“Anita, Krista!!” Sigmarr exclaimed, then he tried to rush to their side, but was stopped and held back by the six royal guards. Sigmarr still struggled against them, knocking one to the ground. King Tragihma motioned again, and a large naked headsman wearing only a black hood about his face now came forth, standing with his sharpen axe beside Anita and Krista, he lowered the blade to Krista’s neck very slowly and then raised it to its full height above his head. Ready for the king’s signal.
“No, no, stop,” Sigmarr pleaded. “I will go, I will go,” Sigmarr was now resigned to retrieve the shield of Njordist, wherever it may be.
“I thought you might.” was King Tragihma answer.
“I…. do not know where it is, but I will get it for you.”
Sigmarr now quieted by the thought of losing his wife and child, stood ready to do whatever the king asked of him.
“I know where it is, it lies within the Starkdall forest, somewhere near the beacon stones.”
“The Starkdall forest! No one has ever come back from there. It can not be done.”
“You will do it… or your family.”
Sigmarr knew the rest, and just nodded.
“I can not do it alone, I will need help, horses and supplies. It is a long journey to the Starkdall forest.”
“Take whatever you need, whatever men and supplies you want, Captain Tisamar will help you with selecting the men you need.”
“I also need the help of a friend of mine, he is like a brother to me, I trust him and we have been on many journeys together, I will need him for the journey thru the Starkdall forest.”
“Whatever you need, take….but you only have two moons wane to return the Njordist shield to me. So you must hurry.”
“Two moons wane!!??” Sigmarr exclaimed.
“That is not enough time, it will take that long just to reach the forest. It can not be done it that time. I need at least four moons wane, at least,” Sigmarr pleaded with King Tragihma.
“I can feel the days getting shorter for me now, the river of woes is fast approaching, I feel that I do not have four moons wane. I will give you three no more, you must return in three moons wane with the shield or---- Just three moons, no more,” King Tragihma commanded.
Sigmarr nodded in agreement. Not enough time he thought, not nearly enough time.
Sigmarr and Captain Tisamar sat together in the great dining hall by the roaring fire, for many hours they discussed and planned what needed to be done, what supplies should be taken, what men, weapons, fast horse or pack carriers, all this was discussed and decided upon for tomorrows travel northward to the Starkdall forest.
Sigmarr also asked Captain Tisamar to send out his swiftest rider to get a message to Kergin at the Black Wagon Inn, Sigmarr could only hope that Kergin was there and not out wenching or upon some fools adventure than he sometimes went on. Only a few hours of rest did Sigmarr get that night, not very restful, he could only think of his wife and Krista, and of the journey ahead, the unknowns about the Starkdall forest, and how to retrieve the Shield of Njordist, and return in three moons wane. Could it be done?
It must be done, he thought. Captain Tisamar had assured Sigmarr that night that Anita and Krista would be treated well while he was gone, they would not be chained or bound in any way, they would be treated as royal guests of King Tragihma, Captain Tisamar would look to their care himself.
Ten of Captain Tisamar’s best and most experienced soldiers waited in the morning chill just before sunrise, all was ready, all was gathered that might be needed for the journey to the Starkdall forest. Sigmarr gave a final goodbye to his wife and to Krista, then joined the soldiers. It would be long weeks of riding for all of them, no time could be wasted now, for they only had three moons wane to accomplish all that was required of them.
Through the caste’s gates they went that morning, frost dew was still on the grass and the breath of all the horses could clearly be seen. Sigmarr lead the party and kept the pace even and steady, not at a gallop but fast enough, there was a long way to go and the horses must not be worn down. Sigmarr only hoped that the shield could be found quickly and that Kergin would be able to join them, it would be easier if he had someone he trusted by his side. The journey through the Neijurn valley was long and hard, Sigmarr kept the pace, and the miles towards the Starkdall forest flew by, the weather was still good, but every man knew that it could change quickly and the ride would be that much harder, at night only small cook fires were lit for the evenings meal, these were not large battlefield fires, just enough fire to cook with, most of the men were not used to such a pace and were tired at each days stop.
Sigmarr was also not used to this pace, and his arms and legs hurt him as he walked about the camp, for he was not used to his horses gait. 12 days into the journey, one man was lost and another fell breaking his arm, while crossing the river Fleigest, Sigmarr would have sent the man back, but even with his broken arm, he could be used as a lookout or guard, and it is always good to have as many eyes as possible when traveling through the unknown. Sigmarr still hoped that Kergin would join them soon, it would be nice to have his friend by his side.
A steady stream of rising dust could now be seen filtering into the cloudless sky, to the south it was, all the men saw it as it came closer and closer. A lone rider was behind them, galloping fast towards them, a crazy rider, going much too fast along the road. As the rider came closer still, the men all prepared for battle, with their swords drawn and their bows ready, but Sigmarr then stayed their hands for he knew this crazy rider that now approached, he had seen such wild riding many times before, it was Kergin, coming fast from the south to join them. Kergin was coming way to fast now, as he tried to slow his horse to join his friend, the horse could not stop and went 30 feet beyond before finally halting. The men all laughed at Kergin for not having control, and Kergin laughed too, he knew that he was coming to fast, but it was also a laugh of friendship, he was glad to see his old friend Sigmarr.
Sigmarr and Kergin now greeted each other warmly, they had not seen each other in many months. It would be good to be together again, each man thought. Sigmarr slowed the pace, just for the remaining daylight hours, Kergin’s horse was almost spent and the road now was getting much steeper heading north. During the night’s encampment Sigmarr told Kergin of King Tragihma’s demands, of the shield and of the Starkdall forest. Kergin had heard stories of the forest and he was glad to be with Sigmarr on this quest.
To be continued...