PYRAMID POWER – snippet 42:
There was a knot, he noticed now, just above his head. That was how come he’d managed to hold so long. Doubtless it was there for just that reason—to prolong the agony. and letting the victim cling to life for a few extra minutes. Jerry stood there absorbing the situation for a while as the cloud broke, letting him look onto a vista of distant branches and still more distant nothingness. He took a deep breath, relishing being able to do so. “Maybe,” he said to the squirrel on the branch in front of him, “You’d like to tell me who you are, and just what is going on. I owe you my life. And I gather that Loki is involved.”
The squirrel snickered. “Loki is involved in most things, especially mischief, which is why I like him. I am Ratatosk, the drill-tooth, he who carries vicious words of hate between the eagle at the top of Yggdrasil and the serpent Nidhögg in Niflheim. It’s a job. And it stops them eating me, which is quite useful as both serpents and eagles like squirrel-meat.”
He looked at Jerry and narrowed his eyes. “Don’t get any ideas. I bite. And I have friends.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Jerry felt the rope-abrasions on his neck. “But what exactly am I doing here?”
“Looking stupid at the moment. By the way you’ve been dressed, I think you’re a stand-in for Odin. I reckon that he intends some quick change of roles, and to drop your body into the void of Ginnungagap. He will emerge as having been a sacrifice to himself, stabbed with his spear, and now with the wisdom of the dead and having lifted the hidden runes.”
“I think it is a kenning for stolen. Odin’s favorite pastime besides seducing maidens. I could like him if he was less self-important. Or if he hadn’t tried to catch and eat me.”
“I’m making a mental note not to do that,” said Jerry. “But is there really no way out of here? I mean if I am still here after nine days, I think our one-eyed friend will just pitch me into the void anyway.”
“Beat him at his own game. Odin’s a shape-shifter, if he wants to be. He’ll come along in disguise just after lunch, I’d guess, and wait for some cloud to come along to toss you over the edge. Then he’ll return heroically. But he’s expecting a body. You could toss him over the edge instead. That would be fun.”
“And very unlikely. If I recall right he has a spear that doesn’t miss. I’ll have been here for nine days with out food or water and my only weapon will be sore feet.”
“Gungnir the spear is a problem,” admitted Ratatosk. “Oh, well. Beat him to the punch. Come walking down at dawn on the ninth day. You might even get away, pretending to be him.”
It was an attractive idea, even if it did mean spending nine days standing on a tree-branch, pretending to hang. “It’s not going to work,” said Jerry regretfully. “I’ll be too far gone with thirst, even if I manage the starvation side. I haven’t got a supply of food or water.” He patted his pockets… and felt half an apple. “Except this.”
Ratatosk chittered his teeth. “That’ll help for the wound in your side anyway. And I can fetch you food and water. And even some extra clothes because it is cold here in branches with Fimbulwinter coming on. Count yourself lucky. The mist will let you sit down most of the time.”
Jerry, knowing he had eight and half more days, ate a small sliver of apple. It had a invigorating and rejuvenating effect on him. Not perhaps as much as if he’d eaten the whole thing, but enough to ease the pain of the spear stab and make the prospect of a nine day vigil with nothing but a malicious-tongued squirrel for company seem survivable. “Hey. We have to try,” he said. “Maybe you can teach me these runes. I know a few.”
“Maybe. And maybe I can be off about my business,” said Ratatosk. “Things to do, creatures to insult. The trouble is Nidhögg and the eagle are both lamebrains. I have to strain my intellect to add a bit of spice and malice to the messages, or they’d both have got bored years ago and eaten me. I’ll strip some corpses for warm gear for you.”
It wasn’t quite what Jerry would have chosen as a wardrobe, but the present owners didn’t really have much use for them. And even with the hat and cloak and Skadi’s slightly too large boots it was going to be very cold on this branch. Cold and a long time in which to do nothing, without any reading matter. No wonder Odin had stolen runes and talked to the hanged corpses.
It would give him some time to do some thinking, he supposed. Thinking of just what the hell Liz had been up to in Odin’s feasting-hall for starters. There was nothing formal between them… really. Had she perhaps slipped into the spell of this place and it’s role-play and beliefs? Jerry desperately wanted to believe that she had some reason for passionately kissing a Norse god with gold teeth and a big horn, besides the obvious probability.
The other thing he could think about was how they could get home. That was possibly even harder to unravel, but it didn’t occupy as much of his mind—proving, against all probabilities, that academics can be human too.
“Word for you on that lover of yours from Ratatosk via Nidhögg,” said Loki.
Liz turned eagerly. Loki held up a calming hand. “He’s in one piece. But reaching him, now, would be nearly impossible. He’s going to try to escape at the end of the nine days. Nothing much we can do for him now. However, if your raven informant is right… when Odin ventures on Mirmir’s well, we’ll have him.”
Loki made a face. “You do realize that this means that Odin is unlikely to trade your man for any treasure? We’ll have to seize him from them. It does leave us with a useful horn.”
Liz sighed. “So where is this well?”
“It is at the root of Yggdrasil that spreads itself deep into the lands of the frost giants. We can travel there at will, whereas the place where your Jerry is now is not one that we could reach. Odin will travel with some force, but we will be there before him.”
“Just so long as Jerry doesn’t find himself as the meat in the sandwich.”
“What is a sandwich?” asked Loki.