Call Down the Thunder
An uncomfortable silence had fallen over the raft. Though in reality it had become something closer to a submersible. Much of the body of the raft would sink beneath the river’s surface at the slightest shift of weight, and Thor found himself confined to a corner, guiding pole in hand, lest he spend hours standing in ankle-deep water.
He had done his best to shore up the leaks and add more buoyancy, but with nothing but trees around and Thor’s own engineering prowess somewhat lacking it was still a poor showing of a raft. Of course it would be much finer if it weren’t for his passenger.
The transfigured form of Jormungandr, the World Serpent, lay curled on the center of his raft, the logs groaning under her colossal weight. Even in the form of a youngish girl with draconic features she was far denser than iron, and it was a miracle the raft could even support her as it limped and lurched down the nameless river.
Jormungandr, as it turned out, had a rather catlike disposition. Not surprisingly for a creature that slept beneath the sea she spent most of her time asleep, curled and dozing as she basked under the sun, long scaly tail running across the log raft and occasionally trailing behind them in the water. Everything about her was a nuisance. Her breath reeked of poison and rot, enough to even blacken the logs under her face where she dozed. Her very presence terrified the fish of the River and Thor had been unable to catch any all day. She was, at the very least, tolerable when sleeping, but when she awoke and opened her mouth every word came out dripping with sarcasm and malice.
Thor would and had smashed giants for the verbal abuse Jormungandr liked to spit, but both God and serpent knew it was likely a fight he could not win in present shape. Confined to the body of a small girl, Thor was at a fraction of his tremendous might, whereas Jormungandr had all her strength and more still burning within her. Last time they fought it had been something like a tie, this time the odds were stacked in the serpent’s favor.
The thought, along with her mere presence, made Thor grimace as he continued to guide the raft.
The scenery at least was lovely. The clouds overhead had parted to reveal clear skies streaked by high and distant cirrus clouds. The forests were rich and green and flush with birdsong. It might have been a paradise had it been populated by more food and beautiful women, along with one less serpent.
The greaking and groaning of the logs signaled the awakening of Jormungandr as she rolled lazily in her waking, sending water sloshing over the deck and onto Thor’s shoes.
“Watch it!” Thor spat “This water’s cold!”
Jormungandr let out a long yawn, and Thor shoved his hand over his nose and mouth as the acrid poison breath filled the air. Glancing around, he could have sworn the leaves had turned a slightly sickly yellow.
“Ugh” Thor wafted the smell away with a hand.
“You don’t know what cold is, Thunderer.” Jormungandr (Or Jor he had decided was easier to say) was still on her back, yellow snake eyes looking at him from an upside-down face as she watched him, tail sliding idly from side to side.
“Sure I do” Thor said “Niflheim is cold.”
“Nothing is colder than the bottom of the sea in the north, beneath the ice and far from where the sun can reach. It’s nothing but darkness and cold down there.”
Thor shuddered slightly. Jor always made him uncomfortable, and he hated the thought of the ocean floor. So anonymous and quiet, oppressive dark and cold, a place as alien as outer space.
“Nothing down there but fish.” Thor muttered “And one big ugly dragon.”
“Oh there are things down there, Thunder God” Jor smiled, and her grin had no kindness to it, only teeth. “I’ve met them. Old things, powerful things, things greater and more ancient than the petty Aesir and Vanir”
“Ugly tales from an ugly snake” Thor muttered, continuing to push and steer the raft. “But at least I know we’re on Midgard.”
“Do you?” Jor asked in her infuriatingly sarcastic tone.
“Yes I do, stupid.” Thor groused “You’re the Midgard Serpent, so we’re on Midgard. Quoderit Demonstom”
“Quod erat Demonstrandum” Jor rolled her eyes.
“Nothing. Point is you’re wrong.”
“I am not wrong” Thor huffed “And I don’t need a fat ugly snake second guessing me.”
“Well, you weren’t wrong, but you are now.”
“Now you’re not making sense.”
“Fine, I’ll dumb it down for the thick-as-a-brick” Jor said “This is a magic river you’re rafting down.”
