Authors: Michael Reynolds
"Bard!" called Grundar, a
tone of censure in his thunderous voice.
Bergar recognized the ill-tempered,
disapproving bellow of his father's that meant a probable thrashing for the
beating he'd given out himself. But he would accept whatever punishment his
father would heap on him.
I certainly hope that the punishment
isn't too severe. I would hate to accidentally swap places with you again and
be bruised all over,
Tolian thought wryly.
Be praying that bruising is all he
replied, trying to make his father sound much worse than he really was.
Bergar forced his borrowed feet to
make the trek to the clan chief, his eyes down and hands clasped tightly
together. He truly did look like a scolded son awaiting his father's judgment.
He stopped a few feet from the chair where Grundar sat and said, "Yes,
"I wanted to be thankin' ye fer
what ye singed about me son," Grundar growled. A solitary tear had formed
at the base of each eye. As Grundar spoke those words, the tears blossomed and
slipped down the sides of Grundar's square cheeks.
Bergar's heart crushed and bled. He
knew that his father was in enormous pain. The torment of his father grieving
for a son who was standing in front of him was more than Bergar could bear to
We have to tell him now,
Bergar thought to Tolian.
You are the one who desired to wait.
Fine, I will tell him, but I wish it
were you who could explain to him. You are much better with words than I am.
If you can find a way for we two to
exchange places, then by all means, enlighten me. I, for one, am not at all
angry at the moment, so I don't believe I can force myself into the controlling
voice became more matter-of-fact than Bergar wanted to hear.
"Fa..." Bergar caught
himself. "Grundar, I have something of great importance that I have to
speak with you about."
"Alright lad, talk,"
Grundar said. The bags under his eyes showed the weight of his crumbling world.
Bergar took a seat beside his father
at the table and leaned forward, lowering his voice to avoid letting the rest
of his clan know the terrible secret he was about to reveal. "You know how
we told you that your son died?"
"Ya, like a man. Wait, ye mean
t' be tellin' me that 'e didna die honorably? Tha' 'e went out whimperin' fer
his mama or somethin'?"
"No, no, no. Nothing of the
sort." Bergar hurried on. "It so happens that isn't the full story.
Only he could possibly tell you the whole story. So, I will let him speak it to
Jaxius' eyes widened at the
surprising timing of the revelations about to be revealed. He sat quietly and
calmly beside Grundar, closely watching Tolian.
"Wha'?! How could 'e speak it
t' me? M' boy is dead; I burned 'is body meself, or d' ye no' recollect?"
Grundar's voice trembled with shock and anger.
"Well, that's the story part of
it all. You see, when the witch used her magic to kill your son, she really
only sent him to the final judgment. And since the witch had worked her foul
magics upon Bergar, her darker goddess claimed his soul. In the afterlife, she
gave him a choice. He could rise up as an undead in service to her or share
this body that you see before you with the bard, Tolian."
"I-I-I be not
understandin'," Grundar said.
"To put it a little more
simply, father, I didn't completely die and pass on like you thought I
"Ye'd be rather presum'tuous t'
think I'd be believin' ye be me own son. Ye're dafter than I thought ye could
"But I am your son,"
Bergar pleaded, but his father was impossible to argue with when his stubborn
streak was aggravated. And Bergar knew it. Then like a jolt from above, Bergar
had an idea. "I can prove who I am in a way that only you and I know
Grundar considered this and tried to
figure out how this could be a trick or trap, but could not find a way. He
would be forced to endure whatever trickery the bard had in store for him.
Becoming agitated and wanting this to be over with, he said, "Get on wit'
What amazingly brilliant plan have
you come up with now, Bergar?
The bard chuckled.
I don't know. Shut up and let me
"Well? What're ye waitin'
fer?" The agitation in Grundar's voice growled and threatened a roar.
"Umm, when I was fourteen I
fell and broke my arm on my first trek back to Werlgart as a protector."
"Anyone'd knowed tha' happen'd
t' me boy who'd heared any o' 'is tales at all."
Actually, friend, I did know that.
If this is going to work, you'll have to concentrate. Come up with something
embarrassing, or titillating,
Bergar whined. He was running out of
Well, if I knew, that would entirely
defeat the purpose of this exercise, would it not?
Then shut your mouth if you aren't
going to help.
As you command.
