Of Casts and Goats
Children are like goats—you can't turn your back on them if you still want your house in one piece~ Loki
As Loki read about Max's adventures with the Wild Things, doing the appropriate sounds and voices for each scene, a few MA's and nurses gathered outside the exam room to listen.
"Who is that in there?" one sighed. "His voice . . . I could listen to him read my phone book!"
"Is it a famous actor?" guessed another.
"Uh . . . he's the dad of the little girl with the broken arm. I think his name is Laufeyson."
"Laufeyson?" exclaimed the younger MA. "That's the guy who invented Asgardian Quest! He's like . . . a billionaire video game designer!" She clasped a hand to her chest. "I can't believe he's here! I wonder if he'd mind signing my notepad? My boyfriend will be sooo jealous that I got to meet him. We're like obsessed with that game."
"I've never played it. But he seems like a nice guy. Not pushy like some rich folks."
"Who's he reading to?"
"His other two kids. I'm guessing they're his youngest."
The young MA's face fell. "Aww, you mean he's married?"
"What, you thought he was free to date?" laughed the older nurse.
"I kinda hoped," she sighed.
Inside the room, Loki had finished reading and suggested Max and Aleta draw quietly on the floor.
"Dad, why's it taking forever to fix Lucy?" Aleta wanted to know.
"Because the hospital is busy," he answered. "Why don't you and Max make Lucy a get well card while we wait here?"
"Okay! Minx says we need to put a big heart on it for lots of love," Aleta said excitedly.
"Trickster thinks we need to put arms on it so they can hug Lucy," Max put in. "Hugs always make me feel good."
Aleta took a piece of paper from her art case and folded it carefully in half. Then she drew a large red heart in the middle. "Here. You can draw the hug, Max."
While his little mischief makers discussed what else to draw on the card, Loki sent a text to Thor and the other Avengers, telling them what had happened in their absence. He then reopened his book and began to read.
Soon a small hand was tugging on his shirt. "Daddy, lookit! We made Lucy a card. Only we can't write in it good—so we need you to."
"Just a minute. I need to find out what happens to Clay Basket."
"The Indian girl I'm reading about."
"When are you gonna be done?"
"In a minute. Just wait."
A minute went by.
"Daddy! It's been forever!"
"Forever can't be counted, spark. Trust me on that." Knowing he wouldn't be able to read in peace until he assisted his impatient minx, he set aside his phone. "Okay. What shall I write?" he asked, taking out his gold ballpoint pen.
"Uh . . . Feel better soon . . . Love Aleta and Max?"
"Max, do you want to add anything?"
"Um . . . from Trickster and Minx too."
Loki wrote as directed, also writing Lucy's name at the top. "Beautiful! Now put it in your art case, Aleta, we'll give it to her when we get home."
"Dad, we need to fix the tree house," Max stated, his little face serious.
"I know. We probably should rip that one apart and build a brand new one."
"You know how to build a tree house?" Max asked, wide-eyed.
"Your uncles do and they can help me. We'll make a better tree house for you to play in. With built in safety features so this won't happen again," Loki vowed.
The two cheered.
"Can we put a tower in?" Aleta asked.
"I want to put in an elevator," Max said.
Loki's eyebrows rose. "An elevator? Kiddo, this is a tree house, not a hotel."
"Yeah but if we had an elevator, then nobody could get hurt falling from climbing a ladder."
"Hmm. You do have a point, scamp. I'll think about it."
"Can we put furniture in it?" Aleta asked. "An' a fridge?"
"What do you think this is—the magic tree house? Next thing I know you're going to want a bathroom and a TV."
"Yeah we need that too," Aleta said decisively. "So Max doesn't pee on the tree."
"Shut up! I never did that."
"Vince peed in the rhododendron."
"Hey, no arguing. What do you mean, Vince peed in the rhododendron?"
"That was last year. When the pipes broke and we couldn't use the bathroom," Max answered.
"And I'm only finding out now?" his father groaned.
"See, Daddy? We need a bathroom in the tree house. Cause boys pee like dogs on fire hydrants."
"I do not, Aleta!" Max cried indignantly. "I don't lift my leg when I pee!"
Out in the hallway, all the MA's and nurses burst out laughing.
So did Loki. "Scamps, you two are killing me!" he giggled. "Aleta, where did you hear that um . . . expression?"
"From Aunt Tasha."
"Ah. That makes sense." Loki coughed.
Before they could discuss the tree house further, the door opened and Dr. Chamberlain, his aide, and Lucy returned.
Loki hopped off the table and came to see his child and the doctor. "What did the X-rays show?"
