Axes and Lightning: A Leader’s Path

“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!”

Part 4

Later that night, from within a much larger, much more elaborate building than the simple huts the rest of the hoghers had, Grimtar sat in his chamber by himself. The room was decorated with various animal skins, elaborate masks, and carved totems on the walls, and there was a bed draped with luxurious fine furs. A simple shelf held a few jars with odd ingredients, like ympe tails and thetriel spores.

What seemed out of place for the hogher shaman was a neatly built bookshelf filled to the brim with books that were written by humans. A book titled “The Secrets of Diplomacy” protruded slightly from its neighbors.

On the floor in another corner of the room, a small cauldron simmered over a fire. Grimtar poured a strange concoction into the cauldron, adding some dried herbs and mushrooms. A sickly green vapor issued from the cauldron as Grimtar began to stir. The mixture within the pot swirled, and eventually, images began to materialize on its surface.

Green smoke billowed around Grimtar, enveloping him, and through it, he could see a warping, distorted image of his village. It seemed peaceful, but behind the village, off in the distance, he could make out storm clouds gathering and growing in size. Grimtar watched as the clouds came closer and closer, eventually arriving at the village, not only covering the sky in darkness but tinting the whole scene with a dark grey. He continued to watch, but the only thing that happened was the storm clouds darkening and covering over the entire village until the outlines of the clouds were barely visible at all.

“This is not good,” Grimtar pondered to himself. “Last time, it was perfectly clear. The humans would see us as a threat to themselves and attack us with overwhelming numbers. The only way to avoid this was to convince the humans we were not a threat…

“…but this time, the visions from the spirits aren’t clear. Nothing is clear.” Grimtar paced around, expression troubled.

“Maybe I need to give this up. Maybe I need to give my people back their weapons. Maybe I need to give up trying to get us to behave more like humans.

“…but as soon as I do, I’m certain they’ll take my power. They will kill me. Just like Grommoth after he sold us out to the Zilv’Natha. Just like Joor after he gave up Krachdul to the rukh-shami. No… I can’t give up.

“Aargh, what must they be thinking? I should not have used my power in such a way. This is wrong! Orrath did not deserve that beating…” Grimtar continued to debate himself.

“…but this is for the greater good. This is to save the village. Not just this village, but every village. Peace is better than war. Peace is better for us. Perhaps copying the humans more is a good idea. We can learn from them.”

Grimtar eventually retired to a fitful and restless sleep, interrupted constantly by his suspicion and fear of his own people.

The morning sun scoured the saffron-colored field. Its blades of grass swayed in a slight breeze. In the distance, the fortress of Castellea could be seen, its impressive spires and surrounding walled city reduced to a mere, purple silhouette against the horizon. On the other side of the field, a plume of smoke could be made out faintly before the terrain vanished into the background of high mountain peaks.

Two groups were converging on the center of this field. The humans from the Kingdom of Tarith, led by King Aureus himself, approached on the back of impressive stallions adorned with shining armor. The Kil’Galesh Tribe of Hoghers, led by High Shaman Grimtar, approached riding massive nekru, whose sabertooth tusks protruded fiercely from their mouths. The human monarch was accompanied by his small cabinet of advisors — General Fordrich, Advisor Bennett, Diplomat Forsythe, and Sorcerer Illius Wandermere — as well as several armed pikemen. High Shaman Grimtar was accompanied by a few armed guards in rare blackiron armor; the metal was decorated with tusks and teeth, creating an especially intimidating silhouette. Two younger shamans, one dressed in blue robes over his chain mail and the other dressed in identical red, were also present.

The two groups slowed as they drew closer to each other. Once they were within hailing distance, both leaders dismounted. Their respective processions of officials and guards remained on their beasts, however.

“Greetings. I am Aureus, sovereign of the Kingdom of Tarith.”

“I am Grimtar, leader of the Kil’Galesh Tribe.”

There was an awkward pause, filled only by the snorting and soft growling of the animals. “We have received your delegation and are willing to negotiate an armistice,” Aureus finally said.

