Story 1: The Birth of Blondhilda

The Birth of Blondhilda
by Chris Hugh

Blondhilda jumped from the pages of the graphic novel storyboard. Literally.

Stanley Chester Brown, author and illustrator of the fantastically successful Blondhilda series, scooted back in his Aeron drawing chair until he bumped his head against his wall of vintage Star Wars posters. He looked up at Blondhilda through heavy glasses that now hung from one ear.

Stan stared at Blondhilda, shaking. She towered over him in her high-heeled thigh-high Viking warrior boots. Her feet were planted shoulder width apart, her arms on her hips. The architectural-inspired designer lighting glinted off her scanty armor. An icy wind roared through Stan's work studio, scattering papers onto the gleaming hardwood floors, rushing dramatically through Blondhilda's flaxen hair and tossing Stan's comb-over onto the entirely wrong side of his head.

Stan jumped up and plastered himself flat against the kneeling figure of Princess Leia, his palms pressed against the wall. "I must be drunk," he thought. He glanced at the oak table next to his drafting area. "I didn't think Starbuck's latte-fruiti-frappaberry rainbow sprinkeletto had alcohol in it."

Blondhilda spotted him with her eyes as blue as glaciers, then kneeled down on one thigh-high covered knee, and said, with her luscious pink mouth, "My lord, Chestless. My creator." She bowed her head magnificently.

Stan scratched his head absently, straightened his glasses as well as his comb over, and stopped edging toward the door. "Creator?"

"Yes, my lord Chestless! Millions have read your tales of legend. And when the glorious day came to pass that two of your books, Blondhilda: Tongue-Ring of Thunder and Blondhilda: Bodice of Doom, surmounted the peaks of the New York Times Bestseller List simultaneously, the jubilant cries of your message board members rang through the streets of Asgard, even to the Halls of Valhalla itself. Thus Odin, in his wisdom, created me, the newest of the Norse gods! Command me, my lord, that we may fulfill our quest and be united for eternity."

"Wow," Stan said. This was going to take a while to sink in.

Although she was a ruthless warrior, Stan knew better than anyone the hidden depths of her heart, the sweetness, the loyalty, the passion longing for fulfillment. They looked at each other for a while. Blondhilda had the patience of a goddess. Stan's formidable mind had been metaphorically short circuited, but finally a few gears started to turn again, and he suddenly realized his beautiful guest was still kneeling. "Oh," he said. "Please don't kneel."

She stood up gracefully, statuesque, a full head taller than him. Her expression of complete adulation began to put him at ease. "Why do you call me Chestless?"

"I long to be corrected if I have erred, my lord. I sought to address you by the name that you have won by acclaim. All through your middle tutelage and high academy, your manling peers addressed you as-- "

"Stanley Chestless Brown. Never mind. Damn P.E. classes."

"As you command, my Lord Chestless." The spread her arms wide and thrust her face toward the paneled faux-tin ceiling with soffit lighting. Lightning arched down from the sky. "I banish P.E. classes to the immortal fires of--"

"Uh, stop!" Stan said. Blondhilda stopped immediately. "No damning, banishing, smiting or anything along those lines for now, please." She inclined her head modestly. "And no more 'chestless.' Just call me Stan, no wait. Stanley. Call me Stanley."

"Yes, my lord Stanley."

"Just Stanley. I'm a modern guy. I don't know about united for eternity, but if you want to be my girlfriend, we're gonna be equals, okay?"

"Yes, Stanley!" The goddess jumped forward and grabbed Stan into a bear hug that pressed his face into the cleavage of her low-cut leather cuirass.

His muffled voice said, "eternity might work."

* * *

Blondhilda lay on her side on the white Italian leather sofa in Stan's darkened living room, the only comfortable position possible on the $5000 piece of furniture. The firelight rippled gold and orange on her smooth skin. Stan sat on the floor and leaned against the sofa as Blondhilda gently ran her goddess fingers over the back of his neck. He sighed. It was like a beer commercial, a vodka ad and a men's magazine that he subscribed to so he could read the articles, all wrapped into one.

"Now, what's this about a quest?" He murmured.

She popped another CornNut into his mouth and breathed warmly onto his neck as she whispered:

"To win the newcome goddess's hand

The mortal man must understand

Cleverness will win the prize

Choose you wrong and each one dies

Come to Valhalla by way of the cliffs,

And bring with you two precious gifts.

