On the day before his thirty-fifth birthday Akribus’s fleet of brigands was heading southward, homeward, through the Coronian Sea along the eastern border of Neo-Normark empire. Two days earlier he had released the siege of the walled city of Haggropolosis in exchange for an enormous ransom of coin. Akribus would have preferred to sack the city for slaves and grain, but his outriders sighted a legion of Normark cavalry approaching. He had settled for getting as much as he could from city before word of the relief column reached the inhabitants.
The retreat had left a bad taste in Akribus’s mouth. On the deck of Akribus’s war galley, The Patriarch, Akribus starred at the distant bank doted with fishing villages and market towns, but the only structure his aging eyes could make out was the brilliant red stone aqueduct that carried fresh water 60 miles from the mountains. “Three years ago none of this was here,” he remarked to Burks, his second born son. “There was no wall around Haggropolis either.” Akribus did not address his son in their native language of Ryk but rather in Imperial Normarkian. This was a convention of being at sea. Akribus’s fleet was a conglomerate of Imperial exiles, international mercenaries, Rykus tribesmen, and slaves from all nations. To cement understanding and prevent mutinous collusion it was required that everyone spoke one language aboard ship. The influence of the first and second Normarkian empires had spread the Normark language to all known nations and thus as a matter of practicality Normark was spoken even between father and son.
“I know father, I was with you then,” Akribus turned to Burks with mild surprise. The boy was taller than Akribus and with the round cheekbones and sleepily curved eyes of Akribus’s mother. ‘Has it already been three years,’ Akribus thought to himself and that taste of time and memory sent a chill through his soul. Burks continued talking in his typical manner with his gaze directed inward at the memories of lessons or books read. “This wasn’t part of Normark then either, it was subjugated two years ago following the campaign of Bishop Leon Martell.”
Akribus laughed to hear the foreign name in his son’s precocious voice, “Your slave teach you all that?” Akribus had captured an Imperial cartographer and gifted him to his son. Akribus’s voice turned serious, “How did he know the land was subjected two years ago? How does that dirty spy get such information? He has been bonded to us for a decade”
“He gets letters from the college.”
“He gets written words on Rykos! What closed palm traitor is passing messages to our slaves from the Normark”
“The Captains bring back correspondence when they trade with the mainland. Remember when Loras was a hostage while you transported the Normarkian legions across the sea to Yurta and fought the Yurta fleets on behalf of the empire? We got messages from Loras even then, delivered by Captains you left behind.”
Akribus spat, and cursed. He didn’t like what his son was telling him. He looked at the shore again; according to the young eyed lookouts the cavalry they had evaded at Haggropolis was still shadowing them along the shore. An enemy he could not see fueled Akribus’s anger. As always Burks had gone white with fear in the presence of his father’s temper. Akribus’s temper had never melded well with the persona he preferred to cultivate. Akribus saw himself as a light-hearted magnanimous warrior who tackled challenges with a bemused ambivalence. Indeed, he was this man most of the time, but while his anger was brief it was deep and all consuming. Those that knew him well saw how he felt shamed after those terrible bouts, but they also knew not to test that anger. He looked at his son and the sight of his boy’s discomfort quickly drained all the strength from his rage.
“Kato” he called to the Patriarch’s chief of arms. “See if you can fill any more sail with this…shall we call it wind… or I am being too kind.” He laughed at his own attempt to lighten the air. Akribus didn’t like yelling at his sons, that was his wife’s hobby, and Burks in particular was easily wounded. “Burks I am going to the cabin.” He slapped Burks on the back. It was like slapping a stone, even though Burks was in his first year of manhood it still surprised him when his younger son was anything but a boy. Inwardly Akribus thought ‘My boy is strong, perhaps, if Burks had a little fire in him, a little vicious ambition he might make a good warrior.’
Inside the small cabin built on the back of the main deck Akribus opened the soul-jar that he purchased twenty-one years ago, and the wizard’s soul filled up the cabin. “What does ‘correspondence’ mean?” Akribus asked, but immediately waved his hand to negate the request. He’d ask his son, he wouldn’t be ashamed of his ignorance. “How many men do have I with me this year.”
“In the fleet?” though this wizard had died centuries before, his dialect of Normarkian was similar to the popular dialects of Akribus’s time.
“You have 1,621 men.”
“How many fighting men?”
“Is this the largest raiding party I have ever put together.”
“No four years ago you had 701 fighting men, with as many sailors and slaves, and last year 650 fighting men. During the Yurta campaigns you mustered-"
“Those don’t count, the men were getting paid in coin by the Normark, my best hull of loot was nine…no eleven years ago. We took at least 200 slaves: good slaves educated and skilled. We took four years worth of grain, three ships, and all my men came away with fine sun forged steel weapons. We even had spoils enough to gift the fish-briner with his own slave. I haven’t had year like since, even though my fleets get bigger and stronger. How many fighting men did I have that year, the good year?”
“It was different that year Akribus, you had only a hand full of personal slaves on your ships, all your men fought in some fashion. You did not have dedicated cores of sailors, taskmasters, craftsmen, slaves, and warriors as you do now. Additionally men and ships joined for shorter durations during the course of that season. But you had an average of 600 men during that campaign. But your measure of raid success is biased towards finished goods, since the pacification of Yurta you take in more coin now and lose fewer men.”
