PYRAMID POWER – snippet 23:
Thor wandered over, shaking his head. “I think Sif’s up to something.”
Another one of your great thinkers, thought Liz, but kept her opinions to herself.
“But she did make one good point,” said the red-bearded god. “We never really got properly introduced.” He bowed. “Thor, god of warriors and thunder, at your service. I know the black-elf lady Marie, but I have not been introduced formally to you. And here in Thrúdvangar we like to at least meet formally. After that things tend to get more muddled. This here is the Midgard serpent, Jörmungand, and the famous Fenrir the wolf. We’re… ah, drinking companions. But I have given up.”
“Well, I ain’t no black elf,” said Marie forcefully. She cupped her ears in her hands. “See? No pointy ears. We’re Americans. I’m Marie Jackson, that’s my husband Lamont and these are our kids. Tyrone, Ella, and Emmitt. He’s sort of adopted. My sister’s son. She had the same sort of problem you got. And that there is Neoptolemeus. He’s with me until we can get him back to his ma.”
“And I am Dr. Elisabet De Beer,” Liz said, wondering what that title would translate to. “Call me Liz.”
“Or Sir,” said Lamont, with a shadow of his usual smile.
Thor nodded with deep respect. “A skald must always be welcome.”
Skald? Liz hoped it didn’t mean scold. She tried not to be… too much.
“And you two?” Thor asked looking at the two agents in their breast-plates and roughly cobbled furs.
“Special Agent Bott. PSA.”
“And Special Agent Stephens. PSA.”
Thor looked at them with a jaundiced eye. Liz wondered what special agent translated to.
She was answered by Thor’s next comment. “Tax collectors, eh? Well, I suppose there is need for your ilk. Listen, I’m having some problems with the revenues from my own kingdom, Thrúdvangar. If you’re in need of a job… or do you already work for the Americans? And how came you Americans into the land of the trolls? I had not previously heard of Americans. Is Americanaheim beyond Vanaheim?”
“We were transported magically from our own place. It’s a lot further than Vanaheim,” said Lamont. “We’d like to get back home.”
Thor blinked. “But do you not like Asgard?”
“It’s a great place,” said Lamont. “But one of my daughters got left behind. And Tolly here got separated from his ma.”
Ella burst into tears. Neoptolemeus swallowed and nestled into Marie.
Then Thor started to cry too. He came and knelt before Ella, looking like some kind of cross between a fat cabbage-patch kid and red-haired troll. “It’s all right child. Thor will see gets fixed,” he said earnestly, a tear running down his red nose.
“He always was hopelessly soft with kids,” said Fenrir, loftily disapproving.
“It’s why he didn’t tear your head off when you were little and the others wanted him to,” said his sister. “It’s his better aspect, if you ask me.”
The man with a swelling eye who had followed Sif in had been trying to keep a low profile, Liz noticed. Now he coughed and said: “Platters have been laid in the small feasting hall, Lord.”
“Thjalfi! Where have you been, you rogue?” demanded Thor, focusing on him. “And where is my belt of strength and Grid’s rod?”
Thjalfi looked at his master with amazement, impressively so for someone Liz had last seen with a fake red beard and the aforementioned rod. “But they were with you my lord, at the evil troll Geirrodur’s castle. Didn’t you bring them back with you?”
Thor looked uncertain. “No.”
“He had them on. I saw him,” said Marie, pointing at Thjalfi.
Good, thought Liz. At least I wasn’t imagining things.
“Me?” said the faithful retainer in hurt tones. “My lord. That’s ridiculous. I am your body-servant and loyal bonder. I’ve served you for years…”
“S’true,” muttered Thor. “But I thought you got killed. It’s all vague now…”
Thjalfi bowed. “I am a very solid ghost.”
Thor frowned. “Disir are female.”
Thjalfi waved his hands airily. “Anyway, my Lord, Lady Sif awaits with dinner.”
Thor blinked and gestured at Jörmungand and Fenrir. “Yes, but my friends…”
“Orm and Freki,” said Fenrir.
“Uh, Orm and Freki won’t fit there. You will have to have the food moved to the greater chamber,” said Thor.
