All My Sins: Part 6-A Loathsome Thing

Ul’vade was somewhat less than pleased with Lorcan’s deal.  Lorcan had exited the cave to find Ul’vade where he’d left him: on the edge of Haute’s territory, looking worried.  He had, however, looked relieved to see Lorcan emerge alive from the cave, but again hardened his face grimly at the priest’s expression.  Lorcan briefly described his encounter with the demon, not wanting to dwell on it, but left out the visions that Haute had conjured.  Those were things Lorcan wished to share with no one.  Ul’vade seemed to sense that Lorcan hadn’t told him everything, but he understood plenty well that there were things best left unsaid and unremembered.

But when Lorcan explained that he was to retrieve water from Mimir’s Well, Ul’vade’s eyes widened.  He stepped back, tripped over a tree root, and fell backward into the trunk of the tree behind him, spluttering and cursing in some Northern tongue.  Of course, Lorcan didn’t know what he was saying, but whatever it was that Haute had just asked him to do, it was nothing minor.  Ul’vade got to his feet, still exclaiming in Norse, and grabbed Lorcan by the shoulders, shaking him slightly.  “Lorcan, do you have any idea what’s being asked of you!?  What the consequences could be?  This isn’t just any old well that you can stroll up to and draw water from as you please!  This is Mimir’s Well man!  Even if we could find the thing, we couldn’t just take a drink from it!”

Lorcan shrugged off Ul’vade’s hands.  His mind was in a poor enough state already, and Ul’vade’s reaction wasn’t helping.  “Ul’vade!” he interrupted.  “I don’t understand a word you’re saying!  Slow down a moment, and explain to me what Mimir’s Well is.  Please.” Lorcan’s dark eyes were pleading.

Ul’vade stopped, breathed heavily, and scratched the back of his head agitatedly.  He looked intensely at Lorcan, then opened his mouth.  “Lorcan, Mimir’s Well is sacred to the men of the North.  Drinking its waters gives you wisdom and power beyond mortal reckoning.  Even the gods respected and feared the place, and few of them even dared take a drink.  And, Mimir, he’s the giant that guards and keeps the well.  If you want to take a draught, he always demands a terrible price.  They’re just as bad as Haute’s prices, if not worse.  You see, Lorcan?  This is no simple request.  This is not even a task for mortal men.”

Lorcan suddenly felt quite sick.  He bent over, hands on his knees, and breathed hard, as if he were about to vomit.  After a few moments, he straightened up, looking desperate.  “Is there any way I can get out of this?  Any way I can walk away?”

Ul’vade shook his head miserably.  “I’m sorry.  You’ve made a pact with a magical being, and those mean something.  If you don’t hold up your end of the deal, you will be labeled as a pathbreaker and given a heavy curse.  I don’t know how you could, but you have to hold up your end of the deal.  There’s usually loopholes you can exploit, or usually, that Haute exploits, but I don’t know what you can do.”

It was unlikely, Lorcan thought, that he could feel any worse.  He would have to comply with the deal.  He looked sadly at Ul’vade.  “I’m sorry I brought you into all this.  I have to go, I have to go try, even if it’s likely I won’t come back.  Haute said he’d send me on my way.  Go home Ul’vade, I’ll figure this out.”

Ul’vade looked offended.  He puffed up his chest, and looked Lorcan square in the eyes.  “Oh no you won’t.  This may be impossible, and we’ll likely lose our lives, but I refuse to let you do this alone.  I will go with you to Mimir’s Well, notwithstanding the danger.

Lorcan was overcome.  His mouth fell ajar, and he had turn his face away for a moment to hide his emotions.  “Ul’vade, I…I can’t ask that of you.  This whole thing is my fault, and I can’t have you suffer for it.  If this is nearly as dangerous as you say-“

Ul’vade interrupted, “I know very well what I said, but I won’t let a brother of mine face this danger alone.  Not when I knew I could have helped.”  His eyes were steely and fierce.  “I’m coming with you, and that’ll be the end of it.”

