Halthgar and the Daughter of Grinde

A short story by AD Bane

Through gales agust, o’er tossing caps, they rode with the fury of the gods. Ever driven across the blue depths, gaunt on a wall of ocean turf, the oar of Dane and sailing folk broke the ever churned depths and drew them onward. Through wind and rain they drove with haste, behind them gone the time that had not yet come, and only before the empty expanse of a tireless dream – the sea that carried them from their homes.  From helm to bow, these folk unrelenting, drew the sail taut against the wind, and though the driving torrents burned into their tired corpses, they would not turn back, not now or ever. Such honor, such valor! They would not be stopped, though the fiercest leviathan sought to drag their lady to the locker.

And now, on the edge of the blade, riding the surf on the shores of that land, they found they crashed upon the rocks, and all but smote into their ruin, tired and retching, they drew from the sea onto the gravel spit and were saved. Wet, bruised, broken, they wrung the salty waves from out of their flesh to subside back into the mother from whence they came. Now the mail, the sword, the spear, and the shield demanded the tending the warriors could give. Rust and weather would damage upon this harsh shore if no care was taken; but here upon the fringe of the raging tempest neither could these sturdy folk find rest: they would need to venture further into the planelands where firm and dry earth would offer bed and rest. Here they went on weary feet, yet song upon their hearts was sung. They kept to mind the times of old when father, son, and heroes told would wrought in legend, embers glow, and bring to life a song of mirth to shed upon them fabled birth. Within these lines the boy would sing and share a climb from drift to king, to high above to far below, and inside him would grow the hero. Around the fire on the moor these men fell silent, weapon and mail drying in the heat. Their swords were polished, their spears at the ready, and slowly a song was sung. It began on the lowest note, climbing to the highest, and told of the journey o’er the wave. These men sung proud – though still at first – and in their strong voices was the tongue of their people. They told of the wars long past and the new to come. They carried along the song that sang, and till the dawn was near and all had but slept, with voices small and silvery, they sang their plight. Alas, with a mournful sigh the last of their company drifted into slumber; and only one sat alone, now quite awake, with sword upon his knee and spear at his side. Bolt upright, huddled in the light, with ear to the far and eye alert, he waited for the dawn to greet him. Its silvery light warm and stretching across the horizon: he longed for nothing else. Such beauty in that desolate land!

 

The rider gaunt with sweeping hair and furrowed brow, horse apace, rode hard upon the heath where lay the sea-worn warriors. Now hours he’d been waked from sleep of timeless place, and while he sat upon the crest, and he looked down upon the rest, had spied the light upon the moor. His fire doused, his sword in hand, he rode upon the merry band. “Come you from sea?” he cried. “Timeless passages you tread and land upon our desolate shore.”

The eldest of the seamen forth, replied, “Your fire on the hill, good friend, has led us to this fateful end. Our lady dashed upon the rocks, and on this heath we company sought a place to rest and dry our tools.”

“—tools of war!” replied the rider, “and sword in hand I challenge you. What have you here!”

“Good friend, calm your temper lest it rend you hand from hand!” answered they who’d endeared the waves. “We few come not for king or conquest but only seeking glory in war and death.”

“Here you find it not, for these lands are guarded by our king, and his walls nigh indomitable!” The rider hoarse with taunt and shout, he held his stand, let rest his voice for a moment’s thought would give them leave to think him weak. “Friends, mind tell me quick, and no more games, from whence you came and where you go, or swear to this sword in my hand I shall send you all back to the sea from which you dragged your sorry souls!”

“Swear upon sword and spear,” the company forth answered, “that conquest naught has reason birthed! We here slay creatures of vile intent!”

“Dragons and demons you slay?” cried the watchman in wonder.

“Indeed, it is true I do say,” said the eldest of the sea-farers. “We trace this now, from the lands afar; we follow his print o’er the murky depths, unto this land we followed his breath. He who named of himself is Gandofar, that terrible serpent!”

“Then friends the king who has sent me hence will learn of your quest unto our lands, for dragons of late, it is said on the fringe, appear in the night with a fiery rend, and burning our crops and taking our wives! –oh terrible things! Our sons fear to walk our lands, and though sword be sharp and spear at ready, we have no tool against these evil fiends!”

“I have no doubt that it’s he who we seek,” replied he of the company present. “This work is that of a demon most terrible: Gandofar and his sons.”

“Then you will slay this beast and rid our lands of it?” asked the rider.

The men replied, “We have come to no other end!”

 

High on the heath stood the castle of old, which tales and legends had told of since days long past. From the moorlands there rose, like the back of a serpent, a hillock that fell to the sea far below in thunderous cliffs and the sheerest crags. At the crest of this mound was the fortress oft sought. Its ramparts rose up in a high fence of stakes to look over the sea to the south and the vale to the north. Its doors were fast shut, its watchman well lit, and with lantern in hand, he peered out to the sea and the vale for some sign of foes, either by sea or by land. In these elder days foes were plenty and near, and wont to walk the land. From fen and from cave the most foulest would crawl, and at times even raiders from southlands would be seen in their ships with full sail aloft: they came to pillage the land. But never had these doors been cracked in recent years, so fast shut were they and so fierce were the warriors that lingered behind. Though many now old and wrinkled with age, the thanes therein still had skill with the blade, and day and night were spent caring for weapons that had pierced so many wars. But now, at the foot of the hill, where the most outlying houses had stood, were but piles of ashes and rubble – all that remained of the new fiend’s rampage. Blood he had sought as he pillaged the land, and men he had ate with his fiery breath. Swords had been notched on his armor of scales, and arrows were broken as they skipped off his hide. Nothing could stop him, nothing could hinder: nothing save, perhaps, the men of afar across the sea, the heroes of old.

