The Bloodaxe Saga Book Three: Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Nineteen

The group from Fjellhiem did double time and made the journey in five days. They arrived in the early evening and brought Igar immediately to the council pavilion. He now sat on a bench waiting for the last of the council members to arrive. With Juliex, Vorm and Gronn finally seated, they came to order. All the flaps were raised and many torches blazed and all the mighty army attended.

Arnaald convened the council with a benediction of sorts in the old tongue. "Vi er her samlet på slutten av vår forlate. Vi er bundet for ære og sorg, triumf og død. Måtte vi være modig og vår vilje være stål. Velsigne oss med et hardt hjerte der trenger være, kanskje av armene, visdom og gave oppsikt. La de døde hvile i Valhall før de føler smerten av sine sår og gi letthet til sine kjære. Slik skal det være. "

Loosely translated: “We are here gathered on the eve of our leaving. We are bound for glory and grief, triumph and death. May we be bold and our wills be steel. Bless us with a hard heart where need be, might of arms, wisdom and the gift of clear sight. Let the dead rest in Valhalla before they feel the pain of their wounds and give ease to their loved ones. So shall it be.”

All within earshot rose, drew their weapons and clapped their shields and even those too far from the pavilion to hear the words, took up the salute on the power of the enthusiasm alone. Igar watched all this in silence but his heart swelled. Trulls never venerated anything but themselves and what could be gained by trickery, deceit or bullying. He had warmed to these people in ways he never thought possible. He personally had taken everything from Garr in one bloody afternoon and this man who, should hate him most in this world, had shown him mercy, when he had every right to take his life. Garr had even shown him certain kindnesses. This went against everything he had been raised to expect. Trulls who survived to adulthood did so despite their raising not because of it. He knew that there were still those that did not trust him and others still that may never do so, but he wanted to be a part of something before he died and vowed to strive for their trust.

Garr strode forward and personally unlocked Igar’s shackles. While doing so he quietly leaned in and said. “I’m going to trust you. Don’t disappoint me.” Igar nodded and their eyes met and in that moment there was an unspoken agreement and understanding. Garr rose and said to the gathering, “Has anyone got questions for Igar?”

Gronn rose instantly and strode forward. He paced back and forth before Igar with his hands behind his back. Finally he turned and said, “Trull, why should we trust you at all? That’s what I want to know. And you should know that, with me, it is a very big concern indeed.”

Igar leaned forward and, even seated, he towered over the dwarf. “The answer to that is simple, Dwarf. You shouldn’t trust me a wit. It goes against all military logic. If our lots were reversed, I wouldn’t trust you. If you’d been captured and brought to my camp, I’d have you tortured for whatever information you held and then executed, and that would most likely not be a quick affair. I don’t expect your trust and I don’t ask for it. I ask for a chance to earn it. You people think you are up against an army of trulls and goblins but you have no concept of the magnitude of the malice you face in Doden.” He looked poignantly at Arnaald. “Even you Mage. I hear tell you were imprisoned by the Dark Lord, but have you ever actually met him?”

“No sir, I have not,” he answered.

Igar continued, “Well, I have been in his presence. I am many things, but a coward is not one of them, and I can tell you, this one makes me want to piss m’self. It pains me to tell this but it’s of great relevance. When we failed to find Garr during our raid of his village and returned north empty handed, me and Snoddie, the other captain, a trull I grew up with, were hauled before Doden to give an accoutin’ of our failure. It shames me to admit but I was in the grip of such fear that I gave my account so it made me look the better, and Snoddie paid for it. Doden is not physically large or strong, in fact pretty much the opposite, but the hatred, fear and natural threat he exudes is a staggering thing.”

Here he gave an account of the unfortunate fate of Snod Wormsworth in its every gruesome detail and it sent chills down the spines of all who heard it. “Snod was the closest thing to a friend I ever had and I gave him up almost willingly. That is the level of fear that Doden instills. It was at that moment, whether I knew it at the time or not, that I began to change. Somewhere deep in my guts, I started to realize that I had much to atone for. Just where that came from I know not, for trulls don’t think along those lines. The recruiting campaign an’ the whole journey south was a nightmare for me, but it wasn’t ‘til we were camped outside Krawnholde and I received an astral visitation from the black-souled bastard and threatened once again, that I realized I had to run and run far. I fully expected to perish in the wilderness, if not from starvation and exposure, then of sheer misery. But that fate was preferable to what I could expect if I stayed where I was. That was when the Svartalfar scouts captured me. I tell you truly, that whatever fate befalls me with you, the time I’ve spent as your captive has been the closest thing to joy I have ever known. Know this; I have experience with Doden and the ways of the trull army. I know the way they think. And if you folks decide at some point that I warrant your trust, I can be instrumental in infiltrating their ranks. Most of the second battalion to the east end would recognize me on sight and I would be killed for a traitor, but the first battalion to the west, wouldn’t know me from nobody.”

