© Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
THE FORGING OF TYRFINGR (Circa 828 AD)
“This sword is renowned in all the ancient tales.”
Anonymous; The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise.
On a dark spring night, yet crisp with winter’s cold, Hraerik saw something come crashing down from the heavens. He was riding his rounds, checking the herds, the northern lights shimmering in the darkness above him, when the dancing curtains parted for a plummeting star. Growing while falling from the Boreal sky, the ethereal orb soon caught his eye. Each time Hraerik blinked in wonderment the falling star grew larger, all the time coming towards him, at first in silence, then accompanied by the lowing of cattle, then by the stamping of his own mount and finally by the prayers of the field slaves singing out in their native tongues. When at last he could hear it over all this din, there was a shriek as if it was tearing through air, then a roar as it tore through earth. Ducking while dancing his mount once about, Hraerik watched the dust rising in a copse of trees a hundred paces away. A dozen trees had shattered as the meteorite buried itself deep within the earth, but a red‑hot shard that had burst free of the main remained on the surface and set the battered brush ablaze.
Hraerik gathered the slaves and led them into the woods to put out the fire, but the grass was dry and it had spread quickly. Try as they might to beat it down with tattered cloaks and musty horse blankets, the fire fought back. It enlisted the help of the wind and the darkness and it fought back hard. Hraerik gave one of the slaves, a dwarf, his horse and sent him back to Hraegunarstead to get the freemen and the rest of the slaves. They would need all hands to fight this blaze. “And shovels and axes,” Hraerik shouted after the dwarf as he rode off into the darkness. The dwarf’s hair was long and black like his own and he thought it odd that he would notice that while a wild fire blazed behind him and the young Norseman then tore off his own heavy wool cloak, his best he reminded himself, and he set to beating down the flames. Aligning the thralls on either side of himself along the fire front, he had them working with the wind to drive the fire up into the foothills where Ulf Creek wandered across the field diagonally to the settlement below. Beyond the creek there was still snow on the ground and, as more men arrived, he would put them in the fire line where the flames fought hardest and he would shift slaves from the left flank and put them on the right as though he was some officer directing his reserves into a foreign fray in some battle far away. Sometimes the wind would shift and the long billow of smoke rising up from the fire would blow back in their faces and double them up in fits of coughing and the fire would threaten to get away on them until the wind would shift back again. As more men came, and soon women too, the fire line grew longer and longer and the front moved forward up the slope until it met the cold rushing water of the spring swollen creek and the fire died in the wet grass of the creek bed.
Tired and exhausted, the freemen and slaves made their way back to the farmstead, but Hraerik and the dwarf stayed to watch for flames that might erupt. In the morning’s light he surveyed the damage and he found the star stone shard, still warm in the dew, weighing a quarter stone. It was an odd bit of metal, akin to a bog iron nodule and the blacksmith within him was aroused.
“If you wish to pull a sword from that stone,” the dwarf cried with glee, peering up into the forge, “there are a few things you shall need.”
“Go back to your hearth, Dvalin,” Hraerik cried. “Go play amongst the coals.” Hraerik let go the bellows and tonged the red hot fragment from the forge. He set it upon a great flat stone and held it in place with the tongs while he beat it with a forging hammer as hard as he possibly could. It seemed as though the stone should shatter; Hraerik flushed with the effort while the metal grew pallid with the blows. When the forging glow had dissipated he sat down and he rested. He was exhausted and the shard barely showed a bruise.
“But it’s the coals that you need,” the dwarf exclaimed, rolling his eyes and shaking his head.
Hraerik sensed that the dwarf knew some secret of this stone from the stars. “Tell me Dvalin,” he said, patting the wooden bench he sat upon, “tell me what you know of this star stone.”
Onto the far end of the bench climbed the dwarf; he bunched up his fists and he swung his arms and he stomped down to the end where Hraerik sat; standing there, his arms akimbo, he looked Hraerik straight in the eyes, his own face tightening up into a wrinkled mass as if giant secrets were about to unfold. “You need the finest coals,” he exploded, “the hardest you can find, and the largest of bellows, two or more,” and he shot out as many fingers on as many hands, “…enough to make the metal white hot. Then, and only then, can you forge your sword.”
