Aphelion Issue 277, Volume 26
October 2022
 
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The Tale of Ernil

by Emma Dainty




            Ernid bent over to gaze at the newborn son in his wife’s arms. The tired mother upturned her face to him.

            “Our firstborn son,” she softly murmured, “What shall you call him?”

            “Ernil son of Ernid,” he replied, gently touching the boy’s face.

            An old woman hobbled to the other side of the bed and looked down upon the baby, who stared up at her with large, limpid eyes.

            “Ah!” she exclaimed, “What is this? Golden eyes? The ancient lore comes true in this very house! Yea, ‘tis not for nothing I store it in my old mind.”

            “Ancient lore?” queried the mother.

            “Aye, listen well,” answered the old woman solemnly and began singing verses:

 

Hair of flame and eye of gold,

With kind heart, both brave and bold;

From goblin armies he shall deliver us

With many a great deed high and chivalrous.

His foes shall flee his sword steel cold.

 

            The mother gave a cry and pressed her babe to her breast. “Oh, heaven forbid! That tale ends in woe. You would not have this tender child endure such misery?”

            “Not misery,” the old woman interjected, “He shall have joy in his life too and leave a son after him if the tales speak rightly. More important still, he shall cleanse the name his forefather defiled when he turned his hand against Men’s Guardians. As his longfather slew the good, so shall Ernil slay the evil.”

            “Fear not, Helena, for these are nothing but old tales and rhymes.” Ernid laid a comforting hand on his wife’s shoulder.

            “They are true and not to be scorned.” The old woman frowned sternly at Ernid. “This child shall save his people from goblins.”

“Nay, grandmother, it cannot be so.” Ernid shook his head. “For goblins do not trouble this land.”

“They do not now, but when I was a young woman, I and my husband fled here from goblins.”

“That was far away and long ago,” insisted Ernid, “This son will not be a warrior, but one of the many peace-loving folk of this land.”

           “Ah, grandson, but what of his eyes? Yellow is not a color among common Men.”

           “What of it? That comes of the strain of fairy blood in his veins.”

            The old woman clicked her tongue. “Choosy are the minds of Men. What they choose to remember passes down through generations, but what they choose to forget is lost. Well do I know of Dovefeather, wife of Midion, but well also I know of the accursed Elfslaying.”

            Ernid’s brow furrowed in anger. “You speak of faded myths with no truth. The Elfslaying was merely a thing of lost fables.”

            “So the sons of Lernice wish to think.”

            “Pray, do not speak of such ill-omened things on a day that should be filled with naught but joy.” A tear glittered in Helena’s eye. “My firstborn son is come today. Pray, do not sully it with foreboding verses.”

           The old woman whisked away the tear with a wrinkled hand. “Weep not. This son of yours and great-grandson of mine is destined for greatness. I say no more.”

*****

            Ernil burgeoned into a strong young boy. He soon took up small tasks in his father’s carpentry shop. When he was not helping his father, he played with the other boys that lived nearby. His greatest enjoyment was imagining himself a great warrior, combating his playmates with stick swords. Together he and his friends fought many a great battle in play, though none took as much pleasure in it as he.

His mother delighted in his cheery face and gay laughter. His father was pleased with his assiduous industry and upright character. His great-grandmother loved to tell Ernil stories, and he loved to listen. Although Ernid looked askance at the wild fancies that formed in Ernil’s mind, he did not forbid the old raconteur from relating tale after song to her eager young listener.

           One day when Ernil was eight years old, she sang him verses she had sung at his birth. She sang the full ballad to the very last lines:

 

Hair of flame and eye of gold,

Who with arm both strong and bold

Shall give his blood in high deeds chivalrous,

Shall give his all from the foe to deliver us,

Shall lie upon the bare ground cold.

 

            “What does it mean, great-grandmother?” asked Ernil quietly.

            “Those verses are for you,” she answered, “but be not afraid. You shall have joy and life. Through you will come hope for all the Children of the World, not just Men. You must be strong and brave.”

            “I will be, great-grandmother.”