Tolian hoped Bergar could feel the
"If'n tha's th' best ye can
come up wit', then ye are wastin' yer and my time." Grundar frowned.
"Ugh, when I was ten, you sat
me down and scolded me for sucking my thumb like a baby when I slept. That's
one that I would never tell anyone."
You did what? You really sucked
your thumb until you were ten?
The bard was giggling at Bergar's
Yes, now shut your mouth. I
thought you weren't going to talk unless you could find something helpful to
Well, now, I was, but that tidbit is
simply too juicy to pass over.
"Well, mebbe I can be seein'
tha he wouldna be tellin' anyone o' that talk. But, it'll take more tha' tha'
t' make me change me mind."
I thought you surely had him with
Think a little deeper.
Bergar breathed in a great chest
full of air, refusing to be undone by his father's stubbornness. He looked
around the tent for a moment, trying to clear his head of any detail that
Tolian could easily learn about him.
"If'n ye are done makin' fun o'
a father who'd rather be left t' 'imself...." Grundar let unfinished
statement speak for itself.
Say something now, Bergar. This is
your last shot. You'd better make it count.
"Look here, Grumble Bear, I AM
your son. I know more about you than I know about anything or anyone."
"What'd ye call me?"
"Grumble Bear," Bergar's
voice waxed weak when he realized that he had just called his father by a name
not used outside of their home.
No, that's it. The name. There is
no way that anyone outside of your family would know it?
No, we never talk about that or
anything much having to do with family.
"Ye tell me where ye heared that name,"
Grundar's agitation rose and pulled him up out of his seat. His cheeks glowed
red, and his chest heaved with angered breath.
"My mother called you that when
she was dying. I snuck out after you put me to bed because I knew something was
wrong with her and wanted to talk to her. To tell her goodnight or goodbye. Or
that I would be good. I stood outside your tent and heard her call you her
'Grumble Bear.' Those were the last words I ever heard her say. I… I never got
to tell her goodbye. Or goodnight. Or any of those other things that don't
really seem all that important now."
Both men stared at each other with
tears streaming down their cheeks. The memory of their mother and wife was the
breaking point between the two of them.
"I never telled anyone 'bout
tha' night. We were alone on th' tundra, jest our family. And I ne'er said a
word o' it to anyone. Ye are me son."
Bergar nodded and wiped away two
cheeks full of tears. He was his father's son after all, and couldn't be seen
blubbering in front of the whole clan.
Grundar snatched Bergar up in a hug
that almost squeezed the life from younger man.
"Me son..." Grundar's
The four men in their three bodies
sat for the next several hours discussing how they were going to repair things
and what the proper course of action would be. Finally, it was decided that
Jaxius and Tolian and Bergar should leave together in an attempt to uncover
alternative solutions to their individual dilemmas.
Once more, Jaxius braved the
freezing snow and gusting wind to visit the old shaman's tent. He toe-stepped
his way through the snow trying to stay as silent as he could. Once outside of
the old man's tent, he started to clear his throat to announce his presence but
was interrupted by an eerie melody hummed by a not very pleasant voice. The
song was more akin to animal screeches and growls than any kind of tune. Jaxius
smiled wide, thinking the old man was singing in his sleep. Then, in the midst
of the scratchy crooning, the old man's voice intoned, "You may come in
Any thought of humor left Jaxius and
was replaced by the uncomfortable sensation that this old man knew more about
the world than he was letting on. He exhaled deeply, trying to mentally push
his misgivings and doubts out with the breath. The nervous half-elf pulled back
the flap to the wise one's tent and slipped inside the welcome warmth.
The bald little man sat, eyes
closed, in the same place behind the fire that had, by all appearances, the
same wood as earlier. That was not the only peculiarity that Jaxius noticed
about the old man. Jaxius' eyes darted around the tent noting that dust thickly
caked the tops of several containers. He also began to question the rug that
the old man sat upon. The curled up, thick red rug looked overly settled for
someone to be using it regularly. Many of the folds looked permanently creased
and faded. Even the diminutive Nordrasian looked out of place on the front line
of the clan's defensive force. There were definitely more questions here than
Jaxius took his seat across from the
still humming mystic. He opened his mouth to ask one of the many new questions
that cropped up in his mind but was cut short by the old man's hand shooting up
in protest. The shaman waved away the questions as if he were waving out a
rancid odor. Jaxius decided to keep the questions to himself and simply observe
until the old man invited him to speak.
