Writing

Thialfi Earns His Keep

This is an excerpt from my book, which has a working title of Roskva and the Runes.  The novel is a retelling and adaptation of the story in Norse myth of Thor’s visit to Jotunheim, the land of giants.  Along the way, Thor acquires two children in a compensation/fostering deal, and the girl disappears from the narrative.  I always wondered what happened to the girl, Roskva, who disappeared from the myths, while her brother, Thialfi, went on to have adventures with Thor.  This is my attempt to fill that gap and be cool in the eyes of my children.  Chapter 2 picks up right after Thor announces he’s taking the kids.

Chapter 2

The road was dusty and the air was cool as Roskva and Thialfi left their childhood home to travel with the gods.  They were slaves.  Compensation.  The price their parents paid unwillingly for all of their lives.  Roskva walked silently, tears tracing down her cheeks.  Up ahead, Thialfi slouched along, kicking rocks as he found them.  Even when he was pouting, though, he was faster than she, so he was far ahead of her.  The old man walked between them, and Roskva found herself transfixed by his feet, momentarily distracted—he seemed to walk so smoothly, his cloak just floated along.  And he left no footprints in the dust.
                Roskva decided to brave a conversation and hurried her pace to catch him.  Even as she hurried, his pace quickened, though his robes stayed motionless, so that he was the same distance ahead for a minute or two.  Roskva began to despair that she would not catch him, then pushed that feeling down and tried harder.   She heard a deep, sonorous sigh, and his pace slowed. “You are determined then, child, to catch me?  So be it.”
                “Thank you, my lord,” Roskva panted, and she thought she saw a small smile on his face as she came up beside him.  “It’s just I’d like to ask you what I’m to call you, sir.  Master?  Lord?  What do you prefer?”  Her boldness surprised her as much as it did him.  But she stayed even with his pace.
                “Ah.  Well, those work, but I also have names.  Why not use a name to call me?  I’ve many names.  Wayfarer, Old One, Slaughter-Father, Riddler, Flaming Eye, Hooded One, Hanged One, High One, Screamer, Long Beard, Raven-Tester, Terrible One…”
                “Ok.  Thank you.”  Roskva interrupted him, but then stumbled for words, humbled.  “Which do you prefer I use to address you, Lord Odin?”
                “I think you’ve chosen wisely.  I answer quickest to Odin.”  This time there was a smile.  Roskva was sure of it.  Her shoulders relaxed some, and she settled in to stride next to the father of the gods.  This was going to be some trip.
*****
                Thialfi and Thor were walking far ahead and headed for a forest.  They stopped at the edge, in the shade of the tall birch trees.  As Roskva and Odin approached, Thialfi snatched Roskva’s hand and dragged her in to the trees.  “We’re to gather kindling.  Come on!”  And off he ran, with her in tow.  He couldn’t hold her long, though; she tripped on the uneven forest floor and couldn’t keep up.  It seemed to take him a minute even to notice he’d let go her hand, and then he turned back, glaring.  “Come on, Roskva.  Now’s our chance to get away.”
                “Oh, so that’s your plan?  You think we can escape old Flaming Eye, do you?  You want to annoy someone who calls himself Slaughter-Father?  Thialfi, be reasonable.  We belong to them now.  Father and Mother are fine.  This is the deal.  Now help me look for kindling.”  Roskva’s eyes burned as she spoke, but she held back tears in front of her brother, convicted in her desire to set a good example.  Thialfi was headstrong, and now in more danger than ever.  She’d keep him safe.
                Thialfi, however, was not so easily convinced as she would have liked.  “So that’s it?  You’re giving up?  Fine.  I’ll go back alone.”  He glowered at her, then turned away and kept moving through the trees.  The trees, he noticed, were getting thicker and closer together.  It was impossible to run.  He wound his way through for a few more seconds before coming up fast on a ravine he nearly toppled in to.  He let out a small shriek as he steadied himself.  Roskva was at his side immediately, holding his shirt, pulling him back.  They both looked in to the ravine.  The cleft in the earth must have been thirty feet down, and ran both directions along the edge of the forest as long as they could see.  It must have happened abruptly, like an earthquake, for they could see broken trees and shattered boulders in the bottom.  And there was no way around it for miles.
