The Glave of Truth

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The Glave of Truth

Sigurd, Lord of the Western March, reined in his warhorse as it crested a modest rise, raising his hand to signal a halt. At once he saw that their last charge – the third since daybreak – had been successful, cutting deep into the ranks of their foes.

The King, his lord, had selected the field with care. A mere fortnight had passed since the sorcerer had, with a stroke, put an end to a decade of skirmish and maneuver, of battles fought on trackless paths and hidden fords through the high and snow-bound mountains that formed the realm's northern border. Summoning a mighty host, the sorcerer had taken by storm the great fortress guarding the northern entrance to the Raven Pass, a dagger pointing straight at the very heart of the kingdom.

Wide indeed was the high Raven Pass, but here, at the least, it narrowed, and for three leagues or more the rocky walls to their left and right were separated by little more than a rôst. The space between was flat withhal, and little grew in its dry and wind-swept soil to hinder the swift passage of man or beast. For the heavy cavalry favored by the men of the lush southern plains, it was an ideal place for battle, a veritable killing field.

Only in the narrows could Thorfinn, Lord of the Raven Lands, commanding the leftmost battle, and Ivar Hilmir, commanding the right, protect the flanks of the larger host. In the center the men of Westmarch stood, for Jarl Sigurd alone was able to bring his full host in answer to the King’s urgent summons.

Yet from the slight eminence where he paused, the peril borne of their successful charge was manifest, and the King’s decision to command the vanguard seemed rash indeed. For Sigurd could see, as the King could not, that spaces had begun to open between the host’s separate commands. Thorfinn’s men, and Ivar’s as well, were too far behind, while the vanguard, the King at its head, was too far advanced. And the host arrayed against them was vast – demons and trolls, imps and goblins in the thousands and tens of thousands, creatures of night and frost, shackled to the sorcerer’s implacable will.

The Jarl’s own men – the thegns of his household and the fyrd of Westmarch – had become scattered, too disbursed to provide the mutually reinforcing hammer-blows needed to break the foe. Worse, foul creatures now stood in the space that had opened between his troops and the vanguard.

But undismayed was Sigurd, son of bold Sigurdar. Young though he might be in years, the darkness of these latter days had made him, perforce, old in the ways of battle, and the demands of the moment were clear enough. He had no need to look to the left or the right to know that his herald and his standard bearer were beside him. To the former did he speak, urgent yet calm, commanding the call to regroup.

Swordthegn Trygve, son of Toresten, herald to the Jarl, raised his great horn and blew three mighty blasts. Responding to their lord’s command, the men of Westmarch began to disengage and rally to the standard, ever amongst the most difficult of evolutions when close engaged in the heat of battle.

Their task was made the easier that day, for the horrors who contested the ground on which they fought had learned to fear the men of Westmarch. Less than eager were they to maintain contact when respite was offered, and in their dark hearts they held the hope that the host of the West was retreating in truth.

Leif Tora stood at the Jarl’s right hand. Less tall he was than Sigurd his lord, but broad as a hay bale and powerfully built. Lightly did he hold the great ash shaft from which the Jarl’s banner rippled in the light breeze, a Cygnet on a field of green. As Sigurd removed his great helm, the better to see the field, the Thegn of Tora shared a look with the herald, long his closest friend and companion at arms.

Out of place in that stalwart gathering might Trygve have appeared, neither tall nor broad, smooth cheeked while both Tora and their lord, like most of his men, favored short-cropped beards. Yet none who had faced Toresten’s heir on the practice field, nor seen his skill in battle, would contest his place beside the Jarl. Lythe and swift, a deadly swordsman whose horsemanship was unmatched.

Neither land thegn nor sword thegn marveled at the tears that streaked Jarl Sigurd’s cheeks, for they had marked how his keen eyes were drawn to the gaps in the forming ranks. To the places where companions and friends should have ridden, as always they had before.

