Summary: A lost tale of the Scouring.
Characters: Hartmut, Bramimond, the other Heroes
Translated by Professor B. S. Erre
Of the fall of the great kingdom of Nabata and the great sorrow that ensued much has been sung -- may the years that follow number as many as the blades of grass upon the plains, as many as the tears that were shed at the passing of that great people! Now, the generals and lords of all the land had witnessed the power and terror of the Dark Dragon and his mindless creations, and in their hearts they knew only despair. What hope had they? The dragonkin had ever been wiser and stronger; now they had lost even the advantage of numbers. Soon the doom that had befallen Nabata would come to them all. So the whispers went.
And yet at that darkest moment, Hartmut son of Hartwin rose and spoke thus:
"Men of Elibe! Do not fear! Did we not defeat the dragons at Arcadia? Did we not defeat them in the north? And did not the Dark Dragon retreat at the last to recover from his wounds? The Dark Dragon is mortal. He can be killed. Hope is not yet lost!"
Among the council that had gathered, only one was brave enough to answer.
"And how, Hartmut son of Hartwin, do you propose to kill the Dark Dragon?" asked Barigan the Faithful. "Who has seen these wounds you speak of? Neither arrow nor blade can pierce his mighty scales; magic binds his sinews to his bones. They say a sweep of his tail can kill ten thousand men; a swipe of his claws ten thousand more, and his magic twice that again!"
And Hartmut replied, "You say that magic binds his sinews to his bones, and that neither arrow nor blade can pierce his scales. Then this I propose: we shall call forth all the weaponsmiths in the land and all the men of knowledge and wisdom. And when they have gathered we shall task them to make great and terrible weapons, blessed by the spirits themselves -- weapons that shall unbind his dark magic, weapons that shall pierce even the toughest hide! Thus may the Dark Dragon be defeated."
The lords and generals gathered there saw the wisdom in his words and agreed to the task. Many were the messengers sent out that spring, many the men who answered the call, and many the months they toiled. At the last, they presented the council with eight weapons: the blazing sword Durandal and the thunder axe Armads; Aureola, the pinnacle of light, and Forblaze, the infernal element; Murgleis bow of winds and Maltet spear of ice and snow; the silencing darkness Apocalypse and the lightning sword Exaccus.
The council beheld these and were pleased. But now the question fell upon them as to who should wield those weapons. Great heroes must they be; strong and brave, leaders among men. Yet on this alone did they agree. The remnants of the western armies claimed right to the weapons, as those who had lost the most. The proud men of the east protested their claim, for ever had they lived under the shadow of the dragonkin, and many among them had died defending the front lines. The men of the south had seen their fields razed and their homes burnt; the men of the north too were a hardy people, willing to bend their knee to no one. And indeed countless words and blows were exchanged until at last the wife of Barigan the Faithful stood.
"My friends! Why do we quarrel thus amongst ourselves? Five-and-twenty great armies have come together today in hopes of defeating the Dark Dragon; eight Divine Weapons have we been presented with. This I propose: each army shall send forth a champion as representative. Of these champions we shall then choose eight by trial of arms. Is this not just? Is this not proper?"
The generals and lords of the council murmured their agreement. They returned each to their respective armies, and summoned the brave and the strong to select one of their own whom they deemed strongest and bravest and wisest of all. The next day the trial was held, and among the five-and-twenty champions who rode forth, seven heroes among heroes soon became apparent.
First was Hartmut son of Hartwin, farmer turned soldier, and now a general without peer, of whom it was said had led his armies to a thousand victories and had yet to meet defeat. To him was granted Exaccus, a blade to match its wielder -- swift as lightning, clever in its construction, ever transforming to suit need and circumstance.
Second was Barigan the Faithful, knight among knights, called Traitor by some, exiled to the north from his western home; and his clever wife Bradamant the Tamer, Bradamant the Just, upon her winged white steed. To them was granted the spear Maltet, most beautiful of the Weapons, against which no rider could remain mounted.
