The Swordmaker: Heroic Fantasy
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by Joe Vadalma
Category: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Description: The saga of a Norse Conan! Gunther the Viking, son of a swordmaker is on a raid with his fellow Norsemen, when he becomes separated and enters enchanted woods that encircle the realm of Fairy. There he encounters the Celtic goddess Aoifa who defeats him in a sword fight. He is then seduced by La Belle Darne Sans Merci, who takes his heart but leaves him. Next he encounters Nimue, The Lady of the Lake. Gunther asks her how he can escape the enchanted woods. She tells him that he can only leave their confines al dawn. Nimue takes him to the court of the fairy queen, Aevel. She bestows on him a wand of learning and the cauldron of plenty. Gunther will need every implement the fairies give him. For back among mortals, he will encounter women as dangerous as any in the enchanted realms. There is Aine, who first steals his heart and then his purse and lures him to a deadly encounter, and Guida, the lady pirate and princess, who would as soon spill blood as drink ale. And before his adventures are over Gunther will brave Nitheim, region of icy darkness and cold, wash up on the shore of corpses, battle the dread serpent Nidhogg, fight polar Yeti, and be tortured by Hela, the Ice Queen of Nifheim. Throughout, only his swordmaking and swordfighting skills hold death at bay -- until at last he meets his destiny. Cover art: Jade.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions,
eBookwise Release Date: May 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [223 KB]
Reading time: 145-203 min.
THE SWORDMAKER'S SON
Early spring along the rocky cliffs of Norway's fjords was the time of Thor, the thunder god. Torrential streams filled with great chunks of ice and snow thundered down steep cliffs into ragged ocean inlets. The sea itself was tumultuous. In the early morning it was as misty and mysterious as icy Niflheim, the darkest kingdom of the land of the dead. On a tiny rocky beach set below the great cliffs, a small family awaited the arrival of a small boat sent for them from a gnorr, or long ship, just offshore, but hidden in the mist. The family consisted of Jorn, the middle-aged father, a swordmaker by trade; Brynia, the mother, a tall, woman, husky from years of laboring; and Gunther, their fifteen-year-old only son, larger and stronger than many men twice his age. They were downcast and somewhat anxious at what the Norns had in store for them. They were leaving the village of their ancestors, probably forever, to dwell in a place with the disquieting name of the Isle of Ice, or Iceland. To add to their woes, they had placed their fate in the hands of a pirate known for his ferocity.
As they shivered in the cold and mist, Brynia asked her husband, "Is there no way that we could stay?"
"How could you ask such a thing, Brynia? King Harald -- that cursed Danish dog -- has decreed that all must worship this strange Roman god who hangs from a cross like a sack of potatoes. My ancestors from the beginning of time have respected the old gods, Praise Odin. What sort of man would give up his gods because a conquering king decreed it?" He spit on the ground as though Harald Bluetooth were lying there. "Our gods are strong and fierce. What do we want with this weakling god who allows himself to die such an ignoble death?"
Although Gunther did not speak, he was not as reluctant to leave the village of Njordusk as were his parents. If they had stayed, he was destined to become a maker of swords and other weapons as was his father and his father before him. In his secret heart of hearts, he desired the adventurous life of a Viking or a sea trader, like this Eric whose ship they would be boarding. He daydreamed that the sea captain would take him on as an apprentice sailor.
"Father, what is Eric Thorvalden really like? My friends have told me that he is a fierce man."
"In truth, I know not. I knew his father before he was banished for killing a man in a brawl. If he is anything like Thorvald, he is wild, a heavy drinker and chaser after women and has an ugly temper. In other words, a man to stay away from. If I had a choice, I would sail with another."
To Gunther, his father's words made Thorvald sound romantic. He pictured a hard fighting, hard drinking warrior, a real-life Sigmund the Volsung. He wondered whether, Eric, the son, was the same sort of fellow.
Soon afterwards two sailors rowed them out to the knorr.
After two days out to sea, the wind failed. Eric approached Jorn. He bowed in respect to an elder, a friend of his father. "Jorn, I know you have paid in good silver for your passage, not to become one of my crew, but Ran has caused the wind to fail. We need as many arms on the oars as possible. I respectively request that you and your son join us."
"Of course. It is our pleasure. We are as anxious to complete this journey as you."
When Gunther and his father took places at the great oars, Eric, the captain himself, sat by Gunther. The only male aboard not rowing was a young boy who set the time by beating an enormous drum. As Gunther strained his muscles on the great oars to this rhythm, he surreptitiously glanced at the Viking captain with admiration. When Eric removed his shirt, Gunther saw that the tall thirty-five-year-old man was as muscular as himself and Jorn, who had been the strongest men in Njordusk. Eric's long hair and beard were the color of fire, so red that many of the crew called him Eric the Red, and he was never without a five-foot iron sword with a double grip for two-handed fighting.
After much effort, the ship began to move at brisk pace, almost as though it had caught a breeze in its slack sail, and the rowing became easier. Eric started a conversation with Gunther. "You are a strong lad. How old are you?"
"Fifteen years, sir."
"Have you been aboard a ship for any length of time before this voyage?"