Ragnar the Tall would never return to his father’s high-beamed hall, nor would they hear again Ulf Oedgar’s bellowing laughter, renowned in the field and in the feasting hall. Alder of the Eagle Eye, the brothers Skarde and Garold, Ubba, the great bear. . . . So many gone. Most grievous of all, Njal the Justiciar, under whose command the Jarl had placed the men of the fyrd.

Another lord might have found comfort in the sure knowledge that the skaalds, sitting before hearthfires in the long nights of winter, would keep their names forever bright. With voices rich and sonorous, they would sing the tales of this fated day – of the scores brought low by Alder’s fell spear, or of Njal’s bold rescue of a company a fyrdmen, farmers and yeomen all, beset by a wave of shrieking goblins. Thus – ever thus – would the sons of the fallen hear of their mighty deeds. And, perhaps, those tales would lend courage to their heirs on some distant day, when fate called them to stand as strong, as valiant, and as steadfast, as their fathers who would not return.

But Jarl Sigurd, as Leif Tora and Trygve Torestenson knew full well, would find cold comfort in such thoughts of glory. He would honor their deeds, of course. Yet for him these men would never be names on a list, howsoever exalted. Boy and man they had been with him, through years of training, of shield work and spear work, sword work and horsemanship . . . always horsemanship. Heart of his heart, flesh of his flesh.

And he had brought them here this day. Led them to the place where a giant of a troll had snapped Alder’s bright spear like a twig and crushed his skull with an iron mace. Led Skarde and Garold to the ground where they perished in a hail of arrows. Led Ragnar, Ulf, Ubba and all the rest. And the goblins had hewn Njal’s body even as he lay in death, surrounded by scores he had brought low.

Each and every death Sigurd felt, like nails through his heart or a dark stain upon his very soul. So deeply was he wounded, his friends did fear that the darkness of that day would never leave him.

But the Jarl’s seeming weakness was also his greatest strength. Though the might of his right arm was already legend, it was not by battle prowess that Sigurd held his men steady in the face of a boiling sea of fearsome creatures, of horrors that would freeze the blood of the most bold. Nor yet was it by his skill in tactics, the cunning of his battle craft, renowned though he was among the liegemen of the King.

No, it was love. Always love. Love poured out from that great heart, and love returned a thousand-fold. Every companion, every thegn, every warrior, down to the lowliest spear-wielding yeoman of the fyrd, would follow him through the gates of the underworld itself.

As, indeed, they had.

While he had life within him, the Jarl would not turn from his duty, nor permit the sacrifice of his friends and comrades to have been in vain. He raised a hand in summons, and to his side rode Hakon Sigurdarson, red beard bristling under the sun at its zenith. Clasping the thegn’s sword arm, strength to strength, vambrace to vambrace, Jarl Sigurd said, “Njal is numbered among the fallen. Brother, you must look to the fyrd.”

Hakon saw in his brother’s eyes the pain of that loss, for Njal the Wise had ever been his right hand, the best, most trusted of his companions. A level head in the maelstrom of battle, a sage counselor in the rare days of peace, a friend closer than blood itself. Yet of none of this did he speak, for urgent were the needs of the present moment. “Aye, Lord,” Hakon replied, inclining his head in acceptance of the charge.

But Sigurd pulled him close, and spoke words for his brother’s ears alone. “If I am fated this day to fall, you must bring them home, Hakon. Save the fyrd . . . save our people.”

Hakon was by these words much distressed, for dearly did he love his brother. Most urgently did he plead, “Lord, if we lose the field this day, there can be no place of safety. I would stand with you. Yea, to the very end, if that is your wyrd.”

Yet to his brother Sigurd replied, “Hope abides while life remains. The morrow may surprise, but one of us, at the least, must needs live to see it!”

Hakon bowed his head, the weight of his brother’s command heavy on his heart. “I will bring them safe home, my lord. . . . My brother!”

