Marrow

by M. Howalt

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Photo by Darren Flinders via Flickr. Creative Commons: Some rights reserved.

 

This is the story of two overgrown boys on a road trip. You have probably heard it before, but I personally feel that the focus is always slightly off when others tell it. So let me do the talking for once, okay?

It was all Loki’s fault, of course. It pretty much always is. I’d be surprised if he didn’t suggest the road trip in the first place. He probably did the packing too which would explain why they brought along an arsenal of weapons, spare shoes, fresh underwear, extra cloaks for cold weather and lots of mead and completely neglected to bring food and water or a tent. But fine. I suppose there was marginally less for us to haul along like that, and my brother and I just need a patch of grass to nibble on.

We dragged the carriage all the way across Bifrost, from Asgard to Midgard, and onto bumpy roads with gravel that got stuck between our toes more than once. Back then, Thor and Loki were caught up in their bromance, boasting to each other, making ridiculous bets, drinking and singing while my brother and I could do nothing but roll our eyes and send each other meaningful looks.

When night approached on the first day of the Midgard leg of the road trip, Thor blamed Loki for not bringing a tent, and Loki blamed Thor for not reminding him to bring a tent, and so on. Luckily there was a farmhouse nearby where they decided to stay. Yes, that’s how the gods roll. Normal people would have found an inn somewhere or at least approached the people they were about to intrude on with a bit of humility, but not those guys. Thor just knocked on the door and told the woman who opened it that he and his friend needed some supper and a place to stay overnight.

She wasn’t stupid. She knew a god when she saw one. From where I was standing, I could clearly make out the complicated emotions on the poor woman’s face. Awe that she was in the presence of Thor. Worry that her humble abode might not please him. And something else. She only had a few vegetables in her pantry, she explained. Nothing that would quell the hunger of weary travellers, and even less so when they were infamous of imbibing huge quantities of food. The last bit she didn’t say.

“That’s no problem,” Thor said and made a gesture with his thumb over his shoulder.

Well, shit. My brother and I knew where that was going. We’d been through it before. And let me tell you right away, it sucks like nobody’s business every single time.

The woman shot us a glance, and I bleated a request to just serve the bloody vegetables, but she didn’t get it. Instead she showed Thor into the farmhouse where, I expect, he became acquainted with the whole family.

Meanwhile, Loki unpacked and unharnessed us. He didn’t fail to pinch our buttocks and smack his lips and wiggle his eyebrows at us. I mean, seriously? When the only redeeming feature a friendly billy goat can think of about a person is their lack of sexual interest, apart from that one time when said person transformed into a pretty lady goat, which is a story none of us like to talk about, thank you very much, then there is something seriously wrong with that person.

Anyway, the beanstalk son of the farmer came out of the house, and Loki told him to help out, which he did. Some of the trickster’s infamous witty bantering and kicking-the-wheels of the carriage ensued.

“Can we really eat them?” the boy asked, which isn’t particularly polite right in front of the meal-to-be, but kudos for critical thinking anyway.

“Sure,” Loki replied brightly. “You haven’t tasted tender meat till you’ve tasted these.” Another pinch, this time right in the part of my midsection that I’m actually a bit self-conscious about. “Even the worst cook can make a meal fit for kings if they use those two. But …” He coughed into his hand and stole a glance around to see if Thor was nearby. “If you want the best part, you have to try the marrow.”

The boy nodded, infatuated with Loki like everyone else who didn’t know him. “I will,” he said.

“Only,” Loki added, making a brisk sidestep as I swung around to land my back hooves in his grinning face, “Thor is a real hard-Áss when it comes to these things. He wants all the marrow for himself, so you have to be a bit … shall we say discreet?”

“Oh,” the boy said and bit his lip.

I tried to catch his attention with an indignant bleat, and my brother lowered his horns and began to close in on Loki.

“Here you go,” Loki continued, fishing a small knife out of his pocket. “This is sharp enough to cut through bone with no problem. It’s a gift. Unless,” and here his voice took on a jeering quality, “you are too scared? Thor is big and dumb. He won’t know. I dare you to do it. Call it … a test of your manhood.”

Can we just take a moment to talk about toxic masculinity here? I mean, come on! But the boy took the knife, and Loki had to retreat from our horns and hooves very quickly. He had hardly left before Thor appeared with his big hunting knife.

This is one of the parts other narrators of this tale choose to skip over really fast. And sure, it is pretty quick when he does it, but it is still a very upsetting and very painful and somewhat traumatising experience. Imagine dying. Time and time again. Then add the agony and the feeling that the guy you work for shouldn’t brutally slaughter you just because he can. Having one’s throat slit is one of those things that is not supposed to happen, and if it does, it’s supposed to be the last thing you feel. Ever.

After the deed was done, I have no recollection of what happened for the remainder of the night. But I can make a qualified guess.

We were skinned. We were chopped into little pieces. We were boiled with root vegetables and seasoned with salt and herbs. We were ladled into bowls and shovelled into mouths. We were chewed into a pulp, swallowed, and washed down with mead. And complimented for our great taste, I’m sure.

The next morning, Thor took our hides and our bones outside with him to magically reconstruct us by swinging his hammer Mjolnir over our remains while our meat was still working its way through his digestive system. Don’t ask me how that works, by the way. With gods, there sometimes is no logical linear consequence. Thor can indeed be full of the meat of the goats that are pulling his carriage while he is still belching from the meal. Just go with it. It’s not worth it to be driven mad by the paradox.

Anyway, there I was again, magically whole and standing next to my brother who looked every bit as miffed about the whole thing as I felt. Only, I felt something else too. Something completely wrong with my left hind leg. It hurt, and I could barely stand on it.

Thor was grinning and congratulating himself on a job well done when I limped over to him with an accusatory stare. The grin disappeared. The thunder god turned around and roared, bringing out the woman and the boy and the farmer and a small girl too, presumably the whole family, with his tantrum. Now, it wasn’t exactly animal rights he was going on about here. It was mostly about how someone had screwed up his property and gone against his rules and how he would have to walk now that one of the goats clearly couldn’t work for him with a broken leg. Let’s appreciate the irony in that. But okay, we can walk across the sky in a way that most of the aesir can’t.

Loki, naturally, was nowhere to be seen. Eventually, the boy admitted that he had sliced open one of my bones and sucked out the marrow. No one told him to apologise to the victim of his crime, but at least he had the decency to avoid my glare and sob a bit.

The mess was settled by an arrangement that my brother and I should stay with the farmer and his family to allow me to recuperate while Thor and Loki brought along the boy to carry their luggage on the road trip-turned-hike. Then they would come back for us on the way home and also take the girl along as a servant. This was supposedly an honour to the family, although some people may consider it child labour.

All thing considered, however, the well-deserved holiday that my brother and I got with a family who tended to our every needs and treated us as gods was almost worth that broken bone. Let’s not call that the moral of the story, though. I’m just telling you all this for awareness reasons, you know?

 

 

Physically located in the Nordic kingdom Denmark, Marie Howalt explores other dimensions by writing character-driven fiction taking place in the far future, fantasy worlds and alternate realities. Marie’s traditionally published post-apocalyptic debut novel, We Lost the Sky, was recently released by Spaceboy Books, and several short stories have appeared in venues such as Every Day Fiction and Boned. Marie grew up with stories from Norse mythology, but although they weren’t the reason behind becoming a vegetarian, they probably were what caused Marie to always feel really iffy about bone marrow. Say hi on Twitter or Instagram @mhowalt or drop by http://www.mhowalt.dk for more speculative tales.

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