"Good news," the doctor said. "Lucy has a torus fracture. This is also called a "buckle" fracture. The topmost layer of bone on one side of the bone is compressed, causing the other side to bend away from the growth plate. This is a stable fracture, meaning that the broken pieces of bone are still in position and have not separated apart. So basically it means we won't need to do any surgery, just put it in a cast and let it heal on its own."
Lucy was awake now, groggy, but she seemed to be calmer and not in as much pain. She reached over with her good hand to grab Loki's and said, "Dad, the doctor says I can have a purple cast."
"A purple cast? I'm sure you'll be the envy of all the girls in your class with that," Loki smiled, relief and love glowing in his emerald eyes. Thank the Norns she didn't need to have surgery.
Lucy nodded happily, but then frowned. "Dad, how can I do my hair with only one arm? I need two to braid it."
"Sunshine, you know that your sisters will be happy to help you. And I know how to braid hair too."
"Sisters?" the pediatrician looked puzzled. "You have more kids?"
Loki chuckled. "Nine, last time I counted. There's six others home. Three girls and three boys."
"You and your wife must have been busy," the doctor laughed.
"Dad's not married," Lucy put in. "We're all adopted."
"You . . . adopted all those children?" gaped Dr. Chamberlain.
The god nodded calmly. "I did. Not all at once, but gradually."
"That's amazing!" said a nurse. "How do you manage all of them?"
Loki looked at her with a straight face and replied, "Mind control."
The adults burst out laughing. "That's a good one!" chortled the physician. "Need to remember that."
Max ran up and said, "Lucy, you're awake! Is your arm fixed?"
"Hey, Max. Not yet but the doctor's gonna put a purple cast on it so it gets better."
"Ooo! I wanna see!" Aleta cried, running over.
"We have to make the cast, honey," explained a nurse.
"How long will she have to wear it, doctor?" Loki queried.
"Around 4-6 weeks," he answered. "Since this wasn't a bad fracture, she doesn't need the full twelve. And she's young, kids her age heal quickly."
"Good to know. When can this cast be put on?"
"Now, actually. We have all the materials here," Chamberlain replied. "If you'll follow me down here . . ."
Loki went to push Lucy in her wheelchair after the doctor, calling, "Max, Aleta follow me."
Aleta started to, then cried, "Dad, I forgot my art case and Minx in the other room!"
"All right. Go hurry up and get it."
"And I left Trickster!" Max realized.
The two scampered back into the room to grab their pets and their art supplies.
When they raced into the hallway, they saw their father, sister, and the doctor entering another room down the hall. "C'mon, Max! I wanna see the purple cast!"
They shoved open the door and saw Lucy surrounded by several nurses. Loki stood off to the side, observing, one hand resting on the back of her wheelchair.
"Daddy, we can't see!" Aleta whined.
"Yeah there's too many legs in the way," Max groused.
"Sorry, but there's not much I can see either," Loki told them. "Why don't you go and play in that corner until they're done?"
Reluctantly they went to the opposite side of the room, and Max muttered, "Trickster says this sucks! We never get to do what we want."
"Minx says it's boring and when can we get to do something fun?" Aleta grumbled.
Max slid his gaze over to where the doctor and the ladies in the white coats were all gathered around Lucy. Their father was now part of the circle, holding their sister's hand and talking softly to her. "Trickster is thirsty," he told Aleta. "Let's find a water cooler."
"Where? There's nothing in here," his sister pointed out.
"Maybe there's one in the hallway."
Aleta glanced at the adults furtively. "C'mon, Max. Let's go," she whispered. "Minx says hurry up."
The two darted around the knot of adults and eased the door open and crept out into the hallway.
"This reminds me of the pinata we made last year for Serena's birthday," Loki recalled, trying to keep Lucy distracted while the team of nurses wrapped her forearm in soft cotton and then a waterproof sleeve while others mixed up a bucket of purple fiberglass and water.
"Remember how you got green and pink dye all over your hands and couldn't get it off for a week?" Lucy giggled.
"Yes, and your uncle said I looked like a Mardi Gras clown," her father chuckled. "But at least I didn't have rainbow hair."
"Rainbow hair?" one of the MA's laughed.
"My brother unwisely allowed my youngest two to give him a makeover while visiting a few weeks ago. He fell asleep while they were braiding his hair and woke up looking like Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony," Loki related gleefully. "Thor's a personal trainer and a bodybuilder, so it was hilarious. I have blackmail pictures."
"Your brother's name is Thor? And isn't your name Loki?"
"Yes, and I know what you're thinking. We're originally from Norway, so they're common names over there. And my parents were mythology professors, so . . ." Loki quickly spun a plausible explanation for his and Thor's names, thinking of the expression on Odin's face if he knew he'd been compared to a mortal professor of made-up stories. It amused his adopted son so much he couldn't stop smirking.