Now they came to the gates of that town, and inside the merry and mirth that abound did draw them hither of their own happy deeds. Such songs, such laughter, and joyous revelry! In at the gate, they were welcomed so long as they lay aside gear of war. Though heroes they were to these people, still trust they must earn. Yet nothing can bring such friends together as the drinking of ale and the singing of songs. Before morn had broke two peoples united, and drunk in their stupor, they were witless to know that their lives were in peril; for deep in the night while they slept out of the fens crept that creature so vile. Only two now remained to greet his breath: the leader of the seamen and a girl of the town – for both had vowed never to slumber or drink till the demon was slain. She was strong, she was proud, a daughter of the thanes, her skill with a sword unsurpassed in that land. Fearless, she went out to greet the dragon, dressed for war. There on the road she was met by the seaman, he too clad in mail and ready to fight. Both with intent, and neither to hinder, they went down from the town to the skirts of the village. There on the road was the terrible Gandofar, and they did him battle till, bloodied and beaten, he slunk back to the hole from which he had crawled. There in the midst of the dragon’s hot blood, the seaman and the daughter of the thanes met: he who was Halthgar, and she who was the daughter of Grinde. But time there was not, for high in the town the bells tolled for the breaking of dawn. Men would awake and go on with their day, for much was to be done now that the party had gone. Tales of the night soon spread through the street, and both daughter and Halthgar were praised for their valour. But he of the seamen heard nothing of this, for he was afoot in the swamp in search of the monster.

Yet time passing time brought the victors to silence. Their names were no longer ashout in the streets, and none recognized them for harming the dragon. Not seven more nights had gone by before Halthgar no longer could track the demon in the mud – the trail gone cold on the heath where he fled: Gandofar had passed from that land to the next. So it was that the next day the seamen set forth upon foot with their gear and their weapons to pursue the monster. They were gone from hence, and Halthgar with them, and the fortress atop the hillock was quiet in their absence. Yet they toiled through marshland, moor, through dales and gorges, over hills and through forests, until they came suddenly there upon the creature they sought. He lay in the fen with the water around, and try as they might they could not bestir him out. Arrows were useless, swords could not reach; so they taunted their quarry to come from the marsh. They waited not far with their weapons in hand. A mighty trunk they had felled and would use as a snare when the creature came out. Forth he came, with a snarl of anger: he crawled from the swamp to take vengeance on they but was met there instead by the trap they prepared. Wounded still more, he thrashed them in anger; several were lost to his wild fury. But finally they slew him, severing head from body, and bloodied his ruins so never again he would pillage that land. One mighty tooth they took from his head and carried it back to the fortress atop the hill where their names were praised and songs sung of their honour. For a pass of the moon they had been gone, but now they were returned, and again the halls ran with ale and the night was shattered with voices in song.

Yet the daughter of Grinde was far from pleased. By night she would walk the battlements; by day she would lie in her chamber. Always a sword was by her side, and always was a song of some far off war on her lips. She longed for valour, longed to be free, even if it meant once more that war would come to her land.

And she had not long to wait, for on the day that the seamen once more prepared to set their lady o’er the waves, sails were seen of the south, and of the oldest and ugliest alliances one such was awoken: the men of the southlands, in much younger days, had made council of old with the deadliest of foes, that ever if one should have need of the other, aid would come. News of the great dragon’s demise spread through the villages, and when they no longer felt his fell presents in their lands they set sail to avenge his death – for their souls they had sold to the devil.

So it was that black sails were seen upon the horizon, and corsair pirates made harbor where the seamen had landed now several months past. Up in the moorland they made camp; their numbers were great and weapons readied for war. Assembled there, the captains of the town with Halthgar in their midst rode out to seek terms. Their words were met with arrows, and all but Halthgar were slain. He alone returned to the gates, pierced by few darts, and there was let in. But he would not be kept down: bandages applied, new mail fitted, he once more rode out with his folk at his side. They met the men of the south on the road, company against company, and casualties high. And the pirates were felled, driven back to the shore where the waves that had brought them to this strange land still sundered, spray of salt in their faces. Here the seamen drove them back into the waters from which they had come, and they too were dashed against the rock.

Yet many had fallen – too many – and now their blood was mingled with the earth. One among them was fairer than the rest, and her golden hair betrayed her secret. As they hoisted her body, pierced by many wounds, they sang a song for the daughter of Grinde, who in death had slain many foes. A garland of flowers befitting her burial, and a craft of fine wood was lowered to the water. Into it was piled the swords of her foes, and upon her was lain her own weapon, still crimson from the victor she had made. As she went out to the sea, and the seamen away, the songs of her people were still in the air: a fire burned bright and consumed her. And at the bow of his lady, Halthgar stood tall, his hand on his chest, the wind in his face, his men at his back: he lingered long, watching the vessel aflame sink out of sight. Never amore would they tread those shores, but always would songs on the hillock be sung of Halthgar the thane and the Daughter of Grinde who’d slain the vile dragon and all of his allies!

 


This work is written by AD Bane and published by adbane.com. It is solely the property of ADBane.com and may not be reproduced in part or in whole for any reason except at the exclusive permission of the author. © 2011 ADBane.com

 




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