From: The Hordes of Chanakra

A scene from my fantasy novel, The Hordes of Chanakra:


“Is everything ready?” Kreg asked Shillond as he pulled brush to block the entrance to the small cave.  They had been fortunate in finding the cave.  It offered a place to hide from the soldiers searching for them.

The cave mouth sat halfway up a large hill.  It opened onto a small shelf of level ground above a steep slope of loose, broken rock.

“Ready enough,” Shillond said. “I’ll have to awaken Kaila in order to make the tests.” He had renewed the sleeping spell on her several times over the past two days. “Stand ready.  She is likely to be violent and I am unsure whether her bonds will restrain her.”

“Cripes, if we had any more rope to use…”

“But we don’t.” Such as they had, they had stolen from farmyards in the moonless hours of the night. “Be alert.  I will begin.”

Shillond began to chant.  In a few seconds Kaila’s eyes flew open.  They flashed with pure hatred, a look so grim as to make her usual expression seem positively cheerful.  Her muscles bulged.  The ropes creaked under the strain, but held.  Barely.  Kreg shuddered before Kaila’s stare as Shillond finished the spell.

“We are lucky.” Shillond turned to Kreg. “It is a compulsion rather than a possession.  Unfortunately, it is a greater compulsion rather than a lesser.”

“Which means?”

“I should be able to break it.” Shillond shook his head. “It will be difficult.  Perhaps you should wait outside.”

“Not meant for the eyes of us mortal types, huh?” Kreg regretted the jest at the pain in Shillond’s eyes.  He held up a hand. “Sorry.  I’ll go.”

“Do not reenter the cave,” Shillond said. “That would break the wards and release forces you cannot imagine.”

Kreg thought about the weapons of his own world and thought he could imagine more than Shillond thought.  He nodded and backed out of the cave’s small opening.

Outside, Kreg sat and waited.  In the distance he could see the light of the army’s watchfires, pinpricks of light in the darkness.  Shillond had said that such an army as had been encamped before the castle was not raised in a day, but two days had seen the apparent raising of an even larger army.  Kreg did not doubt that the army was on its way to reinforce the forces attacking Aerioch.

Seeing the apparent size of the army, Kreg frowned.  Shillond had explained that Schah was a small country, not in area but in population.  Although the land area was similar to that of either Aerioch or Shendar the land of Schah was much drier.  As a result, population was sparser.

The armies they had been fielding numbered hosts larger than Schah’s entire population and, judging by the army that was massing below, there did not seem to be any end to them.  Those people had to come from somewhere, but where?  Kreg had suggested Chanakra along with the wizards, but Shillond had said that Chanakra was an even smaller country than Schah.

So lost in thought was Kreg that he nearly missed noting that several of the watchfires were moving.  They also flickered a bit much for watchfires seen at a distance.

Kreg jumped to his feet.  Those were not watchfires.  Those were torches, and they were moving closer.

“Shillond!” Kreg drew his sword. “We’ve got company!”

Kreg’s gaze flitted from shadow, to rock, to twisted bush hoping to find something with which to stave off the attack.  He saw nothing.  First, sticking his sword point first in the ground he gripped his bow, nocked an arrow, and estimated a target under one of the torches.  He loosed and the arrow disappeared in the darkness.  A moment later a cry of pain rewarded Kreg and the torch fell to the ground.  He loosed another arrow after the first but this one missed.

Kreg sent arrow after arrow speeding into the approaching band.  Twenty arrows he loosed.  Seven men fell, dead or wounded.  At least ten more were still approaching.  They had reached the base of the slope and would have to scramble up it to reach Kreg.

Kreg plucked his sword from the ground and drew himself to his full height. “Come on, you bastards!  I may die tonight, but I’ll take a few of you with me.”

He stood at the edge of the slope where he would have solid footing while the men approaching him would still be on the scree.

The first of the men arrived.  Kreg thrust, catching the man through the throat as he scrambled for footing on the loose rocks.  After parrying the next man’s attack, Kreg drove back with a riposte as the third began to clamber to the side in an effort to outflank Kreg.  He sliced past the second’s guard and sidestepped to deal with the third.  Numbers four and five split up, working Kreg between them.

