A Short Story Set in a Mythical Nordic Medieval World.
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, an ice sprite.
- Skadi: winter goddess of jötunnic origins.
- Seiomenn: men who practice conjuring magics.
- Greta: the queen’s seeress.
- Alfar: fairies, elves.
Part 5 “Force of Nature”
Absorbed by visions of the unfinished blade’s future glory, Gobban’s dreamy eyes widened into a far-off stare. A rich, exultant laugh burst forth from his mouth as a triumphant smile creased his face.
Kalda was moved, and yet, puzzled by Gobban’s sudden outburst.
“Claymore?” she asked.
The question’s sobering effect was instantaneous.
“Oh, I see.”
“What is it you see?” she asked eagerly.
“Forgive me, Kalda. I do not mean to speak in riddles. Let me explain what a claymore is.”
“I assume it is a mighty sword.”
“Yes, in the hands of an able swordsman, it is formidable.”
“This lethal weapon is your creation?”
“No. It is a Pictish blade.”
“Across the western sea lies a kingdom of fierce warriors. We raided their coastal villages as is our custom, quickly finding the Picts to be capable foes. Our men returned with tales of a mighty sword outmatching our best blades. The king respectfully made peace, pledging friendship. Our two peoples have since wreaked great havoc upon the weaker southern peoples. This alliance has brought great wealth and renown to our kingdoms.”
Kalda took a step backward, shaking her head.
“You are a mighty people. I tremble to think what will become of the Alfar and even the gods themselves if you made war upon us.”
Gobban reached out a hand beseechingly.
“Fear not, Kalda. We are more than our ambitions. Most of us are quick to mend our ways when we recognize the pain it causes.”
Kalda stood her ground behind an intensified screen of protective snows.
“Humans have always yearned for more. They waste their meager years seeking greater wealth, power, and control.”
Gobban cringed, feeling the weight of Kalda’s judgment.
“Yes. You are correct. Our mortality renders us susceptible to envy and other dark emotions. Too many are jealous of the splendor the Alfar possess. But, I think attacking the fey people is an attack on nature itself. Well, anyway, that’s what my mother taught me.”
Kalda said nothing for a time. Gobban worried the ice sprite would leave. But, gradually, the magic veil about her thinned as the snowy vortex slowed its rotation. The smith realized he desperately needed Kalda to trust him.
“This weapon will protect and defend, Kalda. I give you my word.”
The woman listened to his words, reflecting. She then nodded solemnly, stepping forward.
“Who will wield it?”
Gobban was taken aback by the question. He shook his head, shrugging.
“That’s not for me to decide. But, I suspect the king’s son will.”
“The prince is greatly skilled in arms. He is honorable, asking of others only what he asks of himself. He alone has returned alive from attempting to slay the beast in one-to-one combat. If anyone can dispatch the fiery devil, the prince can.”
“Then let us return to fashioning a sword worthy of this protector of the people.”
Gobban looked down to reexamined the sword. He shook his head, clucking his tongue.
“We’ve dallied too long. I need to restore the metal to a workable temperature.”
Returning the blade to the forge, Gobban sighed, staring into the fire as he waited. He could feel the ice sprite’s sapphire blue eyes upon him in the silence. He turned to face Kalda.
“Thank you for helping me.”
“Sing, master smith. Sing to the fire. I would hear your song of heat and flame again as I fan the coals.”
Each better understood how to complement and support the other’s efforts, and they found themselves working together with greater ease.
Gobban stood confidently, legs wide, hands on his hips, singing to the fire. His leather apron and hair thrashed about him in the winds Kalda conjured. Sparks leaped into the air, dancing in the smoke, as the smith banked the coals around the steel.
Kalda noted the strength of Gobban’s build. She marveled, watching him labor so close to the furnace’s raging inferno. The ice sprite imagined she watched a jötunnic smith high atop a fire mountain far to the north. She had heard many tales of how the giants forged mighty weapons within the molten fires deep inside those peaks.
Gobban once again laid the soft, pliable sword on the anvil. Kalda could see the air above the hot metal ripple and wave. As before, she outstretched her hands, summoning the cold from outside. Her fingers danced as she constructed an eddy of cool wind about the blade. Periodically with a flick of her wrist, she would toss a slight breeze across the smith’s sweating brow.
Sparks erupted like fireworks as Gobban pounded the steel. The unworked end slowly curved and narrowed with each hammer fall. Eventually, Gobban had pinched the steel into a point. Satisfied, the smith lay the sword flat. Beginning with one side, he painstakingly adjusted the force of his strikes to create a beveled edge down the sword’s length. Flipping it, he repeated the process, compressing the other side’s boxy shape. Gobban stopped to admire his work.
“You are satisfied?” Kalda asked.
“I am pleased with the proportions and how the weight is distributed.”
The smith swung the blade smoothly.
“Are you a skilled swordsman as well?”
“My skill ends with the crafting of the weapon. I leave the gruesome work to others better suited to the task than I.”
Kalda studied the man.
“I sense you would be a dangerous foe if pushed to fight.”
