What is a man to do when given a gift and asked to feast with cowardly barbarians? Refuse the gift? Reject his own wants and needs by turning up nose at a hot meal? Though the company had not won me over with their hospitality, they were a necessary evil to endure while enjoy meat and mead. I had been seated to the right of Brynd as his guest of honour, and though his feelings toward me were not reciprocated, my time at Glanderxe – forced to entertain the juvenile ramblings of Sir Yoyde – had taught me how to endure the company of those less honourable than myself.
As I sat there enjoying the food – not sure where they got meat underground – I felt like a spy infiltrating their ranks. A Judas. An outsider. How could such men survive beneath the Keltone mountains? It seemed from their pale skin that many years had passed since they’d seen the sun (if they ever had), their faces appearing like ghosts behind thick unshaven beards.
Though I was the guest of honour they mostly left me alone, too busy with their own partying to bother with “the outsider” from Glanderxe. I thought that perhaps I would get away with grabbing a nice warm meal before continuing on my trek, but those plans were quickly thwarted as Brynd stood up beside me. (Not that I minded, because did I really even know where I was going? These barbarians most likely know more about the rock and path beyond than I did. Could it be that they would prove useful not only for filling my belly with a nice meal, and hand with a beautiful sword, but also my head with knowledge of my surrounding, not only aiding my soul but my quest?) “Men!” The words struggled to release themselves from behind a mighty mask of hair, but once penetrating the perimeter blasted the surrounding area with strength and power. “We gather this day to celebrate!”
Arms shot into the air all around the chamber: some holding mugs, others weapons, and still others finely roasted legs of the animal they had been devouring. The raised arms were coupled with raised voices in reply to their leader.
“To celebrate the strengthening of one,” he signalled over to the axe-man of the Colosseum fight, who stood as if directed to do so, “and the birth of another!” Was his other hand gesturing toward me? What could I do but stand in response? If I was to blend into the crowd, this was not the way to do it, but refusing his gesture could be perceived as yet another defilement of their customs (of which I was still quite unaware). As I rose the cheering began once again for a time, before subsiding to allow Brynd to continue. “Cargh, step forward!” the axe-man left his place at the table and came to stand in front of Brynd. “You have won a great victory this day. Have you any words?”
Cargh bowed his head slightly to Brynd before turning to face the company which now fixed their gaze on him. Pulling his newly acquired sword from his back and turning it slowly in hand to reveal an orange glow reflected in the metal by the torches in the room, he spoke in a low, respectful tone. “He was a good man. A good man… with a good sword.” He ran his gloved fingers along the edge of the sword caressingly. “She has served us many years, and served us well. Ahbin, Tal, Dubnam, Freas…” His fingers moved along the edge like reading from a scroll. The names continued as his digits glided along the steel, stopping at the final name Fior. “It is in his memory that I stand here today: the memory of a warrior and the sword he held. She is a blade, forged within the fire of the mountain of god by those who have gone before us. Her swing is sure, this warrior. Directed by the fire within, she seeks out all that challenge to quench her flame.” His voice rose higher and higher, cascading over the crowd like a mighty torrent as he screamed those final words. “In memory of the arm she directed before mine, I name her Fioreh!”
The crowd cheered as he stretched the blade out in front of him and slashed the air a few times with great finesse and might. “The rock stands firm!” Cargh shouted as he danced around, sword in hand.
“The rock stands firm!” came the reply from the crowd as the shouting turned to joyous laughter caused by the bonding of warrior with warrior – man with blade. The undisturbed din continued for some time, weapons of every kind stretch to the rock-face above in celebration while others clanked mugs and glasses, drinking in joy. Finally Brynd lifted his hand, silencing the room once again. “Mert Whatley of Glanderxe. You have become a warrior this day, sacrificing your blade for another. Though no blood was spilt, a price was paid, a price greater than many would pay. Have you any words to say?”
What did they expect me to say? I knew nothing of their customs but what I have seen. Was I to dance around like a lunatic as Cargh did before me?
Pulling the sword from its sheath as I had seen the axe-man do, I gave the blade a thorough inspection. When first gifted it by Brynd I noticed the warn blade shone blue with the light’s reflection but paid little attention to its intricacies. Running my finger along the blade, as I had seen Cargh do, I felt every notch and inspected every scratch. I followed the edge of the steel from tip to pommel before noticing the sole name etched in the fine blade. “Brynd.”
