The glowing flames of the swamp were fading behind them now, the eerie screams of burning spinner-netters was also becoming fainter and fainter as the men hurried through the forest, they still had rough days of riding till the forest edge. The horses and men seemed to have a renewed purpose about them, no longer were they so beaten and tired. Soon sparkling white light could be seen ahead, it showed the way, then they were through the blackness of the Starkdall forest and onto the prairie lands, beneath sunny blue skies, the wind tasted sweet to them as they rode. The men rode through the prairie land until the moon’s crescent shape rose above them. It was decided that night that Sigmarr and Kergin would go ahead with all the horses they could, the soldiers would follow on the pack animals and with only what horses they needed, it was a race now to King Tragihma, a race that Sigmarr must win.
Sigmarr and Kergin rode hard through the valleys and prairie lands, they rode both by day and by night, only stopping when they could no longer see the road ahead, a hard ride for man and beast. When Sigmarrs’ or Kergins’ horse started to falter, it was cut loose to wander about the prairie lands and another would be ridden, until it too was exhausted, this was done many times as they urgently rode to King Tragihma’s castle. At the river Fleigest, Sigmarr and Kergin parted company and now Sigmarr rode alone with only two horses behind him and the Shield of Njordist that must be delivered before three moon’s wane. He was unsure of how many days he had left or even if he was too late already. Sigmarr now had to rest every night, his reserve strength was gone, agonizing nights for him as he camped alone on the prairie, he had no time for rest, but he must, he knew this, for if he fell from his horse and was injured, all would surely be lost. All the reserve horses had been cut away now, only the horse he was on was left, and still days to go. He must keep this horse going, so the pace was slowed somewhat, for even a horse can not run forever.
In the distance Sigmarr could now see smoke rising on the horizon, it must be the cook fires of the village around King Tragihma’s castle, but the weather was now beginning to worsen and soon thunderstorms were cast about him as he rode. The road became a slippery muddy way and the cart tracks were too uneven for the horse to run in, so he kept to the grassy shoulders as much as he could. Sigmarr could plainly see King Tragihma’s castle ahead, perhaps only a half days journey now. Sigmarr spurred the horse to a full gallop, no time to waste, he would soon be there, to Anita, and to Krista, cresting the last hill the horse lost its footing and both horse and rider toppled to the ground rolling through the wet grass. The horse was done now, stabbed by Sigmarr’s sword as they twisted and rolled.
Sigmarr traveled on with the shield of Njordist on his back, the grass and mud making the journey harder and harder as he hurried to the king’s castle. Through the village town, through the king’s gate and onto the king’s courtyard and then into the king’s great hall. Sigmarr collapsed in front of King Tragihma’s throne. Gathering what breath he could, Sigmarr threw the shield at the king’s feet.
“There, there, is your shield, release my wife and daughter now,” he shouted at the king, still breathing hard from his labors.
The King just sat for a moment while Captain Tisamar took the shield and left through the black draped doorway.
“Where is my wife and daughter? Where are they?” Sigmarr now demanded.
“Your too late,” the king softly spoke, “two days late. You only had three moons wane to return the shield to me. That was our agreement.”
“Nooooo!!” Sigmarr rushed the king with his dagger ready.
But the six royal guards held him firm and cast him to the floor. King Tragihma motioned towards the black draped doorway.
“Forgive me Sigmarr,” the king spoke. “It was just an old king’s bad jest.”
Anita and Krista rushed through the black drapes to Sigmarr on the floor.
“I have had riders out looking for you for these past two weeks, I knew you were coming and that you had the shield, forgive an old king’s jest. No harm would ever have come to your wife and daughter, no harm would I have done to them, even if you never returned, I am not a murderer of women and children. I had to use them to convince you to find the shield for me. You were the only one who could have done it. I am a good king but like all kings, I will have my way sometimes, no matter the cost.”
Sigmarr did not understand the king’s ‘jest’, but that was unimportant to him, now that Anita and Krista were safe.
Sigmarr, Anita and Krista all stayed at the castle as honored guests of King Tragihma. Kergin arrived safely back at the castle, perhaps a week later, and the remaining soldiers also returned safely. A great ceremony was planned now that the Shield of Njordist had returned. Sigmarr, Anita, Krista, Kergin and the soldiers were honored guests, and they were given the finest of clothes to wear. The great hall was filled with important dignitaries from thru-out the land, and from the village that wound around the castle, it was a joyous occasion. The Shield of Njordist was hung high on the western wall, in its rightful place beside the others, and 12 gold and silver inlaid swords were also placed beside the shields in honor of the men who went on that quest that year. King Tragihma then motioned towards the black draped doorway and 8 royal guards came out, each holding a wooden box, to each of the 8 remaining searchers these were given. Gold coins as a reward for their bravely and courage in the search for the shield. The soldiers were promoted to royal king’s guards then, Sigmarr and Kergin each received more land for their leadership and efforts. The king did not forget the ones who had fallen, wooden boxes with gold coins were also given to the families of the lost ones. The celebration lasted long after Sigmarr with his family and Kergin left, they were not much for such royal affairs.
Sigmarr returned to his land, a much wealthier man now, but it did not change him much. He hid most of it away and used very little of it, just a new barn was built and some more cattle and horses were bought and comforts for Anita and Krista that was about all. Kergin, well, he had most of it spent within a year’s time, that was his way. But he did hide some of it. Perhaps he was growing wiser. King Tragihma pasted away perhaps three weeks after the shield ceremony, he was right about his time left, his eldest son Hjanrist, then became king. All about the land hoped that he would be as wise and as good a king that his father was. In the months that followed, Sigmarr, Kergin and 100 of King Hjanrist’s best men, returned to the Starkdall forest and with the help of the golden sprite, they rid the forest of all the spinner-netters and some of the swamp creatures too. Only three men were lost, not to creatures of the forest, but do to their drunken foolishness. The Starkdall forest lost its black hovering clouds, now green, yellow and red could be seen within, the golden sprite would soon have its forest back…………
This is just an old story that has been told many, many times at night, along the campfire’s edge, of Sigmarr and the Shield of Njordist. About a man’s love for his family, just an ancient fable that is told.
Or is it just a fireside fable that is told? Would you not seek the Shield of Njordist, if the headsman’s axe was above your loved ones head?.....