Not being at all superstitious, Briar Flynn took no stock in the old wive’s tale about a moondog portending disaster, pestilence, war, etc. But one thing he was certain it did herald was a harsh winter and though the evening was pleasant and the air not too cold, his old bones were telling a tale of their own that coincided nicely with that told by the moon’s silver ring. Flynn didn’t care; he had seen his share of bad winters and knew this wouldn’t be the last or the worst. All he cared about tonight, as he sat calmly among the tuffaceous rock formations high above his stronghold home, was that this particular phenomenon was conducive to the meditation he sought.
From this altitude, he could see all the way to the sea and the port town of Haarm, its gleaming lights flickering in the distance, and he wondered what it would be like to be there instead of here. How long had it been since he shared a laugh with another human being? Or the bed of a willing woman? Was he a lonely man? He supposed not, for his isolation and solitude was of his own design. It was of paramount importance to his trade, his life. For Flynn was Sverdmester, Master of weaponry and combat skills. Not just a sword wielder; not just another warrior. He was the best. Even at his age, which was… what? 100… 110? Flynn had lost track. He had taught some of the most renowned warriors of the last century; Rolf the Ganger, Erlich Ulvfang, Guntar Bloodaxe, Bjorn the Heartless, to name only a few. “Will there be others, or has the age past?” he asked the moon, for it seemed only the moon could have the answers. But there was no answer forthcoming… there never was, at least not from the moon.
So Briar Flynn closed his aging eyes and breathed deep the loam-scented crisp autumn air and told his heart to be at peace. And so began his meditation.
“Good evening, Master Flynn,” came a voice on the whispering wind.
Immediately, Flynn’s eyes flew open, but that was the only movement detectable. He sat ever so quietly, eyes alert, breathing shallowly through his mouth. Had it actually been a voice or just a trick of the wind?
“You not want to talk with me? Nooo? That’s okay, Sverdmester, just listen then.”
“Oh no, I wouldn’t deign to be so impolite, However, it would go much better, I assure you, if I knew who I have the pleasure of addressing.” The swordmaster now craned his neck in all directions in order to catch a glimpse of the owner of the mysterious voice yet to no avail.
“Okay, first promise you not kill or hurt me, then I come and talk.”
“Very well, friend. I do so promise,” replied Flynn.
Seconds later, there came a scrabbling sound in the direction of the precipice which Flynn sat facing, and soon a small, round head topped by a cap that,(even in the color-neutralizing moonlight, could be recognized as very brightly colored, popped over the edge, soon to be followed by the rest of the tiny body.
The diminutive figure stood before the blinking Flynn dusting himself off and straightening the pleats and creases in his little Alpiner-type outfit, replete with knee-socks and suspenders. This done to his apparent satisfaction, he looked up at the Swordmaster, thrust his tiny mitt forward in a gesture that suggested a common marketplace meeting rather than the odd encounter this truly was and started forward saying, “Skruff Fluktfinger at your service.”
Flynn thrust his hand forward, but in staying gesture that said, “Back off!” in no uncertain terms, saying “Hold it right there, little one!” Skruff stopped short.
“Forgive me for bringing this up,” said Flynn, “but I believe I am correct in assuming that you are a nissa, are you not?”
“Oh, ja,” blustered Skruff, filling up with pride, “Paramount nissa. Splendid nissa of the highest order!”
“Yes, well… um. Isn’t there something, if I have my lore correct, about nissas touching humans, or some such?”
“Oh, that,” said Skruff, waving his hand negligibly,”You mean ‘impression’. Well, no need you worry. Skruff already spoken for, fact, that why I here.”
“Well, Mr. Ficklefinger was it?”
“Ah, yes. Well, Mr. Fluktfinger…”
“Skruff, call me Skruff.”
“Very well, um… Skruff. What say we skip the physical amenities for now and get to the crux of the matter at hand, shall we?”
“Oh sure… okay,” said Skruff, undaunted. “Crux-Ducks matter-
splatter! Humans-Mrumph! Okay, down to business. Got letter for you, from Huldred…” He was scouring his whole outfit, pockets, cuffs, “Now where that silly note go? Ah…!”
Finally, from under his multicolored cap, he produced a small piece of parchment folded many times and laid it on the ground in front of Flynn.
“Did you say ‘Huldred’? Not Huldred Blodkvinne! Surely she can’t still be… alive?”
“Many people say same thing about you. Read note, swordman.” Flynn lifted the parchment and unfolded it, the moonlight proving more than sufficient to read by.