He watched as the doctor and his staff wrapped the purple fiberglass strips around Lucy's arm from wrist to elbow. As Chamberlain did so, he explained that he had left it a bit looser than usual to allow for swelling, since usually a broken arm would have inflammation in the beginning. "This way the cast won't be too tight, and risk cutting off circulation. But it's not loose enough to slide all over once the swelling goes down. You can give her some aspirin or children's Tylenol or Advil if she has pain, and I'd like her to keep the arm elevated on a pillow for the first three days, that will help the swelling."
"Can she get this cast wet?"
"Yes. It's waterproof so she can shower with it and the sleeve we put inside is waterproof too, so no worries there."
Loki looked relieved. "I thought I might have to put a plastic bag over it or something when she went to take a shower or bath."
"With the old ones, you would have. But these new ones are a lot easier to deal with," said a nurse.
They finished putting the strips on and then said they needed to wait about ten minutes for it to dry. The cast gleamed wetly in the light, a shade like spring violets.
Lucy looked at it admiringly. "Can you write on it?"
"Oh, yes. You can draw with markers or stickers and have your friends and family sign it," said the pediatrician.
"Cool!" she said happily. "Hey, Aleta and Max! You can draw stuff on my cast!"
Loki turned to glance across the room where he had seen his youngest children playing a mere ten minutes ago. Only to realize to his alarm that they were nowhere in sight. The art case lay on the floor next to Max's book, but the children were gone.
"Not again!" he groaned. "I swear, I'm going to have to put tracking chips on those two like you do for runaway dogs and cats!"
"Dad, maybe they went to use the potty?" Lucy suggested.
"At the same time? More likely they went on another exploring trip," Loki sighed. "I apologize, but I need to find them before they wreck something."
"Oh, Mr. Laufeyson, I'm sure they haven't gone far," began a nurse. "We can help you look for them. Rebecca, Sara, check the ladies room down the hall."
"I'll go look in the men's room," Loki said. Maybe I'll get lucky and find Max in there. Oh, who am I kidding? Those two imps are never where you think and always somewhere they shouldn't be. "Lucy, you wait here until I find your brother and sister."
Loki started for the door along with Sara and Rebecca. That's twice in one day! He thought exasperatedly. When I find them they're going to get a good talking to and a time out. Hopefully before they break something.
Just then the door opened and a tall nurse with blond hair came into the room, holding his missing imps by the hands. "Mr. Laufeyson, I found these two down by the rec center having wheelchair races in the hallway," she told him.
"They did what?" he sputtered. He gave Max and Aleta a Disappointed Look. "Okay, where did you get them?"
"A nice grandma in the TV room said I could borrow hers," Aleta defended.
"And the old man with no teeth said I could have his," Max added. "Then he bet his friend in the other chair a dollar if I could beat Aleta down the hallway."
"You have patients running a betting pool?" Loki asked, his mouth twitching in amusement.
The blond nurse just groaned. "Remy and Titus. They're here for physical therapy for their knee replacement. They'll bet on whether the wind will blow a leaf north or south. I think one of them used to be a dealer in a casino. I'm sure they encouraged your children to race each other. And Minnie would have gladly helped, she's recovering from foot surgery and has rehab for two weeks."
"Believe me, these two don't need any encouragement," Loki said. "Well? What do you two have to say for yourselves?"
"We were bored," Max said.
"Yeah there was nothing to do," Aleta cried. "We've been here forever and Minx was thirsty."
"An hour and a half," Loki corrected.
"That's forever, Dad," Max pointed out.
"Nice try, but I'm bored isn't an excuse to wander off looking for trouble," the Asgardian scolded. "You could have gotten lost or kidnapped," he continued, though a part of him was thinking that anyone who kidnapped his two mischief makers would be begging to send them home after two hours. "Do you want someone to take you away?"
"No, sir," Max said, hanging his head.
"No, Daddy," Aleta looked at her sneakers.
"If you keep running off without me that's what's going to happen. And you'll never see me or your brothers or sisters or Uncle Thor again."
"No! We don't want to be taken away to the funny farm!" Aleta yelped.
Loki bit his lip hard. Don't laugh, Laufeyson. "No? Well, they're going to come and take me away if you keep this up."
"No way! You're not crazy, Dad." Max objected.
"Not yet, but I will be if you keep disappearing. Is that what you want?"
Both scamps shook their heads. "We'll be good!" Max sniffled remorsefully. "Right, Aleta?"
The little girl's lower lip trembled. "M'sorry!" Then she added, "It was Minx's idea."
"Then Minx can be in time out with you and Max, little miss. Now go and sit against the wall and put your hands in your lap and no talking for four minutes."
"I hate time out!" Max sulked, dragging his feet over to the wall.
"Next time do as you're told," Loki informed him.
Behind him, the young MA who had wanted to date him whispered, "He can put me in time out anytime he likes! As long as I can stare at him instead of a wall."
