25 October 2007

The Mountain Dwarf

I know it's only Tiorsday, and that therefore the bards should be studying and writing, instead of standing on the streetcorner with lute in hand and a hatful of copper groats and silver shillings on the ground. But a bard's gotta eat. Especially since, you know, the Festival of Cats is just around the corner, and folk will be expecting a nice, spooky ghost story.

Tonight's piece continues our review of the Tarinas Valtakirjas - the Book of the Powers, which, as all good creatures know, was brought back to the Kindred by the Great Golden Three at the end of the Eon of Darkness, marking the renewal of the light in Anuru. This tale, entitled the Mountain Dwarf, recounts the continuing journey of Eldukaris, as he attempts to find Csaeleyan, kidnapped from the Wood Maidens by the King of Winter. In the course of this journey, he encounters the Mountain Dwarf known as Rune, who...

Well, why don't we let the bards tell it?

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Rune the Ninth:
The Mountain Dwarf
(from the Tarinas Valtakirjas)

He addressed him to the trail
(Did the hero Eldukaris)
Of the evil King of Winter;
For the markings of his passage
Stood out clear and stark before him:
Withered were the forest grasses;
Bent and broken were the branches
Yea, and brown the leaves of oak-trees
Where the Winter King had touched them.
And upon the earth, his footsteps
As of beast-feet, clawed and twisted
Had left hoarfrost on the greensward
That the sun’s heat had not melted.

Eldukaris marked his passing,
And he tracked the trail upwards
To the passes of the mountains
And the jagged ice of snow-peaks.
As he clambered ever higher,
Never pausing for refreshment
Nor to rest his weary manu,
Forest verdure dropped behind him,
Soon the trees and grasses left him,
Naught but sand and rock to greet him,
And the azure ice-fields calling,
And the ice-tears thickly falling.

Then at length he reached the mountains,
And at last the trail foundered;
For the Ice-King’s frozen footsteps
Left no trace upon the root-rock.
All the mountain-stone was frozen,
And it did not mark his passage,
And so Eldukaris halted;
Cast his piercing glance about him;
And espied a hidden cavern,
‘gainst the shoulder of the mountain.

Rude the cave-stones there before him,
With the smoke of fires rising
In the chill air of the mountains,
In the cold air of the evening.
Faint with hunger and exertion,
Eldukaris stumbled forward;
And he called out in the darkness,
To the dwellers in the cavern:

“Hail the cave!” he cried, and wondered
If ‘twere man or beast that bode there;
For the stones were sharp and tumbled,
And he saw no sign or sigil.
“Hail the cave!” he cried. “I beg thee,
I am weak, and I am weary;
If you be a child of Bræa,
Know that I am cousin to you,
And give answer to my pleading;
I am failing, and I need you.”

At this plea, the dweller answered:
“Son of Bræa, come you forward;
Cousin, none; I am thy brother,
To my home, I bid you welcome.”
Thus came Eldukaris forward,
To the welcome thusly offered,
And he stepped across the threshold,
Unto wonders unimagined.

To the outside eye, the cavern
Stood as naught but stones of mountain;
From the inside, it was like unto
A palace of the Powers.
High the ceiling, strewn with crystal;
Broad the walls, bedecked with garnets.
Hung with tapestries fine-woven;
Lit by lamps of gold and silver;
And the flagstones brightly polished,
Strewn with reeds both fresh and verdant,
Beckoned weary wanderers onward
To a place of rest and succor.

But most wondrous to the hero
Was his host, who stood before him,
Half his height, but twice as broad, he
Stood with hands on hips, and chortled.
For his raiment was of iron,
Fine, and linked like fishes’ scales,
Shod and capped with iron was he,
And his beard hung to his ankles.

“Fair mine host,” quoth Eldukaris,
“I am grateful for thy welcome,
For at night the hills grow chilling,
And the snow is swiftly falling.
But I pray thee, tell thy tale;
Whence thou comest to the mountains;
Art thou truly child of Bræa?
For thy kind is strange unto me.”

