Saturday, August 18, 2018

'The Fire Hostage (Part 3)'--a story by TAS

(Part 3)

Now when the lad who knew no fear at last found his way to the foot of the mountain, he saw that the land was littered all about with the bones of many men, a great army of skeletons, still clad in rusting mail and broken plate. What manner of place is this, he wondered, for if in life these warriors were honorably felled in battle, why had the host of Valkyries not come upon their milk-white steeds to bear them to Valhalla?
Laying his doubts aside, Garin set to stripping the corpses of knives and daggers with which he might hasten his ascent, finding, at last, a heavy double-headed battleax, a goodly thing for driving the blades into the rock. Nonetheless, in spite of all his effort, the climb was arduous and slow, for the mountainside was steep and treacherous, making it almost impossible to gain purchase on the sheer, unyielding face. Yet ever undiscouraged, the tireless youth made his way for many hours—a day and a night or so it seemed—until, pulling himself up onto a narrow shelf of rock, he saw that he was hardly further from the bottom than when he had begun, and that the ground below was still much nearer than the summit above.
Now there drew on an ominous and dreadful storm such as might unman the heartiest of heroes. Lightning arced from the low-brooding clouds that swirled about the mountain. Thunder broke in deafening roars, reechoing against the peak until the rocks themselves began to quail and quake as if in terror of the storm-god’s wrath. The loud reports spread out in all directions, far and wide, booming through the forests and valleys below like the mighty footfalls of a giant.
Undaunted even by this, Garin resumed the ascent, clambering upward through the very heart of the tempest until the clouds lay far below him, a churning maelstrom of murky mist and shadow, now and then illumined from within by sullen bursts of lightning, half-blurred beneath the roiling haze. Still on he climbed until, upon what must have been the dawning of the third day, the hero beheld a drear promontory, flat and barren save for an ancient stone circle, a shrine to some unremembered god, long fallen into disrepair. And yet, the youth could see at once that the place was enchanted, for among the pillars that still remained erect, a spectral conflagration blazed and flickered, unkindled and unconsuming, upon the very air itself.
‘Tis naught but an enchanter’s glimmer, he thought. But when he stretched out his hand to touch the fire, Garin found that it was surely real enough. Even so, from time to time the flames would appear to part, becoming transparent whenever the lightning flashed far below. Thus, for a fleeting moment, the circle inside the wall of fire would be illuminated. And there within, Garin spied the image of a beautiful maiden, reposing on a low stone couch, though whether in slumber or in death, he could not rightly say.
In truth, Garin had no words for what he saw—for though the lad knew vaguely of women, he had never beheld one so closely before. Could this be the cenotaph of some fallen heroine, he wondered, the grave-effigy of a valiant shield-maiden? Or, perhaps, an alter of the elder folk, set up in reverent homage to an ancient patroness of battle? Curiosity welled up within his heart like a ravenous hunger, and thus, drawn by a strange emotion he could not name, the boy tried to think of a way he might break through the ring of fire, and make his way to the maiden’s side.
Putting his back to the flames, his great sword drawn and ready, Garin began to wheel about like a weathercock, turning widdershins as he sought out the very warp and weave of the magic from which that wondrous conflagration had been conjured. Through the iridescent tongues of flame he struggled, even as a mariner might sail into the face of the wind. The fire seared and branded his flesh where it was exposed, but would not give way. So Garin began anew, circling in a deosil direction, against the grain of the spell. And though the fire barely burned him this time, neither would it yield nor part. Again and again he tried, seeking a path through the unearthly blaze, and each time the way was blocked.
Finally, waiting for a lightning flash from below, whence the wall of flame grew transparent as a pane of crystal, and ridding his mind of all thought save that of the beautiful damsel within, Garin burst through the fire into the midst of the circle.
And there outstretched before him lay a woman of surpassing loveliness and grace, neither of wood nor stone, but of flesh and blood, loosely involved from head to toe in a diaphanous shroud, which did not hide the simple linen shift she wore beneath. A beauty, tall and lithe of limb, her hair was the color of honey, the long silken tresses tumbling about her naked shoulders in supple disarray. Her hands were folded formally across her midriff, fingers entwined in regal repose. Her eyes were closed as if sleep hung heavily upon them, though her bosom did not rise or fall, nor was there any sound of breath upon her winsome lips.
But as he looked upon her, Garin, for the first time in his life, was seized by dread. “Better to face a score of dragons,” he said to himself, “or contend alone against a host of goblins, for in that case at least my arms would remember their skill, and I could strike at the heart of my foe. Yet, as it is, I can neither rush headlong into the fray nor turn about and flee.”
