by F. Charles Murdock
Won’t you sit right back and, aye, I may tell ye a tale. It’s a tale of merriment with rather heartbreaking origins. Aye, bloody it is, but full of hope. You wish to hear then? Well, buy me a drink on this festive day and I’ll bend your ear as far as it’ll go.
Y’see, in Krytherion there exists a jubilant tradition by the name of Merrythought whereby a forkbone of a roasted cucco is broken between a host and his honored guest, the greater part of which is said to grant the possessor favor by the natural gods of the land. Grimsdor, Keeper of the Thorgithen Tradition and renowned chronicler of both death and deed, describes the tradition as “an allegory for the fate of battle” when “destiny finally decides between those to be honored and those to be forgotten.” Though it is principally of Thorgithen origin, Merrythought has become tradition at the end of feasts in all of Krytherion and even some lands beyond.
Sit, then, and I shall tell you its true origins. Keep in mind, though, that such niceties often have severe beginnings...
The young warrior had stared at the lowly fire for hours, not wanting to turn to the far grander blaze on the horizon behind him. He looked into its red heart and saw the face of his mother, screaming and eyeless. He looked into the gritty ash and saw his father’s corpse, writhing and bloody, scalded and charred. They had all died back there in that blaze that was once the land of Gal, the tribe of the honor-bound and the heart of the resistance to the madness spilling in from the Southlands at the hands of the man who called himself Turin the Great. Some bonecasters and prognosticators from the southmost tribes near the Eastflow had said Turin had awoken a primal god to bring forth an enchanted wall and that he aimed to forge its reality, black in both magicks and construction, to sever Krytherion in twain. Truly he was mad.
But though the Southern forces had descended upon his tribe like a horde of wyverns, the young warrior had survived. In the midst of hopeless battle with Turin’s men and despite the all-too-clear call of the Last Path, the boy had been saved by the Stranger who had approached him in the plaza as if from thin air. The hooded man had wrapped the warriorling in his black cloak and drew him into a strange hole which was conjured beneath them, the sound of its creation grating and loud. So the boy had been carried underground, through a strange world of tunnels and metal, his mind warped by tragedy and grief.
Now the young warrior shifted his eyes past the fire to the ice-rimmed eyes of the man watching him on its far side. The Stranger had watched the boy intently, letting him deal with the death and destruction that had so quickly befallen him and his people. But as the moon shrank to its apex near the dual crowns of constellations Āxion and Xenos, the Stranger spoke.
“You needn’t worry about Turin finding you here, young master,” the man said in a gruff tone. “I’ve ensorcelled the area to deny the sight of any who approach.”
The boy stayed his sight, not speaking, only watching with sorrow and rage battling in his hardened heart.
“I know how hard this must...”
“You know nothing of what I feel,” the boy interrupted, his tone harsh, but wavering.
The Stranger stood then, his cloak a curtain of shadows broken only by the dim flickering of the fire. His face, too, was now obscured, though his eyes seemed to glow with some stolid light within.
“I’m sorry for what you suffered today,” the Stranger said, his face unmoving, but solemn.
“Save your condolences for...”
A glimmer brought the boy’s eyes to what little remained of the man’s right arm. The limb had been hacked off, leaving only the ball of his shoulder and a thick stump where a modest bicep had once been. At the end of the crude stump was a coil of metallic cords that tied off its end and disappeared into the short sleeve of the man’s flowing cloak. The metal there had caught the staunch moonlight and the glare from the nearby campfire.
“How did you lose your arm?” the boy asked, his tone softening as quickly as his gaze had been drawn.
“In a calamity much like you just faced in the ruins of yonder town,” the Stranger said, his eyes still locked on those before him. The boy was silent for a moment, the totality of the ambush of Turin’s men flashing in his mind’s eye for but a moment. Then he remembered being saved by the actions of this strange man and his heart was voided of rage and filled instead with curiosity.
“What be thy name?” the young man asked.
The Stranger chuckled, a warm sound among the stillness of the night. “I’ve many names in many lands, to be sure, but in yours I’m known as Brognar the Eternal, Brog for short. I’m a wonderer, young master, a relic of times long past.”
“Brognar, eh?” the warriorling asked. “’Tis a strange name, I’ll grant... a strange name for a strange man.”
“Aye,” Brognar replied with a hearty laugh. “’Tis an ancient name, more ancient than even I, that means ‘beginning’ or ‘origin.’ The suffix, ‘nar’ is Old Tongue for ‘new,’ so I’m guessing you can surmise what...”
“Why did you save me?” the boy interrupted. “Where did you come from?”
Brognar did not answer for a moment, his mind searching for the correct way to translate the thoughts whirling within.
“You are to become a great warrior,” Brognar said. “I cannot tell you more than that for little is known of the future, only that a certain path was to be opened for you when the time came. Oftentimes these paths are beaten with angry fists and bloody footprints.”
“You speak of destiny?” the boy asked, his face sorrowful once more.