Akribus knew the wizard was right about that last point, but Akribus wasn’t interested in those points. He wanted this undead wizard to confirm his feelings and observations about the state of the world. He challenged the wizard’s assertions. “Things are changing though, what will next year offer?”
The wizard’s answer to these types of questions was always the same. “Akribus a soul cannot consider the future, only the past and the present.”
“But if things continue as they are…”
“I can’t even look to the future Akribus, because that is part of hope, thus is the difference between life and after-life.”
The snaking aqueduct ended as the fleet moved away from the developed shore through the Quinniwak estuary, the cavalry would not be able march their armored horses through the bogs and kelp islands. The next morning on the other side of the estuary one of Akribus’s smaller ships that was riding close to shore sighted a large wagon train setting camp on a hill just above the swamps. Akribus sent most of his fleet ahead to draw the attention of the lookouts and scouts that would direct the legion pursuing him. He held back 80 fighting men and two ships: his galley the Patriarch and the slow moving sea barge that carried the lions share of their coin.
Shuttling his men to the shore in skiffs, Akribus aligned his men for battle against the wagon train’s escort. Arkibus put himself in the center of his line with his son Burkus aside him. Rather than fight next to their wagons and chattel the train’s escort had honor enough to come out of the brush to meet Akribus’s force in an open field. They were not armored like Normarks, their armor was blackened leather and they wore giant wicker and plaster head pieces crafted to look like animals.
“Thunrics,” Akribus shouted loud enough for the entire line to hear. The masks of the other line were large enough for even Akribus’s middle aged eyes to make out the totem helmed warriors. In a lower voice Arkibus spoke to his son, “They are a people from, the Lundoric Sea, north west of the empire.” Akribus laughed with pleasure and spun his twin steel-headed short axes about his hands with a practiced flourish. “I haven’t seen a Thunric war party in years. Not since Yurta. The Thunrics are good sailors and sea borne pirates more than raiders, in my father’s time it was not uncommon to see Thunric pirate ships this far south.” Akribus smiled. “My mother’s mother was Thunric, your great grandmo…”
Burke interrupted in his absent-minded manner. “There are no ships though, why are northern sea pirates guarding wagons trains on the south eastern edge of the empire.”
“The Empire is getting creative with its mercenaries. Like I said we served with them in Yurta,” reminding his son that the Empire had moved Thunric mercenaries farther south than this. “You should be pleased to fight such a truly savage a people, but be warned they’ll take warriors as slaves too.“ After speaking in low and excited tones to his son, Akribus lifted his head higher rolled back his shoulders and shouted. “Are we ready?” His men responded with a barbarous and impatient yelp. He did not intend to stymie their blood lust by waiting to receive the Thunric’s charge.
But before he could cut the leashes and let his little army take the field a single man broke ranks from the opposing force. He was a shorter than the others, though the giant ram’s head mask he wore made him cast a large man’s shadow. He was a carrying a great sword, almost as tall as him and as wide as a man’s leg along the flat. The sword glinted in the sun a bright shining green, not like green like a gem, but some sort of green tinted steel. “A challenge of champions.” Akribus said to Burks. “Stay on your tethers till I finish this” he shouted and handed his pearl handled short axes over to his son. “Give me your spear and shield Burks, that sword he has will give him too much reach.”
Akribus walked toward the center of the field affecting a slow easy pace. With his spear held under his shield arm he adjusted the straps holding the small steel cap upon his head. His opponents ram mask was ornamental only, a large lightweight thing, but it obscured the wear’s face preventing Akribus from gauging the man’s age or temperament. Yet despite the costume there was something familiar about the man’s gate and posture. Whatever Akribus recognized about this man it was not the sword. As he approached he focused on the sword: it was longer than the man was tall, and there was a tortoise shell type patterning to the metal that cast back the sunlight at odd angles. The sword did not have a true hilt but rather just above the grip there was a disk forged in the same green metal as the sword. It was at least as long as the grip and wider than the blade itself.
When they were a little more than ten paces apart they both halted without speaking a word. The field was quiet, save for the sound of the surf in the distance and the clicks and rattles of the insects that jumped out of and flew over the waist high grass around them. Akribus didn’t speak the Thunric language so he addressed his opponent in Normarkian “I don’t have the time or the ships to hull back slaves, so if I best you I can promise that I will let your men go once we have had our way with the wagons. But I make no promises as to what my men will do if you best me.”
“Akribus!” the man in the ram’s head mask exclaimed with a snorting laugh. “Your field parley is terrible, I should strike you down for that.” Lightly accented Normarkian words filtered through the cavernous mask, and the man’s posture relaxed. He brought his sword down slowly and implanted it the in earth the hilt rising to horn level of the ram;s head. He then began to pull off his leather gauntlets.
“I know you?” Akribus said, half asking, half stating.
