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Pyramid Power: Chapter Seven
Last updated: Wednesday, March 28, 2007 23:13 EDT
My kingdom for a Norse
Again there was no moment of transition, no time between places. Jerry just found himself in an alien world, falling flat on his butt, with a large "Greek" on top of him. That almost certainly saved his life, though. A hissing white-hot ball of metal hurtled overhead and smashed clean through a huge rusty iron pillar.
Frightened, yowling, misshapen creatures yammered and ran around them, and over them. They were in some kind of enormous hall, lit only by fires running down the length of it, and filled, right now, with panic. Some of the panic came from the man on top of him. "What in hell is going on?" he yelled. And then he repeated himself in bad contemporary Greek.
"We're in a mythworld. Now get off him, you idiot," said a woman with a slight Germanic-Dutch hint to her English.
Never had Liz's accent sounded so charming. She pushed the PSA agent off Jerry and hauled him to his feet. "Come on, Jerry. The others are back there. We've got to get out of this place. There is a passageway."
It was the kind of Liz-practicality that Jerry found he really could use. Unfortunately it didn't seem to be working too well this time. The passage led into a warren of others, an absolute maze of rock-hewed passageways, poorly lit by pitch-soaked brands that burned in iron hoops along the way. It was also full of panic-stricken men, and creatures that definitely weren't human. Humans were in the minority, and they had that half-starved, beaten look that said "slave" even without the dirt and the ragged clothes. The ragged clothes always included some form of breeches, and, despite numerous attempts by the PSA agents badly disguised as "hoplites," they did not speak Greek.
What was worse was that the passageways all eventually seemed to loop back to the great hall. And someone was throwing white hot iron around in there, with considerable force. Force enough to make holes in walls, and start several fires, which didn't make things any easier.
"That's enough," panted Marie. "Let's stop running and try and get organized."
They stopped in a little alcove off the main passage, and Marie sat down on a stone bench. She looked a little gray-faced even in the ruddy torchlight. Her kids clustered around her, the youngest boy climbing down from Lamont's back to hug her. And then Marie's eyes went wide. "Where's Tina?"
The little girl swallowed. "She didn't come with us, Mama."
"Are you sure?"
The one twin who was present nodded. "She let go my hand just before it happened." A tear leaked down her face. "Will she be all right?"
"Just fine, honey. I promise," she said, hugging her. "Better off than us, here."
Marie looked at someone standing next to Jerry. Standing so quietly that Jerry hadn't even noticed him. "And you, boy?"
In jeans, sneakers and a Chicago Bears sweatshirt, Neoptolemeus looked like any American kid, not the son of Medea and a Greek hero. A scared, miserable kid, right now. "This is Medea's son," said Jerry, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Neoptolemeus."
Lamont nodded. "We'll take care of you, boy."
The child bit his lip and leaned into the shelter of Jerry. It was an odd feeling, that. Jerry squeezed the shoulder. "You'll be fine. We're all friends of your Mama's."
In the background, five "Greeks" were attempting to assemble firearms from their spears and swords, with a notable lack of success. One of them cleared his throat. "Um. Dr. Lukacs, I presume?"
Jerry looked at the attempt at a hoplite from around the rise of the Persian conflicts—which was rather a lot later than the Achaeans that they'd fallen in with on their first venture into the Ur-mythworlds. "Yes. And who are you?"
"Besides the jerks that got us into this mess, that is," said Liz, swinging her shoulder-bag, dangerously.
The PSA agent straightened up. "You interfered with our mission—"
A huge squalling howl from the hall interrupted him, and perhaps recalled him to where he was. "Agent Stephens. Can you tell us where we are? We've lost our guides and we still have an assignment to complete, if possible. Sergeant Cruz said you were the leading expert in this field, you and someone he called 'Sir.' So could you tell us where about in Greece we are?"
"We're not in Greece," said Jerry as calmly as he could.
This appeared to tax Stephens' intelligence. "But Agent Supervisor Megane told us..."