“How do you know all this, little one?” Hraerik asked. “You’ve seen such stuff as this before?”
“If I tell you my secret,” Dvalin explained, backing off to the far end of the bench, “it is only because …… of all the folk of Hraegunarstead, only Hraerik’s foot has Dvalin’s rump not met. You alone have been kind to me, and kinder yet you will be, for there is a great price to be paid in working the star stone. Ask me no more of it and I will understand.”
“Ah…,” Hraerik whispered. “You would like your freedom, no doubt, in exchange for this secret of yours?”
“What good would my freedom do me here? My backside would but trade my owner’s sole for every freeman’s foot at fancy. You must take me back to wherefrom I was torn, back to the east, where giants and dwarves like myself roam free.”
“But that is a journey I have never made,” Hraerik said, humouring the dwarf. “And, like as not, never shall.” A sad hone dulled the edge in his tone. “How can you ask such a price of me?” he queried the dwarf wistfully.
Dvalin moved closer down the bench, took up Hraerik’s coarse hand and studied it. “A ship shall soon be yours,” he started, “and such a journey shall be well within your grasp.”
“No ordinary ship can sail the Nor’Way. It must have double the cross-members and side-timbers.”
“Shush, shush, shush,” the dwarf exclaimed, his face once more a wrinkled mass. “Such a journey shall soon be yours, and great though it is, it shall be but one of many long trips you shall make in your long life, my lord.”
“Tell me more of this stone, little one,” Hraerik encouraged him in amused disbelief.
A sudden calm set about the dwarf’s countenance, even though he still seemed quite troubled. He sat down beside Hraerik and, staring into the fire of the forge, began his tale. “In the land of my birth, in my father’s time, we had no iron. We knew not how to mine it, nor how to search out the iron nodules in the bogs, but odd times we would find metal stones such as the one you have here and from them we would forge our weapons and tools. They made the finest blades: better by far than the swords of the Franks, even better than Damascus steel. But the star stone was scarce and very difficult to forge and sometimes there was a price to be paid in its working. When your people came to the east, they taught us an easier way…how to find and smelt iron into steel…and how to whet an edge from stone. The art of my father and his forefathers was working the star stone…and now it is an art all but lost, known only to some fool of a dwarf mucking about the hearth coals of a far off land.”
A pained look crossed the face of the dwarf and Hraerik knew then how he longed for home. “Tell me more Dvalin and, if what you relate of my fate be true, I’ll take you back to the glassy plains, to Giantland.”
The dwarf cheered up somewhat and continued his tale. “I have watched the star stone being worked and have worked it some myself so I know its varying qualities,” and the dwarf’s eyes shifted from the forge to the metal upon the anvil, “but I have never seen such a stone as yours. Even cold as it is now, it retains some of the hearth‑glow.”
Hraerik studied the stone for a glow.
“Few see it clearly,” the dwarf explained, “some see it better than others, most don’t see it at all. But I have heard tales about star stones that glowed from my father and others; tales enough to know that if we do forge it into a sword:
it will never rust,
it will forever remain sharp,
it will neither bend nor break
and the most powerful of berserks
shall never blunt its edge.”
“I’ll get you this hard coal,” Hraerik exclaimed, “and the bellows…all the pumps you’ll ever need. And, if what you say of this ship and my travels be true, I’ll return you to your homeland. When we forge the sword I’ll consider the bargain as struck.”
“Get me what I need and the striking shall come soon enough,” Dvalin replied. He stared into the flames of the forge once more and he contemplated the price of the forging and he wondered “How soon is soon enough?”
It was the spring of 836 and there was a powerful Norwegian chieftain named Hraegunar Sigurdson and he had two sons. Hraelauger, the elder, was a strapping young man of nineteen, with long blonde hair, bright blue eyes and a fresh ruddy face that women found attractive. Over the winter Hraegunar had decided, against common custom, to take Hraelauger with him on a viking expedition down the coast of Jutland, so in the early spring they sailed off leaving the youngest son, Hraerik, to tend the homestead.