Kreg managed to drop the third just as the larger of the two moons chose to peak from behind a cloud and bathe the scene in a ruddy glow.  He turned to face four, unable to avoid leaving his back to five.  While Kreg dealt with four, he heard a shout behind him.  Something warm and wet thumped against his back, causing him to lose his balance.  As he stumbled, he threw out his arms for balance.  By chance rather than design, Kreg’s sword caught four in the ribs.  Four dropped.

Kreg turned to deal with the others and saw only bodies.  Over them stood Kaila, clad in buff tunic and high leather boots.  She returned his gaze with a grim smile.

“Again, I owe you thanks,” she said.


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When even the gods are at a loss, all they can offer is a spark of hope.

Kreg lived an ordinary life as a computer consultant–safe, secure…dull.  He was content, with his hobbies and a passion for history.

Thrice weekly judo classes and weekends at the archery range imagining he was at Agincourt or Crecy let him at least pretend to excitement in his life.

When Kreg saw a rape in progress he tried to be the hero and was struck from behind.  He woke in a world he had never imagined, a world of blood and pain, a world that seemed mired in the Middle Ages.  Trapped and despairing he met and befriended the rough swordsmistress Kaila and her wizardly father.  With new friends came new foes, a horde that poured from the small nation next door in seemingly endless numbers that threatened everything his new friends cared about.

Now, Kreg was in a race against time to find the source of this horde, and to stop it before everything he had come to care about ended in fire and death.

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What are they teaching in schools?

A couple of incidents from several years ago.

The first from 2012 when my daughter was in 3rd grade (from my old blog):

Had a little talk with my daughter, Athena.  On her recent report card one of the subjects was social studies and the particular topic was something like “governments are needed to provide services…”

Whoa.

So I asked my daughter what they were teaching her about government. She went into an example of a street sweeper and how it needs to be paid for by tax dollars.

This is her “take away” about the purpose of government?

Whoa^2.

So we had a little chat.  I explained to here that the people who created our country wrote down what they thought was the purpose of government and it went something like this:

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

We spent some time going over what that meant and then I went into some examples:  Police, catching “bad guys” who would harm others and, in so doing, deprive them of their rights.  This is a good and proper function of government.  Courts, allowing people an avenue to resolve disputes without turning them into feuds and shootouts (she came in with “or dagger fights”–that’s my girl).  Proper function of government.  The military, defending against attacks on America and Americans which would deprive us of our rights.  Proper function of government.

Some other things that people want government to do?  Not so much.

Look, I get that different people may have different ideas on what the “purpose of government” is, or should be.  But this country was founded on the principle I gave.  The Constitution was written with enumerated powers that are a pretty good fit to that purpose.  And while other folk are certainly at liberty to have different views on the matter, those are matters of philosophy rather than fact and it is not the job of the schools to dictate one true political philosophy and especially not to attempt to override the philosophy of the parents.

Next, in 2015 (6th grade) on the subject of religion.  Athena came home to me in tears, upset about what her teacher had said about the religion she believed at the time. (For context, I describe as an “Asatru leaning Agnostic”–I find appeal in the Asatru religion and use it to fill my own innate need for ritual and symbolism.  I figure the gods of Asatru don’t care whether I believe or not, only what I do and I can live with that without the hypocrisy of following a religion whose central tenet is belief when I don’t believe.)

This letter I wrote to her teacher explains the incident well enough:

Mr. [Athena’s 5th Grade Teacher],

I just had a talk with Athena that has me somewhat concerned and I’m hoping you can clarify things for me.

If I understand what she was saying (she was upset and teary and can be a bit hard to understand like that) you were discussing a book in class and the comment was made about Thor being from Greek mythology. Athena corrected that. Thor comes from Norse mythology. Athena knows this because she is Asatru. Asatru is a modern revival of historical Germanic paganism. It’s a real, although small, religion. The religion is officially recognized in Iceland and Asatru symbolism is permitted by the military and the VA for use on such things as military dogtags and headstones. (One of a veteran’s benefits is burial at government expense with a headstone also provided by the government.)