"Christine!" hissed Sara.
"What? Don't you think he's fine? I think he's the hottest thing since fire was invented."
"Christi-i-ne! Shut up, he'll hear you!"
Loki waited until both children had done as he had ordered before turning around and saying, with a regretful little smile, "Kids! Today they're pushing all my buttons."
"I've been there," laughed the doctor.
"I'd like to push his buttons," purred Christine longingly.
"I think your cast is dry, sweetie," said Rebecca. She ran a hand down the purple cast. "Perfect!" She uncapped a black Sharpie and handed it to Loki. "Would you like to do the honors, Mr. Laufeyson?"
"Of course." Loki took the marker and knelt beside Lucy. Then he wrote in his elegant flowing script the following message~
Father's glory, burning bright, the shadow fades, from darkness light, always a treasure, my heart's delight ~ Love Dad
Then he drew a stylized sun beneath it.
"I love it!" Lucy squealed and threw her good arm about her father and hugged him.
"Where's that from?" asked Rebecca.
"My head," Loki answered.
"You just made that up?"
"I'm a bit of a wordsmith," he replied modestly.
"A bit? I couldn't write like that if my life depended on it."
"You should read my daughter Belle's work. She's a better writer than I am," Loki said proudly.
"I think you should write books instead of video games," gushed Christine. "Mr. Laufeyson, could I have your autograph?" She held out her notebook.
"My autograph? Have I suddenly become a celebrity?" he teased.
"You invented Asgardian Quest. To a gamer like me it's like an English teacher meeting Byron."
"I had no idea." He took her pen and signed his name with his customary flourish.
Christine hugged the notebook as if it were a million dollars, her eyes shining with hero-worship.
Loki gave her a gentle smile, and she nearly passed out at his feet. Once he might have welcomed that utter adoration, but he knew such things didn't last, and if he ever sought a wife, it would be one who stood at his side, as an equal, not a suppliant. Besides, he had three children who needed some dinner and their beds, and he felt as if he had been wrestling with the Hulk.
"Here. This is my business card with the date of my upcoming release of Asgardian Quest 2. Give me your address and I'll mail you a test copy before I launch it." He handed her one of his cards, which was a mint green with a gold serpentine border and a stylized runic L for Laufeyson Tech.
"Really? I'll get a copy before it's available to buy?"
"Yes. I need people to test the game and rate it before I start my marketing campaign. You can use the VR helmet that came with the first game to play this one."
"Oh, Mr. Laufeyson! I think I'm gonna die!"
"Please don't. If you're dead you can't preview my game," he laughed. "Thank you all for taking such good care of my Lucy."
Then he turned to see what his two imps were doing and saw they were half-asleep. Apparently all their exploring had exhausted them.
It was definitely time to go home.
After receiving written instructions on how to care for Lucy's arm, he picked up Max and Aleta, while Sara pushed Lucy down the hall to the hospital entrance, then waited while Loki put his drowsy scamps into the van and then drove up to get Lucy.
Lucy was delighted with the card Aleta and Max had made for her. Her siblings signed her cast and drew silly pictures on it while she and Loki ate the shrimp macaroni salad, stuffed clams, and Caesar salad for dinner. As a treat, he had stopped at Dairy Queen and gotten blizzards for everyone.
"Your cast looks way cool," Serena said. "That's the color I'd have gotten." One of her favorite colors was purple. "Does your arm hurt?"
"Not so much. Dad gave me some Advil," her sister told her, admiring the way her cast was decorated. "I'm going to have to let Uncle Thor and the Avengers sign this too."
"That would be awesome," Nate smiled.
"Dad says we're gonna rebuild the treehouse," Lucy informed them.
"Yes! I have some cool designs I can draw," her brother said excitedly."I just need some graph paper."
When the Avengers returned, they all congregated over at the town house. After signing their niece's cast, they pored over possible models for the tree house, including the one Nate had made—which had a winding ramp so he could go into it as well. The one they finally ended up choosing had a peaked roof, and two mini round towers at each end. It sported the ramp with no-skid treads, plenty of railings and a set of clever stairs that could be raised and lowered at the touch of a button. Inside there was a table and some chairs, some built in beds and a trunk where they kept their dress up costumes and items. And in one of the towers was a small magical bathroom with a toilet that vanished the contents when you flushed it.
That was Loki's contribution. "I had to save my rhododendron," was all he said when asked.
The new and improved Laufeyson tree house was the envy of all the other kids in the neighborhood. They all wanted to play in it, but the children only allowed the kids who were well-behaved and hadn't teased or made fun of them do so. If anyone else tried to play in it, they were repelled by Loki's KEEP OUT spells, which would firmly propel any trespasser some five feet away from the tree house, dumping them swiftly on their behinds on the grass. More than one troublemaker ended up with a sore butt before realizing that the KEEP OUT sign meant what it said.
