The Last Sword of Barrow Thorns
In a land beyond lands and in a time before times, there crouched a mountain of mountains. Twrrfyldo it was named, and like a black toad it brooded at the edge of the world. Scorched and desolate were the peaks and pits of Twrrfyldo, grim and jagged were its crags and spires, and pitiless were the storms that roamed its surface. Hated and feared was the “black toad” but also coveted, for buried within its dead rock, in lightless mines that wound for leagues through the bowels of the mountain and in veins yet untouched by mortal hands were wondrous ores and such gems as kingdoms have been sold for.
Beneath this terrible mountain lived a terrible dwarf. Barrow Thorns was his name and he too was hated and feared for, like all his kin, Barrow Thorns was a lecherous, cruel, and wicked creature. Short and wide he was, with hair like a winter thorn bush and teeth like granite. His skin was rougher than the mountain’s; his nose was a lump of coal; his tiny eyes sparkled like polished knives, and if beautiful gems were hidden beneath his surface none knew nor cared.
Many who came to this land were swallowed, first by Twrrfyldo then by Barrow. But still they came for like all his kin Barrow was a master craftsman, smith, and jeweler. A weaponsmith was Barrow and none better. Alone in his caves, amid the scolding steam of his infernal forges and the hammering of his anvils and the distant moan of the slaves in his mines, he crafted exquisite tools of destruction. For great price he sold his weapons to all who came to him wishing to purchase slaughter. To the beleaguered king the dwarf would sell such trebuchets as could hurl mountains onto his enemies. The price? Mere gold and but a thimble of the royal blood. When the desperate rebel leader came to him, Barrow would produce an axe already acquainted with the tyrant’s blood and thirsting for more, only asking that the hero render up to Twrrfyldo the defeated royals to toil in the sunless mines beneath the mountain. And when the slaughtered king’s daughter, raised in fear and hatred, vowed vengeance on the usurper, it was with depraved and perverted deeds that she bought her freedom and also an enchanted blade whose glory shone brightest when it sinned most. So it went, through the years, and Barrow’s weapons grew in number and infamy as the dwarf watched from his mountain and smiled to see the wreck his weapons wrought.
Until one night, after a day of such butchery that heaven wept, when the sky poured out such a torrent that Twrrfyldo was choked with rain and its passages and caves and secret places were flooded. For a dragon’s age the forges of Barrow had burned and that night they died with a screaming hiss. For an eon the mines beneath Twrrfyldo had echoed with misery and pain and that night they rang with screams and were silent. Barrow himself was nearly drowned. Like a beetle in a wineskin he was tossed by the dark flood before being spat out onto the sodden earth with other rough, ugly things. Far he was washed by the flood and farther was he blown by the winds so that when the tempest turned from him in disgust Barrow the dwarf was further from Mount Twrrfyldo than he had ever been.
“Titania’s tits!” He shouted and “Spirit’s piss!” and much more besides till the sun set in horror and rose again in disgust. Then, when he could think of no more oaths (or at least none that he dare speak above ground), he looked around him at the strange world he was in. There were trees and flowers and little animals that cowered behind bushes and stared at the dwarf in fear. Barrow did not like it so he put his misshapen nose in the air and filled his lungs like bellows. Beyond the sickening flowers and revolting fruit trees he could smell the lingering smoke of his extinct forges, many leagues away. With a curse that would have killed a nun he started towards Mount Twrrfyldo.
Many days he stomped without stop towards his home and all who met him or heard his cursing fled before his ire. He did not notice the warm sun nor the bright stars nor heed the singing of the birds but dwelt only on his misfortune till his blood boiled and his spittle smoldered.
Till one cloudless night a light crossed his path; soft it was but brilliant, all colors yet none. It shone from beyond a copse of birch trees and stopped the march of Barrow Thorns.
“Odin’s cock!” He cried, staggered backwards as if by a hammer’s blow. “What light is this?” He crept nearer the trees like a thief in the night. “I have seen dragonfire and the last light of a child’s eyes and such jewels as would make blind men weep, but I have never seen a light like this light.” Through the trees he moved till he stood atop an embankment running down to a lawn and a star-filled pond and there was the Moon.
She had come down from the sky, draped her airy raiment over a flowering branch, and slipped into the cool water to bathe. Her long hair was blacker than the midnight sky and her skin was whiter than snow and from her flowed a light that was softer than breath and stronger than lightening.
Barrow stood at the top of the embankment, rooted like the trees around him. His black blood burned inside him and his shriveled heart swelled and he cried out, “The Moon! My Lady, my Worship!”
She turned then and walked to the shore and as she did her raiment like clouds drifted to cover her. Gently she beckoned the dwarf forward and willingly he came. He tripped and stumbled across the lawn and bowed his head low, which had never bowed before.
“What is your name?” She asked.
“Barrow Thorns,” he answered, “smith of Mount Twrrfyldo.”
“Why have you came Barrow Thorns, smith of Mount Twrrfyldo, to spy on my bathing?”
“Forgive me, my lady. I saw your radiance from the road and came to find the source of so beautiful a light. I did not mean to spy on your ladyship.”
“I see,” the lady smiled. “Then you have done no wrong a-purpose. You are forgiven.”
“Thank you, my lady.”
“Furthermore, I will grant you a boon.”
“My lady?” Barrow looked up in his surprise and the Moon laughed.
“Yes, my bold dwarf, I will grant you a gift. Since it was my radiance that tempted you to folly, a portion of my radiance you shall have.” She held out her palm and in it shone a celestial light. “But how will you carry it?” She added in a gently mocking tone.