Of a ram that like the wind courses

With the power of eleven score horses

Twenty foot long and 485 stones

Bring two horns of two tones

Neither found, given nor riven

Three animals, only, may you meet

And then one journey more, your task to complete."

Stanley looked at her. "That's it?"

"Yes, Stanley."

"That was a mouthful.

"Yes, Stanley."

"For us to stay together we've got to get some horns. And something about sea horses and stones and a humongous ram?"

"And to fail is to die, dear Stanley." Stan stopped munching. He was a forty-year-old best-selling author, millionaire and computer aficionado with all the accoutrements of success and everything to live for. To risk it for a woman he had just met, however buxom she might be, went against every grain and fiber in his well-ordered world.

Blondhilda gently ran her lips along Stan's shoulder and up the side of his neck, barely touching, tickling his skin with her warm breath, then kissed his ear. "Shall we adventure it, my Stanley?"

Stan swallowed his CornNut. "Heck, yeah."

* * *

"Tarry not, my love," Blondhilda whispered. She grasped Stan's arm and freed him from the grasping thorns of a rose bush that wound itself up a thick tree. They were in an enchanted wood in a land of perpetual dawn. No cloud marred the even grey of the sky, no ripple of water broke the silence. Under those conditions, fog was highly unlikely, yet mists swirled around their feet. Stan's Dockers stain-free pants weren't, and his cardigan was unraveling in six places.

"Come, my love, come." Blondhilda took his hand and ran with him. She ran sure and swift while he stumbled over roots and vines that he couldn't even see through the mist that bit his ankles, but her strong arm kept him from falling. Suddenly she stopped, and pointed proudly at what she had led them too. Stan staggered against a tree and fumbled for his asthma inhaler. He took a couple breaths and then shouted, "Stop!"

Blondhilda froze in place, her hand outstretched toward one of two curled horns on a patch of ground covered in hundreds of large stones. Each horn was huge, at least eight feet long if the curl were stretched out. They gleamed in two shades of gray, dark like iron near their bases turning to pale platinum near their wickedly pointed tips. Stan lurched up, putting away his inhaler. "No," he panted.

"But Stanley," she said, her hand still outstretched. "Our task is complete." She looked around her, "The 485 stones, the two-toned horns of the ram."

"No," he panted. "The poem. The ram those horns on the ground came from must be dead; it can't have the power of eleven score horses if it's dead. And the horns are just lying them. Remember, the poem says the horns cannot just be found."

The goddess looked at Stan. "I almost chose wrong," she said with a new emotion in her voice. Gratitude. Adulation and gratitude shone on her face. "You saved my life."

They journeyed on.

By and by, the mists cleared and they came a meadow, ringed with trees, where it was always midday. Birds chirped and flowers of white and gold, sprinkled thick as stars, grew in the rich grass. A little spring bubbled up in the center of the meadow, its pure water captured in a basin of brown stones. Beside the pool stood a huge, wooden box. On the lid of the box lay an odd devise, two clear pieces of glass the size of dinner plates, attached to each other with wire.

Stan and Blondhilda did not touch the devise or box, but drank from the pool and were startled when a deep voice spoke behind them.

"Who dares drink from the well of Vox the Voracious?" the voice rumbled. Blondhilda spun around, drawing her great sword from the scabbard at her back and assuming a fighting stance. Stan turned around slowly, trembling, and saw a gigantic three-legged ram, twenty feet long and as tall as a tree. He started seeing hazy black spots, and his knees turned to water. He would have sunk down amidst the flowers, but Blondhilda's arm shot out and held him steady.

The great beast looked at Stan for a moment. "Are you Stanley Chester Brown?"

"Probably," Stan squeaked.

"Welcome to my meadow," the great ram boomed. "I am honored beyond words to meet you, the great fabulist of our times. Are you not he who brought forth the warrior goddess both in word and in fact?"

"Well, yes, I am," Stan said a little louder. A little proud smile played at the corners of his mouth.

The ram went to the box and scooted his head around until the strange device was balanced upon his great snout. He looked at Blondhilda and Stan through the glasses and winked. Then he opened the box. It was filled with Blondhilda graphic novels. "Knight Brown, might I ask you to autograph them?"