*****

            When Ernil was twelve years old, his father spoke to him. “Ernil, it is now time you learned a trade. What skill would it please your heart to learn?”

           Ernil was silent for a moment. “Father, I wish to be apprenticed to a blacksmith, but if you want me to learn carpentry, I will do so.”

            Ernid’s face fell. “Son, you know I do not approve your love of warriors and wild tales, but you are old enough to choose your own path in life. Tomorrow you will be Blacksmith Haeron’s apprentice.”

*****

            Ernil’s great-grandmother was ancient in years. One winter she fell sick. Ernid sat by her bedside many nights. Helena tended her both day and night. Ernil aided in every way he could.

One night he begged his father, “You are weary from your day’s labor. Let me sit vigil by my great-grandmother.”

“Very well,” Ernid replied.

Ernil sat by the frail body huddled in the bed, his head bowed and tears resting in his eyes.

“Ernil.”

Bending forward, he answered, “Yes, great-grandmother?”

The old voice was weak. “You are destined for great things, Ernil.” Her hand clutched his, and there was surprising strength in the bony fingers. “Remember the second verse of the lay I oft have sung:

 

He of whom this song now sings

Shall be the sire of mighty kings.

The blue-eyed shall be the gold-eyed’s son,

Conquering in the war by Fallen Son begun,

Who to the World evil brings.

 

Her voice was fading. The clasp of her fingers loosened.

Ernil’s hands tightened around his great-grandmother’s. “Do not leave me.”

“I rejoin my husband in the halls of the Queen of Mourning. My one regret is not to have witnessed the triumphs that shall be yours. Farewell, Ernil.” There was a spasmodic tightening of the fingers. “Hair of flame and eye of gold, with kind heart both brave and bold...” Her hand fell away. Her eyes closed.

“Father! Father!” Ernil cried.

Ernid rushed from his bed, but it was too late. The old face lay in quiet death, the lips curved into a proud smile.

*****

Ernil proved to be apt at his newly adopted trade. Haeron was gratified by the boy’s diligent work.

            One day Ernid asked, “Master Haeron, when shall I be ready to forge a sword?”

            Haeron stared at his apprentice. “Swords are in small demand here,” he answered, “Plows and horseshoes are more desirable for the folk of this land. Wars and battle are things of the long past.”

            “My grand-grandmother fled goblins when she was young. What if they came here? Should we not prepare ourselves to receive them if that time ever comes?”

            Haeron regarded the boy keenly. “Those who live in peace do not care to consider the danger of bloodshed. If I smelted swords, what would be the use? Is a farmer likely to take up swordsmanship if his crops are not in danger? Nay, ‘tis no use smithing swords in this land.”

            “But I wish to learn swordsmanship. Without a sword how can I?”

            “Very well,” Haeron put his hand upon Ernil’s shoulder. “You shall forge a sword fit for a mighty warrior, and I shall teach you to use it.”

            Ernil stared at his master. Haeron’s manner had changed, and he stood tall and noble.

            “Who are you?” Ernil whispered.

            “As you are the stuff of tales to come, so am I the stuff of legends past.”

            “You are a son of Laeron?”

            “Yes, son of Lernice.”

*****

            The years rolled by. Ernil grew strong and tall. His red hair was long and his golden eyes bright. Openly he learned Haeron’s trade. Alone Haeron taught him swordsmanship.

One day Haeron spoke to him. “You have matched my skill in forging. I can teach you no more with the sword. It is time you took my place.”

“But, Master Haeron, where will you go?”

“Call me Master no longer. We are equals among Men, for man you have become.”

“Nay, we cannot be equals, for while your sire pursued justice, mine abandoned it to follow wicked deeds.”

Haeron put his hand on Ernil’s shoulder, which now equaled his in height. “Through your line is destined to come hope for the World against the Fallen Son of mmh. That is no shame, whatever your longfather’s actions were. I continue the wandering destined my line. Farewell.”

*****

            Ernil now wore his sword openly although the people were suspicious of him and whispered about his odd ways. Ernid frowned when he first saw his son’s weapon, but he said nothing.