Thegn Trygve called to where the brothers held counsel. “My lord, the household stands ready, but the fyrd is yet too scattered, and the King is sore beset!”

And verily, the herald’s words were sooth. From the ground on which they gathered, they could see the vanguard forging ahead behind the royal standard, but with progress ever slowing, encircled by thickening ranks of dark spears. Perilous indeed was the King’s position, for deprived of speed, heavy cavalry may with far greater ease be overborne.

Sigurd surveyed the field, and stern now was his countenance, old beyond his years. Soon they must go, or their charge would fail of its purpose, reaching the King’s position too late to save him. Yet, to advance the household thegns alone, without the weight of the fyrd behind them, would be folly, and worse than folly – no better than throwing a shaftless spearhead at an armored foe. “Make haste!” he urged his brother. “I will not need all, but numbers enough we must have!”

Hakon galloped back to assist the muster.

Cantering once again to the center of his men, Sigurd gave his commands. “Form a wedge, on me. Look to the standard! Brave Tora, cleave you tight unto my left as we advance, that all may follow!” His gaze shifted to the rear, and he waited anxious minutes until he saw his brother signal that the fyrd was at the ready.

Stormwind, his warhorse, reared and screamed challenge, and Truth, his blade, sang again in his strong right hand. Raising his voice in a mighty shout, Jarl Sigurd cried, “To the King! To the King!”

And all the host shouted in response, “The King!”

The herald’s great horn sounded the advance, and slowly, at first, the horses stepped forward.

At the horn’s blast the sorcerer's legions blanched, knowing that the earlier withdrawal had indeed been no retreat. On their brutal and twisted features fear blossomed bright, fear renewed and thrice compounded. Too late they realized the deadly fruits of their delay.

The horses began to trot, then canter, the thunder of their massed ranks a terror all its own.

Close on, the foul multitude saw the charge take shape. Their own numbers were overwhelming; to a dispassionate observer – to the vultures, kites and crows that circled overhead, awaiting their time of feasting – the charge would seem to pose no threat to the vast army the sorcerer had called to himself.

Yet the creatures of the netherworld, like the sons of men, are in no wise dispassionate, and to any who stood in the path of the charge, certain doom was close at hand. Those nearest danger, fated to stand before the Cygnet standard that streamed bravely at the apex of the wedge, were first to edge sideways, pushing against their evil brethren. Harder and harder did they push as the cavalry drew ever closer. Though they cleared a path for their foes, yet they hoped to themselves survive that fearsome, initial hammer’s blow.

Thirty yards out, the mighty horses hit a full gallop, a tidal wave of bone and sinew, muscle, iron, leather and kinetic force. The shock of their impact shattered what remained of the enemies’ formations, and caused the waiting birds to fly higher, searching in vain for calmer airs.

The charge rolled on, scattering foes like so much chaff. Truth swung left and right, the Jarl in haste to win through to where the King’s banner floated, barely moving, isolated behind a hedge of spears.

Closer and closer they came, their inexorable charge barely slowing. Foes who stood were swept aside; those who fled were ground under the weight of horses they could not outrun. The fyrd finished those who might remain.

Unharmed was Sigurd, charmed that day. His wyrd was upon him, and no weariness did he feel as he cleaved a path to his lord through a host of foes. Stormwind and the Jarl fought as one, their years together forging a single weapon, potent and deadly. Few indeed of the sorcerer’s minions dared to contest their passage, such was their puissance on that day of wrath.

Spears parted before him, and his heart sang as he beheld King Gorm, old but doughty still, fighting beneath his standard of the Sun on an azure field. About the King, the men of his household – such of them as survived – cheered and found new strength as they saw that rescue was at hand. Their blows rang out the stronger, and the sorcerer’s creatures in confusion backed away.

Jarl Sigurd signaled the wedge to fan out, while he himself slowed, herald and standard bearer close by his side. They cantered to where the King had made his stand amidst his sword thegns.

