PYRAMID POWER – snippet 50:
“So now we need to know what you plan, Jerry,” said Loki, once they returned to Ran’s cliff dwelling. “After all, you have now received two of the perceived sources of wisdom in the Norse world. You should be, if not a match for Odin, at least able to see through some of his strategies.”
“Yes,” rumbled Thor. “I’ve heard Loki’s side of the story. There is some truth in what he says. Actually, to be fair, everything I’ve looked closely at proved to be true. Not polite, but true. Odin bespelled Loki and Sigyn’s son Vali—a blameless boy—and thereby killed their son Narfi. That calls for a blood-price. Loki has put that price as Odin’s own life. Many of us, myself among them, played a part in Loki’s capture. Odin, Heimdall and Skadi imprisoned Loki for what Odin told us it was for the benefit of all. Odin was always too good at talking us into doing things for his benefit.”
Loki snorted. “And he was very good at telling us we would not understand his reasons for doing them, because they were high matters which only he could understand.”
“It’s always a mistake to hand over too much thinking to someone else,” said Liz. She nudged Thrúd. “Especially men.”
Thor’s daughter giggled.
Jerry rubbed his brow. “Wisdom is maybe the wrong word for what I’ve acquired. Or rather maybe it is the right word, but we understand it wrongly. We all drank from the well. I didn’t mean to, but I swallowed enough.”
Lamont held out his hands. “And I can’t say it gave me any insights into how to treat Marie’s cancer or that it made Tolly and Ty any older or wiser.”
“If I have my geography right, Mirmir’s well is one of the deepest places in this Ur-universe. You’ve got to understand the symbolism here. The water in Mirmir’s well has passed through every place in this world, filtering ever downwards. By the laws of contagion it’s therefore still part of all the things it has passed through. You were drinking in the land… I suspect you would find it very hard to get lost, or starve now. You wouldn’t know precisely how you knew, but you’d know.”
“Great. Really useful,” said Lamont. “Especially to someone wanting to find his wife, and cure her. Not to mention organizing a great apocalyptic battle.”
Jerry raised an eyebrow. “If you think about it, Lamont, it at least would help you find her. And to a general it should be priceless.”
“But how does it help us to capture Odin? We should have struck when he was at Mirmir’s well,” said Thor, cheerfully ignoring the fact that they had been vastly outnumbered.
Counting, Jerry suspected, was not one of Thor’s strengths. Or perhaps his strength lay in the fact that he didn’t count, before he got into a fight.
Jerry tugged his straggly little goatee-beard. “I need to think about it. Asgard’s defenses are designed to keep out frost and mountain giants. If I recall rightly, it is the flood caused by Jörmungand and the fire caused by Surt, which destroys the world at Ragnarok.”
“Surt and the sons of Muspel did figure in my plans,” admitted Loki. “An alliance of convenience against a common enemy, as it were.”
“A mistake,” rumbled Thor. “We’ve got a sort of common background with the frost and mountain giants. We’ve married them, had them live amongst us, like Loki, been friends with some like Ægir, and Grid, fought with them, wandered their lands. We share much of the same opinions and attitudes. The South and East are closed lands. Muspel and Surt’s dominions have an ancient enmity with the Vanir, but no common blood or traditions.”
Jerry was surprised by the perspicacity of Thor’s analysis. “Yes, culture,” he said knowledgeably. “You know why Americans stir the honey into their tea clockwise, and South Africans like Liz, do so counter-clockwise?”
“What is clockwise?” asked Thor.
Jerry demonstrated with a twirling finger. “Like this. Counter-clockwise is like that.”
Thor thought hard. “To symbolize the movement of the whirlpool… but then why the other way?”
“Coriolis force!” said Emmitt. “It goes the other way in the southern hemisphere.”
“Nope,” said Jerry. “To dissolve the honey and make the tea sweet.”
Loki cracked up. Liz scowled. Thor was still standing and tugging at his beard. “So: what you are saying is that we may do things entirely differently for the same reason? That despite our differences we have similar needs?”
“I suppose that’s true. But what I was saying was that sometimes the superficiality of culture and tradition stop us thinking about things clearly and differently. They set our patterns of thought and hide the underlying truth. We come from outside your culture without that baggage. Maybe we can find the right answers.”
“And there I thought that you had just found an opportunity to make a dumb joke,” said Liz. “How I maligned you.”
“Well, that too,” admitted Jerry, grinning. “But seriously, I need more information, preferably inside information about Asgard, and about what Odin plans.”
