Pige the Dragonslayer

Dragon

O’ Skjold Pige, maiden of flaxen hair and of iron heart, wielder of Longbrand, slayer of Firben the Dragon, Hawk-Talker, and the tamer of Ulv Linjal the Wilder King. Such as it were, she was mother of raiders and matron of heroes. Of Pige Iron Heart -her birth, her life, her death- I sing.

For Skjold Pige was daughter of the Frozen Jarl, Skjold Helt, who stories and names became legend carried by the eastern winds. After his betrayal by Skarp the Usurper and the fall of the great realm of Ullenheim, was young Pige left to wander the frozen lands in search of home and hearth. Placed in the charge of Spyd, her mother’s father, and kindest of her relations, the two did flee the realm for the safety of the wilderness.

Together grandfather and infant wandered and avoided the eyes of the Skarp and his agents. Traveling as a lowly minstrel, did Spyd walk the lands. The infant Pige was left concealed within an oversized lute, protected from the elements and treacherous eyes. So, it was that Spyd the Minstrel came to the cottage of Kort and Hoj. The sisters were Craven, members of the fay-folk in the form of man, and known for cowardice and treachery.

They offered the old man sanctuary and sustenance for the long winter’s night, each sister observing how Spyd would clutch his lute, never allowing it far from sight. Together the Cravens surmised that some great prize must be held within its confines, gold or jewels, perhaps from some ill-begotten scheme. Yes, that must be it, they believed. For surely this long-beard was some sort of highwayman, who had cut many a throat to prosper to such an old age.

They offered Spyd a place in their small stable for the night. The old man readily accepted, still clinging to his lute, even as he drifted into slumber among the putrid frozen hay. He would never arise again.

Thus, it was that in the night did Kort and Hoj strike, killing Pige’s grandfather with the swift blow of their axes. Yet, before they could turn their blades to the lute in hopes of wealth and riches, did they hear the soft mewling of a child, whose life was surely no longer than that of two winters.

Frustrated by their poor fortune Hoj turned to strike the golden haired child, but Kort was quicker. She stayed her sister’s hand, knowing that the girl could be useful. Yet, surely the child would despise them for the killing of Spyd, argued Hoj, but Kort disagreed. She was too young to retain the memory of that night and through her they could find an easier existence among the cold harsh world.

So, it was that two and ten winters passed and Skjold Pige grew up strong and beautiful, though terribly unhappy. She cared for her aunts and their constant demands kept her wearied and dissatisfied. Each day she tended the livestock, fed the hearth, cooked their meals, and kept the snow and dirt from their floors. The two Cravens lounged about all day, making demands of her and treating her as one treats a servant. The girl grew up hard and determined with calloused hands and an unblinking heart.

Pige’s life was one of struggle and work, and rare were her cherished moments, when she was left free to wander the wilderness. Her happiest moments were always found among the natural beauty of her land, as if she were as unbound as the summer sparrows. Yet never was she allowed to walk near the cave of black ice. For her aunts had warned her of the great demon that lived within its mouth, Firben.

The mighty dragon, Firben, was none other than the eldest brother of Kort and Hoj, and his avarice and malice surpassed that of his sisters as the strength of a great bear surpasses that of a house cat. Firben, once stole the treasure of Heksedame, the feared northern witch. Yet, he hoarded the treasure with great jealousy and zeal, even sleeping atop it for fear of robbers and cutthroats. Unbeknownst to him and his sisters he also hoarded the curse of that treasure as well. During the night he transformed from the Craven he was to the terrifying visage of a horned serpent, whose teeth could pierce shield and armor, and whose jaw could swallow a longboat. The name of Firben became feared among the bands of the South and cursed by his sisters, for they envied the mound of wealth upon which he still slept each night.

Pige knew none of this, nor did the naive prince and his band of raiders who landed within the fjord nearby. Oks Prale, son of Skarp the Usurper, went ashore for supplies with his men one snowy winter’s morning. While off alone he beheld the daughter of Skjold Helt, last of the great Jarls. For she was wandering among the trees in search of firewood to warm the feet of her Craven aunts. Her golden hair set his heart aflame, and he approached as one might approach a foal in the wild. Yet, Pige Iron Heart was no skittish creature. Upon his sudden arrival she struck with club and fist, believing it to be some lone sickly wolf or thug of disrepute.

Prale fell to her blows as his heart had fallen to her beauty. She begged his pardon and as he lay upon the frozen ground did he beg her hand in marriage. She considered the bleeding man at her feet. He was fair of face, if not weak of chin, but marriage would also mean freedom from her aunts and their frozen hovel. She accepted his proposal and helped the limping boy back to her aunt’s house to tell them the tidings of her coming nuptials.

Kort and Hoj were less pleased with the prospect of the coming union. Prale was allowed to sleep the night to recover from his wounds in the very same barn as Spyd the Minstrel. The boy would have suffered the very same fate as Pige’s grandfather had it not been for the girl’s constant attention. Come the morning, each Aunt gave their reasons why Pige was duty bound to stay with them and not marry the son of Skarp. For, who would run their baths? Who would cook their meats? Who would keep away the summer rats and the winter wolves? Yet the daughter of Helt remained firm in her resolve, claiming that she would do none of those things if they forced her to remain.

The two Craven cursed their luck and the boy prince. Yet, Kort, always the more cleverer of the two, saw a shrewd plan. If the prince could slay the demon snake, Firben, than they would allow him to take Pige back to his realm. For, if the boy succeeded it would mean the end of their monstrous brother and the recovery of his treasure. If he failed then Pige would stay with them for the remainder of her life, working to keep them in comfort and ease. Prale, accepted their challenge, though his hands were shaky and his battleaxe untested.

