Bogerd’s Bad Day

A Fantasy Short Story Written By Robert Walton

Bogerd’s Bad Day

by Robert Walton

 

An aging berserker reluctantly plucks up his ax and sword to rescue an old friend from the clutches of a rogue wizard and things go downhill as soon as he walks out his door.

Robert Walton is a retired middle school teacher, rock climber and mountaineer with ascents in Yosemite and Pinnacles National Park. Walton is an experienced writer with five novels, both YA and adult, to his credit. His Civil War novel Dawn Drums won the 2014 New Mexico Book Awards Tony Hillerman Prize for best fiction. His Most recently, his “Joaquin’s Gold”, a collection of Joaquin Murrieta tales, was published on Amazon.

Robert Walton’s website :   http://chaosgatebook.wordpress.com/

 

Ilsa thumped Bogerd sharply between his shoulder blades. The blow was much mitigated by the tattered bearskin he wore across his shoulders. She hissed, “He’s been gone since yesterday noon. Who knows what’s happened to him by now?”

Bogerd glanced back at his wife and raised a lazy right eyebrow.

“Don’t you look at me like that! Karl’s a responsible man, unlike others I could mention. He wouldn’t let a wench or a flagon of mead keep him from completing a job. I sent him to collect the low-town rents. He didn’t come back. You go and find him! Now!”

Bogerd grumbled deep in his chest, but no discernable words reached his lips.

Ilsa snarled, “Besides, he’s your friend. Go!”

Bogerd opened his door upon a frosty Nordheim morning, far too early, far too frosty. He stepped out. The door slammed emphatically behind him. He grumbled to himself again and squinted his eyes against low, bright sunshine.

Nordheim’s squalid, chaotic streets and alleys lay below him. Steams rose from unlikely places. Smokes, pressed down by the frigid air, hid in hollows and dips. Icicles glinted in the early sun like pristine, diamond daggers. Bogerd surveyed all as he pondered how to get news of Karl.

Sigrid, the crazed witch, lived in low-town and knew all its dark-magical happenings. Bogerd chuckled. Her nightly habit of sailing the future’s deep-misted seas via drug-induced trance would keep her warty cheek upon her warty pillow for some hours to come. She would be his last resort.

Gimp, the legless beggar king, would know of all the tavern happenings. He prowled the icy alleys on horny knuckles, propelled by arms thicker than most men’s thighs. He took his tolls and ruled his luckless charges with fists much harder than iron. Bogerd patted his purse. Only silver produced fruitful words from Gimp.

Latifah, the displaced belly dancer, might have news of Karl. High town and Low, she knew the secrets of Nordheim as did few others and she had a liking for the little man. As wide as Bogerd and nearly as tall, she dwarfed the wiry Karl. Still, in her heart of a thousand chambers, one of the inner ones was surely reserved for him. Her information, had she any, would be true. Bogerd nodded. He would begin with Latifah.

#

Bogerd sighed and checked his weapons. He pulled his long ax from its loop on the right hand side of his three-inch wide belt. He patted his short ax in its loop on the left hand side. Both boot knives, the throwing dagger and the long, heavy, close-fighting weapon, were ready in their sheaths. These were his workaday town weapons. For true battle he also carried his war spear, a mace, a sling and lead shot.

He hefted the long ax and paused. Vague unease slowed his momentum. He had no doubt that Latifah’s facts were true. Somewhere in the gray dungeons below this wizard’s tower, Karl awaited rescue. Bogerd cursed, “Wizards! Give me twenty screaming Mongol barbarians or thirty blue-painted Celts! Bah!”

#

Nordheim had its fair share of wizards, but they usually kept to themselves. Bogerd knew nothing of this wizard, one Hanuman by name, except that he was middling high on their list of seniority. Further, he could imagine no possible cause for Hanuman’s apparent interest in Karl.

What must be done, must be done. He rested the head of his ax on the ground. He took a deep breath and gripped its oaken haft with both hands. His shoulder muscles bunched as he swung the heavy blade with all of his might. The pike head of the ax whistled down and blasted into the triple heavy brass lock on the wizard’s door. The lock disintegrated into three large fragments and numerous flying splinters.

