The sun was at its apex and hot, very hot. The full moon could also be seen riding the horizon over the Greydeep. It was the spring equinox. The height of the mortal ability to sense the ethereal lines of power was now. Now was the time of Garr`s blooding.
Huldred had drawn a pentagram on the ground with sands of three different hues; white, ochre and black. Where Huldred had acquired such diversely colored sands in an environment which, to the best of his recollection, spawned only the dull brown variety, Garr could but guess. Garr had learned over the years to be surprised at little which concerned Huldred.
Now, beneath the hot noon-day sun, Garr knelt in the center of the pentagram, completely naked but for a conical warrior’s helm of wrought iron and boiled leather. The time since he’d arisen at dawn had been spent purging his body of impurities in a make-shift sweat house of saplings and cured reindeer hides. This, Huldred had assured him, was a necessary facet of the blooding rite. It all seemed so abstract to him until now, as he baked beneath the relentless sun. Now, in a way he could not put into words, he felt purged; weak from the constant perspiration, but in a way, he drew a healthy, new kind of strength from that weakness.
His mind bordered on hallucination as he obeyed Huldred’s commands through a hazy, mindless funk. “Extend, Garr,” she said as she stood before him and touched his right arm.
Garr obeyed and as he did, he felt a thin, cool chain placed over his wrist, from which, he knew, depended a fist sized copper goblet. As the goblet was hung from his wrist, Garr heard Huldred recite:
“Odin, Allfather, hear as we glorify thy name. We beseech thee; grant to your obedient son, the wisdom of your all-seeing eye, the strength of Thor, god of thunder, and the courage of Tyr, who sacrificed his right arm to the Fenris Ulf, that the gods may live. This, in thy name, Odin, we beseech thee.”
Knowing this to be his cue, Garr intoned, “Take this, my life blood, O Mighty Odin, that I may be worthy to serve my people in thy name.”
At this, Huldred gripped his extended right wrist and, with a small sharp dirk, opened a vein, allowing the blood to run freely into the hungry, waiting goblet. Garr knew, from years of coaching meant to culminate at this point, that he must keep his right arm extended until the ceremony was finished, but he was quite unprepared for the effort involved in doing so. Nevertheless, he did his part as Huldred moved behind him to his left arm and calmly touched it and said, “Extend.”
Once again Garr obeyed and as he did, he felt a vine of thorns placed over his wrist and from this vine hung a rude clay cup. This time Huldred simply said, “Now, my son, recite.” Garr was surprised how easily the words came. “Hear me Hel, goddess of the underworld, where walk the hapless dead, breeder of the scourge of Man. And hear me Loki, beautiful and cunning deceiver, liar and scourge of Yan. I rebuke thee and where I walk, there you will find your bane. Let my very blood seal my oath. So be it.” At this, Huldred opened a vein in his left wrist, letting his blood flow into the earthen cup.
When both receptacles were filled to overflowing with Garr’s blood, Huldred gripped both wrists and chanted, in the ancient tongue, “Som Tyr, bli frisk igjen om de hus av Odin,” and the bleeding stopped and the wounds began to heal. The next hour was spent in silent supplication. Garr opened his eyes only once during that time to see Tykk, Helmut, Ilsa, Huldred, Dolf and the children praying to their favored gods in his behalf. He noted with warm amusement, that even little Skruff kneeled at the corner of the Great Hall with his head bowed.
Finally, Huldred began the last phase of the blooding rite. She mixed the two containers of blood with much ado and chanting in a language Garr could not understand. Then she brought forth a coffer from which she extracted a silver bowl into which she poured the blood, a few drops of honey mead and a thimbleful of water which she had painstakingly collected from the morning dew. Next, from the carven tulipwood box, she removed several linen parcels, each tied carefully with a thin leather tong and containing a rare spice. There was sage, pepper, alfar frond and, rarest of rare, saffron from the other side of the world. These and more that Garr could not identify went, in their entirety, into the sanguineous mixture. Garr knew that this small fortune in spices was Huldred’s personal sacrifice to ensure the favor of the gods, and he was grateful.
Garr waited patiently, kneeling within the pentagram, for Huldred to finish. Finally she said, “Rise Garr Guntarsen, High Chieftain of the clans. Rise and anoint the land. Rise and anoint the sea. Rise and anoint the air with your essence.” Garr tried to obey, but as soon as he began to stand, he pitched forward in a swoon. Helmut and Dolf immediately leaped to his aid but Huldred signaled them back saying, “He must do this on his own, else all has been for naught.”
