“The Forging of Isaz” (Part 2 of 7)

A Short Story Set in a Mythical Nordic Medieval World.

Photo by Simon Berger on Pexels.com

Glossary of Terms and Characters

  • Völvur: a shamanic order of women capable of foresight and communing with the otherworld.
  • Jötunn: god-like elemental forces of nature from the mountains, forests and wilds of the tundra. (Giants.) 
  • Gobban: a Norseman, a smith and master craftsman of weapons.
  • Kalda: servant of Skadi. 
  • Skadi: winter goddess of jötunnic origins.
  • Seiomenn: men who practice conjuring magics. 
  • Greta: the queen’s seeress.
  • Alfar: fairies, elves.  

Part 2 The Arrival

A master smith, Gobban was often completely confident his skills were sufficient for any task. He began his training when he was a young boy. He had learned from the best. Tonight though, the only thing he felt secure in was his understanding of the predicament facing the kingdom. Gobban knew his limitations. His extraordinary skill and the modest magic he wielded would still not be enough. The king demanded a miracle. Skadi could undoubtedly use her wintery magic to forever keep the flame demon at bay. Yet, the cost would be to forever go without warmer weather.

Never summer, ever winter would destroy the kingdom just the same. Let’s hope Greta and the other völvur are correct! I am not a man above learning something new. 

Waiting for his guest, the smith chose his steel carefully. He was sure of his process and technique. The weapons he constructed were well-made. Gobban prepared as he would typically to forge a sword. He added more coal to the furnace and quietly chanted his spells. Soon the smithy was ablaze in heat. Accustomed to the workshop’s hellish conditions, Gobban was in his element. He continued to sing to his forge, stoking, cajoling ever more heat from the coals. 

The smithy was otherwise deserted. In fact, this entire section of the citadel had been cleared. Skadi had requested only the smith be present. The king agreed readily, himself concerned for the well-being of his people. Supernatural intervention, whether divine or jötunnic, was a rare occurrence. No one knew exactly what to expect. Greta advised Gobban how to act and speak. The captain of the guard explained how to signal if there was danger. The king thanked Gobban for his bravery and willingness to put the kingdom first. Lastly, the smith had been instructed to leave the eastern window open. His ally would enter from there.

While his back was turned to shovel more fuel onto the fire, Gobban heard a rush of wind and felt a drop in temperature. Turning, he beheld a figure standing outside the window. After allowing his eyes to adjust from the bright light of the fire, he could discern it was a woman. His first thought was she was too small to be a giant. Gobban tried to recall if he had heard tales of giants having the power to magically alter their size. He supposed Skadi could have acquired such ability from the gods. 

“I’m surprised you came.” Gobban managed to say.

 Stepping closer to the window, the smith sought to better see his visitor.

“A promise was given.” a cold voice replied.

The woman’s skin was pale as freshly fallen snow, and what appeared as her raiment shimmered like a glacier hanging at a fjord’s edge. Her silver hair, severely cropped short, resembled a jumble of jagged shards of ice. Yet, her face appeared delicate with a radiant aura like a brilliant boreal night sky. Her eyes were of the brightest blue. Gobban was reminded of sapphires reflecting the noonday’s sun.

Gobban, in contrast, stood like a dark, gritty lump of coal silhouetted against the orange-red glow of the fire. His dark hair was tied back with a strap of leather worn and stained with sweat and grime. His rugged build was the very essence of a resilient, earthen ore, hardened and tempered by intense heat.

“Even so, I am still surprised,” he said. 

“You think the gods are above the oaths they make?”

“I do not presume to know what it is gods do or don’t.”

“Ah, Master Smith, I have been told much about you. You presume to know all about the forging of mighty weapons.”

“There is nothing I do not know of smithing and forging metals. I am proud of my work. But, I do not claim to know all regarding talismans and weapons of power.”

“And now, flame and heat, elements essential to your success, have emerged from the wilds in strange, treacherous form. Your crafting is undone by the same forces from which it is constructed.”

“The hell beast will not be turned. I have tried all I know. But, no blade will hold its shape ere it pierces the beast’s heart. This is true. Certain doom is upon us all unless another way to defend ourselves is found.”

“And that’s what you expect me to provide?”

“That’s what the völvur hope.”

“Do you believe I can help?”

Gobban’s bowels squirmed. He suspected there was little she did not know about him.