"Several times. On my uncle's fishing vessel."
"Do you like the sea, Lad?"
Gunther's heart skipped a beat as he guessed what Eric was hinting at. "Aye. My uncle said I would make a good fisherman. That it was too bad that I was the son of a swordmaker."
At that point, Jorn, who had overheard, remarked, "Aye, that was Sune's opinion. But when the fish were scarce to be found, who was it that begged me for a few coppers to tide him over?"
Eric agreed. "Not much gold in fishing. That is why I turned to trading and raiding. Tell me Jorn, as a weapon-maker do you have much call to handle the weapons yourself?"
"Of course, what kind of man cannot wield what he offers his customers?"
"Your son too, I imagine, is familiar with the swordsman art?"
"Aye," Gunther replied for himself. "I practice every chance I get."
Jorn grumbled something under his breath and said aloud, "My son has romantic notions about life as a raider, but I don't believe that he has the stomach for killing. Besides, my forefathers have been artisans and smiths for generations. Gunther was born to continue that tradition." This was said with such finality that it cutoff further conversation on the subject. The three men lapsed into silence, concentrating on the rowing and their own thoughts.
Although it was against Jorn's wishes, for the remainder of the voyage Gunther spent much time with Eric and helped with the sailing to the point that he was accepted by the crew as one of their own. They especially appreciated his great strength and willingness to labor hard. Whenever the winds were brisk and seas calm, Eric, Gunther and the crew practiced weaponry. Eric owned a second iron sword much like the one he always carried. During these practice combat sessions, he loaned it to Gunther. Once he said to Gunther, "You're a right strong lad. Not many grown men could handle a weapon of this size and weight, yet you wield it as though it weighed no more than a thin saber."
Gunther puffed up with this praise and practiced twice as hard. Eric taught him many tricks and feints used in combat and the use of other weapons, such as the battle-ax and the spear. "You have a natural talent for warfare, lad. I could use one like you. Men have come home from voyages that I captain with much treasure."
Gunther hung his head. He knew that his father would go into a rage if he even suggested such a course, and that his mother would weep and beg him not to pursue such a dangerous life. Jorn became cross whenever he learned that son had talked with Eric and had warned him several times to cease. Instead of replying to Eric, Gunther changed the subject. "My father knew yours when your family lived in Njordusk. He said your father was a wild man."
"Aye, that he was. It is the reason that we live in Iceland now. He was banished for killing a man in a tavern brawl. It was not his fault though. The man challenged him. No real man backs down from a challenge."
"So it is true then."
"Aye. But my father, whom we sent to Valhalla three years ago, was not a bad man. No, he was honest, loyal, brave and honored the warrior's code. I am sure that he is gazing down at us now."
"Oh, I'm sorry. Have I spoken too much? Did I dishonor his memory?"
Eric grinned and clapped Gunther on the back. "By Odin, don't be a fool. He was what he was and would've been proud to be remembered that way. Come, we're sweaty from practice. You must be as thirsty as I." He led Gunther to the back of the ship to the great cask of beer, drew two great pewter steins of beer, and handed one to the lad. Eric drank his in one long draught and was getting a refill by the time Gunther had taken two gulps.
As they prepared to disembark in the settlement at Haukadal, Eric took Gunther to one side. "You're a good lad Gunther, and one I would very much like you to be on my crew. Nonetheless, I know that your father is dead set against it." He clapped Gunther on the back. "A stripling must obey his parents. Perhaps one day when you are grown man and able to make your own decisions ..."
Gunther did not know how to answer this. His admiration of Eric and all that he stood for warred against his desire to be a dutiful son. Finally, he said, "Aye. Perhaps someday ..." He gazed at his feet. "It has been a great pleasure, sir, knowing you, and I thank you for all that you have taught me about being a seaman and a warrior. Someday I will repay you."
"Nonsense, son. In fact I have something for you." From under a coil of rope, he pulled out the sword Gunther had been using in practice and handed it to him. "Take this, and keep up your practice. I have no need for two swords."
"I could not accept such a gift. To purchase a sword like this, a man would need labor for a year."
"Some men. But raiders and traders like me have plenty of gold and silver. I could buy a dozen such swords if I had a mind to. Take it. Some day, if you should decide to join me, you will be well prepared to help make me even richer."
Gunther gazed at the weapon. It was a fine one, with an elaborate double grip and runes etched along its blade. He heard his father calling him. "I must go now to help my parents with our goods. Thank you very much Eric. I really haven't the words to express my gratitude for such a gift and everything else you've done for me."
They embraced, and Eric said, "It is nothing. Someday I'm sure you will pay me back double. I have a feeling about you."
As Gunther helped them load a cart that Jorn had hired, Jorn said, "I see that our wild captain has given you a weapon. Does he think that you will need it to fend off the ferocious natives of this land." He knew very well that the natives of Iceland were peaceful and had not given the immigrants any trouble. "Let me see it."
As Jorn examined the weapon, he said, "It is a fine sword. I just hope that Eric does not exact too high a price for it someday. C'mon, let's get this cart loaded. I am anxious to get settled in this new land."
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