Expecting Someone Taller
Tom Holt

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Expecting Someone Taller



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Expecting Someone Taller

Copyright © 1987 by Tom Holt


“Since you are totally ignorant of even basic theogony,” he said, “I will explain. My name is Ingolf, and I am the last of the Frost-Giants of the Elder Age.”

“Please to meet you,” said Malcolm instinctively.

“Are you hell as like. I am the youngest brother of Fasolt and Fafner the castle-builders. Does that ring a bell? No?”


“You didn’t even see the opera?” said Ingolf, despairingly.

“I’m afraid I’m not a great fan of opera,” said Malcolm, “so it’s unlikely.”

“I don’t believe it. Well, let’s not go into all that now. I’ll be dead in about three minutes. When you get home, look up the Ring Cycle in your Boy’s Book of Knowledge.”

“Whoever owns the Ring is the master of the world,” said Ingolf, gravely.

“Oh,” said Malcolm. “So you’re . . .”

“And a fat lot of good it’s done me, you might very well say. Who did you think ruled the world, anyway, the United bloody Nations?”

“I hadn’t given it much thought, to be honest with you. But if you’re the ruler of the world . . .”

“I know what you’re thinkiong. If I’m master of the world, why should I have to hide in a copse in Somerset disguised as a badger?”

“More or less,” said Malcolm.

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” said the Giant sagely.

2. Malcolm had never been greatly inclined to metaphysical or religious speculation, but he had hoped that if there was a supreme being or divine agency, it would at least show the elements of logic and common sense in its conduct. Seemingly, not so. On the other hand, the revelation that the destiny of the world had been shaped by a bunch of verbose idiots went some way towards explaining the problems of human existence.



3. “In the Dark Ages, of course, it was inconceivable that anyone would prefer unlimited wealth to a bit of fun with a pretty Rhinedaughter—that’s what all that stuff about forswearing Love was about—but that was a thousand years ago. What could you buy a thousand years ago that was worth having? The ultimate in consumer goods was a rowing-boat or a goatskin hat, and the ideal home was a damp log cabin with no chimney. These days, everything has changed. These days, most people would forswear Love for a new washing-machine, let alone the entire world.”

Combe Hall was undoubtedly very beautiful, but it was also very big. It had been built in the days when a house-holder tended to feel claustrophobic if he could not accomodate at least one infantry regiment, including the band, in his country house. Its front pediment was world famous. Its windows had been praised and reviled in countless television series. Its kitchens were enormous and capable of being put to any use except the convenient preparation of food. It was very grand, very magnificent, and very empty.

Malcolm had always fancied living at Combe Hall on the strict understanding that his wish was never to come true. Now that he was its owner and (apart from the legion of staff) its only resident, he felt rather like a bewildered traveller at an international airport.

6. “But it wasn’t the power or the money I wanted—well, they would have been nice, I grant you, I’m not saying they wouldn’t—but it’s the principle of the thing. You know how it is when someone takes something away from you without any right to it at all. You feel angry. You feel hard done by. And if that thing is the control of the world, you feel very hard done by indeed. Not that I want to control the world particularly—I imagine I’d do it very badly. But it’s like not being invited to a party, you feel hard done by even if you wouldn’t have gone if they’d asked you.”

Flosshilde smiled sweetly at him, with the result that the milk in his coffee turned to cream. “Hello, Alberich,” she said. “How’s the digestion?”

“Awful. What are you doing here?”

“Drinking coffee. What about you?”

“Don’t be flippant.”

“But that’s what we do best,” said Woglinde, also smiling. There was little point in this, except pure malice, for Alberich had forsworn Love and was therefore immune to all smiles, even those of Rhinedaughters. But Woglinde smiled anyway, as a sportsman who can find no pheasants will sometimes take a shot at a passing crow.

Malcolm had always been of the opinion that pretty girls should not be allowed to smile at people unless they meant something by it, for it gives them an unfair advantage. He now felt under an obligation to buy something. That presumably was why the owner had installed a pretty girl in the shop in the first place, and Malcolm did not approve. It was exploitation of the worst sort.