About two weeks after the Rapunzel Crash and Burn Incident, which was how Vince referred to it, Bruce pronounced Hunter well enough to come to the mansion and start doing his punishment with Thor's goats. The boy wore his oldest pair of faded jeans, hiking boots, and an old green and gold flannel of Loki's over a white T-shirt. Loki also provided him with a green bandanna.
"What's that for?"
"You're going to need it to keep out the dust and mute some of the smell." His father advised. "You've never lived on a farm, city boy. Oh, and these too." He handed Hunter some sturdy work gloves.
"Gloves? Dad, I'm not shoveling snow."
"No, you're shoveling manure and straw. Which is just as hard on your hands. You want blisters? Your hands aren't used to this kind of work, kid. Put the gloves on. You'll thank me when you don't come home crying over how bad your hands hurt and I need to soak them and put yarrow salve on them."
"Seriously?" Hunter asked in disbelief.
"You don't believe me? Don't wear them and see."
"No thanks! That yarrow salve stings like a mother!"
"It disinfects," Loki explained. "That's why it stings a little."
"It's as bad as peroxide," Hunter shuddered. He would wear the gloves. Loki's Asgardian medicines always worked, but Hunter didn't always like how they did so.
Hunter found Thor waiting at the goat pen, which was situated in the back of the mansion, some twenty-five feet away from the house. The pen was built of sturdy metal bars and had a gate with a lock. "They're clever about escaping," Thor explained. "Like your father, they enjoy causing mischief."
Hunter laughed. The pen was quite large, almost as big as a paddock for a horse, for Thor's goats were magical and larger than normal. Tanngrisnr and Tanngnjóstr were similar in appearance to a long-haired Norwegian goat. Tanngrisnr was snowy white from horns to fetlocks, a white so dazzling Hunter had to squint when the sun shone directly upon the thick fur. He had large black horns and alert gold eyes. His brother, Tanngnjóstr, was spotted a rich cocoa and white, and his horns were the color of old parchment. He had blue eyes. Both goats wore collars with bells and ID tags. Just in case they managed to get out and wander the streets of the city. They were the size of small ponies, and they jostled and bleated as they came up to the fence.
Thor scratched them both between their horns. "They want to see who I've brought to them. Let me introduce you." He unlatched the pen and let Hunter inside. "Give them this," he handed him two carrots.
Then he had each goat approach his nephew and smell the boy, Hunter petted him, then gave him a carrot, and Thor praised the animal for not eating any of their clothes.
"Do they understand English and not just Norse?" Hunter asked.
"They do. Remember, if they ever get out, just grab a bucket with some carrots and lettuce and call, "Tanngnjóstr, dinner, and they should come running."
Tanngrisnr butted Hunter's hand and bleated.
"What's he want?"
"What he always does. Food."
"What do they eat?"
"Anything, really. But they love green vegetables and sugar, which is why I make sure they can't escape and ravage the vegetable garden. Pepper would have my head for a trophy if they got in there and ate up everything. I have special pellets for them in this feed bin." He showed Hunter around the barn. "When you're done cleaning the pen, you can feed and brush them. Tanngnjóstr is vain and loves to look pretty. Tanngrisnr will let you, but he also will nibble you."
"I'll watch my shirt. But this's why I wore what I did. Dad gave me gloves and a bandanna."
"Loki was right to do that. But your hands will toughen up the more you work."
Thor showed him where the shovels and wheelbarrow was kept. "Once you have cleaned out the pen, spread the manure on the pile, then fill the barrow with straw and put it down for them. That's what they sleep on."
Hunter saw two piles of dirty straw in the pen. "Okay." This didn't sound too difficult.
Thor clapped him on the shoulder. "You're ready, Hunter. Do this task well and afterwards we can go for pizza and ice cream."
"You're the best, Uncle Thor."
Thor grinned, and held open the pen, so Hunter could push the wheelbarrow an shovel through the gate. "Tanngnjóstr, stay!" he ordered when the inquisitive animal would have walked out of the pen. "Tanngrisnr, stay!"
Hunter breathed a sigh of relief when the gate latched behind him. Then he went to take the shovel out.
After ten minutes, Hunter knew the reason Loki had told him to use gloves. Shoveling manure was hard work. He also was grateful for the bandanna, which did keep out a lot of the dust and some of the odor of the dung and the smell of goat. He paused to wipe his brow and Tanngrisnr trotted up and nudged him, looking for Thor.
"It's only me, fella," Hunter said, and gave the snowy goat a pat and a scratch between the horns.
Thor had warned him not to bend over, for the goats found a backside a tempting target to not only rip the pants right off of, but to head butt. "They've done that to me more times than I can count. But they mean no harm. They are just being goats."
