The way was harder and longer than Arnaald had remembered but after two long days he finally arrived, if a bit later than he’d have liked. After all these years and given the labyrinthine circuit of the trail to Fjellhiem, he’d gotten turned around. Plus the trail was blocked by a scree-slide and he was forced to lead Torfax over it on foot, delaying him another hour. It was well after dark when he dismounted and stood eyeing the stronghold across the chasm that, during the daylight hours, would have been spanned by the drawbridge. That bridge was now drawn up so he strode to the side of the trail where there stood a signal bell. He took the mallet and wrapped three times.
Finally a voice from high above in the ramparts called, “Who goes? The hour is late.”
Arnaald called back. “An old friend. I’ve good tidings and past wrongs to right.”
“Bah!” came the voice. “Spare me your riddles, Now answer the freakin’ question or be on your way.”
“Algar?” asked the mage, surprised at the tone.
“No. Not Algar. Now answer the question, damnit!”
“Very well. I am Arnaald Hardrada, mage of the Nibbelung. Has hospitality for friends at Fjellhiem grown so cold over the years?”
“Arnaald Hardrada? You’re Shytting me!”
“I assure you sir, Arnaald Hardrada shytes no one. Now let me pass!” Arnaalds hackles were up. He slammed the pavement with the butt of his staff sending a shower of sparks crashing against the drawbridge.
“OOH OOH!” came the startled voice from the parapet. “Don’t do that again, I’ll be right down. Hold on” Moments later there came a squeaking of wheels and a clattering of chains and the drawbridge began to slowly lower. When the bridge was all the way down the sillouette of a huge man could be seen walking its length. Arnaald strode forth to meet him.
“Arnaald Hardrada? Can it really be you? It’s been rumored all these years that you are dead.”
Arnaald laughed, “Yes, so I’ve heard. I’m happy to say the rumors are false.”
The man thrust out his hand. “I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I sure remember you. Sorry for the rude greeting. I drew watch tonight. Not my favorite job. Helmut Muskelmann is my name”
Arnaald gripped the strong hand in his own and searched the face, saying. “I know that name, wait, don’t tell me. Ah, the smith from Josdahl isn’t it?”
“The very same,” beamed Helmut at being remembered by such a worthy guest. “”Well met. Welcome, welcome. C’mon in. Boy, will the rest of the guys be surprised. Let me see to your horse.”
“No need,” said Arnaald. ‘Torfax will see to himself, but you can take my valise if you would. I’ll tend to the parcel.” After retrieving the items and the blanket that served as a saddle, they made their way up to the main hall where everyone was preparing to turn in.
“Would you mind waiting here a minute whilst I announce you?” Helmut asked. “I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces.”
Arnaald smiled. “Very well, my good man, announce away”
Helmut rushed into the room shouting “Hey, you guys, you’re gonna crap yer britches when I tell ya who’s here!”
“So this is young Master Guntarsen,” said Arnaald with obvious approval. “You’ve grown considerably since I saw you last. You have your father’s look, Lad. I miss him terribly, don’t you know?”
“As do I, sir,” Garr added with a solomn smile. “I think of him most every day. When Briar and Algar give me time, that is.”
“Well, old friendships have been rekindled and new begun,” here he indicated Dolf. “I think we can afford some time to celebrate and catch up on histories, can we not, Sverdmester?” He used the honorary out of respect, for he and Briar were very well acquainted.
“Are you kidding, old warlock? Why, I say we celebrate for as long as we please, duties be damned for the next few days. I cannot believe our good fortune to witness your resurrection.”
This drew cheers from everyone but Algar, who was nothing if not duty conscious. He stood with a look of uneasiness at the breech of curriculum.
“ Oh, lighten up,” said Briar. “It’s not every day an old friend comes back from the dead”
“Very well.” sighed Algar. “I suppose you’re right. Well, if we’re going to ignore decorum, we had best do it right. Helmut, Tykk. accompany me to the wine cellar, if you will.” They left only to return a few moments later, each carrying a sack full of wine bottles. Bromar and Dolf were just returning from the kitchen with mutton, cheeses, bread and dried fruit. All was laid out on the table and they hove to.
After much eating, imbibing and light conversation, Arnaald rose and went to the door. He returned holding a package bound in leather tongs. “Gentlemen, clear a space, please” This being done, he placed the package on the table and loosened the ties.