Hraerik was a big strong lad, a half year younger than Hraelauger and not as tall, but more powerfully built, with coal black hair and deep blue eyes set under heavy brooding brows. Hard work had always been his lot and this was reflected in his harsh features. Unlike Hraelauger, he was neither handsome, nor well trained in arms, but he had surprising strength and drew the heaviest bow in the district. A steady hand and a sharp eye made his shot unmatched thereabouts, and he was well trained in the black art of the smith, and there was a little of the uncanny about him. He had learned all the old poems and the ancient tales that his foster-father, Brak, had taught him, and he could read the runes as well as any priest. But while Hraegunar worshipped Odin and Hraelauger trusted in Thor, Hraerik showed fealty to none of the gods, putting his faith in the strength of his arm and the stroke of his sword; yet there was still a little of the uncanny about him.
Now the main hall of Hraegunarstead was a longhall of a size befitting Hraegunar’s station as Chieftain of Jaederen Province, being thirty-two feet wide, a hundred and forty feet long and standing twenty-four foot at the gable peak. It was of massive post and beam construction–the huge squared timbers having been hauled out of the great mountain forest surrounding the farm–with board and batten walls and a steep pitched pole and thatch roof that, from the front porch at the gable end, seemed to arc up into the very heavens. The posts and beams were detailed in carved reliefs of ancient religious motif–the work of finely skilled craftsmen–and the designs marched down the doorposts and across the great oaken entrance doors, twin story panels at the front of the hall. The heavy front doors opened with effort into the main hall and there was a vestibule with a great square entrance hearth where a fierce fire roared, keeping the chill of the doorway at bay. The inner front wall of the hall was studded with pegs upon which guests hung their outer garments and weapons. In the front half of the hall sleeping benches were butted up endwise to the heavy plank side walls, twelve on either side, and the walls themselves were adorned with the painted shields and silver inlaid weapons of Hraegunar’s hired men. Halfway down the longhall two sets of triple high seats faced each other, backed against either wall, sitting above the worn plank floor, each upon its own dais. The high seats, too, were handsomely carved and behind them the walls were rich with tapestries. In the back half of the hall two dozen more sleeping benches hugged the walls and again the shields and weapons of warriors graced the greying planks. Down the centre of the hall ranged six long narrow flagstone hearths spaced out evenly between the two rows of sleeping benches leaving an open area between the two sets of high seats where audiences and entertainments took place. The wood smoke from the hearth fires rose freely up into the beams and rafters where it blackened them with creosote before escaping through smokeholes in the thatched roof. Beyond the main hall were the bedrooms, three plank walled chambers on either side with a six foot hallway between them. And at the very back of the hall was the kitchen and scullery where the feasts and the meals were prepared.
The longhall was the largest of many buildings at Hraegunarstead, a great meadow of a farm at the head of a fjord, closed off from all other land by the heavily forested mountains that surrounded it. A large crafthouse where all the wool was spun and the cloth was woven stood to the south of the hall, while a long shipwright’s shop, where the sturdy ships for crossing the Nor’Way were built, stood to the north, all three facing west, opening out onto the bay. Farther down the shore was a large smithy shop where iron was smelted and steel was forged. The homes of Hraegunar’s freemen were nestled into the slope behind these buildings and behind the smithy shop there was a greying dilapidated hall in which the slaves slept. Between the halls and the rising meadow was a loose crescent of outbuildings: a dairyhouse where the cows were milked and the cheeses were molded and a salthouse where the meat was laid up. There were cattle barns, horse stables, sheep sheds and granaries and beyond them all, the meadows, fields and pastures rising gently to meet the surrounding mountain forests. And running down from the mountains was Ulf Creek, quencher of fires, wandering its way south-west through the fields then west through the little settlement and just south past Hraegunar’s longhall, out across the beach and into the bay.
That evening at supper all Hraegunar’s hired men, freemen, the women and children of the stead and the slaves attended their usual places, save for the men out raiding and one dwarf slave named Dvalin. Hraerik’s stepmother, Kraka, sat alone in the highest high seat, which she normally shared with Hraegunar. Hraelauger’s high seat to her right sat empty, but on her left Hraerik shared his high seat with Dvalin, who was dressed in his finest attire, a patchwork of colourful rags. The matching high seats on the opposite side of the hall were empty, reserved only for guests of high station. Below them the people of Hraegunarstead were occupied with their meals, sitting at the ends of their sleeping benches or on stools with their trencherplates on their laps, devouring roasted and boiled meats, baked breads, meal cakes, curds and cheeses, then washing them down with milk or ale.
