The Bloodaxe Saga Book Three: Chapter Fouteen

Chapter Fourteen
(Severed Ties)

Garr finally felt as if this saga, of which he was such an integral part, was now something much more than a dream in which he’d become involved. Oserick was saddled and provisioned and sat his mount, ready to do whatever it took, and Garr knew that meant sacrificing his life if need be, to consummate his part in this venture. This man had seen his whole world change within mere days and committed himself without question to a cause that he saw as right. Garr had no idea whether or not he had the makings of a king, but he did know that he was in this for all that that it took. He thought of Leorelai and all those he loved, including those he’d lost, and realized that they had the right to live and love and feel that they were aiding a worthy cause and to feel safe. What he’d seen in the past year had given him hope and renewed faith in the goodness of his fellow men, and that meant all the races he’d been privileged to share this life with. He’d seen, and was still seeing, people dedicate themselves and risk everything for something that they perceived as being bigger than themselves. He felt imbued with hope. As he sat upon Baldur in the predawn haze, steeped in thought and waiting to leave, he was humbled.

The party wasted no time. As soon as farewells and well wishes were exchanged, the group was off. Oserick believed they could reach their destination within three days, possibly four, barring anything unforeseen.

Arnaald was aware that they would be traveling away from the draug hunting party and that put him temporarily at ease. He realized that the draugs would be the bane of any and all that they encountered but with all his party faced, he could not let that concern him now.

“If I weren’t so homesick for Josdahl,” said Tykk, “ I could be persuaded to seek citizenship at Lynndahl.”

“You mirror my own thoughts,” said Garr. “I daresay we are not alone in these sentiments.”

Oserick was riding ahead of the group with Briar and Arnaald. “ I’d like to stop around noon and get a look at your maps. I should have taken time to do it sometime before we left, but with the preparations and shortness of time and the fact that I know the way by heart, I figured it was best to just get going. I want to give you fellows an idea of what to expect. When we get to the base of Gunderbad there will be some tricky going. I’d like to see what your maps indicate and brief you as to what we’ll face.

“Sounds like a plan,” said Briar.

Arnaald lagged back, pulled alongside Garr and said, “Now’s as good a time as any to be sure you’ve got all the segments of you birthright at the ready.”

“Always.” Said Garr, as if this was an odd request. “As you can plainly see, I wear Nothung, always. When I travel, my bow is always strung” He indicated the bow strung across his shoulder.” He reached into his saddlebag and withdrew the phial of black and unctuous fluid. “I keep this always protected and near, but as Thor brings down the thunder, I wish I knew what to do with it.”

“I wish I had an answer for that as well,” said Arnaald, grinning. “I don’t even think your father knew what it was for. I know this…he, and all your forbears risked much to keep it safe. I’m an old man. I know things and I’ve seen much.” Here he chuckled and said. “When this is all through, I will regale you with amazing tales to tell your children. But in all seriousness, I want to warn you now, keep that phial safe and near. I don’t know what it is or what it’s for, but everything inside me says that this ridiculous little phial of black snot is going to be of great import and if we find ourselves without it, when we have need, we will be sorry indeed.”

Around noon they stopped and here Oserick confirmed that the maps were accurate and they’d be traversing ground where it would be wise to dismount and walk the horses.

The forest thinned and the landscape changed. Where there had been close and almost cloying vegetation, the forest now gave way to skree-strewn slopes and heights that afforded grand vistas of distances that evaporated into the hazy mountainous heights.

Midday they stopped at a flat expanse beneath a sheer cliff that was almost like a grand, flat table in a giant’s kitchen. As they ate, Oserick pointed northwest. “I guess there’s no question as to our direction,” Pink, purple and scarlet stains painted the sky in a dream-like wash. Later the entire sunset was red as blood. Feeding this kaleidoscopic prism was the belching furnace that endlessly vented its fury as gray ash into the defenseless landscape. Gunderbad.

Smuntley doffed his pith helmet and wiped his brow. “Amazing.” He said, to Oserick.

“From here on things will get pretty surreal.” Said Oserick. “Frankly, I’ve always found it kind of alluring.”

Dolf, having just finished eating, wandered over to where they stood, observing the landscape. “Are there still wyverns in the area?” he asked.

“Not that can attest to,” said Oserick. “I don’t believe they exist anymore. There are many who will argue that, but I can only speak from personal experience. Be ready for a monumental climb of a couple of days. We can do without wyverns, believe me.”

Before long they were on the slopes of Gunderbad. There was no doubt they were climbing a funnel of volcanic detritus. For every yard they advanced, they lost a foot. The group camped in abject discomfort. There was not one complaint but in the morning Tykk pointed to the summit and said, “One more night of this and I’m gonna piss in that damned thing just to put it out.” The humor was not lost on the group but everyone was too tired and uncomfortable to express any mirth.

By noon the next day, crossing the northwest flank of the volcano, Oserick called a halt . He gathered the group together, pointed to the heights and said. “See there. Almost looks like fur on the mountain from here. Those are bones. Very large bones. That’s where we’re headed.”

Around midday the next day the group rounded the mountain, chasing the heat of the sun around the cone of the volcano. Bleached bones poked up out of the crumbling pumice and black volcanic soil. Oserick said, “We’ll have about five or six hours before the sun sets. If we don’t find what we’re looking for within two days, we’ll be out of food, Obviously we need to stay here and search, but we’ll need to eat as well. If no progress is made by tomorrow night I will take Dolf and we will hunt the forest at the bottom of the mountain. Keep searching. When we return we will be well supplied, trust me.”