Bogerd pushed open the door with his booted toe. Two gatekeepers, still fumbling with armor fastenings and carrying their short swords like bread knives, stumbled to a halt just before him.

Bogerd pointed a finger at them. “He’s not paying you enough, boys. Drop your swords and I’ll let you pass.”

The taller guard replied, “Turn around, fat man. Leave. Master will bill you for the lock tomorrow.”

Bogerd’s weapon snaked out and punched the smaller guard squarely in the jaw with the blunt top of its head. The man fell like a stone.

Bogerd nodded to the unconscious man. “He’ll have a headache later. I may have to do something more permanent to you unless you drop that sword.”

The tall man’s eyes widened and he swallowed hard. He took a step back. Bogerd stepped forward into a wide hallway. A crossbow fired with a snap and a hiss. Its short bolt sped down the length of the hall and slammed into Bogerd’s chest near the right edge of his triple-thick brass breast plate. It penetrated plate and muscle to bury its not very sharp iron head in one of his massive ribs.

Bogerd grunted, accepted the hurt and exploded into Berserker motion. Berserker rage is much misunderstood. It is less anger than it is demonic fixity of purpose. Bogerd struck high with his long ax. The guard blocked the stroke with his short sword. Steel shrieked and sparks flew. He struck low and again the guard parried. Then his almost instantaneous backstroke took off the guard’s sword hand at the wrist. Sword and gripping hand bounced off the hallway’s far wall. The man screamed in horror and fell.

Bogerd leapt over the sprawling, bleeding body and charged down the hall. The sands of a nearly empty minute glass measured the time he had to reach the crossbowman before that worthy was again ready to fire. He reached the hall’s end with a few grains to spare.

He flattened his back against the wall to the left of the murder hole and pulled his long knife from its sheath. He heard a scratching noise, the scrape of brass vambraces against stone as the crossbowman brought his weapon to the ready. He leaned forward and drove his knife into the hole. It plunged into unseen cloth, leather and flesh. A muffled cry of pain and dismay sounded through the murder hole followed by the thump of a body hitting the floor.

Trusting that the crossbowman was sufficiently discouraged, Bogerd wiped his knife on his leggings, sheathed it and crossed in front of the murder hole. The hall turned right. He continued following it. After a dozen or so paces, he came to another right turn. Beyond the turn was a landing and two steep stairways. One led up and the other led down. Bogerd stopped.

The hallway was more than adequately lit by torches in wall sconces. The stairway on his left was also well lit and presumably ascended to the wizard’s private quarters. The other stairway descended into darkness. Karl would likely be found downstairs. Bogerd judged that even a wealthy wizard would be reluctant to pay more than three guards at a time. Any further defenses he might encounter would be of a magical nature. He nodded to himself and retraced his steps.

He found the wounded guard seated on the floor near the open doorway, cradling his bleeding stump with his good arm and rocking back and forth in misery. Bogerd knelt and gripped the man’s injured arm. Blood pulsed from the wound. He wrapped a leather thong four times around the arm, pulled it taut and knotted it. The bleeding stopped.

He pulled the man to his feet. “Come with me. It’s not your day.” Weeping quietly, the guard staggered ahead of Bogerd. Bogerd steadied him with his left hand. They reached the stairways.

“We’ll go down. You go first.” The man sniffled. Bogerd prodded him with his ax handle. “Go ahead.” The man leaned against the wall with his good shoulder and stumbled unevenly down the stairs. Bogerd waited. When the man’s foot touched the seventh step, green mage-light flared. The wounded guard disappeared.

Bogerd blinked. Then he stepped forward. He knew that magical wards, once activated, must be recast. Hoping that he would encounter no more enchanted traps, he plunged down the shadowed stairway. It wound in corkscrew fashion through several turns to a wide door. The door was open. The room beyond it was lit by a single torch in a sconce high on the opposite wall. Beneath the torch hung Karl.

Wary of flanking knives and swords, Bogerd leapt through the doorway and whirled. No guards awaited him. He turned to Karl. The little man stood on tiptoe, his wrists pulled high and taut by iron chains. The chains were attached to massive staples just below the torch.

“Karl?”