“Garr, today you shed the moniker of Guntarsen,” he said with an evocative look.
Garr was flummoxed. “Why? What are you talking about? I’m proud to carry my father’s name.”
Arnaald smiled. “Because today, my boy, you truly carry your father’s name. Bloodaxe. Behold your birthright.” He unwrapped the package.
Around the table, eyes widened and jaws dropped.
The sight that met their eyes was anticlimactic. Before them was a string, a stoppered phial of some kind of black goo and a rusted and broken old sword.
“This junk is Garr’s birthright?” asked Tykk.
“Surely this is some kind of jest.” added Dolf.
“No. No jest, laddie.” Bromar said, wearing a conspiratory grin. Everyone at the table turned to him with unvoiced questions in their eyes. “Well, mage,” Bromar said. “I guess it’s time for some answers. I’ll let you tell the tale.”
Here Arnaald nodded, rubbed his chin and said, “Have none of you ever wondered why Bromar; a nobel yet simple and unassuming dwarf came to be in posession of The three riddles, two of them about the gods themselves, that he and he alone had the answers to?” The response to his question was a round of shrugged shoulders and vacuous looks. Arnaald shook his head. “Oy! The answer is that our Mr. Stienklippet, here, is of the race of the Nibelung Dwarves. A direct descendent of Mime, who forged the Rhine Gold Torque and Nothung, the sword of Sigfried. The Torque is, unfortunately presently lost to us or in the posession of Doden himself. The sword, you see before you.”
Helmut was incredulous. “This piece of scrap iron is the legendary Nothung?”
“This piece of ’scrap-iron’ ,as you so indelicately put it, is the very weapon that slew the dragon Fafnir. It was the force of Sigfried’s thrust that broke it and Fafnir’s blood that rusted it. The blood which, in point of fact, is what resides in this.” Here he held up the phial.
“By the gods!” exclaimed Briar.
Arnaald Grinned and winked. “Prisicely,” he said.
“Then I think I can guess what the third item is,” said Briar.
“Can you, now?” said Arnaald. “Name your guess.”
Briar picked up the string and held it reverently. “I’d say this is the bowstring of Siegfried, fashioned of the tail hairs of Sigfried’s flying horse. I can’t recall his name.”
“Splendid guess, Briar, for right you are,” exclaimed Arnaald, clapping the swordsman on the back. “Valkyrian is the name that escapes you.”
Helmet picked up the two halves of Nothung and said. “Arnaald, these artifacts are impressive but what use are they, save as museum pieces?”
“Have you not guessed?” said Arnaald. “These ‘museum pieces’, when wielded by Sigfried’s bloodline heir, will defeat armies; work miracles so to speak.”
“Okay, the rest of you wait here. I’ll be right back with Sigfried’s heir. Then we can all relax.” said Dolf, chuckling.
“I dare say you will be with him, lad. But as to relaxing; for this group it’s not likely.” He turned and pointed, “You are that heir, Garr”
Garr sat blinking, trying to make sense of what had just been told to him. He wasn’t sure if he should believe such revelations on face value, even if they were touted by Arnaald Hardrada. But he knew in his heart that Arnaald would not deceive him. So he just passed out
“He’s had a rough day.” said Tykk.
When Garr Guntar Bloodaxe came to, he found himself on a sofa; one of the only truly comfortable pieces of furniture in the room. He rose and staggered back to the table, where the rest of the group was still seated.
“Welcome back to the realm of the living, Mr. Bloodaxe,” said Dolf.
Garr smiled ruefully and was seated.
“If the elfin smiths were unable to restore the blade, how am I expected to accomplish this?” Helmut was frowning and handling both halves of Nothung.
“I think you give yourself way too little credit, Helmut,” said Arnaald. “Anyway, Bromar will aid you. With his heritage and your skill, it will be made whole again. This blade, if properly repaired, will cleave anything. It fell the mightiest of dragons; I‘d say it will be proof against the mightiest trull warriors” Here he gave Garr a meaningful glance. “Of course, Garr’s blood must be added to the quenching water or all your efforts will be for naught.”
Garr groaned and said, “Argh, not again.”
Arnaald smiled, “Not to worry; I extracted it while you were out.”
Garr examined his wrists.
“No,” said the mage. You’ll find no scar. I am a wizard, you know.”
At this point Briar returned from the armory with what appeared to be a fishing pole.
