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Volume 19, Issue 1: Similitudes

The Kale and the Northmen

Douglas Wilson

Andrew stood by the battlement, drumming his fingers on the granite rock. He was looking out at a very grim situation. He knew that he was supposed to give the treasure to the Kale, but he also knew he wasn't supposed to just give it to them. There had to be a riddle. Why was that? he wondered.

Early that morning, the Kale had marched up to the edge of the trees across a broad meadow on the south side of the castle and had established their camp there. To Andrew's left the Northmen had done much the same thing, filing up from the beach where they had spent the night in their ships. They were across a great meadow to the north. Both had settled in for a wait.
Andrew had spent a good portion of the previous evening talking to Beow about possible riddles and throwing away bad ideas. He had a riddle—which was why he needed a riddle in the first place—and he needed to get a riddle. For some reason he thought he needed to figure out why a riddle was assigned to this part of his story before he could come up with a good riddle.
He looked up again, squinting against the morning sun. Off to his left he saw a small band of Vikings, three men, walking out toward the castle's main gate. They were coming to talk. Immediately, Andrew looked off to the right and saw that the Kale dispatched the same number of men.
Another thing occurred to Andrew. If he did this through a riddle, then how was he to avoid cheating? If it was a true riddle, then wouldn't the Vikings have a chance to win the treasure? And if he refused to give it to them, even if they won, wouldn't that be evil? But, thinking the other way, if he gave them a riddle that only the Kale could win, why should he go through the motions?
By this time, the two small groups of men came together in front of the castle gate. They both nodded, each to the other group, and then turned to talk to Andrew, who was standing over the gate. Directly below him was the dead body of Fafnir, which gave a great deal more authority to Andrew's words.
"Hail, Andrew!" said Hrethric.
Andrew nodded. "Hail, Hrethric," he said in reply. When the men came out to parley, Beow and Maggie had seen it, and came along the battlements to stand by Andrew. "Welcome to the men of Rohan," he continued.
"Greetings, Dragonmaster," said one of the Kale. He was a lieutenant of the chieftain and had come out to speak for his people. Andrew recognized him from the incident when Beow had almost lost his life because of the song. From the look on the man's face, Andrew could tell that he had remembered them also.
"My name is Andrew," Andrew said. "What is yours?"
"My name is Charlut," he said. "We have come to inquire about the treasure."
"It is my intent," Andrew said in a loud voice, "to appoint an heir and give the treasure tomorrow. I will not remain here. I will be going there." And with this he turned around and pointed to the black thunderhead that was always on the horizon. He had not yet decided on a riddle, and so he decided to buy a little more time.
"Each of you choose from your company the wisest man you have, and tomorrow morning I will present them with a riddle. The first to answer wisely will have the treasure." They all inclined their heads a little forward, showing that they heard and agreed. Andrew wondered to himself why they all seemed willing to obey the rules. A castle could not really be defended against two small armies by a boy and a girl and a unicorn. But they were willing, and he was grateful.
The men below turned to go, but Andrew called after them, remembering something just in time. "And each of you will swear a solemn oath that you will abide by the results of the riddle, and that you will not make war on the other for the treasure. Is that agreed"
Hrethreic, with a sly grin, nodded. Charlut said, "We will agree." Well, that may be why, thought Andrew. Riddles are better than fighting. With that he turned back to Beow and Maggie. She was looking at him, very concerned. "You are going to sail into the storm?" she said.
"Yes," said Andrew. "I think it is what I must do. Beow, I would invite you to come . . . you are very dear to me. But this is your world. And besides, you wouldn't fit into the coracle. And Maggie, you may return to your people, the Kale, if you like. But I would like to invite you to come with me."
Her eyes got bright, and she nodded excitedly. "Do you know where the storm goes?"
"I don't," said Andrew. "Beow, do you?"
"I don't know," Beow said. "You will either drown and go to God, or go to God directly, to find yourself in yet another world, or back in your own. You have done what you have come for, and I think you are right to sail toward the storm. My best guess is that you will find yourselves back in your world. But no one can know for sure."

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