A grey sky hovered low upon the wet roofs and bundled masses heaving along the streets of the village. Cloaks clung tightly around chilled shoulders. Peace tied swords weighed heavily, ankle bells tinkled with each step, and ponderous chain mail shifted and tinkled with their haste. The scarred double doors of the great hall resisted the large crowd entering to receive a small amount of warmth and a large amount of ale or Meade. At the center of the roiling throng stood a large bearded man in stiff leathers, broad gauntlets and grieves. His arms spread dramatically as his deep voice boomed. All present knew of him and his tale. No matter the frequency of the telling, his ode was welcomed as a mainstay of the festival. “Settle in with me now. Join me in a moment which will come only once. We will never be here again!” Like a blanket, silence fell upon the large hall. The large bearded man looked about critically as if he searched for any single member who might be unworthy of the coming tale. Reluctantly his eyes turned from the crowd and to the broad beams and thick rafters of the great hall. A methodical chant began with a single voice but was picked up by the throng until it thundered. A single word chanted in slow but irresistible rhythm. “Bert! Bert! Bert!” One large raised hand silenced the crowd. He shook his head as if in denial of any credit for himself personally. His tale was not his to own. He was merely a container, sharing its contents with those who would benefit from the gift. With one last long panoramic look he began:
Excerpted from the novel Stolen Valor, A Carson Brand Novel. Bert is Carson Brand’s best friend. He is known for his telling of the following tale during Renaissance Festivals.
In the days of the warring tribes of the highlands, only a handful of hardy nomads traveled a strange and forbidding land. One of these, a battle-hardened band of travelers, made their way into a vast wilderness. They searched for a place in which to settle, where the weather allowed for farming and the waters were suitable upon which to sail and fish. Finally, weary and near despair from the hardships of their journey, the weary band gained the summit of a windy hill. Below them, they beheld a valley of unrivaled beauty. Rolling grasses and the feathered greenery of generous trees gave way to the gentle azure waters of a protected bay.
The leader, O’levre, surveyed the new and beautiful land with a satisfied eye. This wise leader was a large and powerfully built man. His countenance was broad with high cheekbones and a powerful jaw. His piercing blue eyes gleamed their approval at their good fortune. Finally, he proclaimed this valley their new home.
A small settlement grew on the shores of the protected bay’s welcoming waters. The bounty guessed at was well exceeded by the harvest reaped from the fertile land. The sea teemed with fish. Their nets, many times, were too heavy with fish to recover without releasing a portion of their catch.
As the seasons passed gently and without incident, their lives obtained a peace previously unknown since their flight from a troubled homeland.
O’levre, the warrior, grew calm in this tranquil place. His hawkish eyes soon lost their sharpness of war. The peace within him opened his awareness to those things of beauty around him. Among them, he noticed the interest for him of a lovely maiden.
To his battle-weary eyes, she was cornflower and goldenrod. Often, he found himself in a state of unconscious rapture. His senses were immersed in his preoccupation of her. The very parting of her generous lips when she spoke caused him a start and filled him with the most exquisite sense of pleasant warmth.Her name was V’rona. She was aware of his affection for her. She had grown up with the stories of his ferocity in battle: the same stories who’s very telling served as a primary deterrent for ambitious enemy attacks. Her fear gradually became curiosity, then finally attraction. The idea of so ferocious and infamous a lion becoming a warm and loving companion was irresistible.
Their love was just beginning to bloom when the enemy arrived. The skies grew dark and the seas grew black with his rage. This land was his refuge from the rigors of his life as a god above.
O’levre and his clan gathered in the center of their small village. They watched the threatening skies with the stern mien of a people accustomed to facing the threat of a powerful and strange adversary. A lightning bolt struck near them and from the blast appeared a golden being. He was magnificent to behold. He was beautiful and terrible at the same time. His voice opened like the heavens.
“My name is Ba’acus. You are strangers to this place and unwelcome here. I will allow you one opportunity to leave before loosing my almighty rage upon you.”
O’levre stepped forward. His jingoism, recently dormant, once again possessed him. He felt, as before, at home in his sense of impending conflict. Ba’acus eyed him with grim interest.
