Sunday, December 5, 2010

Eirik and the Rings

Laird Colyne Stewart, June AS XL (2005)

Once there was a man named Eirik, who lived on a ship in a bay. The bay was located at the base of a high range of cliffs, on a small beach with a windy path leading up to the wooded height. Eirik lived happily alone on his boat, catching fish and occasionally walking up the path, through the woods, and into the village of Ardchreag for a drink or meal at the tavern. He was especially found of a type of flat bread, covered with sauce, meat and cheese, as well as a type of iced milk drink.

One day, as he was walking home after a hearty meal and good conversation with friends, Eirik found the path through the woods blocked by a troll. The troll was a tall one, standing well over seven feet tall, and had great horny claws on its knobby feet. It blinked its great crimson eyes as it looked down on Eirik, a green tongue pushing against its yellow teeth.

“Andersen,” it rasped (for Andersen was Eirik’s last name).

Eirik, who had recently begun training under the good Baron Sir Siegfried, placed one hand on the hilt of his sword. “Who are you?” he asked boldly, for he had dealt with trolls before, and knew that they were generally cowardly creatures.

“Andersen,” it repeated. “You are on my land.”

“Explain yourself,” the Norseman insisted.

“Beneath these cliffs, at the end of this trail, lies a bay, at which your ship lays at anchor,” said the troll. “That bay belongs to me. I have until recently been away at the troll-moot, but have now returned, to find that another has set up house on my land.”

“But I have dwelled in that bay for many years!” interjected Eirik.

“Troll-moots can drag on at times,” the troll said slowly. “Some of my cousins are full of more wind than a storm. But the fact remains, that my cave lie in this bay, and I do not wish to share it with anyone.”

Eirik considered pulling his sword and trying to put an end to the troll, but he could tell by its size that it was ancient and old, and old trolls have incredibly thick skins. His sword would not cut through the rough plates.

“I am not ready to give up my home,” he said instead, “just as you are not ready to give up yours.”

“Ah,” sighed the troll. “And so we have a dilemma.” It thought for a moment, and then said, “I propose then, a trade of sorts.”

“What sort of trade?”

Slowly drawing a claw down an oak tree, the troll smiled and said, “Well, I may be willing to relocate to the bog, if, and only if, you retrieve some items for me, long since stolen from my cave.”

The troll then explained how years ago, while it had been out swimming in the lake, a human wizard had invaded its cave and gone off with a large emerald and ruby, each set on a troll-sized ring. If Eirik found and retrieved these rings, the troll assured him it would leave him to live in the bay in peace. Eirik agreed to this task, and immediately set out to find the wizard, whose name, according to the troll, had been Murflen.

Eirik had never heard of Murflen, but felt sure that the archives in the library at the lord’s manor would have some information he would find useful. So he set off through the woods in the direction of the manor house. Not soon afterwards he came across a cold pool of water, by whose side sat a beast he thought he would never see in his lifetime. For it was a unicorn, a green unicorn with a shining horn pointing to the tree tops like an arrow. Its mane flowing in the breeze, the unicorn turned to gaze at Eirik, who was transfixed by its large eyes. Unable to help himself, Eirik found himself walking slowly towards the unicorn, his hands held out imploringly before him. Just as he was reaching out to stroke the animal’s neck, there was a growl, and a large black bundle of fur sprang out of the undergrowth and attacked the unicorn. Instantly the unicorn transformed, raising itself up on its hind legs, its fur now red as the fires of hell, its horn pulsing and yellow. Facing it, with strips of flesh and hair hanging from its mouth, was a large badger. Finding himself freed from the power of the creature’s gaze, Eirik pulled his sword and slashed at the horse-thing’s flank. The creature fought back, but in the end was no match for the combined attack of the man and the badger, and it turned and leaped into the pool, sinking out of sight.

The badger, spitting out gobs of hair, turned to regard Eirik, who was cleaning his sword on the grass. “That was the kelpie of Tir Og Bog,” it said suddenly, making Eirik jump.

“You can talk?” he asked surprised.

Frowning, the badger said, “My, you are a quick one, aren’t you.”

