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Oliver D. Bernuetz's Stories

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Footsteps on Squeaky Snow    

(Author’s note: This was written sometime back but never made public. It's an Orlanthi tale set after the fall of Whitewall).

Footsteps running on snow so cold it squeaks.
The sound of laboured breaths when short weeks before sacred Breath came so easily.
Clumsy, short leaps where once they had been so easy and gone so far.
Fear stalking them through the woods.
Fleeing, hoping that the enemy would not follow. Yet in part hoping they would.


Of magic failing them, of winter smothering the land. Hearing of the Fall of Whitewall. Of King Broyan. Of Lunars roaming freely. So many deaths. So many gone.

 And back to the present.

 Now Black Hralf too was gone. Fallen in battle. Blood frozen solid in his wounds. A grimace on his face. His iron sword snapped in two from the cold. A dead lion man at his feet, throat ripped out by Black Hralf’s teeth. Irony lost on none.

 And now was the time to run and find a place to hide. Breath coming harder and harder, fatigue weakening our limbs. The lion men are pursuing. Tracking us through the woods. Sniffing at our trail. Ordered to seek out and destroy traitors to the Red Emperor. How could we be traitors? Had we sworn oath to the Emperor? Never! Our kin were proud and never bent their necks in submission. But had we fought against the Emperor’s forces at Boldhome? To our shame no. We held back and let others die. But when it came time to swear allegiance to the Lunars the emissary we sent swore allegiance only to Temertain, Sartar’s heir. We held our backs straight and felt proud of ourselves. We ignored the looks of hatred the other Heortlings sent us, both those who had fought against the Lunars and lost and those who had sided with them. Both sides hated us for our inactivity in the assault.

We would invoke the slippery spirit of the lawspeaker and claim our oaths only tied us to Sartar’s heirs. But the Lunars said an oath to Sartar’s was an oath to the Emperor as well. We followed the letter of the law and paid our tribute. We kept our young men close to the stead once we heard of the punishments the Lunars imposed for raiding. We did whatever we could to survive and we waited. For what? For a chance at freedom. We carefully looked for allies among our neighbours, some of whom suffered terribly at the hands of the Lunars but no one trusted us. So we trusted ourselves and made preparations. What did we do? We hid food, lied to the Lunar tax collectors and our men and women, young and old trained. But all for naught.

Our food cache was betrayed to the Lunars by a nithing who sought Lunar favour. We lost our chief to that. Crucified upside down before the entire clan. We were taxed even heavier than ever after that. The nithing died in an unfortunate accident soon thereafter. Half the ring were crucified after that. We still trained and still managed to hide some food though and kept to ourselves. And then the bad news. Orlanth was dead! And no one could call upon their gods, unless they followed a Lightbringer or some god like that.

Winter came early, and struck hard and with it hollri. Word spread that the Lunars were sending beast-like men to seek out traitors. Lasadag Lion men were our lot. They came to our stead, ordered to slay anyone resisting the Emperor.

We prepared for battle and sent our non-combatants back into the hills. We fought as hard as could, but without our magic most of our warriors were not as powerful as they once were. Only Branbig Slayer, the Uroxi berserker fought as he formerly did and he was only one man, though he fought like twelve. Finally he went down under a pile of Lion men. We managed to rally once more and drove the Lion men back revealing the Slayer dead of a hundred wounds.

We went back into the hills following our women and children and old people only to find heartbreak. Some Lunar troops armed only with small round shields and javelins had found them and after a brief, but fierce battle had slain them all. We fell upon them like Gustbran’s hammer on soft metal and ground them to dust. But this didn’t bring our wives and children back. Bodies frozen to the ground we had to leave them there and went to do battle with the Lunars.

And that is what we have found, battle. And we fight on, and we fight on, And our numbers grow ever fewer. And the people despair and we find kin everywhere frozen to the ground. And now we run from another losing battle, our sacred breath catching in our throats, our magic gone with the Gods. And we hear of a place called Iceland and we wonder is there not another way?

Last updated October 07, 2016

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