“Fair my guest,” the host said, laughing,
“We share mother, and share father.
For as thou wert got by Bræa
On the bosom of the sea-wave;
I was born here in the broad hills,
‘Neath the sky-vault, blue and blazing;
In the form of grey-hued maiden,
Mighty Bræa took her pleasure
Of the splendour of the mountains.
Opened, yielding unto them,
Air took Earth unto her bosom.
Here lay Bræa as my mother;
And the mountains were my father.”

“But the night is late, and snowfall
Frosts the heart and chills the spirit.
Come thou closer to the fire,
And attend thee to my kettle.”
Thus did Eldukaris enter
Into cavern warm and cheering,
Doffed his cloak and lesser raiment,
And before the fire, settled.
Swift his host disgorged his kettle,
Bringing meat and ale before him,
And as Eldukaris feasted,
Many wond'rous tales unfolded.

Soon the fulsome pot was empty,
Soon his heavy head was nodding;
Then his host eschewed his tales,
Placed a woolen cloak around him.
Eldukaris gladly settled
To the stones beside the fire,
And he gave himself to slumber,
In the cavern’s warming bosom.

When he woke, the fire was ashen;
Cold the cavern as the mountains;
Dark the cavern was as midnight,
And the dwarf sat near him, laughing.
“Rune, my name is, son of Bræa;
I am viceroy of these mountains,
And when trespassers affront me,
Know thou that I treat them thusly.”

Eldukaris grimly noted then
That hand and foot he bound was;
That his cloak was taken from him,
And as helpless child lay he.
Though he railed ‘gainst his captor,
Naught availed his mighty struggles;
Tightly knotted were his bond-ropes,
And his mouth was stopped with leather.

“Foolish sea-son,” quoth his captor,
“Know you that I rule this region;
At the will-wish of my master,
Am I sovereign of the mountains.”
And as Eldukaris watched him,
Rune the Dwarf retrieved a scepter
From the cloak-folds of his raiment,
And he flourished it, rejoicing.

“This I have from King of Winter!
This I have, that grants me power.
Know you now, O son of Bræa,
That unto thy doom art come thee.”
Then Rune’s eyes grew wide in wonder;
Eldukaris shrugged his shoulders,
And with strength of wind-swept wave-depths,
Burst the binding ropes asunder.

“Fool thou art,” quoth Eldukaris,
“For as thou art born of mountain,
I am son of wind and ocean;
And as thou art proof ‘gainst water,
Naught avails the earth-wrought ‘gainst me.”
Quick then, as a lance of lighting,
Quicker still than glance of wonder,
Did the Wave-son leap upon him,
And the stone-rod reft he from him.
Rune the Dwarf shrieked loud in anger;
Flung himself upon his prisoner;
But with naught but lift of finger –
With the grey stone in his fingers,
Taken from the mother-waters –
Eldukaris struck and slew him,

“Good mine host,” laughed Eldukaris,
Stepping o’er Rune’s broken body,
“Let this be thy final lesson,
On the duty of good hosting.”
He retrieved the blood-washed beach-stone,
Set it gently in his wallet;
Then he took the granite scepter,
And he swung it ‘round him, whistling;
Soon the clouds were thickly gathered,
And the air was filled with snowflakes;
For the storms obeyed the sigul
Given by the King of Winter.

With a gesture of his trophy,
Eldukaris broke the storm-front,
And the snow-flakes whispered softly,
Lighting on Rune’s broken carcass;
Covering his stiff’ning body,
‘Till there naught was left in cavern,
But a snow-mound gleaming whitely.

Grinning at his newfound fortune,

Dressed in dry and warming raiment,
Bearing rod of King of Winter,
And with Rune's fine mail upon him,
And with Rune’s fine cloak about him,
Eldukaris quit the cavern;
Left his broken foe behind him,
And new-armed with strength and purpose,
Ventured higher in the mountains.

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