“Ha!” Gronn snorted, That’s unlikely. You’d likely join right back with them and spill what you know of us in the bargain.”

Arnaald strode forward. “If that were the case, Gronn, I seriously think he would not have deserted. Also there is this, trulls are notoriously arrogant because they simply don’t understand human emotions enough to imitate them in an effort to deceive and when they try it’s almost laughable. But if we do decide to employ him in the fashion he suggests, I could cast a spell of binding, if that would set those of you with doubts at ease.”

Gronn nodded, “Hmm, perhaps.” He walked back to his seat, still mulling over the answers he’d received.

Igar paused and waited, expecting further interrogation. When no one ventured any further questioning, he concluded, “I am an enigma among my kind. We are born into what we are and no questions asked, no change expected. We are a miserable lot and no one seems to notice. At some point I noticed, and wanted something different. I wanted out, and I took my chance accepting my fate. I had no idea what I wanted or what to expect, I just knew I didn’t want that.” He pointed vaguely north. “I was captured by you folks, and now I know. I’ve seen something to aspire to. In these past months, I have shared a laugh and a smile for the first time in my life. These things are so alien to me that at first I questioned what I was feeling. Do you know how infrequently the simple word ‘good’ is used among my kind?” This last sentence hit home with the listening throng and a stunned silence ensued. Igar sighed, “That’s all I have to say. Anything more is up to you.”

There was a long and profound silence. Every member of the council was feeling the punch of Igar’s words to varying degrees. Gronn especially wrestled with the dilemma. On one hand his Dwarven resolve and obstinate nature screamed at him not to believe a word of this tripe, and yet, a much more rich and deep understanding pulled him, as if on a cart, to feel what the trull must have endured. How could any rational being not feel the same? And there it was…If this trull, this enemy could so eloquently explain what had changed him without really understanding it, could not the Dwarf find it in his heart to hold high the principles that separated the civilized races of the Earthlands from the base trulls and goblins? This poor soul before him did not even understand the change that had befallen him and yet he was able to put it into simple terms. Goodness. It was that simple. It was something that either beckoned and was recognized…or was not.

Gronn was stymied and speechless. He rose again and stood before Igar, leaned in close, looked the trull directly in the eye for many long moments, and nodded. He walked to Arnaald and quietly murmured, “This is no glamour?”

“Not that I detect.” Said the mage.

The Dwarf king nodded, walked deliberately back to his fellows and sat quietly.

Arnaald took Talasyn gently by the arm and whispered, “Would you see your charge to his quarters, my dear? We’ve much to deliberate upon, it would seem.” She smiled and nodded and went to Igar who rose and followed her out of the pavilion. On his way out, he was met by Tykk, who offered his hand. The trull waited momentarily misunderstanding the meaning. Finally he gripped Tykk’s meaty paw and Tykk said, “Welcome, brother.” Igar smiled and walked out into the night.

“So now we are all besmitten with the charming words of a trull, is that it? Are we supposed to be swept away?” said Gronn. He shook his head in befuddlement, mining deep into his quarry of cynical demeanor and came up poor for the effort.

Arnaald tapped his staff and the head of it glowed. He turned and glowered over the dwarf. “I don’t know…do you, sir Dwarf?”

“W-why no…actually…I don’t” came his reply.

Arnaald continued, “Actually, I’m not at all sure what to make of these latest events. I’m open to suggestions.” He glared around at the crowd.

It was Vorm who spoke next. “I am a simple man of simple means. I try not to read too much into all that I hear and see. But what I heard here tonight, I heard loud and clear…loud and crystal clear. I pride myself on knowing the truth when I hear it, and as I suckled healthy and long at my mother’s teat, I saw true contrition and longing in that trull this evening. I don’t think I have ever been so moved, and I am not the coddling type. All who know me, know that.” There were nods all about the room. He whirled on Gronn and pointed a sizable finger, “You would carry on a hardness I daresay you would not defend if put to it. Why the stubborn stroke? I say now, that we give this…this…Igar, a chance. Why not? We hold all the cards.” He turned and strode back to his seat and sat.

“I don’t argue that,” said the dwarf. “I simply warn caution. Much lies at risk.”

It was Briar who spoke next. “Obviously we cannot be too careful. So very much lies in the balance, but in my heart of hearts, I feel that, in Igar, we have a true ally. I see in him a satellite of a being longing for nothing so much as to belong. He has never ever known that. I am by no means infallible, but this feeling I have is so concrete that I would wager all I own; all that I am, on it. I look at it this way: a tool has been hand-delivered by the Norns to us. If we ignore it, we do so at our loss and possibly our peril.”

