Short Story: Incident at Darrow’s Forge by Ben Fuller

(This is the first installment of a series of short stories I have been writing for a while that take place in a world in which Santa is real, as are all of the rest of our Holiday cultural representatives, but maybe not in the form that we are most familiar. I have had it posted on our agency blog – www.blogmaster2000.com – but thought it was time to post it here as well with the majority of the rest of my work.)

The Savage Sword of Santa – Incident at Darrow’s Forge

A Young Santa Adventure Story

by Benjamin D. Fuller © 2007

Niklaus Cohen, adopted son of Brian and Judith Cohen of Northern Upper Arberea tested the grip on his favored broad sword, Mylirilen-sen, while his camp fire still burned behind him on the old site of Darrow’s Forge.

The 3 foot blade’s nicked and scarred countenance from numberless battles, even before it came into his hands, still maintained impeccable balance. The unfortunate looking condition of the blade edge only added to its imposing reputation on the battlefield. Which Ice-forsaken creature or soldier/barbarian wanted to brave the whistling cut of Mylirilen-sen?

Nik hefted it and took a couple of practice swings as he watched his circling opponents. He let a good natured grimly innocent smile of satisfaction cross his ruddy, freckled features as he brushed the thick red hair out of his eyes. “So, this is it, eh? A mid-winter frozen moor, fading twilight, five for-hire soldiers, three sabre-toothed leporids, an admittedly imposing Glacial Troll and you, Bergin, my old friend. So, how is it working for the Ostara now? You are the regional royal Meister now, correct?”

Bergin gritted his teeth slightly and eyed Nik, his brow furrowed, “Enough foolishness, Nik. It doesn’t have to be this way. Throw in with me and we can rule all of the northern lands together. Just like we used to dream of when we were boys.”

“Hohoho!!! Yes, how tempting! How rich! We could enslave more children; destroy more families, live fat off the suffering of others.” Nik shook his head in bemusement and not a little bit of sadness at the gulf that separated him from his childhood friend. “I think, though, that if I am to live fat, I would rather do it the old fashioned way and just eat too much.”

“Of course, Nik – what could I have possibly been thinking?” Bergin nodded his head and motioned for the Glacial Troll and the soldiers to start spreading out with the slavering leporids. “You always have been too good for the rest of us – a dreamer, a heart too big for your own good. We’re not kids anymore and you seem to forget that this is a hard, unforgiving world – one that can only be ruled by hard, unforgiving men.” The soldiers slowly took up their positions, surrounding Nik. “But even so, I forgive you your stubbornness and promise you a soft and jolly afterlife, where even the Queen Ostara cannot reach you.”

Nik tightened his muscles and then relaxed them as he felt the chill bite into his naked chest. He adjusted his black suspenders that held up his red snow pants which his foster mother had made for him and shifted his black-booted stance slightly. He slowly raised his free hand forward and drew back his sword arm to its Antarctic shadow position – poised obscured to the rear of his body line with the blade pointed straight out from his arm. This way it was ready to come into play from overhead, underhand or any angle in between based on the need.

He slowly pivoted and shuffled in a backing spiral, keeping the fire from his camp behind him and maintaining his front to the largest soldier with a leporid. The Glacial Troll was definitely the most dangerous foe, but also the slowest – he would deal with it only when necessary and in the interim ignore it. Bergin was the second biggest threat, but as the regional royal Meister, he was here as a commander and would hold back until the end as the custom demanded.

He dropped his breathing into his lower self, deep in the bottom of his abdomen – the place his long lost teacher called the Cinnamon Field, though in his mind he pictured it more as a Stone Hearth in which he fed a fire as he prepared for battle – and centered his thoughts. He was never strong on offense in battle, but he was jocundly powerful on defense. He hoped they wouldn’t wait too long before attacking.

