Monday, April 4, 2011

Episode 9: The Gentle Man

Recap: Thoki and Lor are reunited at last! They are on the run from the Bastia Police for grand theft auto, destruction of property and assault with a deadly fist. Lor has also had a mysterious visit from Fenrir with a message for Thoki. Lor will probably remember the message eventually, once he gets his mind off weightier matters like: if chickens are birds, why can’t they fly?

When Loki bothered to come home, Thoki’s mother encouraged him to stay with one of the other Aesir. He usually stayed with Forseti those evenings. Forseti was a little older than Thoki, but he liked the kid and pitied his home life — and why wouldn’t he? Forseti came from the perfect family. His parents, Baldur and Nanna, were hopelessly devoted to each other, and they both doted on their obedient loving son. It was saccharine to the point of being sickening, and one would think that Thoki would be eaten alive with jealousy. On some nights he was sick with envy, especially when he was asleep on his pallet at nights and overheard his father stumbling in drunk and abusing his mother.
When he was in Baldur’s shining silver house, however, he felt temporary relief from the constant torrent of anger that consumed him all the time. Everyone here was so welcoming to him, so kind and gentle and understanding, especially Baldur. Thoki began to seek in Baldur the comfort and advice he never got from his dad. Most of all, Thoki liked Baldur because he wasn’t like the other men. Thor, Tyr, Heimdall and the others were always berating Thoki for his cowardice and bumbling skill in battle. Odin and the women all took pity on him and commiserated with his mother. When he cried about it to Baldur he expected another lecture on the honor of battle, but it never came. Instead, Baldur put a kindly arm around his shoulder and said.
“I understand. I’m not a fighter either, Thoki, and I have been mocked for it as well by the other Aesir.”
“But everyone loves you,” said Thoki in awe. And it was true. While Thor and Odin were legendary, even among the legends, Baldur was the most beloved god in all of Asgard.
“I have earned their love in other ways, Thoki,” said Baldur quietly. “Don’t struggle in vain to become something you are not. You will never be a great warrior, and… I think that you don’t want to be, either.”
“No. I hate fighting,” said Thoki.
“As do I. But you have other talents, Thoki. You are clever, as clever as your father, but you have your mother’s good heart. Use those gifts to their best advantage, Thoki. People will love you if you become the best man you can be.”
Lor was running down the wet streets of Bastia. Fog was rolling off the streets, obscuring everything in a cloying damp wall of grey. Thoki was slung over his shoulder — this was for two reasons: firstly, Thoki couldn’t run nearly as fast nor as long as Lor could; second, because it gave Thoki a chance to think. The Police had temporarily stopped chasing them as Lor had succeeded in knocking out the gendarmes who had jumped them. It wouldn’t be long, however, until a full-scale man-hunt was underway and they would have more trouble getting out of that kind of net.
“Do you have any preference as to which direction I should be running in?” asked Lor.
“Don’t end sentences with prepositions, moron,” sighed Thoki wracking his brain. His thinking was somewhat muddled by the last few hours. What if the tricksters had been right? What if the chaos could potentially undo all life itself? Was he really willing to risk that? Then again, he was taking the word of a bunch of tricksters who were as “trustworthy” as a board of directors. And then there was that incident with Eris. He had no clue what she was after. Having rough sex in the back of a Mercedes Benz was high up on his list of WINs, but it had been too abrupt, too frenetic, too… well… confusing. He was pretty sure he had enjoyed it, but his brain wasn’t so sure. He had a horrible premonition that their little tumble would end up biting him in the ass later. Right now there was only one certainty running through his head: he had to get to Egypt.  Everything would become clear if he made it to Egypt.
“Lor, try to head for the ocean!”
“Which way’s that, then?”
“We’re on an island. If you run in a straight line, we’ll come to it eventually,” said Thoki shrugging. Then an idea hatched in his head. “If you come to a liquor store, let’s do a quick smash and grab. Okay?”