“Arnaald,” said Prince Tallor, “You are a wise and well respected member of this council. It is hard to know the right of this matter. I suggest we vote and leave the handling of this matter in your capable hands. You must know the way to go in this.”

Arnaald rose and said. “I appreciate your confidence lad, but no. This cannot be left in my lap. I am sorry, but I will have my hands full in the coming days and my attentions will be divided as it is. This is a matter that must be decided amongst you all and your plan must be settled and final here and now, tonight. I will council this: if something is not broken, venture not to repair it. I believe we will all agree that Mistress Talasyn has the ‘Igar’ situation in capable hands. I say we assign her a compliment of six guards and let her continue in her most capable ministrations. In the meantime, when Igar offers advice or information, I say we listen and take it to heart. If you would know my mind, I trust him.” That pronouncement put many minds at ease.

It was decided that Igar, for the time being, would be kept on a short leash. There was much nervousness as the council meeting progressed and it was evidenced how much they did not know. It was commonly understood that, going into any such undertaking as this, there were facets of the venture that would simply be unsure. That, unfortunately, was the nature of the beast and must be dealt with accordingly. Nonetheless, this was the eve before they mobilized. Two days hence, they would be trading steel with the enemy. There were veterans of foreign mercenary wars who had fought and seen men die. Tykk and Helmet, Bromar and Briar and perhaps two hundred or so others had waded in blood and smelled the offal spilt from other men’s bowels, and they would be counted upon to carry courage and steely determination to the untried ranks of the army before them. Certainly, there were no illusions. Some would cower and fail, some would rise and excel and become legends. This was the way of war. Things happened too fast to count. Most times the protagonists had no time to feel fear, let alone express it. This was how heroes were made, completely by accident. The only time individuals were celebrated and rose to lauded ranks, was when enough observers were there to record and verify their actions, or some slithering potentate arrived long after the action and climbed a hill of the unfortunate dead, proclaiming victory. Most of the times, the warriors just gave a prayer for the dead, thanks for their survival and went home to long untended crops.

Garr hesitantly strode forward and soon all eyes were upon him. He had no idea what to say, where to begin, and yet he knew this needed to be addressed and resolved. He felt that right now; this moment was pivotal and of the utmost import. Not only did Igar have to trust in love and compassion for his fellows, but they, the members of the council needed this as well before they undertook the monumental effort before them. They had been so fixated on the logistics of the war effort that they had all but ignored the focus on the higher purpose. Now it slammed them in the gut and barked in their faces and Garr and all the council realized that bringing Igar here was an almost divine happenstance for it was the catalyst that galvanized their resolve and without it, they may have indeed charged into this endeavor with only the assumption of what they faced through flag-waving and posturing. Now, there was no question what they were fighting for. What the seed was that made risking so much, worthwhile. He drew a deep breath, “This is a moment that breeches and bridges destiny and fate. The Norns spoke tonight in the simple tongue of a rogue moved to gentleness. Some would count the season of our witness tonight, a miracle. I do. I am still trying to fathom the resolve and deliberation I have had thrust upon me. I suggest we all seek sleep and shelter and quietude and think deep on what we have heard and felt tonight. I bid you good night, gentlemen.” He turned and strode from the pavilion.

Garr stood on the highest knoll and still could not see as far as he wished. There were miles before him, that tilted ever upward and obscured his view. Before they could see the enemy forces, they would need to travel for miles and he wished more than anything that he could get a glimpse of what they faced. Suddenly he felt an obnoxious shove at his back and he bolted around to see a huge reptilian grin. He railed, “How in the name of Hel can something as big as you…SNEAK? By Loki, it boggles the mind.”

Faracayne ignored his ranting and said, “I know what’s on your mind and I can take you aloft, you know.”

Garr said, “ By the Gods! Right you are. Enough said. Let’s go.” He climbed on Faracayne’s spiky, scaly back and held on. The dragon took one…two, leaps and was off soaring into the dark night sky. The moon was little more than a sliver, but it cast a dull silvery glow on the landscape. As they glided northeast nothing much could be seen, but soon the stark white walls of Krawnholde came into view and star-like lights could be see in the windows of the keep. On the plain beneath them Gar could now make out campfires and a huge bon fire in their midst.

“Another pyre tonight,” said the dragon as they soared overhead. Garr realized then that this was a blaze consuming the bodies of the dead. He could only wonder at what malady might be killing them. But he was thankful for it just the same and hoped it would spare his army’s ranks.

