PYRAMID POWER – snippet 8:
Even from here Marie could smell the wave of old booze sweating out of the man. She’d got a whiff of it on their way out, but at the time there had been other things to think about. Now the smell and the sight of the tremor in his hand brought it all back, sharply. It didn’t take a glance at Emmitt to realize that it would do the same to the boy. Her sister—Emmitt’s mother—had been in that state often enough.
The big red-bearded man looked at the broken stone chair. “I did that?” he asked, warily.
“I reckon so,” said Marie. There was frost in her voice, despite the situation they were in.
He actually looked as if he was about to start crying. “I didn’t mean to. I don’t remember…” He tailed off.
“I never can remember.” He sniffed. “Look, I’m sorry. I’ll try and get you another one, but I’m… er, a bit broke right now.”
Marie looked at him silently.
“There’s more, isn’t there,” he said, looking uneasy.
“There always is, isn’t there?”
He hung his head. “Sometimes,” he admitted.
She still stared at him.
“Look. I’m sorry about the chair.” He started wringing his huge hands.
“It ain’t my chair.”
He stood up shakily and groaned. “Oh, my head. Then what’s the problem?”
“You are,” said Marie. “Or rather, your damn drinking is. It’s not just chairs you’re wrecking. It’s yourself.”
He held his head. “That’s not something I can fix. I wish I could.”
“It can be done. If you want to enough. If you’re determined enough. If you’re strong enough.”
He staggered over to the rock window, took a handful of snow and wiped his brow with it. Then took another handful, stuck it into his mouth and sucked on it.
He looked down at his clothes. It was fairly plain he’d been sick on them. He swallowed. “I, Thor, am the strongest of the Æsir. I will do this thing, or die in the effort.” He looked at his clothes again. “I don’t like waking up like this.”
“It’s a first step,” said Lamont, dryly. “But do you think you can keep it up?”
“Thor?” said Emmitt incredulously. “You mean, like, the hammer-thrower?”
Thor nodded. And then plainly wished he hadn’t. “Yes. I am the master of Mjöllnir.” He went and sat down again, leaning against the wall. “Never again,” he groaned.
“So if you are Thor… let’s see the hammer!” demanded the boy.
Thor shook his head carefully. “I… er, sold it.”
“What for?” asked his audience.
Thor looked sadly at them. “Drink.”
“Look, I can accept this part about powerless over alcohol. Every one of the Æsir is unable to stand against something. Frey is weak against the frost Giants, Heimdall against Surt’s minions. And it’s true my life has become unmanageable. It’s a mess.”
Thor now gave Marie a stern look. “But this second step nonsense! This ‘we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity’ nonsense. I am a power greater than myself. I am one of the Æsir. I’m a god, you idiotic woman. And I’ve tried, and I couldn’t restore me to sanity. Sif tried. Heimdall tried. Idun tried with curative apples. Nothing works!. When the drink gets in me nothing will calm me down but another drink.”
“Strongest? You don’t look that strong,” said Ella doubtfully.
Thor attempted to haul his belly in. “I am Thor of the Æsir. Mighty Thor!” He patted his midriff. “I admit I have let myself get a bit out of condition, lately. But with my girdle of strength…”
Liz laughed. “Girdle. It’d have to be super-strong to keep that gut in.”
“I think he means a sort of belt, like a boxing champion’s belt,” said Lamont, with a grin. It was hard to take this wasted bleary slob too seriously, even if in this world he was a god.
“Heavyweight champion,” said Liz. “And there I was going to ask where he bought it.”
“Well,” said Thor, completely missing the sarcasm, “it was given to me by the giantess Grid, when she heard we were coming to Gerriodur’s castle.” He lifted his tunic and looked in puzzlement at the acreage of white belly. “It’s not there,” he said, worriedly. “I promised I would return it. I, uh… seem to have lost mine.”
“You seem to have lost this one too.”
Thor looked around, more worried than ever. “You haven’t seen Thjalfi anywhere around?”
“Is it a person or a thing?” asked Ella.
“My bond-servant, along with his sister Roskva,” said Thor. “I don’t see the gauntlets of iron or Grid’s rod anywhere either.” There was the edge of panic in his voice.
Pieces began to fit together in Liz’s mind. “This Thjalfi. Has he got a fake beard? About the same height as Lamont, but fatter. Wearing a bilious green tunic thing?”
Thor looked puzzled. “Nay, Thjalfi has but a little wispy beard. Barely fit for a weasel, let alone a man. He is of a height with the svartalfar here”—he pointed at Lamont—”and I think his cloth is green. Yes. It is. It made me feel very unwell the other morning. Something always makes me feel unwell in the mornings.”
“And what is this ‘Grid’s Rod’?” asked Marie.
“A staff of iron which can neither be bent nor moved. It will grow, too, to press against the foe, be they ever so far. We used it to cross the Vimur river. Gerriodur’s daughter Gjalp was making it flood.”
“Ah,” said Liz, grimly. “I think we can tell you, then. It’s your servant Thjalfi who has your iron gloves, and your rod. I’d guess that he probably has your belt too. He tried to kill us. Damn near succeeded, too.”
Thor looked at them in puzzlement. “Thjalfi? With my gauntlets of iron?”
“Unless they’re common fashion items around here, I’d give you long odds that your servant has helped himself to them.” Liz’s voice began rising a little. “And tried to kill us, and we’ve lost Jerry because of it, to say nothing of one of those idiots.” Liz pointed at one of the PSA agents.
Thor looked doubtfully at the man. “Even in a Valkyrie such skirts are hardly decent.”
“He’s a man,” said Lamont, enjoying the discomfort of the agent. He was still quietly furious with the PSA and its agents for having gotten his family into this mess.
Thor blinked. “Is it customary among you svartalfar—the pale ones, anyway—for warriors to dress like that? Does it make them more courageous, because of the mocking? Loki and I got ribbed for months when we dressed as Freyja and her bridesmaid.”
“They thought we were going to a place where the men dress like that.”
Thor made a face. “Lucky you came here, eh? But I still want to know more about what game Thjalfi thought he was up to. He’s getting above himself, acting on his own like this. We don’t want him picking needless fights with svartalfar, too.”
“Oh, he wasn’t alone,” said Liz.
“So he had a bunch of his low-life friends around and he was showing off,” said Thor with enormous tolerance. “I’ve done the same myself. You get a bit carried away.”
“This was a tall man with just one eye,” said Liz. “Sound like someone you know?”
“What!” bellowed Thor furiously.
“And a bunch of warriors he called ‘einherjar.’ They were hunting for us.”
“How dare he!” Thor’s face, florid before, was now beetroot-red. A huge meaty fist slammed into his palm, like a thunder-crack. Suddenly making fun of him being the most physically powerful of the gods seemed a stupid idea. Energy seemed to almost crackle from him.
“Thjalfi is my bonder! What’s Odin up to messing with my man, and bringing his men here. Where the Nifelheim is he? This time I’ll—”
“I don’t think he’s around anymore,” said Marie. “We saw him giving advice to Sigurd, and then he rode off in the other direction.”