Stammering, Eirik said, “I’m sorry, it’s just that…well…I’ve never met a badger who could talk before.”

“Likely you’ve just never met one that had anything it felt it needed to say,” replied the badger. “You human folk are always wandering into this glade, thinking the kelpie is a unicorn, but we badgers can see through illusions like that. You’re lucky I was wandering by.”

Eirik agreed that he was, and when the badger—whose name was Stinktail—asked him what he was doing out in the woods, Eirik explained about his quest. Stinktail rubbed his jaw with a clawed forepaw and said, “Well, I think I can save you a trip to the demesne of that lord of yours. It so happens I’ve heard of Murflen the Wizard.”

Stinktail told Eirik that Murflen had once been a scourge along the Cliffs before the founding of Ardchreag. In those days the land had been wilder, but all creatures and men who had lived there, no matter how wild they had been, lived in fear of Murflen and his magic. He had destroyed trolls and goblins and bandits and roving knights, and was even rumoured to have once slain a dragon from the south. His home, Stinktail said, had been a tower to the north in a land that was still untamed, though claimed by the Baron of Septentria as his own.

“The reason the baron hasn’t settled anyone there yet,” said Stinktail, “is because no one will go there of their own free will. It’s thought to be haunted, a dark wood full of ghosts and spirits. But if you want to find those rings, that’s where you need to go.”

Eirik thanked the badger for the information, and was very pleased when Stinktail offered to accompany him. “I haven’t had a real adventure in ages,” the animal said.

So of they set due north. As they walked the woods became denser, thicker, and darker. Their path became narrower and brambles and thorns ripped at their legs. Eventually they had to stop for the night, and they took turns sleeping while the other kept watch. The woods that night were cold, and noisy, with the sounds of foot falls and breaking branches echoing through the solemn trees. In the morning they continued on their way, after eating a bit of bread and cheese from Eirik’s pack.

Around they came to a crossroads. To the north the path was flat and paved with green stones. To the west the path curved out of sight but was running along a wide open plain. To the east the path was crowded in by dark trees and the ground was rocky and uneven.

“Let us try north,” said Eirik. However, no sooner has his feet landed on the green stones than they turned to mud, which threatened to hold him fast. Luckily for him, Stinktail had not followed close behind and the badger was still in the crossroads and free of the muck. After a bout of pulling and muttering the beast managed to pull Eirik free.

“To the west then,” said Eirik. This time he gingerly placed a toe onto the path. His toe passed right through the earth, and he realized that the pathway was an illusion, hiding some kind of pit.

“We must hope the east is passable, or else we must back track and find another way,” he said to the badger. Boldly, he walked out onto the dark, tree choked path. Contrary to his expectations, he was not clawed by branches. Nor did his feet trip over the rocks. Rather the trees on either side of him appeared farther away than they should be and the ground under his feet smooth. He took another step forward and found that as he walked the trees pulled back from him, leaving him a clear line of passage. Stinktail quickly bounded after him.

After a time the dark woods pulled well back from the trail and the pair found themselves in a clearing which was dominated by a tall stone tower. Standing in front of the iron bound door was what appeared to be a slouching green-furred minotaur. As they approached the beast-man raised itself to its full height and held up a massive hand.

“Halt,” it said in a slight Spanish accent. “None may pazz this way, zo zay I, Bizon Vert!”

“Good morning to you,” Eirik responded. “Could you please tell me if this is the tower of Murflen the wizard?”

“It iz,” said Bizon Vert. “And that iz why I cannot allow you to enter. For you zee, the wizard left me to guard hiz home.”

“But good creature,” interjected Stinktail, “the wizard has been gone from these lands for many years.”

“He may return at any time. Ztrange are the wayz of wizardz.” The minotaur then turned its shaggy head and coughed up a ball of phlegm into the grass. It looked shamefacedly at the two travels and said, “I am zorry. I am feeling a bit under the weather. It iz thiz cold northern climate, zo very different than the landz from which I come.”

“Is there no way to free you from your geas so that you may return home?” asked Eirik.

“There iz only one way,” sighed Bizon Vert. “I muzt be defeated in a drinking game.”

