I have decided that a themed collection I am putting together is too short. So I decided to dip into Norse myth (well, I have a fascination for many things Norse) and expand on one of the tales told therein, treating the rather brief synopsis we have of the story as the outline for a more fleshed-out tale.
So here’s the opening. It is, perhaps, not how it happened but rather one way it might have happened.
Sleet fell in slants from the iron-gray sky. The barest hint of carmine indicated where the sun neared the western horizon.
The two-wheeled cart, drawn by two enormous goats, rumbled to a stop in the lee of a hill. The larger of the cart’s two occupants shifted the reins to one hand and twisted to look at the young man who trotted nimbly behind the cart.
“Thjalfi,” the burly one said, “find us shelter. The weather is worsening.”
The young man stopped and bowed. “At once, master.”
As the young man dashed off, the smaller of the cart’s occupants hopped to the ground. He stretched.
“Why do you insist on using that thing, Thor,” the smaller said. “A horse would be more comfortable.”
The burly one, Thor, laughed. “It is what people expect. I am the charioteer.”
“Yes, yes,” the other said. “And when the goat-drawn chariot approaches with hoof beats like thunder, all know it is Thor who rides. Have you thought that when you journey in Jotunheim, that perhaps it might be a good idea not to let everyone know that it is Thor who approaches? Could you find some wit in that skull of yours for once?”
“Why, Loki,” Thor said. “Do you fear your kin might give you cold reception?”
Loki snorted. “I have lived among the As for how long now? I don’t think even my own mother would recognize me as Jotun now.”
Before Thor could respond, Thjalfi returned. “Master?”
“There is a cave to the left of our track but not far, large enough for us all, with enough overhang we can build a fire and…” He cast a sideways glance at the goats.
Thor chuckled. “Well done, lad. Lead on.” He looked down at Loki. “Will you ride or do you prefer to walk?”
“Fine. Fine.” Loki put a hand on the rail of the cart and lightly vaulted up onto it.
“Lead, Thjalfi,” Thor said. “Tanngrisnir, Tanngnjóstr, on.”
Thjalfi was as good as his word. They soon came to the yawning entrance to a cave, barely visible in the gloom.
Thor pulled the cart up to the entrance and stopped. The opening was low. Thor would need to stoop to enter. But it was large enough to hold the three of them and the interior was dry.
“This will do.” Thor hopped off the back of the cart. He removed the massive hammer from where it hung at his belt. “Bring firewood.”
Thjalfi bowed before turning and speeding off into the gathering darkness.
With measured blows, Thor struck each of the goats once in the head. Long practice let him measure the force and location of the blow, just enough to kill the goat from shock without cracking bone.
By the time Thjalfi returned with an armload of wood Thor had the two goats dressed and skinned and was carving chunks of meat from the best parts.
“Uncle Fox,” Thor said with a grin up at Loki. Fire is your province, I believe.”
Loki snorted. “Just because the similarity of name does not mean that I am a fire god.”
Thor paused in his carving. “Can you start the fire or not?”
“Of course I can start the fire. I’m just saying…”
Thor held up his hands. “Peace. Peace.”
Loki closed his mouth and looked toward Thor, not directly into his eyes, but close. Thor followed the direction of his gaze to his own right hand, still holding the knife that dripped blood, spoiling the peaceful nature of his gesture. He laughed.
“Please, Uncle, if you would start the fire.”
“Very well, nephew.”
Thor flipped the knife in the air and caught it be the blade. He held the grip toward Thjalfi. “Continue the butchering while I inspect our shelter.”
Thor started to turn toward the mouth of the cave then paused and looked back. “And, Thjalfi?”
Thor tapped his thigh with one finger and cocked his head to the side.
“No, master. I will be carefull.”
Thor grinned and turned back to the cave. It was, perhaps, unkind of him to continue to tease the boy for that long ago incident but Thjalfi took the teasing with a good heart. While Thjalfi’s affrontery of breaking the goat’s thighbone to get to the marrow had earned him much more severe punishment than being made Thor’s bond servant, Thor liked the lad. The arrangement had worked well for both of them. Bilskirnir was a far better dwelling than the peasants cottage and his work for Thor, relying mainly on his fleetness of foot, was far lighter than guiding a team of oxen plowing a field.
Then there were the apples, why Thjalfi remained but a lad after so many years.
Thor crouched and walked into the cave, his hammer loose in his hand. If any creature made its dwelling here, he was best fit to deal with it. A short way into the cave the top drooped until the only opening was a narrow crack at the bottom, too narrow for even Thjalfi to pass through. Loki might take a form that could pass, but Thor decided that nothing else that could endanger them could lie beyond.
He backed out of the cave to find Loki had kindled a modest fire over which Thjalfi had propped spits of roasting goat meat.