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THE POWER HATCH
TWELVE YEARS AGO …
The magic hammer met the frying pan, and sparks erupted in the night.
“For the last time,” bellowed Thor, swinging his hammer with each word, “you”—CLANG!—“cannot”—CLANG!—“cook”—CLANG!—“Hennda!”—CLANNGGG!
Gorman Bones staggered back, blocking the hammer with his pan. He straightened his chef’s hat and apron, and through his mustache he growled, “I’ll have that chicken yet! It could be the greatest meal this realm has ever seen!”
“Never!” Thor shouted. He hammered again, driving the chef away from Asgard’s chicken coop. “I’ve told you already, you crooked cook—I forbid you to broil my bird!”
Hennda, Thor’s darling hen, sat on the coop’s roof. She cocked her head. Gorman stared at her with ravenous eyes, then glared at Thor.
“You’re always telling me what I can’t do!” he barked. He pitched his voice to mock Thor’s. “‘No stealing from the garden, Gorman.’ ‘No open flames near the cat, Gorman.’ ‘No cooking people’s pets, Gorman.’ Well, I’ve had it! I’m going to eat that chicken!”
Thor narrowed his gaze, his red beard lowering as he frowned. He held his hammer to the sky, and storm clouds covered the stars. “Then so be it, chef. Your fire magic is no longer welcome here. The only thing you’ll dine upon”—the hammer began to glow—“is THUNDER!”
At Thor’s command, a lightning bolt flashed from the clouds above. In that same moment, the chef swung his pan down, shooting flames at Thor’s feet. The Thunder God jumped and stumbled, dropping his hammer to the ground. With a booming crack, the lightning bolt split in two.
One branch of the lightning struck the chef, who vanished in a puff of smoke. The other struck Hennda, who jolted into the air with a squawk.
The bird landed with a thud, eyes wide and feathers smoking. She was shocked and singed, but otherwise unharmed.
“The bolt’s power was divided,” Thor said to himself. “Thank fortune Hennda’s jolt was not enough to fry her.” He looked where Gorman had disappeared. “Was the rest enough to slay the cook?”
Hennda blinked, then gave a little wiggle, and with a cluck, she began to lay a glowing egg.
“Bwak,” said Hennda. The egg landed beneath her, casting a pale blue light.
Thor climbed onto the coop and held his fingers to Hennda’s cheek. Sitting on the egg, she cooed and twitched her tail feathers.
The thunder had woken more Asgardians and drawn them to the scene. At the front of the crowd was Brunhilde, an infant girl with wings. In other worlds, she might have been called an angel or a cherub. Here in Asgard, she was called a Valkyrie.
Brunhilde yawned, rubbed her eyes, and squinted.
Under Hennda’s rump, the egg glowed brighter. Beams of light shone through her feathers. A high-pitched hum filled the air, and the egg began to wobble. It quivered at first, then shook so much the whole coop rattled. Hennda remained seated, wide-eyed, shaking, and determined to keep the egg covered.
For a moment, all went dark, and then a thunderous crack sent Hennda flying through the air. The egg had hatched, and in its shell sat a baby chick wearing a horned helmet. His feathers cast a golden glow. He gave a little chirp, and a tiny lightning bolt shot from his beak.
Hennda fluttered back to the coop and stared at the baby bird with Thor. All the Asgardians were still except Brunhilde, who trotted to the newborn chick. She patted his fluffy feathers, and he chirped with glee, emitting a burst of sparkles.
Brunhilde giggled. She poked his beak, thought, and said, “Thunder … cluck.”
* * *
Later that night, the Castle of Asgard was peaceful once more. Brunhilde rested her head on her pillow, and Thundercluck snuggled beside her. Hennda snoozed by the bed. Thor stood on the balcony, wiping the soot from his hammer.
The god smelled smoke, but he saw no fire. A chef’s hat drifted before him, and a voice whispered, “You haven’t seen the last of me…”
And the hat vanished in the wind.
For the next few years, Thundercluck and Brunhilde were inseparable. They played in Asgard’s golden fields and swam in shimmering lakes. Thundercluck lived in the coop with his mother, and Brunhilde often slept on its roof, cuddling the baby bird.
In the Castle of Asgard, Thundercluck was allowed only in Brunhilde’s room. Animals were not permitted in the halls, and certainly not on the Royal Couch. Now and then, though, Brunhilde would sneak him on the couch anyway. She tucked him inside a purse that had belonged to her mother, a rare memento of a family she had never known.
As a baby, Brunhilde had been adopted by the gods Odin and Frigg, king and queen of Asgard. No one ever spoke of Brunhilde’s birth parents.