They were in the ‘boneyard’ by late afternoon the next day. The graveyard was huge. Garr hadn’t envisioned this. For some reason he’d been picturing a cluster of bones as if a bunch of dogs had up and died here. The fact was that wyverns were huge creatures, almost as large as dragons and the debris field spread for miles. There were centuries to be accounted for here and now that reality punched home.

They’d spent so much longer than they’d ever expected sifting through this dusty, mummified carnage. Oseric and Dolf had gone hunting and returned with enough meat to keep the group in nourishment for weeks. The area was rich in salt so they cured their meat and with rationing they were well provided for.

They sifted and shoveled and sorted for more than a week and all they came up with was a few daggers, shredded rusty chainmail, a few helmets and remnants of shields.

One afternoon Garr was sifting through yet another nonproductive pile of volcanic dust and pathetic bone fragments. He was feeling miserable and hopeless and considering suggesting that they blow this whole thing off and go home and kill somebody. He’d had it.

He was thankful for the cooling shadow that blocked the broiling sun. It was only a difference of a few degrees but oh, it was so welcome. In his sun-sweltered brain he was sure that some angel of mercy, surely a member of his party, had come along with something to shade him.

He dropped his trowel and wondered where all the wind was coming from. Finally he turned to thank this kind and gentle soul for shading and fanning him. He turned and let his eyes adjust to the light and realized with a blast of shock that there was a huge reptilian shape hovering over him. He turned drew Nothung and dove headlong down the hill. He noticed somewhere in his periphery that other members of the party were screaming his name and rushing toward him. It was so odd. He was thinking that he’d done something wrong. These abstract thoughts were blown from his brain by the very real understanding that there was in fact a huge reptilian monster bearing down on him.

In a moment of crystal clarity and inhuman calm, he tumbled down the embankment and sprung to his feet. There above him hovered a monster the size of a knarr with a huge wingspan. The leviathan’s shrieking bellow of anger cut the afternoon air. Garr knew only one thing; that he must draw this thing in close or he would never have a chance against it. Instinctively knowing that this thing was a predator much as a hawk or eagle he dropped to the ground on his side and made as if to drop his sword but instead grabbed it by the hilt and the blade and lay still, playing dead. The raptor dove and extended its talons. At that moment Garr rolled, sprang to his feet and thrust Nothung swiping sideways. He split the wyvern’s gut once then a second time, spilling its bowels across the volcanic sand. The wyvern tried to gain altitude but it was killed. Its guts trailed and bled into the black volcanic sand and it crashed and tumbled in a quivering dusty heap, gasped twice and died there.

The companions who’d seen the scenario play out where stunned. They rejoiced that their friend was alive against all odds, but they knew what they’d seen. Arnaald rushed to Garr’s side, amazed to see him alive. Garr was rising to his knees and finally stood unassisted.

“I’ve never seen such a thing,” said Arnaald.

Soon the rest of companions reached the scene. Briar and Dolf rushed in asking after Garr’s wellbeing.

“I’m fine,” said Garr, dusting himself off.

Juliex had drawn his own sword. “By Odin’s good eye!” he exclaimed. You made that look child’s play. I’ve been studying wyvern lore all my life but I’ve never actually seen one. I’m sorry to say I was frozen with fear momentarily. I was certainly unprepared for the reality of it.”

“As were we all, I daresay,” said Snorri.

Helmet put his huge arm around Garr’s shoulders and pulled him close. “Not the lad here. Like a striking viper, he was.

Juliex cautioned, “I believe we had better be more vigilant. There may well be more wyverns in the area.”

The whole tableau was interrupted by Tykk. He was nearly in hysterics. He’d been looking over the carcass of the wyvern and discovered a silver circlet on one of its talons worn like a ring. It was a torque of silver and intricate enamel beadwork. He pulled it off, held it aloft and announced, “Ha! Well, I’ll be dipped! I think the lad’s changed history. I’d say we’re done diggin’ through the dirt.”

Arnaald held the artifact turning it over in his hands. “I think there’s no doubt. This is exactly what we’ve sought. My one question is, what was it doing on the finger of this monster?” He indicated the wyvern lying dead in the dirt.

It was Tykk that offered an explanation. “You over-think things, mage. Hey, crows and other birds are known to steal and line their nests with all manner of shiny baubles. I suspect we have something much the same here.”

Arnaald grinned and nodded. ‘Tykk, you are indeed a wonder, and I’d say you have the right of it. He handed the torque to Garr and said, ‘put it on’.”

Garr held the item before him dubiously and looked around at his friends. They were all nodding. He stretched it and slipped it over his neck. Immediately there was a shimmering glow that swallowed his whole person gradually subsiding and eventually disappearing altogether.

Garr felt momentarily drunk and sat down. Several members of the group rushed to his side, expressing concern. “No, no.” he said. “I’m alright.”

Arnaald said, “Every time I think I’ve see it all, I am promptly proven wrong. Alright, let’s get down to the tree-line, make camp there for the night and be off for the Mouth tomorrow. I daresay the host at Fjellhiem and Fam Moor are mobile by now.”

The Bloodaxe Saga Book Three: Chapter Fouteen

George Yesthal

Brodheadsville, United States

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