Of warg and man

This story is related to Heruwargr by Waelden, and The Sword by Yllfa.

     - “Sit down then and listen to my tale; this saga of blood and death, but also of bravery and victory against a mighty foe. Hear the tale of my father, as it was told to me by the one who was there with him, when this sword became his.” 

This I spoke to the women of my household, as Yllfa had read the runes upon my blade. For it was a grand tale indeed, and one I had not yet told Ethel in full, though she knew many if not most of the details. I made myself as comfortable as I possibly could in my chair, while my still healing foot rested upon a padded stool before me. In my hand I held the sword, feeling the hilt’s leather touch against my skin, and I dragged my finger along the now well-used - and in some places jagged - sharp edge, and I knew well its weight, how it handled in battle and how it would cut. And still, many of the secrets and riddles of steel were a mystery to me - if there ever were any secrets hidden within, that is. In the dimmed candlelight, the steel glistened and gleamed, and the inscribed runes appeared to carry a glow of their own - even though I knew that was merely an effect of the flickering light and the engraved steel, and not some kind of magic charm.

Such things are for wicked wizards, elves and the men of yore - not for simple folk like ourselves. A sword is a sword, and yet I cannot ignore the feeling that there may be something more to it; a hidden secret, not wrought with spells of wizards, but with the power of bonded blood and steel. I put the sword down in my lap again, and spoke up to the eagerly awaiting audience, where the dog Herne quietly sleeps and snores on Ethel’s lap, seemingly uninterested in what I had to tell. I could only hope that my storytelling would equal the one who graced me with the same tale, where my father would speak little, for he was never one to brag and sing about his own deeds. Such a thing was destined for the skalds to decide, he’d say.

     - “The tale of Heruwargr is a long and winding one, and I will tell it to you much as I once heard it, told to me by a bard who in those days often rode with my father into battle. You see, he and my father had become close friends, and they had been through many adventures together. Many times this man would sing and share the tales of all their deeds in hope of becoming a minstrel of some renown, and sing for the lords and ladies of all that he had witnessed. And that he did, but not until his final years - though that is another tale for another time. You may know him, Ethel, if you still remember old man Forthwin who used to travel and sing in Floodwend from time to time. He was my father’s friend, you see, and I grew up listening to his songs and stories of their adventures.

So, this story Forthwin told me in my later years of boyhood; of the time when my father Eldewine was young and I was but a mere boy, no more than three winters and too young to remember. They had for many weeks and months hunted a grim pack of vicious wargs that plagued the northern reaches of Rohan. Through the forests of Norcrofts, the Wold and the East Wall these wargs would hide and hunt and scavenge, moving like shadows from one tree to the next while scouring the open fields for prey, and always eluding the men of the Mark. The warg leader had no name that they knew of, but my father dubbed it Wretchjaw, and one can only speculate what this warg named my father in turn.

The pack would hunt cattle from the nearby farms, cows and sheep, and even dogs and men - whatever they could get their wicked paws upon to satisfy their hunger and bring fear and despair upon the people. On one of these farms there lived a smith of some renown, a man who often made fine blades for the more noble houses and distinguished captains. It was said that some of his creations even graced the royal armory at Edoras. A son he had lost to Wretchjaw’s pack, and countless sheep. For this grave injustice, he would offer a fine sword to whomever could slay the dreaded beast and bring its head to him, so he could mount it over the mantelpiece and spit in its eyes each morn, until the day he died. Such was the smith’s deep hatred for the warg called Wretchjaw, and the loss of his son.

Eldewine was a man who cared little for earthly rewards, yet he was determined to bring down the ghastly creature once and for all, and end their terror of the land. The hunt turned into a bitter rivalry and fear and hatred from man and beast alike; fear for the other’s strength and determination, and hatred for their deeds. Eldewine and his men had slain many a warg from the dreaded pack over the months, and had lost many a man in turn. One lesser warg would die by the spear or arrow, and a man would die by the claw or fang. Eldewine would seek to slay Wretchjaw, and he would seek to slay Eldewine.

