Part 3 – A Tale Of The Black Fox

Loki’s bone-colored face flashed amber in the flickering coals.  “To the south and east, along the coast…  Behind an arch of green and white smooth rock – shaped like a stooping washer man – hides a cave.  Through there is a tunnel that leads down…   To the home of a lonely Dverg.”

“Wait… The Dverg!”  Olgrim shook his head vehemently and waved his hand.

“Hear me out! This dark dwarf has no sight for the coming and goings of man.   But he is a master of the earth and winds.  And from a hollow at the rear of his cave he draws the Wine of Breath, droplets of god’s envy and Norn’s succulence.   It is this elixir into which I will mix honey for my godly mead.  After dusk the dwarf takes the form of a Hawk Owl; on the most cloudless nights by a bright moon he hunts nearly until day, and travels to the houses of other elves for concourse.   Soon it is a full winter moon and he shall surely fly by it.”

“You sound sure, Trickster.  Too sure.  Why would I believe he won’t lay in wait and hex me as I walk into his lair?  We don’t speak of robbing a squirrel’s stash here.”

“Ah but we do!  He squirrels away secrets and trinkets.  This dwarf keeps many a magic berry and godly acorn.  He weaves these secrets into jewels and bands for fallen men of renown who sing in Odin’s hall.  If he should tend his smelter when you arrive at his door, unless you touch his treasures his eyes cannot spy you.   For you are not of the victorious slain or of his own kind.  Lay wait until he takes flight.  His sight is focused on the shadows of Gods and Elves, Goblins and Ghosts.  Not of men.  And you are a thief by nature: honey from under the stinger of bee and berry from beneath the nose of bear?  Plenty of seeds you’ve snatched…”

“Can you not barter with the Dverg on your own?  If he is a crafter for the gods won’t he surely heed you?”

“Nay.”  Loki slowly shook his braided head.  “You hear these things simply, as most men do.  Not everything in this world can be bent to our will.  His kin’s pulse and I crossed like ill vines before men walked the earth.  He and his breed can pierce my glamour with but a gaze.  My name will cross his mind as I enter his hall even if I do so with the skin of a mouse.  And while he would be pressed to risk me harm, he won’t barter with me and would lay magic walls to hide his treasure from my eyes.”

“Mmmh…  So you ask me to go into the den of a dwarf.  The half-men known for greed like starved dogs…“  Olgrim rubbed his stubbly, wind-dried chin.  “You say he will take no heed of me as I try to lift this prize.  While glory for Odin’s table is a worthy receipt, what do you barter with?  This is still a great risk.”

“At last you ask the question that most men would ask first.  You have already drunk the first taste of your reward, Brewer.  And in exchange for the wine I wish, I give you the names of all things in that mead you drank from my horn – and the runes to bind the recipe magical.”

The mead-maker’s eyes were wide and his face flushed, now not with the mead’s heat but also with stoking anticipation.

“You would teach me the secrets of that mead?”

Loki nodded slowly, wryly and then gave a sharp wink.  “Tomorrow the moon is nearly swollen but the next will be bright and strong, and it is on those nights Nervog flies the longest.”

Now the god in flowing black stood.  “I shall return at the long hours tomorrow eve.  And if you do not wish this bargain I must continue the search.  Perhaps until the moon is at his next brightest.”

“I can give you my answer now.”  Olgrim wrinkled his forehead and placed his chin in his hand.  “I will accept this deal.  Though I only half believe my eyes and ears and less believe this will all be so simple.”

“Very well!”  Loki dramatically outstretched his arms and grinned in victory.

“Hold!  There is one condition I have.  You must lead the way even if you do not enter the cave itself.”

Loki curled a finger against his lips, thinking momentarily.  “I will do this.  But I will not go within the sea’s shot of the place lest the flying hawk spy the fox.  And I will not walk on two legs as I lead you.”

“Then it is a deal, Trickster.”

The door did not open and the shutters did not wave in a sudden breeze; Loki was simply gone with a slight whoosh of air.  And Olgrim was left standing alone and unconvinced that the entire scene had taken place.  Except that the waving and dancing fire remained stoked.  And from door to window there was a still slightly damp trail of splotchy tracks.

The next morning, a fully white mantle threatened another casting of snow.  Olgrim pondered while stoking the fire below a pot of turnip stew.  Last night’s memories remained vivid yet unreal.  That afternoon he would travel to his sister’s home and recruit his nephew to accompany him on the strange journey…

Two evenings later Aldi slept curled near the window in the corner of the longhouse.  Olgrim sat, arms crossed on a low stool, staring into the popping coals.

The bright, full moon turned the edges of the shutters pearly; beyond the crackle of the pit there was complete silence.   He had been reluctant to bring the boy but no others men could be spared for the eve: too many had gone afar looking for riches and battle.  Who else remained could be trusted should even a hint of the stranger’s tale be true.  And while Olgrim was a seasoned woodsman – and the boy had not even seen his first real fight – a single sprain or misplaced step if caught alone and not under the sun in this season could invoke every deathly fate.  Olgrim had only told Aldi that he had to travel into the timber to steal away a rare ingredient that only bloomed under the full moon.  With a nod and wink Aldi had agreed to journey for his share of that special mead and a privy glimpse of the brewer’s advance.  He was a sly boy but likely scarcely imagined that they would walk in the trail of a god.

There came at first a nearly inaudible scratch at the door.  Olgrim glanced about, only half hearing the alert.  Then the sound came again and it was unmistakably a small claw scraping at the door.

Olgrim grabbed up his traveling cloak and thick fur cape.  “Aldi…  Aldi.”

The boy stirred and awoke shivering below the wool blanket.  His watery eyes creaked open.  “What?”

“Get up.  It is time.”

Aldi was slowly sitting upright.  “Is your guide here?”

“Aye, lets get moving.  Quench the coals and take up your stick.  Follow me and say nothing to him.”

With Aldi at his side and a weighty pack on his own back, Olgrim opened the door.

A form small but wild and lean – blacker than the branches that crisscrossed the starry sky – was poised at the threshold.  In the lunar glow the eyes of the black fox gleamed with a vicious intelligence.

“Uncle, it’s…”

“Yes.  I know.  We are to follow it.”

“I don’t…”

“Do not ask, I will explain all when we return.  …And some as we walk.  But now, follow its tracks and stay close to me.”

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