Third was Roland the Brave from the southern lands, small in stature but not in courage, who had once faced one hundred armed men alone and unarmed, and defeated them all. For such a fierce warrior only Durandal, sword of fire, was fitting.
Fourth was Durban of Nabata, Durban the Berserker, at whose name all men shook in fear. To him was granted Armads, which with a single blow could make the very earth tremble.
Fifth and Sixth were the sage Athos and his lover the sorceress Elimine, whose knowledge and understanding of magic surpassed all others. To them was granted Forblaze and Aureola respectively, for Athos was a wise and passionate man, beloved by the spirits themselves, and of Elimine it was said she was fairest of all, and indeed the very embodiment of Light itself.
Seventh was Hanon of the People of the Wolves -- who prize freedom above all. She was keen-eyed and fleet-footed, a horseman without parallel. To her was granted Murgleis of the wind.
Only one Weapon remained then without wielder: of the champions who had been named, none could wield the forces of darkness, those primeval forces older than time and earth. Even Athos and Elimine, wise as they were, dared not meddle with what they knew could be controlled by no spirit or mortal.
"And yet who indeed was responsible for this tome?" exclaimed fair Elimine. "Who among us could have possessed the mind and spirit to tame the shadows? For he must be a great and terrible wizard indeed!"
But none came forth to lay claim to the deed.
From the east then came a dark rider, shrouded in shadow and mystery.
"It was I who created the Tome of Darkness," said the rider, in a voice that was neither male nor female, neither young nor old. "It was I who forged the Book of Shadow."
Hartmut stood. "And what are you called, Rider? From whence do you come? And wherefore?"
"I am called Bramimond," said the rider. "From the stars did I come, and my reasons are my own."
"How do we know we can trust you?" growled Durban the Berserker, his voice a rumble in the silence.
"You cannot," replied the one called Bramimond. "But this I will tell you, Durban of the West! For battle you have lived; in battle shall you fall, and to the earth shall you be bound for the ages. And yet your name shall be sung by men forevermore!
"And you, Elimine the Fair, child of the sun! Long shall your days number, and long shall you be remembered. Truth you shall seek, and truth perhaps you may find. You shall die surrounded by many, and yet alone.
"Athos the Wise! Longer still shall your days number, but sooner shall you be forgotten. Truth too, shall you seek, but upon the path you walk none shall go before, and none shall follow.
"Barigan of the North, Barigan the Stern! Long shall you work the land, but little the fruit you bear, and few the praises sung for you. Yet do not despair! For you shall not live without joy, and in the end the greatest reward shall be yours.
"Hanon of the Winds! May the Sky bless you, and the vast Earth protect you! You have seen far and wide and true, and you shall be happiest among men, though in fame and fortune you shall count among the least.
"Roland of the South! Greatest shall be your deeds, and greatest your legacy. Your progeny shall multiply across the bountiful earth. But sorrow too shall you know before the end, and of men your grief shall be greatest."
"And what of me, Bramimond the Enigma?" asked Hartmut of the Thousand Victories.
"Of your fate, I cannot see, Hartmut son of Hartwin," said Bramimond quietly. "But it may be that I shall witness it before the end."
And so it was agreed upon without question that the Eighth and final Weapon should be bestowed upon its maker Bramimond. But among the Eight Heroes Hartmut remained unsatisfied.
Now that the Eight Heroes had been chosen the council gathered once more to plan the next campaign. It was decided that they would march directly towards the eastern lands, and there wage their final stand. But here hot-blooded Roland did protest.
"I shall not yet ride east!" declared he. "With the fall of Nabata, the dragonkin press ever forward, destroying and enslaving all in their path! Our lands too shall soon be consumed by those monstrous creatures. I would not leave my people to suffer! I would not leave them to such a fate worse than death!"
"All the more reason to fell the Dark Dragon!" replied Barigan the Faithful. "You seek the enemy's arm while the head has not yet fallen. A victory in the west is a meaningless victory! Brave I knew you to be, Roland of the south, but a fool I did not think!"