Thus, ever so cautiously, the lad reached forward with his sword, gently prodding the dormant vision before him. “Rise up and challenge me!” he cried, but the sleeper was not roused. Emboldened thus, using only the very tip of the blade, Garin lifted the shroud from the maiden’s face, gazing on that fair and fearsome countenance with childlike awe. After a moment he began to pull back the gossamer fabric that covered the rest of her body, slowly peeling it away as if it were no more substantial than a spider’s web, until, at last, it lay about her sides, a tattered remnant of the gauzy grave sheet that had imprisoned her.
Surely she still lives, Garin thought, and it was true, for there was no sign of corruption upon her flesh; her voluptuous limbs had not wasted as one in death, nor had mortality cast its withering shadow o’er her rosy cheeks. And yet, for all, she did not stir.
He came close then, inclining his ear to listen at her lips, but no sound did she make. After a short while he turned his face to hers, softly blowing upon her mouth, but no sign did she offer in return. He gently pressed his lips to hers, willing the maiden to respond as he shared his breath with her, but still she would not be awakened.
I’ve come too late, he thought, stepping back that he might take in the sight of her more fully. It was then he noticed that one of the sleeping beauty’s perfect breasts lay bare, for the gown she wore had fallen open as he cut away the shroud. And before he knew what was happening, Garin’s mutinous manhood had risen up within his breeches, growing painfully tumescent at the thought of her unveiled pulchritude.
And so, driven by youthful lust, intoxicating as the first taste of new wine, the boy returned and knelt beside the maiden once again, leaning down to kiss her fair, firm breast, and run his curious fingers through her hair. The gods are cruel to lead me to such an end, he thought. How now am I to be satisfied? His lips and tongue then freely roved about her comely curving shoulders, ascending the alabaster column of her neck, until they found her mouth a second time. “Farewell,” he whispered, “Would that I had known thee in life.” Thus he sighed and murmured, too addled by thoughts of desire to notice that the woman’s lips were warm and yielding where they ought only to have been rigid and cold.
At last, weary from the many labors of the arduous hours gone by, Garin laid his head upon that welcoming bosom, meaning to rest a little while. Yet, strange it was, for at that very moment, he thought he heard the beating of the damsel’s heart.
“How can this be?” he said. Still, pressing his ear more closely to her breast, he attended with all his might. And there it was again, a mortal cadence, muffled and slow, yet adamant withal. “Surely, it must be a dream!”
No sooner had the words left his lips, than the maiden started up on her stony bier, drawing in a great gulping breath. “And what would you know of dreams?” she said, wrenching the sword from Garin’s hands. “Explain yourself, presumptuous mortal!”
The woman held the sword to his throat, edgewise, a little way beneath his ear. She asked again: “Who is he that wakens me so boldly?”
“I am Garin, the son of Lotharing and Lorne,” he stammered, struggling to master his fear, “and I have come many leagues seeking this place. With the aid of the gods themselves I forged the very steel you hold now in your hands, and with it, too, I’ve slain a fearsome dragon, winning for myself a great hoard of riches beyond measure. For three days and three nights by my counting I clambered up this alpen crag, breached the ensorcelled ring of flame, and found you here as if bewitched, enthralled in deathlike slumber.”
“Truly?” The maiden leveled the sword at Garin’s chest. “Are you the hero, sir, whose coming my father foretold?”
“Your father?”
“The Father of All,” she replied. “Wotan himself.”
“How now?” said Garin. “Whence came you, a daughter of the mightiest of gods, to this bleak and unexalted plane? Wherefore have you been spellbound upon this low and lonely rock?”
“I am called Feurgeisel,” she said, “that is, Hostage of the Fire, though long ago I bore a nobler name, before I was imprisoned here for defying the will of my father. Once I was among the company of Valkyries, who bear the bodies of the honored slain from off the field of battle. But I chanced to fall in love with one of my mortal charges, a warrior of matchless mettle and manly prowess. So it was that I plucked him from harm’s way when Fate had justly decreed his death. I could not endure the thought of so low and inglorious a doom for such as he, to be stabbed in the back by a cowardly dissembling foe. Love blinded me to duty, and so I was imprisoned for my crime within this cell of mystic flame.
“Yet I begged my father, e’er he abandoned me to my penance, one day to send a hero who might pass through the fire and win me to himself. And such love was in great Wotan’s heart that he granted his wayward child this boon.”
“And so have I come,” said Garin, “and so would I have you now.”
“Mayhap you shall,” replied the Valkyrie, still brandishing the sword. “Yet one more test remains ere you prove yourself that champion of whom the bards shall sing.”
“And what test is that?”
“A simple thing, indeed, for such as you,” she smiled. “Only vanquish me in single combat, whence I’ll gladly give myself to you. Overcome my immortal body by dint of strength and skill, and it shall be yours to do with as you will.”
“Aye?” Garin moved quick as lightning, dancing aside to dodge the blade, and, in a single dizzying turn, seize the Valkyrie about the wrists. And now they contended, strength for strength; Wotan’s daughter desperate to keep hold of the sword-hilt even as the son of Lotharing would strive with all his might to wrest it from her grasp.