“I honestly confess I am unsure. Steel is remarkable, but it is the fire that strengthens it. Quenching it properly is essential. Extreme cold makes such a metal brittle and prone to shatter. I have spent my life imbuing weapons with fiery magic to withstand the frigid cold, and its minions come down from the mountains.”

The smith was surprised how easily he gave vent to his anger and frustration. This outburst was precisely what he had been counseled to avoid. The stranger stood unmoving, her icy presence filling the length and breadth of the window. Her silence was unsettling. Gobban’s breathing and heartbeat boomed in his head. 

“You speak of the jötunn,” she stated.

Gobban bowed before the woman.

“Forgive my manners, my lady. I am not accustomed to the company of gods. Welcome. Please enter. May we forge a weapon together to save the kingdom.”

“I am no god, master smith.”

“But, the queen’s seer indicated Skadi, queen of the snows and ice, was offering assistance.”

“I am ice sprite. Your people call me an ice maiden. My mistress has sent me. She said I would be able to aide you.”

“Forgive me again. My welcome still stands.”

Gobban gestured with his hands to enter. But, the woman did not move to join him.

“I am ill-suited for your fires. I will remain here until the time comes for me to assist.”

Gobban was surprised to realize he was disappointed. He wondered if the winter sprite was attempting to charm him with faerie magic. It was common for woodland spirits to play such tricks. Yet, he didn’t feel as though he was under any spell.  

“My name is Gobban.”

As if seeing him for the first time, the woman gazed intently at the smith. He felt a chill air cascade down about him. 

“My name is Kalda.”

Gobban shivered upon hearing her name. He realized he was utterly taken with the supernatural beauty of the ice maid. 

With a cough and a stamp of his boots, he vigorously rubbed his hands together to rid himself of the chill and embarrassment he felt. 

“How should we begin? What changes with the forging do I need to make to facilitate your assistance?”

“Alter nothing, master smith. I will partake in your ritual work when I see an opportunity.”

Gobban smiled warmly.

“Then I hope to provide you a worthy display of smithery. I shall begin.”

Turning back to his furnace, he fancied he saw an amused look pass briefly over the ice sprite’s face. 

“I confess I watch with great interest, as I know little of the crafting of swords,” Kalda said. 

Gobban beamed.

“Fear not, I do.”

“Yes, I sense the fierce magic of fire rules your heart. Your skill is evident.”

Gobban realized the ice sprite had come inside. She stood against the window wreathed in a swirl of snows that clung to her body. He, himself, had never before seen a display of this type of magical power. He began to suspect his earlier suspicions and doubts were wrong.  

“Your arrival and words have wrought a change upon me I did not expect. Hope glimmers again in my heart.” Gobban said. 

“Why is this?” Kalda asked. 

“I fathom not how your icy elemental magic works. But, I am now more inclined to accept the völvur’s omens as true.”

“The völvur walk between this realm and others. Their insight is keen. Only a stubborn fool ignores their counsel.”

 Gobban stifled an urge to laugh. Obstinate, inflexible, headstrong, and bull-headed were just some of the words used more often to describe him. He was eager to lay aside talk and get to work. 

“Would you care to see the steel before it enters the fire?” Gobban impulsively asked. 

Kalda tilted her head, considering. 

“Yes.”

The smith retrieved the bar of steel and walked over. He remarked the rapid fall in temperature as he drew near the ice sprite. His sweat crackled as it froze in his hair and on his bare skin. His breath billowed forth in a frozen mist of air. 

“Look adamantium! The king has provided the resources for the strongest steel. There is no higher quality metal for a sword.” Gobban crooned.

The ice sprite hesitated with her hand poised, almost touching it. 

“I assure you it is cool.”

Her touch produced a sound, not unlike the chinking of metal on metal. The bar of steel was instantly covered in frost. Both the sprite and the smith startled. 

“My lady, you have chilled the steel straight through! I feel as if I am suddenly grasping a length of solid ice.”

Kalda regarded the wisps of moisture steaming up from her hand. 

“To me, sir, the metal is quite hot! I now understand why the weapons you craft are mortal to the jötunn from the frozen lands and northern mountains.”


Coming Next: (Part 3 of 7) “Fire Draws Breath

“The Forging of Isaz”(Part 1 of 7)

A Short Story Set in a Mythical Nordic Medieval World.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Glossary of Terms and Characters

  • Völvur: a shamanic order of women capable of foresight and communing with the otherworld.
  • Jötunn: god-like elemental forces of nature from the mountains, forests and wilds of the tundra. (Giants.) 
  • Gobban: a Norseman, a smith and master craftsman of weapons. 
  • Skadi: winter goddess of jötunnic origins.
  • Seiomenn: men who practice conjuring magics. 
  • Greta: the queen’s seeress.
  • Alfar: fairies, elves.  

