Chapter 1: Glad Rags
1 Glad Rags
TWELVE-YEAR-OLD IDUN AND HER FRIENDS Freya, Sif, and Skade stomped the snow from their boots as they entered Midgard Mall. “Want to split up to shop at different stores and then meet back here later?” Idun asked the others.
The four girlgoddesses had only just become friends a few weeks ago when they’d all begun attending Asgard Academy and been thrown together as roommates. Principal Odin had invited (ordered, actually) students from all nine worlds of the Norse universe—located on three enormous ring-shaped levels stacked one above the other—to enroll at the newly formed academy.
Skade nodded. “Good idea. I want to check out the boot sales.” A half-giant from a second-level world called Jotunheim, she was crazy about boots. The pros and cons of various ski, snow, or high-fashion ones were all Skade had talked about as the girls had walked across the Bifrost Bridge to get to the mall. That tricolor red, blue, and green bridge connected this second-level world of Midgard with the first-level world of Asgard, which was where their academy was located.
“Maybe I’ll go with you,” Sif told Idun. Sif’s golden hair shone brightly in the rays of sun filtering through a skylight overhead. It wasn’t real but had been spun from metallic gold threads by two talented dwarfs. “Just to look, though. I’ve already got two pairs of boots, so I don’t really need new ones.”
Skade gave her head a shake to dislodge snowflakes. The motion sent her long white-streaked black hair swaying from side to side. “Need, schmeed. You can never have too many boots!”
The other girls laughed. After they all agreed to meet back at the entrance in an hour, Idun whipped out four small snack bags. “Hey, before we split up… I brought dried apple chips for everybody.”
“Oh, thanks,” said Freya, tucking the bag Idun handed her into her pocket.
“Yeah,” murmured Skade, quickly pocketing hers, too.
“So thoughtful of you,” Sif added a little too brightly.
In fact, as Idun began munching her apple chips (mmm, nice and chewy), she noticed that she was the only one doing so.
“Aren’t you hungry?” she asked Freya after Skade and Sif headed off.
“I’m saving my chips for later,” Freya replied as the two girls started to walk. But Idun noticed her smile seemed a little forced.
Her friends’ lack of enthusiasm for the apple chips she’d brought along left Idun feeling a little bummed. She was the girlgoddess of youth, and her magical and deliciously sweet golden apples were what kept all of the academy’s goddesses and gods healthy and youthful. Didn’t her friends appreciate that?
“So what did you want to shop for? I’m thinking clothes,” Freya said, changing the subject. “Although I need more of those like Skade needs more boots!” she added.
Setting aside her hurt feelings, Idun smiled. They both knew Freya already had way more clothes than would fit in her wardrobe back at their room in the girls’ dorm. Freya was the most fashion-forward girl at the academy. Though all the girls wore sleeveless wool dresses called hangerocks over their simple white linen shifts, hers were always the cutest!
“Skade says you can never have too many boots. Maybe the same could be said about clothes,” said Idun. And apple chips, she thought, but didn’t say. “I love your hangerock, by the way.”
“Thanks! I made it myself.” Freya did a quick pose to better display the dark blue hangerock she wore beneath her red wool cloak. White snowflakes embroidered around the hangerock’s hem sparkled. And fancy tortoiseshell clasps fastened the dress’s shoulder straps at the front. Small leather pouches containing intriguing objects dangled from nine bead, seed, or chain necklaces. These were strung between the clasps in a big swoopy smile-shape swag across Freya’s chest.
“Everybody sews where I’m from in Vanaheim,” Freya went on. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t like shopping for something someone else made for a change. Plus, it gives me sewing ideas.”
As they walked on, Idun gazed ahead to the rows of stores. “I wonder where we should start,” she murmured, munching her chips. They were delicious and nutritious. It made no sense that her friends hadn’t gobbled them up right away. After all, they hadn’t eaten any breakfast before coming to the mall. Seemed like they’d be hungry.
“Good question. I’ll ask Brising.” Freya quickly lifted the coolest of the necklaces she wore—a gorgeous one of hammered gold decorated with small winking jewels. Brising was the name of the shiny walnut-size teardrop-shaped amber jewel dangling from its center. It gave her the power of prophecy.