Now the concerning part was telling Athena that this was all fake and that Christianity was superior. She already feels isolated by being one of two non-Christians in her class and it does not help to have a figure of authority belittle her beliefs. If Athena misinterpreted what was actually said, please clarify what actually happened.

I have explained to Athena my own belief, as an agnostic. The Universe is a big place with room in it for a god or gods and I don’t know whether he, she, it, or they exist. But, the human animal has a need, bred into our genes, for ritual and symbolism. As a non-believer I think it would be quite hypocritical to find that ritual and symbolism in a system that, at its core, is about belief. You must believe this way. You must accept that premise. Instead, I find my ritual and symbolism in a system that does not care what you believe, but rather what you do. That you are honest, industrious, self-reliant, honorable, and so forth. And so I find Asatru a better fit to my lack of belief than Christianity or other monotheistic religions.

If my daughter goes beyond my lack of belief to actual belief, that is her prerogative. Asatru, at least, is completely at peace with modern science. Modern Asatruar that I know accept that the stories from the Norse Myth are stories told about the Gods and others to explain and inspire, not actual truth. No Asatruar are trying to get the story of Ymir taught in Earth Science class. They are not trying to get the tale of Heimdall and the origin of Thrall, Carl, and Jarl taught in Anthropology class. There is no reason that her belief should conflict to learning the lessons she needs to learn in school. Thus, there is no reason to belittle her belief.

Even if she brings up the subject response should be no more than, “that’s an interesting belief. Other people believe…” if even that.

That said, I’m hoping that all of the above was actually unnecessary and you can explain how Athena misinterpreted something leading to her concern and upset.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing your response soon.

The teacher either “corrected an extreme misunderstanding” or backpedaled furiously. Athena tells me he had a talk with her explaining that he certainly did not mean to belittle her beliefs and, since they were in a “fantasy” segment in their English and were talking about the Avengers movie and Thor he didn’t realize that it was an actual religion in question.

So I didn’t have to go all “papa bear” on him.

Now, as it happened, as Athena has gotten older, she is no longer a believer, following more my “Asatru leaning Agnostic” path and that’s fine.

The point I make here is that once again it is not the school’s job to undermine or override the religious beliefs of children and their parents.   Even in cases where the religion directly contradicts the class (the classic example is Young Earth Creationism in biology or Earth science class) there are ways to handle that without belittling the child:  “Yes, a lot of people believe that.  Scientists, however have come to different conclusions based on their studies and that’s the subject of this class.  There’s always the possibility that further study will lead to different conclusions, but this is their best understanding now.”

The legitimate purpose of public schools, if any*, is to teach our children skills.  It is not a legitimate purpose to indoctrinate them into particular belief contrary to that of the children’s parents.

*An argument can be made that by their very nature public schools funded by tax dollars are illegitimate.  Another argument can be made that at least at the state and local level, education is a valid use of tax dollars.  I can see validity from both points of view and it is not my intent to get into that discussion here.  We have them and are likely to continue to have them for the foreseeable future.  I start from that premise.

EU endorses GOP tax reform.

Okay, they didn’t word it that way, but their recent “complaint” sounds to me like an unqualified endorsement.  The complaint?  Get this.

The GOP tax plan will cause companies to flee Europe and return to the US.

The plan will cause companies to move operations to the US, creating jobs for American workers, creating more demand for American labor.  And in increase in demand invariably (this is really basic economics here) drives up the price meaning American workers, on balance, can be expected to be paid more. (Acme corporation can only get away with paying starvation wages so long as there isn’t a Bdnf corporation down the street that would love to have their skilled workers and is willing to pay a bit more to hire them away from Acme.)

More companies doing their business in the US rather than overseas is almost by definition growth in the US economy.  And economic growth means a larger base for the taxation that remains which offsets the reduced rate.

