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.”