As he sunk into this stand-off with his best friend from childhood, he could feel the biting wind building far to the west. The solstice would be here soon. You could already see that by the almost non-existent “days.” The sun was set to disappear below the horizon line shortly and then would not reappear for another couple of weeks after that. They were in the middle of a two to three hour period when the skies were light enough to see by, but not enough to feel any real warmth. He evened out his breathing by muttering a heartfelt thanks to whomever it was that lit the lights in the frozen firmament above that this battle would take place at the height of the day.

The first soldier attacked from the left. He rushed in swinging his battered and rusted halberd from high overhead in a sharp downward chop. Nik moved to meet him quickly but then angled to the left on the outside of the attacker’s lead arm – he grabbed the middle of the halberd on the handle and guided the weapon off line as he shot his foot across the path of the attacker, pitching him with increased speed into the soldier and the leporid that were attacking from the rear.

The leporid’s nose twitched while its long prehensile ears went back and its hinged sabre toothed jaws opened to welcome the first attacker to his fate. The savage leporid showed no loyalty as an anguished cry rose quickly from the soldier and then stopped suddenly in a gurgle. Nik had maintained his hold on the halberd with his left hand and, as he pivoted quickly in a clockwise motion, he built up momentum and let the broad blade at the end of the weapon fly into the furry tufted breast of the largest leporid as it strained on the chain held by its keeper.

A lone soldier rushed at him, swinging his battle axe. Nik caught the blade in mid-cut with an overhead circling parry, his blade pointing down. He shadowed the parry with his left hand and grabbed the attacker’s lead wrist. As his own sword hand completed the parry by circling over and behind him, he jerked hard inward on the barbarian’s arm and brought the steel pommel of Mylirilen-sen down in a smashing blow across his foe’s cheek. The poor fellow dropped to the hard packed ground – out cold, so to speak.

Nik repositioned himself, again keeping the fire to his rear, and took stock of his situation. Two soldiers down, one struggling to control his feeding leporid and one leporid down; the Glacial Troll was closer, but still not a threat. The last lone soldier was nervously inching backwards and the last leporid and its keeper were pacing from side to side, trying to get off center from Nik’s attention.

A shiver ran unexpectedly up his spine and Nik realized how tense he was holding himself – his shoulders were starting to ache and he felt the old, familiar pressure building up behind his eyes. He consciously willed his muscles to loosen and his breathing to deepen. As his pulse slowed and evened he let his thoughts float briefly off to his lost Lily – beautiful, gentle and stubborn, auburn haired Lily. He felt as if his search for her had been going on for an age of ice, but she had only been gone a little over a year.

He had traveled over most of the known lands and several unknown ones and did not feel any closer to finding her. In his mind he had started wrapping her disappearance up with the continuing lack of snow – as if whatever stole the snow from the world also stole her from him. The last time he ever saw her was right here on this spot when he had proposed to her while the Arctic lights spun and glowed above.

The leporid leapt.

Nik caught the movement from the corner of his eye and barely had time to drop to the ground and drive his sword blade upward at the screaming ferocious lapine body as it came at him. The point of the blade caught the beast in the throat. Nik twisted hard and pulled the blade out sideways. The creature struggled to stay alive but was quickly losing its battle.

Nik swiftly clambered to his feet and met the oncoming soldier. He slapped the swinging sword to the side with Mylirilen-sen and slashed at the attacker’s foreleg. The attacker screamed out in pain and immediately dropped to the ground as his leg buckled under him. Nik instantly turned towards Bergin and the last remaining soldier, his blade ready.

Bergin gave a troubled smile and Nik knew he had erred.

The icy hand of the Glacial Troll closed around his neck and slowly raised him off the ground. He kicked back at the massive body of this new attacker, but there was little effect. It wasn’t made of ice, but its body was so callused, hard and insulated that it might as well have been. Nik twisted himself around so that his body was in a relative position to be almost facing the troll. He grasped tightly at the troll’s hand that was holding him up by the neck in an effort to ease some of his own weight from choking him. The troll’s other hand reached lazily out and grabbed Nik’s free arm – his sword arm.