The man moved his ungloved hands up to his neck, untied the mask and lifted it off. The man beneath the ram’s head was a short full-faced man with a high forehead, curly salt and pepper hair, and a pale sweat drenched complexion. Akribus smiled a short grin as he recalled the man’s name “Aved.” They had sailed and fought together through all three of the northern seas years ago. “You. . . Aved. . .” he searched for a greeting “you have gotten so old.” ?
Both men laughed, and Akribus lowered his weapons.
“Akribus, you are bastard for looking so young. Save for those lines of fatigue about your eyes, you look just the same as you did ten years ago.”
Akribus laughed again, Aved’s ship had raided along side his father’s galley and then his own. Later, he and Aved had both lead rival bands to the Theosian islands in the Lundoric in an effort to get the largest share of the bounty the empire was offering on Theosian ears. Later still they had carried out the Yurta campaign together. Aved’s crew was considered violent and bloodthirsty even by Thunric standards, and to most civilized people the Thunric were the standard for bloodthirsty savages. Despite this viciousness though Aved and his men were a joyous playful lot prone to jesting and feasts. The old tone of self-deprecation and humor that had dominated Aved and Akribus’ interactions was returning. “Aved, you can’t see the parts of me that have aged, but don’t doubt me, they are there.”
“So my whore of a wife tells me,” Aved sneered. Akribus never understood why the Thunric thought it was insulting to imply that you slept with their women.
“So Aved, we are on opposite sides, finally” Akribus said his smile fading.
“You always said this day would come,” Aved began to put his armored gloves back on.
“But I never thought you’d be defending a Normark baggage train.”
Aved paused a moment and then said “No, that is not Normark that is mine, all mine”
Akribus assumed that Aved had taken the wagon train from one of the imperial interests. “Oh, of course,” Akribus looked about the field ensuring that combat could still be avoided. “I didn’t see your ships… I am not going try take another man’s loot, but be warned there is a legion of Imperial Knights on the coast, I left them on the far side of the Quinniwak yesterday. ”
“It is no like that for me anymore, I am on good terms with the Normark now, we are standing on my land,” Aved had only replaced one glove, and with his a free hand he unlaced the bracers on his right arm. When the black leather bracer was loose enough he showed Akribus the blue tattoo of the sun and the mountain on the inside of his forearm.
Akribus’s eyes grew wide and he looked at Aved anew. He took a half step back and shook his head ‘no’ while giving an incredulous laugh. Back in their times raiding together Aved and Akribus would find it great comedy to capture as a slave any foreigner, Thunic, Rykus, Theosian or Yurt, that had taken the mark of the empire. “What is that?” Akribus shouted with a taunting tone.
“You know what it is,” Aved pulled his arm back scowling a bit.
Akribus continued, “I don’t know how to believe that you joined the empire, even more I can’t believe they would have you. Aved a citizen! That is an insult to Normark and Thunic alike. ”
“I have been in the empire for a while now, I was a High-Governor in eastern Theosia, and now I have been given a land grant down here.”
Akribus did not see any thing worth bragging about among those facts. “Well I can understand wanting to come all the way down here, I imagine that you want to be as far away from Thun as possible, I wager the Shamans won’t even let you back on Thun”
Aved shook his head no, “Thun has submitted, it has been a subject nation since at least last winter. All us Thunrics are allies of the empire now, I just went the full distance and become a citizen”
That unsteadied Akribus, he had always believed that people like the Thunrics were unbreakable. “Why did they submit, surely the Empire didn’t invade Thun?’ he stammered.
“Of course they didn’t invade Thun.” Aved shifted his weight from one foot to the other, “I don’t know what pushed the Shamans over. I was in Theosia when the Shaman’s bent their knees. But why shouldn’t they? It was foolish to think they weren’t part of the empire, Thunric warriors fought with the legions during the subjugation of Theosia and Yurta, everyone on Thun used Normark coins, built houses like the Normarks, dressed more and more like the Normarks, by my soul even I own a felt hat.” Akribus thought of his oldest son Loras who had spent four years as a truce-hostage in the city of Normar, and had come home wearing a wide brimmed felt hat. Yet Akribus still look unconvinced, and Aved pursed his lips (the Thunric expression, which communicated a lack of interest). “The happenings of the Northwest seas don’t matter here Akribus, this is my land now, and that baggage train is my household. Are you telling me you didn’t know I was here?”
“How would I have known?”
Aved glanced at the massive green sword standing point down in the dirt, and the looked back a Akribus. “I see that you didn’t,” something in Aved’s tone was different for a moment. He seemed a little more serious and little more tired. But then he returned to the flippant old sea-dog that Akribus had known near half his life. “Well comrade are we going to throw our solders at each other?”
“I have a barge full Normark coin just off the coast here, it may be worth your while…” Akribus said taunting the shorter man.
Aved pursed his lips again, “Bah, I am sure your men would sail her away before your body was cold. Lets have wine instead, I will make gift of a cask to your men. You and I can set up an awning here in the field and drink to the old battles. I have some stories to tell! Beside now that I am in the south we will see more of each other.”
