Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Suggestion Box: "One Thousand Words" List #18

Image Credit goes to This Facebook Page

Suggested by: Jeffrey Gartshore

The List:
-Jens Hjordisson
-Mabon (Autumn Equinox Festival
-Southern Norway
-a 100-year-old bottle of lingonberry mead

The Result:

"The Cursed Crown"
("Soul Mates" Part 7)
Well met, Seeker! You have discovered the secret to eternal life.

Touch the crown and escape death, till the Sword of Strength be lifted against you.

On a dimly-lit road just outside Oslo, a young man in a heavy woolen cloak lolled back and forth, teetering in a loose zig-zag path down the wide road. Behind him, the sounds of Mabon celebrations still rang into the night. The party had lasted for nearly a fortnight already, and still the bonfires blazed as people danced, sang, drank, and feasted. Jens pulled the edges of his heavy woolen cloak close against the brisk autumn wind. The cloud of alcohol weighed on his senses like a load of bricks, but it also prevented him from caring very much. He kept walking as long as he remained upright, without paying attention to where the buildings stopped and the woods began.
When he did finally huff enough of the fog out of himself to regain at least some semblance of sanity, Jens looked around. The trees completely surrounded him, as far as his keen grey eyes could see. Nothing but sleepy trunks and bare branches, the year's foliage carpeting the ground. The ever-bearing trees and the thick, rolling clouds obscured any of the sky's guiding lights. Jens had little option but to pick an arbitrary direction and hope it would lead him back into town, or at least the coast.
He stumbled onward, his stomach—cleared of the alcohol—now alerting his body to the number of hours since his last meal of hearty stew and a crusty loaf. He could practically feel the hollow organ folding in on itself within him. His roving gained a purpose, and a desperation. He needed food, or he would very likely expire. Ale was a cruel mistress sometimes: with plenty at hand, it was a comforting friend, an easy and satisfying companion; but once it had left completely, there was nothing but increased suffering to be had.
The toe of Jens' boot caught on a tree root and he tumbled forward, his face striking a wall of stone. He looked up at the thing he fell against: a wide, low rectangle, like a large stone coffin, standing alone, half-buried in the ground. The lid had cracked with age, and Jens could see the wood splinters of an old coffin within it. He frowned. Who would want to be buried in such an obscure grave in such an isolated location? The only inscription on the stone face was a number: 1547. A year, perhaps? But that would be nearly a century ago. What had happened here to prompt all of humanity to leave it behind for one hundred years?
Something glittered in the coffin. Jens reached in with deft fingers and pulled it out.
A weathered velvet bag with a golden cord dangled from his fingers. He quickly upended the contents onto the corner of the stone slab: an ancient-looking crown, a small flask, and a roll of dingy parchment.
Jens uncorked the flask. The heady scent of lingonberries sprang out at him, as if the smell had done nothing but fester inside the bottle, building up to be released. Cautiously, he took a sip. The deep, rich honey flavor of mead caressed his tongue. He could already feel the strength of its one hundred years behind it. He closed the flask and set it aside to attend to the note.
It looked to be one message, first given in a Pictish language, and then in English. Speaking neither language, Jens passed over these two, instead honing in on the message hastily scribbled in his own tongue: "Der kronen er forbannest."

The crown is cursed.

Jens pulled back as he stared at the unassuming circlet. Cursed? How? Why? What manner of curse was it? Who had thought to warn the next person to discover the crown, and how long had it been there?
A low growl interrupted his fleeting thoughts. Jens tensed and turned very slowly. A full-grown wolf stared at him, teeth bared and hackles raised. Jens glimpsed movement in his periphery, and he knew this wolf wasn't alone. He tried stepping slowly away, but it wasn't slow enough, and the insistent growl rose in pitch. Jens wished he had thought to grab something he could have used as a weapon against these hungry beasts, but as matters stood, he had nothing. He gripped the edges of the empty tomb and hoisted himself onto it. Now at least, the width of the stone kept the beasts at bay as four more crept into view, watching him with hungry eyes. The alpha measured a few paces back and forth, and then with a mighty leap, it joined Jens on the tomb. 

There would be no fight today, Jens thought as the efficient predator lunged for his throat; there would only be a feast. The last thing he knew as the pack set upon him was flailing his arms, and the feel of cold metal against his fingertips...

Jens jerked awake. His whole body ached and burned at the same time. He looked down. His clothes had been all but torn off of him. He lay upon the cracked stone lid of a low flat tomb in the middle of a wood—and he held an ancient-looking crown in his hands.

The memories flooded over him, and Jens tossed the vile relic away from him in terror. It bounced and clanked till it rolled to a stop at the feet of a strange woman. Her appearance seemed to shift and fade, first having familiar features and then none at all, resembling a face he had seen before, and yet she was no one he had ever met in his life.

