The goddess of the underworld stared across the table at Taavi. Hel stared at the boy with her two pitiless black eyes, and she frowned.
“Finish your broccoli,” she said.
Taavi pushed the plate away. “They’re yucky.”
“No, they’re not. They’re yummy and good for you.”
She plucked a piece of green in her long, thin fingers and tossed it into her mouth. She chewed with a forced smile and swallowed. She stuck out her tongue.
“All right, so they’re not yummy. But they are good for you, and your mom said you need to be part of the clean plate club.”
Taavi turned up his nose.
“If you don’t eat your vegetables,” said Hel. “You could end up dying, dragged down to my realm of eternal, endless night.” Two skeletal warriors sprang up behind her chair and hissed at him. “Now a bit of broccoli isn’t too much of a price to pay to avoid that, is it?”
Taavi smiled. “I liked the underworld. It was fun.”
Hel grunted. She’d only babysat one weekend, but it’d given the young man the idea that the afterlife was all bounce houses and s’mores.
Idunn stepped into the dining room. “Who wants pie?”
Hel hastily dismissed her skeletal servants, but not before Idunn noticed them. The fertility goddess shook her head. “What did we tell you about trying to scare Taavi?”
“He doesn’t scare,” said Hel. “He likes skeletons. Right?”
Taavi nodded with a big grin. “Skeletons are cool.”
Idunn set the pie on the table.
“Apple,” said Hel. “Again.”
“What’s wrong with apple?” asked Idunn. “Taavi likes apple. Don’t you, sweetheart?”
“It’s my favorite.” He reached for it.
Grinning, Hel put her finger on the pie, and it started to rot. “Eat your broccoli or the pie gets it.”
“Hey, I made that for Taavi,” said Idunn.
“And I’m teaching him a lesson. Sometimes, you have to do what you don’t want to do for your own good.”
Hel smiled and the pie bubbled and blackened and deflated. Shadows crept along the dining room walls and cackled with sinister glee.
Taavi folded his arms and sneered at his plate. “I don’t like pie anyway.”
Idunn snatched away the pie. She’d made it with her special apples, so once out of contact with Hel, it popped back to life as fresh as before. The shadows groaned as they disappeared.
“Your Auntie Hel has a point,” said Idunn. “You can’t have dessert until you’ve proven yourself worthy of it. An unearned reward will never taste as sweet as one you’ve fought for. So eat your vegetables.” She set the pie down and sat at the table, cutting a slice for Hel and herself. “Or you can just sit there until your mom gets home. It’s your call.”
Taavi sat there. He never wavered. He never even picked up his fork.
“Stubborn little shit,” grumbled Hel as she cleaned the table, leaving only Taavi’s hated nemesis behind.
“Language now,” said Idunn.
“Are they all like that?” wondered Hel.
“Nine year olds.”
Freya came home a little while later. She kicked off her shoes and sat on the sofa.
“Long day?” asked Idunn.
“Usual. Thanks for babysitting on such short notice,” said Freya.
“No problem,” said Hel. “We love the kid. But we couldn’t get him to eat his broccoli.”
Freya went to the dining room and kissed Taavi on the head. “I hear someone doesn’t like his vegetables.”
“Yes, they are,” she waved her hand over the plate, and the broccoli started to wiggle. “They’re yucky and gross and horrible, and they want to eat you.” The broccoli growled and jumped off its plate. “And they’ll do just that if you don’t eat them first!”
A sprout hurled itself at him. He caught it and threw it into his mouth with a gleeful laugh.
“Kids and demi-gods aren’t that complicated,” said Freya as she went to change out of her work clothes.
“Oh, I’ll go get the pie,” said Idunn as she went to the kitchen.
Hel smiled and shook her head as the broccoli shrieked as it ran in all directions, and Taavi chased it around the room, gobbling it like a hungry giant, giggling with delight.