Eirik looked pale. It was well known he was not much of a drinker. He looked at Stinktail who shook his head. Thinking for a moment, Eirik said, “Very well, but you have to go first.”

Sighing, the minotaur pulled an immense jade bottle out of a pouch at its belt. “I am afraid you will never beat me. I have never been defeated.” With that he took a massive swig from the bottle, and then offered it to Eirik.

“No, no,” said Eirik. “We’re not going to go by little sips. We must go by bottles. You drink your bottle first, and then I will drink mine.”

The minotaur blinked. “What? Iz that the way it’z played here? Very well.” And with that Bizon Vert took another long draught at his bottle. He began to sway a little bit, then took a third long pull. With a thump, he sat on the ground. “Only one more zip left,” he mumbled, raising the bottle to his lips again. There was a mighty crash as the huge beast-man fell to the ground, snoring soundly.

Tip-toeing around the minotaur’s out spread legs, Eirik approached the door. To his surprise it swung open easily to his touch. He strode into the tower and found himself in a round room full of strange apparatus. Stairs led up to the tower’s heights. On a small pillar in the centre of the room sat two large rings, each fixed with a large gem. Stinktail followed Eirik as he approached the pillar, wary of a trap. Just as Eirik touched the rings, the door slammed shut.

Spinning around, Eirik found himself face to face with a tall armoured figure, all black, armed with a long sword. An echoing voice boomed out of the closed helm, saying, “I am the master of this house. Face me if you would have the rings.” Eirik drew his sword, and the two fell to battle. Stinktail tried to help, but his claws and teeth could not penetrate the black figure’s armour. Though newly trained in combat, Eirik held his own against his foe, as it appeared that age was working against his opponent. For his armour flaked rust as the joints bent, and the sword was dull and splotched. Before long Eirik managed a well aimed blow to the neck that cut clean through the gorget. The figure fell to the floor and the helm rolled into a corner. There was no blood, and when Stinktail looked into the armour where the ruin of a neck would be the badger saw nothing at all. The suit was empty.

Grabbing the rings, Eirik put them in his pouch, and the two friends quickly left the tower, stepping over Bizon Vert and heading back down the path. Eventually, when they reached the bay where Eirik’s ship was tethered, they found the troll sitting on the beach eating fish it had pulled from Eirik’s nets.

“What is this?” it said coming to its feet. “Back already?”

“Indeed,” said Eirik. “And with your rings.” He held them both out in his hands.

A greedy light shone from the troll’s huge eyes. As it reached for the rings, Eirik pulled back his hands. When the troll hissed in anger, the Norseman said, “First you must promise that once you have these rings you will leave this bay to me, and bother me no more.”

“Yes, yes,” said the troll eagerly. “Just as you say, so will it be.”

Eirik then handed the rings to the troll who slipped them onto his fingers. “Fool,” it cackled. “With these magic rings on I am more powerful than Murflen ever was! Indeed, these rings were never mine at all, but long have I coveted them! And now you have placed them in my hands!” The troll made a grand gesture with its limbs, but nothing appeared to happen. It looked confused.

Smiling, Eirik said, “After I found the rings of Murflen, as I was returning home, my companion and I were met in the wood by the Dwarf smith, Verundel. He told me of the rings’ power, and bade me wait while he crafted for me two exact copies, which are what I gave to you. If you had been true to your word, I would have then given the real rings to you. But as you have proven yourself false, the rings will not be yours.” Rolling up his sleeve, Eirik revealed the ruby ring about his wrist. Grinning, Stinktail pulled aside the fur around the top of his left fore-leg to reveal the emerald ring.

“The power of the rings is ours now,” said Eirik, pulling his sword, “and their might shall bring you down.” So saying, he and the badger attacked the dread troll, and the power of the rings were in their sword and claws. Against this onslaught the troll could not prevail, and soon it lay dead at their feet.

Realizing that the power of Murflen’s rings were too great for anyone to hold, Eirik and Stinktail sailed out in his boat to the middle of Lake Ontarium. There, they placed the rings in a heavy chest which they bound with chains and then threw into the water. And there, on the bottom of the lake, the rings remained. For a time, at least.

No comments:

Post a Comment