“I feel the trembling weakness of your limbs,” said Garin.“I hear the panting sighs of fatigue upon your troubled breath. The fire of defiance has gone out of your eyes, whence now they wax with fear. Mayhap I shall not need to fight you at all.”
“Oh glorious All-Father! What have you done?” cried Feurgeisel. “Can it be that I am mortal?”
No sooner had the words parted from the blushing maiden’s lips, than Garin overcame her last defense, turning her wrists aside until at last the sword became too heavy for her to bear. With no other choice left to her, Feuergeisel dropped the blade, and bowed her head in maidenly submission.
The boy raised her clenched wrists to his lips and kissed them hungrily. Still, he hesitated to do more, not knowing what to make of this new-won prize, the like of which he had never beheld. Nor did Feuergeisel yet understand the ways of a mortal woman’s heart, for it is intuition above all else that sets the children of Midgard apart from those who dwell above. Thus, waiting upon him patiently, by and by she looked up into his eyes with dread and wonder. And as she gazed upon him, a strange spirit rose within her, whence she knew at last what she must do.
Slowly, she pulled his hands to her bosom, leaning forward so that he might savor the firmness of her unimprisoned breast. With that, the lad released her wrists, and thrust his fingers wantonly beneath the drooping fringe of her bodice, the better to probe the camber  of that still half-veiled orb. His trembling palms were moist against her soft enfevered flesh, his fingers curious yet uncertain. Thus, heeding her new-found mortal senses, the maiden laid a gentle hand upon his burgeoning loins, and so began to work the laces of his leathern breeches, whence in a little while his ample manhood was released, drawn inch by inch into the open air.
“Oh, brave and wondrous sight!” the Valkyrie sighed. “Truly only the greatest of heroes could wield so worthy a weapon!” So saying, she bowed her head to lay her lips upon the lurid shaft, anointing it with kisses like a supplicant at the feet of some dread lord. Bold Garin could do naught but gasp and moan as Feuergeisel pleasured him thus. And so it was that desire at last overcame uncertainty, and, firmly seizing her by the shoulders, he began to bull his way into the maiden’s mouth, thrusting forward with his thighs till, with a deep groan, he sped and spent upon her thirsty palate.
“How now!” he cried. “I am undone! For you have disarmed me a second time!”
“Not so,” said Feuergeisel. “See? Brave and unbroken stands thy blade, wanting for naught but a sheath to call its own.”
“And where,” said he, “am I to find a proper scabbard?”
“Here, my lord,” Feuergeisel replied, standing boldly before him as the shift fell about her feet. “Come, lie down with me and try it—” she drew his hand to the place of which she spoke “—no doubt ‘twill make a goodly fit.”
And so they lay together, the hero and his Valkyrie, limbs ever tightly entwined as they wrestled and writhed, delving the pleasures of earthly love, joying in one another’s strength. Garin might well have conquered with his hungry mouth alone, while Feuergeisel, beguiling him with sighs and kisses, eagerly led the lad to all the hidden treasures of her maiden flesh. Their hips and thighs were as the wind and waves, rolling and swelling, arching and falling, the hero moving easily within his love, as she for her part eagerly rose to meet his sure, unhurried thrusts. Again and again, they melted in the fiery forge of bliss, one into the other, dying in delight, to be reborn, yet only half-cooled, to a still more adamant desire.
“Oh, what a thing it is to be mortal,” cried Feuergeisel, “for I never knew the power of such enjoyment could be contained within mine own unworthy limbs, like some hidden treasure waiting to be found!”
“Nor I,” said Garin, leaning over to kiss her breasts again, blowing upon her jewel-like paps, as one might work a bellows to bring a fire to full and fulsome heat. “’Tis true, before I came unto you I knew naught of dread, yet now you’ve shown me a thing even mightier than fear.”
“Love!” she whispered.
“Aye,” said Garin. “And a favorable omen from the gods it is, for with it we are both set free indeed. Thus, shall you no longer be the lowly hostage of the fire; but I shall call thee Siegrid, for, in truth, you are my beauty and my peace, my glorious victory and my happy rest. What say you, fair one?”
“I like it well, my lord,” said Siegrid, drawing him into her restless, yearning arms. “And I would have that blade of yours once more within its scabbard!”
“You are a young lad’s dream come true!” he said. “But look! Do you not see?”
“What, my love?”
“The sun!” He pointed upward to the sky. “The sun has come out at last! How could I have failed to notice it, but that my eyes were dazzled by an even greater wonder!”
And thus, the twilight that had so long oppressed the land was broken by the brightness of a new day, and the sorrows of Midgard were, for a time, forgotten. Some say it was the father of the gods, great Wotan himself, smiling upon the union of his own dear daughter with so worthy a hero as Garin, the lad who knew no fear. Some say the two of them still dwell quite happily together within that enchanted wheel of flame upon the mountainside, where, eternally young, they pass the time with tales and songs, making love with that same wonder and delight as when first they met.


Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here

Saturday, August 11, 2018

'The Fire Hostage (Part 2)'--a story by TAS

(Part 2)
(read Part 1 here)

The stench of death hung heavily about the entrance to the dragon’s lair. Above that cheerless pit it lingered, the odor of a thousand rotting things; smoldering brimstone, blood, and ordure, failed courage, sorrow, and despair.
“Not far now!” the dwarf led on like an impatient waif, taper in hand as he scurried through a warren of narrow-winding tunnels, the most capacious scarcely broad enough to admit a child, save a man full-grown. “Make haste!”
“So eager to meet your doom?” Ducking low, his back to the wall, Garin expelled the breath from his chest, barely able even then to squeeze beyond a treacherous restriction.
“Nay! Zvergrotz will surely live!” The dwarf’s voice echoed dully in the gloom. “As richly as a landed lord when once the treasure’s mine.”
At last the way widened before them, for they had reached a cavern deep within the earth, where, long ages past, the hands of men had hewn a city from the living rock. Through high-vaulted corridors they passed, great halls of carvéd block and gravéd stone, so vast that one might wander for many days without ever coming to the end.
Yet, even now, the path was not without its perils. For, here and there at intervals along the passageway, flickeringly illumed from dreary fires far beyond, dust-smoking heaps of human bone loomed up like morbid mountains, disgorged from glutted catacombs through buckled fissures in the walls; obstacles impassable, compelling rashly-improvised retreats through lightless galleries where only skittering rodent hosts remained to rule the gloom. Their red eyes peeked out covetously from amongst the rubble, precarious mounds of shattered masonry where, from time to time, an interloper might espy the detail of a pallid human face, shards of statues toppled from upended plinths, once-proud features immortalized in marble now fractured into voiceless infamy.
Presently through the branching halls there came a sound like the lonesome keening of the wind, desolate in its melancholy rise and fall.
“The serpent wakes.” Zvergrotz ran to cower at Garin’s back. “Have a care lest we be roasted alive!”
“Which way then?” The hero drew his sword.
“It matters not.” The little man blubbered in fear as flame leapt from a hundred hearths throughout the city. “Doom comes for us anon!” And surely it was true, for the fire spilled forth in a great torrent before them.
“In time,” said Garin, withdrawing into an alcove along the wall, whence the flames scorched neither man nor dwarf. “But not this day.” The niche into which they had retreated was itself a disused antechamber. Beyond this stretched a curving thoroughfare, a spiral ramp leading still further into the depths.
“S’blood!” The dwarf held his nose, for the vile stench of ordure waxed more keenly the further they descended.
“Ah!” The hero brightened at a thought. “Mayhap we’ll yet outwit the beast!” So saying, he bade the dwarf climb upon his back. Thus, like a steed with his rider, far and fiercely did bold Garin hasten, and for a while until, at last, he came to the place where the monster held its solitary sway, keeping drowsy watch o’er all its vast ill-gotten hoard.
And what a treasure it was! As far as the eye could behold it lay in such extravagant profusion as might seduce the noblest mind: bricks of gold in gleaming heaps, plate of silver piled high, and gem-encrusted drinking horns, gilt armor, scabbards, helms, and swords with jeweled hilts; even noble crowns, purloined from the heads of kings and princes, scattered carelessly about the floor like the cast-off trifles of a spoiled child. Beyond these, coin of every weight and value spilt forth from ancient yawning chests, more than the greediest of men might dream to covet.
Yet all that shone was not fair or wondrous, for here and there amongst that vast surfeit of wealth, jutting up above the glittering peaks, enormous skeletons might be beheld, the hulking remains of mighty monsters, spines like gargantuan tree trunks, and broken ribcages like the frames of houses, ravaged and burned, limbs twisted and broken, sharp and deadly as a phalanx of spears.
And in the very midst of it all, a towering massif thrust up amongst those grisly hills, the dragon itself, still half aslumber, coiled jealously around the spoils it favored most. Perpetually bereft of light, its flesh shone with a ghostly gray pallor, appearing to glow in the subterranean gloom. Its sides were as battered shield walls, scales singed and blackened by a hundred battles. Its claws were each the size of a heavy broadsword, and twice as deadly; its legs, short and stout as gnarled roots, but powerful and swift. Most terrible of all, its hingeless, wormlike jaw, a yawning pit of death, edges studded with row upon row of venomous fangs.
Garin could only marvel at the sight, for he had never stalked so fearsome a beast before. “Wait here,” said he, “for I shall steal around behind ere the curséd creature stirs.” So saying, he took his leave of the dwarf and made his way, half-crouched among the shimmering mounds of booty. Thus, creeping forward with artful stealth, would he surprise the serpemt in its wakeful torpor. And, sure enough, at last he stood within a hand’s breadth of the monster’s side.
But ere he raised his sword to strike, there rose a great commotion in the hall.
“Halloo!” The dwarf stood atop a heap of treasure as he called out loudly to the beast. “See what Zvergrotz has delivered just as he promised?”
The monster yawned by way of answer, sending a voluminous ring of smoke into the air. Garin scrambled to keep out of sight as the dragon stirred.
“Remember the bargain that was struck between us!” Zvergrotz demanded. “Have I not kept my part in full with this offering? Ah! See what a fine morsel he will make!”
The dragon spewed forth a bolt of fire that lit the cavern all about, the light redoubled in the shimmering mirrors of yellow gold and pale silver littering the floor. Yet the monster itself was quite blind, responding in no way to the sudden brightness. 
“And you shall keep your word as well,” cried the dwarf, though his voice quavered now with doubt and trepidation. “As much as Zvergrotz can carry in payment for this feast. Be we yet agreed?”
The serpent roared as if in ascent, whipping its tail about like a mighty flail with which to send the interloper to his doom.