“Doesn’t seem magic to me” Thor shrugged.
“That’s because I might be ugly but at least I’m not dumb.” Jor cackled “This river is one of the byways, a trickling stream from the Well of Fate.”
“I’ve never heard of it” Thor said, still far from convinced.
“That’s because the Aesir only need their silly rainbow bridge to get around.” Jor said “The rest of us make do with other paths, the river and trails that wind like serpents between the worlds.” As she spoke, her tail flicked a few drops of water at Thor’s face. “The giants know them, my father knew them, and he taught them to me.”
Thor remembered the giant camp from the other night, the the realization of her words struck him like a ton of bricks.
“Wait!” He shouted, loud enough to catch even the serpent by surprise “Your father!”
“What about him?” Jor asked.
“It’s his fault I’m stuck this way!” Thor rushed forward, grabbing Jor by the collar and heaved with all of his lessened might. It took nearly all of his strength simply to lift her to eye level, staring into her great yellow snake eyes.
“Maybe” Jor shrugged “Seems the kind of thing he’d do.”
“Where is he!?” Thro demanded “Where is Loki!?”
“I dunno” Jor shrugged “We don’t talk much.”
“Is he on this river!?”
“Probably?” Jor offered.
“Whaddya mean ‘Probably’!?” Thor demanded.
“I mean this river winds up everywhere eventually. Makes sense he’d be somewhere in everywhere.”
Thor sighed and dropped the Serpent, too late to realize that dropping her suddenly would nearly flip the entire raft over itself, clinging to the logs as the raft bucked and rolled with the water.
“So I’ve still got no direction.” He said “Just a sinking raft and a mouthy wyrm and nine worlds to search for one god.”
“Well…maybe you’re here for a reason” Jor offered.
“A reason?” Thor rounded on her “I’ve been witched into a wee girl’s body, sent down a river to nowhere with no company but the damned world serpent! What reason is there in that!?”
Jor once again gained that enigmatic smile “You know so little of the world, little Aesir.”
“I’m not little” Thor growled “And I understand plenty!”
“No, you really don’t” Jor said, less amused this time “Your father understands plenty but you’re just dumb to most of it.”
“And you’re not!?”
“I’ve heard the whispers of the Norns while I dream” Jor said “I could feel the worlds turning around me and weighed myself upon the branches of Yggdrassil. I am not some dumb dragon to be slain, Thunderer, I am a fixture of the worlds, the great serpent, and I contain all the world within me.”
“Hmph” Thor grunted “Then bestow your wisdom O’ Serpent” he said with deliberate mockery.
“Tell me, Thunderer, what were your plans before waking up as you are now?”
“Er…” Thor actually had to think for a moment, racking his brain as he tried to recall his last thoughts before waking up along the river.
“Let me guess” Jor said “It was something along the lines of “Going to Midgard to punch Nidhoggr in its stupid face.”
“Hmmm…” Thor began to nod “That…sounds familiar…ya…”
“That line of thinking gets a person in trouble” Jor said “You’re not supposed to kill Nidhoggr, you’re supposed to kill me. Though I think right now you’d be better-suited fighting in Valhalla.”
“What does it matter who I’m –supposed- to kill?” Thor scoffed “I’m Thor! God of Thunder! I can kill whatever dragons I like!”
“Are you though?”
“I just asked are you. Are you really the god of Thunder?” Jor asked, her face devoid of emotion, all light focused on her immense eyes.
“W-well of course I am!” Thor stuttered. “I Just got my shape changed a little!”
“Do you know why you gods don’t come to Midgard often?” Jor asked. Thor’s frown only grew. He didn’t like being lectured
“We shouldn’t interfere with humans that much.” Thor said. It was what Odin had always told him.“The Norns have their own plans for them, and it never ends well if we get involved.”
“Perhaps you should have heeded that advice” Jor said “And stayed off of Midgard. Or perhaps this is precisely what was intended.”
Thor grimaced. He felt like he was being mocked, and his tiny hands curled into fists “Stop acting all high and mighty!” He shouted at the wyrm “If you have something you wanna say then just say it!”
