(A Pound of Flesh)
When Doden learned of Igar’s defection he was livid. Could he trust no one? Apparently not. What had he done to incur such sour luck, he wondered. When Flob Islow showed up at Fryktholde baring the news, Doden went berserk. He cast a bolt of ethereal energy at the poor sergeant, frying him on the spot. All that remained of the hapless trull was a glob of sizzling fat on the flags of Doden’s chamber. Doden ranted and raged for hours. There was talk among his minions that if anything was going to be the ruination of the dark lord, it would be his own lack of emotional control.
The paradoxical thing about beings of pure evil is that they only see evil in all else but themselves. Indeed Doden felt set upon. He could not fathom that evil given out had a way of leeching back on the author of ill intentions. This was the chink in this powerful mage’s armor.
He knew now what he had to do. His trull army could not be trusted to self govern. He would send the draugs to oversee his subjugation of Krawnholde. More importantly, he would need ever-so-many more soldiers that would be impervious to the whims of mortal beings. He needed demons, but to conjure demons in the proper numbers in their true forms was a feat no lone wizard could accomplish. He would need a large amount of mortal souls to infect with the being of the most malignant demon he could summon. The goblin population that inhabited the caves to the north would suffice nicely. They were a self-serving race of huge beings that would never relent to his will in and of themselves, but, with the aid of a demon they would bend to his will against their own. He knew the effort may nearly kill him, but this last setback had him nearly bereft of all reason. He was truly now the most dangerous being that ever walked the Earthlands.
Doden had planned to show up at Krawnholde as a doppelganger and usurp control of the place right out from under Blothe’s nose. Now however, tact be damned. Force was now what he saw as necessary.
This was going to take time and he needed to start immediately. He summoned one hundred trulls from his castle guard and paralyzed them all. All demons demanded a price for services rendered and the hundred would be that tithe.
It took two days of preparation, but finally all was in readiness. Arcane scrolls and ancient stone carved tablets were laid on the chamber’s central table. Thirteen black candles containing the tallow of individuals who unwillingly gave it up while still alive, were lit. The hundred were positioned in a circle around the chamber’s perimeter. Paralyzed, the fear still showed in their eyes. One might argue that they were trulls, a corrupt race and deserved their fate. But anyone with heart and conscience would abhor the fate of any soul to endure an eternity such as was planned for these poor wretches. The nether regions teemed with demons that would do a wizards one-time bidding for enough souls to torture for eternity. Doden knew just the demon he wanted. A heinously corrupt thing called Nargog. Nargog was powerful in the extreme, but duplicitous and guileful as could be imagined. It would take the hundred and Doden along with them if the mage did not take the proper precautions. This meant inscribing a protective pattern on the chamber floor with a mirror image on the ceiling. And it had better be the precise shape and dimensions. Or else.
Doden’s ace in the hole was a strip of cured hide reputed to have been rent from Nargog himself by Huldemoor, the most powerful Nibelung mage in history. With this talisman Doden could hold sway and control over this monster.
When all was laid out in proper preparation, Doden knelt and began his incantations. It is in no way the intention of this chronicler to recount or set down in text, the ritual of that dark night for it is one left best lost to time and knowledge. Be it known, however, that the dark lord was successful beyond his hopes. Nargog materialized in physical form taking up much of the camber’s space with tentacles flailing and venomous saliva dripping from a horrific maw lined with thousands of slashing fangs. A cluster of spider-like eyes surveyed the surroundings that it was ripped into against its will. Manic anger pulsed in waves that threatened to madden the mage.
Who dares summon me? screamed the demon with the tortured voices of hundreds of lost souls.
“I, Doden lord of Fryktholde and possessor of your own lost flesh, summon you, demon.”
An unholy shriek was rent from Nargog and tentacles lashed out for Doden but could not reach him in his protective area. “Hold Nargog,” said Doden, brandishing the strip of hide. At the sound of its own true name, the demon froze and seemed to deflate a bit. “Yes,” continued Doden. “I know your true name. But fear not for I will not use it against you if you will do my bidding. It is a small task and once I have your promise, I will return to you your flesh that none may use it against you ever hereafter.” Only the most knowledgeable mages knew that once a promise was given by a demon it was impossible for that demon to go back on it.
And what would you ask of me? asked Nargog, seeming at least momentarily placated by the offer, if still a bit leery.
“I ask that you possess all of the goblins of the high north lands that they fall under my unequivocal control and hie to me at my behest. Do this alone, and along with your own flesh, I will give you all these,” Here he indicated the frozen trulls lining the room, who trembled, for they were paralyzed but far from unconscious. Unaware souls would never serve the purpose.
