Chapter Twenty One
(A Hunting We Will Go)
Faracayne skipped work at Fam Moor this day due to what was being touted as a summit meeting. Attendance by all members of the council was mandatory and so the dragon found himself at his usual window listening to a discussion of the latest events.
The council had just been told of Garr’s experience and the message that he and Arnaald had received through it and what they suggested be done about it. In general, the members of the council were getting weary of constant changes to their plans but the general attitude was, ‘It is what it is’. The notable exception was Gronn who was now stumping about, blustering with loud voice, epithets and gesticulations. “Damn it to hel anyway! Can’t we settle on any one course of action for more than one or two days without some arsehole coming along and messing everything up? Why I’ve a good mind to pull my support and head back to Dverga…”
Garr bolted to a standing position and both palms slammed down on the table in a thundering smack startling everyone gathered at the table and jarring utensils and nerves alike. He kept the ire out of his voice as much as possible when he said, “I beg your pardon, was that ‘arsehole’ that I heard fly out of your mouth? I’m sure that wasn’t address to me, was it?” Arnaald had just finished explaining to the council the importance of the Torque in Garr’s dream. Garr glared at Gronn as if to burn a hole clean through him and the intensity of it was by no means lost on the dwarf.
Gronn sputtered, stammered and backpedaled and realized that he’d put his foot in it, big time. Trying to save face he searched desperately for an answer that would not shame him. Coughing and clearing his throat, he picked up his mug of tea and sipped studiously until he came up with something. Finally, “Er, well um, of course not, hel no! I was referin’ t’ the issue with the goblins. It was the trull. That’s it, the trull is an arsehole.” He quickly took another sip peering over the mug’s rim to see if Garr bought it.
Garr did not buy it of course but he played it through nonetheless. “Well, we’ll be sorry to see such a stout warrior as yourself leave us, but if the trull offends you so severely that you feel the need to withdraw your support I’m sure we’ll all understand and none will stop you.” He knew he was treading on shaky ground because they did indeed need the dwarves. They were terrible foes in battle and there were a good many of them. Their loss would be a severe setback. But Garr felt that he had to drive this point home. Gronn had been blustering and waxing cocksure more than was his right lately and there needed to be a stop put to it. Garr folded his arms and awaited Gronn’s response. In the pause, all could hear Gronn swallow.
Every eye in the room was on the dwarf king and Gronn felt a runnel of sweat steal its way down his spine. “Well no, of course not. That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it? I was just venting my frustration is all.” He quickly took his seat and motioned for Garr to continue. It was Arnaald that took up the discussion.
“Gentlemen, as I was saying, this turn of events is fortuitous in the extreme and yes, it does once again add a new variable to our plans. It does not, however ‘change’ our plans”. Here he paused and glared at Gronn, who found something very important going on under his fingernails at that moment. “What has happened here is nothing short of a miracle. Indeed I was skeptical myself until Garr presented the proof”. He held up the amulet and added, “this, and Garr related information that could only have been imparted to him by Guntar Bloodaxe; particulars of the private conversation that passed between Guntar and myself only moments before he shoved off and was lost to the Greydeep. And there is something else; all these many years history has recorded that Guntar and his fleet were lost to the storm. Alas this is false. ‘Twas Doden called up a kraaken against them. Doden, even that long ago had set his villainy upon us and was forming up to do us untold evil.”
“ Guntar Bloodaxe”, said Halff from Hiemstead. “Would that we had his leadership and strength of arm and wits in this. What a boon he and his warriors would be.”
Just then Arnaald came up behind Garr and placed huge gnarled hand on his shoulder. “Ah but the warrior is still with us, in his son. The strength and wisdom of the Bloodaxe line runs strong in him. You have all been witness to it.” Nods of agreement and murmurs passed around the table. Arnaald continued, “After the events of yesterday I am convinced that my old friend speaks through Garr from the halls of Valhalla. There will be guidance from that vector, I’m certain of it.” The wizard was pleased to be able to heave into place one more huge paving stone on the road to Garr’s kingship.
