Oliver D. Bernuetz's Stories
When did I first hear The Song? It was when I was still very young. Before I was of an age to become an adult, years before my adult initiation would have taken place. We must have been only five or six summers. I remember playing at warriors with my cousins and other kin. We were in the woods and we had armed ourselves with sticks for swords. I was screaming at the top of my breath and leading a charge when I heard it. The Song. A song that seemed to fill the world and take me elsewhere. It was huge and beautiful and frightening and when it had ended I stood there panting with a broken stick in my hand and one of my cousins broken and bloodied lying on the ground before me.
I then remember anger and recriminations and a meeting. The adults all gathered and shouting at one another. Some called me monster and one of my aunts cried for her son whose arm would never mend straight enough for him to be a warrior or even a farmer. My mother cried and defended me as her little boy. They argued about what to do with me and none could decide. And then he came, the Sword. Grim and straight and grey as his namesake weapon he came. He spoke of training and discipline and guidance. Both my mother and father cried and did not want me to go, saying that I was too young. The Sword silenced them by asking whether they wanted me to go to Urox or worse, end up a Gagarthi or Uraini. And I never saw them or any kin again.
The Sword took me to his cold, heartless temple where I learned. I learned the sword and other weapons. I learned to master my emotions. I learned to fight. After an incident in which a much older initiate was killed I was disciplined and punished severely. And I did not hear The Song again. And what can I say of a once happy six year old among warriors dedicated to death? I soon left childhood far, far behind me. And happiness as well.
I grew in stature and ability. Soon I was foremost among the warriors save the old Sword himself. And when it came time to go to war I went, if not gladly then willingly. Some said that I fought like the god himself and I became famed and much sought out for my skills and leadership. I had everything I might want, weapons and armour, gold and silver, women and men, everything except happiness.
And then I heard The Song again. It was an ambush. We had been on the losing side of a conflict between petty rulers somewhere north of Dragon Pass. As we marched homeward, or rather back to the temple which I had never felt was home, we were ambushed. It must have been a sign of the gods displeasure that none of us sensed the ambush. Out of the gors they poured like water and swept over us. We kept our discipline and fought a losing action. For every one of us that fell, never to stand again until beside our god once more, five of them fell. But still they came and the Moon and Sun magic fell on us like hammers. It looked like we would all sup with the god that night but then I heard it again. The Song. I had learned to fear it but despairing that I had naught to lose I let it take me away.
When I remembered myself I was surrounded by death and the awestruck and horrified survivors of the temple. The enemy lay all around in windrows and my warriors said they had never seen the like. I had begun singing and they swore it was a two part harmony they heard. One part my voice and the other part my sword. I mowed the enemy down like wheat and threw their magics back at them somehow. They poured all their forces at me but none could withstand me and finally their spirit broke and they fled.
And then. And then I turned on the survivors of my temple and had slain a dozen before a carefully aimed rock had struck me down from behind. I stood there covered with the gore of my foes and my friends and I wept. And then I turned and I left them. They stood and watched me go and I never saw them again. And yet the god did not forsake me as I forsook him.
I wandered alone for a long time and I fought. I hired myself out to anyone who needed me. I made my reputation as a lone wolf. If ever there was a warrior or bandit band that troubled a stead or village I offered them my services. The first few laughed at the thought of a lone warrior facing down the entire band which had troubled them for so long. But word spread and I let The Song take me where it would. But always alone. And soon villages sought for me. And I went and the years passed. I avoided followers of the god like a plague and sought comfort nowhere. Many kings sought my service as a leader of men but I refused all offers as I could not risk the lives of any followers. And what of love and friendship? These too I shunned as I never could tell when The Song would call.
Then in the autumn of my years as I wandered, the cold always in my bones I made an enemy. It was another lord who like the others had sought to hire me. I refused him with as honeyed words as I could manage not wishing to have to slay any of his followers but he persisted. Nay, he demanded that I join his service. But I refused and fled. But he, being a fool with more pride than sense summoned a great hero band and followed. I used every trick and wile I had to avoid them. But he had the services of a great tracker and a great shaman and between them they followed me.
And finally I could flee no more and I had to fight. It was like some scene from a hero song the skalds would sing in my boyhood. I stood with a cliff to my back and a band of shamans and heroes before me. Me as grey and straight and joyless as the Sword from my childhood. They attacked. And The Song came and I began to sing.
This time was different though. I remember all I did. I felt every blow that cleaved a skull, every flick of my blade that sent blood to blind someones eyes, every time I somehow turned a spell back on its caster with my sword. Even every word of The Song. And I remember every blow that landed on me. I could hear the creaking of my joints and felt the strain in my bones and muscles. And finally the wounds I had taken began slowly to wear on me. Oh yes, I turned twenty blows but for every twenty there was one and twenty and it struck true and so slowly I bled. And finally the lord had his vengeance on me. The Song was silenced. But at what cost to his followers? Such a cost!
And now I lie here and the blood has finally stopped seeping from my wounds and I wait to hear The Song one more time, to follow it where it will finally lead and I wish...
I wish someone would close my eyes.
June 27, 2003. (Minor changes made August 1, 2003)
Last updated October 07, 2016
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