“Well met, kinsman!” the King sang out, the hope of triumph, of victory, lighting his face, making it youthful once again.

But lo! In the moment of their triumph, the sun’s brightness was blighted. From the sky, a creature plummeted, huge and terrible, carrion wings pulsing a foul and noisome stench. Shrieking vengeance and ruin, down it drove, down and down, full upon the place where the King stood, blotting out the glory of his banner.

No horse living, not even the best trained, could withstand the terror of the creature’s approach. The cries of men and screams of horses filled the air. Wild-eyed, the King’s white stallion reared and stumbled.

Thegn Trygve, herald of Westmarch and finest of horsemen, stretched out and clasped the King to him, seaking to pull him clear of his falling steed. Yet even bold Trygve’s vaunted skill could not suffice, for his own horse bolted beneath him, madness overcoming it.

King and herald, both they fell. Full upon the king his thrashing steed landed, crushing him utterly. Trygve son of Toresten, valiant and true, tumbled wildly, hit the hard ground with bone-crushing force, and moved no more.

Stormwind alone for love of his lord held fast for a time, but even he could not long abide the fell creature’s coming. Sigurd lept free, landing lightly beside the fallen king. The Jarl’s noble warhorse, overmatched at the last, followed the path of Sun and Cygnet both.

And Sigurd stood alone, his household men and companions either borne away, or, like his herald, among the fallen.

The creature landed and thrust its scaly head toward Sigurd, flame in its eyes and fury in its screaming challenge. Raising scythe-sharp claws, it leapt.

Sigurd stood steadfast in the face of that charge. With his sword the Jarl smote the rushing creature full on its head, and so powerful was his arm that day, so fueled by rage and loss and grief, that he clove its skull asunder and it collapsed, its reeking frame raising a cloud of dust from the dry and barren ground.

Yet worse was to come, for the creature had that day been a mere beast of burden. From its back a rider rose like a thundercloud against the sun. Immense, dark, crowned with a helm of black iron, its face shrouded in impenetrable shadow. There could be no doubt that the dread sorcerer stood before him, the master of the host against which he fought.

Upon the Lord of Westmarch did the sorcerer bend his gaze. “Who dares stand between me and what is mine?” The voice was thin and low, cold as the ice storms of January.

Tall and proud stood the Jarl in that hour, his shield tight to his left arm, sword at the ready. “I am Sigurd Sigurdarson, and by my sword and my life will I defend my kinsman and my King. Begone!”

A harsh laugh sounded from the sorcerer, and with an arm of adamant he raised a dark flail, links of night and a spiked ball, heavy with malice and black enchantment. The weapon of evil magic arced forward, swinging hard and fast toward the place where the Jarl stood his ground.

Sigurd, wily veteran of a hundred battles, dodged and brought up his shield. Yet so powerful was that sorcerous blow that the shield shattered in a flash of red flame and his forearm snapped, the bone jaggedly broken. The Jarl staggered, and almost he fell. Yet his wyrd drove him still, and standing straight once more he again raised his bright blade in defiance.

At the crash of the dred flail, Trygve the herald, stunned and injured by his fall, yet still among the living, made effort to rise once more. The thegn’s eyes lifted to where Sigurd still stood, wounded, bleeding, yet resolute.

The sorcerer laughed again, and raised his flail for the killing strike.

Sigurd knew, indeed, that he could not withstand a second blow. Summoning the last of his strength, and holding in his heart the names of Njal and Alder, Ragnar, Ubba and all of the slain, he leapt beneath the swinging flail and closed with his enemy. Then with a mighty cry he rammed Truth, swift and sure, straight into the sorcerer’s broad chest.

No sword forged by man could pierce the enchantments with which the sorcerer clothed his form, howsoever mighty the hand that held it. Yet Truth, the Jarl’s bright blade, was spoken into being by the gods themselves when the world was new, long ages ere the sorcerer arose to darken the dreams of men. Thus did Sigurd’s desperate strike penetrate both hauberk and gambison, passing through completely.