Part 1 “Prologue

The attack had come unexpectedly upon a village situated far to the north, close to the mountains. Its people were a wary lot. Raids were not uncommon, but everything about this assault was unusual. In the middle of winter, the village looked to fire for comfort and protection. Instead, it gave rise to utter ruin and death. The settlement was destroyed, burnt to the ground. The survivors fleeing south whispered of an infernal creature composed entirely of flames. 

The borders were reinforced with more of the king’s guard from the cities. Eventually, the fiery beast appeared again. Steel and magic were brought to bear against this unknown threat but to no avail. The creature blasted and melted all it confronted.

The kingdom had until recently enjoyed a long period of peace and prosperity. The king’s smith had labored tirelessly to produce fantastical items of power capable of keeping the countryside safe throughout the darkest times of the year. But, Gobban wrought in with fire. Heat, light, and flame were essential to his craft. With the aid of these elements, he shaped and imbued his metals with fiery magic. His weapons enabled the king’s guard to drive back icy giants who came down from the mountains with their cold, cruel pangs of hunger to hunt. 

Now, Gobban was faced with an entirely different kind of threat. He threw himself into the task of forging a weapon to slay the monster. The smith efforts were thwarted by the incredible intensity of the beast’s fires. Gobban knew success depended on founding his weaponry within the mightiest heat he could bring to bear. But, the fiend proved capable of burning far hotter than any fire the smith could fashion. No matter how he hardened and tempered the steel, the weapons melted and turned to slag upon striking this implacable foe.

Gobban revealed with great pain and embarrassment, he did not have the wherewithal to protect his craft from the ruinous effects incurred within the fiend’s internal firestorms. Only the random appearance of harsh winter snows did anything to hinder the fiery demon. But, ever the threat returned when the storms abated.

As time passed, people fled south, seeking safety behind city walls. The king’s guard was reduced to keeping peace and order among the refugees or providing swift transport to seiomenn attempting to conjure foul weather to douse the devilish brute’s inferno. 

As soon as the news reached the citadel of the first assault on a fortified city, tensions ran high as people waited to discover if its defenses would hold. Grim was the report declaring even solid stone walls gave way beneath the onslaught of hellishly hot blows. Everyone wondered what would stop this new terror when the summer suns returned?

With Gobban’s armaments failing and the seiomenn’s abjuration magic proving ineffective, the king turned to the völvur to uncover a way to save the kingdom. The seers, with the queen, withdrew into solitude to probe the spirit world for answers. Err long, the völvur, with the aid of their seidr magic, announced a strategy had been divined to defeat the enemy. 

During the king’s council, a path to salvation was laid out. Beyond the borders, a being existed with the knowledge Gobban lacked. The seers spoke of marrying the power of fire and ice to create a sword. They urged the king to dispatch an envoy with speed to parley and strike a bargain securing the desired assistance.  

Gobban was dismayed. He begged to learn more details regarding the exact nature of the omens. He could only perceive a great folly in their plan. He wondered how he could be expected to lay all he knew aside, to ignore reason! He argued some laws of nature could not be disregarded. And yet, Gobban was expected to try.

Greta, the queen’s seeress, a woman greatly respected, if not afeared, was adamant Gobban must forge a great sword to serve as a talisman against the unstoppable devil. She vowed there was no other way. She insisted salvation lie within Gobban’s reach. Every portent the völvur read alluded to a blade quenched and tempered within frigid forces only Skadi, the winter goddess, could provide. This paradox would forestall the perils posed by the diabolical heats wreathing the beast. 

The smith balked at the absurdity of this idea. Fire and ice did not suffer each other’s company; they could not co-exist. Gobban was dreadfully afraid. He refused to believe deliverance would come from steel. He begged the völvur to scry again. Gobban suggested looking to the boundless waters of the sea to bring about an end to the monster. But, the king and the other council members were confident this was the course of action to take. 

Eventually, the smith acquiesced, agreeing to carry out this preposterous scheme. But, he was devoid of all hope. Gobban granted a radical change in tactics was necessary, but he doubted this approach was it. He could find no solace in the auguries. All others were convinced a frost forged blade would endure the inferno long enough to pierce the beast’s heart. But, Gobban worried his skills were insufficient for the job. 