A five-poll awning was erected in the middle of field and a cart of wine wheeled out. Akribus and Aved were too experienced to trust each implicitly, and both sent look outs to their flanks and though Akribus accepted wine for his men he commanded them to put off imbibing until after he’d met with Aved. Directly before joining Aved under the awning Akribus called his son and second in command to him “Be ready to hold the beachhead Kato, send enough men back to the ships so that the skiffs can carry, everyone in a single trip. ” Akribus whispered to his second. “I will be as brief possible, but if these Thunrics alerted the cavalry, I don’t want to be caught in the open.” He then added louder to Burks “Son go back to the ship see that the oarsmen are fed and watered and keep an eye on the horizon.”
Sitting on canvas camp chairs in the rising heat of the day Akribus and Aved where each attended by their own servant, a rough hewn table was erected between them and covered with a fine brown cloth. The two slaves filtered wine through flax cloth screens into fired clay goblets, and laid the dark liquid in front of their masters. Aved raised his hand to halt Akribus from lifting his goblet. He looked up at the slave “Drink the wine first,” the bonded man nodded and lifted the goblet to his mouth. “All of it,” Aved commanded. The slave obeyed. Aved watched the man for a full minute. “Now pour me a new goblet, use the same filter.”
“Do you get poisoned often?” Akribus asked and drank from his own goblet.
Aved glanced at the green sword that was aside him leaning against the table. “It is the price of success.”
Akribus drank slowly trying to emit as much confidence and nonchalance as possible in order to shame Aved for his caution. “You’re type of success has cost you a lot indeed”
“Was that your son Loras? He is tall.” Aved said ignoring Akribus comment.
“No, that is my second son Burks. Loras is 19 now, a captain in his own right and father too.” He didn’t mention that Loras had chosen not to sail with his fleet.
“Gods, the younger generation takes up their blades,” Aved said quoting the Fate Song sung by Theosian slaves. “Do they even remember your father, cause if not I would love to tell them some stories about that old man.”
“No, father died at 34 years old, that was…almost 17 years ago. Burks wasn’t even born.” Akribus snorted “34 and we still think of him as an old man.”
Aved pursed his lips, and gestured for more wine. “Why are Rykus always telling stories with numbers and dates? Who cares when you were born or how many years you have been alive? I am alive now and I am going to stay alive for as long as I can.”
Akribus started to wonder how old Aved really was. He had always been short, gracile and clean-shaven. Ten years ago his face was rounded and as pale as a sun bleached sand dollar. He looked youthful. Now he looked like a stale piece of bread, cracked and dry. Akribus grew mindful of the pause, “How are your sons?”
Aved stretched his lips out wide and sucked air through his teeth a Thunric expression of both sympathy and an acknowledgement of bad luck “All my sons died.” Aved said flatly.
“How?” Akribus said too swiftly to consider if such a question was politic.
“Well, Gunja, remember him, the slave’s boy, I had to slay him.” Aved rested his hand on the handle of the sword. “The bastard came after me one night with a gang of paid murders.” Aved’s voice choked on emotion, perhaps rage or grief, Akribus could not tell, but he collected himself and continued. “He attacked me while I slept, killed my new woman and tried to kill me.” Aved reached up and gripped the long handle of his sword, the point still resting on the ground. He pivoted the weapon back and forth before resuming his story with a lighter tone. “Thus ended Gunja, as for my younger sons…”Aved raised his goblet and gestured at it with a nod. “The poison was meant for me. All is not lost though, my manhood still works and I have a new woman ripe with my child. I also have a blossoming daughter, hope to marry her well.”
Akribus thought he knew where this conversation was going and it would be rude not to humor Aved. “Well Loras is already married, but Burks, he is strong and well educated.”
Aved’s usually expressive face revealed nothing. “Akribus, you have not asked me about my sword.” Aved slowly lifted the six-foot long weapon, and laid it lengthwise across the table between them. Akribus could see now that the weapon was indeed made of a green metal and not varnished. It seemed to be a crude construction of steel with small droplets of smelted metal being hammered together, leaving the turtle shell type pattern in the metal. The large disc shape, which sat in the place of the hilt above the grip was etched with what Akribus recognized as the phases of the moon, though there had not been a moon in the sky since before Akribus was born. “Do you recognize it?” Aved asked.
Akribus looked at it for a long time, and remembered a story told by his maternal grandfather about a God forged sword, “Is it supposed to look like the Dalve”
Aved’s face lit up when Akribus mentioned that name. “No Akribus, not supposed, this is the Dalve. This is the most powerful weapon ever constructed by Gods or men. This weapon kept Theosia free of the Neo-Normark empire for a generation. One man wielding this sword destroyed an entire legion of knights, I myself have been naked, wounded and beset upon by thirteen armed and armored men, but I succeed in taking up this sword before they could deal me the deathblow. I killed every one of those attackers with out receiving another scratch. This is the true Dalve Akribus.”
“How can you be sure?” Akribus took more wine.
“Akribus if you were to take her into battle you would not doubt it. I am certain. I have wielded her. I have no doubts.”
Akribus gestured for more wine and smiled at the dubious nature of Aved’s claims, “If this is the Dalve, how did you get it, I thought the Theosians took it with them when they fled west across the sea?”