In short, what Europe is complaining about is that the tax reform will do exactly what the GOP promised for it.  The Democrats can scream about “the one percent” and “tax breaks for the rich” (tax break, as a percentage is actually mostly on the middle class, but they never let truth stop them, neither the Democrat politicians nor their cheering section in the major media). Meanwhile finance ministers in Europe fear not the claims of the Democrats, but that it will actually do what the GOP promised.

So what do they do?  Do they look at their own tax policies and step up to compete?  Nope.  They expect the US to hobble itself back down to their level.

Well, I’ve got news for them.  Donald Trump is President of the United States, not President of Europe.  He was elected to pursue the interests of the United States of America, not those of Europe, China, Brazil, Kenya, or anywhere else.  My Senators and Representatives were voted in to represent _my_ interests, not those of those other nations.  I’m more than willing to have the US work with other countries in mutually beneficial ways.  Mutually.  That means that we benefit as well.  If you (meaning the leaders of other countries) cannot deal with us on those terms, well, that’s your problem, not ours.

You know, there are a lot of people out there who keep trying to make the US more like Europe.  And yet, we’re the world’s sole surviving superpower.  We didn’t get that way by being like the rest of the world.

So instead of complaining when the US does something different, maybe you should consider being more like us?  Or if we’re really making a mistake (as you often claim), then let us.  You can always say “I told you so” later.

But I suspect the reason that folk in Europe keep “advising” us to do things differently is not because they think we are wrong, but because they fear we are right.

Memories. A Blast from the Past

When I was very young we would often visit my great grandmother’s house.  It was a big, two-story place in Portsmouth Virginia (where we lived, along with a lot of extended family.  Well, Portsmouth and Chesapeake).

I remember her baking biscuits from scratch.  She’d roll out the dough and use a glass to cut the rounds.  Instead of re-rolling the odds and ends and cutting more rounds she baked them “as is”.  These odd-shaped biscuits were called “goosie goosie ganders” (no idea why) and were for the kids (including me).

One memory that stands out dramatically from that period was the big (or so it seemed to me at the time) pot-bellied stove in the kitchen.  Oh, she had a gas range to cook on, but that pot-bellied stove provided heat and one could cook on it.

I want one.  I want one badly.

I remember how toasty warm that house was on cold winter nights (not entirely because of that pot-bellied stove, I have to admit).  I remember going there for the Christmas holidays.  I remember playing with the “cooties” game (not playing the game, just building the bugs). And, yes, that game is still available:

I remember gathering there with more of my extended family, with my mother (divorced, single mother), with Aunt Pauline and Uncle George (actually a great aunt and great uncle–an additional generation back), sometimes with my grandparents, but not often with them.  My grandfather was retired military and “double dipping” with a State Department job and they were usually stationed in various other parts of the world–Nigeria, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, many places.

Those people are all gone now.  Of the group who spent so many happy hours in that house only my sister and I remain.  But that image lives on, an image of comfort and home, an image of happiness.

And it’s what a lot of my characters are trying to achieve for themselves, even if they don’t know it.

Genre research and a “wow” (not in a good way)

I’m doing Genre research.  That’s where I read a bunch of stuff in a particular genre of fiction to see what the reader expectations are and to see if I can work within those constraints.  The two genres I am looking at now are “Men’s Adventure” and “Paranormal Romance” (yes, some might consider them almost polar opposites, but that’s kind of the point).

One of the things that appears to be the case in both is that I’m going to have to learn to write sex scenes.  So far in all my fiction I’ve been able to elide over any sex–that it happens might be important to the story (a couple of cases of that) but the details are not.  However, in these genres (at least the books that I’m calling “Men’s Adventure”, books of the genre that includes the long running The Destroyer and Mack Bolan the Executioner series, and the short Viking Cipher series) sex to some extent appears to be one of the reader expectations.  Likewise with Paranormal Romance.

So, yeah.  Going to have to learn to write that so that it doesn’t sound stupid.

However, what prompted me to write here today was something I encountered in one of the books I’m reading (not going to name it).