Three times they fought; three times they injured each other with spear, claws and fangs; and three times Wretchjaw would escape deep into the shadowed forest to lick his wounds. The wargs would not willingly go out on the open fields, and the Riders would not willingly go into the forest. The frustration of both the hunter and the hunted grew with every day that followed, and for the first time in its cursed life, the hunter Wretchjaw had truly become the hunted. Like this it continued, day after day, week after week, and the war of beast and man appeared never-ending, until the day finally came when it would all be decided, once and for all. For you see, each war has a turning point, which all the battles fought and lost or won would lead to.

So it came to be that one of Eldewine’s sharp-eyed scouts spotted a shadow, lurking at the edge of the woods as evening fell and the skies darkened, and between its wide jaws the dark-furred creature held a murdered sheep, leaving a trail of blood behind. This was their chance, the riders decided, and they rode after it. The wind was just right, but wargs have not only a keen nose, they also have keen eyes and ears, far better than any man, and perhaps better than any dog or wolf as well. Within a second the warg noticed the thundering hooves and the approaching riders, but it did not flee into the forest. The beast ran along the forest’s edge, just behind the treeline.

The riders followed, now determined to slay it, and many an arrow were fired against it, yet only one would hit its mark, to wound the beast. They approached the whimpering creature, wary of more wargs, yet not wary enough. For they had ridden too close to the forest, and tall crowns of autumn leaves now covered the sky and the moon, while thick and gnarly branches veiled much of their view. They had ridden into a glade at the forest’s edge, and while they had the open fields behind them, there was a wall of trees around them.

And there, from the dark abysmal forest, tainted by the stench of blood and evil, many more shadows emerged from behind the trees and jagged rocks. It was a trap, cleverly set and sprung by Wretchjaw himself, to lure Eldewine and his riders into a position where wargs would have the advantage over the mounted riders. Eldewine cried out and took the war-horn to his lips; three times he blew in it, and three times it sounded through the forest as the battle of man and beast began. Wretchjaw himself had risen above his pack, standing on top of a tall rock while the wargs attacked the riders. The war-horses fought and trampled as best they could, but in that narrow glade at the forest’s edge, there was little room to move for such mighty horses, and many were spooked and fled, or slain by the approaching wargs.

The men however held their own; with spears and swords, axes and shields, and bows and arrows, they fought with valor and courage as their friends fell around them, as did the wargs, one by one. A warg was speared into the ground by Eldewine, and a man almost cloven in two by Wretchjaw’s ferocious bite. Another warg fell with an axe firmly embedded in its thick skull, another man’s throat slashed open by a claw, both meeting their death that night. Blood was spilled at every turn, and limbs and paws severed in every corner of the glade, and the cries of battle echoed, yet no aid came to the riders. Thus the battle raged on, and no apparent victor was in sight, until there were only a handful left still standing. There were three riders; Eldewine, Forthwin and Felraf, and there was Wretchjaw and what appeared to be his mate, nearly as large, yet not nearly as strong.

There they all stood then, in the growing darkness. Three men of Rohan, pitted against two great wargs at the end of a long-fought war of man and beast. Already it had become a war of legend in the northern reaches of the Mark, but the legend doesn’t end here, no. Wretchjaw’s mate saw that both Forthwine and Felraf were wounded, not gravely, but enough. She did not seek to battle Eldewine, for Wretchjaw had laid claim upon him for a long time. And so, the great wargs leaped against the riders, landed between them and divided them from each other. Eldewine suddenly stood alone against Wretchjaw, and his mate against Forthwin and Felraf.

The cruelest howl the wargs let out from their fanged mouths, and the sound would instill great fear into the hearts of any man, but their arms and minds were still strong! Forthwin and Felrof battled the lesser warg, and I say “lesser” only to compare her to the mighty Wretchjaw, for she was indeed a ferocious and large beast, much more so than most others! The wounded Felraf met his end that night, yet Forthwin slayed the warg with his sword even as he was thrown to the ground, and his head slammed against a rock. Darkness overcame trusted Forthwin, and here his story might have ended, were it not for his strong will to live and tell the tale. Moments later he regained his senses enough to witness through blurred and bloodied eyes, the culmination of the great battle between warg and man.

And this he told of what he saw: Now there was only Eldewine and Wretchjaw still standing, and they were locked into a battle where none seemed the stronger or mightier, even if the warg was twice the size of the man. Wretchjaw’s eyes were burning like golden hot coals in the night, and they were filled with pure rage and hatred for the man, whose speartip glimmered like starlit silver even as it was covered in blood. The woods had grown quiet, an eerie silence where no birds or crickets would sing, and all that was heard was the snarling, deep breaths of the wounded warg.

