Garr awoke to the trundling motion and creaking sound of the pony-drawn cart. He was also aware, as a cool breeze brought the moist scent of lush vegetation to his olfactory senses, that the cart must be wending it’s way through some wood rich in myriad varieties of trees and other flora. Yet when he opened his eyes wide he could discern nothing but an impenetrable blue-gray murk. Panic washed over him in waves of dire foreboding. Trying to logically rationalize his plight failed and he bolted to a sitting position.
“AAAGGGHHH!!! I’m blind. Huldred, You’ve bled me blind! Huldred…Huldred, where are you?” Garr sent his groping hands in all directions in a fit of panic, finally coming to rest on a round fleshy surface. A face, but whose face?
“Ow! Damn your hide, boy. ‘Tis I who’ll be blind, with your clutching fingers buried knuckle-deep in in my eye sockets!” Huldred took both his hands in hers in a manner that belied her caustic remark, and gently said, “You are not blind, my boy. It is the mid-of-night and we are passing through Idunwood. I daresay I’m every bit as blind as you ’til I cast my gaze over master Dolf, at the reins.” At that she helped Garr to a kneeling position and turned his head to look forward. He could vaguely see the wavering line of silhouettes of people and horses guided by the glow of a low-shuttered lantern “I see”, said Garr, sitting back down. "But why are we traveling so late into the night.
Huldred, pulling the down quilt over his lap answered, “Because I felt a sense of great urgency as we left Josdahl and thought it best to put as many leagues between us and the village as possible. We still know very little about what actually prompted the attack, (ALthough I have my hypothesis, she thought). Ignorance is as good a stimulus for caution as any. Anyway I have directed Tykk to call a halt to our little procession as soon as we reach Hunter’s Well. There is a fair-sized clearing there…”
“Not to mention the best drinking water for leagues around,” Garr interrupted. “I know, I’ve been there. It’s a fine spot”.
No sooner had he spoken, than their little train ground to a halt and Garr could hear the sounds of what appeared to be a heated argument from the fore of the line. As Garr began to climb down from the cart, Huldred grabbed his arm and said, “Your not well yet. Rest and I’ll look into this
“Not a chance”, replied Garr. “I’m chieftain now and it’s high time I start acting the part. Besides, when did you become such a doting hen. Is this Huldred Blodkvinne; switch-lover?” Now he was glad for the cloaking darkness so effectively hiding his grin.
“Bah!” and a sharp shove were Huldred’s only reply.
When Garr reached the front of the line, he was surprised to see Tykk embroiled in a heated confrontation with what could only have been a dwarf. The man was barrel-chested and well muscled with short but thick legs and arms. His face boasted a thick beard which he wore laboriously plaited into two long braids that hung well past his belt. This feature was in stark contrast to the gleaming pate, completely devoid of hair. A green woodsman’s cap was tucked neatly into his broad belt and he brandished a wicked looking war hammer that might easily have outweighed Tykk’s cumbersome battle axe. When Garr arrived on the scene, the fellow stood resolutely barring passage and saying, “Well, I’m sorry ye feel that way, big fella, but like I said; nobody gets by without they answer the riddles.”
“What seems to be the problem here?”, asked Garr, noticing that while Tykk was calmly fingering the blade of his great axe, his face was beet-red and that meant trouble.
Oh, no problem at all, Garr. I’m just gonna fillet me a nasty little dorf", replied Tykk.
“That’s dwarf, sir”, shot the dwarf. “Spelled D-W-A-R-F, and I’m only doing my job”.
“And what exactly is your job, sir?” asked Garr, stepping between the two antagonists.
“Why I’ve been engaged as riddle master of the Idunwood Road by the High Woo Woo himself”. answered the dwarf.
Gar and Tykk exchanged dubious glances out of the corners of their eyes, then Garr cleared his throat and continued. “Oh well, you’ll pardon our ignorance, won’t you? You see, we’re not from around here and well, just who is this Grand Woo Woo?”
“Why he’s the High Dryad of this forest”. Seeing the obvious befuddlement on the faces of Garr, Tykk and the rest of the group, he began anew. “Alright, here’s the way it is: the Woo Woo says there’s something on the move in the Earthlands, something not so good, if ya catch my drift. Anyway, the High Dryad is restricting traffic through his wood. Says only the right one will be able to answer the riddles. Everyone else must turn back, go around or get killed by me and m’ trusy hammer here. Get the picture?”
“Well my good fellow”, said Huldred, pushing her way through the group of their company now gathered about the dwarf. “I should say that puts it succinctly enough. Garr, answer the riddles and let us be away.”
“Me!” Garr couldn’t believe his ears. "You’re the sage. Why don’t you ans…?
“Because the riddles would not be clear to me no matter how simple they seemed. You are the ONE, not me. Now do what needs be done”. These last words where emphasized with a stroke of her infamous switch-cane.