“You hold in your hand the first blade the Protector,” Brynd spoke of himself in a hushed tone like referencing another. “I forged her myself from the ores found in the depths of the mountain.”
“The first sword of Brynd, gifted to me by the Protector himself.” I repeated his words for the whole company to hear. “Forged from the ores of the mountain of god. She is Lady Eyes, her blue eyes piercing the heart of any man who dare look into them. She rushes into battle like a mighty torrent, knocking men off their feet with her beauty.”
There was a brief pause before the gathered company began to cheer. “The rock stands firm!”
“Right, the rock stands firm.” I said with half-hearted stupidity. Luckily the cheering was so loud that no one heard my blundering words. I gave Lady Eyes a dance through the air for the amusement of the crowd, though I was not as graceful as Cargh. She was much lighter than my previous sword, and though short in comparison, what she lacked in reach she made up for in speed.
The little dance was short-lived as I felt stupid swinging my sword without an opponent to test her against. Joining Cargh in front of Brynd, I waited to see how this strange ritual would progress. The crowd died down as we made our way out of the great hall through twisted, until passageways. Surely I would not have known how to proceed through the mountain, for the route forked many times past this great hall and getting lost would have been inevitable.
Though I had many questions, including our destination, I stayed silent as the company around me. We continued to descend deeper and deeper into the rock until a light glow could be seen ahead. Approaching the chamber, the path grew brighter as if we stalked the sun itself. Soon torches were no longer needed and I could feel a great heat rising from below. A mighty sea of fire stood before me bubbling and spitting. Though I had no desire to draw any closer to this pool of liquid death, I followed Brynd and Cargh at the head of the company until they stopped at the edge of the lake. Brynd turned to the crowd and said in a low, respectful tone, “The mountain forge awaits.”
Cargh stooped down, dipping the tip of his blade into the fire. After a moment he lifted it out and I saw the heat rise half-way up the steel from the bright red hue that was eminent on the surface and surely hot to the touch. Taking the blade over to a large, flat-topped rock he placed it down and began to scrawl something into the hot, soft metal with a white gem he had taken from atop the stone. I watched him concentrate on his work, not only out of curiosity but also knowing that I would soon be mimicking his actions. A great cauldron stood at the far end of the chamber we had descended into, encased on three sides by rock, one side by fire. After finishing his work, he approached the cauldron and dipped the glowing blade into the cool water-bath. Steam rose from the sword as it touched the water, cooling quickly. Once receiving the blade from beneath the waves he inspected it and spoke, listing off all the names there inscribed for a second time. This time, however, he did not stop with the name of the blade’s previous owner Fior, but read one final name, the name he had thus inscribed into the blade, “Cargh.”
The blue-glow of Lady Eyes turned red as I dipped her beneath the fiery waves, following suit. Heat from the pool travelled up the length of the blade, through the pommel, and into my hand. I did not let go, I couldn’t. The burning of the blade matched the burning of my skin. We felt the pain together – man and blade, warrior and warrior. One fused into the other to create one being, one arm, one sword. The-red hot glow of Lady Eyes matched the burning that crawled up my arm as I drew her from the fire and set her down on the stone. With my other hand I grabbed the white stone and placed it on her skin, pressing in lightly being careful not to damage her smooth complexion.
Man was bound to sword through fire, and now bound by name. Having finished my inscription, I brought her to the cool waters within the cauldron and dipped her beneath the waves. I felt the chill crawl up the blade and into my arm, returning the feeling to my once singed nerves. Drawing her from beneath that wet salvation I lifted her for the company to see, a smile spreading across my face. Lady Eyes was mine, and I was hers. Never before had I been so proud to claim a sword as my own. “Brynd,” I began, reading the names, though they weren’t many. “Mert Whatley,” I finished, my smile growing broader if that were possible. The partying company of before now stood sombre and respectful before us, acceptance in their eyes and excitement in their hearts, but none were more excited than myself. A sword, a sword of my very own. This one held meaning, a name, an inscription. I danced around, much like Cargh had done in the chamber above but I had been afraid too. Nothing held me back now, no fear or shame, feeling like a husband with his new bride, no care in the world. Laughter erupted from the crowd around me as they watched me make a fool of myself. “The rock stands firm, indeed,” I heard from within the crowd, though I knew not from who, nor did I care.