Oliver D. Bernuetz's Stories
Whitewall - A Hero Approaches
Two Lunar soldiers were tasked with guarding the Goat's Path. No great warbands could travel the Goat's Path so a squad was considered sufficient to prevent the lone heroes and spies that were expected to try and use the path. As is the norm in army life a squad wasn't available so they sent what could be spared. The Young Pup and the Old Hand were keeping watch, well at least the Young Pup was. He was crouched behind a rock keeping an eye on the path. The Old Hand was crouched in the shade of a boulder keeping out of the wind and preparing a dose of hazia for smoking. Out of the corners of his eyes he saw the Pup tense. "What is it lad? Is King Broyan sallying forth?" He laughed at this witticism. The Pup replied, "No, but there's someone coming up the path." He squinted. "It's a man, an old man. But he's armed with a sword nonetheless." The Old Hand waved absentmindedly at the Pup as he continued preparing his spiff. "You challenge him lad. You know the drill." He finally got his spiff prepared and started to work at lighting it. The Pup could hear him cursing as he struggled with lighting a small fire in the constant winds. He watched the man approach up the path. He wore faded black and had a broadsword in a worn scabbard strapped to his belt. On his back was a knapsack and in his hand was a staff he was using to make his way up the steep path. The Pup could see no sign of a missile weapon but the centurion had continually drilled into him the need for caution so he stayed out of sight. He could see that the traveler was in good shape, taller even than the normally oversized Orlanthi.. There was a startling breadth to his shoulders and he still had the narrow waist and muscular arms of a swordsman. He wore no beard and his grey hair was drawn back in a warrior's queue. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he was being watched. The Pup waited until the traveler was closer and then he challenged him. He rose from behind his rock and leveled his spear at him. As he did so he heard the Old Hand exclaim in happiness as his spiff was finally lit.
"Halt! Who goes there." He was pleased that his voice didn't crack. The traveler looked up at him and the Pup was startled to see that the traveler had a large death rune on his face. The long part reached from his hairline to his chin and the cross-piece ran over his eyes. And the eyes! They were an iron grey and were the coldest eyes the soldier had ever seen. The voice that came out was mild enough however. "My name is Gunnar." The Pup's eyes narrowed, "Just Gunnar? Don't you Orlanthi normally call yourselves, so and so's son or something." The Old Hand frowned as he tried to remember where he'd heard that name before, Gunnar, Gunnar? The mild voice definitely did not match the eyes. "What other people call me is their business. I call myself Gunnar, just Gunnar." The Pup heard some deep breaths from behind him as the Old Hand sucked nosily on his spiff. "Ah, that's the thing," he heard him mutter. The Pup decided on another tact. "Um, what's your business in the fortress?" A slight smile appeared on Gunnar's lips. It did not reach his eyes. "I have come here because I've been...summoned here. There's a need for death here." The Pup frowned and he heard the Old Hand nosily cough as he gagged on his spiff. "Why are you coming in the back way?" he asked. Gunnar smiled again, "Because I thought there would be a lower death toll if I came up the back way." The Pup turned in alarm as he heard desperate retching and choking noises. The Old Hand had swallowed his spiff. He would have looked quite comical what with the smoke coming out of his ears save for the panicked look on his face. The traveler waited patiently as the Pup pounded the Old Hand on the back until he coughed up the spiff. He grabbed the Pup by the arm and turned to face the traveler. "You're (cough, cough) free to pass, friend." The Young Pup looked stricken, "But we can't let Orlanthi's pass. We're supposed to be guarding the path!" The Old Hand whispered harshly, "And we're supposed to report anything unusual aren't we?" The Pup nodded reluctantly. "Well I suppose so but what about him?" The Old Hand smiled at the traveler and waved him on. "If he's not unusual I'll eat another spiff." The traveler moved on up the path stroking the hilt of his sword as one soothes a dog. He heard the Old Hand and the Young Pup stumbling down the path in their haste. "You really haven't been here very long have you?" he heard the Old Hand asking the Young Pup.
The traveler made his way up the path slowly and carefully, no point in breaking anything, until he reached the sally gate in the massive wall. He rapped on the gate and waited until he heard someone behind the gate. "Who's there and why are you here?" he heard a voice ask. "My name is Gunnar." He paused. "And a song brought me here." The gate quickly opened and he went inside.
September 14, 2004
Last updated February 20, 2017
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