Now always the wise were set sparsely amongst the human race, and thusly the shepherd took the crown and rejoiced in its value of gold and silver and sparkling jewels and all the things he could buy from all the money he could make with it, and he stood there in amazement, his herd and duty forgotten in the rising mist.
And higher rose the mist... and thicker grew the clouds, and like a breath of stone and dewy twilight it rose, rose like a being from the crags of Finking. Rose up, obscuring the rocks and the meadow. ever thicker the mist became, his tendrils rising like feelers, like fingers creeping, seeking for a soul.
And amidst the mists he suddenly saw a rising aureole of light, dimly lit at first, but it was as if a gate had opened in the ever-thickening mist, and on a trail of twilight there strode an astounding figure. A dwarf he was, but warlike; upon his brow there rested a helm of wrought steel and artful gems, of knotworked silver and a filigree of gold. Thick his beard fell down upon his gleaming breastplate, braided and well-groomed... his chainmail was a flicker and tinkle of silvery stars, and he was armed with sword and axe, with seax and dagger of exquisite manner, but strange to look at with the eyes of humans.
And nearer he strode from amidst the mist, on a path of twilight, and terror filled the shepherd´s heart, as the kinglike dwarf said with a booming growl:
"Give back what you found or death will be upon you!"
In terror, the shepherd handed over the crown, and the dwarf took it and vanished as if into thin air.
And as all of a sudden the mists cleared, the shepherd realized that he stood at the edge of the crags and had been walking as if in a dream when the dwarf addressed him and that the dwarf´s voice had saved him from a long and shattering fall down the crags.
This master had an apprentice, and this apprentice was something special. He always stocked up the charcoal before his master could even tell him to do so, minced to exactly the same grain. He also fetched the water without the need to tell him. As a boy, he was the best helper with the bellows, and when he first was allowed to use the sledge, he also excelled at that. His master never needed to tell him twice, and often he even bested his master, so it was him who was doing most of the work soon, and better than his master could even dream of. But his master was content to receive his apprentice money and hesitated to pronounce him journeyman. But alas, the parents of this apprentice were very poor and often went hungry to pay for his apprenticeship, and there came a day when the young smith talked to his master and begged him to pronounce him free so he could make a living from his work.
And he went to the Hogreve, the head of citizens, to achieve a pronounciation as journeyman smith as to earn money for his starving parents, with no effect. Thus his mother died from hunger, and his father was taken by the plague, and the poor and tiny house the family had inhabited was given to others.
And it was when his little property was all taken away, and he just had one copper coin, one iron and one silver coin left, barely enough for a sip of wine and a piece of bread, when he stepped out on the loamy street, that a very strange figure stepped towards him from the shadows of the dusk; a woman she was of strange countenance and unusual bearing, leaning on a knotted staff, and she was carrying a basket. Upon brushing him with the hem of her shoulder scarf, she murmured as if to herself:
"When thou hast but a sip of wine and one comb of honey, go to the crags in the darkest of nights, and the crags shall open for thee upon the words that are written on the river´s waves".
Of course, he did not heed these words much attention. Like all the other villagers, he had heard the legends of the dwarven kingdom, but like all the other villagers he thought it best to be inside come dusk. He had heard the tales of blacksmiths along the river talking in hushed voices of the mannekens grísebaorts coming in the darkness of the night, when the sickle moon was shining, to grind and hone the scythes and knives and the swords and daggers for the few noblemen and rich merchants, and doing a work far excelling the capabilities of mortal smiths, but never paid those tales much attention. For to his master´s place they had never come. Those stories were good to hear in the inn, with a mug of beer and the hearth fire blazing, while the autumn wind shook at the shutters, but there was work to be done and sorrows to be had.
And, concealing the blood on his hand, from the nearby inn with his last copper, iron and silver coin he bought a small flask of wine and one honeycomb and a piece of stale bread. The bread he ate, for he was starving. And wine and honey he took with him, and planned to celebrate his last Chrismas night before the crags of Finking. And to the foot of the crags he came, and up he climbed, for all of a sudden he felt a great urge to climb, as if a voice was calling him, boomingly and growlingly deep, as if the rock itself had found a voice.
And there, he opened the flask of wine and put the honeycomb on a shale of rock, and, following the sudden need, he pressed his bleeding hand with the runes of the flowing water carved into it, against the blood-red face of the rock.
And the light shone bright like the light at the root of the mountain.
Little is known about what he saw and felt and learned, and thirteen moons danced a circle ere he returned. He told me of his adventures, but he let me swear secrecy upon the exact things he learned, and not permitted am I to tell you; but there came a day when the sickle moon was high upon the crags of Finking, when he returned all of a sudden, taller than he was, and with a mighty beard and clad in black clothes of stern fabric. He carried a knife of strange manufacture that glistened like steel does not. Straight to the smithy he strode, and to the Hogreven he went. And from him he bought the smithy, and paid in specie all of the costs. The master of old had run down the workshop and had been driven from the property, but with the work of his own hands he made the smithy prosper again. And there was a time of good look and fortune, when the farmers and peasants, the merchants and noblemen bought his tools, for his scythes and knives cut steel like straw.
But greed prospers well amongst humans, and there often was a woman of strange and unwomanly bearing coming to visit, and people saw them sitting alongside on the bench come dusk and holding their strange council, and this woman was said to be a witch.
Came the time when the old dean retired after a long period of care for his fold, and a new dean was proclaimed and invested. And he ruled with terror where the old dean had ruled by kindness and mercy and a gentle hand. So he sent out his servants to pursue witches, and women were burned and buried alive, and men burned and broken on wheels of iron for being werewolves... and they also set out to capture that strange woman, but to no effect, for no one seemed to know where she was living nor when she would be there. Midwife had she been for a lot of children, but she came and went as like to a mist.
It was about that time when the new dean ordered a knife from the blacksmith, and he made it well and after a strange pattern, and he made it from a steel no one had ever seen made in Dahl. And it had a sleek and slender blade that was glistening in a dull grey. So sharp was it, that it could split a woman´s hair, and yet so hard that one could cleave iron with it; and yet it would not break, how much one would abuse it. And the dean was amazed but did not want to pay the prize, but made a ridiculous offer. And the smith demanded the dean to give the knife back to him.
But the dean ordered his servants to bind him, and arrested him for witchcraft, stating that no natural means could make a knife like this, and he was to be broken on a wheel of iron and thrown into the dungeon.
Thus came the evening of his emprisonment, and a small and piercingly bright sickle moon was shining... and through the grates he could see a faint glimmer of silver and hear a faint song like silver and a growling groan from the bosom of the bare earth he was lying on.
Come the morn. Opened the door.
And empty lay the dungeon, with not a trace left of the blacksmith of the Lei.
But sometimes, if you read carefully the scripture written upon the moon´s trail on the water, you might be able to see them dancing. Are they the dwarves of the Kingdom? And can you see the witch and the smith amongst them?
So many tales, tales in tales spiralling to a weave, a fabric of spirals, tales to be heard and tales to be told in the golden halls...
...beneath the Finking´s root.
And I fear this is the reason the people of Dahl do not like to tell.
(to be continued)