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War-Journal of Bue Geirsteinson - Part X

by Jacob Skytte

Vatermont 25th, the year 1000 After Crowning of the First Emperor of the Thyatian Empire

I awoke in my tent to see concerned people standing about me. My eyes first fell on Asta Katlasdottir, her left cheek marred by a new scar. Beside her stood Ingibjorg Siglindesdottir, worriedly watching a man standing over me, his hands on my arm. As he moved back, I caught sight of my sister Lis. Her gaze found mine and she threw herself into my arms.

"Brother!" she exclaimed, "I was so worried about you, fearing that you would not survive."

I held her tightly, basking in her presence. We had been apart for too long, my father ruthlessly keeping her from me. Pushing her back, holding her by the shoulders, I examined her closely. She looked thin and tired. "How are you? Has anybody hurt you?" I asked.

She shook her head. "No, I have been kept locked up in the fort, guarded by father's men, isolated from all others, but I haven't been abused."

"Thank the Gods," I sighed in relief. It was then that I realised that I had regained the use of my arm and that while I was somewhat numb, my injuries had ceased to hurt. I looked at the strange man standing respectfully a short distance from us. He was aged, long white hair and beard flowing about his face. There was humour in those eyes, and he smiled at me.

"Yes Geirsteinson, I have healed your injuries. By the grace of the Gods I have been given the powers of restoration. I am Ralf Askeson, known as Silk-Tongue." His voice was smooth and pleasant, a voice accustomed to the telling of tales and singing of songs.

"Ralf Silk-Tongue," I muttered in disbelief. "The famous skald? You have come to heal me?"

He laughed. "Indeed Bue Geirsteinson, the famous prodigy. Tales of your quest to save your clan from treachery against the king have reached far and about, and I quickly decided to be where the events unfold, so I can retell them properly in the years to come. Imagine my surprise when I found that I had a role to play in the tale myself. I arrived this morning to hear of how your father had ordered his men to shoot at your exposed back during a fair exchange of hostages. Seeing how you had survived the night on your own, I lent my humble powers, praise be to the Gods, to your aid, and have brought you back from the brink of death. Obviously you are meant for great things, or the Gods would not have granted this boon."

"I will thank the All-Father properly then," I said, in awe of this living legend standing before me. "And my thanks to you, Silken Tongue, that you showed up when you did." I bowed my head in respect.

His gentle laughter again rang about us. "Old One-Eye is not the only God you owe your thanks. I do not solely revere the Kingsmaker, in fact the siblings Frey and Freyja are closer to my heart. Yet all the Gods stand behind my powers, I am one of their representatives among the Northlanders. I revere them all, and am allowed to put them in perspective, unlike the true priesthoods, who believe it proper to always be in respect of their own chosen God, thinking less of the others. But enough lecturing. I believe a great tale is in the making, and I cannot tell it properly until it is done. Since it is your tale, I must await your decisions and see the outcome for myself."

I nodded and got up from the improvised bed I had lain in. It was bloody and soaked, and I saw just how close to death I must have come. There was buckets of water nearby and I used them to wash the sweat and blood from my body, while the others waited respectfully outside. Only my sister remained, helping me and choosing proper clothes for the day.

"Bue, you have a terrible duty before you," she said. "I do not understand why it is so, but our father is enraged and wants your death above all else. He will not surrender to you, and this can only end in your death or his. Please tell me why this is so."

My sister's innocence was the most precious thing to me, but I would never lie to her. "Our father wants everything," I replied. "He is a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. In his mind there are no boundaries, no unthinkable deeds, as long as he ends up as the one in charge of everything. Oda told me how he wished to rule over her completely, and it is the same with us. If we do not follow him completely, he will punish us any way he can."

She contemplated this. "But he was a good father for a long time. He gave you boys what you wanted and protected us girls. He taught you to be strong and fight, while he made sure I knew proper manners and respect."

"All this was done for his own sake," I explained. "Lot and I were bred to become successors to his rule, extensions of him, heirs to his throne. You and Oda were bred to be docile and sweet, beauties that he could show others and promise away in return for alliances. Perhaps he cared for us, but only so long as we were useful to him. Oda would not have it and she found a way out. I will not accept it either, to me honour and respect for the Gods are paramount. And you will not be ruled by him, you are the sweetest flower of all, and you will wilt under his rule."

She smiled and kissed my cheek, standing on her toes. "Ralf is not the only Silk-Tongue around," she said. "I'm still not sure I understand, but I believe in you, that you do what you must and that you will find a way that will not lead to bloodshed."

My heart heavy I was about to respond, when Asta stuck her head in the tent. The recent scar on her cheek stood out sharply to me, and I was grimly aware that I was responsible for it, bringing her into this. "Are you ready, Bue? The men are waiting anxiously to see that you really are still alive."

She looked me up and down, as I stood in my armour, my sister handing me the helm. She whistled. "I almost think your mere presence on the battlefield will grant us victory. You look like a true hero, ready to conquer his foes. Come now."

As I stepped from the tent, the spear given to me by Asgrim the Bowed in hand, a cheer rose from the men gathered about us. Ralf Silk-Tongue led a chorus in a battle hymn. Ingibjorg raised her sword in salute, followed by a number of men. Lis went to stand next to Asta, as I rose the spear above my head. The roar nearly deafened me. My father would fall this day, one way or another.