“If they did they brought it back to Theosia, because that is where I found it. Before I was a governor, the First Imperial Citizen of the Theosia was an old bead counting scribe named Hoarce. The Normarks were losing estates and garrison all over Theosia, people were being slaughtered, hundred of soldiers lost at time and who ever was killing them was cutting of their ears, just like when the Empire put that bounty of Theosians during that pacification”
Akribus winced at the shameful memory of those, days when he and his men killed or mutilated a proud people for coin only to waste that blood money on fool’s items. “I always told father serving those bounties would lead to vendettas,” Akribus said.
Aved winked, pursed his lips, and waved a hand dismissively, “They blamed the Normarks not us. Hoarce offered me and few other groups of foreign fighters a reward, ‘be the one to find and kill the rebels and get an estate and get established as a citizen of the empire’. I took a small group of good men, you understand what I mean by good, and we tracked them.
“The raiders were hiding deep into the wet country of Theosia, that center part of the Island that the Normark settlers have chosen to ignore. I picked up their trail, and found this little town, hamlet really on a jut of land sticking out into this lake or bog. They were old fashion Theosians: tall, all skin and bones, huge flap like ears, with that bluish tinted skin and ragged blonde hair. They were living in a terrible state. No farms, no gardens, just a few goats, the people we saw from a distance were wearing rags, their houses were thatch and mud. They were burning peat, and needles. I could smell the village from a mile away. It was a tiny village too, a handful of families, I couldn’t envision how this little band of stragglers was taking out entire cohorts of knights, but this was where the trail led, so I was cautious. Once we sighted the village we hid our tracks and moved into the brush, my men and I had taken cover a few hundred paces from the village across the water and behind a cluster of needle shrubs. I was pondering what I was seeing, when a party of Normark solders comes out of the brush along the trail we had just disguised. Hoarce had his scouts following us. There was twenty of them, a scouting party, certainly no match for what ever force had been attacking the garrisons, but I could tell what they thought. They saw the size of the village and decided to act.”
“The Normark scouts were barely to the village’s goat fence when this exceptionally tall and sinewy Theosian man strides out of his hut naked with nothing but this sword to meet them.” Aved tapped the Dalve. “There was some exchange of words, the Normark drew their weapons and they dived towards the naked man, some running straight across the little spit of land that lead to the village, others splashing through the shallows of the bog in an effort to flank the fellow. That Theosian moved this blade faster than I could see, and took them apart in less than…he was fast. Then he walked back to his hut, naked and without a scratch on him while the rest of the little village went to stripping those soldiers of weapons and armor. On Thun stories of Dalve had haunted our cook fires from time to time, I knew what I saw and I promised to make that sword mine.”
“We waited until the really tall one and four other armed men” Aved stared into the distance a moment “I suppose…they may have been women…” he pursed his lips and continued, “left the village, then we moved in, took the children and killed the adults they left behind. There we waited, I was going to force the trade; the children for your weapons, but he didn’t come back. We waited five days.” Aved laughed ruefully “Those days twisted my humors, we slept very little as we looked for his return, the children cried constantly, the village’s water was foul tasting and the bodies began to stink. But he and his companions did not return or if they did return they didn’t reveal themselves to us. I eventually took the ears and some pieces of stolen Normark armor back to Hoarce, and received my reward."
It wasn’t until later when I was only a minor Governor that I found the Dalve. I was a territorial advocate…” Aved searched Akribus’s face of understanding of what a territorial advocate might be, and finding none just winked his left eye as Thunrics do when something can be ignored. “What is important is that there was this half-witted Normark born thief came to my attention for stealing a ceremonial goblet from the Normark priests. I put the screws on him and he took me to his little horde, which revealed his first occupations to be that of a grave robber and battlefield looter, but there in the horde was the Dalve. It was caked in mud, wrapped in a huge bundle of other mundane weapons, but it was still unmistakable as the sword I had seen in that hamlet years ago.
"I put the screws on that little scavenger one more time before we killed him, but he kept crying that he found it on the ground. Maybe that is where he found it. At first the mystery how of the Dalve got into that hole haunted me, I thought perhaps it was fate or destiny. How else could such a weapon be cheaply obtained? But I have had it ever since, and I have grown certain that only line of fate connecting me to this sword is that I am fated to lose it. I just don’t want to lose it cheaply. ”
Akribus assumed Aved’s story was an elaborate threat or bluff. He raised up from the table slightly, goblet in hand and said “Here is to your sword.” The two men entwined there arms and drank from each other goblets. “I should be glad we didn’t meet in single combat today, no?”
Aved smiled broadly revealing gaps in his lower teeth. “I don’t want a duel, but I will make a deal with you. I will sell you the Dalve. "
Akribus laughed unpleasantly and spat out “No!” The word came out harsher than he intended. “I am sure, I could not meet the price” he added with conciliatory hand gesture.
“You have the ransom of Haggropolis, in your barge there, I would take that.”
“Hu dada pa” Akribus spoke in his native Ryk, an expression which literally means ‘there it is’, but is generally used to say ‘now I see your true intentions’. “Why take the barge by force when you can fool me into handing it over in exchange for a sick horse and a disappearing dancing girl.” Akribus’s face colored first to red than to purple, he could feel the blood and black bile in his face and cursed the obviousness of rising humors.