Karl raised his head and grinned. His voice cracked when he answered, “I hoped you would come.”

“Latifah told me where I might find you.”

“Took you long enough.”

Bogerd shrugged and winced when the crossbow bolt reminded him of its presence. “Not as young as I once was.”

Karl’s grin widened. “The wizard wants to meet you.”

“Tell me later. Let’s get you down.”

Bogerd gripped his long ax with both hands, measured the angle of his stroke and swung. The ax bit through the soft iron chain and splashed stone sparks from the wall behind. Karl’s left arm fell to his side. Bogerd swung again. Karl slid to the floor.

“Thanks, Boss.”

Bogerd nodded. “Hanuman will be down shortly. Can you move?”

“Give me a hand up.”

Bogerd shifted his ax to his left hand, bent down, gripped Karl’s belt and hauled him to his feet. Karl swayed, but remained standing.

“Up and out, Karl. I doubt we have much time. One of the guards tripped a warding spell.” Karl staggered toward the stairs. Bogerd followed him.

They were safe up the stairs, safe down the hallway, safe around the turn and safe past the still unconscious guard. Bogerd saw Karl stumble out of the open front door and was within feet of the portal when a web of black silk enveloped him. He slashed at it with his ax, but his blade wouldn’t bite on the silkiness. The web caressed, gripped and finally squeezed. Bogerd knew nothing more.

#

Bogerd swam deep in a dark sea. Shapes loomed; shadows menaced him but did not attack. He rose toward a wavering light. The light was a torch. Beneath the torch stood Hanuman.

“Ah, awake again?”

Bogerd said nothing. He tried to move and discovered, not surprisingly, that he was lying on his back on a table bound hand and foot. His arms were chained to iron staples near his thighs. His legs were tied painfully apart, as if he were a dancer frozen in mid-leap.

“That may be uncomfortable, but you needn’t stay bound for very long.”

Bogerd turned his head. “What happened to your guard?”

Hanuman shrugged. “Oh, nothing terrible. The spell transported him to a dungeon cell. When I have time, I’ll release him and then fire him. I’m not a monster. I do think I shall dock him his last week’s pay. He didn’t discharge his duties very well, after all.”

“What do you want with me?”

Hanuman smiled. “You possess a magic talisman.” He looked up at the ceiling and tapped his front teeth with an excessively long fingernail. “It is unclear to me how you came to possess it, but it is powerful beyond your imagining. Nothing like it has ever before come into the world of men.”

Bogerd sighed. “The Brysinga?”

Hanuman nodded. “The Brysinga, Freyja’s magical necklace, a goddess’s greatest treasure. I want it. Of course, it will take decades of intense study before I actually dare to use it. Once mastered, though, its powers will make me supreme among wizards on earth. It might,” he stared into distances invisible above and beyond Bogerd’s head, “allow me to enter higher planes to undertake godly endeavors.”

He looked directly at Bogerd. “So. Will you arrange for the Brysinga to be transported here?”

“No.”

“Will you escort me to your hall and present the necklace to me?”

“No.”

Hanuman sighed. “I thought as much. Therefore, I’ve prepared a little device to persuade you to cooperate with me.”

Bogerd followed him with his eyes. Hanuman stopped and pointed to the distant ceiling. “If you’ll glance above, you’ll note a large, razor sharp scimitar blade suspended from a pendulum?”

Bogerd said, “I see it.”

“Good! Can you guess what it’s for?”

“You plan to use it to convince me to give you the Brysinga.”

Hanuman clapped his hands together. “Bravo! You are astute for an ignorant barbarian!”

Bogerd grunted. “Thanks.”

Hanuman stroked his beardless chin. “I read widely across the worlds, across the ages. Pa, Puh, Poo, Poe. Poe.” He raised a slightly crooked index finger to his lips. “Yes, Poe. It was Poe. This Poe fellow had a decent idea. I refined it, as you can see.” He walked to the foot of the thick table on which Bogerd was bound. “You’ll also note how your legs are elevated and splayed apart?”

Bogerd nodded.

“Notice how the scimitar blade is aligned with the midline of your body. When I depress this lever,” Hanuman pushed the lever forward, “a concealed mechanism begins to function.”