Kraka marked a tendril of smoke as it fled the flames of a nearby hearth, spiraling past a sooty crossbeam, up into the rafter poles, where it joined with a band of smoke playing about the thatch while seeking a smokehole through which to escape out into the cool night air. She was worried about her son, Hraelauger. “Much like smoke a child is,” she mused, absorbed in her melancholy reverie. Dvalin chose this inopportune moment to belch loudly. Kraka began shaking her head slowly, first left, then right and her silver-blonde hair danced about her shoulders. Finally, staring into the trencher that was laid across her lap she said, “I never thought I’d see the day when a slave would sit upon a high seat of Hraegunar’s. And a dwarf at that! What is this world coming to?” she asked of Hraerik this seemingly eternal question.
“Mother,” Hraerik sighed, breaking away from his third helping, “you know full well that I have taken Dvalin aside and extended him some freedom in faith of what he proposes to do.” Hraerik felt Dvalin shifting nervously beside him.
“Freedom is one thing,” she said, rising from her seat. Her trencher, which she held a little away from her body, hung down, threatening momentarily to drop from her fingertips. She was a splendid woman, tall and lithe with a gracefulness that belied her age. “But from hearth to highseat in a day is quite another. Hraegunar shall hear about this when he returns.” Kraka turned, stepped down from the dais and walked away. A slender bondmaiden rushed behind her, caught up the trencher and followed her into the chamberway.
Hraerik watched his stepmother disappear and it suddenly struck him how much she had aged. “Soon she shall walk upon the bitter green,” he thought, then returned his attention to the trencher upon his lap. Dvalin, too, resumed his meal, savouring the choice cuts of the high seat spread.
“You said there was a price,” Hraerik started, “a price that is paid when working the star stone. Has it to do with the peculiar glow of the metal?”
“It is precisely the glow!” the dwarf cried, then continued his repast. While Hraerik watched impatiently, he finished his plate, smacked his chops and wiped his mouth on his cuff. “Stones that glow like yours, I have never actually seen before, but I have heard of them. My grandfather told me of a blade that was forged from a star stone that glowed thus. It is heavenly poisoned, this steel, and when forged to an edge it is death to any man it cuts, for, no matter how insignificant the injury, the wound never heals. We must be very careful when we work it.” Dvalin looked about the hall nervously, his eyes finally coming to rest at his old spot among the ashes of his former hearth.
“There is more?”
“It is said,” the dwarf sputtered, staring into the flames of the hearth, “that the blade must always be sheathed still smothered in the blood of its last victim, or it will be the death of its owner.”
“Does it smite the hand that wields it?” Hraerik laughed.
“It is no joking matter,” Dvalin answered palely. “The man who carries the unquenched blade, a blade cooled only in human blood, is set upon by a disease that sours his own blood and, over time, he turns quite ash grey and dies!”
“I am not sure I am willing to pay such a price for this sword you propose,” Hraerik replied, turning suddenly grave.
“I believe the choice is beyond us both, for you have the stone and I have the skill and we’ll both be loath not to use them; when the forging becomes difficult…I will put the edge on the blade, for that is when it is most dangerous…when the blade has not yet been consummated in the blood of a human being.”
Over the course of the next week Hraerik had his father’s hired men about on errands. Some he sent off in search of the hardest coals they could find, while others he sent to neighbouring steads looking for the largest bellows they could borrow.
In the north of Norway, Hraerik’s emissaries located a coal so hard the locals had difficulty mining it and so vitrified it hardly burned on its own, requiring softer coals to keep it alight.
With the required resources gathered, Hraerik and Dvalin set to work on the sword. They employed three bellows to keep the coals fired bright, but even these hottest of coals could only just bring the star steel to a white heat and the forging remained very difficult. It was like working with ton-stone. For two days they struggled, hammering out, or pulling, a three foot blade, pounding in bloodletting grooves, forging the trident guard, beating down the middlepiece and forming the heavy ton-stone pommel until a fine sword started to emerge. Hraerik did all the heavy forge work, keeping three slaves sweating at the pumps while Dvalin prepared a special leaden scabbard to receive the weapon.