“Brising, where can we find the best clothes and deals around here?” Freya asked the jewel. Since it always spoke in a low humming sound that only she could understand, Freya listened for a few moments and then repeated aloud what the jewel had said:
“Count six doors,
Find happy rags,
Marked with price tags!”
“Rags?” echoed Idun. She and Freya looked at each other and burst out laughing.
“Maybe you misunderstood, Brising,” Freya told her jewel. “We’re shopping for clothes, not rags.” She listened for another few moments, then shrugged. “Brising’s gone mum.”
“Oh well,” said Idun. “Let’s go past the next six doors and see what we find.”
Appearing amused, Freya lifted an eyebrow. “Looking for more appley clothing?”
“Who, me?” Idun asked innocently. “Why would you think that?” With a grin, she patted the gold-colored knit hat she wore over her long brown hair. A brown felt “stem” and green felt leaf were stitched to its top, making the entire hat resemble a gold-colored apple.
Freya eyed the hat. “Uh, maybe because you are ever so slightly apple obsessed?”
Idun grinned. “Maybe so. My apples are important.” The apples she tended grew year-round—even in winter snow—in one particular grove in Asgard. Though students often ate them whole, the school’s kitchen staff also made them into applesauce and baked goods such as apple turnovers. Or pressed them to make the tasty apple juice served in the school’s cafeteria, which was officially called the Valhallateria, or just “the V” for short.
Idun finished her chips and tossed her empty bag into a recycling bin. By now, she and Freya had passed two boot stores, a leather-goods shop, a clock shop, an artisan shop called Wood Goods, and a jewelry store. Suddenly Freya came to a halt. “Cool clothes alert!” she blurted, pointing to a shop across the way. It was called Glad Rags.
“Hey! Brising said ‘happy rags’ which is almost the same as ‘glad rags.’ He must’ve meant we should try this store,” said Idun.
Freya pointed to the motto under the store name on the sign over the door: WE SELL ONE-OF-A-KIND, GENTLY USED CLOTHING. Smaller print below read: NOW ACCEPTING SECONDHAND CLOTHES FROM GODDESSES, GODS, GIANTS, OR ELVES FOR OUR STOCK.
“Ooh!” Idun said, her face lighting up. “Wouldn’t ‘one-of-a-kind’ describe apple-themed clothes?”
Freya grinned and rolled her eyes merrily. “You, girl, have a one-track mind.”
Idun grinned back. Okay, so she definitely was a little apple obsessed.
The girls entered the shop. There were numerous racks of clothing inside and just one other customer, who was at the shop’s counter. Freya made a beeline for the nearest rack. Expertly she began to flip through its contents. Idun chose the next rack over to search for apple-patterned items.
“Dee-lighted you came shopping here today!” a tiny voice suddenly piped up.
Huh? Idun glanced around. Seeing no one speaking to her, however, she went back to sorting through the clothing on the rack.
“I looove that necklace!” another similar tiny voice said to Freya. More voices chimed in, agreeing.
“Who said that?” Idun and Freya exclaimed at the same time.
“Maybe the clothes?” Idun ventured.
“Got it in one,” said a pink sports jersey bearing a giant white number one on its front.
Each time the girls touched additional items of clothing, they were startled to hear more cheerful voices call out to them.
“Hey! Try me on. I guarantee I’ll make you look purr?fect!” said a shirt with a kitten on its front.
“To wear me is to love me,” promised a dress with a heart design.
“So happy you are considering me, even if I am a bit flashy!” squealed a top with tiny lights that blinked on and off when touched.
“I guess they really are glad rags,” Idun quipped.
“Yes, we’re cheerful,” a fancy ruffled blouse Freya had pulled out agreed. “Because we’re all clothes for special occasions. That’s what ‘glad rags’ means!”
Just then the customer at the counter announced, “Ma’am? I want to make a return.” Glancing up, Idun watched the customer shove a large bag across the sales counter. After peeking inside the bag, the curly haired shopkeeper on the other side of the counter raised her eyebrows, which were as bushy as the eyebrows of the customer.
