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The Goat Shed

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Loki woke with his head aching and his back uncomfortably cushioned by shards of splintered wood. If that wasn't enough, there was something trying to eat his hair.

"Leave it," said an old woman. "You don't know where it's been."

Loki tried to correct himself to the more polite 'elderly woman,' but it simply didn't fit. The woman was old, though, her gray hair in a bun and her black dress dusty with wear. The goat that had been giving Loki an impromptu haircut left off, and Loki pushed himself into a sitting position.

When he fell off the Rainbow Bridge, he'd only entertained a minute possibility that he would die. More likely, he thought, that he would fall to Earth or Jotunheim, or realms unknown.

Now Loki was sitting in a small crater, surrounded by goats and high rolling hills. This, he supposed, was realms unknown.

"You ruined my goat shed," observed the old woman.

"These things happen," agreed Loki. He made a game attempt at standing up, failed, and decided to try again later. "I'm sorry to presume on your hospitality, Lady...?"

"Mistress Weatherwax," said the woman. "Are you a fairy?"

"I may be or I mayn't," said Loki. "It depends on your point of view."

"These boots have iron nails." Mistress Weatherwax didn't move, but Loki imagined she had a powerful kick. "And my hospitality doesn't stretch very far."

Loki considered this. "I think the answer is probably no."

"What are you, then?"

"I'm Loki." Loki bowed from the waist, and made another attempt at standing. He succeeded this time, although he felt a little unsteady. "And I'm afraid I have no idea where I am."

"Lancre," said Mistress Weatherwax. When Loki shrugged, she kept going. "The Ramtops. The Disc."

"The Disc?" Loki half-remembered something about that. "Does it rest on some turtles? And the turtles ride on an elephant?"

"You've got it backwards," said Mistress Weatherwax. "I suppose you're not from these parts."

One of the goats butted Loki in the back of the knee. He nearly fell, still uncertain on his feet, but Mistress Weatherwax caught his arm and held him. "I'm sorry about the shed," he said, once disaster was definitely averted.

He thought he sounded convincingly contrite, but Mistress Weatherwax just squinted at him. "You can stay here for now," she decided. "Until you fix it."

---

Mistress Weatherwax was a witch. Loki found that out the first evening, when he cast a spell to make the goat shed appear as new, and Mistress Weatherwax frowned and told him to do it properly. Now Loki was cutting boards with Mistress Weatherwax's blunt saw and trying to figure out what kind of magic his hostess knew.

She didn't seem to do much. She didn't glamour her appearance or make her garden grow. She mostly cooked vats of herbal remedies and watched the sky for changes in the weather. But there were traces of magic in every corner of her house, and Loki didn't like the way her little white cat looked at him.

He started hammering a few boards together for the first wall, then stopped because the sweat was dripping into his eyes. He pulled up the hem of his shirt to wipe his face, and then froze at the guttural cooing noise this engendered.

He lowered the hem a little, and the old woman in front of him groaned in disappointment.

"Don't cover that stomach," she said. "It deserves to breath free, to my mind."

Elderly didn't apply to this lady either, but old had a very different connotation in her case. She sagged happily, and her hair spilled in frizzy locks from under her hat.

"Is that you, Gytha?" called Mistress Weatherwax from the house.

"I'm just saying hello to your young man!" said the new old woman. "Hello, dearie. I'm Nanny Ogg."

"Loki," said Loki, and decided to just strip the shirt off entirely. Nanny Ogg clapped.

"Don't humor her." Mistress Weatherwax emerged into the sunlight, already scowling. "And don't distract him, Gytha."

"Where did you ever find him?" asked Nanny Ogg. "How do I get one?"

"He fell on my goat shed," said Mistress Weatherwax. "He can stay with you after he fixes it, if he likes."

Nanny Ogg extended a hand, and Loki kissed it. She giggled. Mistress Weatherwax looked disgusted.

"I would be delighted," said Loki. How many witches were there in Lancre?

---

Several, as it turned out. Most of Mistress Weatherwax's visitors were looking for help, but a significant portion were other witches come to pay court. Loki watched as maidens, matrons and crones passed through Mistress Weatherwax's door. They chatted and asked her advice and listened carefully to the things she didn't say.

Loki's least favorite visitor was the young woman with the black cloak and the overlarge hat. The air shimmered blue around her feet, and she looked at him with hard eyes.

"Tiffany thinks you're a fairy after all," said Mistress Weatherwax that evening. "For all that you're using iron nails to build my shed."

Loki shrugged and looked out into the night. "Do you know the magic to send me back?"

"Send you back where?"

Loki shrugged again, and ate a little of the stew that Tiffany had brought them. The tinge of lamb's blood felt heavy on his tongue.

"I can't send you anywhere until you decide where you're going," said Mistress Weatherwax.

"I'll think about it," said Loki.

---

He finished the goat shed when the leaves first began to fall, and the goats rushed into the little structure as soon as they were allowed. It was almost night, and Mistress Weatherwax had gone to bed early.

Loki thought about waking her, but he hadn't decided where he wanted to go. He took the pack he had made instead, with a few changes of clothing and some food and a few of Mistress Weatherwax's mysterious herbal remedies. The little white cat watched him as Loki walked out into the dusk.

An owl hooted as Loki opened the garden gate, and Loki looked up into mad, intelligent eyes.

"I'll come back," he said. "When I've decided. Or when I'm bored."

The owl rolled its head and flew away. After a moment Loki followed it.