But with Roland stood his dear friend and confidant Olivier the Prudent, and Durban the Wild too thirsted after revenge, as did Elimine of the Light. Just as it seemed that the great heroes would come to blows with each other, before they had even taken arms against their common enemy, Hartmut son of Hartwin did come between them.
"Go then, Hero Roland! Ride forth and drive the dragonkin from your lands! I shall not stop you, but neither shall I accompany you! North shall we ride instead, and rid that land of the dragon worshippers that have long plagued it. And when we have completed our respective tasks, then shall we meet again, and ride together once more!"
"Hero Hartmut!" said Roland. "True and honorable you are! I shall not forget this kindness, my friend. Farewell, and may Victory shine upon us both!"
Said Bramimond to Hartmut: "An ill choice it was that you made today."
"Better this than for the Eight to take arms against each other," Hartmut replied. "Before the War of the Dragons we were a people scattered, warring amongst ourselves over wealth and land. No easy chance was it to gather us all here today in brotherhood and good will. And I would not have this alliance broken ere the end."
"Of the petty differences of men I understand little," said Bramimond. "But as I see it, Hartmut son of Hartwin, today you have broken the alliance by your own hand. But let us go! For you are a man of your word, and it would be unseemly now to hesitate."
So the heroes rode forth: Roland, Olivier, Durban, Elimine, and Athos to the west; Barigan, Bradamant, Hanon, Hartmut, and Bramimond to the north.
And indeed Hartmut and the Heroes did come to regret that hour of parting. For as Bramimond had foreseen, on that day was a rift born among the Heroes, a bitter seed sown among their ranks. But the time for regret had yet to come! In the west Roland and Durban successfully drove the dragonkin from their lands; the brutal dragon worshippers in the north soon surrendered, but for a few. These did Barigan and Hartmut ride forth personally to subdue.
To the foot of the mountain of ice and snow did they ride. Yet there they found no army to meet them, but a bedraggled gathering of villagers, armed with sticks and stones.
"Wherefore have you come, men of the south?"
Said Hartmut, "We have come for your surrender, men of the north! For the dragonkin are our sworn enemy, and yet you would defend them."
"Long has the Great Dragon protected our people! What do you know of the bitterness of winter? What do you know of the misery of hunger? But for the Great Dragon, where should we turn on those long, dark nights? But for the Great Dragon, how could we have raised our children to maturity? For all this and more would we give our lives for the Guardian of the Mountain!"
"And how many children do you think have fallen to the dragonkin? How many farms razed? How many the dissenters you have driven from your lands?" said Barigan, troubled at their words. "And yet if you speak true, great would be the wrong we did you."
And Hartmut said, thoughtfully, "Let us speak, then, with the Great Dragon!"
But the villagers replied, "Nay, treacherous one! For we shall not let you do her harm!"
Now did Hartmut's ire rise. "Come now! We would parley with her and know her true intent. And should we judge her harmless to our kind, then gladly shall we leave you and her in peace."
"Honeyed words you speak," said the village elder. "But countless have you slaughtered already in the name of peace and the dominion of men. How many more, until your thirst for blood is sated? Our people have suffered enough. Leave now! Or know the wrath of the Dragon!"
"Fools!" said Hartmut. "I see now. You are deceived, as all the others were!"
At his words the village archers took up their bows, and from among them a youth stepped forth, spear in hand, fury written on his face. "Die, crow of the south!"
But just then, from the distance was sighted a great white bird. As it neared, those gathered there soon realized that it was no bird, but two riders upon a winged mount, enveloped by shadows. Earth and sky rumbled with the sibilant echo of the Ancient Tongue; darkness descended upon the throng; arrows fell to the ground, impotent. All the world stilled, and Hartmut knew even then who had come.
They landed in a flurry of wings and snow, and the villagers backed away in fear and awe, for among men the northerners knew most of the ancient darkness.
"Men of the north," said Bramimond, dismounting alongside clever Bradamant, for together had they observed the proceedings from afar. "A dream I have seen. Six months ere this day, cruel strangers came and stole away the Guardian. Six months now have you struggled and starved, awaiting her return. But alas! She has fled this world. Your Dragon is no more."