“Humans?” Idun mouthed to Freya. Freya nodded, wiggling her own brows to indicate the reason she thought Idun was probably right. This was Midgard, of course, where humans dwelled, and they all had bushy eyebrows.
“Returns are no problem. I’m Ms. Glad, the store owner,” replied the woman behind the counter. Her smile was big and cheery. “I’m so very pleased you shop here and only sorry that this time your purchase didn’t work out for you.”
As Idun listened in on the conversation at the counter, she could also hear the jolly pieces of clothing Freya was rummaging through urging her to try them on and buy them.
“I’ll say it didn’t work out!” the customer huffed. She pointed to the bag. “There’s something downright spooky about that… thing in there.” She lowered her voice so that Idun had to scoot a little closer to hear. “When I put it on last night, it began to tighten around me. And then—and I swear I’m not making this up—it started making these noises. Shrill cries, sort of like seagulls or banshees or something! I took it off at once!”
“A wise move,” Ms. Glad said agreeably. She pulled out some coins and handed them over to the woman. “It is never desirable to have one’s clothing shriek.”
Idun couldn’t tell for sure, but it seemed to her that Ms. Glad wasn’t at all surprised by what the customer had said. Well, Idun sure was. Clothes that talked cheerfully were one thing. But shrieking clothes were quite another. She glanced at the door, wondering if she and Freya should skedaddle.
However, Freya seemed to have not overheard the conversation at the counter. “Ymir’s eyeballs! Look at this!” she exclaimed just then.
Ymir was a frost giant who’d lived at the beginning of time. Slain by the gods, his various body parts had been used to grow the nine worlds. And for some reason, everyone spoke of those body parts as slang.
Idun turned toward Freya as her friend held up a bulky bright-orange poncho with short rainbow-colored tassels dangling all over it. Both girls burst out laughing at how ugly it was.
“Yeah, I’m glad Ymir’s eyeballs can’t see that thing. I sort of wish we couldn’t either,” said Idun, stepping closer to giggle with Freya over the poncho.
“I can definitely believe this orange poncho is ‘one of a kind’ like the sign says,” Freya said to Idun. “Who would want to wear something that made them look like a giant pumpkin?”
“HeLLO! I can hear you! And what’s wrong with pumpkins?” the poncho demanded to know.
Freya sent Idun an uh-oh, I forgot it could hear us look. “Do clothes have feelings?” she whispered to Idun.
“Not sure,” Idun whispered back. “I would’ve guessed ‘glad’ rags could only feel gladness, but that poncho sounds annoyed. Makes sense the owner wouldn’t want to call her store ‘Annoyed Rags,’ though.”
The girls giggled, but then quickly stopped when they noticed that the poncho seemed to wilt. “Not everyone has the same taste in clothes,” Idun reminded it in a kind voice.
Catching on, Freya added, “Right. I’m sure plenty of people are dying for an orange poncho with tassels. If they knew you were in here, they’d be rushing in to buy you.”
The poncho turned a happier, brighter shade of orange. “Yes, of course!” it said, all cheery again.
“Do you girls need help finding anything?” Ms. Glad called out after the customer who’d been at the counter hurried out the shop’s door empty-handed.
Idun hoped Ms. Glad hadn’t overheard her and Freya. What if she thought they were making fun of the clothes in her shop? They weren’t! Well, except for the orange poncho, maybe.
“Thanks, but we’re okay for now,” Freya replied as she started to flip through the clothes on another rack.
“Sorry about the small rip in my seam!” an item called out merrily when she touched it. “A giant tried me on and then accidently shape-shifted herself larger. It’d be an easy repair, though!”
Keeping half an eye on Freya, Idun worked her way closer to the counter, her gaze mostly on that customer’s returned bag. The comments she’d overheard had left her super curious about its contents. As she edged toward the bag, she did a quick search of two more racks but found no apple-patterned items.
“Um, actually,” Idun said to the owner when she neared the counter, “can I see what’s in the bag that other customer just returned?”
The owner raised an eyebrow. “If you dare.” But then she laughed as if she were only joking.