"Haven't you figured out yet that your goddamned boss is a nincompoop?" demanded Lamont angrily. "What does it take? A two-by-four across the head?"
"We're in another Ur-mythworld, Agent Stephens," said Jerry, less heatedly. "Another mythology entirely. We had succeeded in banishing the Krim from the Greek Ur-myth. Looking at the dress of the people we've seen so far, and what I would guess are giants and trolls, I would suspect Norse. It's not an arena I am overly knowledgeable about, other than in general terms."
"What are you group of morons attempting to do with those spears?" asked Liz.
The agent looked warily at her. "We have covert-ops weapons, Ms. We'll just get our weapons together and establish radio contact with HQ and move out."
"That's Dr. De Beer to you, not Ms. Unless you also want to call me 'Sir'," said Liz with a nasty smile. "You really don't understand what you've gotten into, do you? Thanks to your idiocy, what we're all into, I should say."
He bridled a bit. "Look, Ms. um, Doctor... I'm sorry you got caught up in this op, but you shouldn't have interfered."
"I probably saved your life, you fool. Throttler would have killed you, and probably eaten you, in another few seconds. You had to be utterly insane to meddle with a sphinx like that!" She took a deep breath. "However, that's over and done with, for good or bad. Now, we've got children to get out of here. You'd better put those spears together again, and give them to me, Jerry, and Lamont. We at least have a little experience in using them."
He drew himself up rather scornfully. "We've got enough firepower to deal with unarmed savages. We just need to get the rifles screwed back together. I don't see any need for subterfuge at the moment."
"Firstly, they're not unarmed," said Liz. "They have very effective spears, swords, bows and arrows and knives, which they know how to use a lot better than you do. Secondly, you are unarmed, because firearms won't work here. And by the looks of it you can't even get them assembled, let alone try them out."
"Having some trouble with the screw mechanism," admitted one of the men.
"The Norse probably didn't have threaded screws, and certainly not precisely machined ones," said Liz. "And thirdly, I don't have the time and patience to shepherd you around. I broke in one set of paratroopers, who had the great advantage over you of functioning brains. I'm not prepared to do it again. You either take orders from me or we part company. Now."
"I'd do it if you want to stay alive," said a grim-faced Marie. "Or I might be tempted to deal with you myself for what you done to my kids, bringing them into a place like this."
The answer of the agent was to dig into his leather shoulder-bag and produce a large pistol. "Ma'am, we've got a job to do in the interests of the National Security of the United States." Somehow, like Megane, he managed to pronounce "national security" with capital letters. "You people shouldn't have got yourselves involved. But this is more important than the lives of a few citizens or children. You'll just have to look after yourselves."
Liz looked at him and laughed. "You still don't get it, do you? I gather you were supposed to 'fetch' some high panjandrum called Harkness. Well there are no guarantees that he's in this mythworld. And short of dying, there is no way you can get yourselves out of here, let alone him."
The agent nodded. "We're considered expendable. We knew that. But it is vital to make sure Mr. Harkness does not remain in enemy hands."
Liz snorted. "Good luck. I suggest that you keep a diary, so that when your dead body arrives back in Chicago they'll know where you went. You still don't have a clue where you are, or where to go."
Neoptolemeus began to cry. "It's all right, son. We'll get you out of here," said Jerry awkwardly, wishing he knew just how that could be done. He'd worked it out once before. He'd work it out again. Last time he'd just had the responsibility for adult lives on his hands. Now... with Medea's son and Marie and Lamont's own brood... it just got harder.
"But she said that there is no way back," said the boy. He was plainly used to taking a female word as final. With a mother like Medea, that was understandable.
"I've worked out a way back before," Jerry said, with a confidence he didn't really feel. "It's different this time, but I'll work it out. And if I can't, Liz and Lamont and Marie will." He pointed at Tyrone. "I remember your mother telling me that she wanted you to make friends with other American boys. Here's your chance."