Even to a god, O’levre was an impressive specimen of manhood. The god looked the warrior up and down. His gaze then surveyed the others in the circle. Inevitably, his keen eyes settled upon the lovely V’rona. He took in her beauty with obvious relish. O’levre was not pleased with the god’s interest paid V’rona.
“This place is our home”, the leader proclaimed with a menacing tone. “We will not leave.”
Surprising to all present, the god did not grow angry at O’levre’s challenge. Rather, he appeared amused at the temerity of the fierce leader.
“Very well”, the golden god said, “I will allow you to stay in my paradise. The levied price for your new homeland is this lovely maiden.”
He pointed a stiff arm at V’rona. Deliver her to me at the top of the northern promontory at sunrise tomorrow, or I will visit upon you my Devine wrath.”
With this dire proclamation, the being rose from the ground with a whirling storm of wind and rain. In an instant he was gone, and the sky was cloudless as before.
The elders gathered before O’levre. There was no talk of delivering one of their own to this vengeful being. The talk was of war and how it should be waged against so ominous a foe. As they had their entire lives, they donned armor and gathered to them the weapons and shields so recently traded for nets and plowshares.
The next morning the villagers gathered at the central square, dressed and equipped for fierce and final battle. The pleasant morning sun rose as it had every day since their arrival. Today, however, it dawned upon grim battle-hardened faces and the dull chink of armor and weaponry. Every eye searched the skies for sign of the imminent threat they would face in battle. Although fear was a part of every battle, none was exhibited by these veterans of a lifetime of armed conflict.
The Sun rose as it always had. The minutes passed, yet no mighty foe appeared. There was no darkening of the horizon or tossing of the seas. Minutes grew to hours with no difference to that day’s advance than any other. Suspicious of a plot of attrition, the fighters maintained their ready positions as the day waned then darkened as the evening grew nigh.
…the god did not grow angry at O’levre’s challenge. Rather, he appeared amused…
O’levre finally looked about him with no small sense of pride. His men had lost none of their discipline nor a whit of their military bearing in the softness of their new gentler lives. He tapped his spear on the hard ground three times: the traditional signal. The company of soldiers relaxed their vigilance as one.
After a short conversation, it was decided that a cautious and alert withdrawal to their homes was warranted. Bright torches were lighted throughout the village and guards were posted at the village’s edges in all four directions. The remaining force would rest during the night then resume their watch the following day.
O’levre had slept only a few moments when a deafening screech brought him bolt upright. The air whooshed as if pressed by powerful forces. The village roused with a cry of women and the angry roar of the men.
O’levre grabbed his spear and emerged from his warren. The sentry torches shone upon the shining scaled coils of a giant flying beast. It was more than twice the size of their largest fishing vessel. As the beast rose, O’levre recognized the destroyed remains of V’rona’s small warren.
O’levre moved towards the rising beast. Fear for his new love gripped his strong heart. Below the flying behemoth was clutched lovely V‘rona in a large clawed grip. Beast and prey were soon lost to the inky blackness of night. The men ran in pursuit of the beast but were soon left hopelessly far behind. In defeat, they returned to the small village. They pledged to take up the hunt at first light.
O’levre returned to his warren, heavy of heart. Dread at what might befall his love at the whim of so awful a creature filled his imagination. It was a credit to his strength of will that he found the ability to sleep for the few hours left to him that night.
For the second day, the men were up with the dawn. They again gathered in the village center to muster their forces for the day’s work. To their surprise, the vengeful god awaited them. He stood with arms crossed. His mighty chest heaved with the strength of his emotion.
Before the men could act upon their rage and rush the being, he pointed a large accusing finger at them.
“You have lost her!” he boomed. “My bride is lost to me…and to you!”
This last he leveled directly at mighty O’levre.
The leader was confused at the god’s senseless accusation. He was unaccustomed to the unfamiliar emotions he felt, and he struggled to regain his comfiture.
“You are responsible for this!” O’levre retorted impotently. We shall recover V‘rona.”
“No”, the golden god shouted. “Only one of you may face the beast!”
From the folds of his tunic he withdrew a jeweled bottle. He held the heavy vessel in a single sinewy hand.
“All shall drink from the Nectar of the Gods. Only he who does not succumb to its pleasures shall be fit to confront the beast in battle. It is written that only one may defeat the beast where a host would fall.”