Garr, mustering all the willpower he possessed, stood, first rising to one knee and finally, he came fully erect, fighting waves of nausea. He had indeed lost a fair amount of blood. Huldred came forward and cut a short lock of his hair which she dipped into the bowl and then held aloft saying, “You know what to do, lad.”
Garr took the proffered items and strode unsteadily to a pyre that had been lit at the beginning of the ritual. As he placed the blood-soaked tuft of hair on the fire he recited, “I anoint thee, air, with my essence.” This done, he made his way on shaky limbs to the shore of the Greydeep and poured in half of the bowl’s contents saying, “I anoint thee, mighty earth waters, with my essence.” The remainder of the contents was emptied onto the land in a circle at the center of which Garr stood and said, “With this, my blood and life’s essence, I anoint thee, Earthlands.” He was aware of a cold sweat breaking out on his chest, arms and face. As he turned to walk back toward Huldred and the others, he found himself being overcome by a sickly, tingling numbness in his neck and shoulders and his small group of friends seemed to be at the end of a long, foggy tunnel. Suddenly Huldred was before him receiving the empty bowl from his out-stretched and trembling hands, and he heard his voice say, “I hope to prove worthy of your fealty and trust.” And with that the world went black.
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 lush vegetation to his olfactory senses, that the cart must have been wending its way through some wood rich in myriad varieties of trees and other plant life. Yet when he opened his eyes wide, he could discern nothing but an impenetrable, deep blue-grey murk. Panic washed over him in waves of dire ratiocination as he bolted to a sitting position. “AAAGGGHHH! I’m blind! Huldred, you’ve bled me blind! Huldred… Huldred, where are you?” He sent his groping hands in all directions at once in his fit of panic, finally coming to rest on a round, fleshy surface; a face. Whose face?
“Ow! Damn your hide, boy! ‘Tis I that’ll be blind, with your clutching grabbers buried knuckle-deep in my 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 pulled Garr to a kneeling position and turned his head to look forward. He could vaguely see the wavering line of the silhouettes of people and horses guided by the dim 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. I 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 hypotheses, she thought) and 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 the 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 did he speak, than the little train ground to a halt and Garr could hear the sounds of what appeared to be a heated conflict at the fore of the line. As Garr began to climb down from the cart, Huldred took his arm saying, “You’re not well yet. Rest and I’ll look into this delay.”
“Not a chance,” replied Garr. “I’m a chieftain now and it’s high time I started acting the part. Besides, when did you become such a doting hen? Is this Huldred Blodkvinne; Switch-lover?” He was glad now for the cloaking darkness which so effectively hid his grin.
“Bah!” and a sharp shove were Huldred’s only reply.
When Garr reached the front of the line, he was surprised to find Tykk embroiled in a rousing debate with what could only have been a dwarf. The man was barrel-chested and well muscled, with short but thick arms and legs. His face boasted a thick beard which he wore laboriously plaited into two braids which hung to his belt. This feature was in sharp contrast with a gleaming pate, completely devoid of hair. A green woodsman’s cap was neatly tucked into his wide leather 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, he stood resolutely barring passage and saying, “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, big feller, but like I said, nobody passes without answering the riddles.”
“What seems to be the problem here?” asked Garr, noticing that, though Tykk was calmly thumbing 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 am only doing my job.”
“And what 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 Grand Woo-Woo himself,” answered the dwarf.
Garr and Tykk exchanged dubious glances out of the corner of their eyes. Then Garr cleared his throat and continued, “Um, well you’ll pardon our ignorance, won’t you? You see, we’re not from around here and, well, just who is the Grand Woo-Woo?”
“Why, he’s the High Dryad of this forest!” Seeing the befuddlement on the faces of Garr, Tykk and the rest of the company, the dwarf sighed and 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. So, anyway, the High Dryad is trying to restrict traffic through his wood. Says only the right one will be able to answer the riddles. Everyone else has to turn back, go around or get killed by me ‘n’ my hammer here. Get the picture?”
“Well, my good dwarf,” said Huldred, pushing her way through the group of companions now gathered about the dwarf. “I should say that puts it succinctly enough. Garr, answer his troublesome riddles and let us be away.”
