The Coming of the Sword is the last short story in the Niall of the Far Travels Collection.
For many days he had trotted across the ice field, always straining his gaze ahead, ever seeking the figure of the man he hunted. He was close now, so close that he needed no longer to stare at the ground in search of footprints. For there ahead, revealed in the weak sunlight of this northernmost region, was the man, Gunthar.
Niall grinned wolfishly. Soon would Gunthar face the death he deserved for the attempted rape of lovely young Althia, who was sister to Niall and daughter of Thorkon the Mighty. In less than an hour, Niall would be up with him, would draw his sword and take the vengeance that was due his family.
Niall shifted the white bearskin which covered his side shoulders. Under that skin he wore a mail shirt, covered by a leather kaunake. Around his middle was a broad leather belt from which hung a dagger and a sword. Over his shoulder was his horn hunting bow and a quiver of long war arrows.
Niall disdained the arrows and the bow. He wanted Gunthar face to face, to know — before cold steel killed him — what it meant to assault the daughter of Thorkon the Mighty. Niall trotted faster; his long, thickly thewed legs ate up the ground that lay between him and the man he hunted.
Suddenly the ground under his boots shifted, rolled, began to rise and fall rhythmically, as might the waves of the Cold Sea. Niall staggered and grunted.
“May the gods grant I catch him in time,” he muttered.
He ran faster, and yanked out his sword. As though the still-distant man heard that scrape of blade against scabbard, he looked back. Gunthar had moved into a passage with no exit; to one side was the eternal ice of a mighty glacier, to the other a massive rock wall rising upward to an unscalable height.
It might be that Gunthar realized the futility of further flight, for now he stopped, turned and drew his own sword. Niall ran toward his quarry, shouting in exultation.
The ground still rolled and pitched, yet Niall ran across it swiftly, balancing himself. He was used to the plunging, churning deck of a longboat on the Cold Sea, and this motion of the ground was not unlike the roll of giant waves.
Gunthar waited, pale and somewhat grim. He knew Niall, knew the ferocity of his swordplay, understood that few men could stand against him — without luck. Gunthar prayed to Loki, god of mischief, hoping that the god would come to him in his moment of need.
Niall hurled himself forward, lips parting in a snarl of fury. His blade swept around, clanged against the weapon Gunthar lifted to parry its deadly sweep. Steel sang. Almost instantly, Niall was driving in again, beating back that sword which opposed him. He drove Gunthar back on his heels, making him give ground.
The earth shuddered beneath them. Ice cracked. There was a muted rumble off to one side. It was as if the very world shared his fury, Niall thought, as he beat down the sword which faced him.
“This is the day you die, Gunthar,” he growled.
“I did no harm to Althia,” the other panted. “She screamed, and others came to stop me. I fled…”
“You fled to your death! You know the law! To him who transgresses against a priestess of Freya, there is only one reply! Death!”
The ground rolled upward, cresting where they fought, pitching them toward the mouth of the pass and onto softer ground, where tall grasses grew. Niall bellowed his war cry and raised his sword.
“Death, Gunthar!” he roared.
His blade flashed downward. It made an arc of light where the sunlight caught it. It slanted into Gunthar’s steel, brushed it aside, then continued downward into the man’s neck, cleaving through flesh and bone. Gunthar’s eyes rolled up into his head and he fell backward, mouth open in a soundless scream.