“I have a spy. A very greedy spy and I am nearly out of his price,” admitted Liz. “One of Odin’s ravens, Hugin. He’s not the brightest, but he did tell us that you were being taken to Mirmir’s well.”
“What do you bribe him with? Roadkill?” asked Jerry.
“Sort of,” said Liz. “You know how all our American stuff changed to being whatever was contemporaneous here?”
Jerry nodded. “It at least has to be within the framework of reference for the Ur-universe.”
“Well, I had a large box of those multi-flavored jelly beans. I bought them for Lamont and Marie’s kids, not just because we don’t get them in South Africa,” she said defensively. “And one of the flavors they changed to is something quite gross, but Hugin regards it as a sort of gastronomic heroin. But I only have one left.”
Loki coughed. “Ran, dear. Would there be any chance of using Grotti’s hand-mill?”
The giantess who had been quietly listening nodded. “If you are careful.” She got up and walked out.
“A grotty handmill?” Liz asked.
“As I remember the story,” Jerry said, “Some king of Denmark bought the mill and two giant slave-girls. The mill would grind out whatever you told it to. So he made it grind gold, but he did not give the slave-girls any rest so they ground out a hoard of Vikings.”
“Mysing’s horde,” said Loki. “A terrible menace.”
“And Mysing set the slave-girls to grinding salt,” said Thor.
“Salt?” Liz looked puzzled.
Jerry grinned. “It was very precious in those days. It was the chief preservative before we had deep freezes, Liz.”
“True. We still salt tons of fish on the west coast in South Africa.”
“And in those days the sea itself was not salty,” explained Thor. “So Mysing made them grind salt.”
“But once again he neglected to give them rest,” said Loki, in a sing-song voice. “So they ground faster and faster until Mysing’s ships sank under the weight of the salt, and they went on churning the wheels in a whirlpool, spilling salt into the sea.”
“That’s labor activism!” said Liz. “So what happened next?”
Loki shrugged. “The giantesses Fenja and Menja fell into Ran’s embrace, which is what happens if you cling onto a millstone in the open ocean. The stones stopped turning before the sea became solid salt, and the stones found their way into Ran’s net, as all the treasures lost under the sea do.”
Ran came back carrying two enormous millstones linked with a rusty contraption.
“And here I thought I’d said goodbye to rusted bolts forever,” said Lamont. “Give it to me. I’ll do my best to fix it.” He looked critically at the rust. “No guarantees, though.”
“Lamont, if anyone can fix it, it’ll be you,” said Liz.
“Flattery gets you time sanding and oiling.” Lamont tried to pick it up, and failed. “And I’ll need some help from Thor and his belt of strength to carry it to the workshop.”
Lamont restored the handmill to working order with some patience, a lot of swearing, more oil, and a grave shortage of Miles Davis to listen to. It was the latter he complained about most. “Unfortunately, I didn’t find any giantess attached to it to restore. And the idea was plainly that with the heavy wheels inertia would keep them turning. But trust me, starting them is not going to be easy.”
“A job for you and I, Papa,” said Thrúd.
Thor looked alarmed. “It’s hardly a job for a warrior. Or even a male, working a mill-stone.”
Liz prodded him in the kidneys. “The times they are a changing.”
“And not always for the better,” Thor grumbled, taking the handle.
“Consider it an opportunity to get in touch with your feminine side, which every artist needs to do,” said Liz. “You need it for your Ikabena skills to flourish. And if you need more help with it I’m sure I can find you a mop.”
Thor strained to look over his shoulder.
“What are you doing?” asked Thrúd
“Trying to look at my back,” answered Thor.
“Well, I’ve seen my front,” explained Thor, “And that’s not the feminine side of me. It must be in the middle of my back where I can’t reach.”
For someone without a feminine back-side he churned the wheel very effectively. Perhaps he had one after all.
“It seems to have made them in all the flavors,” said Liz, inspecting some of the jelly beans. They’d made an enormous pile—about thirty yards wide—and they’d barely set the wheels spinning.
“That’s a relief,” said Loki, “as you said the ones that the ravens liked were revolting, and you have enough here for bribes for half the ravens in Midgard.” He picked up one of the beans. “What are the other flavors like?”
“Some of them are delicious. Lamont, lucky fellow, got Arctic cloudberry.”
Loki put the jelly bean into his mouth, and chewed. Then, nodded appreciatively. “Very good, these. This one is like fine rakfisk. Delicious! So what do the revolting ones taste like?”
It was all a question of what you were used to and had been brought up with, Liz supposed. But she decided it would be wise to avoid answering Loki’s question. “Well, we have bribes aplenty. I think I probably have provisions for an army.”