Of Ice & Magic – Chapter 1

Of Ice & Magic – Chapter 1

Magic still fills the dark corners of the world. At the ends of the Earth the last remaining life-forger, Fornulf, plies his trade, crafting legendary living-blades for those few nobles who can afford them.
Betrayed and on the run, Fornulf and his family must enlist forgotten allies and forge new alliances to rid their homeland of evil. To defeat the usurper and save his people, Fornulf is forced to make a choice no man should have to.
– Filled with magic, betrayal, heartache, and courage, “Of Ice & Magic” defines Epic Fantasy.

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The old gods died. Magic died. I wept to see them gone. 

I had been born in a world overflowing with magic and gods, in a time when bravery was the most noble of virtues and a maiden the most treasured prize. Such is not the state of the world today. 

While I relax on a bed of velvet, safe behind glass walls which stand upon a finely crafted oak floor, people come to admire my beauty. They glimpse their faces in the reflection of my perfect skin and marvel at the lines and curves of my exquisite physical form.

True, I bask in their admiration, and their envy that they are not as well formed. Yet my home is but a prison.

I have lived, or should I say, existed, for a thousand years. I say that because living implies freedom and I have none. As the lights fade each night and my admirers retire, I slip into a world of dreams, a world filled with my past glories.

It began at the ends of the world, on an island of ice and magic which had risen up from the frigid sea. On that island a clever smith named Fornulf had built a forge into the side of a great fiery mountain. Not an ordinary forge, mind you, it was a fjor’tyna—a life-forge.  

Certainly he could make common weapons there; they were the building blocks of his marvelous works, but a life forge was a womb that birthed the most marvelous of artifacts. The most cherished of these were the fjor-sverds—the living swords. Some said Fornulf had studied under the ancient dwarven smiths, the sons of Ivaldi, but who can say.

Fornulf was an apt name for him as it meant ancient wolf. With his graying hair and silver beard he looked the part. He was cunning too. And I do not mean just in ways of smithing. No, he was too clever by half for any mortal man, though he spoke little, causing many to underestimate his guile. I warn you now, never underestimate a life forger; for only the wisest and most cunning of men can learn such art.

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Under a full moon, Fornulf’s forge glowed with a hellish hue as the bellows sprayed water to cool the magma, great clouds of searing steam exploding into the air. This was no ordinary forge. Here on the edge of the ancient mountain, raging fire and horrendous heat were ever present as molten rock flowed from the depths of Muspelheim, the kingdom of Surt and home of the fire giants. While a normal forge must be stoked to breathe life into it, the life-forge had to be cooled, so water was pumped over the lava to regulate the heat.

Hues of sunset and blood illuminated the small stone room. Fornulf’s heavy leather apron hung singed and burned from a thousand such nights at the forge. The leathery skin on his arms and face was in no better shape.

On that moonlit night, Fornulf’s hammer rang against a blade as it struck the anvil. Sparks flew and the sword blade sang at its makers bidding. Fornulf’s son, Karl, had been his apprentice for six seasons. He was handsome and strong, and almost a man at seventeen years old.

Karl held the sword on the anvil with a pair of tongs, flipping it as his father struck the blade. Every so often Fornulf would thrust the blade back into the maw of the life-forge allowing the liquid rock to sear the metal. Karl would pump the bellows, causing the lava to scream as the water cooled its brilliant skin to black. Then the hammering and flipping would continue.

The blade had been forged of sky-iron, taken from a rock that fell from the sky. Such metal was said to have much magic. To that twisted lump, Fornulf added ores of gold and silver, and one thing rarer than all: powdered diamond. A life-forged blade was the most expensive weapon a noble could buy; no commoner could ever afford one.

Fornulf had come from the northern mainland, but now made his home on the island of ice and fire. He’d brought his new bride and their two babes to make a fresh start after a plague had taken his first wife and four of their children. He`d married again, in his mid thirties, but he was an old man now—fifty-one winters he’d seen.

Fornulf delivered one last hammer blow to the blade, then held it up to his eyes for inspection, scanning the yard-long length of fine steel, admiring the herringbone pattern and the runes incised on the blade. He nodded, satisfied with his work, then thrust the full length of the steel into a barrel of rendered whale oil to temper the blade. This was the most critical part of the process. The oil hissed, popped and bubbled as the metal cooled.

He motioned to Karl who immediately went out, returning a short time later with a naked young man, perhaps eighteen, followed by an older man in dark grey robes.

“Are you ready?” Fornulf ask the naked youth.The young man nodded, shivering in the cold air, protecting his modesty with his hands.

No names were exchanged. True names held great power over the owner of them. When magical forces were called upon, as they were about to be, every precaution was taken. The older man in the grey robes was simply known as a vitki—a wise man. He was skilled in the way of galdr magic, the spells of which were chanted.