But even now, having lost the element of surprise, the youth kept his wits about him. Thus with bold alacrity, he leapt upon the dragon’s back, whence the beast thrashed about wildly, determined to be rid of its tormentor. Yet the more furiously it struggled, the more adamantly the hero held fast, keeping his grip with one hand, while, with the other, weilding his enchanted sword, biding his time to strike.
At last, the daring hero plunged his blade through the back of the serpent’s throat, bracing himself for what he knew must follow. In fury did the beast rear up, vomiting fire from its gullet, though grue-ish ichor followed soon enough. Yet still, not altogether vanquished, the dragon charged forward at an ungainly gallop, smelling at the air as it cast about with its head, determined in its blind agony to be avenged upon the trespasser.
Thrice more did the hero strike, and thrice more did he wound the beast, though its ferocity was not abated in the least. At last, Garin rose to his feet, riding the serpent’s back as one might bestride the heaving deck of a ship at sea. Thus, clutching the hilt in both hands, the youth stabbed downward with all his might, striking so forceful a blow as to rend the monster in twain, cleaving head from shoulder with a single fearsome stroke. A river of gore flowed forth from the stump of its neck even as the carcass juddered in the final throes of death. But ere the curséd head did strike the ground, a roar of despair escaped its broken maw like the tolling of a broken bell above a sepulcher.
Then Garin saw that some of the dragon’s blood had spilled upon him in the fray, and now lay spattered o’er his face and hands. Unthinking, the lad licked the blood from his lips and fingers. Yet, no sooner had the blood been tasted upon his tongue, then he heard a strange voice resounding in his mind:
How now shall I slay him? But not too soon, for who else will help carry the treasure from this place? Curse that foolish beast!
In a moment, Garin came to understand that it was the dwarf’s own thoughts he was hearing.
I suppose I’ll have to do it myself. Once the treasure’s been removed, and he is weary from his labors, after he settles down to rest… Yes!  I’ll creep up to the place where he sleeps and plunge a dagger deep into his heart… Only for now, let him believe all’s well…
“A silver pffenig for your thoughts,” Garin said slyly. “What’s to become of all these riches now that their guardian is gone?”
“It’s ours at last!” Zvergrotz turned about to face the hero, feigning innocence, dancing and skipping about like a merry child, though his thoughts remained as dark as the pit about them. “The treasure is ours!”
“Ours?” Garin spoke coldly.
“Aye,” cried the dwarf. “Plenty to go around…” Especially once I’ve slain you in your sleep…
“So much wealth,” said Garin. “You wouldn’t be tempted to betray me?”
“What’s this? Nay! Zvergrotz is a dwarf of his word!”
“Indeed? You’re not tempted even a little? Not thinking of burying a dagger in my heart?”
“Zvergrotz would never…” The dwarf affected outrage. “Zvergrotz is noble! Zvergrotz is loyal to a fault, and ever generous… See?” He tossed a handful of silver coins in Garin’s direction. “Let the gods bear witness to my munificence!”
“Verily.” Garin approached the faithless halfling, wading  hip-deep through a lake of blood and steaming viscera. “Let me likewise be generous and dispatch you quickly.”
“Mercy!” cried the dwarf. “Spare poor Zvergrotz his life!”
“And what should I have in return?”
“My gratitude and… half the treasure?”
“When you had already sold me to the serpent, just as you once sold me to the ogre? Surely so noble a life is worth more than such a pittance?”
“I beg you, son of Lotharing,” the dwarf croaked piteously, “pray, stay your hand! Zvergrotz will be as good as his word!”
“How well I know the worth of your word,” said Garin, still coming on, sword drawn and ready.
“Nay!” Zvergrotz began to pelt the hero with whatever missile came most easily to hand; volleys of gold and silver coin, the merest handful a fortune; sacks and purses groaning with jewels and precious stones, sapphires, diamonds, and pearls, gilt trinkets, chains, and baubles, flung with ruthless desperation in some vain hope that his doom might be delayed.
“Cease, feckless fool!” Garin cried. “Today your pathetic destiny is decided. This cavern has become your tomb, and so shall it be, both now and forever more.”
“Keep away!” Zvergrotz shrieked in terror. But as he endeavored to flee in the face of the hero’s relentless advance, the dwarf tripped and fell. The heap of treasure on which he had made his stand suddenly gave way, collapsing in a treacherous landslide, carrying the little man headfirst towards the bottom. “No!” he cried, “Surely this cannot be my fate! Surely Zvergrotz will—” But his words were stopped in his mouth, and in their place a trickle of blood spurted from between his lips, for the dwarf’s body had been impaled on one of the sharp bone pikes half hidden like a hunter’s snare amongst the dragon’s shimmering hoard. He lay, gasping and panting, his eyes bulging in disbelief as his fate dawned upon him.
And now the rats came swarming, drawn by the odor of looming death, hungry, ravenous things, they descended upon the little man, and the last sounds Garin heard ere he turned away were the wordless screams of that craven soul being devoured alive.
Thanks for nothing, little man, Garin thought as he turned his back upon the dwarf, making his way as best he could, holding the enchanted sword before him like a glowing lantern in the gloom. Moving cautiously along, he cocked his ears, listening for the telltale sounds of wind or water, some sign that might forebode escape. At last, he heard the roar and rush of an underground river somewhere far away. But before he could reconoiter the pathway ahead, he found himself falling, a portion of the floor having given way beneath his feet. He plummeted like a stone into the darkness below until, at last, after what seemed a fall of many leagues, he came down, splashing and spluttering in the icy churning waters, still clutching the hilt of his sword. The fast-moving stream bore him along through narrow tunnels and yawning caverns turned to lakes, roofs open to the starlight far above, and yet again into the blackness, down rocky chutes and over plunging cataracts, his limbs bruised and sore.
In time the river carried him out into the world. Washed clean in the flood, the hero stood upon a stony bank and turned his eyes again to the east. The strange light still shone upon the moutainside, and there, bold Garin knew, his destiny awaited.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