Chapter One of this book was written in the heroine’s POV.  Chapter two, in a break from most of the PR I’ve read was written from the heroe’s and, while he was holding a gun on the bad guy, had this line:

“Blowing Mordred’s skull apart would be far too quick.”

No. No. No. No. No. He did not just think that.  Tell me he didn’t.

He did.

Shooting the bad guy is _not_ too good for him, dammit.

Look, there are reasons to have the hero not pull that trigger.  “It was too quick” is not one unless you want to signal that your hero is an utter moron.

Frankly, utter morons make lousy heroes.  Normally, this is where I’d put down the book because, frankly I’d be rooting for the bad guy since the hero is too stupid to live (why I can’t tolerate much of modern slasher “horror”) and I just know the author is going to have Mr. Moron stumble his way to defeating the bad guys (or, more likely being this is Romance, assisting the heroine in doing so) and get the girl so he can be her Happily Ever After. (Romance, dontcha know.)

However, the purpose of reading it is familiarization with genre expectations (Happily Ever After being the obvious one for Romance, but there are plenty of others) and it’s been shortlisted for the Rita Award so I expect it will serve that purpose and I’ve spent limited budget dollars on it.  So I’ll press on.

But, seriously, when you’re writing heroes, and villains too for that matter, try not to make them stupid.  If there’s one thing I hate it’s the “idiot plot”.  There are three grades, each more egregious than the last:

  1. The plot only works if a major character is an idiot
  2. The plot only works if all the major characters are idiots
  3. The plot only works if the reader is an idiot.

To help avoid some of the common pitfalls of making sure the villain is not an idiot, a kind soul compiled the Evil Overlord List.

Here are a few examples:

  1. My Legions of Terror will have helmets with clear plexiglass visors, not face-concealing ones.
  2. My ventilation ducts will be too small to crawl through.
  3. My noble half-brother whose throne I usurped will be killed, not kept anonymously imprisoned in a forgotten cell of my dungeon.
  4. Shooting is NOT too good for my enemies.
  5. The artifact which is the source of my power will not be kept on the Mountain of Despair beyond the River of Fire guarded by the Dragons of Eternity. It will be in my safe-deposit box. The same applies to the object which is my one weakness.
  6. I will not gloat over my enemies’ predicament before killing them.
  7. When I’ve captured my adversary and he says, “Look, before you kill me, will you at least tell me what this is all about?” I’ll say, “No.” and shoot him. No, on second thought I’ll shoot him then say “No.”

Likewise for the Hero.

For the Sidekick.

For the True Love.

Smart, capable, heroes and villains are much more interesting to read about than morons stumbling into a plot resolution.  They just are.

They’re more interesting to write about too.  Harder, but much more interesting.

Casualties of War

Prohibition II, The “War on Drugs”, whatever you want to call it, is an abomination.  It’s the driving force behind multiple assaults on the Constitution.  There’s far more violence and bloodshed caused by drugs being illegal than by the drugs themselves.

The cure is very much worse than the disease.

Among the casualties of late are people suffering from severe pain, especially chronic pain.  Among the very best medicines to alleviate the suffering of those people are opioids.  The problem is that they have a loose family relationship with illegal Opium (thus “opioids”) derivatives like heroin.  Yes, if abused they are addictive and care needs to be taken in ceasing their use when one has made heavy use of them (more on that later).

People in Washington, including President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are talking about an Opioid Crisis and pushing for every more restrictions on the use of these medicines.

The problem is, they don’t offer even a plan for a good substitute.  Jeff Sessions “suggestion” for dealing with the “Opioid epidemic” which is being blamed on prescription drug use is “People should say no to drug use.”

Have screaming pain so bad you can’t even see straight? “No thanks on the Vicodin. I’m just saying ‘no’ like Jeff Sessions suggested.”

Well fuck you, Jeff Sessions.

I don’t usually use that kind of language on this blog, but…

Look, I have friends who have serious pain issues that nothing else will touch.  I’ve been in “can’t do anything but curl up in the corner and whimper” pain.  But go and try to get one of than handful of medicines that actually put a dent in that pain, not make it go away but just cut it back enough so you can…mostly…function and you find yourself facing the inquisition for “drug seeking behavior” (yeah, I’m having cluster migraines just so I can get some drugs here).