In shock the elder said, "What you speak is true. But for the last -- that last! Of that bitter truth are you indeed certain?"
"I am," said Bramimond. "No longer can I feel her presence."
Now did the villagers weep.
"Alas, alas!" cried the elder. "Six months ere this day, the Good Sage hastened south in pursuit, but he has not returned. Indeed you must speak the truth, oh one of the shadows."
Hartmut, seeing their grief, said, "Then we shall not fight you, men of the north, you who have killed and plundered in the name of the Dragon. For we are one and the same. Yet nor shall I forget the ills you have committed. But those deeds are not mine to judge! May we part here in good will!"
Willingly did the villagers accept this truce, but the youth who had come forward spat and spoke thus:
"A curse upon you and your blood, Hartmut son of Hartwin! May your line be as barren as our lands, and your house come to know the bitterness of our people!"
But Hartmut only laughed. "I fear not your northern curses!" he said, and rode away with Barigan and Bradamant. And to Bramimond he said, "You have saved my life today, and for that I thank you."
Said Bramimond, "No thanks are needed. I did only what was just."
And Hartmut replied, "I shall uncover your secrets yet, Bramimond the Unknown!"
And in the shadows Hartmut thought he discerned a smile.
Soon afterwards did Roland return triumphant; upon the plains of Hanon the two armies reunited, and there did they commence their march upon the temple of the dragonkin to the mountainous east. Many thoughts weighed heavy upon the Heroes, and upon Hartmut most of all.
A fortnight before the solstice did they cross the border into the realm of the dragonkin, and a fortnight did it take before the temple was sighted from afar. And that evening Hartmut did approach Bramimond, and together they went into the sacred grove.
Said he to Bramimond, "One question have I for you. Will you answer me this?"
"If answer I can."
"Then this I would ask you: Who are you? For I would know the truth."
"Would you, Hartmut son of Hartwin?"
"I do not fear the truth, Bramimond the Faceless, Weaver of Shadows!"
"Perhaps. But perhaps you shall regret it, before the end."
"Even so -- even so!"
With sorrowful reluctance Bramimond drew back his hood. And Hartmut saw to his great astonishment no man, but a young woman, striking in visage, though not beautiful. Her hair was the shade of a starling's wing, and her eyes were steady and clear. And as Hartmut gazed upon her, he soon realized that he was not as surprised as he had first assumed. Without thinking he gathered her into his arms.
"This I have long suspected," he murmured. "But wherefore hide thus? What is it that you fear? Is it I? Or perhaps your own heart?"
"How can I fear my own heart, when I no longer know it?"
"It is I, then, that you fear."
"It is your heart I fear," she said. "For even now I have not shown you the entire truth." With that she pushed him gently away, and Hartmut felt a sudden tremor of power in the air. Before his very eyes the woman's shape began to blur, transforming into a mighty beast, with fearsome jaws and scales as tough as diamonds.
"Dragon!" Hartmut exclaimed, and only then understood the fear of which they had spoken, and the truth his heart had indeed known all along. His hands reached automatically for Exaccus, but the dragon simply gazed upon him in silence, unmoving.
"Have you played me for a fool?" demanded Hartmut. "You, who are of my own sworn enemy! The enemy of us all!"
"Indeed," said the dragon. "Of your comrades only two before you have seen the truth. First is Hanon of the clear sight, for her people know well the spirits and the earth, and remember more than most the song of the stars. The other is Athos the Wise, who understands the fabric of the world, and thus knows me for what I am.
"Barigan the Stern is a man of good faith, who will not question without just cause.
"Durban the Wild sees naught but what lies before him in the heat of battle.
"Elimine the Fair has long been troubled by my words, and yet she would surround herself with light, and cast away all shadows. Thus is the truth veiled to her.
"Roland the Valorous sees only friend and foe. And Bramimond the Enigma counts yet among his friends, though Bramimond the Dragon may well yet become his direst adversary.
"For indeed I am the enemy of you and all your kind! And perhaps shall be the doom of you. And so will you kill me?" said the dragon. "Will you kill me, Hartmut son of Hartwin?"