A middle aged woman in a green robe slipped into the room as well. She was a seithkona—a spirit walker. She carried with her a hide covered drum.

Karl ushered the naked man to a stout oak table, where he was instructed to lay down. Fornulf carried the now cold sword blade in his bare hands.

“You must take the blade and hold it against your body. Do you understand?” Fornulf asked him.

The naked man nodded nervously.

“You do this of your own free will?” Fornulf asked him.

The naked man nodded again.

“I need you to say the words aloud so that the gods may hear you,” Fornulf said.

“I do this of my own free will and offer my life force to the sword,” the naked man said evenly.

Fornulf nodded to the vitki and the seithkona. Aside from Fornulf, they were the only two practitioners of the elder arts on the island, so rare were their gifts.

From inside his robes, the vitki produced a wooden wand, carved intricately with runic patterns. He walked to one side of the table where the naked man lay, and began to chant. The seithkona did likewise, standing across from the vitki, joining the  chant beating her drum rhythmically.

The nameless, naked man, held the sword across his chest and abdomen, trembling. Drumbeats and resonant chanting suffused the room. The ceremony may have lasted for minutes or hours, for time has no meaning when the worlds of men and gods touch, as they did that night.

The sword began to hum, to vibrate, to glow; the galdr chanting and drumbeats infused it with eldritch energy. The naked man began to vibrate . . . and to fade. At the perfect moment, Fornulf drew a dagger across the naked man’s throat and blood flooded the table.

The blade burned brighter, and brighter, threatening to blind them all, and the naked man faded away, like morning mist under the light of the sun. Fornulf threw up an arm to shield his eyes from the glowing metal, but as quickly as the light had flared, it was gone. The vitki and seithkona fell silent and silence filled the room. No, not quite silence. There was something. The blade . . . whispered.

The sacrifice had been accepted.

###

The next day great shadows slithered against the backdrop of jagged mountains. Fornulf had stepped outside of his house and gazed up at them. The rock on the island was as black as ink, much darker than his native lands. The seasonal moss and lichen spattered the black canvas in patterns of greens and yellows. Fornulf’s forge lay at the end of a deep canyon on the side of a fiery mountain, where liquid rock bubbled up from the bowls of the underworld.

“Riders,” Karl said.

Fornulf brushed soot from his apron and tried to make himself presentable. He’d worked throughout the night, as he had to finish fitting the hilt and cross-guard for the sword. It was done now. The sword was polished and oiled, ready for its new master. His family were quick to line up in front of the house, anxious to meet the wealthy gothi, or chief, for the first time.

Six riders on well-bred horses galloped up the track to Fornulf’s modest farmstead. Perched arrow-straight on the back of white stallion, sat Torgny Magnisson, Chief of Aegisheim. He’d been chief of the South Farthing for only a few years, taking over when his brother had died. It had been a bitter succession, as his brother had a son and heir. Torgny had judged the boy too young and had assumed the mantle of chief for himself. Of course, Torgny was the wealthiest man in the entire South Farthing, if not on the whole island, and few would dare to challenge him, lest they find their debts suddenly called in, or fail to find favor in days to come.

Fornulf’s forge lay on the western edge of the Eastfjord Farthing, close enough to Torgny’s territory, but he’d had few dealings with him till now. He’d made weapons and armor for Torgny’s men, but had never crafted anything for the chief himself.

Clad in bright mail and backed by a fine blue cloak, Torgny slid from his stallion. He was balding, but wore a well-trimmed beard that had once been straw colored, but now hung streaked with grey.

Fornulf limped forward, an old injury acting up that morning. He gave a slight bow. “Lord, it is an honor to have you at our humble steading.”

“Of course it is,” Torgny said with a smug smile.

Fornulf hadn’t expected that and felt rather uncomfortable.

“I jest, good smith, I jest!” Torgny said, clapping both hands on Fornulf’s shoulders. “Thank you for welcoming me to your home.” Suddenly Torgny’s nose twitched and he recoiled, his face twisting in disgust. “Gods above, what is that smell? Rotten eggs?”

“Ah, apologies, Lord. Vapors from the depths of the earth. We have grown accustomed to it living here. Like the urine pits of the weavers, the vapors are our burden.”

Torgny’s face wriggled under the assault, but he seemed to master his disgust. “You’re a brave man, Fornulf.” He smiled.

“May I present my family, Lord?”

Torgny made a sweeping gesture. “By all means.”

“This is my wife, Hildegund”

Torgny gave a nod to Hildegund and followed along with Fornulf’s introductions.

“This strapping young man is my son, Karl.”

Torgny gave him an appraising nod. “Strong. Good stock, eh?” he said looking at Fornulf. “He’ll make a good warrior I’d wager.”

Fornulf cleared this throat. “I hope he will make an even better fjorsmythr, Lord. He is my apprentice.”

