Francis the Breath-taker, climbed atop a small pile of dead horses and surveyed the battle field. To his left, the north, he could see dark rain clouds moving southward. The coming storm was proceed by a damp cooling breeze that pushed against the stench of blood that surrounded Francis. The miasma of suffering underscored the horror of a field writhing with the failing death rattles of the vanquished beneath the noon day sun.
Every mouth for a mile around was impatient for the coming storm,no less with Francis. He wanted to feel the breeze on his skin, perhaps catch a shred of rain on his parched tongue and bleeding lips. But the dented steel and leather helm flaired hot under the sun and held each stink breath close to Francis's burning skin. With the remaining splinters of his shield still strapped to his right fist and his mace still clinched his left, he was unable to open his hands. He pushed his fists against the sides of his helmet and lifted it off, light flooded his eyes, and he let the dented piece of worked steel clamor loudly to the ground. The noise of the helmet startled one of the mortally wounded horses that he had assumed dead, and the maimed frightened beast shook under him. Francis, always sure footed, rode the wave of the beast's shutter like the accomplished seafarer he was, before raising his mace and landing three blows against the poor creature's skull. The horse's blood filled his eyes and pieces of bone and skin clung to his now uncovered face. His shoulder burned with the effort of these three blows, that came at the end of a day when his strikes could not be counted. He leaned into the breeze longing for some relief, but his face was too hot and blood covered to feel the wind as anything more than numb fingers brushing against his cheeks. Francis raised his clenched left gauntlet to his face to wipe away the gore and saw the lead head of his mace snap from the steel handle to which it was soldered. He laughed. "I hope to soon forget this day," he said, though his voice was a cracked whisper.
The Pommel Stone or Pommel Cap was an important piece of equipment for the iron age warriors of Northern Europe (perhaps else where but definitively Europe). The pommel stone was often a finely crafted item made from precious stones and finely worked metal. The greater a warrior's wealth the more ornate the object. The Pommel stones or Pommel caps were used as a means for carrying treasure into battle. If a warrior was captured they could use their pommel stone as ransom. It is also possible that these served as a type "dog tag", the returning of the pommel stone to a family served as proof that the warrior had died.
These ornate and valuable items also became prized war loot. A clear layman's discussion of pommel stones can be found at the link below.
Francis walked into father's forge, his father' s blind bear hound Zoratan, caught the smell of the sea on Francis and whimpered. Always afraid of boats and the sea the 9 stone creature pulled his tail between his leg and slid behind the water trough on his belly. The one legged patriarch of Francis's family turned from the broken tongs on his work bench and read his son's face.
"The raid did not go well." his father said.
Francis threw a sack made of bleached white flax cloth into the air so that it arced down and landed on the surface of his father's rough cut wooden work bench. The heavy bag and the bench collided with a metallic thud, the old weaponsmith could tell by the tone of the metal's ring that the sack contained no coin or jewelry.
"Those Zoratan worshipers came at us with a standing army, got between us and the ships. We had to fight through near ten of their men for each of ours." Francis spoke as his father opened the sack. His father reached in pulled out three black metal objects, they were conical, in shape, but had long sharp needles at one end and small decorative beads at the other end.
"These are lead," his father said with a look of disgust forming among the old man's wrinkles and scars. The retired warrior dumped out the sack on the table, "You must have over hundred here."
"Those, those are my share of the loot Papa. That is what the Zoratan worshipers are using as pommel stones now. We drew lots before the battle, I won claim to 1/3 the pommel stones. I thought I was lucky, when you came home with just four pommel caps you built the whole forge. But those fools had these damned lead things jammed on to the bottom of their swords instead of..."
"Did you fight an army of beggars," his father lamented.