Jaxius watched on for quite some
time as the old man alternately hummed, sang, and chanted. He stared at the
man, trying to discern the most subtle indicators that said everything was
definitely not as it seemed. The most alarming of these clues was that the old
man, though he was already thin by Nordrasian standards, seemed to diminish
even as they sat. Something was definitely happening. Something that made
Jaxius cringe. That discomfort took up residence in Jaxius' mind and consumed
his every thought.
The ancient wise man continued to
chant, his eyes remaining tightly closed. Sweat formed on Jaxius' palms and
forehead as he watched the last remnants of the old man's hair drift to the
crimson rug around him. Finally, when the old man's ribs started to protrude,
Jaxius could take it no longer. He had to speak out.
"What is happening to
you?!" Jaxius exclaimed.
"Oh?" The old man's voice
wavered and creaked showing the suddenly advanced signs of age. "Knowing
things sometimes takes a toll on a person. There are always prices to pay for
such power. Do not worry, I know what I am doing. I have lived quite a long
time, and I know how to do what is necessary for the good of man."
"All this, this … confusion is
for the good of man? I can't even make sense of it all. Much less see how it
affects all people of the world." Jaxius nearly sobbed at the aging man.
"That is because you don't have
the burden of knowledge that others do. Listen closely and hear well, old soul,
for I do not have long to tell you what you must know."
"That's what I am trying to say
to you, I don't understand why you have done this to yourself."
"Why do you travel the far
reaches of the world, righting wrongs along the way? Why do you use the very
same weapon as the regal man from your dreams? Why do you surround yourself
with precisely the right people for every major moment of your life? Because
you must. As I must do as I do," the mystic shrugged at his visitor.
Jaxius' concern deflated. Much as he
disliked the answers given to him so far, he knew that repeating the questions,
or rephrasing them, would only yield the same cryptic responses. He resigned
himself to accepting the fate that was apparently heaped on him. Adding a nod
to the sad expression on his face gave the ancient mystic all the reaction that
"Now, listen. Yes?" The
old man asked. Not waiting for a reply from his audience, he continued,
"Since you left my tent to help sort out your friend's predicament, I have
been in deep contemplation, seeking to learn more of you and your precarious
situation. The grave news that I bear requires a sacrifice of me. So I freely
"You must remember yourself. I
have given you the aids. I have sown the kernel of knowledge. Now, you must
roll it in the snow of your memory and build it up like a snowball. Of your dreams
and new found abilities, I can speak no more. Except that you must seek he who
seethes with hatred for you. Many enemies you have made in your journeys, but
this man, you have never met. Although, he is the one who hates the
"What do you mean? I am going
to make an enemy? Or I have already made the enemy, and now must figure out who
he is? You speak riddles, elder."
"This I know, and you have not
the time to solve them. This one of whom I have visions is like a shadow in a
window. With eyes that glow."
"Or a mirror?" Jaxius
asked, certain he knew the answer to this question, at least.
"It could be a mirror. Yes, in
fact, that explains further. The mirror that you shattered in the witch's
sanctum. That one is the enemy. He leads a great force against you. I cannot
tell if the scene is from your dreams, your past, or your present. No matter
from whence, it is troubling indeed. All I can see are dark secret meetings and
mysterious hooded figures. You must seek out this man and his following. He
will bring grave destruction to all who stand in his way. I have felt his
hatred, and it must be stopped." The ancient shaman shuddered, the memory
of that seething hatred still haunting him.
"I will leave first thing in
the morning. Which direction should I take?"
"No, no. take this. It is one
last parting gift that I may give you." The old man handed Jaxius a rolled
up sheet of parchment. Just the act of passing a sheet of paper across drained
the mystic of nearly the rest of his energy. "Go now, and remember.
Those last words rang loud in
Jaxius' mind. As he grasped the scroll, the old man's hand melted away like
sand in the air. The northern shaman slowly disintegrated into a large pile of
dust. Jaxius was both outraged and disgusted by what he saw.
Even as his head melted away, the
old man tried to get through to Jaxius, "You must remember. And find him.
Quickly. He knows y...."
And then Jaxius was alone in the
frigid, empty tent, the fire dying rapidly.