The two stood there for a moment; one, fiery and determined, the other, uncertain and silent.  Finally, Lorcan nodded his head.  “All right then.  Let’s go.”  The two shouldered their packs, turned toward the cave, and marched in, faces firm.  The cave was silent, and though it was still frightening, it wasn’t nearly as horrible as when Lorcan had first entered.  They found the same torchlit chamber where Haute had been, treasures still glittering against the walls.  The demon stood expectantly in the center of the room, smiling cheerfully.  He still looked like the too-perfect Lorcan, which was unsettling and infuriating for the real Lorcan.

“Hi Ul’vade!” said Haute, waggling his fingers at the glowering Norseman.  “I was hoping you’d come.  You know how I get when I don’t see you.”  He pouted.  “I was starting to think that after I last tried to rip out your intestines, you might not want to come back.”

Ul’vade muttered something in Norse that Lorcan was very sure was not a greeting.  “Alright Haute,” said Lorcan, “you said you’d help us on our way, so what do you have for us?  I don’t want to be here any longer than I have to.  The smell of cowardice is filling my nose.”

Haute looked offendedly at Lorcan.  “You surprise me Lorcan, you act almost as if you didn’t want to be around me.  But very well.”  He waved his hand at a spot of barren wall, which faded away like mist, revealing another passageway.  “You two can go through there.  Follow that path for a while, and you’ll find yourself in the Viking lands in no time.  I can’t have you walking there, can I?  I’m a little impatient and I’d rather have you back as soon as possible.”  He made a shooing motion with his hands.  “Now, off you go!”

Lorcan and Ul’vade immediately strode toward the other passageway, glad to get away.  As they left, Haute called after them, “Oh!  And if you die, I’m laying claim to your intestines!  I’ve taken up the loom, and there’s this quilt I want to finish.”

The travelers quickened their pace, and soon left Haute behind, plunging into the darkness.  It was so dark in the cavern that though they did their best to move in a straight path, they’d often bump into each other, or into a wall.  After what felt like an hour of walking, Lorcan asked, “So, why did you bring supplies?  It’s not like you knew we’d be going anywhere.  Did you know something like this would happen?”

Ul’vade took a few seconds to answer, as if contemplating his answer.  “I’ve had dealings with Haute in the past.  He sometimes bides his time before exacting his price on people, or waits for the consequences of their deal to fall upon them, but on rare occasions, he sends you out on some quest.  I felt it was best to be prepared.”

There was some sadness and weariness to Ul’vade’s voice, and Lorcan didn’t want to push harder.  “Fair enough.”  Take it from the man-turned-dark elf, there were just things you didn’t want people to know about.

At last, after an eternity of walking in darkness, a faint light appeared in the distance, lifting the traveler’s spirits slightly  They hurried toward the distant light, and had to squint for the sudden brightness as they got close.  When they exited the cave, they both let out a gasp of amazement.  “Oh, wow,” said Lorcan, swiveling his head to see all before him.  A beautiful field of green spread out before him, off into the distance, into the colossal gray mountains rising out of the ground like the hand of a giant.  The skies were a dark gray, letting in just enough light to see, but little enough that Lorcan could see with only mild irritation to his eyes.

“This is Norway,” said Ul’vade.  “I recognize the feeling of the place.  I don’t know how we got here so fast, but we’ve arrived.”

Lorcan nodded.  How Ul’vade knew they were in Norway was beyond him, but considering the circumstances, that was the least unusual thing that he’d seen in the last week.  “So, what do you say we do?  Is there any direction we should go in?”

Ul’vade set down his pack.  “Well, Yggdrasil and Mimir’s Well are supposedly in the West of Midgard, but we don’t know exactly where.  Besides,” he added, “It’s nearly dark soon, and I’d rather not take my chances at night travel.  We’ll camp here, where there’s shelter, and we’ll start tomorrow morning.”