Above Bogerd the blade-tipped pendulum began to swing. With each swing, the blade described a wider arc through the shadowed air. A rhythmic, low-pitched whoosh issued from the darkness above.

Hanuman chuckled, “The blade descends a tiny fraction of an inch with each swing. I haven’t timed it precisely, but it shouldn’t take longer than a few hours before it comes close to you. You can deduce from the position of your legs what part of your anatomy will first be in jeopardy.”

Bogerd said nothing.

Hanuman continued, ” That string close to your right hand is connected to a bell in my chamber. When you decide to give me the necklace, just pull it. I shall stop the mechanism as quickly as I may.” Hanuman turned, paused, turned back and looked at Bogerd. “You wouldn’t want to save yourself all of this anguish and agree to give it to me now?”

Bogerd again said nothing.

“Ah, well.” Hanuman shrugged. “I leave you to contemplate the consequences of willfulness.” He turned and ascended the stairs.

Bogerd looked up at the blade. Still distant, it gleamed evilly in the torchlight. The steady whoosh of its passage through the air was already his least favorite sound – the sound of mindless, inexorable malice.

He glanced at the string next to his right hand. Iron cuffs circled his wrists. Short lengths of stout chain were welded to the cuffs and to bolts in the table on which he lay. He could move his hands a few inches in either direction. He could easily grasp the string and pull it. His hand remained still.

Bogerd had fought unnumbered desperate battles. He had faced defeat and death before. He knew the value of time. When you can win nothing else, win a bit of time. He closed his eyes, shut out at least the sight of the doomful blade. He prepared to wait for as long as he could.

His thoughts drifted to his grandchildren, little Olga and bouncy Fafhrd. Fafhrd was four and Olga six. He vowed silently to spend more time with them should he escape his present plight. He was wise enough to know that children learn little from instruction, but simply walking through a day with grandfather would live in their minds always. He opened his eyes.

The scimitar was much closer, only a few feet above his vulnerable groin. The fingers of his right hand twitched. Not yet. Not just yet. He closed his eyes again.

He thought of his youngest daughter, Gudrun. She’d followed her husband south to Arlane – a country of rains, forests and civilized habits. Bogerd wanted very much to visit her. He secretly doubted, however, that he could survive even a day in cultured Arlane. He would not be allowed to bear his personal weapons. Walking unarmed among strangers was far worse then being naked in an ice storm.

He opened his eyes. The great, dark blade now swung between his outstretched legs. It was within inches of slicing him open in the worst of ways. Bogerd reached for the string and pulled.

The blade continued its inexorable descent. Alarmed, Bogerd pulled the string again. And again. The blade did not slow. He glanced toward the stairway. Hanuman was there.

The wizard steepled his fingers, pursed his lips and looked at Bogerd. “My curiosity may overcome both my better judgment and my humanitarian impulses. I really would like to see how my little creation will work. Surely you can afford a little blood?”

Bogerd glared at the mage with mingled despair and rage, but he did not answer. The blade whistled as it grazed the wooly hairs of Bogerd’s breeks.

Hanuman smiled. “Don’t be surly! You’ve cost me guards, spells and a good deal of trouble. Just a little discomfort on your part will allow me to calibrate the device.”

A silver glow suddenly lit the stairway behind Hanuman. He didn’t notice it. His attention was fixed upon the next stroke of the blade. The scimitar swooped down, cutting through Bogerd’s breeks, cutting deeper.

Bogerd lurched against the chains when he felt the sharp blade’s icy sting as it sliced through the skin of his most intimate appendage. In horror beyond any he’d known, he watched the blade pause at the top of its backstroke. It paused and then swept back toward his helpless manhood. He closed his eyes and so missed the appearance of a giant silver hand.

The hand flowed like mist around and over Hanuman to coalesce around the down-swinging blade. The scimitar slowed. Cracks, groans and grindings of gears sounded from above. The blade slowed further. Hanuman, fingers and thumb spread wide, gestured with his right hand. A red bolt of energy burst from his palm and struck the silver hand. The red bolt bounced off of the hand and dissolved into hundreds of yellow lightning darts. These darts zipped erratically around the dungeon. Hanuman gestured again and a transparent shield appeared in front of him. The silver hand gave one final wrench and the scimitar stopped inches from Bogerd’s defenseless groin.