“I have here, my lady,” Barrow reached inside his cloak, “a box that I use when I must carry the light of one gem to another. Perhaps it will hold your light for a little while.” He opened the small iron box and it was lined with colorless crystals.
The lady smiled and placed the light in the box. Barrow closed the lid gently. “When I return to my forges I shall craft it a more fitting receptacle.”
“Very good,” said the Moon. “But remember: nothing can be taken from the Moon forever. All of her gifts must return to her in the fullness of time.”
And so the Moon dismissed Barrow Thorns and he returned to Mount Twrrfyldo carrying the box against his chest. There he found the water receded and all in great disarray. His storerooms were ruined; his tools were scattered; water sprites played in his smithies and tossed the wet ash from his forges like snow. Without a word, thinking only of the Moon, he set about to restore his workshop. He chased away the sprites and gathered his tools. He dried his storerooms and re-fired his forges. Soon the bellows blew and the forges hissed and all was as it had been.
Barrow took the iron box that held the Moon’s light and set it upon a table. He stared at it for a long while and his heat grew heavy with despair. “Oh! What will I do?” He pulled his hair in frustration, for although he was a superb smith and craftsman he knew only the forging of weapons. Never had he made crowns or forged rings or fashioned royal scepters. He knew gems and could cut the most beautiful jewel from the roughest stones but always they adorned daggers or maces or things of brilliant death. Even armor he had never forged – not so much as one war hat or buckler – for he had vowed to make nothing that did not injure. Now he regretted his mercenary ways for he did not have the skill to make for the Moon the gift he wished: a necklace for her heavenly bosom or a ring for her delicate finger or a tiara for her noble brow. So great was his anguish that it wrung burning tears from his eyes – and no stone was ever more reluctant to give up its blood than a dwarf his tears.
Finally he fashioned for the Moon the finest object his murderous hands could conceive: not the brutal beauty of a mace or the savage nobility of an axe or the airy grace of a spear but the elegant majesty of a sword. For nine years he worked a metal known only to dwarves and leviathans, and with an alchemy teased from the lips of a drunken earth-god did he infuse that metal with the light of the Moon. The sword he forged was long and slender, strong as the mountain’s bone yet light as the smoke that rises from its crevices, swift as the rain it was and sharp as the thunder. The handle he carved from the wood of the tree where the Moon had hung her raiment; the pommel and guard he fashioned of the finest gold but no jewels did he set in the hilt for none could rival the light of the Moon. And that light shone from the blade like silver and like snow and like the sea. White it was and yet all the colors echoed within it and could be felt. Seeing what he had wrought, Barrow Thorns wept for he had achieved the summit of his art and only lesser works awaited him. And so the smith of Twrrfyldo swore a mighty oath: “By Blood and by Fire, by the Immovable Earth and the Ceaseless Sky, I have forged my last blade!”
Then, sheathing the sword in a scabbard woven of spider’s thread, the dwarf set out from Mount Twrrfyldo to find again the Moon’s bath. Years had passed, but he knew the way, having trod it each night in his dreams. When he arrived beside the pool he sat down on the lawn and waited. Many nights Barrow sat, as patience and still as a stone, till one starless night the Moon stepped out of the sky onto the grass before him.
The dwarf jumped to his feet and bowed low before her. With his arms stretched above his head he offered the sheathed sword to her. “My lady, I have made this, my finest and last sword, to hold the light you lent unto me. Take it now as a gift and symbol of my love.”
The Moon took the sword and with a whisper drew it from its scabbard. The blade gleamed in the night and yet seemed dull and faint beside the lady herself. She waved it through the air above his head and it left a wake of moonlight. Then she slid it back into the sheath. “Master dwarf,” she smiled, “you have my thanks and my congratulations. This is truly the most beautiful weapon I have yet beheld.”
“It is only your worship’s light that lends beauty to my crude fumblings.” Barrow did not raise his head but looked up through his wild eyebrows.
“Humbly spoken,” she nodded. “Alas, it is still a weapon and its beauty hides a deadly purpose.”
“My lady!” Barrow cried. “I fashioned this blade out of love, love of thee. I know only the making of arms & am too old to learn anything else. I would have crafted thee a throne had I but known how.”
The Moon’s face was sad. “Even so, the Moon carries no weapons save her beauty. Your gift is wondrous and worthy, but it is wrong.”
The dwarf bellowed in grief and tore out his beard.
“Be calm,” the Moon touched his head lightly and he crumpled to the ground.
“Forgive me,” he cried. “I am only a hard and ugly creature who knows only avarice and violence. I insult the Moon with my presence. Oh for the rocks of Twrrfyldo to hide my horrid shape forever!”
“Be calm,” the Moon repeated. “Do not despair. The Moon is insulted by none of her children. It is true that you have known only greed and strife in the past but now you have known love and nothing that loves is ugly or horrid. I cannot accept your gift but I see that it will benefit me still and I am glad of it.”
“Truly, no gift made and given in love is ever wasted. I proclaim a great destiny on this blade: it shall be carried only by those who love me, and though it is a instrument of harm, if wielded without ire it shall never kill. This is the doom of your finest and last sword, master Barrow Thorns.”
And so the dwarf took back his Last Sword and returned to his mountain. There he sat in the darkness and cried great steaming tears and did not know if they were of joy or sorrow. Long he brooded over his Last Sword, captivated by its dim echo of the Moon’s beauty yet sore troubled at that Lady’s words. Long seasons passed and his forges grew cold and a dusty neglect settled over his tools and something like peace fell upon land. Until one night Barrow Thorns rose up, and leaving behind his stores and his treasures and as much of his anger as he could part with, took his last sword from its altar and left mount Twrrfyldo forever.
Copyright 2016 Matthew A.J. Timmins