Thundercluck quickly became like a little brother to the girl. She would hug him tight and say, “You’re my family now!”
As the years went by, Thor marveled at the young chicken’s powers. Thor needed his hammer to summon lightning, but Thundercluck could generate it from within. Someday, thought Thor, that chicken may be the strongest of us all.
With greedy Gorman gone, Asgard’s new chef was a friendly god named Andhrímnir. Brunhilde had trouble saying that, so she called him Andy. Andy knew Thundercluck was a friend, not a food.
A time of peace had fallen upon Asgard, and all was well.
* * *
Thor watched one day as Brunhilde and Thundercluck climbed a tree. The playmates giggled and chirped, and the Thunder God smiled … but then a shadow crossed his face. King Odin had appeared.
“My son,” Odin said to Thor, “you must bring those two to the castle at once.” Beneath his bushy gray brows, the elder god’s face was grim. “We have all been summoned,” he went on. “Saga has had a vision.”
* * *
Deep in the Castle of Asgard, curtains hid the Seeing Throne. Dozens of Asgardians had gathered in the chamber before it and were waiting for Saga, Goddess of Vision and Foresight.
All was quiet at first, but soon the audience began to murmur. Bragi, the bard, plucked nervously on his harp. Thor made his way to the front of the crowd, holding young Brunhilde high. Little Thundercluck sat on her shoulder.
The curtains parted, and Saga stood from her throne. Everyone hushed but Bragi, who strummed a majestic tune. Saga spoke:
Well met, ye gods and goddesses; you’re looking fine and brave.
Alas, I fear I’ve called you here with tidings ill and grave.
Some years ago when Gorman fell, we thought that Thor had won,
But Gorman Bones endured, and now …
his threat has just begun.
Many in the crowd gasped, and a string on Bragi’s harp broke with a sharp twang. All had thought Gorman had perished, but Saga’s visions were never false. When silence had fallen once more, the goddess continued.
I know the chef lives on, my friends, and though it chills our hearts,
He’s studying the darkest of the culinary arts.
In some dark chamber, some dark pantry, some dark breakfast nook,
No longer is he just a chef—he’s now an Under-Cook.
The good chef Andy shivered. The idea of an Under-Cook—a chef who had been to the underworld and back—belonged only in scary stories and nightmares. The goddess went on.
I know not where, but now the Cook has built himself a kitchen,
And trust, he’s not forgotten how he hungers for some chicken.
Although he’s far away, I fear there’s trouble yet to come;
The Cook no longer wants our hen … next time he’ll want her son.
Saga’s words echoed through the hushed chamber. All eyes turned to Thundercluck, who broke the silence with a high-pitched “Buk-bwok?”
The gods then burst into an uproar; everyone liked Thundercluck, and no one liked that evil Cook. Brunhilde grabbed the bird from her shoulder and held him to her chest. Fury burned in her eyes.
Saga raised her hand, and the crowd went quiet once more. In a regal tone, the goddess concluded:
The Cook’s return is now foretold, and this I know is clear:
Young Thundercluck’s in danger if we choose to keep him here.
We have to send him far away, and hide him out of sight,
And there he’ll have to stay until he’s old enough to fight.
“No!” Brunhilde cried, holding Thundercluck tighter still. With a look of deep sadness, Saga met the child’s gaze, but the goddess had spoken. She sat back down on her throne, and the curtains closed.
The crowd again grew noisy, and Thor turned to Brunhilde. “We must act quickly,” he said. “We shall hide him today.”
“There’s … There’s no other way?” Brunhilde’s face softened, and the fury in her eyes gave way to tears. Thundercluck chirped in her arms.
“I fear not,” Thor replied. “I must consult my father; Odin will know where the bird can hide. Take Thundercluck to the Bifrost. I will meet you there.”
* * *
A rainbow shone on a platform of rock. This was the Bifrost; Brunhilde had heard it was a bridge to another realm. She stood at its base, looking at the symbols carved in the stone. They were runes, the mystic form of writing Asgardians used to harness magic.
Brunhilde held Thundercluck as they watched the sunset. They heard footsteps, and the little chicken chirped.
Odin and Thor approached. Thor held Hennda, who had a small suitcase under her wing. Odin bore his spear and an empty glass bottle.
Thor set Hennda on the ground. She waddled to Brunhilde and nuzzled the child’s leg. “Hennda knows what must happen,” Thor told the girl. “Soon Odin and I will take the birds to their new home.”
Odin pointed his spear at the rainbow rising from the Bifrost. “This magic light will warp us to another realm,” he said, “a world separate from our own. There we shall hide Hennda and Thundercluck among foreign chickens.”