Stan relaxed and smiled broadly. He was also grateful for an excuse to sit down and rest his wobbly knees. He took off his red cardigan, sat on the edge of the pool in the bright sun and leafed through the box. He found a quill and a pot of ink there. The ram and Blondhilda drifted off, but Stan could hear their voices on the breeze.

"I should wish to give you a fine wedding gift to thank you and Sir Brown for the many the hours of reading enjoyment you have given me. I am a big reader," the ram was saying. They walked among the flowers of the meadow, Blondhilda gliding like a goddess, Vox limping on his three legs.

"I thank thee, Vox the Voracious," Blondhilda replied. "But to have drunk the waters of thy spring, and to have shared the pleasure of thy company, thou hast given us enough."

"But I know the nature of your quest, and I would help a goddess achieve her destiny. Please, take my horns. They will come away at the touch of a goddess, with no pain to me, only joy."

As Blondhilda brought up her hands, but Stan came up beside her and put his arm around her shoulders. He took a step to the side, bringing her with him, keeping her from touching the horns. With his other arm, he held out his red cardigan, distracting Blondhilda while he spoke to her out of the corner of his mouth. "He can't course like the wind. He's got three legs. Plus, the horns can't be given." Stan put away the cardigan and smiled at his host. The ram stood there, blinking his near-sighted eyes.

Blondhilda looked from the autograph-seeking ram to Stan and felt a new emotion, respect. She look at him with adulation and respect and said, "You have saved my life again."

They took their leave from Vox the Voracious, and resumed their journey toward Valhalla.

By and by they came to a grey marsh that was always twilight. Tinkerbell-sized glowing fairies teased Stan, giggling and tickling him as he walked. The path seemed to wind on forever, and his sneakers became completely waterlogged. It had been hours since he had sat down to rest, for the ground was wet and he didn't want to end up squishing along next to his goddess with the seat of his pants damp.

Finally Stan spotted a black outcropping of rock a few yards distant. Its darkness was an inviting relief in the sea of dreary gray, and promised a dry place to sit. A couple large ram horns lay upon the rocks, but they had learned their lesson. He swatted away a few pixies who were trying to braid his comb over and plodded toward the rock.

"Let's take a break over there," he said to Blondhilda.

Blondhilda peered at the rock, and whispered, "Well, spotted, my love." She started shouting, running toward the rock. "Yes, we will take a break! Break, pillage, plunder and achieve our quest!" The curlicues on the rock face moved, and the rock face was revealed as the annoyed face of an enormous ram. It heaved itself up and faced them.

Blondhilda planted her feet and drew her great sword. "Fell best, we are come to rend thy life and take from thee the horns that we may live!" Stan looked around for the best tree to climb to get out of the way.

Like an avalanche, the ram thundered toward them. Blondhilda swung her great sword but landed no blow. She toppled sideways as Stan pushed her out of the way, and the beast thundered by. It stopped just past where they had stood, digging its hoofs into the marsh and actually jumping as it spun around and turned on them again. Water and muck splattered Stan and his glasses flew off. Blondhilda tried to stand up, but Stan lay on top off her, facing the great beast, using his hand and feet to scuttle away from him, crablike, still shielding the goddess with his body. The ram rear up on its two hind legs.

Blondhilda grabbed Stan by the waist and rolled the two of the out of the way just as the ram slammed its great hooves into the ground. Stan felt the muddy marsh shake, and felt a warm exhalation of the beast's hot breath against his foot. Then he felt himself being lifted into the air as his belt suddenly pulled tight against his hips. The ram had caught the cuff of his pants and was lifting him, getting ready to throw him in a great arc. Then he would trample and gore him.

The bull began to swing him, and then Stan caught a flash of steel in the corner of his eye, and he was in free fall for a beat before thumping back down on the soft swampy ground. The goddess had used her sword to cut the fabric and free him. He looked down instinctively and was relieved to see his foot still attached. He could feel the ground thumping, the beasts heavy, frantic hooves beating the ground, like the bulls at a rodeo. He scuttled behind a limp bush, hardly hoping it could offer any cover, much less protection and looked urgently for Blondhilda.

He didn't see her anywhere, and there was no where to hide. Then he looked up. She was on the bull's back, straddling its neck, and one part of Stan's mind noted, idiotically, that his life had become a demented beer commercial. Blondhilda's left hand grasped the animal's left horn, her platinum vambrace glowing dully in the twilight. She held her right arm straight above her, sword in a reverse grip, ready to plunge it into the beast's neck.