Finally, when the sword was ready for its edge, Dvalin asked Hraerik, in his lilting native tongue, “Which of your slaves do you least prefer?” and he motioned towards the bellowsmen.
Of all the folk of Hraegunarstead, only Hraerik had managed to master the language of their dwarf captive. Hraegunar cursed the eastern tongue and likened it to the twittering of birds, but languages came easy to Hraerik and he had learned to converse with the dwarf at an early age. “The fat one is too lazy for my liking,” he replied in same.
That night Dvalin snuck away from his new sleeping bench in the high seat hall, roused the slaves to run the bellows and refired the forge in the smithy shop. While an exhausted Hraerik slept, the dwarf set about putting an edge on the sword.
The smithy shop was a long weathered shed of ancient stone construction with its whole front left open to the sea. The acrid smoke from a score of twisted tallow tapers joined up with the soot smoke from the forge and floated out over the moonlit waters of the bay. The crescent of candles lit the centre of the shed, leaving the periphery in shadows. In the darkness at the back, three slaves sweated at the bellows. Dvalin was at the anvil stone, his haggard features emerging softly from the halo of flickering light, as he patiently tinked an edge onto the sword. He reheated the blade every few minutes and all the while he sang as he worked. His worn and cracked voice rose above the sighing of the bellows and wafted out over the lapping waters, a low soft song in that lilting native tongue. When he hammered on the blade the metal would flash brightly, lighting his wrinkled and whiskered face, a cameo floating in the velvet darkness. Tinking his way up from the guard, he worked both sides of the blade into fine matched edges. It was with a patience known only to men of his stature that Dvalin worked the metal. No file or hone had effect on such steel, its sharpness coming straight off the anvil stone. The dwarf kept tinking the two edges, reheating the sword in the forge, then tinking some more until the edges came together at the tip of the blade. He then worked a fine point onto the sword. And a visible glow remained in both edges and converged at the tip even as the blade grew stone cold. Dvalin held the sword up and surveyed the work he had done. He slipped the sword into the scabbard several times to check the tight fit then he set the nervous slaves back to work at the bellows as if to heat the blade one last time. As the man nearest him, the fat one, stretched upward at the pump, Dvalin withdrew the sword from its sheath and thrust it straight through his belly. The bellowsman screamed in pain, then pitched forward into his own gore and writhed upon the dirt floor. The other slaves fled in terror lest they be fated to join him. But Dvalin remained above him, sword still in hand, as the slave churned up mud in his death throes. The dwarf drove the blade in yet further, all the way to the hilt. When he prized the sword free it was crimson with gore and the glow had subsided somewhat. He then slid the blade, still awash with blood, into the heavy scabbard.
The dawn to which Hraerik awoke was heralded by the death cry of a slave from the smithy shop. By the time he had dressed and rushed down to the forge Dvalin was ready to present him with the sword. “It is done, my lord,” the dwarf panted as he held forth the sheathed blade. “What shall you name her?”
Hraerik took up the scabbard in his hands and inspected the guard, still dripping with gore. He was about to withdraw the blade when Dvalin stopped him with a warning.
“She must never be relieved of her scabbard unless there is slaying to be done, for she must always be sheathed in the blood of her last victim.”
Only with blade in hand, gore dripping off the guard and a slave lying dead on the floor, could the sword’s curse be fully felt. Hraerik studied the crumpled corpse at his feet and a shudder ran up his spine, for he had no love of the weird; yet he knew even then he would strike the same deal all over again. He’d found the stone and in Dvalin the skill and he had been loath not to use them.
“I was going to call her Aurvandil’s Toe, but I think the appendage unfitting the blade, be she half what you claim her to be.”
“She’ll be that and more if one can judge by the forging.”
“I believe you are right and in such light I shall name her after the only god for which I have respect, Tyr, the god of justice. I name her Tyr’s Finger.”
“Tyr’s Finger”, Dvalin reflected. “Tyrfingr. The name fits the forging.”