"Good thinking," said Lamont. "Will you take care of him, Ty? And Neoptolemeus, Ty doesn't know anything about swords and dragons and magic. Things you grew up with, and we're likely to have to deal with here. I'd appreciate your help with showing him how to deal that stuff, huh?"
Neoptolemeus looked at Tyrone a little doubtfully. "Are you high-born, Ethiope?"
"Chicago South Side," said Lamont with a wink to Marie. "You don't get much higher than that." She seemed to be choking a little.
"Do you know anything about trucks?" asked Neoptolemeus, accepting this assurance cheerfully.
"I guess," said Tyrone. "And Emmitt," he jerked a thumb at the live-in cousin. "He knows everything. What's your name again, kid?"
Neoptolemeus left the shelter of Jerry's arm and walked across to Tyrone. "Neoptolemeus. And you, Ethiope?"
"Tyrone... Neo what? What kinda name is that?"
Neoptolemeus shrugged. "I suppose you can call me Tolly. My little brother does."
Jerry felt oddly bereft, although he'd have said that he was least paternal guy in the universe. Still. What did he know about kids?
The "hoplite" agents all had handguns out now. It looked to Jerry as if they might just abandon pretense and their swords and spears. If they did, then Jerry was all for looting them immediately. They had to be better weapons than the pistols would prove to be.
Each of the agents pulled a hinged piece of cheek-piece across their mouths. "Control, come in for strike-team alpha," said Stephens.
It didn't look like he was getting a reply.
"Control, are you receiving me?" There was a hint of desperation in that voice.
"It's not going to work," said Liz. "Now run along, while we try and work out how to get out of here. Any ideas, Jerry?"
He shrugged. "My field is the Middle East. I know something about Norse myth, I suppose." A bit hastily: "But I'm not a specialist, you understand?"
Liz laughed. "God, Jerry, you are such an academic. 'Not my field' translates into: 'I know ten times more than all but twenty people in the world, who really know the stuff.'"
Jerry gave her a nervous smile. "Well... okay, I remember all the basic stories. The apples of Iduna, the death of Baldr. The binding of the Fenrir wolf... Enough to guess we're in some fight between Æsir and giants. Although these look more like trolls. Mind you, size and shape do seem to be things that the Norse pantheon changed at will."
"I suppose the education system in the old South Africa was sadly lacking. All we ever learned about was the Great Trek, six times," said Liz resignedly. "So who were the good guys?"
"Anyone but the giants and Loki. Some of the giants were friendly with the Æsir. Lamont, do you know any of it?"
"A bit," admitted that fount of useless knowledge. "I read a book about the ring of... I think it was Andvari. The source for that opera."
"Wagner?" said Liz with faint traces of alarm. "Don't tell me I have ended up in Wagner. That's too cruel."
"In the gravy... the sauce for it, anyway," said Jerry, grinning.
"It's an Odd...un," Lamont immediately came back.
"Oh, I 'Woden' say that," said Jerry, rubbing his hands.
Liz cocked her head "Look, it sound like that fight is getting closer. I think we need to go elsewhere, before making any more terrible puns becomes academic."
"Why don't we go up there?" asked Neoptolemeus, pointing to a rickety ladder, made of crooked rived wood with roughly lashed cross-bars, standing in the shadowy corner. It led up to a dark hole twenty feet higher up. "We could pull up the ladder when we're up."
"And pelt them with rocks or bricks or something if they try and follow us," said Ty, gleefully.
"What about this lot?" said Lamont, nodding toward the nearby gaggle of agents. They now had their helmets off, peering unbelievingly in the poor light at what their radios had become.
As he said that, a bar of near-molten metal smashed through the wall and removed one of the agents from the equation permanently. The bar went right through his chest and into the wall beyond. And then, as with all of those snatchees killed in the mythworlds, he suddenly wasn't here any more.
That had the rest of them pushing the kids up the rickety ladder in a real hurry. Getting back home was on everyone's minds. But not dead.