“AH, good good”, announced the dwarf. “Come lad, stand here”. When the dwarf had Garr properly positioned before him he continued. “There are three riddles. The first is this:”
" ‘I am possessed by each thing on earth
Regardless of height, width, depth or girth.
I am less to a man at marketplace cheated
and more to a word that is readily heeded.
While held in regard when buying a horse
I’ve been known to cause a damsel’s remorse.
What am I?’ "
Garr pondered and recited the riddle over and over in his mind and still could not get a clue. Finally after what seemed an eternity, the dwarf said, “Well lad, are ye still with me?” Upon seeing the vacant look in Garr’s eyes, he announced, “Alright. It’s clear you don’t know. There’s no point in going on with this. Let’s get this cart tuned around and…”
“Wait!” shouted Garr through his frustration.
“Well I’ll be dipped”, said the dwarf. “That’s the answer right enough. Weight. Ready for the next one?”
For a moment Garr stood dumbstruck and blinking until he realized what had just occurred. Finally and without much conviction he was able to croak out “Um…what? Oh…I mean yes. I think so”.“Alright, here we go”, said the dwarf, rubbing his meaty hands together. “Gosh, this is exciting”. The stout little fellow was obviously enjoying the contest and Garr got the distinct impression that the dwarf was rooting for him, which was encouraging.
“Riddle number two: We all know that Tyr enticed the specter ferryman to ferry him across the River of The Dead without payment by speaking the ferryman’s true name. The riddle is this: What did the ferryman whisper to Tyk upon reaching the shores of Hel?”
“What!” cried Garr in exasperation. “Nobody knows that.”
“Ah, but I know it. Now are ye going to answer the riddle or do we call it qui…”
“That’s no fair”, cried Garr, now totally frustrated.
The dwarf dropped his jaw and stood stock still and wide-eyed until his emotions caught up with him. “How’d you know that? I thought I was the only one that knew that. Well, the actual quote was, ’That’s no charge’, but, no fare, no charge… never let it be said that old Bromar is one to split hairs. Well done lad. Now here’s the final riddle. If you get this one my fealty will be yours for life. Well well, here goes.: Frey, god of growth and harvest and patron of the elves fell in love with and married Gerd, the daughter of a frost giant. What were Gerd’s first words to Frey upon entering the marital bed?”
Garr scratched his head and rubbed his chin. Everyone leaned in closer with anticipation as the sweat began to run down Garr’s back despite the evening chill. Finally, as much to broach the awkward silence as anything else, Garr said, “God! That’s a hard one”.
At that the dwarf fell to his knees, tears welling up in his eyes. “Absolutely correct”, he exclaimed. “Sire, before you kneels Bromar Steinklippet, a simple dwarf, a craftsman and warrior. I am a loyal fellow and will give my heart and hand into your service if you will have me.”
Taken totally aback by this sudden display of emotion, all Garr could think to say was, “But what of your employment with this woowoo fellow?”
“Oh that,” responded Bromar, using his war hammer to pull himself to his feet, “He can get just about anybody to run off hooligans and rabble. The most significant aspect of my contract with him is fulfiled. I have found The One. Besides, the pay stinks.”
All of this was hitting Garr so suddenly he was finding it hard to formulate responses to the scenario that was unfolding before him. Helplessly he looked to the faces of his friends but received no help from the gallery of blank visages who where apparently as stimied and incredulous as he by this turn of events. So on his own, he turned back to the dwarf and said. “But Bromar, I can’t afford to pay you anything at all and besides, you don’t even know who I am or where we are going. Indeed I am unsure at best myself.”
“Sire, I know that you are the One who answered the sacred riddles and I know that such a one is destined for greatness and adventure. Allowing me servitude in your company will be pay enough. I am a stealthy hunter and a good craftsman. I could be a boon and will earn my keep if you will have me, sire.”
Garr, who was standing with arms crossed and rubbing the bridge of his nose had to stifle a laugh, finally said, “Alright, sir dwarf. I’m sure your skills will be a welcome addition. But please, there is something you must do for me.”
“Anything. Just name it ,Sire.”
“Stop calling me ‘Sire’. My name is Garr Guntarsen.”
Hands were clasped and proper introductions were made all around.
So that is how Bromar Steinklippet came to be part of the company and as they were preparing to get under way Tykk winked at Garr and said, “Friend number eight”.
This is an excerpt from a novel I have been working on for about twenty three years. It just seems to be growing with a life of it’s own. I shelf it for long periods of time and take it out and dust it off when the muse hit. I don’t know if my writing is salable but I would like to think it is. I know my punctuation is abysmal but I guess that’s what editors are for. I’m posting it here to test the water and all critiques are more than welcome. I hope those who read it enjoy it.