LN Bey's Review of 'The Erotic Writer's Thesaurus'

Lovely review of The Erotic Writer's Thesaurus from author LN Bey today on their blog.
Read it here.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

'The Fire Hostage' (Part 1)--a story by TAS

NOTE: Parts 1 and 3 of The Fire Hostage first appeared on author and fairy-tale maven extraordinaire  Madeleine Shade's website in early 2015. Madeleine had invited me to write something for her, and I was more than delighted to accept her invitation, though with a limit of 4000 words my ambition far outstripped my word count, and I had to leave the middle part of the tale untold, at least for that time being. I finally  completed Part 2 earlier this year (February, 2018) bringing the total ending word count to 7,463, 

In celebration of my 60th birthday on August 9, 2018, I offer the story, complete for the first time, in three installments. I've included a few of Arthur Rackham's classic color illustrations for Wagner's Ring cycle, as The Fire Hostage is closely based on Siegfried, the third opera in the cycle. 

You can read Part 2 here and Part 3 here

Enjoy! (TAS)

 (Part 1)

Once upon a time—and a fell and fearsome time it was, when endless twilight lay upon the land—there lived a lowly orphan waif whom men called Findlekind. A callow and untutored lad, brusque of speech and coarse of manner, the youngling had been set to work as a striker’s apprentice when he was scarcely tall enough to hoist a hammer. And so in the forge he labored for many a year, growing at last into a strong and comely youth.
Now, having been raised among hard, rough-spoken men, Findlekind was ignorant of his origin and lineage. Neither had he known the companionship of a woman, nor ever, in truth, set eyes upon one save from afar. And yet, for all, the lad knew naught of fear; undaunted by darkness or danger, brash and impetuous as the wild beasts he often joyed to stalk beneath the spreading branches of the trees, even to the far reaches of the great green wood. So it was that when he came to be of an age, Findlekind took his leave of the brigands who had fostered him, and boldly struck out on his own with a mind to explore the wider world, to seek his fortune, and to learn the secret of his birth. “Mayhap I shall come to know fear as well,” said he.
Some leagues to the east, upon a barren mountainside, a mysterious light was seen to shine perpetually in the gloaming, a shimmering roundel of varicolored fire that danced and flickered, silent and graceful as the lambent curtains so often wont to ring the northern sky. It was toward this wonder, like a guiding star, that Findlekind made his solitary way. And so it fell out upon an hour belonging neither to day nor to night, that the youth found himself  deep in the murky heart of the wood, a place where even the bravest souls were often loath to venture.
And there, before the narrow mouth of a cavern, the fearless callant came upon a dwarf, a vile creature of baleful countenance and irksome humor, who, with peevish curse and impious oath upon his gnarled lips, labored at a battered forge of ancient elvish make, the dull ring-a-ting-ting of his tiny hammer echoing among the ageless trees.
“You there, boy,” cried the dwarf, “come, help build up the fire for me, for, in truth, I cannot make it hot enough myself. Look lively, now, my son!”
“You are no sire of mine,” Findlekind replied, and it was surely true, for the youth stood three times taller than his would-be master, pleasingly formed of body and limb with flowing locks of golden hair, a handsome human creature born of beauty and strength. “In any case you are a fool to fear a little heat, even so small and weak a thing as you are.”
“Nay, ‘tis you’re the fool,” croaked the dwarf, “for, though scant and frail, I know the secret of a great treasure-hoard that lies hidden but a little way from here. I’ll share it with you, on my name, Zwergrotz, I swear, if you’ll but help me put this shattered sword to rights.” He held up the splintered remnants of the blade so that the youth might examine it.
“I’ve never seen its like before,” said Findlekind as he turned the pieces this way and that in his hands. “Such a blade was surely spell-forged, for the edges are like adamant, and the face of it shines with the gathered light of a thousand twinkling stars. So marvelous a thing must have been formed in the magic fire of Loge himself, for only such an unearthly blaze could ever burn hot enough to melt the metal.”
“Do I look like I’ve got magic fire?” Zwergrotz grumbled bitterly. “Think you I have but to whistle for the Trickster to come panting like a hound at my heel? No, no! ‘Tis not so! Zvergrotz might as well wish for chickens that roast themselves upon a spit, or sacks of gold that fall like hail from cloudless noon-bright skies. Alas! The gods are cruel to such as I. Their favors fall on comelier folk, wherefore poor dwarves are left to toil and fend as best they might. Come, then, show some pity, and work the bellows for me, boy!”