By the time Jerry got up the ladder, Lamont was yelling for Tyrone and Tolly. "Where the hell have those damn kids got to?"
The damn kids in question stuck their heads out of a doorway, and scampered out. "We thought we might find something we could throw down on the bad guys. But there is some fat guy with a red beard asleep in there," said Tyrone in a stage-whisper.
"We thought he was dead," said Tolly.
"But he's snoring fit to bring the roof down," said Tyrone with a giggle. "Worse than my dad."
"You should hear my new dad!" said Tolly, proudly. "He's the champion! There is a window on the other side of the guy."
"It's open," said Tyrone.
"And it is snowing out there."
"How far is it from the ground?" asked Liz, standing next to the ladder that the four surviving PSA agents had decided to climb up too. "Hurry up, you lot."
"Dunno. We didn't want to go too near the sleeping man in case we woke him," admitted Tyrone.
Anyone who was still asleep in this racket was probably not going to be awakened by two small boys, Jerry decided. Even ones like these two, with broken volume controls.
"There are bound to be other rooms. And you two kids will stay close to us. We are not getting separated, you hear me?" said Marie, in her best don't-argue-with-me tone. "Emmitt. Ella. Keep an eye on them, for heaven's sake."
"Haul that ladder up," Liz said to the hapless agents. "Put your backs in it, for goodness sakes. Are you scared you're going to get a breeze up your skirts?"
If looks could have killed, Liz would have been stone dead right there. But the ladder came up with speed, hitting the stone roof. A plate-sized flake of rock nearly brained Liz. "Hells teeth! Turn it, shit-for-brains!" Then she looked guiltily at the kids.
But there was no room to maneuver the ladder. They had to leave it propped half-up, half down.
They moved down the passage past the open doorway, from which stentorian snores of truly epic proportions were issuing. Jerry had moved himself to the front—"point," he thought soldiers called it—while Liz brought up the rear, tailed by the four worried looking PSA agents. As they came to where this passage intersected another, Jerry nearly walked into a man who was hurrying around the corner the other way.
There was a torch just there and so Jerry got a really good look at the man, before he turned in a swirl of blue cloak and sprinted off down the passage. It was not the kind of face you forgot, strong, lined, with an eagle-beak nose, a sour turn to the mouth... and an empty eye-socket.
And a pyramid-pendant around his neck.
With a cold shock Jerry knew that he'd just met the Krim's local flunky. To make things worse, his name happened to be Odin. He'd not been pleased to see Jerry, and there had definitely been a look of recognition in that solitary cold blue eye.
"We're in trouble," said Jerry. "This is Norse myth, all right, and the Krim are definitely in control. That was Odin."
Lamont's eyes widened. "Let's see if we can find a window. Before we run into Loki, next."
"Loki? You mean like Thor's evil half-brother from the Marvel comics," said Emmitt, eyes wide, slight sulky look forgotten, "So... is Thor around too? Throwing thunderbolts..."
Jerry nodded. "I think they took some liberties with the mythology, but yes, probably. They won't be the sort of characters they are in the comics, necessarily."
"Way cool!" said Ty, happily.
Jerry didn't have a chance to explain that it probably wouldn't be. Liz bustled up. "Jerry, I think you should let me take the front. You're leading us in circles."
It was said with a smile, and a militant swing to the new shoulder-bag. She probably wanted the chance to give any other Norse gods a kick where it hurt most and a swat across the head with that bag. It didn't have the weight—yet—of her old one, but it had metal corners and a good solid strap. Liz believed in finding weapons where you could. She was also, from a youth spent in the African bush, someone with senses honed to a degree that Jerry knew he couldn't match.
He cheerfully moved to tail-end Charlie... well, not including the PSA men. Poor fellows. They looked a little out of their depth here.
It rapidly became apparent that, inside a building at any rate, Liz's sense of direction was no better than Jerry's.