Later that evening, Lorcan and Ul’vade sat around a fire, mulling over the feeling of hopelessness they had concerning their task.  After a long period of silence, Ul’vade asked, “Lorcan, this is none of my business, and you don’t have to answer, but, why was Haute appearing in your image?  It was you, but not quite you.  Why?”

Lorcan had a dark, frightening feeling he knew why, but he didn’t feel like he wanted to discuss it now.  “I don’t know,” he lied, “he must have thought that showing me my normal form would get under my skin.  He was taunting me I suppose.”

Ul’vade frowned.  He knew Lorcan understood what Haute had done.  But once again, why?  What was so dark that Lorcan needed to keep it secret?  Just then, a loud cawing noise came from above.  Both looked up to see a winged shape floating above them, silhouetted against the now starry sky.  It descended quickly, landing between Lorcan and the fire.  “A raven,” said Ul’vade interestedly.  “Sacred to Odin Allfather.  Fine creatures, far superior to crows, and more intelligent.  Perhaps this is a good omen that the Allfather is watching us.”

Lorcan looked into the eyes of the bird, which seemed to be staring intently at him, unmoving.  “That’s interesting,” he said, “I once had a rather vivid dream about a raven years ago.  It’s what sent me looking for the Order of the Rose in the first place, though I didn’t know what the Order was.”  He smiled slightly.  “That’s how I knew I should follow you and Evanlyn back to Woodland.”  He looked at Ul’vade, who was now eyeing him and the raven with greater interest.  “It’s funny,” he added, “my last name, MacBroin, actually means-“

“It means ‘Son of the Raven’, doesn’t it?” Came a deep voice from behind them.

Lorcan and Ul’vade leapt to their feet, hands on sword pommels, and whirled to see who had spoken.  Behind them stood a tall man wearing a gray robe, clutching a staff.  He wore a large pointed hat, with a wide brim that covered most of his face, leafing only a long gray beard visible.  The raven in front of Lorcan took off to fly above the stranger, joining another shape that Lorcan figured was a second raven.  The stranger, who was only a few feet away, raised his hands.  “I mean you no harm, I only come to offer aid.”

Lorcan and Ul’vade looked at each other cautiously.  The old man didn’t seem dangerous, but they weren’t going to take any chances.  The stranger lowered his hands slowly and said, “I only wish to share your fire a moment, and perhaps to help you in your quest.  You seek Mimir’s Well, correct?”  He laughed a little at the surprise on the two’s faces.  “Yes, I know your quest, just as well as I know your green friend’s name.  And, fairly speaking, after all you’ve been through, you shouldn’t even be surprised by things like that anymore.”

After a few moments’ hesitation, Lorcan and Ul’vade relaxed slightly, and allowed the old man to join them.  He sat down leisurely, warming his wrinkled hands by the fire.  He sighed, “You have quite the task ahead, don’t you?  Impossible for most people, but I can show you how to reach your destination.  But”, he stopped Lorcan, who had started forward eagerly, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but there’s something you need to do first.”

Lorcan and Ul’vade groaned simultaneously.  There was ALWAYS something more to do.  The stranger nodded and laughed again, though grimly.  “Yes, I understand.  Trust me, I wouldn’t tell you this unless it was absolutely necessary.  You’ll need to do this if you have any hope of finding the well.”  He pointed South at a narrow passage between mountain walls.  “Near the end of that path lies a cave, filled with filth and riches in equal measure.  A king’s ransom, and a devil’s hovel.  Within, there lies a beast, terrible and unholy, a creation against nature.  If you want the power to find Mimir’s Well, you need to kill it.”

Ul’vade suddenly turned quite pale.  “And,” he stammered, “what manner of beast would this be?”  He looked as if he knew what exactly what it was, and was hoping against hope he was wrong.

The stranger turned his head to the side, looking gravely at Lorcan, revealing a shockingly blue eye that seemed to pierce the darkness.  “A dragon.”