Or is she? Idun wondered.
Still smiling, Ms. Glad opened the bag and carefully lifted out a cloak. Wow! It was glorious, covered in gleaming horizontally striped brown and white feathers. When she gently shook it out, Idun felt her heart quicken. Though she couldn’t have said just why, especially since the cloak was not apple-themed, she immediately wanted it. She reached out to stroke its white-tipped feathers. As soon as she touched them, the cloak spoke up.
“Fly away with me!” it urged her. “We’ll be birds of a feather that stick together.”
Idun grinned, and that ‘wanting’ feeling intensified. Who cared if the customer who’d returned it had called it “spooky”? Idun had to have it!
“Fabulous, isn’t it?” Ms. Glad said enthusiastically. “Those are falcon feathers, by the way.”
“Interesting,” said Idun. She reached out, dying to try it on.
Suddenly Freya appeared beside them. “What an unusual cloak,” she said, peering down at it.
Unusual as in weird? Idun wondered, suddenly unsure of her own fashion sense.
But then Freya said, “It’s quirky, but cool. Look how well made it is. The feathers all line up so that the horizontal bands of color match perfectly.” She smiled at Idun. “Definitely one of a kind. And in a good way.”
“So you like it?” Idun asked, still a little unsure.
Freya nodded. “Definitely.”
“Enough to buy?” Idun pressed. She really wanted the cloak, but she’d like fashion-forward Freya’s seal of approval first.
“Maybe,” said Freya. She turned toward the shop owner. “How much is it?”
“I can offer it at a very low price,” Ms. Glad told her. “Because as wonderful as this cloak is, it’s been returned to my shop three times already. I’d really like to see it go to a good home. So if you’ll agree to take it on a no-refunds, no-exchanges basis, I’ll cut the price in half. You can have it for a hundred kroner.”
Freya’s pale-blue eyes lit up. “Fantastic!” she said excitedly. “That’s a bargain. I’ll take it!”
Wha–? Idun’s face fell. Too late, she realized that she hadn’t made it clear that she was interested in buying the cloak.
“Hey, thanks for finding it for me,” Freya said to Idun as she fished in the pocket of her hangerock for coins.
When Idun said nothing, Freya glanced up at her. Confusion came into her eyes as she noticed the crestfallen look on Idun’s face. “Wait a minute,” she said. “Did I make a mistake here? Do you want the cloak?”
Idun hesitated. As much as she did want the falcon feather cloak, she could see that Freya wanted it too. She prided herself on her generosity. It would feel selfish to take the cloak for herself, even if she had seen it first. They hadn’t known each other all that long, and she really wanted Freya to like her. It might help seal their new friendship if Idun let her have the cloak.
“Well, I do like it. But you called dibs first. That cloak will look great on you.” In the back of her mind she somehow expected Freya to guess how she really felt and say, No, you should have it.
Instead, Freya beamed at her. “Really? That’s so sweet of you!” She handed over the coins to Ms. Glad.
Upset, but not knowing what to do about it, Idun moved away from the counter as Freya completed her purchase. Turning, she headed for the door, hoping Freya wouldn’t guess how unhappy she was. When Idun bumped a sweater with a crystal ball pictured on its front, it happily singsonged a prediction: “Do a good deed, and you’ll get what you need.”
“Oh, hush,” Idun scolded it. “I did do a good deed, and now Freya has what I need!”
“Do a good deed, and you’ll get what you need,” the sweater repeated cheerily. Idun just rolled her eyes. She felt grumpy and somehow cheated out of that cloak, though she knew it wasn’t really fair of her to think that.
Moments later, the two girls exited the shop. “I feel bad that you didn’t find anything to buy,” Freya said, bagged cloak in hand. “We still have time to check out at least one more shop before we meet up with Skade and Sif if you want.”
“No, that’s okay,” Idun replied in as bright a voice as she could manage. She’d lost her chance to own the feather cloak. Nothing else would seem quite as wonderful, even something apple-themed.
That store had been named incorrectly, she decided as they walked away from it. It should’ve been named Sad Rags or Mad Rags. Because that’s how she’d wound up feeling after shopping in there!