PYRAMID POWER – snippet 43:
The first night on the branch had been the worst night of Jerry’s experience. The early hours were just terrifying, with only the sounds of the relentless wind and the moving branches—and things that passed in the night. Something jumped right over him, touching the rope and nearly plucking him into space.
After that it grew quieter and colder. Even with fur over-trousers and a knitted jerkin-type thing that might have been designed for Icelandic fishermen, Jerry was cold. Long before morning he’d untied the rope and huddled into a tight little shivering ball under the blue cloak, in the middle of the branch. The cloak was fortunately a thick weave, oiled and pretty windproof, or he would have died of exposure before dawn. He even resorted to scratching the rune that he was fairly sure was Loki’s name on the bark.
Maybe that, or the wind dying down kept him alive. The sky was beginning to pale when he thought of the apple in his pocket. Heaven knew he didn’t feel much like eating, but it might just help.
A tiny piece was all he could manage to bite. It might be little furry from his pocket, but it had kept very well. And it did have miraculous properties, warming him like a shot of over-proof whiskey. Warmed him enough to be standing and tied back on to his rope when he spied a couple of cold-looking warriors on the cliff-edge perhaps a hundred and thirty yards away peering at him.
He stood still, except for the shivering—but they probably wouldn’t see that from so far off, and little below him. Eight more days and night of this?
Ratatosk arrived just after sunup. He spat out a cheekfull of nuts. He also had a tiny skin flask, perhaps a quarter of a pint, slung on a red cord over his shoulder. Maybe for a squirrel it was a feast. But oh for extra-large jelly donut… make that three, and a tall coffee.
“Brisk this morning, isn’t it?” said the squirrel rubbing his paws together. “You can eat. The guards have gone back into the little hut at the end of the branch.”
“It’s very generous of you,” said Jerry, looking at the four nuts.
“You’re telling me,” said Ratatosk. “That’s part of my winter store. And in this weather all I want to do is go back to sleep in my hole. It’s nice and warm and out of the wind. Cozy.”
Jerry realized that the little tree rat was doing it on purpose. “Save it for the Eagle and the Nidhögg. I’m half-frozen. I don’t know if I can take another night like that.”
“Soft,” scoffed Ratatosk. “You’ll need to toughen up because it looks like we’re going to get some sleet.” He held out the little flask. “This is water from Urd’s well, by the way.” He sniggered. “Nidhögg decided Asgard was too busy right now to worry about the Norns. He nearly got one too. They’ve run off to Mirmir’s well. Now. I have to go off and tell the eagle Nidhögg saw him on high, but he thought he was a runty sparrow. Want anything else?”
A fire, shelter, and the hell out of here, thought Jerry, but what he said was: “More food and drink, I’m afraid. And maybe some more clothes. I was desperately cold last night.”
Ratatosk twitched his nose. “There is a knothole a bit further up the branch. The stags go to drink there at night. I’ll see what I can do about the rest.”
Jerry realized that he’d been there a good twenty hours but had spent most of his time peering toward the cliff, or shivering under the cloak. He’d very carefully not looked down, and he also hadn’t looked up or out much.
About fifty yards further out the great branch divided. A limb went upward and there was a V he could probably shelter in. And out on the outer branches was a great big stag, grazing. So that was what had nearly sent him over the edge last night. Yggdrasil, as he vaguely remembered, had had a good few of them. The tree looked big enough for a whole herd. Well, he’d sworn off squirrel but venison was sounding good, even raw, if not as appealing as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Of course, the fact that the stags were not small and he was unarmed, and, unlike Liz, totally inexperienced at any form of hunting, did make the chances of venison nearly as remote as the peanut-butter sandwich.
When a squall of mixed sleet and rain came along, as Ratatosk had predicted, Jerry untied himself and retreated to the V. There was a deeper groove there than he’d realized, and it was virtually out of the wind. Though he hadn’t meant to, he fell asleep. He was awakened by the squirrel tweaking his nose and shaking droplets off his damp fur onto his face. “Move. The rain is nearly over.”
So Jerry moved, sleepily, and then woke very, very suddenly when he lost his footing on the wet bark and nearly disappeared over the edge. His heart was still doing about four hundred beats to the minute when he reached the rope, tied himself on, and prepared to act dead again. He even had a chance to take a handful of sleet to suck before anyone came along the cliff edge.
There turned out to be one fortunate aspect to the situation. The cliff, which to Jerry’s non-outdoorsman eyes looked slightly higher than Everest, obviously caused a lot of updraft. That, in turn, made the tree-branch a place which was intermittently bathed in misty cloud as the air cooled and the water vapor condensed out of it. That meant he could at least sit for a while, hidden.
He had a long day to think about the night ahead, which, in the fashion of events that you are dreading, turned out to be not as bad as he’d expected. When dusk came on he untied and headed first for the huge knothole where he had seen the stag go to drink. He had another half rotten cloak that Ratatosk had brought him, and he was determined to make the V as comfortable as possible and sleep as much as he could before the cold really set in. He’d just organized his nest when something eclipsed both the dark tree branches and the stars. Jerry had barely time to shriek before the creature landed, and pushed him back into the V.
“Noisy Midgarder. It’s going to freeze hard tonight. I was asked to keep you warm.”
Under the huge eagle’s downy belly, Jerry slept well for the first time in what felt like weeks but was probably merely days. And one of the snakes brought him a bird’s egg for breakfast. He’d would have preferred them cooked, but he just had to switch his mind off and swallow. Pretend it was an eggnog or something.
Only a week to go.
That was a bit much to swallow. Harder than raw egg. Jerry found he coped better by just concentrating on getting through one day at a time.
But he looked forward to Ratatosk’s malicious gossip. He’d memorized the runes by now, and he could see the possibilities of using them with sympathetic magic. However, trying it out on flight seemed a little too brave, especially as it would require some powerful symbols like eagle primaries. He wasn’t asking his duvet for that! Not after he’d seen its beak. Besides, he had a feeling that flying might be a lot more complex than it looked.
The Krim device had very precise datums on all the sources of life energy inside the Ur-universe. Translating them into physical map-points was more complex as the Ur-universes had their own rules of physics and geography, into which logic did not always enter in the most obvious of fashions. But it was very apparent that one of the life-energy sources, one of the ones the masters had had conflict with in the past, which it had, with mechanical satisfaction seen consigned to sacrifice… wasn’t dead yet. It seemed to have proved remarkably adept at being hanged without being dead.
The Krim-device had reached the stage of being willing to kill the life-source without a shred of the Ur-tradition—a dangerous thing.
Unfortunately, Odin was resisting. Actually, he was giving orders. That was confusing to the machine-mind. It had been build to serve the Krim. Service was its purpose. But was this Odin becoming Krim? Willful and foolish, yes. But so were the Krim.