“Fine” Jor slithered close. Uncomfortably close. Thor was nearly knee-deep in water as Jor almost seemed to coil around him, huge shining eyes staring into his.
“I don’t think you smell much like Thor. Oh I think you’re the Thunderer, no one else could be so deftly ignorant, but I don’t think this is your “changed” body.”
“Wh-whaddya mean…” Thor felt dizzy with Jor’s poisonous breath so close.
It was more than her breath though. Thor’s head was swimming like it had when he had first woken up. Hazy memories began to bubble up back into his waking consciousness, memories that didn’t feel entirely like his own.
He saw a burning village, a sanctuary that had been razed and overrun by monsters and giants, all its human inhabitants either dead or fleeing in their wake.
He saw a lightning bolt hurtling from the sky.
“The Aesir can’t kill Nidhoggr…” Thor managed to say, quietly in a whisper. “We’re not meant to.”
“That’s it” Jor said “Think back, find our solution.”
“F-Freya…” He recalled the Vanir goddess, this memory certainly his own. When the beautiful warrior-goddess had told him of the Greeks, those gods valiantly fighting their own Primordial dragon to the south, and how some had circumvented the rule of fate by empowering their own mortal champions. But had it really been circumventing? Or playing directly into fate’s hands?
Jor grinned her bestial grin, mouth full of sharp teeth. “You’re getting it now. Time to pull the Thunderer out of you.”
All this weakness, this frailty, this smallness that had consumed him. He thought it was simply the natural state for one so small, that his own strength had been stolen away somewhere. He had tried to change his form back to normal through force of will but he had thought his body was stuck this way.
Now the answer came rushing in like a tidal wave. He couldn’t change this body because it wasn’t his. He hadn’t been transformed through some witchery into a little girl. He was inhabiting one. All that weakness and powerlessness had simply been a mortal’s attempts to hold in all of his power, like a balloon filled almost to bursting. The realization shocked him, not only at his predicament but at his apparent host’s strength. Little as she may be, this girl was made of something harder than iron if she had held Thor’s power in for so long.
But with his realization came his answer. He didn’t have to find a way to transform back. He couldn’t, after all. He simply needed to step outside.
Thor’s eyes turned skyward, the clear blue sky began to darken, clouds rolled in with terrible speed as the wind whipped around them, The river thrashed with the sudden storm as the rain began to fall. Sensing what was coming, Jor slid smoothly back into the water with a splash.
As the clouds centered overhead, waves crashing and bucking beneath the raft, the whole world seemed to tear apart as a colossal lighning strike came down upon the river. Trees shattered, their branches incinerated, the thunderclap sending the river crashing over its banks as the whole world seemed to shake. In a single powerful moment, the divine spirit fled the girl’s body as quickly as it had come, flying across the heavens like a thunderbolt as it sought its chariot, reveling in all his reborn might as Thor, God of Thunder.
In the center of the crater that he had left behind, where the remaining trees fell creakily and the river pooled and swirled, a young girl rose shakily to her feet. She was almost covered entirely in mud, her head a tousled mess of bright red hair as she tried to blink the shock from her mind. Sound was muffled and the world was screaming bright around her as if she had barel missed a mortar strike.
Her name was Torleif, and for a moment she thought she had been forgotten, abandoned on this river between worlds, with nothing left behind but a body almost broken by the strain of holding in a god.
Another crash struck nearby, and Torleif dove to the ground to avoid it as a second, smaller, lightning bolt struck the earth. Once more she rose slowly to her feet and saw, planted headfirst into the earth, the reward for her valor and strength.
A hammer, heavy and meant for war, it’s handle too short for both hands, and its head sized for someone slightly larger than her. A great Uruz rune was carved upon the side. Shakily, hesitantly, Torleif reached out and took the hammer’s grip in hand.
She felt the lightning course through her, she felt the strength of thunder in her body again. All of the power she had possessed while Thor had inhabited her flowed through the hammer and into her. Through their accidental meeting he had left his mark on her, and for her strength and will he had named her worthy as his champion.
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=31&sl=291