And it’s truly ironic that they call it a “war on drugs”, considering that some of our nations defenders are among its casualties.

One example:

Late one summer night in 2014, Kevin Keller broke into his best friend’s home. Keller was a U.S. Navy vet wracked with constant pain, and because his right arm had been crippled by a stroke, he had to use his left hand to scrawl a note of apology to his buddy: “Marty, Sorry I broke into your house and took your gun to end the pain! FU VA!!! Can’t take it anymore.” He then drove to his nearby Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Wytheville, Virginia, and pounded on the locked doors of the medical office, probably out of frustration or as a final protest, since the facility had been closed for hours. Keller then put the barrel of his friend’s 9 mm pistol to his head and shot himself.

Grieving friends told The Roanoke Times that Keller couldn’t handle how the VA was weaning him off painkillers. His doctors had told him cutting back would extend his life, but Marty Austin, whose gun Keller stole that night, told the paper, “He did not want a longer life if he was going to be miserable and couldn’t do anything because of the pain.”

Cutting back on his pain medication was going to extend his life?  Yeah, how did that work out exactly?

Another:

Zach Williams came home to Minnesota with two Purple Hearts for his military service in Iraq. He also carried other lasting war wounds.

Back pain made it hard for him to stand. A brain injury from the explosions he endured made his moods erratic.

Williams eased the chronic pain with the help of narcotics prescribed for years by the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center. Then the VA made a stark and sudden shift: Instead of doling out pills to thousands of veterans like him — a policy facing mounting criticism — they began cutting dosages or canceling prescriptions, and, instead, began referring many vets to alternative therapies such as acupuncture and yoga.

On Sept. 20, 2013, police were called to Williams’ Apple Valley home, donated to him by a veterans group grateful for his sacrifice. Williams, 35, lay dead in an upstairs bedroom. He had overdosed on a cocktail of pills obtained from a variety of doctors.

Authorities ruled his death an accident, officially “mixed drug toxicity.”

In desperation to relieve the chronic pain, and probably dealing with withdrawal from what he has previously been prescribed, he goes to multiple doctors to get relief resulting in “mixed drug toxity”–which could have been avoided had one doctor been able to prescribe medication adequate to relieving his pain.

And look at those suggested alternatives.  Acupunture?  Yoga?  Yoga might have some benefit in certain cases but is worthless for a large number of others.  And acupuncture?  Basically a placebo.  There may be a slight counter-irritant effect that helps in some cases (the “chi-meridian” stuff is pure nonsense).

People are dying, accidentally or deliberately by their own hand, because they cannot get adequate relief from pain.  That’s the price of this “drug war.”

It needs to stop.

Snippet: In the Hall of the Giant

I’m working on a small collection of themed shorts.  It was a little thin so I thought I’d fill it out with an adaptation of one of the Norse Myths, in this case, Thor’s Journey to Jotunheim.

It’s basically a retelling of the tale, fleshed out with detail and dialog, with a few additions of my own that I do not believe are inconsistent with the mythos but that serve to round out the tale and the characters.  Here’s a brief snippet:


IN THE HALL OF THE GIANT

Sleet fell in slanting streams from the iron-gray sky.  The barest hint of carmine indicated where the sun neared the western horizon.

The two-wheeled chariot, drawn by two enormous goats, rumbled to a stop in the lee of a hill.  The larger of the chariot’s two occupants shifted the reins to one hand and twisted to look at the young man who trotted nimbly behind the chariot.

“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 chariot’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 Aesir 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?”

Thor nodded.

“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 chariot 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 chariot 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 chariot. 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.”

“Yes, master.”

Thor started to turn toward the mouth of the cave then paused and looked back. “And, Thjalfi?”

“Yes, master?”

Thor tapped his thigh with one finger and cocked his head to the side.

“No, master.  I will be careful.”

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 effrontery 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.