"Don't you bite me," he warned the goat who was eyeing him thoughtfully. "I don't want to have to walk home with a hole in my pants."
The snowy goat made an odd snickering noise.
Hunter gently pushed his muzzle away. "Go play! And like Peter Rabbit's mom said, "Stay out of Mr. MacGregor's garden and don't get into mischief!"
Tanngrisnr bleated and Hunter snorted. "Yeah, who am I kidding? Asking a goat to behave is like asking the ocean to be calm. They do what they want, like cats and my little sister and brother. Well, till they get in trouble."
He went to shovel the dirty straw into the barrow when he felt something butt his thigh. Turning, he saw Tanngnjóstr, with a naughty gleam in his blue eyes.
"Oh no you don't!" Hunter scolded. "I don't need a sore butt to go with my sore ribs, billy goat. Before I was Loki's son, I had too much of that. Mr. Grimes the orphanage manager used to wallop us boys with a paddle." He pushed the soft nose away from his sleeve. "S'why I ran off and went with Fenris. Got tired of not being able to sit down."
Tanngnjóstr nickered in sympathy and Hunter petted the sleek coat.
Life had been hard on the streets, but better than being Grimes's whipping boy. Although Hunter hadn't had it as bad as poor Max, whose own mother had abused him until she OD'd one night and they had sent the boy to Second Chance. Hunter shook his head, sending the bad memories back to sleep.
Then he resumed shoveling, wincing as his back protested. The two goats followed him, occasionally pushing and butting each other playfully.
Hunter paused to watch, and said softly, "Don't know how Uncle Thor could kill you and eat you for dinner, even if you did come back to life the next morning. Dad says that part of the myth is true." The boy wrinkled his nose. "I could never do that. Even if I was starving."
Tanngnjóstr jumped over his brother, and they chased each other around the pen, making Hunter laugh. The goats reminded him of how he wrestled with Vince and Max.
He finished cleaning out the pen, then went to dump the wheelbarrow, grimacing at the stench. He had to chase the goats away from the gate upon his return with the straw and the buckets of feed, and Tanngrisnr climbed on top of the straw in the barrow and brayed.
"Hey! Get off of there!" Hunter ordered.
The white goat ignored him.
"Get, brat! Or else no supper!" he commanded in his best you'd-better-do-as-you're- told Loki voice.
Tanngrisnr gave him a startled look from his gold eyes "Mmmnyyaah?"
"Yeah, you heard me. Down, mister!" Hunter pointed to the ground.
Tanngnjóstr trotted up and let out an amused sound, as if he was taunting his brother.
Tanngrisnr bared his teeth. "Nyyaaah!"
Hunter rolled his eyes. "Man, you two are like Max and Aleta with fur!" He repeated his command, adding, "Don't make me start counting." By the Nine, I sound like Dad! I'm so glad nobody can hear me.
Tanngrisnr gave him a pathetic look from his slit pupiled eyes then jumped off the straw stack, landing nimbly on the ground. He bleated, his ears lowered.
"Okay, you're sorry. All's forgiven," Hunter coughed and scratched him between his ebony horns.
The snowy goat suddenly put out a long sticky pink tongue and licked Hunter's face.
"Ugh! Goat breath!" the boy cried.
Tanngrisnr made a sound remarkably like laugh. Then he went and knocked his brother down.
Hunter wiped his cheek with his sleeve. "Goat slobber. Yuck!" Then he resumed spreading the straw down, making two cozy beds.
He then grabbed the feed buckets, which contained a mixture of goat pellets, lettuce, carrots, and beets.
As soon as he did so, the two goats quit battering each other and ran at the boy.
"Hey! HEY!" Hunter yelled just as Tanngnjóstr slid to a stop and sideswiped him in his haste to bury his face in the bucket on the left.
Tanngrisnr promptly stepped on his boot and Hunter lost his balance and ended up sitting on the ground while the greedy goats munched their food.
"Oww! Thanks, you greedy pigs!" he scolded. "You almost trampled me."
Tanngnjóstr lifted his muzzle, strings of beets dangling from his jaws, and made a guilty snort. Then he nuzzled Hunter's shoulder.
"Sure, now you're sorry," the boy grumbled. "Silly goat!"
Tanngrisnr continued eating, oblivious.
Hunter climbed to his feet, dusted himself off and said, "Phew! I stink!"
Tanngnjóstr gave an insulted bleat.
"I'm not a goat," Hunter said. "Guess I'd better groom you now."
To his delight, the brown and white goat squared up, and Hunter found it very easy to comb the thick coat, taking out all the dust, burrs, and knots until Tanngnjóstr had smooth and shiny fur.
Hunter could have sworn the goat preened afterwards.