She'd brought them back to the ladder. Only it wasn't half up anymore, and a group of men in Norse-style helmets and mailshirts were climbing it. By the shout that went up when they saw her, the chase was on.
Liz sat down and kicked the ladder outwards, with all the strength in her powerful legs. The sounds of cascading men, cracking timber, and screams of pain and fury came from below.
"I think we'd better find a way out before they find another way up," said Lamont.
"I think we'd better take our chances with that sleeper," said Jerry. They hurried on. But at the door, Liz paused, shook her head and put her finger to her lips. She pointed onwards. Jerry realized that there were no snores.
"He looked at me," said Liz, quietly motioning them to the other side of the passage. "He looked at me and said something like 'Sif,' and lay down again."
"There's one of him. We could overpower him," said one of the agents.
Liz shook her head. "He's enormous. I don't think you could shift him, let alone overpower him. We'll try the passage your Odin came from."
They did, and soon realized just what Odin had been doing there. It led to a bridge—a sort of sideless hanging gallery, across the hall below with its long lines of fires. The hall was virtually deserted now, except for dead bodies and two standing figures. One of them was one-eyed Odin, wearing a swirling blue cloak. The other figure wore a girdle of iron and metal gauntlets, and held a metal rod in one hand, clumsily. His red beard appeared to have a problem—it wasn't attached on one side.
Odin pointed at them and said something that included the word "Thjalfi."
Whatever he said stirred the other person to hasty action. He ran to get underneath the bridge and raised the metal staff.
"Run!" yelled Jerry. He couldn't shove, because the PSA agent would have tumbled off.
The man blinked and said: "Why?" just as the staff began to somehow grow and push the whole stone structure up toward the rafters, sending the arch-bridge's keystone tumbling. Trapped with the PSA agent on a piece of rock that was somehow balanced on the metal rod Jerry saw one agent fall toward the fires, and Lamont and another agent haul Ella up onto the crumbling stones on the far side. Then he was hard against the great stone beams of the ceiling.
There was a narrow gap between the stone beams and the crooked wooden purlins. Jerry forced his way up there, but then realized that wasn't going to help. He was going to be crushed into the rotten thatch.
Luckily, the thatch turned out to be really, really old and rotten. Cracking and splintering—and trickling icy water down his collar—Jerry managed to squirm his head up and through the rotted reed. Then, he got an arm out and pulled himself up and out, away from the crushing rock. Beneath him the stone beam groaned.
It was bleakly gray out here, and cold. The bitter wind brought flurries of snow to join that which already lay in drifts wherever it could find purchase on the steepness. Heaving—cautiously, because this thatch was centuries old by the feel of it—Jerry hauled himself out onto the roof. It was apparently merely thatch over a hole, because he could see rock, gray and snow-corniced, and wind-bent little alpine bushes off to the side.
Just below him was the head and shoulders of the PSA agent. The man's face was contorted with pain, and he was struggling to get up. Jerry could no more leave him there than he could have deserted a book. Cautiously he edged down and helped.
"My leg is trapped," said the man, weakly. "Ahhh. I can't move it. Pull me!"
Jerry did his best, but the thatch was truly rotten. He put his foot right though—onto a stone beam. That gave him something solid to stand on so he could pull properly. Which he did, with the result that when the slab of stone of the 'bridge' was dropped inside—or at least, by deduction and the crashing noise, Jerry imagined that must have happened—the PSA agent came free abruptly. Together they rolled, slid and cascaded down the thatch. It was probably the only safe way to have gotten off that rotted surface without falling through it, down into the hall—a fifty foot fall, very possibly into the fires.
They landed together in a tumble of snow, filthy rotten straw and the debris of centuries, at a point where the runoff was plainly intended to go off down the hillside.
By this time the PSA agent was groaning and white-faced with pain.
Jerry knew he faced some very awkward choices. The others were in there, somewhere. But what did he do with an injured man?
