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Chapter Eleven

 The Duke led Amundr into a small chamber with no windows and a single door.  He set the lantern he had brought with him on a table and pulled up a chair.  He laid the sword on the table before him and asked Amundr to take a seat opposite him.

“So.  Amundr.  I have been talking to the lore master and I wanted to ask you a few questions.”  Amundr sat on the edge of his seat, hanging on every word.  “First of all, I’d like for both of us to look at this blade a little more closely.  Would you mind drawing it out and holding it in the light where we can see it?”

Amundr consented.  He picked up the sword with the hilt in his right hand and the scabbard in his left and smoothly drew the blade.  The light of the lamp cast a wavering gleam on the metal, and Amundr’s eyes could barely make out a wavering line down the length of the blade.  The blade was curved like a cavalry saber, and it appeared that its long rest within the tree had neither dulled the shine nor the edge of the metal.  In what must have been a trick of the light, the blade looked almost blood red.

“Amazing,” the Duke murmured.  Amundr agreed, not realizing that the primary source of the Duke’s astonishment was the boy’s ability to draw the blade, not the craftsmanship evident in the blade.  “Tell me Amundr, have you ever heard of the term ‘Wolf Spear’?”

The Duke could tell by the way Amundr started that he had indeed heard the term before.  “I will tell you what I have learned from our archives and you can tell me what you know.”  Amundr nodded.

“Our kingdom enjoyed peace and prosperity from its founding until the first vergrinn war.  On one fateful day over a thousand years ago, the land went through an upheaval and the isthmus where we are now sitting was thrust up from the ocean floor, connecting two islands together.  That winter, a wave of vergrinn crossed the isthmus from the north and terrorized our people.”

Amundr had never heard this before.  Apparently his father had been correct in thinking that the archives at Gudmund held information on the vergrinn.  The Duke continued.

“Since that time, there have been eleven wars fought with the vergrinn.  This citadel was established after the seventh vergrinn war to provide a first line of defense against vergrinn incursions.  After the ninth vergrinn war we constructed the wall that extends into the ocean to the farthest point that is covered by pack ice in the winters.  After the eleventh vergrinn war, we founded the town of Eyjolf to provide a haven in the land of the north for settlers as well as to provide an early warning of trouble with the vergrinn.”

“It seems to have done its job well,” Amundr offered.

“Yes, it has.  All of those facts are from the Official Chronicles of the duchy of Gudmund.  As the lore master looked elsewhere in the archives, he found additional information.  Apparently, from the time of the first vergrinn war through the time of the eighth vergrinn war there was a group of individuals known as Wolf Spears or occasionally just Spears.  These men were always on the front line and were always extremely effective in fighting the vergrinn.  They often even brought advanced warning that the vergrinn were coming once again.  There is a record of many of these spears falling in the eighth vergrinn war and there is no record of their existence since then.”

The Duke paused, watching Amundr.  Amundr was looking down at the table, clearly lost in thought.  “Amundr,” the Duke began.  Amundr looked up at the Duke.  “Are you a Wolf Spear?”

Amundr didn’t know what to say.  He wished for the thousandth time that his father was still here.  It was his father that the Duke should be talking to, not Amundr.  Amundr shrugged.  “I am.”  He went on to explain that he had never heard the term until his father told him he was a Wolf Spear with his dying breath and that he had not known that the group existed until a few days before. 

The Duke spoke again.  “This is glad tidings indeed.  One thing I have not told you is that there was another thread woven through the histories.  Until the eighth vergrinn war, the Wolf Spears were always led by a powerful warrior with a unique blood red blade.  The warriors and the blade disappeared from our stories centuries ago at the end of the eighth war, but they appear to have both been found in time for this one.  This will bring great hope to the people.  The sword is yours, apparently by birthright.  Several of us tried and failed to draw it, yet it knew your hand.  Bear it well, young Spear.”

The Duke was rising as if to leave.  Amundr didn’t want to miss his chance to ask a few questions.  “Your lordship?”