Aved look confused, but not passive. “This is no coin lenders trick or peddlers ruse Akribus. You have known me for years, I have healthy horses and tangible dancing girls, that I would gift to you, but no one save me has anything as valuable as the Dalve.”
Akribus squeezed the clay goblet so tightly that crack formed from the lip to the meeting of the stem and the bowl and dark red drop of wine bled out of the cup onto the tablecloth. Akribus’s voice though was calm, “How did you know about Haggropolis?”
Aved pursed his lips, “The whole coast knows.”
Akribus thought he could see it all, this entire meeting was some sort of shaman’s dance: practiced and purposed. These traps that played on trust and civil affections were more insulting, and more disrespectful to Akribus than if Aved had slapped him open handed across the face. Aved had been a savage killer, relentless war maker and ruthless pirate; it did not reason in Akribus’s mind that he would ever willingly part with a superior weapon. Akribus rubbed his tongue over the roof his mouth as if trying to remove a bad taste from his pallet. He smiled at Aved, tried and hide his growing disgust from his once cousin-in-arms. “If this is the Dalve then how can any fortune be safe from you? You have brought your whole tribe south it seems, he gestured at the line of Thunric warriors resting among the trees. The Aved that sailed with my father would never need to barter for coin as long he had ‘good’ men with him.”
Aved wiped his brow and spoke, his Thunric accent growing stronger. “What could I pillage? I am citizen now, a Governor and a Lord of large estate, if I were to sack Haggropolis where would I spend that money? I’d be an outlaw, my coin would only be good outside of the markets. No Normarkian Noble would even look at my daughter. If I had ships, which I would need to build or buy, I could cross the sea, but where would I pillage. Should I head northeast across that sea” he gestured toward the beach behind Akribus “to rob the wandering tribes of their mare’s milk and felt tents, should I sail northwest around the continent to look for the scared tribes of Thuns and Theosians that have fled the Empire. Yurta is gone, the Yurtish people have vanished, you and I helped the Normarkian legions dissolve them.”
Arkibus spread his fingers apart on one hand and held it up: the Thunric gesture for making excuses.
Aved’s tension was released in a laugh, “Fair enough Akribus, you foreigners always look so vulgar when you try and speak like a Thun,” Aved emphasized his point by rapidly going through a number of hand gestures and facial expressions. “But you are right, I have reasons not to fight. Besides my men may be Thunric and they may still scream at the gods with their totem’s voice, but they are not ‘good’ men like I use to have. They have families, they expect the same amount of coin, salt and grain every season or they will not fight. ”
Akribus thought of his own men, and how some his captains were paying men in coin before the spoils were even taken. Thus, when Akribus distributed the pillage to those Captains they did not have to then divide it further among their men. A good war chief, like Arkibus, knew to reward his men, thus the coin in the barge was destined to be divided among his captains. But the thought that many of his captains would keep their entire share and not proportionally reward their own men bothered Akribus. It bothered him because they reaped the benefits of values they did not inhabit. These thoughts made it easier for Akribus to consider parting with all the coin in the barge in order to remind his subordinates of what was theirs by right and what wasn’t. Yet he still responded “Aved, I don’t deal with coin, not in the way you describe, it just more harvested chattel such as slaves, sheep or silk.” Akribus’s anger began to shrink.
“But I don’t need slaves, sheep or silk, I need coin. This estate of mine is large, I don’t know how large yet, but there are no market towns in it, and that means no coin taxes. I need to pay my men, I need to buy the favors from the Ekkelesia and give a dowry for my daughter. I need to put money into my own market. If I had coin now, than someday this land will produce sheep and salt and things I can turn into coin. The Ekkelesia gave me land far from Thun…” Aved shook his head and winked his left eye. “Forget my problems, Akribus, just pick up the sword, you will feel why it is worth cities ransom at least.”
The slave who had been serving Aved blurted out “Master do not let him, he will slaughter-.” Before the serving man could finish his last word Aved brought clenched fist down against the man’s knee. The slave wobbled and collapsed. The servant averted his eyes and bowed his head. Then smiling at Akribus, Aved entreated, “Please pick up the Dalve.”
Akribus stood, the heat and the wine forcing sharp pain into his temples and forehead as he did so. He looked at the long handle of the Dalve. It was the same steel as the blade save it ended in small crescent shaped pommel cap that faced downward. He reached for his heavy leather fighting gloves and fitted them on over his sweating palms, the Aved he’d known as a youth was a ruthless man who would not hesitate to place spot of poison on the handle of a weapon.
Locking eyes with Aved, Akribus lifted the blade off the table. The blade seemed to grow lighter as he raised it. It was as if he was lifting a soft wood practice sword. The air around Akribus felt cooler and the pain in his head disappeared. Aved spoke, “Wielding this blade you will never tire, the heat of the day will not sap your strength.” As Aved spoke Akribus could hear details in his speech he not noticed before, he could hear the wind pass through his lungs with one tone and gain another tone in his throat. He saw the scores of insects in the grass, but he was not distracted by all this knowledge only aware of it. He turned to look back at his men standing along the border of the beach and the field. Their forms were sharp and crisp, not the blurred forms he usually saw at distances greater than ten paces.