A girl of the village began to notice Ernil and he her. Alone of all the townsfolk, she would listen to the tales Ernil had learned from his great-grandmother. One spring Ida daughter of Indan married Ernil son of Ernid. Ernil built them a house by his smithy. To them was born a son, Hernil son of Ernil.

            Often Ernil would walk alone in the woods around the village. One day he wandered farther afield than was his wont. Suddenly a moving shadow caught his eye, and he turned. A hideous face leered out from the bushes at him for an instant before disappearing with a whisk of thin hairy tail.

           The lines of his great-grandmother thundered through Ernil’s mind:

 

Eye of red and horn of black

With foul skin hanging slack,

Iron mounted with unmerited crown;

He shall strike mighty champion down,

But his dark blood the ground shan’t lack.

 

            Ernil returned with all speed to the village. Running down the main street he cried, “Townsfolk, arise! Foul goblins are nigh. Arise and learn arms!”

            The people came from their houses and workshops to stare at the red-haired man.

            “Ernil has gone mad at last,” they murmured.

            Ernil stood glaring around at the skeptical people. “I have seen a goblin. Where there is one, there are many, where there are many, there is slaughter and destruction. Will you not take heed and prepare yourselves against this menace?”

            “No, we shall not!” shouted a man, “Long have we doubted your sanity, but now we are certain it has fled.”

            Ida neared Ernil’s side, her babe in her arms. “I believe you.” Her voice was quiet.

            There was silence. Then the people began filtering back to their daily tasks.

            “Listen to me!” cried Ernil, “Would you have me take on the full burden of your safety?”

            “Yes,” responded a man with a laugh, “for it is not a heavy one.”

*****

            Ernil’s wanderings abroad became more frequent, but he remained nearer to home. Not again did he glimpse that evil face with its beady red eyes.

           Hernil grew to five years, and Ida sang to him the gentler songs of Ernil’s lore. His black hair was his mother’s and his firm body his father’s, but his gray eyes were his own.

            One afternoon Ernil was striding through the tall grass that bordered the forest. Pausing, he listened intently. Like an echo of memory, he heard it. Boom. Boom. Boom. The slow beat of distant drums menaced in the still air. Then the sound of shrieking and raucous chanting met his ear.

            He sped to the village. “Arise! Arise, villagers of Bernice’s lands! The goblins are upon us!”

            The people poured forth to gawk at him.

            Ernil drew his sword. “Would that you had listened to me at first, but now you must flee instead of fight.”

            “Flee what?” demanded a man.

            “It cannot be true,” demurred woman, clutching nervously at her young daughter.

            “Of course it is not,” assured her husband, scowling darkly at Ernil. “Put away that sword, Ernil. What do you mean by frightening our women and children?”

            “Silence and listen!” thundered Ernil.

            In the ensuing hush the faint rumble of drums and shrill cries of fell voices were heard. The crowd wavered. Frightened murmurs rose. Then a woman screamed, and panic seized the people.

            Ernil shouted over the tumult, “Townsfolk, be still and listen to me. You have rejected my warnings, so on me the blast must fall. Obstinate people for whose stupidity I must risk—nay, even give—my life, flee to the west. Alone, I shall hold off the enemy.”

Ernid stepped forward. “Son, for years I have scorned your love of lore. Now I rue my heedlessness. You will not fight alone, for I will fight by your side.”

            “Nay, Father, it is too late for that. You have no knowledge of battle and would be slain in your ignorance. I alone in this town know the art of the sword. There is but one thing I ask of you: be sure my wife and child come to no harm.”

            Ernid bowed his head. “Your wife and son shall not be left behind.”

            “I thank you, Father. It is forgiven. Go now, you thoughtless people, and seek safety.”

            Ernil turned, but Ida laid a restraining hand on his arm. “Will you not kiss your son farewell? For it may be you shall never lay eyes on him again.”

            “Verily, I will,” he answered, “and my fair and faithful wife.”

He kissed her and the child she held up to him and then turned and strode off.