“Indeed, a much rarer resource,” Torgny said.

“And this,” Fornulf said, “ is my daughter, Berengara.”

Torgny’s eyes grew wide at the sight of Berengara, and he said nothing for a moment. Fornulf’s daughter had that affect on men, such was her beauty—so like her mother.

Seeing Torgny’s discomfort and Berengara’s, Fornulf spoke up. “I’ll be looking for a husband for her this year, Lord. If you know of any good matches, I’d be much obliged for your counsel. She’ll be sixteen in a couple of moons.”

“Marriage?” Torgny said, trailing off. “Of course. Yes. She is … lovely.” He seemed to shake himself out of his fugue. “I will see what I can do.” He turned to Fornulf “Now, to business, good man. I believe you have something for me?”

“Yes, Lord.” Fornulf motioned to Karl, who produced a clean sheepskin bundle. Fornulf took the bundle reverently and turned back to Torgny. He inclined his head and unwrapped the bundle.

Lying on the wool side of the sheepskin, the completed sword glistened. Its handle carved of walrus ivory, and inlaid with tiny sapphires. Inset silver wire wound around the ivory, and runes representing hail and ice lay boldly stamped on the cross guard and hilt of the blade.

 

“You’ll notice it’s imbued with the runes for hail and ice, as you requested. As you use the sword, it’s will and yours will become one, it’s powers shaped by the union of your two life forces.”

HITorgny nodded absently.

“But what are these runes carved down the central groove of the blade?” Torgny asked.

ulfberht

Fornulf smiled, nodding. “Those are runes for ULFBERHT. He is the fabled fjorsmythr, the first of us, and my own master. His school is one of legend, and there is only one apprentice at a time. Ulfberht is now dead, and I have assumed my master’s fjorsmythr mantle. My son, Karl, is now the only living apprentice. Every sword that I forge bears Ulfberht’s name to honor his memory and his gifts to mankind.”

Torgny said nothing, he just stood, mouth agape.

“Have you a name for it, Lord?” Fornulf asked.

“Magnificent,” Torgny whispered.

“Its name, Lord?”

Torgny shook his head, appearing bewitched for the second time today. “No- I mean, yes, I have a name for it. Isbrunna.”

“Iceburn, that is a beautiful name, Lord.”

Torgny motioned for the blade. “May I?”

Fornulf held out the blade. “Of course, Lord.”

Torgny held the sword like a child with his first honeycomb. He was giddy with delight and Fornulf thought the Chief might actually cry. Torgny stepped back a few paces and swung the sword in a few arcs, marveling at the balance and lightness.

“It feels alive in the hand!” Torgny exclaimed.

“They do, Lord.” And of course, that wasn’t just metaphorically speaking—the swords had a soul, a will, if only a shadow of its former self. “Your sword’s power will blossom as you use it. As you and the sword become accustomed to each other, your mastery of its power will grow. Like any new skill, Lord, it will take some getting use to.”

“Have you made many?” Torgny asked, never taking his eye from Isbrunna.

“No, Lord. Only a handful these last thirty years. Only nobles such as yourself have the silver to pay for the materials.” What he didn’t add, as the chief well knew, was the fact that such a blade demanded a living sacrifice—a willing sacrifice. A man had to pay a fortune for a someone to give his life willingly to a blade. Those who did might be down on their luck and were offered fortunes, or position for their family, in exchange for their sacrifice—a price very few wanted to pay. It did not mean offering their lives, it meant offering their souls. The sacrifice would then dwell inside that weapon until it was destroyed, or until the end of time itself.

“Well, then I count myself very lucky that you sailed to our little island, Fornulf.”

“It pleases me to know my work will bless your household, Lord.”

Torgny handed the sword back to Fornulf who wrapped it up in the sheepskin. Torgny snapped his fingers. “Kraka.” A wiry man with a wild and frizzy head of red hair, and a matching beard, retrieved the bundle.

“Now, if only my leatherworker can craft a scabbard to do Isbrunna justice …” Torgny trailed off.

“Your man Sigurd is a fine craftsman, Lord, I know him well. You’re lucky to retain him.”

Torgny produced a pouch from beneath his blue cloak, handing it to Fornulf. “For your work, Fornulf.”

He took the pouch and was surprised at its weight. It had to be much more than he was promised.

Torgny must have noticed Fornulf’s surprise and said, “A little extra for you.”

“Lord,” Fornulf said bowing.

Torgny glanced back at Berengara again before he turned on his heel and mounted his white stallion. “Gods keep you well, Fornulf and family.” Torgny waived and set his horse to a canter. His men quickly followed.

“What a lovely man,” Hildegund said.

Fornulf opened the pouch, eyes wide. “And generous too,” he said suspiciously as he considered the weight of the pouch in his hands, “this has to be twice what we agreed for my fee.”

Now that was strange …


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