"NYAKEL!" Francis snapped, swearing in the language of his mother. "The Zora followers had jeweled rings, gold inlaid armor and silken saddles. I should know I had to kill at least 30 men and boys that day, the bits of shattered weapons that I pulled from my shield were likely worth more than that bag of plumb. Worst! The thinned blooded West Islander that we elected warlord would not amend the lottery either, even after he saw what the pommel stones were made of. I would rather have brought home a blind bear hound pup." Francis sat down on a up turned wheel barrow, he exhaled and started speaking in lower softer voice. "But shameful truth Papa… no prize would be worth that battle. Every time I close my eyes I see the blood, every time I am presented a meal I smell the gore, even as I walked by the Charlo's tavern on the beach I was startled by the sound of the laughing rovers because it reminded …I thought it sounded like the death screams and prayers of the wounded and dying."
Francis's father spat on the ground in disgust and lifted one of the lead stones off his work bench and hurled it with warrior's snap and accuracy towards the water trough. Zortan, the kiddnapped and world weary hound yelped in pain and darted out the workshop, crashinging into a stack of empty buckets as he slide and clawed his way across the dry dirt floor. Francis's father took in the sight of his son's hunched shoulders and dewy eyes. "Mayhaps you should chase that bitch humper out the door, so you can piss your leg and beg for scraps with company. If you ain't got the stomach for another raid than you won't have anything in your stomach but fear."
Francis stood up, placid and deliberate, his father's often repeated wisdom rolled of him. Looking at his father with cold detachment, " I raid for the coin, not the kill".
The pommel stones of Vahu Mannah are mystical items made by the priests of Zoratan. They are made from an enchanted metal that when placed in a weapon records the memories of the person wielding the weapon created while the person carries weapon. It also imparts upon the wielder any memories of the former owners of the weapons carrying these pommel stones. This magic was adopted by the Zoratan for two reasons, one the pommel stones of fallen warriors could be returned to the families with the last memories of their fallen family member. This transference of the last moments to the family was morbid and horrifying, but it also confirmed the death or life of the loved one. An exchange many families were willing to make. Secondly, the pommel caps, these lead forged items are incorrectly referred to as stones, could transfer a bit of experience to the wielder of the weapon. A third and unintended consequence of the Vahu Mannah pommel caps, is that the caps themselves could be ransomed. These items were invaluable to families looking to know the fate of their loved ones. Had Francis the Breathtaker known the nature of these pommel stones, his fate may have been different and he never would have earned the title Breath-taker.
Francis's father melted down the Vahu Mannah pommel caps. He molded them into the head of a new mace and soldered the heavy ball on to an iron handle. Never did the old man raise the weapon or test its weight. He was an arrogant craftsman, that never doubted the quality of his work. He wrapped the weapon in oiled sheep skin and gave it to his son before the next raid. That raid, Francis's last, took him and the other warriors inland, and found them besieging a walled keep. Francis, who had lost his taste for bloodshed kept forcing the other Warchiefs to keep up negotiating. It was a month into the siege before Francis raised his father's mace.
The occupants of the keep were attempting to break the siege at the point of the perimeter under Francis's command. Once Francis raised the weapon the effect of the mace was immediate, Francis's minds eye was flooded with the memory of over 100 warriors who died on the last raid. As the combined experiences of suffering deluged his consciousness, his breath stopped coming. Francis stood among his warriors for an impossibly long time, not breathing moving or blinking. Francis's armor had been donned quickly and incompletely, leaving space for an enemy spear to pierce his side. The blow sent him to his knees and seemed to propel a violent laugh out of his throat. Francis rose to his feet and struck his attacker between the ear and the eye. The blow was so violent that the victim's ejected eye clung to Francis's face as he fought back the counter attack and drove his men over the walls and into the keep. Francis no longer turned away from suffering, the mace's tidal wave of horrors had made him numb. Francis single-handedly slew over one-hundred and fifty people that day, more than half the population of the keep. Only his death stayed the slaughter, as Francis swung his mace through a huddle of sick and wounded men that crowded in the keep's chapel he collapsed. Exsanguinated from the earlier wound which he never stopped to tend. The chapel's young priest picked up the mace that Francis had dropped, and raised the weapon to defend the wounded members of his faithful from the warriors that followed Francis. But when the Priest lifted the mace, he did not swing, the Priest stood their breathless constrained by memories of other warriors, other wars and other deaths.