It was during the forging of Tyrfingr that the war arrow was passed around Norway. The war arrow, a dart Odin blessed, was stored up in the rafters of a king’s high seat hall, its presence a reminder to all of their duty to their king, its aloofness a reminder of a king’s duty to all. Lodged amongst the rafters, played upon by the hearth fire smoke, blackened by the soot until it looked quite burnt, the arrow would remain at rest till chance or mood or circumstance moved the god of war and it was taken down by the king and it was passed amongst his chieftains. Any who chose not to respond to the call put his life and position at risk. From the rafters of the high seat hall of King Gotar of Romerike was the war arrow now taken down, and it was passed around the Oslo Fjord, the Vik as it was called, on to Ringerike and Tonsberg and Vestfold. From Vestfold it was passed on to Agder and then to Jaederen Province, over which Hraegunar lorded. As he was yet out a viking, it was his son, Hraerik, who was obliged to accept the arrow. Hraerik passed it on to West Agder and on it travelled up the western coast to Rogaland, Hordaland and Sogn, Fjord Province, Southmore and Romsdalen, then on to Northmore, Trondheim and Namdalen and at last Halogaland, the northernmost province of the loosely federated states of the Nor’way.
Back in Jaederen Province, Hraerik was obliged to take down from the rafters his father’s own war arrow so it could be passed around the surrounding steads to rouse the forces under Hraegunar’s command. He placed a tall stool on his father’s high seat and Dvalin steadied the stool while his mother looked on. As Hraerik felt around the top of the rafter up above him, his hand knocked over a stack of two books and they plummeted down from the timber overhead and Dvalin, looking up, instinctively caught them and the trail of falling dust and soot that followed the books drifted down and about the dwarf’s head and shoulders and his face became suddenly black. Kraka saw it all and she burst out laughing, as Hraerik looked down and asked what it was that had fallen. “It is books!” the little dwarf exclaimed and he looked up at Hraerik, two big white eyes bobbing in the sea of black that was his face. Hraerik, too, began to laugh, so hard he near fell off his stool and he finally found the arrow and climbed down from his perch with it in hand.
“What are you looking at?” Dvalin cried and this just started Kraka laughing even harder. The dwarf did not seem aware of how pitch black his face had become until after he had passed Hraerik the books and began wiping his eyes with his bunched little fists.
Hraerik brushed the soot off the cover of the top book and he could see that they were both red leather bound renditions of the same book, rather small books compared to some the Christian missionaries carried, but bound books nonetheless. “I didn’t know father could read,” Hraerik said, and Kraka responded that he couldn’t. Hraerik opened the first book and replied, “At least not in this tongue!” He passed the book to Dvalin and asked, “Have you ever seen this script?”
“No,” the dwarf answered, “but it looks as though it comes from the eastern realms. Perhaps it’s Persian.”
Hraerik opened the second book and he near dropped to his knees. This book was a copy of the first, or rather, the first was a copy of this one, for this one was ancient. Hraerik could sense it was older than Babylon itself. Later he would learn it was in Aramaic, not Persian. Chaldean Aramaic to be precise.
“Are you alright, Hraerik?” the dwarf asked and Kraka stepped up on the dais to help.
“I fear there is evil in these,” Hraerik started, then caught himself. “I know it’s not Latin, because Brak is teaching me Latin.”
“Brak can read the Christian script?” Kraka asked.
“Yes. And the Greek of the Byzantines. Now he’s teaching me.”
Kraka was amazed. “I knew he could read the runes,” she started, shaking her head back and forth. “After all, he keeps Hraegunar’s merchant records and he maintains Jaederen’s Naming Book.”
“He can read the runes in all the northern dialects, and the German dialect too,” Hraerik started, bragging up his mentor. “And he can read the Christian script better than a priest.” Hraerik could see that Kraka seemed impressed.
She had learned to read the runes, but it was her duty as a priestess of Odin. She had to be able to read the chants and incantations and recipes for potions and remedies. Kraka was very impressed. “Perhaps that is why my father hired him so many years ago,” she started, then looked up to the rafters wistfully. “I thought it was because he knew the secret of steel. We’d best put the books back……and tell no one that we found them.”
And Hraerik did just that.