PYRAMID POWER – snippet 9:
Thor sighed. “Don’t tell me. I was drunk and he’s been… and gone, hasn’t he? It always seems to happen that way these days. And now I’m the one who has to try and explain to Grid. At least I know I have to start on Thjalfi. I don’t remember him being like this, before. I wonder where he’s got to?”
“We didn’t see anyone,” said Tolly.
“And you can see the whole hall from the place where that bridge thing broke off,” said Ty. “The fires look like they’re going out.”
Marie sighed gustily. “What have you two been up to this time! Why must you always wander off the minute that no adults are looking at you?”
“Maybe we should nail one foot to the floor,” said Liz, giving the two boys her best basilisk stare. Ty seemed to find the idea funny. His friend Tolly looked a bit more wary. With Medea as a mother, you never knew if things like that were a real threat or not.
“Look, you two just stay in sight from now on or I’ll be tempted to let her do what she threatened,” said Marie, crossly. “I’ve got enough to worry about without chasing around after you.”
“I thought we saw Babe Ruth being abducted by aliens. We had to check that it was for real,” said Tolly.
“In an eighteen-wheeler,” corroborated Tolly.
“Babe Ruth? Aliens? Are you crazy?” demanded Emmitt. “Can’t you even come up with a believable lie, Ty?”
Ty did his best look hurt. “Any myth can be true here, Dad said…”
“Myth, yes,” said Lamont, rolling his eyes.
“We were looking for something to eat,” admitted Tolly.
Lamont nodded. “We’re going to need to feed everyone. Especially these kids,” he said. He turned to the two surviving PSA agents. “The paratroopers had rations last time that we could share. What have you got?”
Thor thought that they were addressing him. “Goats,” he said. “Tanngnjost and Tanngrisnir. They pull my chariot… Well, they used to pull my chariot back when I had a chariot. Thjalfi had to borrow one last time I needed one and we had to walk this time, because of the little accident I had with it. So we can eat my goats.”
“Goats. Oh, we can’t…”
Thor interrupted, waved a generous hand, completely misunderstanding her reaction to goat. “So long as the bones are intact I can bring them back to life the next day. And the way those two goats eat its just as well to kill them at night. One of them ate my bed-clothes one night… I’d, um perhaps had a little more mead than I should. I nearly froze to death before I woke up. I’ll call them.”
He turned to the window and bellowed. How one pair of lungs could produce such a volume of sound was beyond belief. Even the walls seemed to vibrate.
Thor turned back to them. “They’ll be here presently. Why don’t we go and find those fires the boys talked about. We’ll need a spit of some kind.”
“It has to be warmer there,” said one of the agents. “And then we really need to look at strategies for us to get back. We have an… assignment to complete.”
Liz snorted. “Trust me, someone else will have to ‘complete your assignment.’ The only easy way back is dead. And thanks to you we’re all stuck in this mess and thanks to one of your idiots we’ve lost Jerry, who was our best chance of getting home. I want to find him. And if you want to survive you’re going to have to give up playing tag-along and be useful. And get with the local clothing. You look like you’ve escaped from a circus to the locals.”
“Don’t take that tone with us, ma’am,” said one of them testily. “You’re not an American citizen, you know.”
“And this isn’t America, you jackass, in case you hadn’t noticed,” snapped Liz. “Now shape up or ship out, whatever your name is. We’re going to look for heat, and a spit. You’re sort of pretending to be a warrior. Act like one. Now, lead out. We’ll keep you on point, and maybe you’ll get back to the US sooner than you thought possible. Move!”
Lamont chuckled. “You better listen to ‘Sir’, Mister. And you’d better introduce yourselves. If we need to yell a warning, a name helps.”
“And Agent Stephens,” said the other, as if providing ID to people of no importance was physically painful. “Look, it is unfortunate that you people got involved but our assignment is vital to national security. We need your cooperation.”
“Let’s put it this way,” said Liz, shooing them ahead of her like hens. “You certainly need our cooperation. Now you’ve just got to convince us that we need yours. And so far, you’ve been more of a liability than an asset.”
They went out, arranged the ladder and descended. “Don’t stand under the ladder when Thor comes down,” said Marie, quietly.
Only the last two rungs broke.
The fires in huge main hall were definitely dying. Patches of dead coals shared space with the sullen glow.
The place was eerily quiet in the half-light. Here and there the fire flared, sending shadows chasing. The few remaining torches guttered in their sconces, and the huge, dim hall seemed even dimmer. It was an eerie place and the dead trolls did not make it any more appealing.
The clatter of goaty hooves nearly frightened Stephens into an early grave and a quick transfer back to Chicago. Goats, in Liz’s experience, were evil-minded cantankerous creatures. These ones looked the part. And they were huge. More the size of a pony than a goat.
One of them took a long goaty look at the strangers surrounding Thor and lowered its head. It raced towards them at full acceleration. “Tanngnöst!” yelled Thor, loudly enough to stir the embers to flames.
“Get out of its way!” yelled Liz. They scattered, Lamont assisted by a sideward toss by the goat that shunted him some ten yards across the floor. Thor stopped the goat with a solid thwack against the head, that made it sit down on its goaty tail.
Liz felt something tugging at her skirt. It was the other goat. Liz took it by the horns and leaned into its face. “I see by your beard that you are a billy goat. You’re billy goat gruff right now, but you’ll be billy goat treble after I’ve finished with you.”
It was apparent that the dragon’s heart gave her the power of speech with birds and animals, as well as lower life-forms, like the local Norse gods turned drunks. Tanngrisnir had let go hastily, before Thor even got there.
Marie helped Lamont back to his feet.
“Well,” said Thor. “We have dinner, although I must admit my stomach doesn’t really feel much like red meat.”
Lamont felt his derriere. “More like a revenge killing than dinner.”
The goats looked decidedly wary, and started looking around for the best way out. There were some disadvantages to this translation spell, Liz realized. It didn’t make the animals any cleverer or more human—things like the ravens were clever to begin with—but it did allow them to understand what their destiny was about to be.
“I feel like fish,” said Thor. “But Thjalfi never brought any. He likes eating goat. It’s a pity we don’t have a cart or we could just head home to Bilskínir. Thrud always sees that there is a bit of fish for me. She’s a good girl, really. Not like my sons Modi and Magni. I hardly ever see them these days.”
“What about having a good look around first?” said Liz. She had no love for goats, either alive or as dinner, and she wasn’t squeamish, but having your dinner eye you warily was a bit off-putting. Besides, they might just get some idea of what had happened to Jerry. He could still be here, or there could be a clue as where he’d got to. “We might find a chariot or a cart or something you could hitch up to them. How far is this Bilsk… this home of yours?”
“Were I to have my chariot, we could ride there fast enough. My goats do not entirely tread on the earth,” said Thor, with a twinkle.
“All right. It’s chariot hunt time, then,” said Liz.
They didn’t find one.