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Volume 17, Issue 3: Similitudes

Hrethric's News

Douglas Wilson

The solitary viking stood silent for a moment, looking first at Beow and then at Andrew. When he was done, he spun on his heel, and said, "Come." Well, he actually said, "Cume," but they knew what he meant.

"We are not at war," Beow whispered to Andrew, "but look lively just the same." With that, the two followed after the chieftain. The path wound down toward the coast, with just occasional glimpses of the sea. The chieftain appeared to have no interest in waiting for them, or conversing with them, and so Andrew had to step quickly, and Beow was at a slight canter.
After a bit of brisk walking, the path emptied out into a stretch of grassy dunes. The sea was invisible, but Andrew could see the columns of smoke rising, and the very tops of the masts. When they crested the last dune before the beach, a few moments passed while they were making their way down the slope before a shout went up. The chieftain strode into the encampment, and signaled several of his men, commanding them to escort Andrew and Beow to the center of the camp. The order did not include a command to seize their weapons (which in Beow's case was impossible anyway) and so Andrew walked slowly alongside Beow, holding his spear carefully.
They came into the central enclosure of the settlement, where there was a large fire, over which was a large hog on a spit, being turned slowly by several slaves. On the far side of the fire was a large carved wooden throne, which the chieftain approached purposefully, turned, and sat down in. "Come," he said again.
Andrew and Beow walked around the fire and stood quietly in front of the throne. Andrew was still looking around curiously. "What are your names, and where are you from?"
"My name is Beow, and I come from the mystic mountain. I am a servant of the Lady Margaret."
The chieftain's gray eyes turned to Andrew. "My name is Andrew," Andrew said. He did not know how to say where he was from, and was still not sure himself, so he just said, "I am from the mother world."
This did not appear to surprise anyone. By this time a large number of the Vikings had gathered around, and they just stood, watching silently.
The chieftain nodded. "And my name is Hrethric. And these are my people, of the tribe Rohan." Andrew blinked, startled, and looked around for horses. A moment later he wondered why he had thought there would be horses.
"A day before," Hrethric said, "you could have passed here without questions or delay. But now that we have landed, this realm is ours as long as we are here. And so you must seek our leave to pass through it. What is your purpose? Where are you going?"
Andrew lifted up his chin, somewhat defiantly. "We are going to meet the dragon."
At this, a great roar of laughter came from all the surrounding men. Even Hrethric smiled, and when the laughter had passed, he said, "A dragonslayer. They are growing dragonslayers from your mountain younger and smaller every year. Do you confess it, Beow?"
"I confess it," he replied. "But older and larger is not always wiser. And this one has many in his line who have slain a worm. The gift is upon him. And he has been sent to us."
Hrethric played thoughtfully with the two golden braids in his beard. He then turned to two servants standing behind his throne on the left. "Set a place for them at my table. Allow them to prepare themselves."
Andrew was curious how they would set a place for Beow at a table, but he need not have worried. When they were escorted there just a short time later, they found that Andrew was seated at the king's left hand, and Beow found a trough full of oats at the king's right. Andrew had a wooden trench in front of him that had hot potatoes on the one side, a slab of ham on the right, and a tumbler full of ale.
"Eat," said Hrethric. "And then I will give you such news as I have." Andrew soon discovered that these Vikings did not converse when food was before them. The object was to eat it all, and then speak later while they were drinking. When the food was gone, Hrethric cleared his throat, finished his ale, and motioned for another cup. With that, he turned and spoke straight to Andrew, but in a way that Beow could hear.
"As I have heard, the dragon has taken a maiden. I presume you knew this much?"
Andrew nodded.
"If I tell you what I know, then will you remember us if it comes to the treasure?"
Andrew shook his head, remembering the second part of his instructions. "That is not mine to promise," he said.
Hrethric smiled, a little grimly this time. "I understand. And I will tell you anyway. "The maiden is not a princess. But a line of princes will come from her. And when you see her, you will understand your time on the mountain."

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