What discouraged him was the sheer numbers of the trull and goblin army beneath them. He knew they would be pitted against a sizable force but what he now observed was undeniably daunting. The two armies were of a size as far as numbers were concerned, but Goblins and trulls were enormous beings. He knew his men were very well trained and functioned well and he prayed this would be enough. From all he’d heard, trulls and goblins fought almost mindlessly in a frenzy of blood-lust and he hoped they would be able to use this fact against them.

Faracayne sensed his trepidation and said, “Relax. We actually outnumber them by a few hundred. Trust me. I’ve done the math.”

They flew back to Battlestead and when they landed Garr thanked the dragon saying, “Believe it or not, getting a look at what we’re up against actually did me good. Funny how perspective brings things into play.” Garr patted Faracayne lovingly on his neck. “Thank you, brother.” He said and began to walk off toward his quarters.

“Garr,” said the dragon. Garr turned slowly. “The numbers are tight, and that’s good, but…there’s the bastion.”

“I know,” said Garr. “Get some rest, my friend.”

Arnaald was also making preparations. He’d found himself a comfortable and sheltered grotto in which to do his scrying. As he was settling in, he heard a woosh of air and the soft flapping of huge leathery wings and looked up to see, by the pale moonlight, the silhouetted form of the dragon bearing someone aloft. He knew that the passenger could only be Garr and he smiled. The lad had grown to such a fine figure of a man in so short a time. He was sure that his choice to endorse Garr as king was one of the best decisions he’d ever made. If he was wrong well then, so were a few hundred thousand of their countrymen.

He let all other concerns melt away and descended deep into trance, searching the ether. “Skruff…Skruff…Skruff Fluktfinger…” No response. It took quite a while and he was getting very concerned when he finally got a tickle of recognition.

“Who there?” came the response. Arnaald sensed annoyance.

“It’s Arnaald, Skruff, how are you and have you had any success finding what we spoke of?”

“Oh… I sleeping. We pretty good but not having much fun…bored. Oh, hey…we found the stinkhole and a gobble ate Doozer and Ladelia so we killed him’’

Arnaald was distressed to learn that they’d lost two more members of their troupe but even more distressed at the off-handedness with which he reported the killing of the goblin. It seemed that this war, having not even started yet, was having a hardening effect on the little people. He had to admit to himself then, that he really knew very little about them. Maybe this was a normal response.

“I’m sorry to hear that. I need to talk to you about the hole you’ve found. I’d like you to see where it goes and follow it to its source.”

More annoyance. “What, again? Why?”

Suddenly Arannld realized that, once again, these remarkable little creatures had exceeded his wildest expectations. “Skruff, where are you?”

“We in the castle. Just stole a bunch of their food.”

Arnaald was elated. “Can you see the gates from where you are?”

During the two days that they had been in the conduit the nissas had found enough bricks and stones that had dislodged from the walls over the years, and built a makeshift stairway to the grate so they could keep a lookout for anything of significance. Skruff scrambled up this and peered out across the bailey yard. “Yep. I see one.”

Arnaald needed to know which gate Skruff was referring to. “Which gate are you looking at?”

There was a hesitation and then, “That one.”

Arnaald thought for a moment and asked. “Do you know which side the sun sets on? The right or the left?”

“Oh ja. The right side.”

From this information Arnaald was able to discern that they were able to see the southern gate from their vantage point. “Look at the gate. There should be an opening or a door or perhaps a slot to one side or the other.” Arnaald had been in the keep a few times in his life but it was many decades ago. He wished now that he’d paid more attention to the keep’s construction.

“I see a door on the left and a slot way up high on the right.”

“Can you get to either the door or the slot?” asked the mage.

The nissa thought for a moment. “The slot would be a tricky climb. Easier to get in the door. Gotta go real sneaky-foot though.”

Arnaald could hardly believe his good fortune. “What I need you to find is the winching mechanism. This will be a series of spools and gears of some kind wound with ropes and/or chains. I’m hoping there will be more ropes than chains.” Just yesterday the mage had queried Briar about the drawbridge mechanisms at Fjellhiem and learned that they employed mostly ropes because they were easier to repair and didn’t require constant oiling. “When and if you are able to find them I’ll need you to hole up there and wait to hear from me again.” Then he thought for a moment and realized there was a better way. “Better still, I’m going to give you a key word that will put you in touch with me the moment you’ve reached your destination. Are you ready?”

“Oh ja. Ready as rain.”

The key word needed to be something that Skuff would not think of off-handedly so that when he was ready the contact would be intentional. “The word is ‘ITCHYBITCHYBUMBUM’. Repeat it.”

“Itchybitchybumbum, got it. We go now. Bye.” Arnaald was dismissed once again and the nissa was gone.

The Bloodaxe Saga Book Three: Chapter Nineteen

George Yesthal

Brodheadsville, United States

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