Gobban abruptly looked at Kalda.
“I certainly would do all I could in my power to protect the weak and vulnerable.”
The smith once again found himself staring intently into the ice sprite’s eyes.
“And… if the time ever arose, I hope I wouldn’t hesitate to lay down my life safeguarding those I love.”
Wondering why his mind dwelt on thoughts of love, Gobban realized he teetered on the edge of a strange emotional precipice. He was a human, and she was an ice sprite, a jötunnic being. He didn’t know if she possessed the capability to feel love. Chastising himself for becoming distracted, Gobban tried to refocus on the task of creating a weapon to slay the flame monster.
For her part, Kalda was also perplexed. At first, she thought she was too close to the forge but then decided the peculiar itch of warmth she felt had to be something else. Struggling to identify the strange sensation, the ice sprite startled, realizing it felt oddly familiar on one level. Kalda couldn’t recall ever feeling this before. Perplexed, she decided it was prudent to lay the mystery aside and focus on aiding Gobban’s work.
“What happens now, Gobban?” she asked.
The smith panicked; he coughed to hide his embarrassment.
“Kalda?” he squeaked.
“Surely, you have more work to do before the sword is complete,” she stated.
Relief flooding over Gobban. He smiled, forcing a laugh as he nodded his head rapidly.
“Oh, yes! Yes! Yes, the next step is normalizing. I have to normalize the adamantium steel. This process requires a little less heat.”
“Shall I reduce the airflow then? Do you want me to continue fanning the forge fires?”
“Yes, please. But, not too much.”
Eager to move away from Kalda, Gobban returned the sword to the forge. He wanted to clear his head. He cursed inwardly the persistent ache of tension he now felt around the ice sprite.
“What will normalizing accomplish?” Kalda asked.
Grateful for the opportunity to redirect his thoughts, Gobban happily explained in detail what was required during this part of the process.
“There are internal weaknesses scattered throughout the steel now after shaping it with the hammer and anvil. This must be mended and set right. It is the first step in hardening and strengthening the sword.”
“I see. And a cooler flame will repair these injuries sustained during the forging?”
The smithy grew quiet again as they waited. Gobban listened to the crackle of the fire. The moonlight coming through the window highlighted delicate snowflakes floating about in the gentle currents of air Kalda fanned into the furnace. The smith watched pensively as the sword began to glow again with a hellish orange light. He shuffled coals around to maintain the perfect temperature like a cook fussing over a complicated dish. Eventually, he pulled the sword out of the fire.
“How do you know when it’s ready?” Kalda ask.
Gobban snorted and chuckled.
“Years and years of practice.” he smiled and shrugged his shoulder. “Truthfully, it’s just a hunch.”
Laying the sword on the anvil, Gobban fumbled about in his pockets. After a moment’s search, he found what he wanted. The smith held up a dark, pitted stone.
“Lodestone,” he stated.
“I don’t know what that is.”
“I am unfamiliar with that word too.”
“Helmsman use such stones to guide our ships west across the sea?”
Kalda stared uncomprehendingly.
“This stone longs for the iron residing within strong steel. I learned from a young age to test the metal of a new sword to ensure a lodestone clings to it. Shaping the sword disrupts its ability to lure and hold fast such a stone. If there is no attraction, the sword is weak and will break in battle.”
“Normalizing…restores this attraction?”
Gobban crooned with happiness, seeing the lodestone stick to the blade as he waved the sword about.
“She begins to look like a real sword!” Gobban exclaimed.
“Indeed it does.”
“Now, we must smooth and hone the blade. I must warn you this is a tediously long process.”
Kalda ventured closer to look upon the rough, blackened blade while Gobban lumbered off to a far corner of the room.
“How will you clean and sharpen it?”
“Sand, gravel, and wool will scrub the blade clean. I’ll sharpen it with my whetstone.” Gobban called out distractedly.
The smith had overturned a large barrel and rolled it over. Righting the cask, he popped off the top to reveal water still sloshing about from the movement. Gobban had several burlap sacks over his shoulders which he let drop with a thud to the stone floor. He reached into one bag and pulled out a handful of fine sand.
“I’ll scour the steel with grit finer and finer and then finish with a clump of rough wool. The metal will gleam like a mirror when done.”
The smith smiled smugly.
“How long does that take?” Kalda asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Ooh, it could take days.”
“Does the kingdom have time for that? How many more will die while you perfect your art?”
“Now, listen. It’s the only way to ensure I don’t mar the balance while putting a razor-sharp edge on it.”
“I still don’t really see how I’ve helped you craft a better sword. Is all this effort going to work?”
Gobban looked sadly up from scraping the flat of the blade.
“I don’t know, Kalda. We have greatly increased the forge’s heat. I have been able to shape the steel in less than a quarter of the time it normally takes me. But, the most difficult work is still before us. I hope using your magic will allow me to harden the sword with a temperature more potent than the beast’s.”
“I overheard a rumor your cities’ stone walls have been bested by the monster. Surely, your stone forge would not contain a fire so hot.”