“I speak of decisions and consequences,” Brognar said, “for what more is life than an experience and one’s reaction?”
“Mine is not a mind of philosophy,” the warriorling said. “All I know is what I’ve been trained to know and the thirst for revenge that has overtaken me.”
“Action and reaction, young master,” Brognar said.
The boy did not respond, only looked into the fire and the terrible images his mind projected onto the flames. He was lost now, without home or family, land or weapon. Where and how was he to tune his compass?
“To tell true, young master,” Brognar said after a moment, “I saved you because of a great truth of life, one I’ve learned firsthand.”
“That the young change the world and the old keep it.”
“You expect me to change the world now?”
“Not I,” Brognar replied. “But I can sense that you do.”
“Would you like more philosophy, young master?” Brognar said warmly. “How about... every battle has two victors, those who win and the raptors that come to feast afterward.”
There was a moment of silence before the twilight was filled with laughter from both sides of the fire. How the boy could be laughing after such a tragedy he did not know, only that it eased his heart and awoke within him a sense of understanding, that maybe the Stranger was right about youth and the world, that the young warrior was meant for greatness.
When the laughter had died away, Brognar spoke again, his tone even and stark in the sudden silence. “Your compass is in need of a needle and I happen to have two.”
“I ken not your meaning.”
The Stranger leapt over the fire far too quickly to be seen, even by a young warrior as adept as the one who sat before him. Brognar now stood between the fire and the boy, his shape dancing with those of the flames. And when he removed his dark cloak, two blades stood impaled in the frozen dirt between them.
The boy stood in awe, his eyes shifting back and forth from sword to sword as if a mesmerist’s pendulum passed between them. The sword to his left was smelted wide and long, its blade augmented with curves and strange angles and a black light that seemed to reach out with preternatural power. The blade on the right was tightly tempered and long, its edge straight and fine. It, too, called out, but with promises of honor and strength.
The young warrior made for the curved sword, but was stopped by Brognar’s good hand.
“That blade be not for you, young master, but for another of your blood.”
“What do you...?”
“Your brother was saved as well, set within a corpse cart and escorted from the land beneath your dead.”
“Where?!” the warriorling screeched in surprise. “I wish to see him!”
“I know not where he was taken, young master,” Brognar said, “only that this intricate sword, that which was given the name Tattered Edge by she who tempered it, is for his hands only. But I’m assured that you are destined to meet him again someday.”
The boy felt the burn of tears beneath his eyes, but shifted his attention away from the pain they represented. As Brognar folded the Tattered Edge within his cloak and withdrew it from sight, the boy reached for the other blade, his ice-rimmed eyes on those of the Stranger.
Brognar nodded, but before the boy grabbed the hilt of the sword, he stopped and pushed out the breath that had grown stale in his throat.
“I do not want to take up ownership of a blade so fine with such unfocused fury binding my heart.”
“Wise words, young master,” Brognar said. “It seems you have your own philosophies.”
“What is its name, the sword before me?”
“The blade you see was given no name in hopes its master would bestow one upon it.”
The young warrior’s eyes narrowed in consideration. “But now rest must come to you for you’ve been through much this night,” Brognar said.
“Do you not wish to fill your belly with the cucco I’ve skewered and roasted?” the Stranger asked. “You’ll need your energy for what is to come.”
“Nay,” the warriorling said, laying his tired body upon the cold ground before the sword. “I require respite from the night’s tragedy.”
“So be it,” Brognar said. “I will play sentry this night and then we shall discuss matters of the future at Solrise.”
“So be it,” the young warrior said and fell into a deep slumber.
The boy was awakened at full dark, his acute senses drawing his awareness from the Dream Realm. His ears had pricked at the sound of approaching... what? Not footsteps, but softer. The warriorling sat bolt upright, his eyes narrowing against the sustained embers of the campfire. He shot wild glances around the area, looking for the strange man who’d saved him from an untimely death, but he was not to be found that night. Instead, he found the proud eyes of a great she-wolf staring at him from the shadows beyond the flamelight and knew immediately he was in the midst of a goddess.
The boy did not dare call Wuthweirgen by name, for he did not wish to incite her legendary vengeance. With her eyes locked on his, the wolf entered the gleam of the fire, her wintry coat aglow with its dancing light. The warriorling scrambled to his feet, unable to move further, wanting to call out to Brognar, but unable to move his lips.
The wolf stalked around the fire, her mouth agape, her fangs jutting out of her maw around a thick, pink tongue.
The young warrior made a quick glance at the hilt of the nameless blade before him, his mind summoning courage from its own deep vaults. Wuthweirgen rounded the fire, her approach slow, calculated rather than cautious for she had no fear of man and his fell ways.
The boy’s breath came quick now and although the frost turned it to steam as it left his lips, he felt terribly hot. He could feel sweat rising along his forehead and within the curls of his maturing beard. His hands worked at his sides as the she-wolf sat before him between the fire and the sword, her teeth set in a grim, inexplicable smile.