In twenty minutes, they were at one of the shores along the French island. It was one of the less commercial beaches, covered in rubbish and steep inclines. There were some tide pools and rocky caves that were inaccessible, and with the evening tide rolling in, some would be cut off entirely from the mainland. Thoki couldn’t have planned it better.
“Good job, Lor!” he said with genuine feeling. The cold wind bit cruelly through his damp clothes, causing him to tremble uncontrollably, but his eyes were alight with hidden fire and his cheeks glowed pink with excitement. He found an abandoned inner tube and after he assured that it was watertight he jumped inside.
“Paddle us out to that outcrop, Lor — into that recess there.”
“You sure? The tide’s coming in?” asked Lor.
“I’m sure,” said Thoki in dead earnest.
Lor jumped into the cold choppy water and swam with all his might against the riptides. Seawater splashed into his eyes and mouth, yet he persevered with a single-mindedness that impressed Thoki. Soon they were in a relatively dry shelter of rock that was isolated by the tide, and hidden completely from the police in the fog.
Thoki pulled the 2 litre bottle of Tanqueray out from under his hoodie and using the ragged hem of his t-shirt, tied a makeshift tether to the bottle before letting it float in the water.
“JORM!!” shouted Thoki. “JORMUNGANDR!”
“What are you doing?” asked Lor quietly.
“I’m getting us a ride,” said Thoki. “This is the only way I can think of to get to Egypt with no money and the police after us.”
“I don’t think we’re supposed to go to Egypt,” said Lor suddenly.
Thoki whipped around. “What do you mean?”
“I… I’m not sure…” said Lor, looking distressed. “I forget.” He tried hard to recollect his conversation with Fenrir, but was drawing a blank. “Never mind,” he said eventually, shaking his head.
Thoki shrugged. This sudden outburst from Lor was probably another one of the giant’s strange fancies.
“JORM!!” Thoki screamed again, as loud as he could.
He kept screaming long after the pearl grey sky had turned to a bruised red and the lights of police boats winked on the horizon. Thoki was disheveled and pale by now, with red-rimmed eyes and hollow cheeks. He was cold, he was starving (literally), he hadn’t slept in ages, but his eyes were still ablaze with a mad fervor as he called out to his half-brother.
“YES! Jeez! What is it?” came a voice from further inside the cave. Jormungandr was once again in his human form, looking like a green-haired hipster with serpentine eyes. He wore another black fitted t-shirt over his marble chest; it bore the puzzling legend “SWEEP THE LEG.” Thoki paused a half second to wonder where the HELL Jorm got all these shirts.
“Hey! You got me some good stuff this time!” said Jorm, brightening as he examined the bottle of gin. He then caught sight of Thoki’s expression and his grin fell.
“What’s goin’ on?” Jorm asked, stepping back a little.
“I need to get to Egypt, and you are going to take me. NOW,” said Thoki in a hoarse voice.
Jorm shook his head, “Nuh-uh! There’s no frakking way. I don’t do passengers!”
“Oh, you’re going to. One way or another,” croaked Thoki.
“How? Are you going to set your giant on me?” said Jorm, glancing at the Jotun with disinterest.
“No. I’ll fight you myself.”
“You’re kidding me, right?” said Jorm. He laughed, but it didn’t sound convincing. Something about Thoki was bothering Jorm. He’d never seen him this focused before. The little man seemed bigger, somehow. He was still a scant 4’11, and had the build of a prepubescent girl, but there was a power underneath his shivering wet frame. In his human form, Jormungandr was as strong as ten Lors but against all reason, he was nervous.
“You don’t fight,” Jorm said eventually, in the hope that Thoki would remember this too.
“If you want to test that theory, go right ahead,” said Thoki with a smile. Baldur’s words from over a millennium ago echoed in his head.
“You will never be a great warrior, and… I think that you don’t want to be, either”
You were wrong, Baldur, thought Thoki. I didn’t want to be a great warrior… because I had nothing to fight for… but now I do.
Thoki broke into a run and Jorm tensed, frozen to the rock floor. The snake-man only had enough presence of mind to put down his precious booze before preparing to defend himself. Which was why he was unprepared as Thoki leaped into the air and clocked him on the jaw.

Thoki and Jormungandr