The world was quiet.
The only sound was the icy water as it sloshed beneath the steady dip of his arms. The air was cool and had the scent of the high places, of balsam and pine resin. The water, mirrorlike, reflected the jagged white mountains and arcing blue sky. A wispy sheet of cloud streaked the heavens: a promise of a spring thunderstorm. The geese were already fleeing it, honking as they glided above.
Eichhorn Aurvandilson's hands slid through the water like minnows. The island in the middle of the lake was small and rocky, though a few stunted spruce trees had managed to sprout up from the clefts in the chalky white stone. There was a short wooden dock extending out into the turquoise water, beside which floated a very large rowboat. A well-trod path led from the dock to the squat stone tower in the middle of the island.
As the tower loomed closer Eichhorn's thoughts led him away from his sodden clothes, back to his mother and her words before she had sent him off. He had just returned from two years with his father in Alrea. They were supposed to have been two years of education, instead they had become two years of indulgence. His father had given him free reign to do whatever he willed, and was far too occupied with the more tedious parts of ruling a kingdom to do much teaching. And so, freed from the more disciplined ways of his mother's people, Eichhorn had revelled. His mother had seen it right away. Perhaps she had smelled the liquor and women's perfume upon his neck, or took note of how he had filled out from a thousand banquets. His denunciation had not been gentle. He smirked as he remembered. 'Silk-soft peacock,' she had called him. 'Shall I wind a circlet of flowers for you to wear in your golden locks? Astali pedals will bring out the blue in your eyes splendidly. We shall have to name you Eichhorn the Ample.' For all the comedy in his mother's scolding, Eichhorn could now see the truth in her words. Two years of idleness had made him weak. His mother had put him to work that very day. He was sent out to help the harvesters in the fields, long days with a sickle and pruning hook. Soon enough he had forgotten all about nights of naked celebration and golden days of feasting, his only focus was his aching muscles and blistered feet. He had eventually sweat his flab away and regained his former strength, but it hadn't been easy.
And here he was now, sent out by his mother to find One who hadn't been seen in 600 years. 'In his time he was the greatest Mage in all the land. He saw the fall of Mino and battled Surt across the Bridge of Worlds. He matched his will against the malevolence of Teahr Dark-Bringer. All of our worse enemies know his name. We can only hope that the Curse has not robbed him of as much as it has us. If so, my failure will be complete.' With those mysterious words he had been sent off, left wondering if the Curse had robbed this Yorgald of his sanity, as it had Asial. Asial, who wandered about the Giant's Wood shouting at the trees.
When he reached the dock he pulled himself out and shook the water from his buckskins. Gripping the hilt of his Ansarin longsword, Eichhorn gathered up his courage and followed the winding path. As he walked, pebbles crunching under his boots, he found himself wondering what he would say. He was fluent in the Giant's Tongue--his mother had seen to that, but how kindly would a hermit who had removed himself so far from civilisation take to a visitor? Will he despise me for being a half-blood? Eichhorn wondered.
The island seemed more than empty. When Eichhorn reached the tower he clenched his fist and knocked on the heavy wooden door. It was braced in metal and felt rough to the touch. There was no answer. "Hello!" he called in the tongue of his Mother's people. "Is anyone there?" He whistled. The shrill sound carried far but there was no reply. Well, he's not here, Eichhorn told himself. Probably been dead for a hundred years.
He turned around and found himself facing a hairy chest. As most full-blooded giants, the mage towered over him. He carried with him a gnarled staff with a dangerous looking knot on the end. Others might have been repulsed by the beastly image Teahr's curse had cast upon the giants. The dark, wrinkled face. The flat nose and thick body hair. Eichhorn, however, was accustomed to it and had been since childhood. Gazing at his mother--the only giant to be spared from the curse--and seeing in her the grandeur of the giants of old gave the cruel curse a polar reality. But Surt's curse...it was crueler. Far crueler.
"Sala," Eichhorn said in greeting.
"Sala," the old giant responded. "Who are you and what are you doing on my island?" There was suspicion in Yorgald's voice, and weariness also.
"I am Eichhorn Aurvandilson. I am sent here by my mother, the Queen Sigurn."
"You have Giant's blood then?" the mage asked. Eichhorn could tell that the mage wasn't happy. He had hoped that his mother's name would spark a warmer welcome.
"Aye," Eichhorn answered. "I was raised--partly at least--in the Giant's Keep." He felt a sudden urge to prove himself. "I was taught to keep the feast days, and blow the trumpet at the coming of the new moon." Eichhorn did not consider himself devoutly religious, but perhaps the mage found such things important. "My mother said it would prepare me to learn the Mysteries," Eichhorn said, coming at last to the heart of it. The mage could either accept or reject him now.
"The Mysteries are for the servants of the Fates. Do you wish to serve the Fates, or the gods of your father?" Yorgald asked him. The giant's eye (a jagged scar had deprived the old giant of his other) bored straight into his soul. It was blue, but a different blue than his own eyes. Whereas his blue was the blue of a spring wildflower, Yorgald's blue was the blue of an aged star. The wind was rising quickly, chopping the water and whistling through the rocks. The thick hair on Yorgald's arms and legs (now turned mostly to silver) rose and snapped in the air.
Eichhorn hesitated a moment. His father had taught him that to serve others was a function of the weak. 'Only the strong survive,' Aurvandil Rolfson had said once. 'Only the strong command.' Unbidden came the image of the slave mark printed on his father's chest. Once--in the baths--Aurvandil had pointed at it, saying "See this, son? Twice men have sought to chain me from my destiny, and twice have I broken those chains and painted them in my captor's blood. We need be slaves to only one thing: fate."
"I wish to serve the Fates," Eichhorn said at last.
"Come," Yorgald commanded. He pushed open the heavy tower door and dissapeared inside. The rain was already falling as Eichhorn followed him.
And so Eichhorn Aurvandilson became apprentice to Yorgald the Wise. The Eagle took flight, the Wolf bounded from its Den. And in the Fyreland, in Mino that was, there glinted in the dark heart of Surt the Slaver something he had never felt before.