Nargog thought for a moment and said, Very well, mage. I do so promise.
At this, Doden laid the strip of hide on the flags before Nargog. The demon scooped it up and sent writhing tentacles about the room, grabbing up each trembling trull and stuffing them one by one into its fang-lined, dripping maw. Doden watched in horrific fascination, knowing that the poor souls would never find the solace of death. Nargog said nothing more but dissolved into the ether and was gone.
As soon as Doden perceived that he was finally alone, he collapsed to the floor gasping for air and lost consciousness. He would not awaken again for weeks.
The night was a frigid one in the high country of the north and goblins gathered to dance around huge conflagrations of whole trees gathered together and doused with oils and animal fat and set alight. It was an annual gathering of a custom called Vomklippen Natt, which translates loosely as ‘gut cutting night‘. It was intended to honor one of their deities by sacrificing a number of their own, cutting open the martyr’s living stomachs and extracting the intestines while dancing around the pole that the unfortunate individual was tied to. It went off once a year with all the gayety that humans show at birthday or wedding celebrations.
When the dancing reached a fevered pitch and the goblins were in a state of rapture, a blinding flash knocked them mightily to the ground. At the gathering in Gob Lande, thousands of merry-making goblins struck senseless by the odd occurrence, rose from the ground in a state of semi-consciousness and as one organism started the long march to Fryktholde.
The goblin’s celebrated deity was called Abadiddle in their tongue. But you and I know him as Nargog. Coincidence?
Garr was very concerned about the effect Vorm’s defeat would have on the man and whether or not it would make him quit the council and withdraw his support, which was sorely needed. He was having doubts as to whether his show of bravado was a wise course of action.
The great room of Fjellhiem was filled with the members of the war council that night, but the room was conspicuously quiet. All were present except for the tribe of Verdistor. Quiet murmurs of speculation circulated as to whether they would attend.
Suddenly Vorm’s booming voice broke the silence. Striding briskly through the doorway and followed by his entourage, Vorm announced, “Lad, you and I have unfinished business,” Everyone in the room inwardly groaned. There was no time for this.
Garr rose from his seat, raised his hands, palms outward and said. “Our contest is done, Vorm. I have no further quarrel with you.”
Vorm strode deliberately up to Garr and stood with hands on his hips. “I thought of you as a green whelp. You proved yourself in a fair contest. While I would have rather won that match and showed you up, I would be a lesser man if I did not accept the outcome. I still don’t know what kind of a leader of men you will make, I suppose we all owe you the chance to present an example. You’re a stout lad and a tough one. That’s as good a start as I can think of. I offer you my hand in friendship, if you’ll have it.”
Garr gazed around the room at the smiling gathering and turned back offering his own hand saying, “Vorm, it would be my honor.” Vorm pulled hard enwrapping Garr in a tight bear hug and clapping him heartily on the back. “Alright then, let’s see what can be done about these pesky trulls. The room rang with cheers of “ Here, here”, and the din of tankards rapping the table. Vorm and his group took their places at the table and the council began in earnest. Helmut leaned over toward Garr and said, “I really didn’t see that comin‘. From what I’ve heard about the man, I would have expected his pride to have been sorely scuffed for some time to come. You’re off to a good start, whippersnapper.” Garr just smiled and nodded to Vorm, who smiled and nodded back raising his cup.
The time for talk was done. The council had formulated a working plan and was now putting it into action. The construction of rudimentary barracks and fort at Fam Moor was under way and training had begun. The site was a flurry of activity. Sledges and carts of lumber flowed from Ormwood in a steady stream and carpenters and masons worked around the clock. Faracayne the dragon, volunteered for any endeavors that required quick fire, such as lighting smelting fires, or brute strength, which was an endless list. Helmut, Tykk, Bromar and a host of other smiths and apprentices busied themselves fashioning armor and weapons by the thousands. The dwarves reopened the Skerry mines and began shipping in coal by the tons.
Garr and Briar had begun training all able-bodied men and boys but there were too many for their training alone. Thousands of men awaited training. Terridor, Grendeveer and Ganzul himself offered their aid. Of the Light Elves Tallen, Tallor and Ty-a’leer all volunteered. Sergeants and captains were called in from all of the races’ armies and Fam Moor was a torrent of dust during the days from dawn till dusk. Sturdy walls were erected to protect barracks and training grounds. Women and children carried ever-needed water and food for the trainees. The mess hall (just an open-air roofed pavilion as yet) was a constant bustling whirl of activity. Even the elderly and infirm lent their hands where they could. There was constant need of bandages and salves. Old women and men versed in decades of herb lore, put up medicines and ointments. They actually started an apothecary so inclusive it required its own building to house it.
