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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 29

The Adventures of an Intellectual Barbarian

My cheeks burn at Hagen’s presumptuousness – had he assumed I’d fallen in battle?  He’d certainly not taken the time to find my carcass amongst the carnage.  Or was this boldness something more?  A single sunrise was not long enough for him to have forgotten seeing the Founder’s Blade in my possession.

My unyielding stare eventually summons his attention from surveying the fortifications.  Once he looks in my direction, I know I have but one chance to right the situation diplomatically.  “Hagen,” I say neutrally, lifting a hand in greeting.  “This is a proud victory for the Shadowwolves.  Thank you for gathering my weapon; I was disarmed after taking a blow in combat.”  I look Hagen up and down in the meager light cast by his torchbearer.  “You seem to have escaped without a scratch … how fortunate.”

“Fortune favors the strong, Brahkis,” Hagen replies.  He turns his head to consider the shining silver of the weapon resting against his shoulder.  “Perhaps you lost the sword because you lack the strength to properly wield it.  It is a fine weapon and belongs in the Line of Chieftains.”

I clench my fists, trying to hold back from allowing the insult to taint my response.  I shrug and adopt a tone dripping with ingenuine nonchalance, “It belongs in the Shaddowwolf Line, of which I don’t believe I can trace any of your ancestors …”

Hagen’s face tightens.  “Everyone knows the Shaddowwolf Line died out generations ago.  It didn’t have the strength to endure, unlike the blood of my fathers.”

I turn both palms upward.  “Take no offense.  It was merely an observation on my part.”  I have to think fast – I cannot challenge the son of our Chieftain in front of so many blind loyalists.  “As fine a sword as it appears to be, the real reason I need the Founder’s Blade is because it carries a curse.”

Hagen snickers and the men nearest him mimic the reaction.  “Hogwash.”  He runs the calloused tip of a single finger along the flat of the blade.  “Anyone can see it was crafted by a master.  None of our smiths could hope to fashion such a weapon.  And this steel is … unique.”

I nod at his observation.  “And yet, I assure you, Yorilis insists it is cursed.  Perhaps it is the same curse that wiped out the Shadowwolf Line?”  I know invoking our clan’s Spirit Shaman is a bit underhanded, but I have to work with the tools I possess.  “He bade me take it beyond the borders of Shadowwolf lands, to the Great Mountain, where the curse could be lifted.  Otherwise, misfortune will visit our people, relentless and without remedy.”

Why not kill two birds with one stone?  I remember the Grackle’s lesson about the expectations of power and how he received blame for every hardship.  If possessing the Founder’s Blade is going to bring a similar sort of scrutiny, I see no harm in leveraging that towards permission to solve an actual crisis.

Hagen’s eyes narrow.  For all he extolls strength, I know he yearns to appear wise in front of those he means to one day rule.  His distrust of me, however, emerges victorious.  “Perhaps with an impious pretender wielding the blade, troubles will come.  But I honor our ancestors,” he says, swiveling his head to account for every Clan member within earshot and nodding to himself.  “This great sword will only increase my legacy and make the Shadowwolves mighty among our neighbors.”

The small crowd of nearby warriors eats every morsel and bellow a collective “Hurrah!”

Hagen stares me down, confident in his second victory of the night.  I have no doubt he’ll take credit for both, despite me never catching sight of him in battle.  It’s useless for me to plead further now, for he will only see such behavior as weakness.  Instead, I nod to where Nertram and Shadow wait.

“I must tend our wounded,” I mumble, not staying put to watch Hagen gloat.  I set the bandages, garlic, and honey jar on the bench.  “I’m going to find my knife,” I explain to Nertram before reaching for the nearby torch.  “Come on,” I say to Shadow, partly because I feel like if someone else found my knife first I just might get stabbed in the back.

As I search the yard, my mind is already working on how to recover the Founder’s Blade.  Others are busy in the courtyard, though, assessing fallen bodies clinging to life with varied success.  The groans of the less fortunate ground me, keen reminders of the hierarchy of troubles.  I stop to help a fellow Shadowwolf lift an injured warrior from the ground, then spot the handle of my knife trampled into the soft earth where he’d been laying.

Once I have confidence that the pair can continue toward the great hall without further assistance, I crouch and retrieve my blade.  Its smooth handle is a comfort to my hand, and I quickly wipe the blood-and-dirt covered steel against the hides covering my thigh.

Rising, I practically jump out of my skin as the halo of my torch illuminates the human form of the Grackle standing silently only a single pace in front of me.  “Great ancestors!  Do you have to just appear like that?”

He clutches an oaken staff, high with both hands, pressing its butt firmly into the turf.  “I see my radiant display was not for nothing,” he says, dryly.

I sheath my knife, taking the time to calm my nerves.  I can’t really be upset with the Shaper – he not only made taking back the fort possible but undoubtedly saved my life.  So why is thanking him so difficult?  “It was well-timed, for certain.”

The Grackle eases the grip on his staff and shifts his weight, but between the night shadows and his black cloak, there is not much to read in his stance.  “I trust with this victory you have earned leave to visit the Great Mountain?”

I sigh, banishing any fantasies of restful sleep in the near future.  “I would leave at sunrise if you could help with one more task.”

The Grackles chokes on his own laugh.  “Wasn’t I the fool, thinking I needed to persuade you to do me a favor …”  His eyes searched mine for a moment, but I didn’t blink.  “Well, what is it?” he relented.

“I need to get the Founder’s Blade back from Hagen.”

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