Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Iron Lily (Part 10)

Moridan set his boot aside and brushed his hands upon his apron in what Halthor suspected was a habitual gesture. The priest's steel grey hair gleamed dully in the wan light of the chamber. He turned his dark brown eyes to Halthor's bowed shoulders, looking with a sight that was something more of the world that should have been than of the world that was. Where light shone near him, Halthor had the faintest of a shimmer about him. It was as though the glistening, wavering air of the forge was wrapped about the builder. A medallion hung at Halthor's breast from a leather thong that seemed to have a symbol carved that wavered from the simple luck token of pilgrims to a sigil that was familiar to the old priest though he could not recall why.

"The token you wear," the priest said, "How did you come by it?" Halthor looked up. For a moment his eyes widened and a brief look of panic crossed his face. Moridan leaned back in his chair. He turned his cup in his hands as he watched Halthor put on what he had hoped was a blank expression. "You know that I can see the lie as it is told," Moridan said quietly, "You do not strike me as a thief of any sort. What you say here, traveler, remains in these walls." Moridan glanced over at Ewen.

Ewen had quieted when his grandfather questioned the man from the north. Though Ewen was given to gossip and prate about the exploits of his nephews, cousins, and in-laws, he was wise enough to keep silence when priestly work was afoot. As much as he laughed off the solemn duty that was to be his one day and insisted his love was to dally at the water's edge, Ewen knew that his time of lassitude and youthful indiscretion was coming to a close. Odd moments of intuition, like what called him to the river bank earlier, were happening more frequently. Thus, Ewen watched closely when odd things happened about him, such as his grandfather asking probing questions of an unexpected traveler.

Halthor reached up and touched the pendant that the fey woman he had met at the traveler's rest before Wynnwode. "It was given to me by a woman," he answered. Moridan nodded. Under the close scrutiny of both priests and the man who was yet to be of the priesthood, Halthor grew uncomfortable. "She spoke but I did not understand what she said. She met me at the traveler's rest north of Wynnwode. I think she is going to the mountains of the far north," he added. Moridan leaned forward.

"What did she look like?" he asked. Halthor swallowed a mouthful of beer. Moridan raised a hand in a stilling gestures as Halthor opened his mouth to speak. "Did she have eyes of gold and hair the color of a tree's heartwood?" Moridan said, "Bearing an ash bow and wearing a hooded cloak of grey and the pelts of great wolves?" Halthor nodded. Ewen hastily looked away as Moridan's gaze shifted to him. "You were met by the maid Alyrin," Moridan said, "The daughter of our Lord who wanders this land. If he sends her north, it truly is the time that has been prophesied. And you bear the shard of the true world to where it will be hidden in safety."

"Alyrin is a myth," Halthor said uncomfortably, "The maid of Lilies is a child's tale."

"No," Moridan said, "Alyrin's sign is what you bear on your arms. It is the sign of the royal house that will bear the true scion of the Light Father. Your arms, they are more than mere weapons. They were forged by her own hand and bear in them the grace of the true born children of the gods. Alyrin was diminished by her forging of these weapons." Halthor thought about the hammer hidden in his goods.

"The maid of Lilies fashioned six weapons. The first was the war hammer that ever strikes true and faithful to the blow its wielder seeks. The second and third were the twin axes that remain ever sharp despite what they strike. It is said that they may cut even stone. The fourth was the iron stave. It is a curious thing that looks to be but a willow switch but when carried to battle, it becomes a mighty stave that is light as a switch to the one who bears it but strikes hard as a rod. The sword of Grace was her fifth weapon. The first blow kills a man where the second revives him. And finally is the shield of tears. No one knows what gifts the shield of tears bears. It was said that its name came from how it was quenched in the tears of the maid. Only the man that bears the sword of Grace may bear the shield of tears."

Moridan looked at Halthor. "You carry the daughter of the maid at your hip. I'm sure that her son is still carried by the warder of Wye's heir. It was said that the twins would be parted when the heir to the hammer came south. Which tells me that you carry the hammer and your sire does not walk this world any longer," the old man sighed, "The sword of Grace is in the city of Memmin. Count Olerand holds it. It is said that his luck is cursed for it. I do not know if it is or not. Only that he holds it."

"How do you know this?" Halthor asked. Moridan picked up his cup and took a deep drink. He watched as his grandson looked down at the floor and his eldest son keeled the pot, checking to see if the fish soup was finished. Moridan looked over at Halthor. He thought about the tale passed down through his family. They were forbidden to take up the trade of metal craft. Some of the relatives in the extended family thought it because ill luck plagued their efforts when it was attempted, for a few notable relations attempted the trade and died an unpleasant fate for it. The eldest of his family had for at least seven generations told him that the Banished God cursed them when Ewen Black lent his forge to the maid of the Lilies.

"Ewen Black met Alyrin on the road from Memmin when he was driving an ox cart with a load of ore from across the far waters. The maid of Lilies spoke to him of a wonder that awaited him in Hyle. He followed her here and found that his forge was ready for him to set to work, though it was the deeps of night when he came and his apprentice was fast asleep. That night, when all was quiet and hushed with snow, as it is now, Alyrin said that he was to midwife her children. The hammer and forge sang their song through the longest night," Moridan said as he raised his eyes and looked over at young Ewen.

"Dawn came and the maid of Lilies gathered the weapons in her arms. She left with a blessing on Ewen's line. She promised that his sons would ever stand in favor with the Light Father, beloved as his own children," the old priest continued, "When Alyrin left, the black priest of Hyle cursed Ewen's forge for what he had done. Fire burned it and his house to the ground, killing Ewen's bride. Ewen's grandfather, the priest of the Light Father, brought Ewen and his sons Edrich and Tammen into his house." Moridan looked from his grandson to Halthor. "I am the son of Edrich's line. As are Mavora and my grandson Ewen," Moridan explained. "Like our ancestor, we have done what we could to tend to Alyrin's children, where we might find them."

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