Trygve Torestenson, watching, was amazed that the Jarl had managed such a blow. Driven by love and will alone, the herald staggered up, fell, and sought again to rise.

For a long moment Jarl and sorcerer stood motionless, chest to chest. But the sorcerer's helm lowered, and once more was his fell voice heard. “Fool! I have no heart to weaken me. Did you not know that no mortal man may cause me harm?” And with his mailed fist he dealt Sigurd a buffet so powerful that the Jarl’s helm was struck from his head, and blood flowed out from his ears. The light of Truth, sheathed to the hilt in the sorcerer’s dark and evil chest, flickered and grew dim, the blade itself turning black.

At this Thegn Trygve cried out and staggered forward, desperate to come to the lord’s aid.

Yet far from quailing at the sorcerer’s words, the Jarl was filled with wonder, knowing with sudden clarity what must be done. Holding fast to the glave’s great hilt, Sigurd cried out, and gave voice at last to the deepest truth of that great and noble heart.

“I am not a man!”

It was for this moment that Sigurd Sigurdarson had been born into the world of grief. As the Jarl cast off all doubt, all deception and secrecy, resolving at last to live and die in the utmost light of truth, the argent flame of the gods-forged blade burst forth anew. That flash of surpassing brilliance severed the vile web that knit the sorcerer’s sinews to his will, and the very form he had crafted for himself exploded outward, sending a shock wave rolling across the stricken field.

The servants of the sorcerer cried out in sudden despair, freed from the will that had driven them to this place of doom. They scattered, an army no longer, each looking to preserve himself alone.

For a moment longer the Jarl stood, bright star against the fading darkness, unbending and unbowed. Then like a mighty oak did Sigurd fall, wyrd at last complete, clutching Truth to a heart that beat no more.

Yet the loyal herald was there at the last. Injured though he was, yet strength enough did he find to lower Sigurd’s body, tenderly and gently, to rest upon the ground. Alone of the household had Trygve heard the Jarl’s words, and it was as though scales fell from his eyes. Understanding flooded his heart, and he wept.

There the thegns of the Jarl’s household found them, when at last their steeds had mastered fear and returned. With an anguished cry Leif Tora rammed the heel of the Jarl’s standard hard into the earth, where it stood quivering. He jumped down and knelt beside the place where the herald his friend held Sigurd’s body in a final embrace.

Trygve son of Toresten raised his anguished face at last, seeing the Lord of Tora through a veil of tears. “Leif,” he cried, “May the gods forgive us! How is it we could not see – how is it we did not know! – that a woman’s great and loving heart beat within the body of this man?”

It was victory. Victory after a decade of war, and a victory so complete, so unlooked for, that the realm rejoiced. Yet somber was the host as it descended from the high mountain pass, for heavy indeed was the price paid upon that field. So numerous were their dead that they buried them in ranks where they had fallen. And in later days it was held the greatest of honors, to be descended from one who had his final resting place in the narrows of the Raven Lands.

King Gorm, called Frode, was laid upon a bier of lashed spears. Iver Hildir, King upon the death of his valliant sire, gave to the house thegns of the Western March, Hakon Sigurdarson at their head, the honor of carrying the late king’s body, leading the host on the journey home.

For the men of Westmarch, thegn and yeomen alike, would not suffer the body of their Jarl to be taken from the field where comrades and companions lay in death. In the midst of the narrows they built a high barrow, and in the barrow they made a fair bed of alder. There they laid the body of Sigurd Sigurdarson, greatest of champions.

But while the deeds of the man would ever be remembered, it was the woman’s heart and soul that they honored most, and thus it is that in the sagas of skaalds she is renamed Sigrid, Greatheart and Lifegiver, Lady of the Western Vales. Upon the Jarl’s body they laid the great Cygnet standard, and the Glave of Truth shone bright upon her breast.