“It is like I have the eyes of somebody 5 and 10 again,” he said aloud. Akribus’s father had always been proud of his son’s eyesight when they were at sea, and his father had used Akribus as his most trusted look out. Of all the things that had deteriorated with age Akribus had missed his vision most of all.
Aved continued talking, “On the battle field, you will be able to take ten steps for every one of your opponents’ take, you will be aware of many more happenings but still have an eye only for your target.”
Akribus gently laid the weapon back across the table. As soon as the weapon left his hand he felt the vigor leave his body, and the hot humid air of early afternoon again wrapped around his neck and face. “It is a thing worth…” Akribus felt disorientated. He looked down at Aved’s slave, who still lay on the ground crumpled. “It is a thing worth…Dadaluka” he did not know the Normarkian word for what he wanted to say, because there was none. In Ryk, the word Dadaluka means “a thing of beauty and awe that is so confusing that it is terrifying. To an experienced sea captain, mercenary and killer such as Akribus the Dalve was a Dadaluka. But Akribus didn’t know how to translate that concept into the Neo-Normarkian terms of monetary worth. “But I do not deal in coin,” he continued to stare at the weapon. “Not like this.”
After a few more of the pleasantries typical of familiar warriors who were not sure whether to define the other as friend or foe Akribus returned to his ship without the Dalve. When sails were full of wind and the oars pulled in Akribus stood by the steering rudder, and enjoyed the moments of silence now that the drums had stopped. The treasure barge was pulled by a tow-line that caused the Patriarch’s stern to grown painfully every a time the rise of waves pushed one hull just a little farther than the other.
“Burks!” Akribus beckoned for his son who sitting in the bow staring passively towards the shore. The boy looked to his father his expression blank and confused. “Burks!” his father shouted again and the boy started before climbing down the length of the deck to stand before his father without a greeting or a word.
“I am sorry there hasn’t been straight fight this season yet son, I was hoping you’d get a chance to test yourself against another.”
“I always train with others father, I have gotten quite good with the sword, ax and spear. Mother says I am better than Loras was at this age.” His son’s voice was matter of fact and without pride.
Akribus could not bring himself to the acknowledge his son’s feeble attempt at a bragging. “Do you know the story of the Dalve?”
“I think so.”
“Tell it to me, briefly.”
“The Dalve was a sword, it was forged by a Theosian priest? I have heard that before it was forged there was another God in the sky besides the sun and the Priest pulled it down and used the God’s body to forge the weapon.”
“Hara,” replied Akribus, “That is what we Rykus called the moon and the moon goddess Hara.” He stared at his son for a moment. The boy was raised on Rykos and Arkibus was shocked he didn’t know the term Hara. Burkus always seemed to make an effort to know more about everything. ‘How can my son know more about the Neo-Normarkian politics than his own language?’ Akribus raged inwardly.
Burks appeared to intuit what his father was thinking and he looked away with his usually distant facial expression.
Akribus tried to pull his son back to the moment, “By the time I was born Hara was already gone, nobody has spoken the name Hara in generations but tell more about the Dalve.”
“It was green and very big like the sword the Thunric war chief held today.” The wind was strong, and though the sky was clear, large waves had begun to lift the ship. Both father and son turned their attention to the ship and the barge it was towing for a moment.
“I don’t know if I’d really call him a Thunric any more.” Akribus clapped his son on the shoulder once the sea had calmed a moment. Aved had told him nothing about the Dalve, he didn’t already know. “Kato, I am going to the cabin, if the wind gets any stronger pull in the sails and start the drum.”
In the cabin Akribus sat in his canvas chair that folded out of the wall and opened the undecorated terra cotta jar that housed the ancient wizard’s soul. “I want to be impressed by my son,” he then added. “Why is that?”
“I never raised any of my children, never knew them except by name and sight. But I knew a lot fathers and sons, knowing how a father and son bonded or broke was an important part of politics in my era. In my experience the good fathers, the ones who had a bond with their son, wanted their son’s to succeed and impress them. The bad fathers wanted to impress their sons and for their sons to witness their success.”
Akribus was silent for a long time for he knew he wanted both. “No, that isn’t it. I want my son to know he has impressed me, I very rarely impressed my father and when I did…but there is something about that boy. I am unnerved…I think…I can be a deceiver when I need to be, diplomacy and such, but for some reason with that boy I cannot pretend. I cannot be kind.”
Akribus was silent through another swath of time before saying, “The Neo-Normarkian Empire has the continents of Nor and Theosia under its rule, all the islands in between Theosia and Nor, and all the islands north of Theosia have submitted, south of Rykos the country of Yurta is a wasteland. Every city, town and hamlet were razed, the banks of the Yurtateablay river have nothing but Normarkian trading posts now, connecting the empire to the jewel and spice mines of the nether regions. Rykos is surrounded,they will send an army to conquer us hu dada amark”. He concluded with the Rykish phrase meaning ‘it is inevitable’.