And indeed Hartmut took up his blade of magic and stepped forward as if to strike. But at the last he threw the blade to the ground.
"I cannot. I cannot kill you, Bramimond of the Stars."
"Wherefore not? For I am the enemy of all you cherish."
"I cannot kill you," said Hartmut, "because I love you. Whether you were born dragon or woman, whether you are traitor to your own people, or I to mine -- still I would love you. I know not your reasons, Bramimond of the Dragonkin, but my own heart, at least, I know. Therefore I cannot kill you."
At those words the dragon shifted, and her body twisted, shrinking back into human form.
"My heart is gladdened to hear your words, though I know not why," said Bramimond.
"Is it? Then I am glad as well."
And so they lay together, man and dragon, in the sacred grove.
Too soon did dawn break that morning! But not even the dragonkin can stay the flow of time, and the sun rises and falls as it must. And Bramimond did say to Hartmut then, "You asked me my reasons when first we met. These I will tell you now.
"When the war began, my people thought themselves invincible. Mankind is frail and foolish; in our eyes your lives are as the lives of mayflies, brief and insignificant. And to us was given the fortitude and endurance of the earth itself, and the wisdom of the ages. Little threat did we consider you. So it was in the beginning.
"But in time we found that all our power and wisdom could not stave off your encroaching armies. Like ants swarming over a helpless snake! And yet were we to be driven from the land we had long called home? Now did my people split in two: those who desired to spawn an army of War Dragons to counter mankind, and the clan of the Divine, who dared not defy the laws of nature thus. No reconciliation could be reached. My clan decided at last to depart this world, for our comrades had grown blind and foolish in their thirst for vengeance, and we would not agree to such a deed.
"But the youngest of my kinsmen hesitated. For she had dear friends among the lesser clans, and would not see our people divided thus. Alas! In her hesitation she was captured, and her soul destroyed, that she might obey the orders of the lesser ones without question. And in the end I alone of my people remained, to right the great wrong that has been done."
"Then it is your kinsman who has become the Dark Dragon of our greatest fears," said Hartmut in sorrow and wonder, "and that which we seek to destroy."
"There is nothing left of her to be destroyed," replied Bramimond. "Better death than this half-life!"
"And is this then the wrong of which you speak?"
"No," said Bramimond, shaking her head. "It is but one of many. The original wrong lies with your kind. Or so I once believed! Man and dragon once lived side by side. Wherefore come to blows? This I could not understand, nor any of my kin. Nor did we desire to. And thus we retaliated in kind."
"Alas for the folly of men!" exclaimed Hartmut. "For too often are we blinded by fear and greed."
"And alas for the arrogance of dragon! For secure were we in our wisdom and knowledge. But now the seeds of hatred have been sown. Blood has been spilt. The Divine Ones have left this world. There is no more return to those days."
"But say not so! For the hearts of men may yet change."
"But of the hearts of dragons, I cannot say."
At that moment, the war horns sounded in the distance. And Hartmut said, "So the last battle begins! Take then this gem as a token of my heart. For long it may be before we may speak together thus once more."
Blood-red it was, a stone imbued with fire itself. And Bramimond replied, "Gladly do I accept your gift, Hartmut son of Hartwin. And your words I shall not forget."
Glorious was the battle that was waged that day! Upon her snow white steed Bradamant could be seen in the skies, though she was heavy with child; in Barigan's hands Maltet glittered like a thousand stars. Durban and Armads sent tremors across the earth; Murgleis sung true, and Hanon's arrows flew far and wide. Fiery Durandal and Roland who wielded him blazed brighter than the sun; at their side cool Olivier and his sister Alde were no less fearsome. Against the purifying flame of Forblaze and the fury of Athos none could stand; Elimine and Aureola danced with Bramimond and Apocalypse upon waves of power, shadow and light intertwined. And Hartmut himself rode at the fore, swinging Exaccus before him, calling down lightning upon his foes.
As the mindless warbeasts fell before their combined might, a call was soon raised. "The Dragons! The Dragons have come!"