A cheer went up in the hall and the mood lifted appreciably. Hogni from the Maggie’s Tits Inn and the mayor of Haarm heaved his massive form up from his bench and raised his hands calling over the din, “Gentlemen, Gentlemen, please”. When he got no response he slid his thumb and forefinger between his lips and blew a shrill blast that got the attention of everyone including the trainees in the yard.
“Arnaald”, he said, “You’ve mentioned Torque of power and that we must search for it. Who will do the searching and where must they go?”
Arnaald wandered over to Faracayne’s open window and stood scratching one of the dragon’s steaming nostrils. Finally he turned and faced the sea of questioning eyes…”Frankly, I haven’t the foggiest idea”.
Chapter Twenty Two
Smuntley and company made the rest of their journey without incident. As they crested the last knoll a huge stone and brick edifice rose steadily into view. Smuntley was simply in awe of it. Its size and design were so impressive he could not make his feet work for a few moments, but once he got restarted he picked up speed until he was almost at a run.
Just as the members of the council began to react to Arnaald’s admission that he had no plan of attack for the new turn of events, a sentry stormed in with an urgent announcement.
“There is a throng of people approaching the front gate. They have the look of farm folk, most of them. They have laden carts and a lot of livestock.”
“How many?’ asked Briar.
The sentry raised his eyebrows and answered, “Many.”
A buzz went up among the council. Arnaald, holding his staff aloft, called out, “Gentlemen, I suggest you take this time to put your collective heads together and see what solutions, if any, can be ascertained. Master Briar and I will attend to the new arrivals. We’ll return as soon as the situation permits.” He turned to Garr and said, “I’d like you to attend as well, come.” He turned and in a billow of robes, Garr in tow, marched toward the door where he met Briar and to the sentry said, “Lead on, sir.”
The quartet crossed the bailey swiftly and as they were climbing the steps to the outer ramparts the signal bell rang out with a clarion clang. Making their way to the area above the portcullis they were finally afforded a view of the chasm and the road that led to it. Gathered there was a group of what Garr estimated to be at least a thousand people.
“I am Briar Flynn, Sword Master of Fjiellhiem. Who are you?” Briar paused and listened for an answer. Two prominent figures stood at the fore of the throng.
“I am Luthor Lund and this is Garrett Svensen”, he indicated the tall, thin man to his left. “We are the mayors of Glemmeden and Flynn respectively. With us are the good citizens and farmers from the surrounding countryside. We seek refuge and sanctuary”. Briar gave the order for the drawbridge to be lowered. He turned back to the people below.
“Mayor Luthor, Your people may come forth but the livestock must remain without. Please enter”.
As the host of refugees passed through the gate Arnaald’s eyes were drawn to one individual that simply did not seem to fit in. Knee-length kaki knickers held up by bright green suspenders, rucksack and a shock of bushy red locks half hidden by a pith helmet. Arnaald smiled and called out, “Smuntley, is that you?”
Smuntley turned in circles, casting his eyes everywhere but up. Who could be calling him? Indeed, who knew his name, other than Lars and family and they’d already entered the keep. He was certain he’d never been here or anywhere near here. So who was calling? He craned his neck this way and that.
“Up here, look up’, called Arnaald. Smuntley did as instructed but the noon-day sun was too bright. He squinted and shielded his eyes but to no avail. Arnaald saw the problem and flew down the stairs just as Smuntley was passing beneath the open portcullis. They met just inside the bailey. Smuntley was very pleasantly surprised to see Arnaald. He’d often thought of him during his time in Bolle and wondered how he was faring after his rescue. “Ah, so it’s you, old boy. I’m glad to see you. You’re looking hale”. Arnaald smiled as he pumped Smuntley’s hand. “They feed me well here”, said the wizard. He introduced Smuntley to Garr. “I’ve heard of you”, said Smuntley. “The little fellow spoke of you often”.
”Little fellow?” Garr had no idea who he meant.
“Skruff”, said Smuntley. “Singular fellow, remarkable really”.
Garr laughed out loud. “Yes, that he certainly is.”
“Come, I’ve told my companions all about you. I’d like you to meet them”, said Arnaald. “ First let’s get you settled”. Garr excused himself and went back to the great hall.
