PYRAMID POWER — snippet 34

 

PYRAMID POWER – snippet 34:

 

 

Chapter 22

 

 

            It was a cold clear night. You could actually hear the frost-crisp grass crunching under the horses hooves. Loki noticed it and laughed. “Fimbulwinter. Loki is free. The clouds are massing in the west.”

 

            Thrúd’s face, white in the moonlight, looked as if it had somehow gone a paler shade. “No!” she said.

 

            Loki shrugged. “It will mean the return of Baldr.”

 

            Thrúd scowled at him. “Is there any bit of mischief and gossip you don’t know, Uncle Fox? It was just a little-girl crush. I had one on you, too.”

 

            “What appalling taste you had, girl,” said Loki. “Anyway, I am willing to avoid Ragnarok if I can.”

 

            “The question,” said Sigyn, “is whether Ragnarok is willing to avoid you. Great magics are tied to the Time.”

 

            Loki raised an eyebrow. “I don’t play with great magics, lady-wife. That’s One-eye’s province.”

 

            “Exactly,” said Sigyn. “A reason to be suspicious, especially after what Jerry told us.”

 

            “About what?” asked Liz trying not to shiver. This was no weather for damp skirts, whatever Fimbulwinter and this Ragnarok were.

 

            “About being trapped in a cycle, which repeated and repeated to give power to some foreign god. The ‘Krim,’ he called it.”

 

            Thrúd peered intently at her. “It does have a strange feeling that I have been here before. But I remember great Bilskríner becoming a place of ruins.”

 

            “It’s true enough,” said Liz. “Jerry and I and our friends fought the Krim before. We defeated it… but it fled. This is obviously where it came to. It re-activates old myths. Old beliefs. Jerry’s the expert. All I can say is that I’m very cold.”

 

            “Bilskríner lies just ahead,” said Thrúd comfortingly.

 

****

 

            Lamont Jackson was almost beside himself with worry. Should he leave the children in the care of a pair of monsters and go and look for Marie… and Liz too? The waiting was going to kill him, for sure.

 

            The sound of hooves was a welcome one. Even bad news had to be better than no news. It took him a few seconds to realize that there was more than one horse out there. He wondered if he should find a weapon… and then Liz came in.

 

            With several others.

 

            Not Marie.

 

            He forced himself to be as calm as possible. “What news?”

 

            Liz took a deep breath. “Well, she’s not dead, Lamont. Thrúd here saw her. But I couldn’t rescue her. Odin has put her into a kind of suspended animation. She’s in, well, like a coma, inside a wall of flames on a mountaintop.”

 

            It was Lamont’s turn to take a deep breath. “At least she’s not dead. Come in to the fire, Liz. You’re blue with cold.”

 

            She nodded weakly. “I think I’m about to fall off this horse.”

 

            Lamont caught her, set her on her feet, gave her his arm to lean on. “Let’s go into the main hall and the warmth and we can get introduced. Thor is still out of it. That stuff was distilled, and potent as hell,” he said, grimly.

 

            Lodin arrived, and beamed at the stocky individual in the sort of tied up rags that the local peasants seemed to wear. “Lady Thrúd,” he said, bowing respectfully. “Whose horses are these?”

 

            “Einherjar’s, Stumpy. See that they’re well rubbed down and that they have some oats. We’ll turn them out at first light. It is too cold outside now.”

 

****

 

            Thrúd was a little worried by these strangers that had taken over her father’s hall. They seemed a little short of respect for Papa-Thor. But she could always re-establish that! He didn’t seem to be too good at doing it himself these days, she admitted ruefully. She remembered how it once had been. At the same time she began to remember what it had become. It was strange how that memory had faded, of the immortal Ás trapped in the downward spiral of Asgard. That was when Papa-Thor’s drinking had really got out of hand. That hadn’t changed. Well. If these strangers—she really was not at all sure they were black elves—could help, then a little disrespect was a small price to pay.

 

            They walked through into the main hall, where a number of small trees were blazing merrily in the hearth. Three children were fast asleep against dread Fenrir’s side. The wolf was trying to look as if he was quite unaware that the girl-child—who looked remarkably like the woman sent to be a stand-in for Brynhild the Valkyrie—didn’t have an arm around his neck. The fourth was sleepily looking at them from next to the great Jörmungand. Two other men in roughly cobbled furs were fiddling about with some strange helmet on a table off to one side.

 

            “Any news?” asked the black-elf boy who was still awake.

 

            “Well, Marie is still alive,” said the black-elf man whom Liz had addressed as Lamont. “But she’s trapped behind a wall of flame in a coma.”

