of our men. I swung around, appalled. From behind the sharp rock point we had just rounded, a dozen long-ships were darting like ravenous monsters toward us, propelled by bending oars. They were Jotun ships, crowded with huge, black-headed warriors and rowers. Their archers loosed another shower of arrows the instant we discovered them.

"A Jotun ambush!" shouted Frey, swinging the tiller hard. "They knew we'd follow. They waited here for us!"

"Port helm, or they'll grapple us!" bellowed Thor.

It was too late. Next moment, the carved beak of the foremost Jotun ship hit our starboard side with a shock that sent us all staggering. As I scrambled up, I saw steel hooks fly over our gunwale and bite deep into the wood.

"Out swords and cut free!" yelled Frey. I rushed with Frey, stumbling to the side where yelling Jotun warriors were boarding us. We met them at the head of our own men. Swords and axes clashed in front of my eyes. I glimpsed a hairy, brutal face raging toward me behind an upraised ax. Crouching, I thrust hard, felt my sword rip between the lacings of a mail brynja, and bite past into unresisting bone and muscle.

Thor reached our side. Bellowing, he whirled his hammer and crashed it down on Jotun helmets, smashing them and the skulls inside.

Our ship was still being drawn southward by the wind that filled its sail, dragging the Jotun craft that had grappled us. The other Jotun ships were straining oars and sails to grapple with us. The roar of waves under the shuddering ship was drowned by the clash of sword, ax and the terrific clang of Miolnir as the huge hammer crashed down on helmets. Over all rose Thor's terrible battle-cry.

The flat of a Jotun ax struck my shoulder and sent me to my knees. A sword in the hand of a yelling enemy gleamed high above my head. I gaped up, helpless. But Frey stabbed in like a striking serpent. He helped me to my feet as the screaming Jotun toppled overboard.

But a second Jotun craft had maneuvered alongside us. Enemy soldiers were hurling grapples over our port side. Frey sprang to cut them loose, before the hostile reinforcements could board us.

"The Hammerer! Kill the Hammerer!"

Shouting Jotuns leaped upon Thor's towering form like dogs trying to pull down a bear. Miolnir flashed in his hand, almost a thing alive. But two axes crashed on his helmet and he fell, stunned. I was seeking to cut the grapples of our first attacker. My sword slashed the hide ropes. As the Jotun ship was drawn away from us by the waves, I heard a choking cry of despair.

I swung around. Frey had cut the grapples of the other Jotun enemy. But the wild lurch of our ship as it was freed had thrown him into the black waters. He was helplessly sinking, weighted down by his heavy mail coat. Instantly I tore off my own mail coat, flung it away, and dived from the back rail into the sea. The icy shock of waters smashed the breath from my body. As my head broke the surface, I saw the battle that had been carried onward hundreds of yards. The Jotun ships were trying to get their grapples on the Aesir craft again. But the Aesir warriors were dismayed by the stunning of Thor and the loss of Frey. They had swung their ship around and were fleeing back toward Asgard.

I trod water amid the surging waves, looking for Frey. When I glimpsed him going down again, a dozen yards from me, I battled the raving wind and crashing sea until I reached his side. Diving deep, I caught him and pulled him to the surface. It was almost more than I could do to keep him afloat, weighed down as he was by his mail and sword. Now I began to regret taking along my own sword, for it was hampering me. The waves were running mountainously, bearing us in toward the looming cliffs that bulked ominously close.

"Leave me!" Frey choked above the roar of the sea. "Save yourself, Jarl Keith — or we'll both perish."

"Cling to my shoulder — kick hard with your feet," I panted.

His weight threatened to drag me under at any moment. I fought to swim away from the cliffs, but I was like a child in the relentless grip of those great waves.

Then I glimpsed a little beach that indented the cliffs. I recognized it at once. It was the beach where I had landed my plane!

"This way!" I cried to Frey. "We'll be shattered on the cliffs unless we can get to that beach."

The breakers threatened to drag us north of the little sandy indentation. I put my last ounce of strength into swimming obliquely across the thunderous waves. But those boiling breakers carried us resistlessly toward the looming cliff. We were going to be flung against it–

I yelled to Frey and made a convulsive effort. We barely cleared the cliffs, and were washed up to safety on the beach!