Monday, November 19, 2018

Straighten it out

When Thor Odinson was the age of 14, his father Odin gave him his first hammer. This hammer was not Mjollnir, but it was beautiful. It was a masterwork of solid steel with engraved knotting on the sides. It had been blessed and carved with mystic runes that only Odin understood. The handle was a piece of Ironwood, given by the oldest Ironwood tree in the famous forest. Its grip was wrapped with strapping made with supple, elegantly tanned hide of a ten-point stag. Balanced in hand and in the swing, Thor was fascinated by it. He began to train with it every day.

 In the meantime, the 18-year-old, Loki was studying magic with Frigga. Frigga had been training him since he was small. Many do not understand that magic takes longer to master than physical combat. Few people have the patience for it or the will to endure the repetitive nature of practicing with it. Not to mention, the brainpower it takes for constant concentration.

To the eyes of non-practitioners, it looked easy for Frigga to wave her hand and make something happen. A quick rainbow over the banquet table or a flash to start a fire in the hearth would send the crowd of feasters into a state of awe. So, when Loki's wave of magic made feeble attempts, he would get ridiculed. This would make the young prince angry. So, he would often practice his prestidigitation spells for revenge. Eventually, he became very good at those. Thus, by his 18th year, he was reasonably good at simple things but not much else. At least, on the magic side of things.

Loki spent some of his time in the training yard learning hand-to-hand, daggers, and archery. He discovered that knives were his favorite. From the age of 9, he had split his time between the training yard and Frigga. Which was why his progress with either looked slow, Loki was duel classed. When his 18th year rolled around, he appeared to be still a child in skill. The truth was that he was not.

This did not occur to his peers. When Thor was in the training yard with his new hammer, he swiftly obliterated targets. Thor began to run out of people that would practice with him. During the practice wars, he would always be on the winning side. And at the practice tournaments, he would still come out as champion.

This went straight to Thor's head and built an ego that Loki could not tolerate easily. Thor and others bragged far too often for Loki's taste. But it came to a blistering heat when some drunken admirer of Thor went too far and began to compare the abilities of the two brothers in a loud, raucous rant at dinner one night.

"You should have seen'im!" said the drunk man. He was talking to a couple young maids. "Thor broke the line by throwing his hammer to the left. Then, he rolled, like a ball into the right. The men at the front, from behind their shields, followed the hammer with eyes. But were unaware that Thor has thrown himself into the line from below!" The drunk man waved his arms while telling his story. Very nearly taking off the head off one of the pretty damsels, making the other two laugh. "Fell like forest trees, under a giant's swing! Four lines of men, falling to the earth under their shields and armor. They struggled like overturned turtles. Then, Thor stands up, reaches out his arm and calls to his hammer. It lifts from the ground and thunders to his hand! He rushes further into the fray, ringing helms, bending shields until he had a cut a path through the middle of the ranks. Our men followed, running across their fallen bodies, into the path Thor had made, splitting the horde and flanking them on all sides." The drunk man reached for his cup and held it aloft, spilling the drink like rain upon the women's heads. "Now that's a victory worth boasting about!" he drank deeply and laughed.

The girls made yuck sounds. "Oh, my hair! It's all sticky now," she said, preening at her locks.
The drunk man sat down next to her. "If you like, I can make the rest to match," he grinned at her.

"Gross!" she remarked. The other two cackled. "I'd rather Loki than you." This sent the other two into hysterics.

"What's that supposed to mean?" asked the drunk.

"It means, not if you were the last man on earth," explained one of the other maids.

"Well, I don't see how that's fair," said the drunk. "What's Loki doing while we are all training for battle? Hmm? Sitting with mommy learning how to light candles? Reading books, going blind? Sticking daggers into the backs of practice targets in the yard? He's rubbish! How's that going to help to defend our borders? How does waving your hand about, making little sparks going to scare frost giants? What a waste of space."

The room had gone quiet. The drunk man's words echoed throughout the banquet hall. The maids had gone pale and stopped laughing. Loki appeared from behind the drunk and slammed his cup on the table. Then, he stormed out of the room.

The drunk guffawed and called for more honey wine. The room remained quiet. There was the sound of a bench being moved and then footsteps behind the drunk. "No, I think you're done. Go to bed," said Thor.

"I ain't done. You may be the prince, but you're still a kid! I don't have to..."

Thor pulled back his arm and punched the man in the back of his head. The drunk's lights went out, and he went face first into the table. "I think he's passed out. Could someone help this man to bed?" said Thor. The whole room roared with laughter. The man was helped to bed.