“Here is the lightest longbow I could find,” he said. “It is used for training very young children”
Arnaald handed the horsehair string to Garr and instructed him to string the bow, which he did effortlessly. Arnaald took the bow and handed it to Helmut saying, “I think it is safe to say that you are the strongest among us. Draw back the bow.”
Helmut pulled until the veins of his neck throbbed and stood out, his face turned beet red and his arms shook. Exhausted he said dejectedly, “I cannot.”
“Sissy,” said Tykk, doubled with laughter. Helmut took a swipe at Tykk who ducked and the bow struck Algar, who gave him a withering glare.
“Sorry,” said Helmut, truly contrite.
‘The wonderful thing about this bowstring is that, once any bow is strung with this, it will be the most powerful bow available anywhere in the Earthlands. And Garr will be the only one that will be able to draw it. It is truly an extraordinary piece of magic.”
Helmut whistled. “I’ll say.”
“Garr,” said Arnaald. “Please unstring the bow.” That done, Arnaald picked up the phial of dragon’s blood.
‘This may prove valuable in any number of ways. I know that Sigfried was bathed in it from slaying Fafnir and was impervious to harm throughout his long life. His undoing was being stabbed in the back in the one spot that the dragon’s blood did not touch. Obviously, there is not enough of it to bathe our young hero, so what then?” He eyed the group, but no guesses were forthcoming.
“Here is what I have always believed: It would most likely be bane against another dragon if, say, an arrow or spear or some such were dipped in it. The problem with that is that the only surviving dragon that I am aware of is the Wyrm, Faracayn. I had occasion to meet him some years ago and he really is not such a vile sort as dragons go. I doubt he poses any threat to us. Plus, unless something has changed during my long absence, he is still asleep in his cavern deep beneath the Plain of Leilighet. I suspect also, and more to the point, that if used against such as demons, wraiths or draugar, the blood would prove effective. It is more likely in this capacity, that it will avail us”
As mind boggling as all this information was, and how precipitously it had all come crashing down on him, Garr was steeling himself for the inevitable. The past few months had been a successive trial of changes that gave no indication of ceasing. He had weathered all the rest; could he hold up under these latest revelations? Finally he voiced his paramount concern. “Arnaald, where is this all leading? What is expected of me?”
Arnaald sighed and sat. He met Garr’s unwavering gaze. “Well now, that is the true issue, isn’t it?” He reached across the table and gripped Garr’s strong young hand in his own gnarled and elderly yet powerful ones. “Considering the lack of unity in the peoples of Norgeve and considering the latest news of gathering trulls and considering that Doden has gotten so strong that he simply must be stopped, and considering the fact that Blothe is and always has been a dullard and a pansy; considering ALL these things and more…well, son, I’d say you simply must be king.
Garr passed out again.
The reality of repairing Nothung was something that Helmut took more seriously than anything in his life hitherto. He had never been a very proficient reader, so he was happy for Bromar’s aid especially in the library. He vowed that he would have every bit of history and information available before so much as firing up the forge. Fjellhiem had one of the most extensive libraries in all of Norgeve, largely due to the arrangement between the Fjellhiem lords and the Light Elves, but more specifically because of Algar himself.
Helmut spent many long hours with a paste of his own making comprised of fine pumice, mineral oil and turpentine, rubbing down the blade of Nothung. He was determined to remove every bit of oxidization from the metal, even in the pitted areas. He worked long into the night at times, employing a series of picks of various sizes and sharkskin patches to ensure that the blades surffice was pristine. When he was finished with this process, the surffice of the metal shown mirror-like. To Bromar he said, “It will need to be polished all over again when the re-forging is complete” (if) he added mentally. “Bromar replied “Aye, lad. But starting with a clean pallet is certainly a good idea.”
On the day of the forging, Arnaald spent hours in the fortress’s small chapel sweeping up, dusting and putting things in order. “Sorry for the condition,” said Briar. “It has not been used in years. I fear I am not a very spiritual individual.” Arnaald waved the objection away. “Your art is your religion, I daresay. With me, my religion is my art, so I like to have everything in readiness before I supplicate. I might have thought Algar would be a bit more fastidious though.”
