A Question of Whys

In one of the several villages that dotted the country, the mortal who would become the Swordhand sang a slow, sad melody for his dead wife. She had drowned in the gushing river following which he vowed to never ride the water. To his mind, the water god was a murderer and a raper, and he was powerless in front of such corruption. He was known to be a simple man – a little passionate in his passions, but otherwise a sundry farmhand who would not venture anywhere near the river – nor harbour any love for the sea like some of his juniors.

His mind was younger than those of his age – sharp but naïve, able but untrustworthy. When Elentyaro would engage him in a battle with his battered hand, the Swordhand would not give the Rider his fight – at least not the one Elentyaro would expect. A strong, slow hand that was suited to maces and flails would greet the Rider with a clumsy cudgel, yet a mind that would not waver at the strongest of suggestions – an ear that would not falter to the velvet bass of the Starlord. It would be a long time before the two would come to amicable terms and Elentyaro would explain the reason for seeking him out – at the deathly hour of the forest wisps.

It would be a still longer time before the Swordhand agreed. “There is devilry at work here, I know it” is what he would keep repeating to himself a countless times before his mind pieced together several unrelated events that Elentyaro told him and showed him after their tiring fight.

“There is devilry at work here, I know it, Rider.”

“If that is what you think of it, so be it. But I can tell you one thing – you can ask a fey of the river that burning question in your heart.”

“If such a thing were to exist, the first thing I would do it slake it on a hot and dry slab and let it rot in the midday sun here.”

“She does exist, Hieger. You’ll see her soon. Ride with me.”

“I will. And I will know why.”

—–

Ottor had now hired a young boy to refill the little pool that was evaporating at an alarming rate. Goldberry tried to croak out a song, but soon fell into a stupor that was interspersed with tales of great battles, a story of fey wife and a husband who was at once the Eldest evil and the Eldest good – someone that kept the peace but made the war. When the water was refilled again from a pool far away from the little tavern, a little measure of gold returned to her cheeks and her eyes refocused on the Shipwright.

“You should start building, now shouldn’t you?” Her lilting whisper scared the man who took two steps back and started assembling all his notes. He knew his work, but did not know why.

——

Beta Runok pinched the earth beneath his claws and turned it around over him. His sinews pulsated with every rushing step and he let out a shout that ended with a howl. He did enjoy the moon. But he was troubled more by the dreams.

Runok’s people believed moths in the sky secreted the ingredients required for dreams into the entrances of caves – caves his people inhabited eons ago.  This potent mixture from the moths entered the nostrils of only those who were to have the dreams that day. But sometimes there was an armada of moths that covered the sky like locusts and the entire race dreamt one dream.

The Wolf Dream.

For Beta Runok, something in bluecloak’s eyes told him this was a dream across races. A Dire Nightmare.

If the bluecloaks were having the same dreams, he had to find out why.

The Standard Bearer of the Star.

The Dark was whispering something sultry and seductive to the night as it danced around It. The formless thing was about as beautiful and oppressive as the lament of a hundred dying nightingales in a conflagration. The ravens cawed and the choughs cried and the crows tore and the rooks battered at them.

For a moment it would seem that Goldberry sought far into the cloud to see the Dark – to see the shadow disperse and coalesce into something she knew. Someone she knew. The only one she knew.

The Dark encompassed their corporealities, entrenched itself in the little cavities of their skin, filled up their imperceptible imperfections (the Valar, they were not) and unfurled Its true shape to their true eyes.

She was dismayed and gladdened when the masked thing saw them through Its eye and drank their scent them through Its mouth. That was not he. Yet the one eye saw her hungrily, lustily.

The Starlord waited for the Dark to form in front of Goldberry. He knew what It was trying to do, yet he knew not how he knew. It seemed there were a few surprises left for him as well. As the Sun hastily and selfishly slipped away from the scene, the stars – nay – the Star erupted from being a faint smoke-swirling point of light to an excruciatingly powerful candle in the Starlord’s hands. It swirled and weaved itself around his fingers, becoming stronger and more powerful with every strand that seemed wound around the star so far above them all.

The Dark saw it all and knew it all. Yet it screeched and scratched at them with the feathered proxies that would be dying in a moment or two.

And that is when Goldberry saw it all.

The Passage of Time [3/?]

Wayland looked at the retreating figure of the old Starlord as he vanished behind chestnut tree first, then bluff of the cliff, with none of the usual enthusiasm that the old Smith was famed for, and none of the rites and celebrations that he would provide. The old Dwarven festhall built around the Smithy and extending to the cottage had long been demolished. And Nienna’s tears overran the country and her flowers and festoons and halcyon fruits covered the land. Then the Men came. The festhall was forgotten.

The Smithy endured.

Wayland Smith endured because the Beasts endured. Roaming and thriving on the land, the grotesque creatures of the night, day, wind, water, death, fire, sorcery and light fought Man and his greed. Heroes and knights and squires and rogues came from afar to the cottage over the years. They brought stories of rusalki and rakshasa, chimeras and drowners and vampyr and lycanthropes to the village and the Smith. They also brought stories of how they could be captured and killed, and who had been captured or killed in the attempt to do the same.

Then they would ask him for a weapon. Steel or iron. Some even asked for silver.

Wayland Smith the Skilled would listen to their specifications and stroke his beard gently and shake his heavy head.

“I am a mere blacksmith. I can work with iron and steel, young Hratli. Silver is beyond me.”
When they persisted, the Smith would weigh their heart and eyes.

“Bring me ingots, Delvin. And those dragon scales that you keep harping about – do dragons even exist? Let me see what these old hands of mine can fashion.” or “I do not know where you hear stories about me, sir, but I do not make daggers or weapons of thievery. Good day.”

He heard tales of the last dracolich fall from the skies of the North and the great Purge of vampyr near Rorikshore and the battles of armies far and wide, yet nothing touched the microcosm of the Village-By-The-Smithy. The villagers believed it was the grace of the Goddess and the respect for the Smithy that did not bring warring kings towards their farmlands.

Wayland believed so as well, thoughhis Goddess and Smithy were different.

He mused at the goings-on for a while before his mind settled on the task. He stared at the bundles and opened the pieces of the lost glaive. To the ears of the Smith it seemed to hum with the delirium and chaos of the Battle and shine with the blood of Fingon’s son. He was not sure if he was imagining it or it was just the rush of seeing the broken instrument.

As he lay the pieces on the table, he started recounting the things he would need for the task.

“Water…” he mumbled softly, “some white gull, perhaps a bit of beer…”

Lord Elentyaro, in the guise of a traveller, was sipping on the local variant of the Skelligian ale. It was about as terrible tasting as the island variety, and had a more carp-like flavour to boot. However it was here, he had heard, that the blademaster would make his debut.

The stories, the prophecies and the omens pointed at the usual young and heroic boy who would vanquish evil in a shining white armour, but the old and wizened being knew otherwise – of the zealous diviners and their more enthusiastic scribes as well as the narrow-minded preachers and their devoted and servile acolytes.

And of course, the Starlord had never trusted a story writer or a minstrel.

Especially after the incident at the battle of two hills, eons past.