Prale set out the next morning, gathering his men, with the intent on proving himself to the relations of his new bride by slaying Firben the Gold. Though forbidden to do so, Pige, also left her aunts’ hovel and followed the trail of the prince and his men, joining him just as the great serpent emerged from its icy black lair.

The battle that was waged between the hunting party and their dragon foe was fierce and filled with the aroma of death. Yet, the fight did not turn in Prale’s favor. His men were killed and he was wounded beyond reason. During the slaughter, Pige came close and pulled the boy to safety, dragging his near lifeless body into the sanctuary of the woods and beyond the reach of the sated Firben.

Pige shed a tear, not for the wounded prince at her feet, but for the lost freedom she craved beyond the confines of her small world. Thus, in that moment her resolve steeled and her heart became iron. She snatched Prale’s axe from his wounded hand and took up her own club.

The daughter of Helt made her way to the shore near the black ice cave, and worked through the morning to bash and cut the sea ice into small jagged pieces as wickedly sharp as Firben’s own teeth. The girl cut a path twenty span wide and forty span long, working as if she were imbued with the power of Hammare the great smith of the heavens. She slashed till the axe became dulled and pitted and pounded till her club splintered and broke. She then took the morning’s snow and laid it over the trail of icy pitons, shading the path’s true intention from all but the keenest of eyes.

With splintered club and dull blade, she approached the black ice cave calling out for Firben with a booming voice. She mocked him for his cowardice, for who else but a coward would refuse to face a mere servant girl. The great serpent was enraged and struck like thundersnow, slithering forth to snap up the arrogant Pige in one assault, but she was prepared. Dodging beyond the grasp of Firben the Gold the daughter of Helt led her unsuspecting prey toward the frozen shore.

She sighted her trap and ran across it, her light footsteps barely disturbing the snowy covering of the trap. She floated across it as light as a midday’s flake. Firben however, whose girth was immeasurable and whose great weight was prodigious, crashed through the field of spikes, their razor sharp pikes ripping into the beast’s belly. The great serpent bellowed as the daggers of ice cut deep.

Skjold Pige did not hesitate. She took her splintered club and drove it into the soft side of the raging monster. Then she took her dulled axe and plunged it into the great serpent’s eye. Firben thrashed and screamed. The birds took flight and the seals took to the waters. With each motion the dragon became lethargic, until finally Firben the Gold laid still and dead near the shore.

An urge came over Pige then. Without knowing her own intent, she reached down and drank the blood of the beast that was pooling beneath the body. The world become color and sound and a new understanding flooded into the mind of Pige Iron Heart. For a great snowy hawk landed near her feet and spoke to her as any one person might speak to another.

Though, the daughter of Helt could not later recall the words of the great predator, she understood its meaning. The bird spoke to her of the treachery of her aunts and the death of her grandfather. A memory emerged to Pige as a wolf emerges from the morning mists. The face that looked down from the haze of history was one that was kindly and gentle, but then it was changed. It became one that was unmoving and dead, blood surrounding it like an ocean surrounds an ice flow. The axes of Kort and Hoj shone in the oily lamplight of the stable.

A quiet rage grew inside Pige Hawk-Talker, and she returned to the cave of black ice and found the great mound of treasure that had  belonged to the demon, Firben. Placing a small ransom’s worth of riches in a sack she ventured back into the wilderness, and carefully gathered the deadly Moddenlir root. Its petals were the violet of the western sunset, but its thorns were deadly, even with the slightest of pricks. She removed them from the earth with skill and care, placing them in the bag with the coins of Firben, and returned to her aunts in their hovel.

The winds of change whipped her hair as she shut the door of the gloomy small home, yet she took care not to betray her intent in voice or visage. She cheerily announced the death of the dragon to her aunts, and at first, Kort and Hoj were despondent at the news. For they realized that the prince had met their dowry price, but upon seeing the bag of gold their misfortune was forgotten. The two Cravens reached greedily into its dark confines of the purse, pulling forth both coins and thorns. Shrieking in ecstacy that turned suddenly to pain, the two old fays fell to the swept ground near the well-kept hearth of their home.

They writhed in agony as their niece looked upon them, with her face of a stone. The last words the two Craven’s heard from the girl they had treated so poorly was but a single pronouncement, I am Skjold Pige, Daughter of Helt, and now my grandfather Spyd the Minstrel is avenged.

In that last moment, they knew their secret was discovered and that their evil deeds had finally returned to them. Pige watched Kort and Hoj shrivel and die at her feet. She then took a torch and lit the house. It flames climbed higher than the trees as night fell across the land.

Before the moon had risen, she was reunited with Prale son of Skarp. Together they boarded his ship and turned toward his father’s realm. Oks Prale believed that he was going home to introduce his betrothed to his father, but unbeknownst to him his bride had drank the blood of Firben. She now spoke with the birds, who knew the secrets of the world, and they had told her of the fate of her father at the hands of Skarp the Usurper.

The snowy hawks and summer sparrows had told her that secret and many more. Now, Pige Iron Heart, daughter of Skjold Helt was returning to her homeland to avenge her family and reclaim the land that was stolen for her. For, she swore, Firben would not be the last to fall beneath her blade.

O’ Skjold Pige, maiden of flaxen hair and of iron heart, wielder of Longbrand, slayer of Firben the Dragon, Hawk-Talker, and the tamer of Ulv Linjal the Wilder King. Such as it were, she was mother of raiders and matron of heroes. Of Pige Iron Heart -her birth, her life, her death- I sing.

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