His brother gave him a long suffering look from his gold eyes when the boy approached with the brush, making Hunter smile. "You look like Max when he doesn't want to take a bath when Dad told him." He tugged gently on the snowy beard. "Be good, okay?"
Tanngrisnr heaved a sigh and then submitted, allowing Hunter to remove all the prickers and dirt from the beautiful snowy coat.
Hunter stepped back, examining the goat. "You're good, buddy. You look like you could be in a parade."
Tanngnjóstr snorted, as if to say yeah right.
That's when Tanngrisnr bit him, and the two scuffled playfully.
"There goes your makeover," sighed Hunter. Then he shrugged. "Okay, boys, it's time for me to go eat pizza. But I need a shower first and I'm glad I brought extra clothes cause these smell like I was rolling in roadkill."
He waved and unlatched the gate, slowly pushing the wheelbarrow out and then made sure the latch locked behind him. The goats quite playing and ran to stand on the bars, bleating sadly.
"Sorry, fellas. Gotta go, but I'll be back tomorrow."
Hunter took off his boots before he entered the mansion, as well as his gloves. His hands were sore and red, but thanks to the gloves, no worse.
He shuddered to think what they would have looked like without them, and silently thanked Loki for making him wear them.
After his shower, Hunter found Thor waiting for him downstairs. "So, nephew, how did you find your first day as a goat keeper?"
"It was kind of . . . fun," Hunter admitted. "Hard, but the goats are funny." He told Thor about all their antics.
Then the Thunder God asked, "Are you hungry?"
"I could eat a whole pepperoni pie!"
"Then let's go get some." His uncle said. "But first, let me see your hands." He examined them. "Hmm, they're sore but you'll live. Tomorrow will be better." He clapped Hunter on the shoulder gently.
They walked to Tony's Trattoria and ordered three large pies. One pepperoni, one extra cheese and bacon, and one with the works. They devoured them down to the last crumbs, along with huge sodas. The waitress nearly passed out from shock.
"Mmm! That was great but I can't believe I ate the whole thing!" Hunter said, rubbing his stomach.
"Hard work builds up an appetite," Thor chuckled. "Let's go for a walk and then we'll get you some ice cream."
By the time they had eaten their ice cream, Hunter was feeling sleepy and yawning uncontrollably. So when they returned to the mansion, Thor told him to lie down.
"But . . . don't I have other chores to do?" the boy asked, not wanting to renege on their deal.
"You do, but not today. You're still recovering, nephew, and your father would have my head on a plate if I overworked you. So go take a nap."
Hunter didn't need to be told twice.
When Loki came to pick him up, he was still asleep. "I guess those goats really tired him out, huh?"
Thor looked down at the sleeping boy fondly. "He'll get used to it. I took him out for pizza and ice cream so he won't be hungry for supper."
Loki chuckled. "Hunter is always hungry, Thor. Did he do a good job?"
"He did. Tanngrisnr and Tanngnjóstr like him. And he seems to like them."
"Good. He needs to get out more," Loki was pleased. He bent to shake his son awake. "Hey, wolfling, time to wake up."
Hunter moaned and huddled into the couch cushion. "Mmmm . . . five more minutes, Dad . . ."
Loki shook his head. "C'mon, son. I have to get home. Before Max and Aleta touch something else." He gently blew in his son's ear.
"Da-a-d!" the boy groaned. "M'tired!"
"Oh, all right." The sorcerer sighed. "Good thing I can 'port me and another person." Then he bent and picked up his son, cradling him in his arms.
Hunter snuggled into him, still mostly asleep.
"We'll be back tomorrow, Thor," Loki promised, then he teleported back home, his son snoozing on his shoulder.
Thor was right, Hunter did adjust after about three days, and then besides keeping the goats, he added using the manure to mulch the flowerbeds about the grounds as part of Hunter's duties. That the boy didn't like half as much, but he knew it was a fair punishment and anyone else would have thrown him in juvie for what he had done.
By the second week, Hunter was as comfortable around Tanngrisnr and Tanngnjóstr as he would have been the family dog, and the goats ran to meet him when he arrived in the morning and bleated unhappily when he went home. That Saturday, Vince asked if he could see the goats, and Loki agreed, after telling Hunter to watch that his brother didn't try anything crazy.
Vince was Loki's daredevil, the one who wasn't afraid of anything, probably because he could see and speak with ghosts. He was the reason Loki had their pediatrician, Dr. Mickelson, on speed dial on his phone. As Loki often lamented, "If somebody dared Vince to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, he'd not only agree, he'd ask if he could do it backwards with his eyes shut." And yet for all his reckless ways, Vince was one of the top students in his class. And he had a fondness for animals, especially ones that no one wanted because they were ugly, or old, or had some kind of defect.
