Part 5 – A Tale Of The Black Fox

An archway mounted the entrance under which they passed.  The walls should have been white like the limey cliff exterior but instead shone the color of brandy without the blaze of torch or candle.  The beard of the man and face of the boy still crystallized, revealing the phantom luminance to be without heat that mortals could feel.  The burglars were agape as their eyes scanned the place.  High along the far wall at the top of another mortared arch was a craggy oval window through which a few of the brightest stars could be seen.  All around were tables and pedestals that were littered with multi-faceted trinkets.  Jewels cut of every size and color radiated from dim shelving along a wall.

A constant bubbling and hissing, and the smell of a sulfur geyser came from far across the long chamber to the left of the arches.  There was the blue-metal rim of a huge cauldron that had been long ago inset into the smooth floor.  Beveled runes – their shaven corners sparkling silver against metallic wrought umbra hearts – formed a band around the pot’s edge.  Within the vessel churned and bubbled liquid gold that streamed endlessly as a thin, steaming, fire from an invisible breach in the wall.  Opposite the giant smelter was a strangely spidery contraption of gold and copper arms that were wired and bolted with gears, springs, spoons, ladles and blades.  And next to that was a peculiarly austere and antique brown pine stool marred with cracks and pits.

“It’s amazing, Uncle… Look at all the stuff.”
Olgrim’s eyes shot to all corners, and then up to the dome like ceiling.  “Amazing…  Yes.  A workplace for a god’s smith…  Remember what I told you, touch nothing…”

The two men began to move slowly among tables laden with many devices and treasures.  Silvery metal tools, weapons exotic and gleaming – rusted and mundane, were strewn about.  Strange looking flasks, clear glass tubes, and bone scroll cases gone slightly yellow were arrayed on a single center table.  Aldi’s hand unconsciously moved toward the wondrous mess.  And then he forced his touch to retreat.  Stacks of coins and piles of sparkling metallic nuggets were strewn beside small huddles of bone, parchment and tattered cloth scraps.  The thieves carefully stepped over the magical refuse.

Then Aldi called out.  “Here!  Is this it?”

Olgrim moved to where Aldi stood, just near the far archway.  Aldi pointed to where floor and wall met.  Almost invisible among the extravagant litter was a tiny fissure.  From it trickled water that billowed forth vapors scented with honeysuckle, juniper, orange blossoms and pine and seemed to slightly burn with its own electrum luminescence.

“I think that is it,” Olgrim said as he pulled an empty wineskin from his belt. He knelt down and the aroma caught him like a worm dangled before a fish.  It filled not only his nostrils but also caressed his taste buds, drenching his mind with visions of far off ancient copses and pure, heated wan flesh.  A flute hummed soothingly from somewhere distant and unknown.  He shook his head clear and dipped the spout of the hide flask into the thin sluice, letting the sticky warmth coat his fingertips and slowly fill the wineskin.

“Hold this.”  The brewer corked the magic wine and handed it to Aldi.  He bent back down, fighting the waves of daydream that came with each inhale.  Olgrim held his breath and traced a finger around the tiny slit that drizzled the sacred liquor.  Somewhere a voice in his mind… tempting and husky beckoned him to take a sip and visit the ancient grove.  Instead Olgrim stood up, and that is when he heard the fast flutter of wings from high above.

Quickly he turned to Aldi.  The boy was rapt; his face was wrenched with ecstatic joy while his eyes were dull with comatose blankness.  Aldi’s fingers, still slightly glistening with the same clear stickiness that clung to the neck of the skin flask, were pressed between his clenched lips.

“Aldi.  Aldi!  You idiot!  What did you do?  Come!  Come, Run!”

Eyes were glazed, dreamy discs.  The boy only mouthed out a hoarse whisper, “Just a taste, Uncle.  Just a taste…”

Wind rushed past Olgrim’s blue-capped head and a white form circled above the pair.  Then in a whirl of motion and color the air unfolded with the flap of wings and a shrill screech.  Rising up from the ground, seeming to grow from the stone itself was a wiry, tan-hide creature that stood only half the height of the brewer.  Features man-like also bore a bestial semblance and were elongated, narrow, canine.  Its nose was curved, bumpy and spiky like an autumn squash and the ears were wofly: tufted and pointy.  The eyes that stared up at Olgrim were baleful and empty of anything that resembled a human soul with large pupils swirling full of mountaintop fog and ringed by bloodshot whites.  A tuft of stout, icy bristle stuck out from the dwarf’s pointed chin.  Where a tunic and cloak should have hung were layers of snowbird’s feathers.  Splayed hawk talons clenched menacingly at end of Nervog’s stumpy ankles.  A gnarled brown finger pointed accusingly at Olgrim. The dwarf spoke in a gruff, froggy voice.

“I knew there were thieves about this eve!  Fool mortals.  To take the prizes of the Aesir…  What do you think you can do with that eh?  Tame the Wine of Breath?  I knew out in the woods some little dogs scampered.”  A chortle like a rumble in a hillside rolled out from the creature’s innards.

“I should let you take it and for every sip all of your kin be lost in our realm.”  Nervog pointed to Aldi who still stood oblivious.

“What?  He said you did not see the world of men?””

“And who would He be?  Whoever He is, was right.  See you not.  Not until your folly casts shadow that stretches into our realm.  For you are no longer in the land of men, fool!  You claim my prize as your own and then I spy you like a bug charging towards fire.  But smell yes…  I smelled man near the shore some time ago!”

“Trickster!”  Olgrim spat, hand swiftly pulling the axe from his belt frog.

“Ha!  I know the name of your master without another word. You have been deceived!  By the master deceiver!  Coming again, his little rats, to try to steal my gold and the best of wines.  Few can resist a taste once even a single honey-drop dances up to their nose.  Well now I will send you out as I’ve sent out the many he’s sent in.”  A flash suddenly lit the dwarf’s hand and there appeared a long curved dagger etched with runes and bearing an edge of shining silver.  He flicked his wrist and with a flourish and throaty hiss the blade lunged forward at Olgrim.

Olgrim reflexively pulled aside Aldi and swung his axe.  The flashing arc caused Nervog to jerk backwards and the brewer snatched up the wine skin from Aldi’s hand.  He heaved it towards the smelting cauldron across the room.  It fell short, striking the floor with a popping sound and a loud splash.  The sacred fluid began to spill across the floor.

“Nooooo…”  The dwarf shrieked.  His eyes widened and shifted in their sockets.  He bolted around the table and ran towards the shriveling wineskin.

Not hesitating, Olgrim heaved Aldi up over his shoulder and made his way down the tunnel.  He stooped and staggered in the tight corridor, hearing his nephew’s dangling legs thump against the cave walls.

From behind Olgrim a stream of vile-sounding syllables spewed into the air.  The jumbled words shrieked like a wounded crow and roared like a cornered bear.  The voice wrapped around the brewer’s spine and caused little tendrils of pain to snake into his gut and limbs.  He resisted the paralyzing sound and broke out into the stinging sea wind.  Once past the looming, mottled arch, Olgrim continued to run – panting, shivering, faltering under the mounting weight – until he broke into the dense tree line and collapsed into a crusty white bank.

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