Part 6 – A Tale of The Black Fox

He crouched over his nephew’s still body, shaking him, shouting his name.  Olgrim didn’t notice the shade that spread over him and ate up the moonlight.

“Brewer.  Brewer!  What happened?  Tell me what happened?”  A thin white hand was shaking Olgrim with unpredictable strength and firmness.

Olgrim rose to his feet and shouted at Loki.  “What happened to him?  Bring him back!”

The god stepped back and raised a hand to Olgrim’s broad chest.  “He won’t come back, Brewer.  He drank their draught.  The Dverg cursed you as you fled.   Nervog pulled his spirit away for the spirit you stole from him.  The ghost of spring in the wine…”

“You!  Cursed be you!”  Olgrim spat.  “And I lost the wine so now nothing has been gained!”  He looked down at Aldi’s unmoving form and raised a hand to his eye and openly wept.

“Sit him up.”

“What?”  Olgrim fought back a swell of tears.

“Sit him up!”  If you are to gain anything by this, you fool, sit him up!

Mind whirling, seeking some anchor, Olgrim obliged.  He propped Aldi up against the tall bare trunk of a spruce.

The Trickster produced a tall-necked bottle: a brown bone flask inlaid with silver knot-work and etched with sigils.  With a flick of his wrist Loki’s long, fox-like nail cut Aldi’s throat.  From the slight wound at the dead boy’s neck drained a rust-tinged flow of honey-water.  It first poured into the container as if from a slashed bladder and then trickled dry.  Loki corked the flask and stood.

“Nervog is wise but he is not shrewd.  He thinks he fuddles me by slaying my mercenaries.”  The Trickster let out a dry, soulless laugh that penetrated The Brewer’s bowels.  “But once they have sucked the breath, their blood becomes potent for my mead.  You amaze me, Brewer!  I expected two corpses outside his cave at dawn.  But you almost won a grand prize…  Boast of this day to your kin.”

“You!  You troll!  By Odin I will crush you!”   Olgrim’s charge was cut short by a strangling rigor in his head and lungs.   The Norseman fell into the snow and curled tight against himself.

Loki’s voice was casual.  “You did not remember your tale of the ale of poets?  Where from poured the first mead?  Don’t whimper like a dog, mortal.  You took my bargain.  Your own greed led this fate to you.”

“You foul the air with your stink, Father of Dogs and Corpses!”  Olgrim hoarsely spat out.  “I lose my nephew to your schemes and I should boast?  I will boast when that wine sees you crushed under thunder’s hammer!”

“Was I to know you’d bring your half-wit of a boy with you?”  Loki scowled and reached into the folds of his cloak.  “You share all guilt here.  Had this whelp not tasted the drink, you alone among living men may have been the one to get away with a grand prize that every elf in the land would barter for…  You would have been a legend in their realm.”

“Go, Trickster!”  The words came out between gasps and grunts of pain.  “Leave my sight!  Take your bloody price.  I want nothing else from you.  Go and leave nothing to remind me of your curse!”

Olgrim curled against the boy’s stiff, freezing body, pulling him close.  He would remain there shivering until the pale grey dawn.

“Nonsense you pitiful dog.  You at least deserve this for your sacrifice.  Never say Loki does not make good on his bargains.”  Loki tossed down a small brown pouch of softened hide.  “In there you find the name of each herb you need for your prize mead, the runes that bind, and a few other bits.  Read them well.  Name it well.  You shall be renown among the Nords…”

And without another word The Trickster was gone.  A faint wind rustled through the crackly ice-laden boughs and for the first eve in three the forest relaxed with a sigh.  Olgrim stared out into the night thicket, clutching the corpse of his nephew and gritting his teeth against the pain and dwindling warmth.  Far in the distance he caught a glimpse of a swift, sleek beast vanishing over a splintered tree stump.

The End

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