For indeed the true dragons had come, though their leader was nowhere to be seen. Great and monstrous were their forms, cold and hard as stone, and swathes of destruction followed in their wake. Now Hartmut did raise his sword, and all the Heroes with him, and fearlessly did they charge forward, confident in their strength.
Sensing the great power that now faced them, the dragons grew fearful, and unleashed their own power in rage. Power flooded the land and the sky in shimmering swells, wild and uncontrolled. The Weapons trembled in the Heroes' grasps; dragon and man were thrown to the ground. Bramimond gave a great and terrible cry. And in that moment, the fabric of the world burst. The laws of nature collapsed.
Mountains shifted; the earth tore asunder; dark waves swallowed the scorched land. Snow fell in midsummer; stars shone during the day; chaos reigned supreme. Such were the End of Days.
In the confusion that ensued, the two armies of dragon and men both retreated. Wherefore fight, when the world itself approached its very end? And Hartmut lingered ever at Bramimond's side, for greatly had she been weakened in that terrible upheaval.
"To master the shadows, one must give oneself to the darkness completely," said she to Hartmut. "But now I am afraid. The world has changed. And I fear the darkness, though I would know it."
"You must not give up!" said Hartmut. "It may be that the world we knew is no more. It may be that tomorrow, there will be nothing left for us. But we have not yet lost everything. I am here, and you are here. I shall stay with you until the end."
But Bramimond shook her head. "Long have I struggled against the shadows, even as I embraced it, full willing. And because I understood the fabric of the world and knew my place within it, the darkness could not take me. But now it will consume the land."
As she spoke she reached up to touch the red stone Hartmut had gifted her, hanging on a chain about her neck. But Hartmut reached out and clasped her hand in his. "We must right the wrongs that have been done," he whispered. "We must right the balance we have broken."
"But it is too late," said Bramimond. With that she rose and disappeared into the sacred grove, the forest of darkness no other dared step foot within, and bid Hartmut not to follow.
The days passed. Among the ranks of the soldiers who had not yet fled, among the many innocents whose homes and families had been destroyed, it was whispered that the enemy now hid among them. The dragonkin had taken human form, sowing resentment and distrust everywhere they could. For it was not enough that they had upset the balance of the world: they would destroy even the last hope, the last light that flickered yet among men. Even the wild beasts of the land had begun to turn against each other. Entire villages lay in eerie silence, corpses scattering their streets. And it was whispered that even the Eight Heroes had abandoned their people to despair.
On the seventh morn after the breaking of the world, Hartmut could wait no longer, and entered the sacred grove at last, searching and calling for his love. There in the clearing where they had lain together did he find her at last, seated still as a statue, staring blankly into space.
"Bramimond, Bramimond!" he cried.
But when she looked up at his approach, he knew that it was indeed already too late.
"I have won the battle against the shadows, Hartmut son of Hartwin," said she, though there was neither joy nor sorrow in her face.
Hartmut fell to his knees in despair. "But you have lost yourself."
"Say not so," said Bramimond gently, perhaps still spelled under a vague memory of her past love, or perhaps simply reflecting what lay in his own heart. "You are here, and I am here. And a gift I have for you."
In her hands was a sword, finely crafted, wrought with the magic of the dragonkin themselves, power surpassing even that of the Eight. And embedded within its hilt was the fire-red stone.
The blade resonated with unseen power as Hartmut reached out and closed his fingers around the hilt.
"The sword has chosen you, Hartmut son of Hartwin," said Bramimond.
"No," said Hartmut, shaking his head. "No." But he could say no more.
Thus they departed together from the sacred grove and called forth the other Heroes.
Said Hartmut to the others, "I go now to destroy the Dark Dragon and restore the balance of the world. Who then shall accompany me?"
"I shall," said Faithful Barigan.
"I shall," said Valorous Roland.
"I shall," said Keen-Eyed Hanon.
"I shall," said Wise Athos.
"I shall," said Fair Elimine.
"I shall," said Wild Durban.