There was naught but breathing between the two for a moment and the roar of the distant inferno that had killed a thousand souls just hours before. Then the boy acted, his movements dictated by pure instinct, those learned and those inherited. Thus his fate was sealed to be remembered evermore.
The warriorling thrust his hands into the campfire, denying the urge to grab the sword Brognar had left him. His deft hands plucked the roasted cucco from the spit, that which he’d denied eating the night before, and tossed it to the she-wolf, his palms scalded, his heart quickened. Again a moment of silence passed between man and beast before Wuthweirgen began to eat the poultry, the meal consumed in three quick bites. When she was done, the wolf turned from the boy and fled into the night, though the boy would swear to his grave that her eyes twinkled on the horizon for a moment as if she’d turned back to bid him thanks.
The warriorling hunkered there, his hands trembling and blistered, his body propped up by the untouched sword beside him. And there he saw what the she-wolf had left him: the forkbone of the cucco’s lower extremities. He picked up the bone, though it pained him to do so, and returned to his warm spot by the fire where he found slumber once again, the bone placed across his heart until Sol rolled along the edge of the Inner World once again.
“So you finally ate, eh?”
The warriorling opened his eyes on Brognar standing over him, the dying fire behind him drowned out by the daylight creeping over the horizon where the ruins of Gal had smoldered and cooled in the stark northern wind. The man offered his good hand to the boy and the warriorling obliged, catching the forkbone of the cucco before it fell from his chest to the frozen ground.
“This is all that remains of the offering,” the boy said distantly.
“Of what do you speak, young master?”
“Last night at full dark, a great she-wolf came to me,” the boy said, his eyes stark in the new morning’s light. “I knew not whether she wished to harm me, but... I took up an offering to her instead of the blade you left me.”
“Wuthweirgen, was it?”
“Aye, I believe so,” the boy replied. “She ate all but this bone and then scampered away on a gust of wind. As is her nature, so I’ve heard.”
Brognar looked to the ruins on yonder horizon and was silent for a moment, his hand on the boy’s shoulder, his face set, but neutral. Then he turned back to the warriorling and smiled.
“May I see the goddess’s gift to you?” he asked the boy.
The warriorling obliged once more, passing along the body-warmed bone to the Stranger’s waiting hand. The man looked down upon the forkbone, his mouth moving, though he said no words. The boy watched this with fascination, wondering what species of incantation must be passing along the æther between the two.
“You may have it back, young master,” Brognar said, holding one prong of the bone and offering the other.
The warriorling grabbed the bone and pulled, but Brognar held on to his side so that the forkbone snapped and pulled apart, the majority of which went with the boy’s hand and not with that of the man. The warriorling’s eyes widened in shock, but Brognar only chuckled.
“Ah, so the gods favor the young master,” Brognar said warmly.
The boy turned his widened eyes up to the man before him.
“You were given this bone with merry thoughts in mind, young master,” Brognar explained, “for you showed the goddess kindness in the stead of cruelty, remorse in the place of staunch defiance. Surely she will watch over you and yours. But you must honor her now and forevermore, young master. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” the boy replied, looking at the cracked remnants of the forkbone in his scalded palm. “I will honor her, me and mine, for as long as we are and she is.”
Brognar grinned and nodded. “Good,” he said, unsheathing the nameless blade from its crease in the cold ground. He handed the sword to the boy, watching him accept the weapon’s weight, despite the pain coursing through his hands, those cleansed by fire after the tragedy of the following night.
“Then are you ready to begin your training, lad?” Brognar asked, producing his own weapon, a long blade much like the nameless one he’d just relinquished. “We must temper your vengeance with knowledge, with training and philosophy, if you are ever to avenge your blood against the forces of Turin. The road will be long and arduous, but you have been chosen to walk it. Do you accept this course with courage and honor?”
“I do,” the boy said, raising his new blade to the crown of Sol as it slid ever higher into the day.
And see now that this boy has become a man, his mind and body hewn by years of training by the Stranger who came to him that day, who saved him from a death most cruel. See well how he yields that same long sword and points it straight at the crimson eyes of his fated adversary across the field of battle. See you Turin standing there in his ancient armor, his own sword ready to cleave the boy who got away? See you the warrior, he who has joined together the thousand tribes of the North to battle back the forces from beyond the Black wall, he who was chosen by Wuthweirgen all those nights ago?
And so Kgortel charges into the battle to avenge those who had fallen beneath the fell sword of Turin. For those of the past and those of the future for the warrior’s son, Bervil, is yet unborn as the warrior races to impart his great vengeance upon the heads of those who would stand in his way.
Hear how he screams the names of those who died that night. Feel the ground tremble beneath his mighty boots. And, for the love of all the gods that ever were, see well that broken forkbone he wears around his neck on Jute twine, that key which unlocked a grand future for such a disheartened young boy, given by a Stranger who came and went like the wind, he who saved and trained and then left one night into the realm between realms, never to be seen by Kgortel again in this life.
See well and know of origins most important.