PYRAMID POWER – snippet 15:
“Dashing through the snow,
On a two goat open sleigh,
Over rocks and bumps we go,
Shivering all the way.
Oh what fun it is to ride
On a two goat open sl—”
A particularly large bump knocked the breath out of Liz. Lamont didn’t know if he should be relieved or not. Liz was to singing what Pavarotti was to the construction industry.
But at least she’d made Ella laugh. His little girl was troubled. She’d had a bad night. Dreams about, not surprisingly, her twin. Well, Lamont would have had a bad night himself if he hadn’t been too exhausted. There was enough to worry about.
Looking at Liz, he realized that exhaustion or not, the blond Amazon had had a bad night too. She was more upset and worried about Jerry than she was ready to let on, and there was not a thing she could do about it. It was anyone’s guess as to where he was. Privately, Lamont knew, there was a damn good chance his corpse was lying on a slab back in Chicago. Privately too, he was glad to be here, doing something, rather than hanging around Chicago, waiting for Marie’s condition to worsen. The downside was Tina not being here… or maybe the other kids being here. The Mythworlds were dangerous places. And he’d have to look after them, now that his vaunted luck had run dry.
Just how dangerous it was, was suddenly apparent as the sled slewed sideways and spilled them all into the snow. One of the PSA agents almost vanished into a snow drift. It took his partner two minutes to help him get out.
The figure rising from the snow and towering over them looked seriously unimpressed at having had two goats run onto his face. “Can’t a body sleep in peace?” he said, in a gravel-crusher grumble. He peered shortsightedly at them as he hauled his fist back.
Thor stood up and shook the snow out of his beard. “Why do you sleep in the middle of the road, Hrímner?” he bellowed.
The giant paused. Squinted. Blinked and lowered his fist. “Because it is flatter than sleeping on the rocks?” he answered.
“I should knock your head off for that,” said Thor crossly.
“There’s no need to be so hasty!” said the giant. “It’s not often that I get guests riding over my face. Let’s have a bite and something to drink, eh?”
Something about the way he said it started danger signals in Lamont’s mind. The giant obviously didn’t want to fight with Thor, who had a certain reputation. But Thor lacked some of his tools of the trade—that strength belt and his famous hammer. And he’d gone to seed a bit. Lamont was sure by the way the giant said “drink” that he knew all about that. If he’d had any doubts, they were erased by the way the giant opened the huge flask and shook it so that the smell of alcohol and honey washed over them like a tide.
Thor made a weak noise and reached out for it. But the giant and the Æsir had failed to factor Lamont’s wife into the equation. Lamont had to grin. A few people had made that mistake before. A couple of them even lived.
“You stop that right now!” Marie hollered at Thor, stepping between them. “And you, put that away, before I put it away for you.”
The giant blinked myopically at her. “Are you refusing my hospitality?”
“Yeah—and you know why, too.” Marie planted her hands on her hips and stared up at him.
The giant looked at her, and then at Thor, and then more carefully at her, and then at Thor, whose reaching hand was still weakly wavering. “Hey, Öku-Thor, where is Mjöllnir? And who is this woman who looks like a Svartalfar, but smells like one of those Midgard worms?”
“You mind your language, motherfucker,” snapped Marie. “And take that booze away. Or do I have to make you?”
“Do you wish to refuse my hospitality and fight?” Hrímner peered at more closely still. He was at least thirty feet tall. The size of a double story house.
“If that’s what it takes,” said Marie, seeming unaware of her husband and daughter trying to haul her off in opposite directions.
“It’ll have to be a duel of wits,” said Thor, rubbing his temple. “It wouldn’t be fair and I would have to deal with you myself otherwise, Hrímner.”
The giant looked thoughtful and a little wary. “Three questions then. I’m not Alvis.”
By the looks of it Thor was managing to keep a straight face with difficulty. “I wondered if you’d heard about that. Maybe you should just let us pass,” he said, appearing to go off into a paroxysm of coughing.
“If you’re absolutely sure you don’t want a little drink for that cough,” said Hrímner, “I suppose I could just do that.”
Thor hauled the sleigh back onto its runners and nodded, keeping his head down.
“I think that sounds quite wise,” said Lamont, bodily lifting Marie and putting her onto the sleigh before she did any more insane things.
“Right,” agreed Hrímner. “You black elves are tricksy ones. Is that how you got it right, Thor?”
Thor, coughing so much his shoulders shook, nodded, and got back on the sleigh. “Tanngnjóst. Tanngrisnir. Away, Bilskríner,” he managed to croak. The goats hauled them away from the giant, at a speed that Lamont felt was not fast enough.
When they were a good hundred yards off, Lamont turned on the red faced Thor, who was doing a good imitation of a fat walrus having an epileptic fit. “What was that all about?”
Thor’s laughter nearly started several avalanches on the surrounding hills. When he eventually managed to speak it was pretty asthmatic. “I’m not the sharpest file in the box, but those frost giants…” He started laughing again.
“Will someone please tell me what is going on,” said Liz crossly.
“I think Thor just put one over that frost giant,” said Lamont, still holding Marie.
Thor nodded happily. “They have ice for brains. He never figured out that I wasn’t the one that tricked that smart-ass Alvis. My poor daughter Thrúd. She should never have agreed to it.”
Lamont could believe that Thor would never have managed to outwit any smart-ass. “So… um, who did trick this… Alvis?”
“And what did your daughter agree to?” asked Marie.
Thor smiled. “Gol-teeth was getting a little particular in his attentions to my little girl. He’s a real philanderer, that one! So she said she’d only entertain the advances of someone who could defeat her old man in a duel. That’s my girl! I hear it put off a fair number of Ás, including old one-eye. Then up comes this smart-ass black dwarf, ugly as sin—and he says he has come to take up the challenge for my daughter’s favor. Only since he is not the challenger, honor says that he gets to choose the weapons. And he chooses a battle of wits. A test of knowledge.”
Thor coughed. “It’s not exactly my strongest point, I reckon Odin put him up to it, because who else would have thought of it?”
“So what did you do?” asked Lamont.
Thor grinned. “The trickster stood in for me.”
“Loki, you mean,” said Emmitt. “I thought he was the bad guy.”
“Nah. Well, yes. But not on purpose, a lot of the time. He’s just… kind of heedless. And he loves making mischief, just to see what happens.” There was a troubled note in Thor’s voice.
“So what did he do?” asked Ty.
“Loki asked the dwarf a question as long as the Midgard serpent’s tail… and kept the smart-ass showing off until sun-up. Smart-ass turned to stone, then,” said Thor, cheerfully. “I have the little bastard’s head as an ornament. Thrúd likes to go and sit on his head from time-to-time. You’ll see it when we get to Bilskríner.”