“If so I must.” The young man heaved an indolent sigh. “But only if you will tell me how this goodly weapon came to be sundered, and of the hero who wielded it. For combat that could shatter a blade like this must surely have been fierce, and how I’d have thrilled to witness so mighty a battle! Yet I suppose I can settle for your telling of the tale instead.”
“I know naught of all that,” said the dwarf. “The thing came to me as you behold it even now.”
“And how was that, my little man? Whence came this wonder into your possession?”
“From the hand of a dying wench—Lorne her name. Great with child was she, weary and weak, for she had been fleeing a terrible bane: her lover felled upon the field of battle, and the gods’ own minions pursuing her through the forest, seeking after her, or so she claimed, to snatch the babe. She bid me take the sword and foster the child so that he might one day wield it in honor of his sire.”
“What then?” said Findlekind, pumping the bellows with all his might until the fire roared hot and high.
“Pffttt! What then indeed?” The dwarf’s spittle hissed upon the coals. “The wench died in the whelping of a son, naming the child with her final breath. ‘Garin,’ said she, e’er I could lift the cursed thing to her breast, ‘My little Garin. son of Lotharing, my brother, my love...’ And that was that.”
“So what became of the child?” asked Findlekind.
“What do you suppose,” Zwergrotz laughed scornfully, “that I’d have aught to do with a bastard born of incest? Nay! Better to curse myself a thousand times! I kept the sword as payment for my trouble, and sold the squalling brat to an ogre, the better to be rid of it.”
“Try the fire now,” said Findlekind, “for, in truth, I think it burns too hot for any common metal.”
“Still no good,” complained the dwarf. “It’s useless! Useless!”
“Patience, little master,” said Findlekind. “I’ll make it hotter still. Only tell me the rest of the tale as I work.”
“The rest? Aye. There’s more to be told. The ogre had not gone far with the brat. He meant to roast it up with onions and turnips, and make a soup from the bones that were left after the feast—I recollect his going on about it, drooling, and smacking his fetid lips all the while. But being quite stupid like the others of his kind, and short-sighted withal, the hapless fool lost his way in the dusk before he could reach home. T’was then he stumbled into a camp of tall-folk, a band of deserters from some war or another, and a desperate lot they were. They fell upon the gormless fiend and slew him. I heard the commotion from a distance, the shouts and roars and howls of rage, and all the while the infant  bawling like as to wake the dead. T’was they, the tall-folk, took the child, but whether to foster it or feast upon it themselves I was not keen to learn. All I know is that the cursed squalling ceased, and I was content to have peace and quiet at last.”
“Methinks the fire can get no hotter now,” said Findlekind. “Give me a turn at the striking plate, and we’ll see what a pair of strong hands can do.”
“Very well, boy. Use that!” Zvergrotz nodded towards a heavy mallet that leaned against the cavern wall. “A clumsy thing it is and poorly balanced, but better suited to your size, I’ll wager.” Findelkind hefted it easily and began to work the metal. A spray of orange sparks flew up with the first clanking blow, like an angry flock of fiery birds rising to their doom. And over, and over, seven and twenty times again, the anvil rang, until, at last, the broken pieces of the sword were roughly joined anew.
“You’ve done it!” cried the dwarf, dancing about for joy. “With this the treasure surely shall be mine!”
“Perhaps.” Findlekind examined his work with a frown. “Yet even in so hot a blaze, these welds are weak at best. No telling how long it will be before the thing breaks once again. I must needs reheat the metal that it may be forged with greater care.”
“So be it,” Zvergrotz muttered impatiently, “only be quick.”
Now, as he labored, an idle notion came into Findlekind’s head. I wish I’d known my father and my mother. I wonder what they were like, and how they came to know each other e’er I was gotten... And then a strange and wonderful  thought came to him: What if I were the infant in the dwarf’s tale? Could I be the son of Lotharing, the great warrior, and Lorne, the fair and faithful? At that very moment an errant spark leapt up from the forge to waken the lad from his daydream, scorching him painfully upon the chest, quite close to the heart.
“Donner’s cock!” the youth swore in a loud voice. “Will this cursed metal never soften?