The fleetest messengers were dispatched to the wilds of the mountains and forests. Quick was the reply. Now, a stranger was coming to work with the smith. Disliking the unknown, Gobban’s mind fell to endlessly speculation.

Who or what was coming? Was this wild ally human? Could it be possible, Skadi herself would arrive?

Gobban didn’t believe the winter goddess would deign to intervene directly. Indeedhe thought she’d send a vassal or minion to nose about his smithy. But, the question of what or who continued to torment the smith.  

What he did know failed to allay his trepidation. Whatever journeyed toward him and his forge was traveling from the hinterlands, a place inhabited by giants, spirits, and gods. He had been taught from an early age to avoid such areas. In the counsels, Gobban did not reveal his immense distrust of the jötunn. Now, he regretted holding his tongue.

Blast the völvur and their signs! Help must come from the jötunn? Twaddle, I say! Gibberish indeed! Only a fool harkens to dubious advice from a chaotic otherworldly being!

Gobban believed unless Skadi and her attendants chose to directly confront the fiery monster, no genuine aid would come from that quarter. He wondered quietly what her motives were. Many invoked Skadi for warmth and succor throughout the dark months of the year, but Gobban was not one of them.

He remembered and distrusted the goddess’ origins. Skadi was not always exalted as one of the gods. She was a giantess, a member of the jötunn. Gobban had dedicated his life to keeping the darker jötunnic powers at bay. Reflecting, he realized the prospect of collaborating with the winter goddess had quite unnerved him. The smith prayed he was up to the task. 


Coming Next: (Part 2 of 7) “The Arrival”

Flash Fiction: Arch nemesis

Espresso, tobacco, an old grudge and a chance meeting. Daydreaming About Mesoamerican Indigenous Folklore.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

Everything was quickly settled into the new apartment. Qochata’s lifestyle was simple; uncluttered. He changed locations often to avoid the inevitable questions.

“How do you do it? You haven’t age a day. I must have your secret.”

Qochata would smile, demurely attributing his perpetual youth to good genes and a healthy lifestyle.

“Abuela and Abuelo, both past one hundred, still run our family farm. They work hard, rest well and eat humble home cooking.”

The lie never worked. Once someone remarked his agelessness, the wary looks and whispers began. He’d soon moved on.

His new, small studio in a historic, Mexico City building came furnished. He required only a bed, a nightstand, a comfortable chair and a lamp for late night reading. A large brass bird cage hung from the ceiling, empty with the door ajar. Each wall was entirely lined with crowded, newly installed bookshelves. The numerous books, his sole material burden, formed towering piles about the room. The kitchen table held a terrarium; home to a red coffee snake. Qochata reached in and stroked the reptile. 

“Ah, Café. It’s been centuries since we’ve been to Mexico City.”

A cawing, keel-billed toucan flew in and perched upon Qochata’s shoulder. 

“Yes, Pluma. I was waiting for you to return before beginning.”

With each relocation, Qochata felt at home, only after preparing his favorite dish; a sweet corn cake made with masa harina. Centuries ago, he had travelled far, working his magic to acquire the maize plant for the Mexica people. His patronage had helped humans conquer famine. Qochata taught the Mexica to live peacefully in magnificent cities filled with art, music and scholarship. It had been a happy time.

“Now let’s begin.”

Qochata gathered ingredients. He set out butter to soften and began mixing together cornmeal, masa harina, sugar, salt and baking powder. Shucking ears of corn, he carefully cut off tender kernels to add to his mixture. 

“Now, for the cream.”

Qochata opened the refrigerator. Moving items about, he saw no heavy cream or milk. Frowning, Qochata rummaged about the cabinets. 

“Mierda! No condensed milk either. Don’t worry my pets. There’s a corner market nearby.”

Grabbing keys and his wallet, Qochata donned a white, felt, stetson. Encircling the hat was a silver band, styled as a rattlesnake, holding a solitary eagle feather. 

“Be right back.”

Qochata crossed the street to the market. Stopping in front, he regarded the placard above the entrance.

Tchondee’s Shop.

The sign depicted the caricature of a jaguar smugly sipping espresso, smoking a cigar. Hesitating, Qochata glowered at the sign. He distinctly disliked jaguars.

Sneaky, brutish cats! Lazing about or devouring the weak.

