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Volume 17, Issue 2: Similitudes

St. Rule's Knife

Douglas Wilson

The longboats were beached, and as Andrew and Beow headed inland and up onto a small rise, they could make out an encampment just past the beach. Andrew held up his hand to shield his eyes from the sun and saw tents, numerous columns of smoke, and small figures moving around.

Beow turned his head toward Andrew. "Hide the knife," he said, "as best you can." Andrew put his pack down on the ground and stooped over it, managing to get the knife into an inside pouch that he had only discovered a few days before. "Why?" he said, standing up again.
Beow motioned with his head for them to walk along a small ridge that ran parallel to the shore. "I can tell you the story on the way. It is one of the few stories that the sea-people share with the Kale, and if they found out that this was the knife, I am afraid that our lives would not be worth much. If we meet up with them, as is likely, you are on no account to mention it, or bring it out."
Andrew thought for a minute. "Why don't we just leave the knife here then? I just picked it up on a whim. What is the sense carrying something down to them that we don't want, and that they would kill for?"
Beow shook his head. "No, little one. You were meant to have the knife. It was sitting out for you to take. Many adventurers have been to the top of the tower, and there was never any knife there. It was there for you, and no doubt it has something to do with the dragon. These things never happen by accident."
They walked for a moment silently, but then Andrew asked another question. "What is the story about St. Rule?"
"When St. Rule first came here, there were no people, only giants. The Kale came later, and then after them, the sea-people. But when St. Rule first arrived (with his small company of monks and followers) this whole land of Greenland was a land of giants. Now giants don't live together normally—they need room for themselves, which is understandable. Just south of where St. Rule built his tower used to be a great mead hall, made of oakenwood, in which the lord of the giants lived. He was the oldest of them, and very shrewd in his way."
"How tall was he?" Andrew asked.
"Nine cubits, or so the stories say," Beow said.
"And what happened?"
"When St. Rule and his company passed by, the giant saw them first, and haled them down. It was no use running—he would have caught them all after twenty strides. But the giant fancied himself a great riddler, and invited them to his hall. `Answer the riddle,' he said, `and you will all go free. Fail in the riddle, and into my pie pans you go.'
"St. Rule turned to his people to comfort them—he was a man of great faith—and then he turned back and said that riddles were friends of God, unlike giants. This unsettled the giant, as well it might, and so he began to think of his best and deepest riddle. And though he was shrewd in his way, his pride was offended by St. Rule's words, and so he tried to think up a deep riddle on the spot. If he had used one of the riddles from the books he had inherited, he perhaps would have done better. But they were all standing outside his mead hall, and as he was thinking, his fingers found the knife—the one in your pouch—a knife that was kept in a special space in the hilt of his larger giantish knife. A sly smile spread over his face, and he moved his hands around some more, then put them in his pockets so that no one would see what he had thought of (although St. Rule had), and then finally asked, `What color is the bone in the deepest meat?'
"St. Rule knew that it is bad manners to answer a riddle right away, even if you know the answer, and so he pondered a moment stroking his chin. The giant's eyes narrowed, and he began (I am afraid) boasting of what a good cook he was. But then, St. Rule looked up and said, `What is darker than black? What cuts deeper into meat than obsidian?'
"With this the giant's eyes widened in astonishment, and I think he would have broken his word to them and eaten them anyway. But he took a step backward in his surprise, tripped over some of St. Rule's ponies who had got behind him, and fell backward into his building, striking his head as he fell. With a shout, St. Rule's men rushed forward and dispatched him quickly.
"The knife was kept in St. Rule's tower for centuries until the fighting between the Kale and the sea-people cause the tower to be abandoned. And when that final flight took place, the treasure was somehow lost. Each of the monks thought that another monk had taken it. And when they discovered their error, there was great lamentation, but when they returned to look for it, it was not there. But apparently it remained there hidden in some way—hidden even from your black widow, although she wanted to pretend it was hers."
Andrew looked up (for he had been listening intently), and there ahead of them on the path was a Viking captain.

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