One afternoon Arnaald and Huldred rode out to observe the progress. It was the first time Huldred had been all the way to the fort. She had ridden to the ridge overlooking the moor but the rest of the distance was a ride of over five miles on twisting, turning tracts.
“I have lived a very long time, Arnaald,” she said. “Do you know, I am finally feeling my age? I have seen so much in my time. Not all of it was happy, but much of it was. I would like to live long enough to see this thing through and witness Garr’s carination. I’m almost certain he will be the next king.”
Arnaald laughed, “If you and I have anything to say about it, and I think our opinions carry at least some sway. I think much will depend on the strength of the part he plays in all of this. But, if I were you, I wouldn’t wax morbid with such talk of living ‘long enough’. I daresay you may outlive us all, old girl.”
Huldred smiled and nodded, but the fact was that she had been feeling a bit tired lately. She rose from bed a bit later than was her wont these days. Her hip and shoulder joints were complaining to her as well, and she occasionally walked with a bit of a hitch and was using her infamous walking stick more as a cane than a switch. But she was happy to see Garr growing tall and strong. He was gaining an astute intellect as well and his judgment was very keen. This aspect of his maturity pleased her most. As if her silent musing had caught his attention, Garr notice the couple riding up and paused his training to greet them, leaving Dolf in charge.
Garr offered Huldred his hand to help her dismount and she smiled appreciatively. “You seem to have things nicely under control here, puppy…,” Here she hesitated and amended, “No, I dursten’t call you that anymore should I?”
Garr laughed and said, “Dear Huldred, you may call me anything you please,” Here he leaned in close and whispered, “Just maybe not in front of the recruits.” Huldred smiled and nodded.
Arnaald said, “I’m amazed to see how quickly and smoothly things are coming together. I so often marvel lately at seeing races that have always been at odds, working so harmoniously.”
“I know what you mean,” said Garr. “It would seem that the gods are smiling on our efforts. Come, let me give you a tour.”
The tour began with the mess area, where Ilsa and Leorrelai were overseeing the noonday meal. Ilsa looked up from the pots she was scrubbing and smiled broadly, saying, “Well well, are you two slumming today?”
“Be careful, young lady,” said Huldred Grinning. “You’ll note that I’ve brought my walking stick.”
“Whatever you’ve got cooking smells great,” said Garr.
Lai came walking up wiping her hands on a towel. “Just meat, greens and taters,” she said. “Can’t be spoiling you sword swingers or you’ll get all fat on us.”
“I’d swear I smell biscuits,” said Garr.
“Those are for tonight, and you keep your hammy mitts off, big guy,” she said, elbowing him in the ribs.
“How do you keep all this dust out of the food?” asked Huldred.
“Who said we do?” Lai answered. “A little grit won’t kill ‘em. It’ll be better once the walls are up. They tell me tomorrow or the day after.”
Huldred took this opportunity to take Garr aside. There was something she’d been wanting to discuss with him. “Garr,” she said. “I have been thinking of taking a few of the folks who can be spared and returning to Josdahl. There is much there to keep me busy and things should be set in readiness for your return. The truth is I’ve been feeli…”
Garr cut her off, appalled at the idea of life without her. “You have got to be kidding. Leave now? How can I possibly spare you? Fact is I was just about to ask you to oversee the apothecary stores. Who else is more qualified than you? Huldred, I need you more now than ever. Please don’t speak of leaving me now.”
Huldred had never been more touched in her long life. Tears welled in her eyes. “Well, I suppose I can do that, but it’ll cost you,” she said grinning. She wiped her eyes and put a damp hand on Garr’s cheek. “You are my shining star, Garr. Know that. I love you as if you were my own son. Your mother would be so proud, as would your father.”
Garr blushed. The awkward moment was interrupted by a new occurrence.
The trail from the craggs of Fjellhiem was a twisting, banking set of switchbacks risky to travel at moderate speeds, but suddenly a rider was riding full out, kicking up a cloud of dust in his wake. When he reached flat ground, mount skidding to a halt, he dismounted and came running onto the training field asking for Garr’s whereabouts. Garr heard and called, “I’m here.”