Nik, struggling to not panic as the soft mid-day light darkened prematurely in his eyes, wrested his arm free and began to swing Mylirilen-sen at the Troll arm. The Troll slowly pulled its arms in for an icy hug while Nik increased his hacking at the frozen blue fur.He grew more and more frantic as he was drawn incrementally closer.

“Bergin!” Nik croaked, “What will this solve?”

“Truly, Niklaus, I am sorry – I have no choice.” Bergin turned his head away, real pain in his eyes.

Nik closed his eyes and struggled for one last breath picturing Lily smiling down at him as he knelt in the now absent snow. Her whispered “yes” a mere breath of air from her that kissed his forehead gently.

“No!” Nik, blushing and smiling fiercely, brought both hands together overhead, locking them on the hilt of Mylirilen-sen.  With a sudden burst of strength and the memory of Lily’s breath on his brow, he drove the scarred blade deep into the soft spot above the breast bone of the  Troll.

A low moan rose up from the deep recesses of the Troll’s throat as its blood began to pour from the wound, burning orange and hissing in the mid-winter air. The grip around Nik’s neck loosened and, pulling Mylirilen-sen from the Troll’s body, Nik wrenched himself free and dropped to the ground, panting for breath. The Troll slowly sunk down to its haunches, its blood moving like lava over its breast and steaming in the icy air. Nik could feel the warmth from where he sat on the hard ground several meters away from the dying beast.

As the Troll finally collapsed in a slow motion pile, its blood already cooling from the bright steaming orange to a hardening cooling purple, Nik rose to his feet and turned to face Bergin.

And smiled.

“Take your men and go, Bergin. There’s only one human dead and not by me. My regrets for the hare. And the Troll will melt into the land and a new one will replace it next season. Go and let’s deal with this another time – but not now. I still have to find Lily and I don’t have time for this.”

Bergin looked around the small camp site that used to be Darrow’s Forge, a small but important trading crossroad before the first Queen Ostara attacked the land. He looked at his decimated party and shook his head in bemusement. “Maybe you’re not as soft as I thought you were when we were kids, Nik.”

“Hohoho!! I was never soft, Bergin, there were just better things to do than being hard and unforgiving all the time.” Nik grinned good naturedly at his old friend.

Bergin motioned for his remaining men to gather their dead compatriot and their wounded. “Hard, soft – you still have the brains of an elf.” Both Nik and Bergin laughed at this, and Bergin shook his head again. “Goodbye, Nik. I deeply hope that we won’t run into each other again.”

“Me too, Bergin – believe me… me too…”

Bergin and his wounded party moved off down the old southern road without looking back.

Nik shivered and reached for his fire-bear coat. It had been a gift from the elves when he had defended their homes from the bear’s snow blinded attacks 10 years before.  He was just a teenager, then, though it felt like a million years had passed since. The elves had saved the deep red fur pelt and sewed it into this garment. It still carried a memory of the heat of the fire bear’s heart with it, so that when he wore it he never felt the bite of the cold northern air.

He took one final look around at what was left of Darrow’s Forge. The first day he ever laid eyes on her was on this very spot of tundra. He was here on a field trip with his school on the same day that she was here with hers. They were there to observe the Arctic lights and, as they stood nervously next to each other in the new snow their hands barely brushing together but biting deeper in their minds than the cold, he knew he was in love.

He had lost his heart to her on that day, and ever since and the only thing that made sense to him was to keep searching for her, even if it took the rest of his days.

Nik wrapped Mylirilen-sen in its fur covering and then strapped it across the back of his pack. He pulled his red coat tighter around his body and cinched his big black belt around his waist. Taking one last look back at Darrow’s Forge, he hefted his pack onto his back and set off north once again in search of his lost heart.

End

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