I have been trying to figure out what happened since I was placed into the cave. My parents named me Gregorii. Gregorii Schiff. I grew up as an Avar, learning the ways of battle at the hand and knee of my father and his brothers. I learned early that there was a treaty in place since the time of my grandfather, one that limited our moving south, over the Dan river. We raided across the river for cattle and wives whenever the signs favored our cause. I was a freeman, just as my father was, but my skills with the hammer brought me to the smithy at a young age. I learned to find ore, crush and melt the bronze, skim the dross and pour tools in clay molds carefully dug in the ground. I could swing the hammer and the axe with the best of the warriors and for longer than they could. I had to or I could not be a smith.
I must have been about four hands old when we went on a long raid. My father's health was failing from living a hard life while I was well into my prime. We crossed the river at night to avoid the river patrols. We made our way south to the next range of mountains then turned east. We had to swing north again to miss the foothills which had guard posts every day's march. Finally we came to a giant lake that I could not see across. The air smelled different. Not good, not bad. Just different. between the waves I dug my hands into the gravel beach and brought up hand fulls of stone. I saw glints in there that wasn't water. I found bits of metal and chunks of a strange orange substance that was light, yet hard. The others laughed at me as I waded down the beach, kicking the gravel back and forth, looking for more metal.
That had always been the doom of a smith. Never enough metal, never enough coal.
We had exercised our curiosity and turned north along the coast to eventually return home. About two weeks later we came to what we believed to be the Dan river, emptying out in a great fan. We turned inland again, now watching for what we could seize. I was getting older and was constantly ribbed about having wed my forge as I had no wife.
I suppose that we had thumbed our noses at our southern neighbors a bit too long. They came at us from three directions, many on horseback and many more on foot. We were but three hand fulls and regarded it as a compliment. We knew enough not to let them get between us and the water so that we had a way to break off and retreat. The only problem was their war leader knew enough to get us involved in melee and block out way to the water while it was out of sight. Once we knew that we were surrounded we pledged to do our best for the gods. We fought in waves, day then night then day again. Towards the second evening even I was getting a little tired. A storm was quickly blowing up and it refreshed me. I had my rhythm, swinging my sword and shield. A huge man came at me with a big double-bitted man killing axe. It slid off my shield and I chopped him under the arm with my tree limbing axe, the only weapon that I had left. He bled out in front of my eyes. I reached down to take up his axe as the enemy drew back, seeing me with his fearsome weapon. I shouted out my best bellow and started running for where I'd seen someone with a crown or circlet sitting a horse. The crowd around him panicked which kept him from fleeing. I cut down the horse then cut off his head. I raised my axe to the sky. It was the last thing I knew for what I later found to be a very, very long time.
When I woke I HURT. Everything from my hair to my toenails yelled at me, and everything in between joined in the awful chorus. I groaned and covered my face with my hand. It was then that I knew that something was wrong. My hand felt wrong. My face felt wrong. My jaw stuck out. I had a big goddamned nose and my eyebrow stretched across my forehead. I had high cheekbones and sunken eyes. I was lying on a rock slab somewhere. It was pitch black. I could hear water off in the distance. I was suddenly thirsty as hel. I struggled to my feet and almost fell on the floor. What a joke--me, a big, strong smith not able to get up off his ass. When I did manage to stand up I noticed that my arms were nearly long enough to touch the ground as I stood. I nodded. They would give me quite the reach in combat and help enormously at the forge.
