Dedicated to my sweetie Lorena and best buddy Ethan.

Author’s Note: This holiday tale is a supporting character’s back-story for Fulla’s Temple. I’m currently writing chapter 7  and should resume posting soon! 

Every morning, my mother poisoned me. That was just her way of showing love, I guess.

“Eat up, son,” she said without inflection, “before the gruel gets cold.”

Mother seems particularly cheerful today, I thought as I sat. Her features were relaxed as if in boredom, but she stood bent over the table across from me, leaning on forearms. Had her dark hair been loose like mine, instead of tied in a bun, it would have almost dipped into my bowl. She was close enough for me to smell the gin on her breath, and I saw pupils so dilated as to almost obliterate the gold of her iris. Never seem too interested when you’ve slipped them a dose, she always taught. Never let them see your eyes. Eyes cannot lie.

Seeing her so eager as to break not one but two of her rules, I patted my belt to make sure all the antidote vials were there. They were.

I sniffed the aroma wafting from the clay bowl. Pungent, sour, bitter, salty. With so many spices, it was hard to make out what was really in there, though the fragrance of rosemary was dominant. Oatmeal made a perfect neutral base on which to practice her craft.

Drip. Drip. Drip. Our glass water-clock counted the seconds, hanging over me from the ceiling of our cave, while I tried to reckon today’s recipe. Her pale fingers tapped along the beat of the drip, pretty claws painted purple for the occasion. Today was a big day after all, and she wore her green leathers well for a woman of over three hundred.

“Sapling, you try my patience,” she said at last. “Eat your breakfast, boy.”

“Must we do this today, Mother?” I whined.

“Holidays are no excuse to skip your training,” she replied.

I sighed, filling my spoon with a small amount, and touched my tongue to her preparation. It tingled, ruling out two thirds of the possibilities. Unable to delay further, I dripped a dollop onto the middle of my tongue. First rule, a taster never swallows.

Its flavour was exquisite, as always. The note of mustard really highlighted the umami of the mushroom juice. Mother was an exceptional cook, an unusual hobby for a woman. I found myself salivating, struggling not to swallow this delicious morsel. Focus! What else am I feeling? Ah yes! Saliva drying up, it’s an astringent. Urggghhhh.

I fell off the stool as my throat closed up, denying me breath. She came to kneel beside me as I spat out the gruel, keenly observing my reactions to her latest poison.

Third bottle from the left, no, fourth.

I fumbled with my belt, identifying the sigil on its cap by feel alone. While our breakfast area was brightened by oil lamps, color coding would fail in darkness – and that was assuming the venom didn’t first strike you blind.

And now my fingers are going numb, clever.

I was pretty sure I had the fourth bottle, but brought it before my eyes to be sure. A spiral of lilac down its length, outlined in black. I popped the cork and spilled its content into the parched cavity of my mouth. Nothing happened.

Excrement! Should I have used the pink one?

I reviewed the aroma profile for a match, made more difficult by my graying out from lack of air. Finally, my throat opened up and I gasped, still holding the antidote in my mouth.

“Very good,” she said, patting my hair. “Now drink the rest and finish breakfast, she’ll be here soon.”

I sat up, swigging the rest of my potion, and belched.

“That was pretty clever, mother. Asphyxiation and numbness made it more challenging. I’m grateful you didn’t have me sweating profusely or throwing up.”

“Nonsense, child,” she said as she helped me up, brushing my long hair back in place with a hand. “Your first date is about to arrive, and I want you to look good for her. Women put a lot of importance on a man’s beauty after all.”

I brushed off my green tunic and resumed my meal. Between the exciting brush with death and Mother’s delicious cooking, it was a delight.

She rechecked her arm-sleeve daggers, tightened her dark hair bun, and went to wait quietly beside the door’s hinges. A few minutes later, there was a knock.

Oh no, not so soon!

I cringed, feeling self-conscious. Not only hadn’t I finished eating, but my hair and face paint were probably messed up. Well, it would have to do. I cleared my throat and called out.

“You may enter, it’s unlocked.”

The door slowly creaked open. It was designed to creak that way. Mother was still as a statue on the other side.

“Hvellur dear,” she called out coyly, “won’t you come greet me for Blood-Heart’s Day?”

I couldn’t help but bare teeth in joy.

“My heart is here for you to claim if, you can,” I replied, according to that day’s customs.

I longed to see her face once again, but it was her left arm’s buckler that first appeared in the doorjamb. I nodded in approval. Never stick out your neck.

Then she kicked the door, smashing it into mother’s face, and I laughed. She rolled away while blood spurted from her nose, spurring further laughter from myself and my deadly looking lover.

Ah, you really have to take pleasure in the little things of life, or you won’t have any fun at all, I reflected, safely taking my bowl to go stand in the furthest corner.

And what a deadly sight she was as she leapt inside! Blond braids snaking around the top of her head to form a helmet, padded brown deerskin jacket, black leather trousers and short soft boots. She quickly surveyed her arena, and then crouched behind the table. I was proud of her for not letting eyes linger on me. Acting like a lovesick lad would only get her killed, there would be time for simpering sweetness later – if she survived.

Mother stood up, and barked a derisive laugh.

“Ha! You think you’re clever, sapling, using blunt force like that, but you made me bleed.

Immediately my lover stood, raising her buckler in defence as she understood her mistake. Mother wiped the blood from her lips, and with two fingers made a cutting motion at Nadra.

“Scathak!” she cried as the drips flew into the curve of a blade, slashing down upon my intended. I held my breath, forgetting to swallow and hoping she could dodge my mother’s blood magic.