Thor knocked on Loki's door. "Loki, can I come in?"

"Since when has a door been your barrier? If I say no, you'll come in any way," replied Loki.

Thor sighed and opened the door. "I am trying to respect your privacy." Thor came into the room and found Loki sulking in a chair by the fire. "He was drunk and mean."

Loki looked up. "What did you do?" He waved his hand, and the door closed on its own.

"I told him to go to bed," said Thor.

Loki scowled. "And then?"

Thor smiled. "Well, he objected. So I made him go to sleep."

Loki groaned and then facepalmed. "I wish you would stop that! What compels you to do shit like that! Don't I get enough crap from the others?"

"What are you talking about?" asked Thor.

"Why don't you get it?" Loki raised his voice in frustration. "When you do shit like that, come to my aid, as it were, the others never let me hear the end of it! Shit on a stick, Thor! 'Don't make fun of Loki or Thor will beat you up.' You are my little brother! You are embarrassing me!"

"But Loki, that's just it, you are my brother. I don't care about age or what the others say. We are family. We stick up for each other."

"Name one time I had to stick up for you! Name one single instance, Thor." Loki paused to let his brother roll that question around in his head. When Thor couldn't give an answer in five seconds or less, he went on. "Exactly! Never!"

"No, wait, there was that time with the troll. You helped me."

"No, that wasn't in front of everyone. It has to be with an audience; otherwise, it's not the same."

"I don't understand."

"No, you wouldn't, would you," Loki punched his knee in anger. "I can do so much, but that doesn't matter if it isn't seen. That's what holds weight here. For example, did any of those hard heads know that the hammer came back to your hand because I cast the spell to get it there? Your hammer doesn't automatically come when you call."

"Oh, but wouldn't be awesome if it did?"

"Thor, focus. By the Nine!" Loki rolled his eyes. "Nobody saw me cast the spell, so it is as if it never happened that way. The glory is, as it has always been, with you."

"Awe come on, that's not my fault. They know you can do stuff. You've been casting curses on me for years. Remember that time you closed my mouth up for a week? That was a good spell."

"And the quietest week of my life," smiled Loki. The memory faded quickly, and he dropped his smile. "No," he shook his head. "What everyone saw was me having a temper tantrum. Which is true, but also no one appreciated the time I worked on that spell. Frigga lectured me, Odin growled at me, and I was punished harshly."

"That's because of the target and the reason for the spell in the first place," said Thor.

"But everyone saw it, and they paid attention," said Loki. "Like the only attention I can get is bad attention."

"Would it make you feel better if I started training for magic stuff?"


"I'm sure I could do it. Then, you could start training with a real weapon. Then we could both..."

"Real weapon?" growled Loki. He stood up from his chair and faced Thor.

"Yeah, we could both..."

 Loki took a few steps to stand in front of his brother. "And Thor learn magic? No way! You do not have the brain function for that." Loki put his finger to his brother's temple and pushed. Thor slapped his brother's hand away from his head. "You can barely concentrate on dinner, much less concentrate hard enough to light a candle!"

"Stop spitting on me!" He pushed his brother back.  "And yes, I could! I would find a way," objected Thor.

"No you couldn't. If I cast a spell on you that had an answer as easy as concentrating, you would not be able to get out of it." Loki stepped up to his brother and pointed at his nose. "Besides, I bet you would wreak havoc on the whole castle because you couldn't figure it out!"

Thor slapped away Loki's hand agian. The dark haired boy growled and slapped back. Thor pulled his arm back. Loki stepped away. Thor dropped his arm. "Bilge smack! You talk a tough game, Loki. But in the end, you're just a jerk. I came in here because I wanted you to feel better. Now, you're being a troll."

"Well, then leave!" said Loki. "I didn't force you in here."

"Fine, I will." Thor went to the door and opened it. "But I could do magic if I set my mind to it." He walked out into the hallway and turned to look back in the room. "I'm going to ask tomorrow."

"Withergeist!" yelled Loki. Then, he waved his hand and the door smalled in Thor's face.

"Troll lover!" yelled Thor back at Loki's door. There was no response from the room. The teenager sighed and walked into the torch lit hall. "What's a withergeist?"

Frigga stepped out of the shadows. "A withergiest is an evil spirit that sucks the life essence from a being slowly. Like milking a cow, if you will, leaving behind a person who is withered, lifeless, and bitter."

"Well, he can suck rocks for water, then," said Thor.

"I agree. It is a pointless venture to help your brother feel better about a situation. Even if he knows you are not to blame for the situation itself," said Frigga.