I squinted in the dark. Slowly, slowly I began to see features. I was in a cave somewhere. There were chests all around the slab I had been laying on. They were for later. I really wanted that water! I followed my ears until I found a pool with a little rill falling into it. I dipped my hands in and brought the sweet, sweet liquor to my mouth. I hawked and spat to the side, then coughed out what must have been a handful of what looked like coal dust. I washed my hands, arms, face and chest in the water, then drank again. It looked like I was glowing. I held my hand open to the ground. I could see the gravel by the light my hand gave off. I smiled. I'd never need to fumble in the dark again. I washed the rest of myself, including the hair that somehow had grown to fall down my back to my hips, and my beard that did the same. By the look at the club hanging from my crotch I didn't need a weapon. All I had to do was to threaten to ... Nope. Not even funny. As I found my way back to the slab I woke on I mindlessly braided my beard and hair to keep them out of the way. A smith couldn't afford wild hair anywhere lest they be laughed at for big bald spots caused by their inattention at the forge.
Back at the slab I cast open the various chests to see what was left me. Most were full of ingots of metal. I slapped my hand to my forehead. This was a king's fortune. I closed the chests and peered around, looking for what else had been left, either on purpose or by chance. My axe and shield lay near where my head was, and that huge fucking war axe that I had taken in combat lay near where my feet were. At one side I found my pack and was thankful. Within were my hammer, tongs, fire kit, travelling gear and some spare clothing. I opened it to find all the food dried to powder and my spare clothing was sized for a man two feet taller than I was, and much slimmer. Well, I had breeks to keep my ass off the stone and an over shirt that I could cut down to my knees (once I split open the sides). The belt was much too short. I had to resort to a piece of rope.
I was getting hungry. I searched about the cave. I found a path that led away from the spring, past the slab and ended at a pile of rock. I began putting them to one side. I wasn't in the best of moods when I came upon a stone plug that filled the entire passageway. Somebody didn't want me getting out. Fuck them. I brought out my hammer and started tapping around on the stone, which I found to be quite sound, then on the surrounding stone. I was lucky to find some rotted areas, or seams. I could almost see how they angled. I used my bronze limbing axe as a chisel (poor thing!) and followed the seams, loosing great shelves of stone from around the plug. I had nothing else to do but sleep, drink, pee and work. Within three days I had enough space opened up to squeeze past the blockage. I found nothing but smaller stones wedging the plug into place on the other side. Someone had carved many runes into the face of the cave a long while ago since they were well worn. I slowly made out the words.
"Lightning struck a warrior lies never dying ever sleeping always cursed always blessed beware the day the sleeper wakes."
What the hel? I felt hammer-struck not lightning struck. I had been re-shaped, and that was the work of a hammer.
I looked up into the stars of the night sky. I could see the grass blades beneath my feet as if it were an overcast day. I looked about for landmarks so that I would not lose my treasure or safe holding. A few rocks and pulled-up bushes hid the opening quite well, as far as I could see. Once supplied with a blanket, some heavy cord, a knife, my fire kit, a weapon and a leather bag full of sweet water all in my pack I went off looking for break-fast.
I found a stream where I retrieved several stones the size of my fist. I turned upstream and waded in the water so as not to disturb the game coming down to drink. I took a wild hog that way. Once it was gutted and cleaned up I hauled it back to the cave. I had noticed a deep depression that appeared very dark to me and felt quite cold to my skin. I cut the pig into sections, then took them down into the pit. I kept back the skin. One could always use leather.
I went out with my pitifully beaten axe and gathered firewood, as well as some slender green wood for making a drying rick. I wanted to preserve some meat for carrying with me.
I thought about all that wealth in the chests. I realized that no sane man would go about with that much wealth and not have the necessities of life as well. I went back through the chests and piled them against the wall of the cave to keep them both together and sorted. I came upon a chest of linens, bowls and table wear. The linens were hopeless, rotted away. I smiled and kept the remains. If twisted and braided they would make fine lamp wicks. Some of the bowls were obviously intended to be used as lamps, some as cooking vessels, some as drinking vessels. The brass table services needed a good sand bath to get rid of the green, as did the vessels. I could clean some suet from the pig into lard with boiling water. My tongs would serve me well. I looked for an awl but did not find one. I used my tongs to break away a tine from a fork then polished it sharp against the floor. This I used to fashion a bag from the pig skin to hold the finished lard.
.... There is more of this story ...