“Yes, Amundr?”

“How long until the relief force is sent to Eyjolf?”

“We will depart in three days.”  At Amundr’s questioning look the Duke continued, “Yes, I said ‘we’ will depart.  I do not lead my men by sitting safe in my keep while they march out to shed their blood, and if I understand correctly now seems to be the time that was ordained for you to step forward into the role of a man.  You will be instructed in the use of knightly weapons for the rest of your time here and then you will join us in the march to Eyjolf.”

“Thank you, milord.  If I may ask one last question, what of the other boys – I mean men from Eyjolf.  They are all training hard and would all be loathe to remain behind.”

“At the very least Aoalbert shall remain behind.  Strategic withdrawal in the face of overwhelming odds is usually acceptable, but abandoning your comrades is not.  As for the others, if old Adiarfr says they are ready, they can go.  I remember being young and willing to shed blood, thinking that it would be the other fellow’s instead of my own.  Let’s get you back to the others.”

***

The Duke brought Amundr back out to the courtyard, where Adiarfr and his young charges were taking a midday meal in the open air.  As they got closer, Amundr could hear snatches of conversation. 

“They made Amundr and Saegrimr knights!  Can you believe it?”

“Of course they made them knights.  They stood against hundreds of vergrinn and slew dozens of them each!”

“I heard they each slew over a hundred!”

At this point the voice of the grizzled instructor Adiarfr interrupted.  “They each did their part.  I am sure by this time tomorrow they will have stood against a thousand and slain five hundreds each and by this time next year they will have repelled the entire vergrinn force and saved your town with nothing but a stern glance.  Whatever they did or did not do, it is time for all of you to return to your practicing so that each of you can do your part.”

With a collective groan the young men picked up their spears and shields and formed ranks in the courtyard.  As Amundr walked over to where Herfinnr and Saegrimr were engaged in swordplay with wooden swords, the Duke caught Adiarfr’s eye and beckoned him over.  “Will they be ready when we leave in three days?”

Adiarfr lowered his voice.  “Well, they’ve got more spirit than most green recruits and they’ve learned the basics as fast as any group I’ve trained.  They need a few more seasons to really be able to put muscle behind their spears, but they won’t be a weak link that others have to protect.  I think if we kept them behind it would do more harm to their spirits than anything.  They want to be able to help their families and their town.  I’d send them.”

***

Amundr had walked over to the far corner of the courtyard where Herfinnr was instructing Saegrimr in proper sword fighting technique.  “Move your feet!  It’s all about balance and mobility.  With a spear there is much more weight in the weapon.  The length and balance of a pole weapon force you to have a more rigid posture and be less mobile.  Fighting with a sword you need to flow like water.  Keep your shield up!  You’d be better not carrying a shield than to carry it like that.  At least it wouldn’t be slowing you down.”  Amundr stood nearby and watched his friend get thrashed soundly for a few minutes while Herfinnr shouted admonitions that were variations on this same theme.

Finally, Saegrimr noticed that Amundr had returned.  He paused and turned to speak to him.  Herfinnr swept him off his feet with the wooden practice sword.  “…and NEVER let your guard down in the middle of a fight!” he yelled.  “Hello Amundr.  Ready to get in some practice?  I think Saegrimr is ready to take a break.”  From his position on the ground Saegrimr moaned feebly.

“Sure,” Amundr said.  “Where do I need to put this?” he asked, indicating the sword he had been given in the armory that morning.  “The Duke says I am to have the sword I found.”

“We’ll take it to the armory later.  For now you need to help your lazy friend up off his back and use his wooden sword.  I don’t think you’ll be able to swing it hard enough to really hurt me and I’ll pull my punches with you.  We need to keep you in good enough shape to head out when the troops leave.”

“The Duke says we’re leaving in three days.”

“Three days?  That means we have plenty of time to practice and whip you two into shape.”  From the ground, Saegrimr moaned again.

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