Eldewine was not unstained with blood either, for in their battle they had both wounded each other yet again, like so many times before. Eldewine’s spear had cut into the belly of the beast, though not deep enough to kill, while Wretchjaw’s claws had sliced through his armor and left a gaping gash across his chest. This was their moment - only one of them would walk away, or none. Man and beast circled each other, preparing themselves and judging the other, searching for any weakness and opening.

Wretchjaw growled, and through the silence of the forest it sounded almost like the warg spoke to the man; laying curses and bewitchment upon him, until at last the great warg lept towards brave Eldewine, not once, not twice, but three times he lept and clawed, and each time the man dodged and rolled to the side, agile and swift as a fox even with his wounds, further enraging the wicked warg as his claws would only graze the man’s skin. Wretchjaw cried out in agony as the spear cut into his flesh as well, but now he had learned the man’s movements, and the fourth time he’d slay him at long last, and put an end to the man of Rohan who had hunted him for so long. Wretchjaw howled yet again into the silence of the night, and through his teeth he snarled and growled, spitting his hatred and malice all around him.

Again he lept at Eldewine; this time expecting the man to evade towards the sides as he did before, but the warg’s wicked claws found nothing but air yet again, for Eldewine had in turn lept forward and landed right before the great warg, and while doing so he had broken his spear in half, and swiftly planted the broken end into the ground, upon which the great warg impaled himself through the heart as he lept. And so the great beast fell lifeless down on top of brave Eldewine, who had finally brought down the mighty foe, but at a great cost. As Wretchjaw’s glowing eyes of coal burned out and his breathing went still, Forthwin, still alive but winded and concussed, crawled towards the man and beast, believing Eldewine to have met his end that night. Alas, even though clawed and crushed beneath the heavy weight of the warg, Eldewine was still alive but unconscious. With a great effort for his aching muscles, Forthwin used a spear as leverage to move the warg from his friend, and began to drag him towards the surviving horses who had fled across the hills, some distance from their riders.

Only moments later, Eldewine awoke with a gasp as Forthwin struggled to carry him, for they were both gravely wounded. Eldewine murmuring and whispering under his breath, until he found the strength to speak aloud and thus told Forthwin to stop, for they had forgotten one thing as the battle ended - they needed Wretchjaw’s foul head as a gift for the mourning smith, who sought to mount it upon his wall, and spit upon it each morn. And lo, as both their strength slowly returned, Eldewine then took up the axe of one of his fallen comrades, and set it upon the mighty warg’s neck. Three strikes it took to sever the foul head from its wicked shoulders, and it took both men to carry it to the horses. The riders, now truly victorious at long last, returned their prize to the smith, who in kind held true to his offer. He swore to make Eldewine a sword of great worth as a reward for slaying the beast, but brave and honorable Eldewine said thus to the smith;

- “Make me not a grand sword fit for Kings; I ask only that you make for me a sharp but simple sword, one which I can trust will not fall to pieces, or lose its jewels. I have no need for such trinkets, I need only a good sword.”

And thus the smith made for Eldewine this blade; Heruwargr he named it to honor the great battle of warg and man, and he bathed the steel in a wolf’s warm blood to still its hunger of birth. As Eldewine later came to collect his well-earned prize, he saw indeed that Wretchjaw’s head was mounted in the smith’s house, and Forthwin thus began to spin the tale that I have just shared with you. Only two men would live to remember, and only one would tell the tale in the years to come. And as for the blade itself; perhaps there is a wolf’s honorable and protective spirit bound to it, for I have always felt safe and confident with it in my hand, even amongst the fiercest of hungry wargs and other foes.

Or perhaps it is only just what my father wished for; a simple, good sword, which I wear with great pride to remember and honor my father and all his deeds, and see that this blade continues to do good for our family. So ends this part of Heruwargr’s story, and yet I feel there will come a time when you, Ethel, will share the same tale to your children when the sword will pass to you, and perhaps you will even add some of my deeds to its legacy. For even if a sword may just be a piece of steel wrought in a smoldering forge, the spirit within the steel lives on and takes shape through all our deeds and lives. Remember that well, and once I’m gone, you will shape your own story.”