Me and My Goats
When Thor was angry his bellow could shake the birds out of the trees. I know, because I saw it happen the morning he awoke to find his hammer missing.
I was in the goat yard, giving Gat-Tooth and Tooth-Grinder their morning feeding. I had been working for Thor for about three years at that time, providing service in return for a terrible mistake I had made while he and Loki were visiting my parents' cottage.
Although my service was a kind of punishment, in some ways I think I had the better part of the bargain. After all, even the table scraps of the gods make for fine dining. Despite the hard work, I was as well fed as I had ever been in my life.
On the other hand, there were the goats.
Not only were they big-_they had to be, to pull Thor's cart-_with shaggy coats and huge, curling horns, they were also ill-tempered. Gat, at least, was willing to teach me things, even if he did tend to nip me whenever I said anything he considered to be stupider than usual.
Grinder, on the other hand, said I was nothing but a foolish kid who would be gone before much more time had passed, and not useful for anything other than shoveling dung.
"Which is why I can't be bothered to talk to him," he told Gat more than once-_making sure that I was close enough to hear, of course.
You'd think they could be more polite to the person who carried away their dung each day. Without me it wouldn't have taken long before they were up to their knees in their own droppings. But having watched things in Asgard, I had come to the conclusion that the more basic the job the less it is appreciated-no matter how important it is.
The real reason Grinder wouldn't talk to me was simple: He was not willing to forgive me for that mistake I had made three years earlier.
In a way, I couldn't blame him. He did still limp, which was a daily reminder of what I had done to him. On the other hand, I was starting to suspect he was exaggerating the limp, just to bother me.
I tried to make it up to him by being as kind and helpful as I could, but Grinder was having none of that. A goat, once offended, is not easily won over.
Anyway, I was currying down Gat-_I always did him first, and why not?-_when the first shout of rage came thundering from inside Thor's house. You should understand that Bilskirnir had 540 rooms, so it took a mighty shout indeed to reach all the way to where we stood.
(I had once asked the goats why anyone needed 540 rooms. Grinder had not answered, of course. Gat simply said, "It's to give the mortals who work for him something to clean.")
"Uh-oh," said Grinder now, speaking to Gat, not me, naturally. "Sounds as if His Royal Thunderosity woke up on the wrong side of the stall this morning."
Gat's answer was lost in another bellow.
This time we could make out the word: "Hammer!"
"What could be wrong with his hammer?" wondered Gat. "The thing is unbreakable. Work that brush a little harder, Thialfi. My back itches this morning. Ahhhh!"
As I brushed Gat, I thought about Thor's hammer, which was known as Mjollnir. (The gods had a habit of naming not just people and animals but things.) The hammer was sacred, and most precious to Thor. In fact, there were times when I thought he loved it more than anything in Asgard-_including his wife, Sif, who was so beautiful it made my heart ache just to watch her walk by.
Not that he didn't have reason to love Mjollnir. It was the most powerful weapon the gods had against the fierce giants who were their great enemies. These giants were called Jotuns, and Thor was never happier than when he was using his hammer to bash in their skulls. All the gods agreed that Mjollnir was the key to Asgard's safety.
A third bellow, and a cluster of birds fell from the nearby tree. The startled creatures barely managed to stretch their wings before they hit the ground.
"WHERE IS MY HAMMER?"
"Oh my," muttered Grinder. "This is not good. This is not good at all."
A moment later, Thor came raging into the goat yard. His red beard was shooting off sparks, and the ends of it were curling and uncurling with the energy of his anger. A small thundercloud had formed over his head. Since he was nearly seven feet tall and bulging with muscles, the sight of him in such a fury was enough to make my knees buckle.
"Thialfi!" he roared. "What have you done with Mjollnir?"
I ducked behind Gat-Tooth for shelter. "Nothing, my lord," I answered, barely able to force the words past the dryness in my throat. "I haven't seen it. Or touched it."
I didn't point out that this was a silly question to begin with. Mjollnir was so heavy that even most of the gods couldn't lift it. So I certainly couldn't have moved the thing.
"Thor, what in the name of the nine worlds is bothering you this morning?" asked a sleepy voice. Glancing to my right, I saw the lean but handsome face of Loki peering over the stone fence that surrounds the goat yard. Like Thor, the god of mischief had red hair. But Loki's was also streaked with yellow, which sometimes made it look as if his head was on fire, especially when it caught the morning sun, as it did now.
He wore, as usual, a vaguely amused expression. Loki had a great fondness for trouble, and I made it a rule to try to stay out of his sight. But in this case, I was glad of the interruption.
"My hammer is missing!" growled Thor, not bothering to bellow now that he had someone close by to actually listen to him. (I didn't count, of course, being only the goat boy.) "Someone has stolen Mjollnir!"
"Nonsense," said Loki. "More likely you've just mislaid it. Come on, I'll help you look."
Gat-Tooth winked at me. We both knew that the real reason the prince of mischief wanted to slip inside Bilskirnir was in hope of seeing Sif not quite dressed. But that didn't occur to the thunder god, who tended to figure these things out later than most people. Or most goats, for that matter.
"Come inside then," growled Thor. "You can poke around all you like, but you won't find the hammer. If you do, I'll owe you a very large favor."
This was more than enough to whet Loki's appetite; he took great pleasure in calling for the return of favors in the worst possible way. He and Thor vanished into Bilskirnir.
"You're right, Tooth-Grinder," muttered Gat. "This is not good."
Grinder merely shook his head and continued chewing his breakfast.
I returned to their grooming. I had nearly finished with Grinder when Loki came bolting out of Bilskirnir.
I couldn't be sure, but I thought he looked frightened.
"That's interesting," said Grinder. "What do you think, Gat? Did Thor catch him spying on Sif? Or is he actually worried about the hammer?"
"I don't hear Thor bellowing," replied Gat. "And he's not chasing Loki. So I'm guessing it's the hammer. Can't imagine how anyone could have got to it, though."
Suddenly, I felt sick to my stomach-not from anything I had eaten but from a memory of something I had done. "No," I whispered to myself. "That can't be it. It can't be!"
The goats looked at me. "What are you muttering about, Thialfi?" asked Gat.
"Nothing," I said quickly. "It's nothing!"
I desperately hoped that I was telling the truth.
Copyright © 2005 by Bruce Coville
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