Saturday, September 10, 2016

"Plowshares to Swords"

Fargold had tended fields for far too long.

He had convinced himself years ago that the work he was doing was important. And it had been and easy lie to believe. There was, after all, no more practical crop to farm that beluga tubers. They were  naturally repellent to pests as they grew underground, and they thrived in nearly any weather. They sometimes grew large enough to feel a medium-sized man for an entire day, and were rich enough in nutrition that the same medium-sized man would need little else in his diet to live a life relatively free of any major vitamin deficiencies.

The famine had been enough reason, for many a year, to convince Fargold that the work he spent his fourteen waking hours of the day devoted to was worthwhile. And then, it had been most worthwhile; without his crops, his tiny village would have probably disappeared off the face of the map. Most maps of the realm of Jolk already didn't include the village of Barker; succumbing to famine would have been the last straw to ensure that all memory of Barker was blown away like a wisp of smoke, without a single landmark left to represent it or its people.

Of course, it would have been pride for Fargold to take complete credit for the survival of Barker during the Great Famine. All recognition he gave to Orrumatar.

Fargold had been raised with the stories of the Divinity On High, of the battles of the Powers That Be and what had been won for mankind. He knew the tales well, even if he hadn't personally read them for many years. During the battles, Orromatar, the Horseman, had rode into battle as the as many of the lesser Powers retreated, rallying their spirits for final victory. These days, Orromatar represented strength and honor and, most importantly, duty. Orromatar taught that a man always did his duty, no matter the cost to himself. And that was what Fargold did during the famine.

It was good work. It had meant something. It hadn't been a lie, then.

In was in the eighteenth month of the famine when the envoys from new King had first arrived.

Fargold wouldn't have known the previous King's name, had it not been for the tax assessors that made sure to visit every year. And Fargold would have no doubt continued tending his fields until the sun set on his life and never known there was a new King, had the envoys not chosen to visit that day.

Their decrees had been official. Their documents had borne the wax crest of the King, only possessed by the ruler himself. And while it was true that Fargold has always been required to give a portion of his crop to the kingdom (which he gladly did, for it was his duty), the new decree declared a portion larger than he could have ever believed. At least, a portion larger than he believed a good King, a truly good King, should ask for.

And that had been the first time that Fargold had entertained that thought: perhaps the new King wasn't a good King.

But for Fargold, such a thought was tantamount to heresy. He had been raised to believe in something higher than himself, to trust those in power and to submit to the authority of law as thought it had been given from Divinity On High. Orromatar taught that a man's duty was to his family, and his village, and his kingdom. And when a King took office in Jolk, he swore on the name of Orromatar to uphold this commitment above all others. After all, it was the kingdom that protected Barker, and the other towns and villages of the realm of Jolk, from the barbarous hoards of the southern wastes and the creatures that crawled out of the Black Bay, far to the southwest. It was by the effort of the kingdom and its forces that allowed tiny villages like Barker to thrive. And, although times had gotten more difficult because of the increased taxation, Barker survived. After all, it was famine, and tending the fields was what Fargold did. Instead of resentment he should exude thankfulness, both for what he had been given and what he was able to do for his kinsmen. It was what Orromatar would have him do.

But word began to arrive in Barker as the months progressed, brought by traders and travelers. Whispers that the famine was now over, but taxation through Jolk remained as stringent as ever. Tales of ashen-faced, nameless creatures that had come ashore further than ever from the Black Bay. Rumors of towns sacked and raided, with no one left alive and no item of value left unscavenged.

Fargold continued to mind his fields. Such gossip was for others, those with the spare time and energy to waste on rumors. His duty was not to tall tales. It was to his fields and those who depended on him.

That was, until months later, when what has been dismissed as rumor took a horrifying step into reality. It had been late in the night during the Month of Rain. Had Glarrod the blacksmith been sleeping at his post at the town gates, no one would have heard the riders approaching. But Glarrod had been awake, had seen them coming, and had inquired from far off who were they and what was their business in Barker. No reply had come, and the riders did not slow their approach. Per the regulations of the village, Glarrod had sounded the alarm. And it had cost him his life at the hilt of a well-placed arrow fired from the back of a mottle-pelted steed.

Fargold had the new King's taxes to thank for his survival. He had been tending his fields late into the night for months by then, and didn't become aware of the battle until the screams of the dying and the shriek of steel on steel filled the air.

And it was at that moment when he truly understood the value of beluga tubers, as he tossed aside his wheelbarrow and ignored the foodstuffs as they rolled into he shadows cast by his lantern. All he'd spent his time and energy working toward suddenly wasn't worth the dirt is was grown in as he heard the town of Barker in its death throes.

By the time Fargold made it back to town, the fighting men of Barker had driven away the southern raiding party. But not before more than fifty Barker citizens lay dead in the streets, white-fletched arrows and spear wounds turning people he had known since his youth into piles of flesh and offal, faces still twisted in horror.

His wife, Brigid, among them.

The town had grieved together, but none like Fargold. At first he blamed himself for his wife's death, rationalizing that if he hadn't been tending his fields so late into the night he could have been there to protect her; at the very least to offer himself instead of her to the raiding party, to fight like mad to keep her safe.

He knew that Orromatar would be ashamed of him. What more heinous way could a man neglect his duty that to his wife, to the point of allowing her to be killed in cold blood on her very doorstep?

Then Fargold blamed the new King, whose name he couldn't even recall. It was the King's fault Fargold had been working in his fields so late for months, trying to fulfill a quota of beluga tubers that no one farmer should be required to fill alone. And it was the King's duty to protect his people, to guard the souther borders with war-riders from Jolk and scatter raiding parties to the wind. If the King had any concept of the Oath of Orromatar, the massacre never would have happened.

It was then Fargold had discovered the true cause of all his pain.

Moments later, he'd smashed his altar to Orromatar into splinters with his mattock.

All the years he'd devoted to Orromatar. All the times he'd spent memorizing the great stories of the battles of the Powers That Be. The way he'd been fed lie after lie about a man's duty, about how great Orromatar blessed and rewarded those who dedicated themselves to duty as Orromatar described it. Fargold had done plenty; more than any other man he knew, and probably more than most anyone else in all of Jolk, he reasoned. And what had it gotten him?

A raided village. A dead wife. And an overturned wheelbarrow in his field, which didn't matter to anyone anymore. The work he had dedicated his life to had been meaningless, because in the end it hadn't changed anything.

With Glarrod the blacksmith dead, there was no one to fashion weapons and armor for what remained of the fighting men of Barker. So Fargold had taken it upon himself, as best as he knew how. Ever plowshare a Barker brought to him, he beat into a sword, until he was able to rudimentally arm all of the villages remaining citizens who wanted to fight.

But this fight, they were not taking south. They knew they possessed not the strength or the numbers to take on the southern raiding party, even if they could discover where the savages had gone. Their quarrel was north. Because now, will all doubt of heresy scoured from the very corners of his soul, Fargold knew that the King of Jolk was not good. The King had neglected his duty. And while Fargold no longer believed the King had a duty to some silent Power to see this duty fulfilled... Fargold's wife was dead. It was she the King had not fulfilled his duty toward. And the former farmer swore on her grave that someone would pay.

He had tended fields for far too long. It was time to do something that mattered.

No comments:

Post a Comment