“I do not know what stone those walls were constructed of. Some rock is better suited to heat and flame. I can only hope the forge’s stonework can contain a stronger fire.”
Gobban went back to work. Kalda silently watched and waited.
“You may as well go and rest, Kalda. Wouldn’t you prefer the cold outdoors? I will labor through the night and tomorrow. Return next night, and we shall build an even mightier fire to harden the sword.”
Kalda said nothing, intently observing Gobban scrub and wash the steel.
“I may be able to quicken the process for you. Is it the blade ready to endure great cold?” the ice sprite suddenly interjected.
Gobban stopped to consider the question. His eyes narrowed apprehensively.
“Yes, provided we don’t hit it with a direct strike. What are you proposing?”
Kalda’s azure eyes gleamed with excitement.
“Water and ice grind down even the mightiest of mountains over time. I have witnessed incredible changes made in a short time when their power is focused. Allow me to use my magic to clean and hone the blade.”
“Unconventional. This I would like to see.”
Gobban held out the blade forgetting how Kalda had suffered when touching the steel before. The ice sprite flinched reflexively.
“I’m sorry. I should have remembered the effect metal has on you. I will hold the blade for you.”
“I fear my magic my harm you, Gobban. I will venture nearer the heat to work with the sword at the anvil. But, I will still need you to secure the blade and maneuver it when need be.”
“Then we shall take solace in the fact both of us are uncomfortable. It will make the suffering bearable.”
Standing close together, Gobban shivered, his breath crystallizing. Kalda pulled her protective screen of wintery weather close to her body. The perpetual swirling vortex hissed, creating a cloud of mist above her.
“Scrubbing away the carbon from the fire is simple enough, but allow me to quickly demonstrate the basic technique required to hone the edges.”
Kalda carefully noted the angle and direction Gobban used to run the whetstone along the sword’s edge.
“I have seen enough to mimic your technique. Hold the blade as securely as you can. The blast will be strong.” Kalda said.
Gobban readied his grip, nodding he was set for Kalda to begin.
“I will do my best to direct the ice flow away from you.”
“I appreciate that.”
Knowing something was going to happen still failed to prepare Gobban. Chaos exploded, instantly engulfing him. The sword jolted forward, nearly slipping free from the smith’s firm grasp. His eyes snapped shut as a spray of ice struck, needling his skin with countless pricks of pain. A high-pitched squeal pierced the air, and a biting cold rapidly numbed his hands.
He tried to watch, but Kalda’s magic obscured the sword behind the turbulence of her wintry power. Gobban held the sword with all his might. Time became difficult to discern. He began to worry the ice sprite would damage the steel.
“Flip the blade!” Kalda said.
The command buoyed Gobban’s ebbing resolve. He wrenched his frozen hands, twisting the sword over.
The freezing flow of arcane forces shifted, coating the smith in a fine layer of sleet and snow. His body ached as if suddenly plunged into a cold, underground well. He consoled himself, knowing the task was half-finished.
“Can you manage to slide the sword slowly at an angle one way and then another? I want to better sharpen the edge!”
“I’ll try! It’s difficult to see through this storm of yours!”
Working metal, day in and day out, for years upon the stalwart anvil, Gobban knew its every bump, dent, and crack. He discovered he had no need to see to find his way about. The smith expertly positioned the blade pushing its edge slowly into the blast of icy magic.
As quickly as it began, the tumult ceased. Relative quiet returned, although Gobban failed to notice due to the residual ringing in his ears.
“Is this what you desire?” Kalda asked.
Opening his eyes, the smith beheld the brilliant gleam upon the sword. Immediately, he recognized he would have spent hours polishing to achieve what Kalda had in minutes.
Gobban was speechless.
Lifting the sword from the anvil, the smith winced as bits of skin from his palms stuck to the frigid metal. He moved closer to the fire, allowing the weapon to warm. Gobban ran a bloodied hand along the flat of the sword, now smooth as the surface of a river stone. Rotating the blade, he tested the edge with his thumb. He felt the satisfying nip of sharpness bite into him.
“Yes,” he whispered. “This is marvelous work, Kalda.”
Gobban looked to see how the ice sprite fared so close to the forge. Surprisingly, Kalda beamed, a smile dominating her face. She showed hardly any sign of distress. In fact, he decided she looked healthier than before. Kale’s facial features appeared less severe. He noted a softness in her lips and a hint of pink on her cheeks. The smith marveled, unable to account for the change.
“Kalda, contrary to what you may say, I think the heat suits you.”
The ice sprite raised one eyebrow quizzically and laughed.
“Gobban, I fear the cold from my magic disagrees with you! You look like a straggling mountain-top pine. Are you still well under that layer of ice and snow?”
The smith ran a hand through his hair, causing ice to cascade to the floor around him. Stomping his feet, brushing his clothes off, he laughed with Kalda.
“Never fear, my lady. The heat required to harden and temper our work will thaw my body.”
Gobban held the sword aloft, admiring it in the firelight. The weapon glistened radiantly, reflecting the fire’s dancing flames upon its polished steel.