PYRAMID POWER – snippet 10:
“Trolls don’t really approve of the wheel,” said Thor, gloomily. “They’re very conservative. They think the horse is too much progress and a bad thing, except as dinner.”
“They make metal things,” said Lamont, gesturing with the smoky torch he was carrying. Fortunately they’d found a supply of pitch-soaked torches early on. “This is a smithy, obviously enough. Those are chains. Those are tools…”
“They’re capable enough craftsmen,” said Thor. “Not a patch on the dwarves, of course. But they have tools.”
“For making weapons and things to imprison people,” said Liz.
Thor blinked. “That and brewing kettles, naturally, woman. What did you expect? Plows?” He seemed to find the idea funny.
Lamont shook his head. “Some people would find plows more useful. Me, for one. I could make you a cart here, but I think it would take too much time.”
“What about a sled?” asked Liz, looking thoughtful.
“Not enough snow,” said Marie. She was sounding tired and in pain again.
Liz wagged her hand back and forth. “That’s not really a problem. In South Africa all the rural people use sleds. And most of South Africa doesn’t see much snow. They use oxen to drag sleds made out of a fork of a big tree.”
“There is much snow between here and Asgard,” said Thor, thoughtfully. “If we go west.”
“And it was snowing when we came in, Ma,” pointed out Ella. “Quite hard, remember.”
“I guess. But we still need to eat and stay warm. If it is snowing, it’s no weather for going out.”
“But soon enough Gerriodur’s troll castle must freeze. The fires die without the trolls to feed and stoke them,” said Thor. “While, ahem, my Bilskínir is not as well maintained as it used to be, Asgard is warmer, or it least it will be until the Time.”
“We could pick a room, close it off, and at least wait until morning.”
“This one would be good, but we still need food.”
Lamont turned on Stephens. “What’s in the pack?”
Of the two surviving agents he was the only one who still had his “authentic Greek leather bag.”
The vegetarian agent looked wary.
“It’s that or goat. Nice meaty goat,” said Liz cheerfully. “And if we have to eat it, you will.”
Agent Stephens blenched. “I do have some K-rations. And some Ramen noodles.”
Liz slapped her head and burrowed into her own bag. “I forgot. I have some candy bars I picked up for the kids when I heard you were coming.” She blushed slightly. “And a box of multi-flavored jelly beans. Let’s see what the transition to this place has done to those.”
“Transition…” said the agent, frowning.
“Yep.” said Lamont. “In case you hadn’t noticed, it affected the assembly mechanism on your weapons. I reckon you’ll find that they’re still threaded. The threads would just match the engineering skills of the Norse. In other words, as good as a blacksmith working them by hand could make. You’ll find the same has happened to your other toys. The paratroopers found that their stainless steel had suddenly started rusting.”
Liz nodded. “And my lighter, which used a flint—which the Greeks knew—and lighter fluid, which they didn’t. It changed too. The flint part stayed the same, but the lighter fluid became moth-ball smelling stuff. Jerry said naphtha was the basis of some flamethrower fuel that they used to call Greek fire.”
The agent dug into his pack hurriedly. His K-rations had become hard biscuit. The ramen… a sort of coarse-ground meal.
Thor sniffed it curiously. “Barley. We can make gruel out of it. Some goat soup maybe? That’d be easy on my digestion.”
Liz’s candy bars were some sort of honey and nut confection. Shared out, you could almost see the lightening of mood and the improvement in attitude among the snatchees, as the sugars hit their bloodstreams. Liz still wanted to get on and search this place thoroughly to see if Jerry might be hiding somewhere. Now, after one of the candy bars and one of the agent’s hard biscuits—which had a definite tang of pork-fat, to Stephens’ distress—getting the search organized and re-motivated was easier. Braving the rat-infested kitchen was not so daunting, even if it was just as smelly.
All they found, however, was a cleanable small cauldron—and, in an antechamber, three brace of rock ptarmigan, still with the feathers on. And some salt that didn’t seem too dirty.
“Do you think it’ll be all right?” asked Emmitt, looking at the grayish stuff doubtfully.
Liz grinned. “Possibly. Salt kills most bacteria. Mind you, any self-respecting bacteria would have left a while back.”
But the best find was a store-room full of furs, carefully packed and baled.
“Trading stuffs,” said Thor knowledgably, inspecting it.. “Trolls are good hunters. Good loot.”
“Warm loot,” said Marie. “And we’ll need it.”
Thor pointed at the two agents. “You could make them trousers. Good fur trousers.”
But of Jerry there was no sign. And it was now completely dark and snowing hard outside the troll-castle. Reluctantly, Liz had to admit that now was not the time to be venturing out, not to look for Jerry or even to avoid goat-dinner. So they retreated on the forge, and set about preparing a supper and keeping the place warm. Having bales of ermine helped, as did a plentiful supply of coals that they found in the smithy.
“Right,” said Liz. “I suppose I am the only person who has ever plucked and drawn a game bird. You two”—she singled out Tolly and Ty who were investigating a rack of sharp implements—”come. You’re about to learn how to do something quite revolting which will delight you.”
That was enough to get their co-operation. And it would get her out of sewing. Or, hopefully, cooking. She’d rebelled early against learning anything about either art. The only real worry was that it might not get her out of finding out just what multi-flavored jelly beans turned into in a Norse context.
For the next hour it was quite a happy little domestic scene. Three people sewing together with rough thongs enough furs to bankrupt a royal house, and give the entire “beauty without cruelty” movement collective apoplexy. Well, if they’d been here, the ladies would just have had to come to terms with reality. In that period of history, fur equated with warmth and everyone wore them. And, cruelty or not, the garments that were being roughly stitched with thongs weren’t beautiful anyway. But they would be warm.
Lamont was dividing his attention between supervising Agent Stephens’ attempts at sawing and Agent Bott’s attempts at cooking. Neither were going to win any prizes. Thor was bemusedly stirring barley gruel and also keeping a weather eye on Agent Bott trying to grill birds.
Liz and her team were trying their hand at nailing a platform of riven oak together, using crude iron nails they’d found. And Liz was trying hard not to throw up at the lingering taste of one of the jelly beans she’d tried, too incautiously. What it had turned into, in Norse terms, didn’t bear thinking about. At a guess it had been the same dirty trick some Swedish fisheries scientists had tried on her in repayment for the mampoer trick she’d played on them. The memory of a rakfisk flavor bean would remain with her for always. Why couldn’t she have gotten arctic cloudberry, like Lamont? Still, even rakfisk was better than whatever flavor Agent Stephens had got. He had thrown up.
The plan—if they could get through the night without Thor going into the DTs—was to proceed to this Bilskírir of his in the morning on the sled they were constructing. Despite Lamont’s obsession with puns and useless information, he was a really good maintenance man when he’d wanted to be. The man was genuinely good with his hands.