Fight Two, "How Herkel the Fool Became a Clever Man"

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These were the days of Ysgrim... [whose] breath was weighted with power sounds....

...[after] many nights, the destruction of Sarthaal finally saw fit to stop in its burning and the snows were happier. [Ysgrim] shook his head, saying to his thanes and war-wives, "And once it is buried again, who will remember its halls and mighty sights, like the fountain of voices or the tusk-house where Jarl the Tongue shot from his mother's womb yelling profanities that only adults should know? Who would stop the snows?" (For no one can stop the snows.)

And so his Host moved east and north and east again, a long traveling, and passing Hrol'Dan (the first one) there was an idea that came to Herkel the Shield-Fed. "Lord, I have thought of an idea that might keep our memory of Sarthaal and its mighty sights alive, and not only in song. Would it suit your purpose, though we can never rebuild it, that if a Nord could say a small prayer then the gods would reveal the city in its former glory?"

Now Herkel [had] never been a Clever Man, so Ysgrim looked at him cockeyed. What Herkel was saying was magic talk but sometimes ideas grow where there has never been soil before. (This is a gift of Kyne called [inspiration].)

Finally, Ysgrim said, "You may speak, Herkel, and we shall listen."

And now all the shield-thanes and war-wives were looking at Herkel, for all of them would indeed like to see lost Sarthaal again and its mighty sights, if only by an illusion brought by prayer. So Herkel began:

"Well, Sarthaal was destroyed all right, the elves made sure of that!" (Here everyone present made the customary curses.) "And even though I threw up ancient shields from my gut like hurling discs that killed their first rank and Eriksdotter here danced the icicle-curtain dance and killed their second rank and Broga here mountain-farted and killed their third and fourth ranks (that was funny) and Vjevaka here rolled auspicious numbers on rune bones and killed their fifth rank and Haljor here... [at this point Herkel recites a deed for each of the "six hundred and some odd" Nordic warriors that were assembled]... and you, my king, even though you killed by yourself the five-thousandth rank with Olendrung, even after all of these things, the elves still kept coming! And, yes, we lost in the end and that losing cost of our dearest of cities and this is how come we are freezing our asses off on this long traveling...."

Now at this point, Herkel the Shield-Fed had talked so long that he needed to stop. It was a [great thing] that he had talked so long at all in all the cold, but his belly was on fire [from even just reciting all their deeds], and so he was able to almost complete his thought. But look! The other Nords had frozen to death while he was talking. (This is why it is now polite to interrupt whenever you are cold.)

"Oh crap!" Herkel said, "I have talked so long I have killed all of my fighting friends and even my king! [They were] bound by oaths to hear me out and now the destruction of Sarthaal is truly complete! Oh, I am a fool to think myself a Clever Man full of magic talk! See what talking too much does?"

But sure enough Dagon (who had heard his name) showed up and that old Lord of Misrule laughed and said, "What a grand, grand f**k up you are, Herkel Shield-Fed! See now, you have done what whole endless legions of elves could not, and by that I mean to destroy utterly the Host of Hoary King Ysgrim!"

And Herkel began to weep and supplicated himself before Lord Dagon, saying, "O Ruler of the Firestorm and the Howling Winds, O Gigantic Prince of All Things Harmful, O Dagon the Wicked One Who...hey, wait a minute! How are you even here? This is not one of your summoning days!"

And Dagon laughed again, saying, "No sh*t, Herkel, but all that bloodletting and fire at Sarthaal was enough for me [to pierce the veil of the oblivion]! All that whispering into elvish ears sure did the trick!"

Herkel Shield-Fed now looked at Dagon cockeyed and said, "Wait, it was you who sent that horde of elves who, though pierced to their five-thousandth rank, would not be stopped?" to which Dagon responded, "Of course! Though it was easy, as they hated you anyway, but yes, yes, it was I who stoked the fire in grim dreams and mirrors, which has only now saw fit to stop burning! Oh well, now I'm off to enjoy my stay! Who knows how long I have before Alduin notices that I've escaped his trap again?"

But while Dagon had been saying all this, Herkel had broken [the hammer] Olendrung off of frozen Ysgrim's belt. And filled with renewed anger he struck the Lord of Misrule upside the head. Dagon fell over into the snow with a great flumph, unconscious. And Herkel was about to bash the devil's brains out when he thought: "Wait a minute! Killing the kings of [the void] never really lasts forever and I'm not sure if even Olendrung could do more than knock him out! Oh, Dagon will be so mad when he wakes up and destroy even more now! I must find a way to get out of this mess! What can I, a fool as can be determined by recent events, do now to put two and two together?"

Herkel then had an idea and began to drag the frozen bodies of his king and his fighting friends back to the ruins of Sarthaal west and south and west again. He had to carry them in twos for they were stiff as ice and would not bend for easy lifting, so everytime he came back for another pair of them Herkel hefted Olendrung and smacked Dagon back to sleep. Finally, after all of these labors (three hundred and some trips back to Sarthaal), Herkel dragged Dagon to the edge of the ruins. Dagon was still out like a light, so Herkel had time to complete his plan.

He prayed to Alduin the dragon of time, who was the greatest enemy of men, for he ate the world everytime he woke up. But Herkel knew that Dagon was a greater enemy to the dragon, so he put that in his prayer, saying, "Mighty time-eater, I am Herkel the Fool, and I am truly a fool. But I fought bravely at the fall of Sarthaal which lay now at my feet, as does the one responsible for its destruction. I do not ask you to wake up, Alduin, for that would ruin more than Dagon will (and that's a lot now that I keep hitting his head)! And I do not ask you to bring my fighting friends and king back to life, for that is the province of your brother and even I'm not foolish enough to ask all that! And I do not ask you to turn back time, for that is against the laws of all the gods! But I do ask you for a little help, even though...." (And here he kept praying.)

And Dagon woke up with a hideous headache to look down on Sarthaal and look! It was not destroyed at all! There were its mighty sights, its halls, its fountain of voices, and the tusk-house of Jarl the Tongue! And arrayed before it was the Host of Hoary Ysgrim all lined up for war!

"Oh crap!" Dagon said, shaking his hurt, hurt head, "I have come too early, for the destruction of Sarthaal has not occured, for I see the army of King Ysgrim waiting for the elves that I am sending. What could I be thinking, to come before the veils are pierced? Even the laws of trickery would not help me if I did that!"

So Dagon vanished back to his prison [in the void]. And, with him, so did the glamour of old Sarthaal vanish, for it had been brought only by a prayer of Herkel the Fool, who stood among the frozen warriors lined up as if for battle. His plan had worked, though it did little to comfort him, and he said goodbye to his fighting friends and his king and as the snow came in to bury Sarthaal forever, Herkel climbed the steps of High Hrothgaar, where he became at last a Clever Man.

(And this is why sometimes if you pray hard enough, you can still see Sarthaal outside of only memory and in its fullest glory.)

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