“Mithgarth!” my lover intoned, and I realized her buckler hand was wrapped around a small pouch. She wasted no power on making a shield, it was instead a sheath of redness that appeared, swallowing up the attack. With her right hand, she cupped the bottom of it, thus capturing her attacker’s droplets.

“I claim first blood! I win!” she exclaimed triumphant, while mother blanched. But Nadra wasn’t done just yet, she gave her hand a sharp twist and lunge to the left. Helpless as a puppet, her opponent was hurled headlong into the wall’s bookshelves and collapsed into a heap.

“He is mine for the day,” she continued, “and you will grant your blessing or face my wrath.”

Mother groaned and rubbed her head, while I licked the last of my food. What an exciting fight! My arousal was such that I needed to rearrange my crotch, dropping my bowl on the table as I rushed over to my lusty conqueror.

Breath ragged, I gazed up into the fire of my soon-to-be lover’s eyes, when there was laughter from behind. Nadra’s victorious teeth-bearing faltered, and her leering gaze wandered away from my form.

“You think you’ve won,” Mother said between coughs, leaning precariously against the bookshelf, “but I poisoned my blood before the fight.”

Already my lover’s face was getting greenish. Her knees buckled. She tried to wipe her hand on the dirt floor, but it was too late. A glance over my shoulder revealed the matriarch in a similar state.

“Son,” she said as she slid to the floor, “as is our custom when both lay dying, you must choose. Who will you save from death today?”

The roots that ran along our ceiling wriggled slightly, with so many spirits thirsting for a feeding.

I blinked, took a deep breath and recited the ancient words: “I choose Nadra, for she is young and will be bold in defending our family tree. My mother’s blood shall feed its roots well as she joins the ancestors within.”

I lovingly cradled my fallen lover’s head in my lap as I popped the cork of the antidote and poured it into her mouth.

Nadra swallowed and whispered back: “I choose you, Hvellur, to be the branch upon which I shall grow ever stronger. Be my blood-heart.”

I cherished this minute of closeness, where for once she was weak while I was strong. Too soon, the antidote restored her and she stood up unassisted to await my reply.

“Yes, I will be your blood-heart,” I whispered back, looking up into her gorgeous blue eyes. We embraced, heart to heart, and I sighed at how safe I felt in her arms.

The spell of the moment was broken by Mother dropping my dirty bowl into the wash basin. With regret, I released my chosen and turned.

“So, you’d leave your old mother to die, eh?”

“Mother, if you were so foolish as to die of your own poison, you’d richly deserve your fate. I knew you’d be fine, but Nedra would not have a remedy for your exotic venoms. She’s not from a family of poisoners.”

She dried her hands on a rag, and gleefully bared teeth back at me.

“Well, this Nadra certainly put up a good fight. She’s strong, clever, resourceful. I’ll grant her my blessing. You kids have fun today and don’t stay out too late. I may be getting soft in my old age, but there are some real monsters out there.”


All comments greatly appreciated!

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Comments
  1. Ly says:

    Teehee, he just sat there with the equivalent of popcorn to watch a good show! All in the day of a dark elf!

    No sexy time scene at the end though? :p

    Like

    • lofnbard says:

      That’s right! It was my way of saying he wasn’t worried, that this was a quaint holiday courtship custom and mostly for show. Dark Elf version of “Dad with a shotgun.” As for sexy times, maybe I’ll write a sequel if people like it. 😉

      There’s a reason for their society evolving into what it is in this story. It’s always better storytelling practice to show it than launch into exposition though.

      Like

  2. Excuse the swears but holy shit, that was fucking epic! You have awesome ideas AND you write well – rare combination! You mentioned you might write a sequel if people like it – I’m a people, and I like it!

    Like

    • lofnbard says:

      Thank you! The good writing comes from composing many one-thousand word stories, and having my Writer’s Circle lovingly tear them to shreds twice a month for a few years. It’s a lot easier to get over bad writing habits on short pieces you don’t particularly care about. Having a word limit also teaches you not to waste words.

      As to the sequel, I have ideas but I’m still mulling over what comes next. I’m currently writing chapter 13 of Fulla’s story and figuring out where it’s going. Gefjon and Gna’s stories were fairly straightforward by comparison.

      There’s a lot more world-building needed in describing Vanaheim, more factions acting independently at cross-purposes, plots and mysteries. For the first time, I’ve had make a chart of where everyone is and what they’re doing at any given time to know when they arrive into the narrative. This means I sometimes have to revise earlier chapters, which is why I’m not posting them as I go. Everything has consequences, for each choice there’s a reckoning.

      This piece started as a backstory one-shot for Writer’s Circle, to get a better feel for Hvellur, but it was good enough to share. I think the next Valentine chapter will include what got him to Vanaheim, in addition to some dark elf snuggle time. You’ll be probably be happy to know he’s a point of view character in Fulla’s Temple, so we’ll see a lot more of what goes on in his mind!

      Like

  3. Amber Drake says:

    This was a great read! It’s fascinating to get a glimpse into dark elf customs.
    I do hope you write a sequel. I’d like to know more about dark elf society.

    Like

    • lofnbard says:

      There will definitely be a sequel! But as it will have spoilers for Fulla’s Temple, it will probably have to wait a bit.

      Here’s a freebie for you about dark elf customs: When offering someone a drink, you always have a sip of it first. It’s the polite thing to do. Can you guess why? 😉

      Like

  4. Ruth says:

    this was a wonderful treat! thank you for sharing it… and greedy that i am, i look forward to more!

    Like

  5. wynndark says:

    I have to, lets see…one, two…oh fourth the idea that another of these tales would be made of awesome. Just my couple of cents worth, it’s a wonderful piece!

    Like

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