Arnaald guided Smuntley to a room off the smithy saying, “This room gets a little noisy during the day when the smiths are working, but it has the advantage of affording more privacy than the barracks. So what brings you to Fjellhiem? I thought you’d be enjoying your solitude away north in Bolle.”
“And certain that I was”, Smuntley returned. “Got run off by some kind of monsters though. Frightful things. I get the shivers just thinking about them.”
“Don’t rightly know”, said Smuntley. “Never seen a trull that I know of. From what my traveling companions tell me of them, I’d say what I saw was something entirely different.”
Arnaald stroked his beard and said, “Hmm, well, why don’t you get settled in and we’ll speak of this later? For now I should be getting back to the business at hand”.
Briar was delegating overseers to get the refugees taken care of. Some would be housed at the keep but the majority would need to be moved to Fam Moor as soon as they were rested and refreshed. He and Arnaald met at the stairway to the great hall. “An awful lot of them”, said Briar “Apparently the trulls showed no mercy on their migrations to join up with Doden. I’ve only heard bits and pieces so far but it involves murder, kidnapping, theft and destruction of crops and property. They’re desperate folk. To up and leave everything the way they did… Gaw, they must have been ill treated indeed.”
“Indeed”, said Arnaald. “I’ve told you of my rescue”. Briar nodded. “The fellow responsible is among their number. I’ve given him the extra smithy room. You’re going to like him I’m sure. He’s an odd one but I owe him my life. No small consideration. He’s intelligent and worldly in the extreme. He’d be an advantageous addition to our troupe if he’s a mind to lend a hand.”
Upon reaching the landing and about to enter the keep, a low rumbling voice spoke. “Arnaald Hardrada, we must speak”. From around the turret came the head of the dragon, Faracayne. He locked eyes with the wizard and with a swift glance at Briar he rumbled, “If you don’t mind…” Again to Arnaald, “Alone. Please.”
Laying his hand on Briar’s shoulder, Arnaald said, “It’s alright. I’ll be along as soon as I may”. Briar nodded and with a questioning glance at the dragon, turned and strode into the keep.
“Mage, what I have to say may be the hinge pin in this ever changing story. If this Torque is as important as you say it is…”
“Think it is.” Arnaald corrected.
“If it is as important as you think it is, I have information that may or may not lead us to its whereabouts”.
Arnaald leaned forward on his staff, gazing up at the dragon, “Indeed, say on.”
Faracaynes eyes glanced this way and that. “Not here”, he said. He sidled over to the landing giving Arnaald access to his back and said, “Get on”.
Shocked, Arnaald hesitated. “Are you serious?” he asked.
“I don’t know what ramifications my information may contain. I feel discretion at this juncture is more than called for and I don’t know how to whisper. I promise not to eat you, now please, get on”.
Arnaald grinned under his beard and, shaking his head, cautiously mounted the dragon between his dorsal spikes and grabbed the one in front of him like a saddle horn. The mage was almost euphoric. No one had ridden a dragon since the Drakedahl elves over a millennium ago. This was an honor he’d never anticipated.
With the last minute warning of, “Hold tight”. Faracayne took three long bounds and launched skyward with the affect of nearly costing the mage his breakfast. As they passed over the lower courtyard, the gathered throng shrieked and ran to and fro in a blind panic at the sudden appearance of an airborne dragon. Even after Arnaald and Faracayen were past the ramparts and banking out over the moor, the soldiers charged with the care of the refugees had all they could do to calm the people down.
They soared and banked on thermals until they reached the no-man’s land between Fam Moor and Leilighet Plain. Arnaald was amazed at how gently the dragon touched down. As he prepared to dismount Arnaald threw his leg over the back the way he would a horse. His robe caught on the dorsal spike right behind him and he wound up hanging upside down like a tangled marionette, his staff slipping from his grip to clatter to the ground. The dragon rolled his eyes, reached around and extricated the hapless wizard. “Clumsy old warlock, aren’t ya?” he said, setting Arnaald on his feet. Arnaald dusted himself off, picked up his staff and said, “Nobody hears about this, understand?”