"Am I?" asked Thor

She huffed. "It doesn't matter. We are talking about people. Your brother has never been good with normal social skills. At least not everyday social skills. I heard your Father once call him a "heyoka."

"What's that?"

"It comes from the tribes of men to the distant west. There it is believed that those who are born different, those who can speak and behave in backward ways, are sacred jesters. The word is "heyoka." These people can use humor to heal, inspire, and instruct. They are revered, not in a worshipping way, but in a respectful way. Because heyoka can be helpful but also cause great harm. It depends on how another person or group of people need them to behave. They have special relationships with the Thunder-beings, the creators of their kind. An interesting trip for your father, one that gave him great insight into the behavior of your brother, Loki." Frigga took Thor's hand and walked him down the hallway.

"In the case of Loki, your father has gone to great lengths to try to understand why he is the way he is. Loki's thoughts are adverse to the norm. He can speak and read backward, upside down, and sideways. His ideas are often opposite of what we have come to believe. The only advice I can give you, concerning Loki, is the same advice your father follows. You must accept him for who he has decided to be that day. For tomorrow, he will be something new, until he has discovered himself. And even then, it will change but not so drastically."

"So, swim with the current of the raging river?" asked Thor.

Frigga smiled. "In shorter words, yes." She led him to his door. Frigga kissed his forehead. "Now, go to bed."

"Before I do, I wanted to ask about magic. Can you teach me?" asked Thor.

"Uh, let's address that tomorrow, Shall we?" said Frigga.

"Fine," said Thor. He turned and went into his room.

One week later, the argument and the question of magic had been forgotten. The day passed like a typical day. Loki put his morning hours into knife throwing and after lunch went into the study with Frigga. Thor spent his day in the training yard. Towards evening, Thor took his turn to help clean up the training yard. There were many things to do; returning weapons and armor to the armory, repairing targets, and general clean up. Thor's task was returning equipment to the arsenal while the others did something else. There wasn't too much to the job and generally quick. So, Thor didn't complain. He collected the equipment and went into the armory. The others finished their tasks and headed into the building to freshen up and wait for dinner.

It was in the middle of dinner when Odin leaned over to Frigga. "Where is Thor?"

Frigga looked around the banquet hall. "I don't know. I don't see him."

"Heimdall," called Odin. "Where is Thor?"

Heimdall was sitting in front of a large pork roast and a crock of beer. "He's in the armory, straightening things out," replied Heimdall between bites. "It appears he can't help himself and won't be finished for some time."

Odin nodded. "Oh, all right then. Hard work makes for a hearty appetite. We'll set something aside and send it to his room."

"No, you don't understand," said Heimdall, licking his fingers. "He is literally straightening things out. Flattening them. Shields flattened. Armor flattened. Bows straightened. He did outstanding work on those scimitars from the west. Still can't figure out how he managed the bows. And it looks like he is starting work on the helms. Those should be nice and flat in no time." Heimdall chuckled. "He can't help himself."

"What?" asked Odin. "He's doing what?"

Heimdall took the apple from his roast pork and placed it on the table. "It's easy. This is a helm, right?" Odin nodded. 'Okay, Thor can't help himself from flattening it out. Straightening it out. Like this." Heimdall slammed his fist into the apple, spraying the pulp everywhere. Then, using this fingers straightened the sides of the mess so that it was a perfectly flat square of pulp on the table. "Helm, flat and straight. Done." He pointed to the mess of apple.

Odin stood up from the table. "Guards! With me," he bellowed. He moved from the table towards the armory.

Odin entered the armory. He found Thor hammering away on a helm, with his new hammer. In the center of the room, perfect lines of flattened and straightened objects that used to be equipment. Thor's face was pale and sweating as he hammered away at the metal. "I'm sorry, Father. I can't stop! I can't stop!"

Odin snapped at the guards to hold him. They rushed at Thor to grab his arms in mid-swing. The hammer went berserk, swinging at anything that wasn't flat on the guards. Odin called for more guards and Frigga. At the end of the fray, there were three men per limb, holding down Thor. Frigga behind Odin accessing the situation.

"What shall we do with him, Sire?" asked a guard.

"Take him to his room. And by the Nine! Make sure his hammer stays out of hands," replied Odin. As the guards carried Thor out of the armory, Odin turned to Frigga. "Spell?"

"It has to be," replied Frigga. "There can be no other cause."


"I won't answer that."

"Does he have the ability?"


"That's all I need to know," said Odin. The patriarch stormed out the armory, looking for Loki.

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