– The end

Author’s note: To anyone who has read the books or even just seen the movie, the inspiration for this scene will be clear, though it is a story from another age and another folk. I have changed it enough, perhaps, that the original author, watching from above, might be mollified. To his memory, and to his work, I mean nothing but respect.

For information about my other stories, please check out my author's page.

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In the Halls of the Great Dominion

Truth will prevail. All other carries consequences. One can only imagine the fear felt by goblins when the Big Lie has been exposed in all its putridness.

Well done.


Angela Rasch (Jill M I)

Thanks, Jill!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

The Goblins have their own skaalds, unfortunately, so the truth may not penetrate.

I’m glad you enjoyed the story — thank you, as always, for your unflagging support!


very well done

I loved it.


Thanks, Dot!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I grew up devouring high fantasy epics, as well as myths and legends, and swashbuckling adventure. (Fun fact: there are eight sequels to The Three Musketeers. Who knew? Well, I did, because I tracked them all down and read every one of them). So this is a tribute of sorts to all of those authors who gave me hours of enjoyment when I was young.

As an adult I came to recognize that the “epic style” is an acquired taste, and it creates distance between the readers and the characters in the story. I wouldn’t want to use it for a longer work (for one thing, I’d find myself starting to talk like that. Which, you know, could be awkward . . . .). But I’m delighted that you enjoyed the short!


The Truth

Erisian's picture

"The Truth shall set you free..."

Beautifully done, Emma! <3

Thank you, Seraph!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Thank you so much for the feedback!


Perhaps the greatest scene of an awesome story

Dee Sylvan's picture

I first read the trilogy in college some 60 years ago and have reread it several times since. Your story melds one culture (TG) into a long forgotten one of epic battles and legends forged therein. Alas, though Sigrid stood tall in the face of pure evil and smote the Sorcerer, her grace opened the minds of men to overcome bigotry and prejudice. Well done (again), dear friend. :DD



Emma Anne Tate's picture

And the filming was absolutely perfect, too!!! Such a great scene!

It took me a few efforts to get the “epic” and TG elements to merge in that scene. My solution was that the hero’s blade could pierce the darkness, but was insufficient in itself to overcome it. Victory required both divine grace (the god-forged blade) and Sigrid’s own commitment to live and die in the Truth her sword proclaimed.

Thank you, dear, for your words of encouragement!



on achieving what you termed in response to a comment "the epic style", which I (knowing it to be in error) had thought of as "forsoothly". Incidentally the spell-checker considered my erroneous concept a mis-spelling, presumably the word is not in its dictionary!
Well done

Autocorrect and spell-check . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

. . . were definitely fighting me on this story! Lots of archaic usages and spellings to distress computer brains, withal. ;-)




Sunflowerchan's picture

Tolkien would have been proud of this piece of fiction. In a short space of time you established your setting, you introduced us the reader to a wonderful cast of characters, and you spun a tale that deserves to be sung and retold. I was hooked from the moment I read this wonderful piece of fiction. I was transported back to my sixteeth year, when I was but a young lass. Haunting the the halls were only the voice of long dead authors dwelled. You, milady have captured the essence of that prose. You have not only captured it, you have bent it, shaped it and cast it to your favore. You have like a smithy, taken simply words and hammered and forged them into a epic tale. Thank you again for sharing this wonderful story with us. I consider this a tour de force of what a masterful and talented wordsmith you are.

I remember . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

. . . trying to write an epic story in Tolkien’s style when I was a teenager — something it seemed like ever author whose works appeared in the “SciFi/Fantasy” section of B. Dalton’s was trying to do. I didn’t keep it, but I remember enough of it to remember why I didn’t!

Well, the SciFi/Fantasy section of Barnes and Noble mostly seems to carry books about vampires these days, and I’ve never cared for vampires. But I’m glad there are a few souls out there who still appreciate the older style! Thank you for your lovely comment!


I Am No Man

joannebarbarella's picture

Who could not remember that defiant cry?