“I don’t think Algar has ever been in this humble chapel. He has his own private rites in the landscape hereabouts. Elfin privacy, you know.” Arnaald smiled and returned to his chore. He could hear the sounds of mock battle emanating from the training field and thought of how Garr had grown since last he’d seen him. Over the months at Fjellhiem he had packed on pounds of healthy, lithe muscle. Though Garr himself was mostly unaware of the metamorphosis, his physique was now rivaled by Helmut alone. Arnaald had not seen Gaar months ago, but he knew that Briar’s training could only be doing what was necessary to make him a strong and dangerous warrior. He was amazed at how much Garr resembled his father now and, seeing him, he was often reminded of that fateful day so long ago on the hill above the storm-tossed Greydeep Sea. He missed his friend, Guntar, and wished things had gone differently.
With the small chapel in readiness, Arnaald returned to his quarters. From his valise, he retrieved his ceremonial robe and hat and donned them. While most wizards went about clad in their ceremonial finery, Arnaald considered himself a ‘working wizard’ and seldom wore the identifying uniform of his order. Sitting on his cot, he removed his boots. He stood, took up his staff and the bottle containing Garr’s blood and returned to the chapel.
It does not serve the telling of this tale to describe the particulars of the ceremony performed by the wizard that day. Ideed such rites are secret and even if this chronicler were privy to them, would not divulge them. Suffice to say, the purpose was to sanctify Garr’s blood. Know, however that the effort was long and arduous and wearied the old fellow considerably. Hours later, still in ceremonial garb, Arnaald made his way to the forge with his purified sanguineous treasure. There he found Helmut and Bromar bare to the waist and bathed in sweat from keeping the forge fires banked but in readiness. While the smithy was open to the courtyard at the far end, the heat was hard to bear. They were seated on rude stools and sharing a flagon of mead. Arnaald handed the bottle of blood to Helmut and said, “Rise, my fellows, and be blessed.” They rose and stood before the mage. Arnaald raised his staff and began to chant, “Hallamalla boom dahdeaye para lella sosolabinaddum!” At this he issued a smart rap with his staff to each of their bowed heads, to a chorus of “Ows” and a furious rubbing of heads. “You are now blessed.”
“Coulda’ done without that,” said Helmut.
“Alas, I fear not,” was Arnaald’s reply.
Helmut and Bromar worked long into the night and most of the next morning. When they were through, they were both exhausted and wringing with sweat. Algar stopped by with breakfast for the weary craftsmen and to check on progress. “Thanks for the vittles, Algar,” said Bromar mopping his bald and gleaming pate. Algar smiled, nodded and turned to leave. “Algar,” said Helmut, “would you see if you can find Arnaald and ask him to join us?”
“Certainly, I shall do so directly”, he said, and left.
Moments later Arnaald pushed his way through the heavy oaken door leading from the smithy into the hold.. A broad smile adorned his bearded face. “By the Gods! You’ve done it.”
Garr and Dolf were taking a cup of much needed water, heavy practice swords leaning against the well, when Dolf said, “Garr”, and nodded toward the far end of the practice yard. Garr turned to see Arnaald, Helmut and Bromar striding briskly toward them. Helmut carried a parcel wrapped neatly in a new, clean chamois. When the trio reached them Helmut carefully placed the package on the flags at Garr’s feet, and stepped away grinning broadly. Garr glanced down at it and said incredulously, “Already?”
“Well, open it, laddie,” said Bromar wearing a grin to match Helmut’s.
Garr glanced at Dolf who nodded and said, “Well?”
Kneeling down, Garr undid the ties and unfolded the chamois. The sight that met his eyes was astonishing. The mid-day sun glared so blindingly off the perfect mirror finish of Nothung’s artistically refurbished blade, that Garr had to shield his eyes.
“Well, heft it,” said Arnaald.
Garr grabbed the hilt, which Bromar had meticulously padded and wrapped tightly in maroon leather and golden braided wire. When he lifted the sword it came so effortlessly off the ground that he held it much higher than he had intended, so that the affect was that of a conquering hero raising high the weapon of his victory.
Arnaald strode to the edge of the yard indicating a cast iron hitching post, saying, “ Now, wield it.” Garr looked dubious but the vigorous nods of both Bromar and Helmut convinced him. He held the sword back and released a powerful swiping blow which instantaneously clove the post in two as if it had been nothing more substantial than a candle.
No one witnessing the tableau in the yard that day was able to speak for long moments afterward. Finally Briar came forward and kneeled before Garr saying, “The sword of a King.”
Everyone including Arnaald followed suit and, on that day, Garr’s destiny changed and was sealed. The fate of Norgeve and indeed all the earthlands, changed with it.