O’levre approached the golden god. He took the heavy, ornate vessel from him and hefted it in one mighty hand.
“There is hardly enough in this container for a single thirsty man. How shall it provide for a host such as us?”
The god shook his head.
“He who passes the test shall confront the beast and defeat him alone.”
With that, he vanished as he had previously, in a violent storm of wind and rain.
The Bottle was Passed Among Them, Each Man Filling his Vessel to the Rim. O’levre moved to the center point of the square. He pulled the heavy stopper from the bottle’s spout. He sniffed the contents suspiciously. Finally, he instructed his men bring goblets and flagons, so they might begin the test.
Soon all returned to the village center, equipped as commanded by their leader. The bottle was passed among them, each man filling his vessel to the rim. As one, they lifted their cups and drank deeply. They waited, looking at one another for some tell-tale sign of change or transformation. Instead, they felt only a lightening of their thoughts and moods.
His fellow warriors lay upon the ground and against trees, snoring and blubbering their helpless condition caused by the Nectar of the Gods.
They refilled their cups and again drained them. Soon they felt a strangeness growing behind their eyes. A lightness of spirit affected each of them to a man. The gravity of the situation faded from dire consideration to a topic of lighter concern. It seemed, in some way, even a bit humorous that a mythical beast would appear and spirit one from among them, as in some fabled tale. he third time the jeweled vessel made its round, a general sense of increased camaraderie gripped them in a warm fraternal embrace. Their conversation went to the long-time friendships and brotherhood linking each man to the other.
This ritual continued through the remainder of the day and far into the night. The decorative container failed to grow empty. For that matter, it seemed never to drop below full. The effect upon the warriors was remarkable.
Finally, as morning arrived, preceded by a dull thin gray line on the horizon, only one man stood. O’levre looked about him in the dim light of the infant day. His fellow warriors lay upon the ground and against trees, snoring and blubbering their helpless condition caused by the Nectar of the Gods. The answer was clear and not surprising to those few women awake at so early an hour. O’levre once again would be their champion.
Although wobbly from the effects of the nectar, he made ready to set out upon the trail of the beast. He paused once more to survey his countrymen. Amidst the prostrate sat the ornate vessel, innocently awaiting its next victim. O’levre boldly collected the bottle and took one more long draught from its wide mouth. He felt no fear of the contents within.
He strode from the village, bottle in hand. His shield was slung over his shoulders and his spear was gripped tightly in his free hand.
Surprisingly, he found the beast’s lair within less than a half day’s walk from the village. To his relief, V’rona stood amongst a half circle of tall stones, the front guarded by the wary beast. She appeared unharmed. The large creature surveyed the approaching man warily.
O’levre halted mere yards from the monster. He pulled the cork from the jeweled vessel once more. From it he drew a long pull. The pleasant warmth of the liquid provided him a comforting glow from his throat to deep within him. He once more, felt the pleasant sensation, as the nectar again affected him. His head swam slightly, but his courage was bolstered.
He placed the bottle gently upon the ground and gripped his spear in his right hand. He brought his heavy shield into proper position for battle. He lowered his huge head and rushed the scaled creature with his war cry: the same cry which had demoralized the enemy on countless occasions. The beast watched him with dull red eyes.
With an incredibly quick movement the beast whirled his entire body and struck at O’levre with a maw of razor-sharp teeth.
O’levre saw the attack in plenty of time to react. However, for the first time in his life, his reactions were not rapid enough to avoid the move. O’levre disappeared within the creature’s mouth with a loud crunch.
V’rona screamed her surprise.
Without a pause, the beast lifted on its large scaly wings and flew towards the distant mountains.
As if by magic, the golden god stood just outside the circle of tall stones. He considered his beautiful prize with great relish.
Surrendering to her inevitable fate, V’rona approached the god with lowered sad eyes.
The god took her in his powerful embrace. As he turned towards the azure sea, just visible in the distance, V’rona looked into the god’s face.
“Will you leave the jeweled bottle and the magic nectar within?”
The golden god looked down upon her with surprise.
In his booming voice he replied. “I never touch the stuff.”
Deafening cheers from the grateful crowd made the welkin ring. Bert bowed his head. His work here was done.