The rider reached Garr and said, “Urgent news from a Svartalfar riderer that requires you attention, sir. I’m told to ask that you, Mage Arnaald accompany Sir Garr as well.”
Arnaald raised his eyebrows and said, “Sounds important.”
“They assure me that t is, sir,” said the rider, out of breath.
“Well, sir Garr,” said Arnaald, winking “Shall we?”
“I think we must,” said Garr. “Lai can you find some food for this good rider?” She nodded and led him away. Garr called Dolf to him and said, “Something’s come up, could be important. Get things going here and join me as soon as you can. I want you in on this. I’ll need strong advisement.”
Dolf nodded and was gone about business. Garr called for his mount to be saddled and readied and soon they were riding up the road toward Fjellhiem.
The great hall was all abuzz. “I’m sending a message to have him brought here posthaste,” said Ganzul as Garr and Arnaald came striding through the door.
“Bring who here?” asked Garr.
“I thought you’d been told,” replied Ganzul. “My top captain has caught a trull. He’s been wandering aimlessly through the Daggernasties for some time and my men took him into custody. I’m having him brought here. Horses, for some reason will not convey trulls s, so He’ll have to make the journey by cart. I want him here in all haste.”
“As do we,” said Arnaald. “What is his situation?”
“A deserter as far as we can tell,” said Ganzul.
Two weeks later a cart accompanied by two dozen Svartalfar soldiers trundled across the drawbridge at Fjellhiem. The prisoner was offloaded and led promptly to the waiting dignitaries of the war council in the great room of Fjellhiem.
Igar eyed the council suspiciously, growling deep in his throat.
Arnaald headed up the interrogation. “What is your name and what brings you here? Why are you not with your fellows?”
“I have no fellows, mage. Who are you anyway, that I should answer your questions. I have questions of my own.”
“First things first”, said Arnaald. “In answer to your question, I am Arnaald Hardrada.”
“I’ve heard that name. It is said you are a wizard of powerful evil.”
“Yes, well, I guess that’s a matter of perspective.” said Arnaald. “We digress, Igar. What do you know of this invasion of the bastion Krawnholde?”
Igar was so weary he thought he could just lie down to sleep and never waken again. He knew there was no percentage in gaming with these people. They had him dead to rights. He was obstinate out of pride and habit. In all, he’d not been treated that poorly given the situation. He thought of what the circumstances would be if the tables were turned and one of these folks had been captured by the trulls. He knew now who the monsters were. Igar sighed and looked about the room at all the expectant faces. “Will ya take these chains off and let me sit?”
Garr spoke now. “A seat is reasonable, but I think we’ll wait on the chains. That will be up to you. Right now we have no good reason to trust you.” A stool was brought forth and Igar plopped heavily down and rubbed his wrists. ‘Are you thirsty?” asked Garr. Igar nodded. Garr poured a large goblet of mead and handed it to Igar who drained half of it immediately. Igar wiped his mouth and nodded his thanks. “Igar is it?” Garr asked. Igar nodded. “Do you know who I am?” Igar shook his head. “My name is Garr Bloodaxe, I am the son of Guntar Bloodaxe.”
At this Igar’s eyes widened. He had known of Garr by the surname Guntarsen, but he knew very well who Guntar Bloodaxe was and there was no doubt who his interrogator was. “I should tell you, Igar,” said Garr, “that I have no love of trulls. It is taking all my will not to club you senseless, so be careful about your attitude. We will get through this one way or the other. The outcome is up to you.”
Igar closed his eyes and shook his head. This must be what was meant by justice. “Garr Guntarsen,” he murmured. Now Garr’s eyes widened. “Yes, that was my name; but who told you?”
Igar decided right then that it was no use trying to hide anything. His life now was subject to the mercy, or lack, of these people. This Garr, in particular. If they chose to slay him, so be it. He couldn’t remember a time when his life was worth living anyway. He sighed and began. “Ya got no love o’ trulls, but ya got reason t’ hate me most of all. I don’t know what kind o’ change has been gittin’ into me lately, but I been regrettin’ things I done in the past. What I’m gonna tell ya now will surely spell my death.” He paused and took a deep breath. “I was one of the captains that led the raid on your village.”
Garr stalled for only a moment to digest what had just been told him. Then with lightning speed, he was on Igar, knocking him off the stool. In an instant he was on Igar’s chest, left hand wrapped in his hair, the right had a dagger at his throat.