It was Thjalfi’s turn to look taken aback. “I, er, thought something could be brought to them.”
“No,” said Thor largely. “Friends of mine. They eat with me. Have the platters moved. It’s only a few sword lengths.”
Thjalfi looked—very briefly—mutinous, but then he bowed and dog-trotted off to go and do as he was bid. So a little while later they all trooped through to a huge hall that would have been big enough for fifteen simultaneous platteland weddings—the kind where every relative living gets dredged up to fill every inch with people you’d rather not meet.
Sif was doing that job single-handedly, and doing it very well, Liz thought. Thor’s wife was the sort of lady bountiful that would make the average recipient of condescending kindness ready to starve to death rather than take a mouthful of the bounty.
But then, Liz admitted, maybe her antagonism to the woman was just a case of not liking someone with real golden-blond hair. The damned stuff really looked as if was made of gold, and it made Liz feel very unwashed and un-brushed. Maybe she should have done her hair before Wolfie’s.
Sif’s gown too, was an embroidered thing of beauty, studded with seed-pearls. It was surprising Thor hadn’t sold that. But then, she probably hadn’t let him get his hands on it.
Servants ghosted around with jugs of mead, filling the drinking horns. Marie, seated at Thor’s left hand, reached out and covered Thor’s horn. “We’re resisting one drink one day at a time, remember.”
Thor nodded. “Uh. Well. I suppose so.”
“We have no control over alcohol,” she said firmly, quoting.
“Right.” The thunder-god’s lips quirked. “And you are a power higher than I am.” But he turned the horn over, and adopted a firm-chinned look of red-bearded determination.
“But, my dear, you must have a drink to the health of our guests!” insisted Sif. “It would be rude not to.”
“Right,” said Thor weakly, turning his horn the right way up again.
“Wrong,” said Marie, glaring at Sif. “Get this into your head. From now on he can’t even have one drink because one drink leads to another.”
“But he is Thor! Thor the mighty drinker who even lowered the ocean when Utgardaloki put the end of his ale-horn into the sea.” Sif gestured to the waiting Thjalfi and his jug.
“He can drink as much sea-water as he wants to,” said Marie.
“Uh. It made me throw up,” said Thor. “What am I to drink if I can’t have mead or beer… or small beer? There is nothing else.”
“Water,” said Lamont.
“That stuff kills you,” said Thor. “Really. And fish… well, they live in it.”
Liz could believe that the local water might easily kill you. Like the Greeks drinking wine, almost everyone here probably drank something with alcohol in it to keep the waterborne diseases limited, if not completely at bay. Boiled or spring water it would have to be.
Thjalfi tried to pour some more of the mead into Thor’s horn. Marie plucked the jug out of his hand and emptied it over his head.
Sif smiled sweetly at her. “You say she is a power greater than you, husband?”
Thor looked at Thjalfi, dripping and gaping, and nodded. Marie grinned. And then her face spasmed with pain, briefly.
“So don’ push me,” she gasped. “Gimme one of those pills, Lamont honey.” The pills had altered, but still seemed to work.
Thjalfi had backed off to the now open mead-barrel, which stood beside the other three unbroached ones. He was about to refill the jug, despite his dripping, when Marie caught sight of him.
She whistled at the dragon, to get Jörmungand’s attention. “You. Go and finish up that lot.”
Jörmungand didn’t wait for a second invitation. She surged up and plunged her gargantuan black-lipped mouth around the first barrel, and up-ended it down her throat. The next one she just swallowed whole… As she did with the last two. And then she gave a little ladylike burp, and said “‘scuse me.”
Sif watched with little red spots of furious color blossoming on her cheeks. Liz was sure, now, that Thor’s wife not only understood Thor’s drinking problem, but had come here with just one purpose in mind—to get him drunk. She was also certain that Thjalfi was up to his plump neck in whatever Sif was up to.
The real question was why? Liz could only think of one plausible answer. The Krim had lost two prior encounters with some of this set of humans, so it was treading more cautiously now. One of its aims was presumably to get any allies they might have made out of the way.