                Roskva bent down to pick up some splintered roots sticking out of the wall of earth, then kept picking up twigs as she walked back to the clearing.  Thialfi followed, but kicking at tree roots most of the way; he didn’t stoop to pick up kindling until they were almost back.
                Dinner was uneventful.  The children were not in the mood to be convivial, and the gods were not interested in chit chat.   The food was good, and that seemed to be enough for everyone.  When Thor wrapped the bones in the goatskins again, he looked at Thialfi disapprovingly, but without the expressive eyebrows this time.  Thialfi went to bed, shamefaced and sullen.
                No one knows exactly what happened in the night.
                Somehow, some way, some giant got close enough to grab Thor’s hammer.  He woke with a start, shaking the ground as he jumped to his feet.  “Mjollnir!  Someone’s taken Mjollnir!  Get it back!”
                Roskva shook herself steady, blinking sleep out of her eyes.  It had been a long day, and she had been sleeping deeply.  Thialfi, though, was off like a shot.  As Roskva chased Thialfi blindly, stumbling first over her bedding, and then in to her brother’s, the night air brought her to senses.  The ravine.  “Chase him toward the ravine, Thialfi,” she cried in to the darkness, not sure if he was close enough to hear her.
But he was.  And he was on it.  For a giant smart enough to get Thor’s hammer, running in to the forest was a stupid idea.  Thialfi guessed the giant was looking for cover, but didn’t’ know the danger.   He banked on that as he chased the thundering footfalls ahead of him.
Thialfi really was fast.  Even with the giant’s strength and size, the boy was able to run back and forth behind him and herd him toward the ravine.  It was too dark to see much of anything, but the giant crashed through trees like they were toothpicks, and he smelled like moldy cheese and wet sheep.  He roared in frustration, like an animal, as the trees got thicker.  Tracking him was like looking for the haystack instead of the needle.
It was almost too easy.  It was definitely too quick.  One tree too many snapped under the weight of the giant’s massive arms, and it was over–he was over–down the ravine.  He didn’t even know to slow down.  The noise was deafening when he slammed in to the bottom, and the force of his body blasted a crater in the earth below.  Thialfi stood looking down, thinking about how much farther he’d now have to climb to get that hammer, clinging to a tree branch in the moonlight, as Roskva approached.
“You did it!”  She was panting worse than he was, but she threw back her head and laughed.  “Thialfi, you chased down a giant! A giant!  Not a fox or even me.  You took down a giant.”  Thialfi swayed over the ravine as the triumph settled on him.
“It was your idea, child.”  Odin’s voice came out of nowhere, and Roskva started.  Thialfi was so shaken by his sudden appearance, he nearly fell.  How did he get through the forest without their hearing him?  Thialfi registered briefly that he was glad he hadn’t been tracking the Riddler, when he spoke again.  “Thialfi, is there enough moonlight for you to climb down and retrieve that hammer?  My son is understandably uneasy without it.   He would be grateful to have it sooner rather than later.  I can see the rock giant is quite dead.”
Thialfi’s voice shook.  “Yes, sir.  My lord.  Sir.  I’ll be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”  And he let himself fall the first bit of the way down the ravine.
Odin was regarding Roskva, whose chest was still heaving.  She dimmed her smile in the scrutiny of his glaring eye, but couldn’t turn it off completely.  “You interest me, Roskva.”  Her smile began to beam again.
Thialfi came back in to the camp with Mjollnir strapped to his back.  Thor was pacing, Odin and Roskva seated around the fire.  Thialfi was covered in earth, as if he’d slid down the ravine and tunneled back up, but he had retrieved the hammer.  Thor stopped pacing and fixed him with a stern look, then his face cracked in to the biggest smile Roskva had ever seen.  She counted sixteen teeth before he moved on from smiling to lauding Thialfi.  “Good work, boy!  Good, good work!”  An already tired Thialfi collapsed under the weight of Thor’s hand on his shoulder.