The wizard soul spoke, “In the past we did not need an army. When the first Ekkelesia sought to deal with people like the Rykus and the Theosians, we did not invade. The people agreed to pay to taxes and give tribute in exchange for magics. Simple magics mostly, we provided spells to prove paternity, to make food sweet or salty. If that was not sufficient, we cast spells upon the blood of the people. The people that would become known as the Theosians gave themselves up to us when we gave them the ability to see in the dark, and your ancestors wanted a line seers and prophets among your people.”
“The new empire doesn’t have your magics though”
“The spells were just a means, the people supported the first Ekkelesia because they were habituated to the skills and materials we provided. The people of the new empire have been habituated to a life of coins, and perhaps the worship of a single god.”
“Enough of this, tell me about the Goddess Hara also called Theos.”
“Once the sky had two suns, a silver sun and the golden sun that we have now. Both were equally as bright. The silver sun was named Theos and her brother, the golden sun, is Corro. The two became rivals and war ensued. I was a child when this was happening. It frightened everyone. The two suns would streak across the sky at each other, but it was clear soon that Corro had the upper hand over his sister. In my lifetime I saw the silver sun diminish from the great silver ball as bright as the sun is now to a feint glow that could only shine completely once every 28 days before waning to a sliver of light. All the moon fruits that blossomed and ripened in the silver light died. People were afraid that if that Corro was injured too than the world would be in constant darkness. The Ekkelesia intervened; they cast a great spell that divided the day in half and kept the two suns form occupying the sky together. No longer able to physically battle each other. The two rivals began to fight via proxy. These two gods had many favorites among mortals. At first there were only duels between these select chosen. Corro delivered a message to his worshippers, he promised them strength and ascendancy over the whole world. Theos turned to her worshippers and said she would always love them and that her love would provide them longevity and healthy children. The men of war flocked to Corro’s banner, the men of peace Theos’s”
“Many centuries this war went on, the Theosians versus Corronians. We in the first Ekkelesia worked constantly to contain it and prevent this combat, for it was tearing our empire part. Ironically it was the disbandment of the first Ekkelesia and the destruction of the empire that slowed the war. The trade routes, grain surplus and knowledge of logistics and geography were all lost with our passing. The world had to learn to deal with problems without our magic, so thus many skills, such shipwriting had to be relearned without the benefit of our intervention.”
Akribus nodded, “What of the Theosian Holy sword the Dalve?”
“I have no direct experience with it, and only heard the stories of its existence long after I was dead and jarred. The stories tell us that the Dalve was created after the rise of the second empire. Animosity toward Theos worshippers was a central unifying factor during the formation of the second empire. The largest population of Theos worshippers was the island continent that has come to be known as Theosia. Rather than see her beloved Theosian’s destroyed Hara or Theos forged herself into a sword that could be used to defend her people’s island from the coming invasion. Although the people fighting behind the sword kept at bay legion upon legion of Corro’s warrior, the power of the sword was not sufficient. Eventually the Corro worshiping Normarkians kidnapped the Theosian King’s son. In order to save his son the King surrendered and submitted. Theosia became the first state to submit Neo-Normarkian Empire and its Holy rather mystical Ekkelesia.”
“ That was a hundred of year ago, Theosian submission did not last long. There have been three more wars between Theosia and Normark. As you know I fought with the Neo-Normark Empire in the final campaign. When we were finished there were not enough Theosians left to fight a fifth war.” After another few minutes’ consideration Akribus asked, “Why did the Dalve fail to protect Theosia?”
“We do not know for certain. Perhaps because no matter how powerful one maybe with the sword in hand everything else is still vulnerable, for example the King’s son was kidnapped”
Akribus was quiet for a long while. Finally he said, “My son Loras worships Corro and is building a temple to Corro on Rykos. He is a merchant in a felt hat living by the coin.” The color came up in Akribus face and he stood up swinging out with the back of his hand as if knocking the hat of Loras’s head. “My second son speaks Normarkian better than he speaks Ryk. If I deliver that barge of coin to my men, they will just be that much more in the palm of the empire. But you are right, a single sword does not protect anything, not truly. Aved must know that, that is why he is willing to sell it. A sword is only for killing.”
Akribus returned the wizard’s soul to its jar and exited the cabin his humors still rising. “Kato! Turn us North again, we are going back to the Quinniwak, I have business with the Thunrics.”
Burks approached his father, but then seeing the anger upon Akribus’s face looked away. Akribus snapped. “Burks, do not do that!” then he started speaking in Ryk. There is no direct translation, but the message for his son was “ Never lose sight of the people around you, even if they are unpleasant. You cannot ignore their agendas. That is what we have done with the Empire, we have ignored its agenda, assumed we were safe. That stops now.”
Burks turned and looked at his father directly in the eye and said in Ryk, “We are going back to get Hara’s Sword.”
Akribus nodded yes, his anger diffusing in the presence of son’s direct insight. “If we chose to keep coin it is the same as surrendering. I will let Aved have the coin in that barge” He grasped his son on the shoulder, “After that we will fight, no more ransoms, or truces. Even with out the sword, no more ransoms or truces.”
“The Dalve will be an excellent birthday gift for you father,” Burkus said.