“I’m going to kill you slow, you son of a bitch!” screamed Garr. Arnaald came forward saying, “Garr I know you want revenge but…” He trailed off as Garr reached out and roughly pushed the mage backward so that his back collided painfully with one of the room’s column supports. Garr returned his attention to Igar. “Give me one reason why I should not flay you alive, you filthy monster.”
Igar surprised Garr by going limp as a tear slid down his cheek. “I can give only reasons why I deserve it,” said Igar, “especially at your hand.”
By this time Helmut and Tykk were out of their chairs and on their way to pull Garr off the trull. As they passed Arnaald he put his arm out to stop them and shook his head. There was a curious scenario playing out and Arnaald felt it wise to see what would come of it.
On the floor, for some reason, Garr stayed his hand. There was something about the look in the eyes of this loathsome creature at that very moment that took the edge off his anger and hatred. “Aaarrrggghhhh!” Garr screamed at the top of his lungs. He threw the dagger across the floor and into the corner where it landed with a clatter. He stood pulling Igar off the flags, fists tightly wrapped in in his shirt and pushed him into the ready arms of Tykk and Helmut. Igar outweighed him by at least a hundred pounds. The look in Garr’s eyes was one that none who’d known him had ever seen. Resolute meanness. He wanted to kill this being; wanted to cause him pain. And yet he did not. Everyone in the room knew he had every right, and though they needed whatever information they could get from Igar, no one would have intervened if Garr chose to slay the trull. And yet he did not.
Igar said, “You have every right to kill me. If the tables were turned, I would.”
Garr was walking away, but suddenly he spun on Igar, “What is with you? You tell me you are the agent of my life’s ruination in one breath and then urge your own in the next. If you want death so badly, why didn’t you end it yourself? How dare you goad me into doing your dirt?”
“I do not want death. I want life,” said Igar. “I want a life worth living. I realize when I see how other races live that this is the way life should be lived. But look at me. I am ugly; the things I have done in my life are ugly. All my life I have been taught that the pain and suffering of others is something to be enjoyed. But it gags me. I am not a proper trull and I can never expect to be accepted by those other than trulls. I have so much to make up for in this life that if I live to be thousands of years old, I will never be able to atone. Gaw, the things I have seen and been a part of. I am weary. If I die at least I will rest.”
Garr was flummoxed. His emotions were whirling like bats in a cave. He couldn’t deal with things properly now. “Take him to the dungeon,” he said to Tykk and Helmut. “Remove his chains and see that he is fed. Also see to the sores on his wrists and ankles. I need to clear my head. We’ll deal with Igar later.”
King Gronn of the Dwarves said “But we have him here right now. Why should we wai…” He was cut off by Arnaald, who shook his head and wagged his finger. Garr stormed from the room and rode back to Fam Moor. He needed the comforting words and arms of Leorrelai.
“I almost killed him. I wish I had,” said Garr. The hour was late and he and Leorrelai lay on the cot in his private quarters.
“But you didn’t,” said Lai. “Your capacity for mercy in such circumstances is one of the things that draws me so strongly to you. A lesser man would have slit his throat and felt justified doing it. Truth is, you would have been justified and yet you stayed your hand.” she buried her head in his chest and said, “You have the makings of a strong and wise leader Garr. A true leader of men, I think, must know mercy as well as quick action.”
“He’s so pathetic and full of self-loathing. He called himself ‘ugly’, and he certainly is that. The only other dealings I’ve had face to face with trulls, was with the ones in Shadewail pass. They were repugnant, hateful creatures that would have gutted us slowly and enjoyed every moment of our agony. This Igar, is different somehow. While I curse myself for not killing him, I know that seeing him crumble the way he did, I never could have done it. The irony in all this is that he said he played a large part in the Josahl raid and I still couldn’t do it. You call it ‘mercy’, I say it’s weakness.”
“Weakness would have been falling prey to your baser emotions. You may yet learn a lot from him. Sparing his life may have been a bigger boon than any of us can see right now.”
“One way or the other, I’ve got to go back and face him again tomorrow. I stormed out before finishing his interrogation. I’m sure the others are disappointed with me for behaving like that.” Garr sighed heavily and closed his eyes. He was weary and emotionally drained beyond anything he had known before.
“I think you would be very surprised at what they think of you, Garr,” said Lai. “There is much talk among those gathered here and all that I’ve heard is praise. You have made an impression on these people and that gives them hope. All that has happened here is in response to your leadership. The men speak of you as something just short of god-like.”
Garr heard nothing of that for he was fast asleep. Lai smiled and whispered, “You will rise, my love, and before this is all over Norgeve will have her first true king.”