It wasn’t quite dawn when Thialfi had come back, and now the sun was climbing in the sky, they were back on the road, and still Thor was praising Thialfi’s speed, dexterity,  and, well, downright  usefulness.  Roskva didn’t mind, wasn’t jealous.  Thialfi was visibly happy, full of his accomplishment, enjoying the adventure, and, Roskva concluded, significantly less likely to run away.  And besides, Thialfi could be useful and speedy all he wanted.  She was interesting to the father of the gods.
That night they set up camp at dusk, and Thor began to roast the goat flesh over a spit.  They sat under the protection of several birch trees, watching the fire and waiting for the meat to cook, and telling stories to pass the time.  Odin went first, telling the tale of his retrieval of the mead of poetry.  He lingered over the image of himself as an eagle, triumphantly returning with the mead of poetry in his mouth, spitting it into jars as he crossed the burning walls of Asgard, the bird-shaped giant behind him sizzling in the flames.  Roskva sat rapt, and even Thialfi was still, listening more intently than he appeared to be.  “And since then we call good poetry ‘Odin’s mead,’” he said, a sense of finality in his deep, musical voice.
“Don’t tell me you’re stopping there!” the children’s heads whipped around, trying to identify the source of this new, oily voice.  “Don’t you want to tell them where bad poetry comes from?  I’ll tell them, if you’re too shy.  Good poetry comes from the mead from Odin’s mouth, kids.  Bad poetry comes from the mead he crapped out before crossing the wall.  When you need a good dose of doggerel, just reach for the eagle poop in front of the fortress of Asgard.  Not only did that mead come from the wrong end of Odin, it also landed outside the sanctified courtyard of the gods, out on the rough rocks of the wild.  Poor doggerel.”  As the speaker talked, he seemed almost to materialize out of thin air.  By the time he was done talking, though, he was as substantial as any of them:  tall and wiry, with thick, coppery hair that hung down to his shoulders and over his eyebrows.  He had one green eye and one red eye.  Roskva couldn’t look away.
Thialfi, too, sat staring, sitting upright to do so, as Odin sighed.  “Loki.  Welcome, brother.  What a pleasant surprise.”
“Loki?”  Roskva murmured the name almost inaudibly, but the tall man turned his mismatched eyes on her and kept watching her, though he spoke to Odin.
“Yes, Odin.  How goes your journey?  Who are your companions?”
“Thialfi and Roskva, newly acquired by Thor.  You can stop trying to intimidate Roskva, by the way.  She’s much too sensible to be taken in by you.”
Loki shot his eyes to Odin, then back to Roskva.  “And what makes you think I’m trying to intimidate her, Allfather?  Can’t a man look at a girl without such aspersions being cast?”
“A man may.  You are not a man.”  Odin leaned back against a stone and drew out a pipe.  “To what do we owe the pleasure of your company tonight?”
“Yes, Loki.  What are you doing here?  Speak fast.”  Thor leaned forward from his rock, his brows starting to furrow, and his fingers flexing as if itching to grab something.
“Why, just seeking your good company,” Loki said. “I was looking for you at Asgard a few days ago.  Frigg said I’d just missed you.  She said you were out on an adventure, and that is just what I am here for—an adventure.  So what are you up to, besides kidnapping and telling half-finished stories?”
“We’re not kidnapping!” bellowed Thor.  “These children are mine in compensation for damage.  Who are you to question my actions?”
“Easy, Thunderhead.  I’m not criticizing.  I’m just interested.  Where are we going?”  Loki leaned back near Odin, adopting a relaxed, haughty pose.  Odin had a strange, bemused look on his face, but no one was watching him.  All eyes were on Loki, who was tipping his head back to look at the stars.
When Odin spoke, his voice seemed to come from all around, and his words were slow and measured.  “You are traveling to Jotunheim, Loki, to contend with Utgard-Loki, the giant king.  Look out for each other, and look out for these children, whose lives you are responsible for.  I shall return to Asgard, but I will watch your progress and enjoy the show, so do not disappoint me.   This girl shall be my eyes as you journey.  What she sees, I will see.  And Loki, your shoe is on fire.”  With that, Loki jumped, the spell was broken, and Odin was gone.  The two remaining gods looked at each other and laughed.   Roskva wondered if she would ever be able to sleep again, she was so amazed, and then, a moment later, she was asleep.

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