Melt! Melt! Flow together like a river and be one
Where there were many and yet none!
May Loge, the fire-god’s will be done!”

No sooner had Findlekind uttered the words than his prayer was answered, for there came a great gust of wind, and a column of brilliant viridescent flame fell from the sky with a yawning roar. The unearthly green-gold fire danced upon the crimson coals with a sound now like the tinkling of tiny bells or again the mischievous laughter of a child. Yet the green fire did not overwhelm the red, but only made the forge burn hotter until the metal was soft enough again to work.
Findlekind wasted no time, but laid the glowing blade upon the anvil and struck home, folding and refolding the metal three times by three times, and hammering three times again, until the sword had been turned no fewer than seven and twenty times in all, a number most pleasing to the gods.
“‘Tis done!” he cried, lofting the weapon in haughty salute to the glory of youth, which knows nothing of the impossible. “Now, to try it!” Findlekind twirled the sword about, tossing the hilt from hand to hand in order to test its balance. Then, grasping it firmly, he brought it down edge-on against the fulciment itself. A single blow was all it took to cleave the anvil clean in twain.
“Ha! At last” The dwarf hopped up and down, grabbing greedily for the hilt. “’Tis mine at last!”
“Have a care, little man,” said Findlekind, knocking the dwarf into the dirt, “lest I be of a mind to sunder your miserable carcass as well, for I know now who I am!”
“It cannot be!” cried Zwergrotz with a piteous squeak. “Surely, you cannot be—”
“Aye!” said Garin, for this truly was his name, “I am the son of Lotharing and Lorne! T’was my mother you found in the forest, and this very sword you stole from her dying hands. T’was to her you gave your worthless word, turning away before the warmth had even left her to sell me to the ghoul, and wash your cursed hands of mother and child, all in a single craven stroke. I should slay you here and now for what you’ve done!”
“Mercy!” The hapless creature cowered upon the ground. “Have pity on poor Zvergrotz! I’ll share my treasure with ye, young hero! Did I not promise to divide it so? Only aid me in retrieving it, and I shall be as good as my word.”
“What good was your word to my mother?” Garin towered menacingly above the dwarf. “I shall have my revenge upon you, feckless worm, of that you may be sure. Yet, perhaps I owe you some little grace for telling me of my beginnings. And if there’s treasure to be had, well, you’ll lead me to it and soon, for a wealthy man can slay a traitor on the morrow as easily as a poor man make short work of a cowardly wretch today.”
“I will! I will!” The dwarf groveled at the young man’s feet, crawling forward to kiss his boots. “Zvergrotz will keep his word this time! He promises!”
“Up now!” Garin prodded the loathsome supplicant with the tip of the sword. “Make haste, for I’m impatient to be done with you.”