So he was quite excited to help Hunter with the goats, though his brother kept telling him it was not his job to care for Tanngrisnr and Tanngnjóstr. "It's mine. You know why," Hunter sighed.
"I know it's supposed to be a punishment, but can't I at least feed them?" Vince begged. The seven-year-old was walking on the top of the fence and the two goats were running alongside.
"All right. Now get down from there. If you fall and break your neck, Dad will beat me."
"Dad's never beaten any of us," Vince rolled his eyes. "And I can walk this with my eyes closed. You forget I used to climb all over the roof back at the orphanage?"
"No. You almost gave Nasty Nan a heart attack," Hunter grinned.
His brother smirked, his deep blue eyes dancing. Then he jumped down into the pen, showing no fear when the two goats came over to sniff and brush against him. "Hey, guys. What's up?" The little boy patted Tanngrisnr on the head, laughing when the goat licked him. Then he scratched Tanngnjóstr on the chin and the brown and white goat ate it up, practically flopping over at Vince's feet.
"You sure you can't talk to animals as well as spirits?" Hunter asked.
"I'm sure. Animals just like me. You think Dad will let me go with you to the shelter when you volunteer?"
"Maybe. Right now though I gotta clean the pen."
Vince raced around with the goats while Hunter worked.
Hunter had just finished removing the old straw and happened to glance over to see what Vince and the goats were doing. The shovel fell out of his hand. "Vince Laufeyson! You get off those goats!"
His little brother was standing up bareback, one foot on each goat's back, holding on with a rope he had tied around Tanngnjóstr and Tanngrisnr's horns. "Whee! Look at me, Hunter! I'm a goat rider!" The goats were running side by side, devilment gleaming in their eyes.
"Vince! Get down, I mean it! You promised you'd behave."
"Aww Hunter! I am behaving. I'm not hurting them."
"They're not ponies, Vince. Now get down before I get you down," Hunter ordered.
"Okay! Okay! Chill, bro." Vince stopped the goats and jumped off. "You'd have thought I robbed a bank."
"Do me a favor. Try and keep your feet on the ground," Hunter admonished.
"Can I feed them?"
"Yes, here' s some treats for them," Hunter said, showing Vince how to feed a goat without getting bitten.
He began to spread the straw about and then pushed the wheelbarrow out of the pen. As he did so, Vince held out his hands for the goats to lick.
The gate swung open for a moment longer than usual. Tanngrisnr saw and like a quarterback diving for the ball in the fourth quarter, sprinted toward the partially open gate.
"Hunter, close the gate," Vince warned.
But Hunter was busy trying to pull the wheelbarrow and didn't hear him.
Tanngrisnr shot through the gap, followed by Tanngnjóstr.
Vince follwed waving his hand and yelling, "Hunter, the goats are out!"
"Oh Sugar Honey Iced Tea!" Hunter swore. "We gotta get them back."
But the goats were like kids who were released from school early for vacation.
Hunter picked up a bucket and put treats in it and yelled, "Tanngrisnr, dinner!"
The goats however paid no attention. They ran all over the yard, trampling the freshly mulched beds, rolling in a puddle, and nibbling on the laundry that was hanging on the line to dry.
Vince grabbed another bucket and did the same but by this time the goats were too busy exploring to pay attention to the boys.
They called and chased the goats all over, but the magical animals were very quick and fast. They could turn on a dime, and when Vince went to put himself in front of them, they darted around him, up the stairs, and right into the house.
"Hunter! We have a really big problem!" Vince yelped. "They're in the house!"
Hunter went white as a ghost. "NO! Oh no! Oh no!" He ran into the house as fast as he could.
No sign of the goats. "Tanngrisnr? Tanngnjóstr? C'mere, goats!"
"Here boys! We have treats!" Vince warbled.
Then they heard a loud CRASH from the armory room, which was a room where Tony kept all kinds of suits of armor.
"In there!" Vince yelled and raced down the hall, Hunter hot on his heels.
Vince skidded to a stop before open door of the armory room. Most of the armor was displayed upon stands, some was behind glass. There were all kinds of armor, from chainmail hauberks to scale mail to samurai armor, plate mail and shields, even one that looked like a futuristic one with a bug shaped helmet. Dim lighting illuminated all the armor.
"Um . . . Hunter . . . we're so dead!" He pointed to where the goats had knocked one of Tony's prototype new Iron Man suits off the stand and were atop it, happily crunching and tearing into the chest plate.
The boys stared at each other in horror. Then looked back at the goats who were eating strips of the red and gold suit like they were at an all you can eat buffet.
Hunter buried his face in his hands.
"Dad's gonna kill us!" whimpered Vince.
"Forget Dad!" Hunter cried. "Uncle Tony's gonna rearrange us!"