8. The dining-room of Valhalla, the castle built by Fasolt and Fafner for the King of the Gods, was furnished in spartan but functional style. It had that air of grim and relentless spotlessness that is described as a woman’s touch.

Flosshilde was always beautifully dressed. She had been following fashion since the dawn of time, and her wardrobe occupied the space on the bed of the Rhine between Andernach and Koblenz. Not only did she follow fashion, she led it; she had been wearing figure-of-eight brooches when the Iron Age was still in its infancy, and it was her pioneering work that had given the ladies of sixteenth-century Europe the surcingle. In comparison, she thought, the twentieth century was drab, to say the least. Nevertheless, she had looked out a rather clever lemon-coloured pullover and a pair of black and white striped trousers which had, oddly enough, been in vogue at the height of the Hallstadt Culture. If you keep things long enough, she had learnt by experience, they eventually come back into fashion.

To add the finishing touches, she decorated her ears with Snoopy earrings and slipped over her slim wrist a bracelet of amber which had been given to her by the first King of the Langobards and which looked reasonably like tortoiseshell plastic. She would, she concluded, do.



In his life to date, he had met very few girls, and most of those had been friends of his sister Bridget. As a result, he had tended to fall in love with all the rest, just to be on the safe side. Since there had been no risk of the love being returned, this was strictly his own business and nothing to do with anyone else.

“I’m not human, I’m delighted to say, but even so, the first thing I had to do before I was able to make the Ring in the first place was to forswear Love and all its tedious works. Whoever thought up that particular requirement knew what he was about, believe you me. Not that I was ever romantically inclined myself; my heart has often been burnt but never broken. Anyway, this made me immune from the one single greatest cause of idiocy in the world.”

“I mentioned your art and your poetry just now. What are your favourite themes? Love and War. The two things that any species can do, and which most species do so much more sensibly than you lot—screwing and killing—are the things you humans single out to make a song and dance about. Literally,” said Alberich, who above all else detested musicals. “Now be fair,” he continued, “can you honestly say that a member of a species with this ancestral fallibility should be allowed to rule the universe?”
Unless he found some way of cheering her up, life with her would be intolerable. On the other hand, life without her would be equally intolerable or even worse, so what could he do?

“And he’s a god?”

“Only a very minor one. Many people are, you know; about one person in two thousand is a god or a spirit of some sort. Of course, most of these are mortal and wholly oblivious of their divine status. We prefer to keep it that way. It’s like your English system of appointing laymen as Justices of the Peace.”


Admittedly, the concept of love took on some strange forms (especially in California), but by and large the human race was horribly consistent in its belief in its value.

No matter how confused, oppressed, famished or embattled they were, the inhabitants of the planet tended to regard it as being the most important thing they could think of, and even the most cynical of mortals preferred it to a visit to the dentist. [...] Furthermore, with very few exceptions, the human race seemed to find its favourite obsession infuriatingly and inexplicably difficult, and considered it to be the greatest single source of misery in existence.

Even the major armament manufacturers had given up their lawsuits against the United Nations (they had been suing that worthy institution in the American courts for restraint of trade, arguing that World Peace was a conspiracy to send them all out of business) and turned over their entire capacity to the production of agricultural machinery. The whole planet was happily, stupidly content and, in order to rectify this situation, mankind had fallen back on the one source of unhappiness that even the Ring could do very little about.




Wotan raised his right hand, and the Valkyrie Waltraute, who closes the eyes of men slain in battle, led forward his eight-legged horse, the cloud-trampling Sleipnir. Above his head hovered two black ravens.

“If you get mud on that saddle,” said Waltraute, “you can clean it off yourself.”

He knew of course that there was such a thing as love, and that if you happen to come across it, as most people seem to do, it is not a thing that you can avoid, or that you should want to avoid. But you cannot go out and find it, because it is not that sort of creature. The phrase “to fall in love”, he realised, is a singularly apt one; it is something you blunder into, like a pothole.



15. But the world continued to thrive and prosper, with only the epidemic of love and romance spoiling an otherwise perfect situation.

text checked (see note) May 2024

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