*****

Ernil met the foe in the field before the town. Great and terrible was that battle, sung of in many more tales. Ernil’s fiery hair tossed about his shoulders, and his golden eyes flashed luminous wrath. His sword flashed silver in the sunlight, hewing down his enemies in droves. Heedless of arrow wound and mace bruise, he struck down goblin after goblin. Behind him the townsfolk fled.

Pulled away by Ernid’s encircling arm, Ida looked back one last time.

 

Hair of flame and eye of gold

On him fear shall take no hold.

Down shall fall numerous goblins foul;

Fruitlessly shall they jibber and howl,

Struck down by his sword steel cold.

 

            Long did Ernil fight. In vain the goblins flung themselves upon him like water. As water breaks upon a sturdy rock, so did they break upon his sword. Finally the host wavered. It began to crumble and fall apart. Ernil drove forward, and at last the press splintered. The goblins fled screaming before his bright blade.

           Their flight was checked by the largest goblin of them all. His black horns jutted up from within the circle of an iron crown, and his small eyes smoldered red. A spiked mace was in his right hand and a black whip in the other. He rushed to meet Ernil, lashing out with his whip. The coiling thong wound round Ernil’s upraised sword arm. With a cry Ernil jerked the whip embedded in his skin from the goblin’s hand and brought his sword forward. Sword and mace met with a clash and a scatter of dark fragments as the mace shattered. The goblin king fled before Ernil with the rest of his horde.

            Ernil drove them before him and into the woods. At last their screams of terror faded in the distance, and he ceased his chase. Tottering and streaming blood, he turned his faltering steps homeward.

            Not all the goblins had gone. His crown awry and one red eye gone, the goblin leader sneaked behind Ernil, a spear clutched in his twisted hand. With silent suddenness he leapt upon the weary conqueror, stabbing with his spear before jumping away in fear. His black spear pierced Ernil’s side.

            Ernil staggered and fell to his knees. With a wild cry of triumph, the goblin started forward, curved knife drawn. Leaning on the downward point of his sword, Ernil heaved himself up to meet his attacker. The goblin retreated in jabbering alarm, but Ernil struck him down. The goblin king’s dark blood stained the ground, and his iron crown rolled away.

            Ernil fell, his life blood draining from his final wound. His sword, blade black from the blood of his enemies, hilt red from the blood of his veins, fell from his stiffening hand. His sight grew dim.

            “Ernil!” Ida ran across the field of slain. She fell on her knees beside her husband and took his hand in both of hers.

            “Take… care of… our son.”

            “Yes, my Ernil.”

            “The… blue-eyed shall come… through him. Farewell… Ida.”

            She touched his face with hers and whispered,

 

Hair of flame and eye of gold,

With kind heart, both brave and bold;

From goblin armies he shall deliver us

With many a high deed great and chivalrous.

His foes shall flee his sword steel cold.

 

            Ernil’s hand squeezed hers, and his soul fled to the Queen of Mourning’s Halls.

THE END

*****

Hair of flame and eye of gold,

With kind heart, both brave and bold:

From goblin armies he shall deliver us

With many a high deed great and chivalrous.

His foes shall flee his sword steel cold.

 

He of whom this song now sings

Shall be the sire of mighty kings.

The blue-eyed shall be the gold-eyed’s son,

Conquering in the war by Fallen Son begun,

Who to the World evil brings.

 

Hair of flame and eye of gold

On him fear shall take no hold.

Down shall fall numerous goblins foul;

Fruitlessly shall they jibber and howl,

Struck down by his sword steel cold.

 

Eye of red and horn of black

With foul skin hanging slack,

Iron mounted with unmerited crown:

He shall strike mighty champion down,

But his dark blood the ground shan’t lack.

 

Hair of flame and eye of gold,

Who with arm both strong and bold

Shall give his blood in high deeds chivalrous,

Shall give his all from the foe to deliver us,

Shall lie upon the bare ground cold.


THE END


2022 Emma Dainty

Bio: Since a Co-op class Emma Dainty rather reluctantly took when she was around ten, she has been fascinated at the idea of being in control of another world, another story. At eighteen and approaching college, she is eager to send her work out into the world.

E-mail: Emma Dainty

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