Bells jangled as he entered. The store was split in two. The right side contained shelves of groceries with a small refrigerated section along the back wall. The other half was dedicated to a large espresso bar. Lining the wall, behind the counter, was a selection of cigars, loose tobacco, cigarettes and pipes. The individuals working behind the counter greeted Qochata warmly. Noticing the comfortable, leather chairs set out for patrons to lounge in as they enjoyed a smoke or cup of coffee, he decided to sample the espresso.   

“A solo espresso, por favor.”

“Coming right up, señor.”

Settling down in a chair, Qochata flipped through an abandoned newspaper. A barista approached with a demitasse and saucer. 

“Your solo. Enjoy.”

“Gracias.”

Qochata cupped his hand over the tiny cup, feeling the steam tickle his hand. Lifting it to his nose, he inhaled deeply. Murmuring approval, he slurped his espresso. The rich flavor was smoothly bold with hints of caramel and brown sugar. He swallowed, savoring the rush of smokey, bitterness. The espresso was exquisite.

“Excuse me? Where do you source your beans?”

“The owner is a connoisseur of coffee. He owns a plantation in Chiapas. He cultivates new varieties and tinkers with the processing and roast.”

“Interesting.”

“Yes, I find his work with tobacco in San Andreas even more fascinating. I’ve never smoked anything close to the tobacco he imports from his own properties.”

“I would very like to meet with him. Is your boss in?”

“Yes, he’s out back. One moment.” 

Qochata finished his espresso. He walked about inspecting the hanging photographs. They were all pictures of Mexican soldiers and scenes from famous battles. 

He seems to be a military buff as well.

Qochata hated conflict. 

Gazing out the window, waiting, he heard someone approach from behind. 

“Señor, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tchondee. Welcome!”

Qochata turned around to make his introduction. Both men’s smiles melted as their eyes locked in recognition. No handshake was made. They stood still, sizing one another up. Qochata spoke first.

“Thought you were in Afghanistan or Syria nowadays.”

“I was. But, with everything winding down, it’s just a dull routine now. I had a hankering for home.”

“Yes, me as well.” 

“I see. Espresso is delicious isn’t it? You enjoyed it?”

“I suppose. I really must go. I was looking for heavy cream. I came to the wrong place.”

Qochata made to pay his bill and leave. 

“What name are going by now?”

“Qochata.” he grimaced embarrassingly. 

“Ha. White man, huh? Fitting.”

“As is Tchondee, brother. You always enjoyed tobacco with its smoke and death.”

Tchondee simpered, holding his hands out with a shrug. 

“Look, Quetzalcoatl. It needn’t be awkward. The days of importance and power are over for both of us.”

“Perhaps, but you still relish stirring up trouble. My people have suffered terribly.”

“How long are you going to hold that over me? I am what I am. However, I’ve been trying to broaden my perspective.”

“Ha! That’s rich! What? Focusing on more subtle ways to kill? Cancer, addiction?”

“You wound me, brother.”

“As I said, I was just in need of a carton of cream.”

Qochata turned away, reaching for his wallet. 

“Yes, sweet corn cake. I know.”

Qochata stopping, turned to watch Tchondee retrieve a carton of heavy cream. He held it out to Qochata. 

“Here. It’s free, as is the espresso.”

Qochata looked down at the offering, deliberating. A few seconds passed and he took the carton.

“It was a fair fight, until you tricked me.”

“Yes. It was.”

“Your actions have been utterly reprehensible for an age now. What’s your angle? Should I move on?”

“It’s tiring always being evil. Guess, I’m feeling more neutral these days.”

“Neutral? Interesting. What about your new fascination with agriculture? You could use your talent for something actually helpful. Humans take readily to your influence. They’re destroying themselves and this world with your beloved smoke, smog and pollution.”

“Look. I don’t want this fifth age to end. We could see what we can do to save it.”

“Our days of being heroes are over.”

“There’s a bit of juice still left.”

Qochata considered his brother’s words. He walked to the door and stopped. 

“Tezcatlipoca, the sweet corn cake will be ready in about an hour. My apartment is across the street. Number 282. Bring coffee and cigars. And you can bring Colmillos, provided he doesn’t try to eat my toucan.”

Tchondee smiled, chuckling to himself, as Qochata walked out. 

“Thank you, brother.”

Word Count: 1193

Courtesy of Prompt Titled: Arch nemesis.

By THESOLITARYWORDSMITH at PROMPTUARIUM.

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