 

            The boy began to cry. Big tears starting suddenly from eyes that had had the Loki-flame of rebellion and trouble moments before. “I never even had a chance to say…” his chin quivered and he dissolved into a flood of tears.

 

            Lamont went over and put an arm around him. “Easy, Emmitt. It’s not that kind of coma.” Plainly, by his voice, he was hurting too.

 

            Close family ties, plainly. That was good. Thrúd approved. “It is a magical sleep, child. If the thorn of sleep is drawn out, she will wake. Even if a thousand years have passed.”

 

            “And we’ll get her free,” said Liz. “And get it out of her. Promise.”

 

            “You have Loki to help. And what is a wall of flame to me?” said a man who had entered behind them.

 

            Both the Midgard Serpent and Fenrir surged to meet him. The wolf suddenly realizing he had children using him as a hassock, stopped dead, and waited until Lamont set them down. Then Fenrir danced around him and Sigyn like a terrible puppy-dog, jumping over the sinuous coils of Jörmungand.

 

            “I thought that it was extra cold tonight,” said Fenrir, panting. “Fimbulwinter comes!” There was red joy in his eyes.

 

            Then in walked Thor, bleary-eyed and puzzled looking.

 

            “Papa-Thor,” said Thrúd, going to hug him.

 

            “Hello, littlest one,” he said squeezing her back. “Were is your mama? And where is Marie?”

 

            Emmitt was not yet entirely recovered from his emotional shock. He walked up to Thor. “You,” he said, waggling a forefinger. “I thought you were Thor. But you were so weak you couldn’t even stop them kidnapping Marie. You can’t not drink, can you? I thought you were someone I could rely on.” His tone was bitter, plainly hurt to the core.

 

            “Sif told me it was medicine. It would stop me craving drink,” Thor said humbly. “Look…. I won’t do it again.”

 

            The black-elf boy looked him in the eye. “Promise?” he sighed. “My mama promised.” It was plainly something too painful to think about, by the way he bit his lip.

 

            Thor nodded. “It’s not easy. But if you’ll help me, boy… I’ll do it.”

 

            The boy looked at huge papa-Thor. The lad had good shoulders on him when he put them back like that. He looked for a long time. Then he said: “Deal.”

 

            “You can train him up as warrior,” said Thrúd. “It’ll keep you busy. Get you to lose some of that”—she poked him in the belly—”because Fimbulwinter is here. So is Loki.”

 

            Thrúd was not too sure what she expected from her father at this point. Actually, she had to admit that her feelings were a mess. Trust Loki to stir everything up, especially the bit about Baldr. But he had been, to all intents and purposes, a sort of uncle all her life. He’d helped her out, and helped Thor out and, for that matter Odin, and half a dozen others out, and saved Freyja, and helped Thor recover Mjöllnir.

 

            Yes, he’d caused a fair number of problems too. But she knew Thor considered the defense of Asgard a sacred trust—even if he seemed to be giving house room to two of the Asinjur’s greatest enemies, Jörmungand and Fenrir. It was he who had put a sword in Fenrir’s jaws, and very nearly caught Jörmungand while fishing, after all. And now he seemed unsurprised to see them here.

 

            She was surprised to see her father looking embarrassed and uneasy. “I didn’t know what he planned to do,” said Thor. “Odin told me what you’d said about Sif. And Baldr.”

 

            “Well, I did say it,” said Loki, obviously not going to give Thor any room for comfort.

 

            “I had to do something after that,” said Thor. “But I thought it would be a good beating…”

 

            Loki shrugged. “He would never have caught me without your strength, red-beard.”

 

            “I know. But I should have stayed after you were caught in the net. Heimdall was getting up my nose, and I thought I should get out of there before I hit him. He’s the All-father’s favorite… And someone offered me mead.” Thor sighed. “It was true about Baldr, though? You caused his death.”

 

            “It was all true, and that was true too. But I had reason. And I had help. Help that betrayed me. Help that I will destroy.” Loki smiled thinly, viciously. “And while I might have sent Baldr to Helheim, I wasn’t the one who kept him there. I swear to it.”

 

            Everyone had assumed that the giantess Thökk—who had refused to weep for Baldr, and thereby condemned him to remain in Helheim—had been Loki in disguise. So who had it been then?

 

            Thor looked troubled. “Sigyn. What is this all about?”

 

            Thrúd had a terrible feeling that she knew, now why Loki had done it. But Papa-Thor was in no condition to go and fight Odin, and all the other Asinjur who would rally to him. She just hoped Sigyn wasn’t going to give it all away.

 

            Yet.

 

            She’d have to explain it to him sometime, and it wasn’t going to be easy. Everything that Loki had said at the flyting was true. Even the parts about her mother, which were painfully obvious now that she’d seen Sif with Odin.

About Eric Flint

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