Faracayne stifled a chuckle. “My mouth scales are sealed.”
“So, you have my undivided attention. What’s all the mystery about?”. Arnaald had retrieved his staff and was now leaning on it and gazing steadfastly into the dragon’s shimmering eyes.
“It is told that King Thundershield was wounded in battle and while with the healers in his tent, was surprised by a dragon and eaten”.
“We dragons have always laughed at that. Most dragons were, at that time, allied with Men and Elves against the goblins and their dark priests”. The dragon turned in circles like a dog looking for someplace comfortable, and laid down with his huge head resting on his fore-talons. Exhaling in a deep sigh, he continued, “The dragons that did not commit to that conflict were simply a non-issue and were nowhere in the neighborhood. Why would they be?”
“Indeed, and so?”
“It had to be a wyvern”, At the wizard’s dubious look, Faracayne continued, “Look, wyverns are sneaky, opportunistic and no friend to anyone, including their own kind. How they even manage to mate is beyond me. I digress. If Thundershield was devoured by a wyvern, and I believe I’m absolutely correct in this, all gold that he wore would have stayed with that wyvern until his dying day and beyond, if you catch my drift”.
Arnaald squinted up at the dragon, “I’m not sure I do. Call me dense but I’ll need some enlightenment”.
Faracayne rolled his eyes and blew a snort of steam. “Okay, pay attention, Dense. Wyverns do not, I repeat, do not defecate. They digest everything they consume, except gold which they have no way to pass so it stays with them and they make use of it to aid digestion exactly the way some foul do when they swallow stones. Ergo…?” He waited for the light of realization to shine in the wizard’s eyes.
“The Torque would still be with the wyvern. I understand, but how does that help us?”
“Alright, I’ll spell it out; it would rest with the wyvern’s body. Wyverns are not dragons even though you thick-headed humans insist on mistaking them for such. They don’t live as long either. Five hundred years, maximum.”
Arnaalds eyes widened. “So, if we find the wyvern’s body, we find the Torque.”
The dragon grinned showing all one hundred and eighty razor-sharp teeth. It was a disconcerting sight even to Arnaald. “But in all this vast world, how are we to locate the final resting place of that particular wyvern?”
Faracayne continued, “You are aware of course that like some other animals common to the Earthlands, wyverns from all over return to one place to die, providing they die of natural causes and aren’t slain.”
Arnaald had been combing his fingers through his long beard in an attempt to dislodge the collection of bugs that had been trapped there as a result of their aerial route to the plain. Now the dragon had his undivided attention. “Actually that tidbit of information had escaped me. And this wyvern graveyard is where?”
“The slopes of Mount Gunderbad. But it won’t be an easy journey. Nor will the task of recovering the Torque be any picnic. The journey will be long and once there it will be fraught with danger. The landscape is unstable in the extreme and it is likely to be defended by at least one of the few remaining wyverns.”
Arnaald was grinning now. Although his beard hid most of it, Faracayne could see it in his eyes. “By the wraiths of hel!” he exclaimed. “This is doable. We’ve a stout group of lads. I’ve no doubt we can overcome any dangers that my come our way. This is good news indeed. We must hie back to the keep posthaste. I love sharing good news. Will you make the journey with us? Your aid would be invaluable”.
The dragon let out a low “Hrumph”. He turned to look at the mage, who was now scrambling up to his seat on Faracayne’s back. “Nay, mage. It is forbidden. No dragon may desecrate the site and the wyverns reciprocate. It has always been so. You know this will be no easy endeavor. We have to realize that some who make the journey may not return”.
Arnaald breathed deep and sighed. ”Alas, I fear that is a realization we shall be faced with in ever-increasing occurrences through the days ahead of us. I thank Odin that among our number, courage is a commodity in no short supply. To the keep, my friend, and thank you.”
As they rose into the moonlit evening air, Arnaald felt energized by the latest turn of events and though he fully understood the dangers that lay ahead, he felt in his heart that the fact that Garr may be adding his own contribution to the Bloodaxe birthright treasures was an omen of powerful meaning, especially in these times. The task ahead was to be an endeavor for the history tomes.