PYRAMID POWER – snippet 6:



            Liz had been trying to come to terms with them saying anything but “Nevermore,” herself. She’d already worked out that they weren’t speaking English, but that she was understanding them. “I know,” she said quietly. “Now, for a tasty piece of dragon-heart, they might like to explain.”


            Hugin bobbed his head forward. But Munin—the one on the left—clacked his beak angrily. “You’re not supposed to taste the hot blood.”


            “Why not? The human is blond, and it is offering us some,” said Hugin eagerly, hopping from one foot to the other.


            “Because it is not Sigurd the Dragon-slayer, the killer of Fafnir the Great. He’s the one with the sword and the ice-brew. Go and peck that stuff out of his hand. I’ll chase off these thralls.”


            “No chance,” said Hugin. “If that’s Sigurd, then that sword is Gram. I might not be you, but I remember that much. I don’t want to be half a raven. You do it. I’ll chase the thralls. Peck their eyes out.”


            “Emmitt, pick up a rock,” said Liz, doing it herself. “If one of these dumb birds even takes to the wing, I’ll have to show you how to pluck ravens for roasting.”


            She reached into her bag and pulled out a pair of shades, and passed them to the boy, who now had a rock in his hand. She perched her reading glasses on her nose.


            “How straight and how hard do you throw, Emmitt? I killed a crow or two, from a lot further off than this.” She noticed that Lamont had put down the spade and picked up a rock too. Emmitt might look a bit sulky, but like Lamont the boy was quick on the uptake. “I practice my pitching on sparrows, Liz. I never miss.” He hefted the rock, as if gauging it for a throw. “You get the one on the right. I’ll kill the left hand one.”


            This boy was good. He sounded convincing too. The attitude came through.


            Munin squawked indignantly. “You’re not supposed to do that! We’ll tell Odin.”


            Sigurd started singing again. Liz reflected that obscene songs hadn’t changed much, and then realized that she could understand him.


            “If you live that long,” said Emmitt disdainfully.


            “And, even if we let you live, Odin is going to really like the fact that you’ve botched it,” said Liz, keeping her voice calm and even. “So you might as well talk to us and tell us what’s going on here. Maybe we can reach a deal. In the meanwhile, Lamont, you all need to have a taste of this heart. It does translation magic.”


            “You can’t do that!” squawked Munin. He was definitely both the more intelligent and the more conservative of the two.


            “Why not?” said Liz.


            “Because Sigurd is supposed to,” said the raven.


            “We’ll leave him some,” said Emmitt.


            “But… he’s supposed to eat all of it,” protested the raven. Lamont came forward with one of the PSA agent’s rather useless short swords and sliced a piece off. Sigurd concentrated on squeezing the last few drops out of the skin he’d just drained and swayed out past them to relieve himself of some of his one-man party.


            “And then drink Regin’s blood,” the raven concluded.


            Liz shuddered. “He’s welcome to that. All of it. You Norse are so sweet. We just need a bit of translation skill and we’ll happily get out of here, okay?”


            “I suppose it’ll still work,” said Hugin, as Lamont gingerly tasted a bit of the heart.


            Marie was far more pragmatic when she was told what to do. She closed her eyes and ate it.


            “I don’t see why not,” said Munin. “A drop of dragon’s blood does the trick.”


            Marie blinked at the raven. “Lamont,” she said. “You hear what I hear?”


            He nodded. “Yeah.”


            “Cut another piece for the kids. Quickly now, before that blond lunk comes back.”


            “I don’t want to eat that, mama,” protested Ella, in girlish horror.


            “Just close your eyes and pretend it’s medicine, which is what it is,” said Marie. She pointed a finger at the PSA men. “You, fat ass, you and your friend better get a piece too.”


            Ty and Tolly tried to outdo each other with he-man noises of enjoyment, and Ella gagged on her fragment.


            “I’m a vegetarian,” protested one of the PSA agents.


            That was nearly too much for Liz, and, she noticed, for the ravens. They nearly fell off their ledge.


            “Caw! Vegetables….Caw. Caw. Caw.”


            Back on Earth in the United States, there was no reason why you couldn’t be a PSA operative and a vegetarian—or a homicidal maniac, for that matter. But to the Norse, Liz was willing to bet, it was as funny as it must have been to the Zulu the first time they encountered the idea. She wandered what the word “vegetarian” translated into. By the way the ravens were behaving, it was really bizarre. Liz knew from the farm the idea was still a joke to the rural people whose life centered on cattle herding. Meat was as much of a part of their life as Kleenex wasn’t.


            “Shut up,” growled Lamont. “It’s part of your cover. Put some in your mouth and pretend.”


            The agent looked pale, but took the piece of hot meat. Put it to his face. Seemed to be chewing.