Thor patted Hennda’s briefcase. “You’ll be an odd bird there,” he told her. “Don’t you show off how well you can fly, and keep an eye on that son of yours.”
“As for Thundercluck,” Odin said, “we shall take his magic away, lest his thunderbolts reveal his hiding place.” He handed the glass bottle to Brunhilde. “You must help us withdraw his powers.”
The elder god tapped the tip of his spear on a rune, and a shimmering birdbath appeared on the Bifrost. “Brunhilde,” he said, “put Thundercluck upon this birdbath, and take this bottle into your hands.” Brunhilde pouted, but she followed the instructions. “Now, Thor,” Odin continued, “present the sock.”
Thor gave Brunhilde a sock made of Asgard’s finest wool. “Brunhilde,” Odin said, “take that holy sock, and use it to rub the chicken’s feathers.”
She cocked an eyebrow, then started brushing Thundercluck with the sock. Despite her worries, she smiled when his feathers began to stand on end. Soon he was a perfectly round ball of fluff, and arcs of lightning zapped from his helmet to the birdbath. Brunhilde stepped back to Hennda’s side.
“Good, good,” Odin said, “that’s brought his charge to the surface. Now, Brunhilde! Open this bottle and hold it before the bird!” He gave the bottle to Brunhilde. She popped its cork, and the Bifrost’s runes began to glow.
Odin raised his spear in one hand, and with the other hand he drew a scroll from his pocket. “I bear an incantation from Saga,” he said. He opened the scroll and read:
This bird has thunder magic; feel the sparkle and the shock.
We’ve called it to the surface now, by sacred woolly sock!
As king of Asgard I command, so let it not be doubted,
Into that bottle, I declare … a holy Power Outage!
With a flash of light and a crack of thunder, everything went dark. The Bifrost rainbow stopped shining, and even the sun seemed to vanish. Then a blue light glowed; it was the bottle, emitting the same pale hue that Thundercluck’s egg had cast the night he was born. Brunhilde held the bottle in her hands, and its light shone through her fingers.
“And thus … his power is disconnected,” Odin said. The jar continued to glow, and the rays of the Bifrost and the setting sun became visible once more.
Thundercluck was unhurt, but nonetheless he quivered. Brunhilde set the bottle down. She traced her fingers through his feathers. “You’re cold!” she whispered, and she pulled something from her pocket. “Here, have this. I wanted it to be for your birthday … but I guess now is better.”
She held a tiny vest that matched Thundercluck’s helmet. She slipped it on the bird, and his shivering stopped.
Thor came up beside them and crouched to look Brunhilde in the eye. “I’m sorry, dear, but the time has come.” He stood and turned to the Bifrost’s rainbow light. “Odin and I must take the birds to the realm of Midgard,” he said. “That is where the Vikings live, and they call their world … Earth. There Thundercluck must stay until Saga says otherwise.”
“Can I go with him? Or at least visit?” Brunhilde meant to look at Thor, but her eyes were fixed on Thundercluck.
Odin answered, “No, child, here you must stay. Your place is in Asgard.”
Thor cleared his throat. “For the sake of secrecy, there is one more effect of this spell. Soon Thundercluck will sleep, and when he awakes, he will have lost all memories of our realm … and of you.”
Brunhilde felt like she had ice in her chest. She hugged the bird tightly. “Goodbye, Thundercluck. Even if you don’t remember me, I won’t forget you.”
Thundercluck pressed his cheek against hers, and then Thor lifted him away. Odin scooped up Hennda, and the gods walked into the rainbow. They vanished in a flash of color and light, and Brunhilde was alone.
* * *
For a long time, Brunhilde stayed on the Bifrost. When the sun had set and the stars came out, Saga joined her. Brunhilde wiped her sleeve across her cheeks. “I’m not crying,” she said.
Saga picked up the glowing bottle and a fallen golden feather. After a quiet moment, the goddess said:
I know that this is hard for you, and it’s okay to cry.
You learned today how much it hurts to say the word “goodbye.”
But lift your chin and set your gaze to look beyond the sorrow;
We cannot change the past, my dear, but we can shape tomorrow.
Brunhilde took a deep breath and stopped fighting her tears. They rolled down her cheeks, and she felt a new sense of calm. She looked at Saga, then lifted her eyes to the stars.
Someone out there wants to hurt Thundercluck, Brunhilde thought. One day, she promised herself, I’m going to be strong enough to look out for my friend.
Text copyright © 2018 by Paul Allen Tillery IV
Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Paul Allen Tillery IV and Meg Wittwer