And so the Eight Heroes set forth to mount an attack on the Dragon Temple. Though the dragonkin did fiercely defend it, before the might of the Heroes and trapped as they were in those unfamiliar human forms, they could do little. And though Hartmut wept as the dragonkin fell, one after another, it was supposed by the others only that he grieved for the changing of the world, and the enemy that no longer differed from himself.
Soon enough even the leader of the dragonkin fell. The Heroes stormed into the deepest recesses of the Temple, seeking the Dark Dragon who had been the doom of all. And yet when they reached the innermost chamber, no terrible monster did they find, but a young girl, no older than Barigan's eldest child.
"Who are you?" said Hartmut, though in his heart he knew the answer.
Wise Athos said, "Could it be? That you are the Dark Dragon we have feared?"
But the girl did not respond, and Bramimond said, "Yes, she is indeed the Dark Dragon you have feared."
Still the Heroes hesitated, but at the last Durban roared, "Enough of your illusions, foul creature!" and raised Armads to strike.
Elimine attempted to stay his hand. "She's only a girl! A child!"
But it was too late. The girl transformed and attacked.
"Stay back!" shouted Hartmut, as grief and rage and despair rose within him, and he drew the nameless blade that Bramimond had forged. Startled, the other Heroes watched as Hartmut leaped forward, cutting through the Dark Dragon's scales in one swift motion. A great light filled the chamber. The Temple shook with the loosing of unspeakable power. And when the light faded at last, the dragon had disappeared. Only the girl lay there, unconscious.
Hartmut bent down and took her body into his arms, and it seemed to all those who watched him as if the weight of a thousand years had suddenly descended upon him. And if they listened closely they might have heard the words he whispered into the girl's ear, soft as a breeze: Child of the stars, we have no reason to fight. For you and I are one and the same!
"What are you doing?" demanded Roland. "Have you lost your wits, my friend?"
"No," said Hanon of the True Sight then, breaking her silence. "He will not kill the girl. Would you?"
To that Roland had no answer.
"She is a danger to all of humanity," said Durban of the West. "Pity her if you must, but do not spare her, else you live to regret it!"
But Hartmut said, "Of regret I know all too well. Even so I shall spare her. A shrine shall I build, deep within the sacred grove, and there keep the Dark Dragon sealed through the ages with the power of this sword."
"And if someone should break that seal?"
"Nothing in the world exists now with that power," replied Hartmut, "but for these Weapons in our hands. These shall we seal as well. And I would task you all to guard them well, as I and my seed shall guard the Shrine of Seals, until my line is spent and the world has fallen to darkness once more. Thus may we keep the seal unbroken."
To this the Heroes agreed, for they had all of them seen the terrible power their Weapons possessed. And so the great army dispersed along with the Heroes, each to their own lands, but for Hartmut, who alone remained at the site of the final battle. Upon the broken remnants of the dragonkin's land he founded a nation with the refugees of the east, who would name him King, hero among heroes, though he desired it not. And deep within the sacred grove he built a shrine to house the slumbering body of the Dark Dragon.
As for Bramimond, she stayed with Hartmut until the shrine was built, and then she said, "Now I shall call upon my powers one last time and seal away the Weapons that lie scattered across the land."
"And then? What will you do?" said Hartmut.
"I will stay," she said, her voice neither rising nor falling, "and watch over you and your kingdom, and that which you would protect, until the end of time."
Hartmut bowed his head, and understood, for it was the very hope he had cherished against grief and bitterness within his heart. And as Bramimond descended into the depths of the Shrine with the body of the Dark Dragon, he steeled himself against all tears and sealed the entrance forevermore with the nameless sword, taking with him only the red stone that had been the token of their love.
Thus did the Great War come to an end, and the world restore itself to its natural order, and Winter turn to Spring.
And of Bramimond's prophecies at the Gathering of the Heroes, it is said that all came to pass as she spoke but one. For though great sorrow did indeed befall Roland the Brave in the years that followed, in the end it could not surpass the grief of Hartmut, and the deep-rooted bitterness upon which his kingdom was founded.
First posted at ff.net on 2/13/09