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Oliver D. Bernuetz's Stories

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What's Mine

This was once mine.  No, not the land. That would have belonged to the clan if I lived with them.  To my kin, if any still lived.  No, not the land but the work.   The work that went into the land.  The backbreaking, wearying work that went into the land.  That was all mine and I gave it freely and willingly.  I was never adverse to good honest work.  Oh sure when I was young I groused along with the rest of the young men.  We all blathered on about how much we would rather be raiding than cultivating.  Or that we were even keener to set foot on the War Trail than to sweat in the hot sun. A foolishness common only to young men and Humakti. But we did the farm work despite the complaining and I grew to love it.  We all did.  Those who made it to true manhood did that is. 

They were always reluctant to take me along on raids anyway.  An axeman? they would say.  Would you come along to hold bridles or drive livestock?  An axeman is a killer.  Not for him the subtlety of a sword or spearman.  When an axeman strikes he must strike to kill or incapacitate else he is at a huge disadvantage against foes with lighter, more agile weapons.  They always feared that I would escalate any raid and leave us open to blood vengeance or wergild.  Which shows how little they knew me then. I may have been an axeman but that did not make me a willing killer.   Oh no, no coward I but I struck only when I had to.  Never for glory or battlelust.  Just as needs must.

Why was I an axeman?  My grandfather was a great killer of men.  He was a huge man who could swing a mighty double bladed axe like lesser men swung a switch to herd sheep.  He cut through his foes like a farmer harvesting barley.  No one could stand up to him and he never lost a battle.  No one or nothing fell him until he was grey and a grandparent.  But still seemingly as strong as ever.  And it was no foe that did him in but some elfshot out of the darkness that felled him.  He dropped to the ground one day and while he did not die right then he never walked again.   When I was born I was presented to him by my father, who had always been a disappointment to him loving as he did farming more than battle.  This one he said out of all my grandchildren shall be an axeman,  He shall grow tall and strong enough to wield Grackle my axe.  And with this pronouncement he thought my fate was set.

Well it was true I did grow tall and strong.  Every bit his equal that way.   When it came time for me to learn weapons he overruled my parent's objections from his deathbed where he lingered for thirteen years and insisted that I learn the axe.   So I learned the axe and I became a skillful warrior.  I learned how to fight swordsmen and spearmen.  My grandfather arranged for old comrades of his to teach me their skills and they came.  Men, and one woman whose names and glory every Orlanthi would recognize came to our out of the way stead and taught me what I needed to know to be an axeman of renown.  One that would survive his first battle to go on and grow in fame.  These dead eyed men and woman taught me something else too.  A dislike bordering on hatred of the ways of war.  But I couldn't disappointment my grandfather whom I loved in my way so I learned what they had to teach.

And from my father and mother I learned how to farm, to love the land and love peace.   Never to back down from a needful fight or keep a weak defense but to avoid needless strife.  To leave our neighbours alone.  There was precious little enough in this rough land and we needed to co-operate and share what we had.  Which I did then and would do now.

And then came time for my grandfather's final journey.  Out of all of us on the stead he called for me.  I came to him in his lair where he lay in the darkness dying and he struggled to speak to me.  What a change from the bear of a man he had been once.   Not only his legs were withered now and the only thing that seemed to have any life in him was his eyes that still burnt with a fever.  He struggled to speak but failed.  With great effort he raised his hand and shakily pointed at the wall where Grackle hung.  I turned to reach it down and a smile like a skull's crossed his face.  I took Grackle down, surprised by how light it was and turned to him.  He smiled at me and left this world for the last time.  I turned and left the hut.

I thought to hang the axe up as nothing but a memento of my grandfather but Harvar Ironfist had other plans.  He wanted what was ours and needs must.  Glory clung to me like the gore on my axe but I did what I needed to do.  No matter that in the end it meant nothing.  We battled as hard as we could and fled ever deeper into the gorse but we just didn't have the forces to resist him.  I had a wife, I had children but templars burnt them out when I was away at war.  After that I warred no more and decided to settle somewhere I  wouldn't have to bother with Harvar any more.

I left the craft of war behind and turned back to the farming I loved.  I cleared a new stead by myself near the Hollow.  Here I thought no human would bother me.   And I was right.  No human bothered me.  But they came out of the darkness.  The goatkin. Broos.  They came in ones and twos from the Hollow drawn by my animals.  I slew them as they came, Grackle as deadly as ever.  I staked the heads as a warning but it wasn't enough.  My stead was too strong an attraction but that wasn't what finished me.  No, one evening I found myself standing there watching as hundreds poured out of the Hollow.  Where had they all come from?   Didn't matter.  What did matter was putting the animals in the longhouse and sealing all the entrances.  Then all there was was standing there swinging my axe as they came.

Slowly they pushed their way in.  If they'd been men they may have given up with lesser losses or torched the place.  But what they did was push and die and finally I ran out of room to swing my axe and I died.

And now I stand here and I think back.  Glory and reputation?  Were those what was mine?  Is that all that's left?  Perhaps now that I've fallen that's all that men will remember.  A giant of a man swinging an axe and laying waste to his foes.  Maybe that's all they'll remember but I stand here and look at my ruined stead.  There was the barley field I had cleared one Fire Season, there the ravaged corpses of the animals that I had raised and nursed back to health.  Somewhere far away but always close to my heart lay the wife I loved and was proud of and the children I barely knew but loved with all my heart. 

At my not here feet lies Grackle my grandfather's axe covered with broo gore.   None of them had wanted it and they'd left it by what was left of my body.   Most men would be happy to claim that as theirs.  And the honour and glory that clung to the axe but not the axeman as far as I was concerned.  I finally turned my back on what was mine and those things I'd never wanted and left on that last journey we all must take.

November 04, 2004

Last updated October 07, 2016

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