“Me?” Garr couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “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 were emphasized with the infamous switch-cane.
Garr took a deep breath and sighed. “Alright, what are these confounded riddles of yours and how many are there?”
“Ah, good!” announced the dwarf. “Come, lad. Stand here.” When the dwarf had Garr properly positioned in front of 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’m less to a man, at marketplace cheated
and more to a word that’s 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 pondered and recited the riddle over and over in his mind, and still could not get a clue. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the dwarf said, “Well, lad, are ye still with us?” and upon seeing the vacant look in Garr’s eyes, he announced, “Alright, I’ve given you more than enough time. There’s no point in going on with this. Let’s get this cart turned around and…’“
“Wait!” shouted Garr through his frustration.
“Well I’ll be dipped,” said the dwarf. “Why, that’s the answer right enough…weight. Alright, ready fer the second riddle?”
For a split second Garr stood dumbly blinking until the realization of what had just occurred hit him. Finally, and without much conviction, Garr said, “Um…What? Oh, I mean yes… that is, 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 enthralled by the contest and Garr got the distinct impression that the dwarf was actually rooting for him, which was encouraging.
“Riddle number two,” said the dwarf.
“We all know that Tyr enticed the spectre ferryman to ferry him across the River of The Dead without payment of his soul by speaking the ferryman’s true name. The riddle is this. What did the ferryman whisper to Tyr upon reaching the shores of Hel?”
“Wait a minute. Nobody knows that,” complained Garr. “Everyone knows that that has never been put into text.”
“Ah, but I know, though you’re absolutely correct about it’s never having been written. Well, sonny, do you know the answer or not?”
Garr threw up his arms in exacerbation, “Aw, this is no fair,” he said.
The dwarf spun on his heel and stared at Garr, mouth agape and eyes wide, finally saying, “How do you know that? This is incredible. I thought I was the only being in the Earthlands with that information. Actually, the verbatim quote is ‘This is no charge’ but ‘no fare’ is certainly close enough for me. Never let it be said that old Bromar is one to split hairs. Well done, lad.” He shook Garr’s hand furiously and then slapped his knee saying, “This is the third and hardest riddle of all. If you get this one, my fealty is yours for life. Well, here goes; Frey, god of growth and harvest and patron of the elves fell in love with, and won the hand of Gerd , daughter of a frost giant. The riddle is this: What were Gerd’s first words to Frey upon reaching their wedding bed?”
Garr scratched his head and rubbed his chin. Everyone leaned closer with anticipation and the sweat began to run down Garr’s back despite the evening chill. Finally, just to broach the silence, Garr uttered shakily, “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 faithfully into your service if you will have me.”
Taken completely aback by this sudden outburst, all Garr could think to say was, “But what of your employment with this Woo-Woo fellow?”
“Oh that,” responded Bromar, using his war hammer to help pull himself to his feet. “He can get just about anybody to run off the rabble and hooligans. The most important aspect of my employment with him is fulfilled, I have found the One. Besides, the pay stinks.”
All of this was hitting Garr so suddenly he was finding it nearly impossible to formulate responses to the scenario that was unfolding before him. Helplessly he looked to the faces of his friends for some clue as to what to do, but received no help from the gallery of blank visages who were apparently as incredulous as himself, so on his own, he turned back to the dwarf and said, “But Bromar, I can’t afford to pay you at all and besides, you don’t even know who I am or where we are going. Indeed, I am uncertain at best, myself.”
“Sire, I know that you are the man who answered the sacred riddles, and I know that such a one is destined for greatness and adventure. Letting me serve in your company is pay enough for me. I will earn my keep. I am a stealthy hunter and a good craftsman. I could be a boon if you’d let me, Sire.”
Garr, who was now standing with arms crossed and rubbing the bridge of his nose, had to stifle a laugh as he said, “Alright, Bromar. I’m sure your skills will be more than welcome. But there is one thing you must do.”
“Anything, just name it, Sire.”
“Stop calling me Sire. My name is Garr Guntarsen.”
Hands were clasped in friendship and proper introductions were made all around. That is how Bromar Steinklippet came to be part of the little company. As they were mounting up to ride Tykk whispered, “Friend number eight.”
The troupe gains a member.