The hoghers looked at each other with the uncertainty associated with unfamiliarity. The humans, meanwhile, remained still and faced forward with steely glances. The horses seemed to match their riders’ expressions.

Grimtar spoke. “We wish to make peace. We simply wish to exist in this valley here, raise our families, and live off the land. A drought and a famine struck our native homeland in Bataklik, and we have been forced to migrate ever since. We traveled to Krachdul, but the rukh-shami chased us out. So, we settled here, unaware of any claims to this land. All I ask is for us to remain here. And I, on the behalf of my people, wish to apologize for our misunderstanding, and anything we have done to harm your people.”

Aureus paused before responding, his face transfixed in a pensive expression, frozen as though time itself had stopped in that moment. He spoke slowly, each word chosen carefully. “I understand. However, the men of Tarith have reservations about trusting you after the damage done by the Zilv’Natha’s armies. How will you assure us of your peaceful intentions?”

“We have brought tribute. Fine furs, procured by our skilled hunters, and ivory figures hand-crafted by our artisans,” Grimtar responded, signaling his procession to bring forward the satchels of goods. He opened one bag and produced a large, intricately crafted figure.

Aureus seemed slightly interested, but the men behind him remained unimpressed. “I see. The beast that came from had to have been massive.”

Out of another satchel, Grimtar produced the brilliant red furs that had been decorating his personal chambers, as well as the spotted hides that had been the covers of his bed. Aureus simply nodded, pausing once again to meticulously choose his words. “Those must have been challenging to acquire… but, this is not enough. You must understand. The people who live here at my kingdom’s edge are terrified. People from Svenby, Haven, and Deorfald have all come to me requesting protection. To put it mildly, your people have transgressed against them.”

General Fordrich’s face turned red at the mention of Deorfald. It took tremendous will for the man to suppress the urge to speak out of turn and curse at the hoghers, but he could not suppress an angry glare.

“Very well. I also have some gold to give you.” Grimtar gestured to the hoghers behind him. One of them tossed a sack through the air that jingled when Grimtar caught it. The hogher leader pulled a single coin out of the bag to show that it was real. “There’s plenty more where that came from, too.”

“About how much gold do you have?” the monarch asked, squinting at the coin. “…hey, wait a moment. You looted these coins from our villages!”

“Yes… and we are giving them back,” Grimtar declared as the hoghers behind him scowled and shifted restively.

Aureus paused again. Silence filled the air. Grimtar’s face remained calm despite the nerves churning in his gut. Everyone else’s expressions ranged from “can we get this over with?” to “is this guy serious?”

“I want to make peace with you. I really do, but my men are still angry. Our villagers have lost their animals and their property, and several have lost their families. They thirst for revenge, as I’m sure all of you can understand. As the leader and representative of Tarith, I cannot yet accept,” Aureus declared. “I will need more.”

“We don’t have much else,” replied Grimtar quickly. “We can give you back everything we took. We can give you the offerings here. But we don’t have much else! We lost some of our own as well, both from battle and from a mysterious sickness that recently passed over the village. Women and children fell to it, too.” Illius could not avoid a slight smirk at that last sentence.

The king replied nearly instantly this time. “Peace alone is not enough. I need to ensure that this won’t happen again in the future. I need you and your people to remember this agreement, and I will need continuous proof that you have not forgotten.” His stern tone then softened. “I understand you may not have much right now, but surely you will have more later. Your skilled hunters can guarantee that.” Aureus paused. “I will need exactly as much as you brought now to be delivered to the kingdom every month. Should you fail to deliver, we shall attack you with the might of the combined armies of our vast kingdom. Warriors from all across the land shall be rallied. Our magi shall rain fire down upon you, and our gryphon riders will hunt you across the plains.

“Now, do we have an agreement?”

Grimtar bowed his head low. “I accept.”

Advisor Bennett handed Aureus a decorated scroll, which the king unrolled and presented to Grimtar along with an elaborate, white quill. “Sign here. This quill is enchanted and will write without ink.

“I hope that I am not making a mistake by giving you a chance.”

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