My dearest Master Briar Flynn,
I hope this finds you well. Am currently en route to Haarm. Expect to arrive on or about the 20th. Have a student I would very much like you to accept. Possibly the most important pupil of you long and illustrious career. Come in person if you can. If not, send word. Thank you, Briar.
Will be at the “Maggie’s Tits Inn”
“Succinct as ever, Huldred, old girl,” he said, smiling. Using the long two-handed Claymore, which till now was resting on the cool stone beside him, he pulled himself to his feet. Looking ruefully, he spoke to the old sword that had served him so well all these years, “Ah, my Frihet, it seems I use you more as an old man’s crutch, these days, than the precision tool you truly are. But maybe you will dance awhile yet, my old friend, if only to teach. So… a new pupil. My most important, she says. We shall see. We shall see. Skruff? Where did you go?” But the nissa was long gone; his message delivered and his task complete.
On the winding trail from the summit to his home, Flynn stood for awhile gazing down at the training yard and reminiscing about all the warriors who had been trained on that field. Why, he himself had been trained there. Taken in by Ragnar, the previous Master of weaponry, soon after being orphaned by a Trull raid at the age of three, he was raised as the adopted son of Ragnar and his wife, Ula. Ula was barren and the couple was in their fifties when Ragnar found the young Briar wandering half starved and frozen on a slope above the settlement of Flynn, hence his name . When Ula argued that he should take the name Ragnarson, as is the Norse custom, Ragnar said, “No, Ula, we owe the boy as much of his heritage as we can give him, and since we don’t know who his unfortunate parents are, he should at least carry the name of his birthplace.” Ula could not argue with this, but they both agreed heartily on Briar, which Ragnar said he was tough as.
At the young age of twelve, Flynn so impressed Ragnar by imitating the warriors with a practice sword, that he was put into training with boys four and five years his senior. At first the age difference made it almost unbearable. Flynn spent many sleepless nights due to the fact that there was not a spot on his body that did not sport a cut or bruise that made lying in one position for too long a painful proposition. But with the pain came anger and determination and there came a time when Ragnar had to closely monitor the practice sessions against the event that Flynn might lose his self control and seriously injure one of the other boys. Eventually, maturity brought the control and confidence that made Flynn the legendary Sverdmester. Oh, there were others who deserved and rightfully bore the title of “Master of weaponry” or “Swordmaster”, but “Sverdmester” (actually Swordmaster translated into the ancient and revered language of the Nibilungs, usually reserved for religious rites) was his exclusively. An honor unanimously bestowed upon him by his peers.
Eventually Ragnar grew too old to continue teaching and retired, leaving the job to Flynn. One year to the day later, Ragnar died and Ula soon followed. Now Flynn was master of the keep.
In ancient times the keep was dubbed “Møtested”, which meant simply, “Meeting place”. But being something of a sentimentalist, Ragnar changed it to “Fjellhiem”, or “Mountainhome”. This was certainly appropriate as it was set in, and controlled the Laveschng Pass. Overlooking ’the passroad as it did, anyone on the wall paying the slightest bit of attention could not miss any and all movement below.
Flynn reflected sadly, that now there was only himself, Old Algar, and his huge mastiff, Loki, to tend the keep and guard the pass. Not that there seemed to be any pressing urgency for such vigilance, as the only traffic on the passroad these days was largely limited to small bands of trappers, traders, merchants, an occasional caravan of dwarven oar carts from Skerry or a small elfin hunting party. Not like the old days when times were dangerous and Ragnar’s small but highly trained band of mercenaries would harry and refuse passage to hordes of raiding trulls or warring hulders. Flynn’s sword had drunk its first blood in one of these forays.
Flynn was roused from his reverie by Loki, who came padding up the trail behind him. “There you are,” said the swordsman, reaching down to pat the huge muzzle. His hand came away with a slick mud coating formed of topsoil and slobber. “Ugh!” said Flynn, flicking his hand at Loki to remove the unctuous goo. “So, you’ve been digging at that badger hole again. I told you, you had better leave that old boy alone or you’re going to dig him out one day. When you do he’ll come at you like his tail is on fire and his arse is catching. Then you’ll have your big, heroic paws full.” He smiled at the thought. “Come along boy, we’ve got some packing to do. We’re going to the big city. Huldred the Fearsome has put up the call. Think of it, Loki, a student, after all these years. Why, I feel better already.”
Introducing Master Brar Flynn.