Axes and Lightning: A Leader’s Path
By Greg Rowson
A crowd of hoghers gathered in a large circle in the center of the village, which primarily consisted of huts made of animal skin and bones of large beasts. Their attention was entirely on two hoghers in the center, who glared at each other with deadly intensity, each gripping their axes that gleamed in the midday sun.
“You… you killed my brother. You will pay, Tangarth!”
“Your brother killed my father, and you can join him in hell, Gartan!”
“Your father shouldn’t have stolen from my brother’s farm!”
“Your brother should have paid my father! Your entire family are scoundrels with no honor.”
“That’s enough.” Gartan’s green face flushed red. “Now you die!”
Gartan and Tangarth charged each other at that instant. Their axes each met with a reverberating CLANG that could be heard throughout the entire valley. Then another one. Then a third time, this one with slightly less intensity as they became equally entrenched in the deadly melee.
“You’re weak. Pathetic,” Gartan growled.
“That’s not what your mom said!” Tangarth retorted. Gartan only turned redder as he attempted to break Tangarth’s guard with brute force alone, but Tangarth parried, turning Gartan’s axe sideways. Tangarth then attempted a swing at Gartan’s head, but Gartan was ready for this and ducked slightly while bringing his own axe to meet Tangarth’s. The two of them glared at each other as their axes were locked against each other, each one attempting to overpower the other with brute strength, but to no avail, as the two proud warriors were evenly matched.
“THAT’S ENOUGH!” A lightning bolt crackled through the air, connecting with the union of axes. The electricity, surging through the axes, instantly caused both hoghers to yelp with discomfort and then drop the axes before collapsing on the ground, unable to move but still able to grunt insults at each other.
“Stop this fighting at once!”
The crowd around the two belligerent hoghers parted to let the shaman that sent that lightning bolt at them through.
“No more death feuds! We need every single hogher warrior alive and well. We can’t afford to be weak. Those humans will take this valley from us if we are weak.”
One of the crowd members stepped forward, as though to challenge the shaman’s authority. “But we’ve always settled things with blood feuds. This is the way it’s been for forever.”
“I KNOW THAT!” the shaman roared back, “but we need to hold this valley. The humans are coming, and there are too many of them. We need to negotiate peace with them. We need them to see that we are more than just beasts.” The shaman paused. “This is why, from this day forward, you will not carry axes when there is no enemy present. Blood duels are banned!”
“You’re mad, Grimtar!” the disobedient hogher replied. “We’re hoghers! Who cares what the humans think of us! They’ll hate us anyway.”
“You question my wisdom?” Grimtar responded. “I have foreseen what will happen. The humans are a threat. They outnumber us. They will win. Yet if we remain patient and make peace with the humans…”
“I will not abandon my ways for the humans!”
“My axe stays with me. At all times!”
The crowd began to become restless and unruly. Some hoghers on the other side yelled back.
“Listen to Grimtar! He is wise!”
“Grimtar is our leader, not you!”
The unruly hoghers to the right of the shaman drew their axes. So did the ones to the left. Grimtar looked on worriedly. Was there any way to prevent their destruction, one way or another? He was certain of the prophecy he had envisioned. The humans were coming. Their arcane scryers may have already been watching. Yet if he could not get the hoghers to agree on his drastic decrees, he knew they would all perish. The shaman pondered this as his guards stepped forward in preparation to defend him.
There was nothing he could do. Nothing, that is… unless he was willing to do something rather unsavory.
He did not know if his guards would remain loyal to him, but he had no choice. The shaman channeled with all his might, tapping into the deepest forces of nature as the whole village started to fight each other. Lightning crackled around him, and a dark cloud began to form overhead. Raindrops began to beat down furiously on the village. Then, a loud crack and flash of lightning overtook everyone. Everyone fell to the ground, stunned, with the exception of the two guards beside Grimtar.
“Take their axes. NOW!” Grimtar bellowed at the guards. The guards looked at Grimtar with pure abject fear in their eyes, but they obeyed him nonetheless. They knew his power. The guards relieved the stunned hogher warriors of their axes and placed all of them in the shaman’s hut.
Grimtar had saved the village, for now. Yet… at what cost?