She smiled at him as she lifted the crown in her gloved hands. "It's a bit late to be throwing it away now, isn't it?" She advanced toward him.
Jens put up a hand to stop her. "Don't come any closer!" He grunted.
She laughed and set the crown on the slab beside him. "You might as well keep it, since you can't be any more cursed than you already are."
Jens squinted at her. "Who are you?"
Her eyes danced and glinted. "One who has been searching for a very long time." She tilted her head, letting her hair cascade over her shoulder. "What's your name?"
"Jens," he answered. "Jens Hjordisson." He looked at the crown on the dark stone, realizing for the first time that the dark was blood—lots of it. It wasn't very old, either. His steel-grey eyes snapped to the woman.
"What happened to me?"
She laughed. "Now you're getting it! You remember the wolves, don't you?"
The wolves... Jens knew he would never forget the agony of their teeth sinking into his flesh. How had he survived that?
The woman laid the crown in his lap. "You know what this is, don't you?"
Jens could not stop staring at the fang marks crisscrossing his body. He shook his head, refusing to touch the crown again.
The woman continued. "It's the Diadem of Beatha Sìoraì..."
Bey-ha sheery? "I don't know—"
"It means eternal life." She gently lifted his hands and placed them on the tarnished metal surface. "You saw how it works. From now on, if you die, you just come back. There is only one thing that would kill you now." She smiled at his astonishment. "And I know where it is."
Jens felt his world tilting as he pictured a long future in which dying was not an option. His stomach—long since empty—recoiled anyway, and he doubled over, retching painfully.

"There, there," she patted his shoulder. "It takes some getting used to."
Jens caught his breath and wiped the spittle from his mouth. "Tell me," he begged. "You said you knew the thing that could kill me."
The woman sniffed and held up the message. "Well, according to this, you will escape death till the Sword of Strength be lifted against you."
Jens frowned. "I can survive an attack by a pack of wolves, but any man can kill me with a sword?"
She shook her head. "Not just any sword. The Sword of Strength is one particular sword. And, as I said, I know where it is."
Jens stood up, finally. He placed the crown back in the bag and hung it from his belt. "Tell me, that I might find this powerful weapon and ensure that it is never used against me."
She nodded. "Maintain control of the thing that could take away your immortality, a wise choice. Very well."

She stepped to the side and flung her hands toward the space in front of Jens—and he saw the air ripple before him, like sand hitting the surface of a pond. He tentatively reached forward. His hand neared the rippling air—then his fingers vanished. Jens pulled back, making sure his hand was still intact. He looked up at the woman.
"It's a portal," she explained. "The Sword will be on the other side. You will have to go through it."
Reminding himself that not even magic could kill him now—save the magic of the Sword—Jens obeyed and barreled through the disruption in the very fabric of reality.

The place where he exited was considerably warmer, and greener. Another forest, this one thicker and darker, but no less abandoned. Jens began looking around for any indication as to where he might find the sword...
The air rippled again, and Jens saw a body hurtle out of thin air. A tall woman in iridescent clothing—a Fae; Jens never knew such a thing could exist. However, now that he was immortal, he had a sneaking suspicion that he would probably be seeing a lot of things he never knew about before.
He shook his head to clear his thoughts. The Fae stirred, and Jens saw the scabbard hanging from her waist. It bore the same strange runes as the crown. The Sword of Strength! Jens struck the Fae across the back of the head to keep her from getting up, while he went for the buckle.

A piercing shriek rent the air, and sharp claws raked the top of his head. Jens screamed and ducked as a large golden eagle attacked him mercilessly.
"Kharrie!" It screeched. "Kharrie!"
Throwing his cloak up to protect himself, Jens reached down and desperately yanked the belt off the Fae. He had done it! Both the sword and the crown were his! Jens ran away before the Fae could awaken.

Meanwhile, on the forest floor, Relaya opened her eyes. A golden eagle perched on a nearby log, watching her carefully. She slowly eased her body off the ground, noting her empty waist as she did. Whoever knocked her out had taken Nerissa's sword. What should she do now?
The eagle hopped closer, bobbing its head and blinking at her.
"What do I call you?" asked Relaya.
The eagle bobbed its head. "Kharrie! Kharrie!" It keened.
Relaya held out her arm. "Would you like to come with me to find the Lore-Master?"

Kharrie watched the strange creature. She was much taller than Nakoma, but every bit as kind. And Nakoma had been taken by a Lore-Master. With any luck, they could be searching for the same person. The golden eagle perched on Relaya's shoulder, and they began making their way out of the forest.

Previously in This Series:
#15 "Rendezvous"("Soul Mates" Part 6/"Serenity's Light" Part 2)