Hanuman yelped as the odd lightning dart avoided his shield and struck home. The silver hand again became silver mist and settled over Bogerd. The chains holding him down dissolved. Stiffly, carefully he raised his right leg over the still menacing blade and rolled to his left. He rolled until he was sitting on the table facing Hanuman.

The last of the lightning darts sputtered against Hanuman’s shield and fizzled away. Hanuman raised his right eyebrow twice. The shield disappeared. He slowly straightened and smiled. “It looks as if we’ll have to continue this experiment another time. I have urgent business elsewhere,” He cast a black pellet onto the floor with his left hand. The pellet exploded into brown smoke. The smoke boiled up toward the distant ceiling. Orange light glowed at its center. ” So I’ll say farewell.” He stepped into the orange glow and began to fade.

Bogerd reacted with characteristic swiftness. He snatched his throwing knife, left in its boot sheath by Hanuman in his arrogance, and cast it into the center of the orange glow. He was rewarded with a distant howl of pain.

Karl’s head appeared around the edge of the doorway. “You okay, Boss?”

Bogerd grinned, “Just barely.”

Karl entered the dungeon. He held a long knife in his right hand and liquid star-fire in his left. He raised the white fire toward Bogerd. “I brought this.”

Bogerd sighed, “The Bysinga. Its magic saved me.”

Karl smiled. “Ilsa thought it might prove useful against a wizard. Guess she was right.”

“She was right. How did you get in here?”

Karl shrugged. “You know me. It wasn’t any work at all to climb the wizard’s wall and find a window to break. I went back to the hall first to get some weapons and tools. Turns out all I needed was this necklace. You’re its guardian and it feels the same about you.”

Bogerd groaned. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Sure, Boss.”

“Give me a hand.”

#

“Your poor shoulder.”

Bogerd shifted in his chair “It’s nothing, girl.”

Ingrid dipped a clean cloth in warm water, squeezed it almost dry and wiped dried blood from Bogerd’s arm. Her thick, blonde braids swayed as she worked. She leaned against him, pressing her deep, soft bosom against his elbow.

“Get your teats off Bogerd this instant before he faints from pain!” Ilsa rounded the corner in a swirl of furs and black shawl. “Don’t you know where he got cut?”

Ingrid gaped with surprise.

Ilsa snarled, “Up, silly girl! Now!”

Ingrid shot to her feet as her cheeks flushed a delicate rose.

Ilsa pointed toward the kitchen. “Out!”

Ingrid flounced toward the passageway to the kitchen. She looked back over her shoulder and, when she was sure Ilsa wasn’t looking, stuck out her tongue.

Without turning her head, Ilsa snapped, “I saw that. Five bags of potatoes, washed and peeled, by mid-afternoon bell or I’ll cane your skinny shanks, you nasty girl!”

Ingrid squealed and ran for the kitchen.

“Now!” Ilsa rubbed her hands together. “Let’s take care of this crossbow bolt. Lie down flat on the floor.”

Bogerd stirred uneasily but did as he was ordered with accompanying grunts and moans. “Shouldn’t we leave it until Doctor Einar comes?”

“Nonsense! I’ve forgotten more about wounds than that fakir will ever know. This is a minor hurt, unless we wait to treat it.” So saying, she placed her left foot against his chest, gripped the bolt’s shaft with both hands and pulled.

#

What surely must have been the death howl of a pain-maddened wolf floated across ice-bound Nordheim. Old men checked the bars on their doors. Mothers held their babes close.

#

Ilsa shouted, “Stop your silly whining. It’s out and the bleeding will slow as soon as I pour on my secret wound potion.”

Bogerd gasped, “Not the wound potion!”

“Oh, be quiet! This will keep the wound from festering. It only stings a bit at first.”

#

Again the howl of the tortured wolf floated across ice-sheathed roofs shining softly in starlight. Nordheim’s denizens glanced at each other nervously, shivered and hoped never to hear such a desperate sound again.

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