"Stop!" Stan screamed. Strangely, both animal and goddess froze. The ram stopped bucking and Blondhilda regarded Stan silently, her arm still poised for the strike. Stan leaned against the tree and wheezed. "What are you doing?"

They both started answering at the same time. Then Blondhilda inclined her had and made a gesture the animal probably couldn't see, indicating that he should continue. Stan turned to the ram. "Why are you trying to kill us?"

"I had no harmful intent, good sir, but the woman challenged me and said she would take my life."

"And so I would," Blondhilda agreed, "that you and I might survive and live as one, Stanley."

Stanley sighed. "But, Blondhi, remember the poem. Yes, this guy can run like the wind, and yes he's got the power of a bunch of horses. Yes, we could probably find a few hundred stones around here, etc, but the horns cannot be riven."

Blondhilda looked at him stonily.

"Riven means torn apart, split asunder. You know, chopped off with a sword? And I don't want us to kill any thinking, speaking being except in self defense, ever. "

She put down her arm and slid down the animal. She walked to Stan with downcast eyes. "You have wisdom, courage and mercy, and you've saved my life again." Stan walked over to her. He ducked under her chin and turned his head to the side and looked up at her smiling. Then she looked at him, with a new emotion, love.

She turned to the ram. "Sir, please forgive me for my behavior. May we go in peace?"

"Of course, my lady," he replied.

Then he peered at Stan closely and said, "aren't you Stanley Chester Brown?"

* * *

Downhearted, Blondhilda and Stan passed the Well of Urd, said a dour hello to Heimdal the Guardian, crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Asgard, noted the cliffs referred to in the poem and finally reached Valhalla. Stan entered the towering vault, his lover's heart clenched in is chest. His fear grew, but his love for Blondhilda did not lessen. The other gods and goddesses mocked Blondhilda, resenting her status as the newest of the Norse gods. They repeatedly referred to Stan as 'Chestless.'

As Blondhilda and Stan reached the great table where Odin sat, the god's voice boomed out the poem which had defined their quest.

"To win the newcome goddess's hand

The mortal man must understand

Cleverness will win the prize

Choose you wrong and each one dies

Come to Valhalla by way of the cliffs,

And bring with you two precious gifts.

Of a ram that like the wind courses

With the power of eleven score horses

Twenty foot long and 485 stones

Bring two horns of two tones

Neither found, given nor riven

Three animals, only, may you meet

And then one journey more, your task to complete."

Odin stared at them, his hand on his hips, a storm gathering at his brow. "You have met the three animals, and have come here empty handed. Do you admit defeat?"

A metaphorical lightbulb appeared over Stan's head. He had an idea. "Odin, I have one more journey," he said.

"That is so," Odin said. "Where would you go? You may even go back to your mortal world. I will release you from this doom, if you wish it. Will you leave Blondhilda to her fate?"

"No, I will share her fate."

"Then make your journey, and let's have done."

"May I ask a question first?" Stan asked.

"Knowledge always bears a price, mortal. But you have courage and loyalty. I will answer one question for you."

"What is a stone?"

Odin let out a laugh that shook the mortar from the vaulted ceiling. "Silly manling, know you nothing? You would ask a god what you could have found out from Google? It's fourteen pounds."

"Then I know where I need to go on my final journey." Stan checked his pants pocket. His wallet was still there. Odin sent him on his journey.

* * *

Ten minutes later he returned with a paper sack. Hushed whispers filled the great hall and Thor chuckled to Odin, "I think one of them finally outsmarted you, Dad."

Stan faced Odin and bowed. "I have the two-tone horn of the twenty-foot long ram that weighs 485 stone, or 6800 pounds. The Ram courses like the wind, travelling 65 miles per hour or more and it has the power of at eleven score horses, that is, around 280 horsepower." He pulled the two car horns out of the bag and set them respectfully on the dais. "One high tone horn, and one low tone horn, I offer as your gift."

Blondhilda ran to Stan and grabbed him into a hug, picking him up and twirling around with him. He clutched a little slip of paper, and Stan shouted as the hall erupted into thunderous applause. "And I didn't find, take or 'rive' them. I bought them, here's the receipt!"

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