He settled for examining the injury. He was no anatomist, and the man was no help. The sandal-clad foot had plainly been trapped between the stone beam and the rising bridge-piece. Only the fact that they were both very roughly hewed could have saved the man's foot from becoming jelly, but plainly it hadn't saved several bones. The injury itself shouldn't kill him. But given the temperature out here, exposure would. Bare legs, except for brass greaves, bare arms and a skirt of peltoi and a brass cuirass, were fine for Mediterranean summer warfare. Here the man was going to die from the shock and the cold.
"Can you lean on me and we can try to get to some shelter?" asked Jerry.
The PSA agent nodded. "Lost my gun."
"That's the least of your worries, right now," Jerry grunted, helping him up. They followed the watercourse down. It ended in a short cliff—the sort of thing Jerry might have been able to climb alone, but the injured man wasn't going to manage.
"Sit here" said Jerry. "Let me look around."
Unencumbered, he was able to move easier and faster. Just over a small ridge he spotted a structure made of huge slabs of stone, chinked with mosses. There was a hole-window and Jerry managed to get up to the sill and look in.
Inside, the large, fat, red-bearded man snored and bubbled from the floor. Beside him was the room's only piece of furniture, an enormous stone chair. The room wasn't the ideal place to find shelter, but the air coming out was quite warm. And it would give him a chance try and find the others. So Jerry went back and helped the PSA agent up and over to the hole-window.
They had to approach the sill along a path that wasn't wide enough for two men. The sill was shoulder high. It all made for a somewhat epic and monumental effort, but Jerry got the man into the room.
He was just helping him off the sill when someone spoke. "Well, well look what the cat dragged in. Einherjar!"
Jerry turned to find himself being grabbed by the man with the loose beard and the iron gauntlets and girdle. The hands in those gauntlets were enormously, crushingly strong. But their attacker only had two arms—and two people to hold. Back at grade school Jerry had only once ever hit someone. The class bully had poured milk—Jerry's milk—onto the book Jerry had been reading. Jerry had been quite accustomed to being the butt of various jokes and pranks. He usually just read on and ignored them. He was not that attached to milk anyway. But one didn't mistreat books like that. He'd punched the bully in the eye, a reaction so out of character and unexpected that the kid had backed off, despite being twice his size, and despite it being a totally ineffectual, feeble blow.
Jerry tried it again. Like the last time he hit the offender in the eye. Like last time he also hurt his hand, but the physical exercise he'd been forced into by the Greek myth adventure paid dividends. The man who had grabbed them with those incredibly strong hands did not quite let go, but he staggered back, to fall into the stone chair. The chair began to rise slowly from the floor on the backs of two enormous women who had apparently been hiding under its legs, in a hollow there. They'd been covered with a blanket, sprinkled with floor-filth, to make it invisible.
"Damn it!" cursed the man with iron gauntlets. "Not me!"
He let go of Jerry, just as Jerry took another swing at him, and pulled the iron rod from his belt. It grew as he held it and pushed the chair back down, with the two gigantic women yowling. Jerry took this opportunity to get away. He fell over the still snoring red beard. Who, for his part, muttered and rolled over—sending Jerry staggering to the door and into the arms of some burly Norsemen, backed up by the one-eyed one.
Whatever One-eye said in his foreign tongue, it did stop them from killing him.
It didn't stop them being tied up like Christmas turkeys, though, both him and the PSA agent with the injured foot. The corpulent red-bearded man slept through all of it, even fake-beard kicking him and shouting at him, and Odin rebuking him for it. Jerry would have liked to ask him why he spoke English but the gag was fairly effective, and very dirty.
A few minutes later, with one less shoe than he'd had earlier and half the sleeve torn off his windbreaker, Jerry found himself being carried outside and bundled onto a cart, and left there, under guard, next to a moaning but barely conscious PSA agent. The guy had at least tried to fight. Kicking someone with that foot probably came under the heading of less than clever though.
Distantly, Jerry could hear the sounds of mayhem and search continuing.
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