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 5

“Are you seriously going to let them get away with this?”

“That ‘peace’ of yours is an embarrassment.”

“Are you really that afraid of those puny humans? Such dishonor. Such cowardice!”

“SILENCE, ALL OF YOU!” Grimtar bellowed over the heads of the complaining hoghers. “What you do not understand is that, right now, we have no choice. Our tribes and war bands are scattered throughout the lands because our old home became uninhabitable.  It would take weeks to unite a force large enough to oppose the human armies. We may be stronger than they are, but there are many, many more of them. It is either we cooperate for now, or we get ripped to shreds by their gryphons and incinerated by their unnatural sorcery!”

“I would rather die than bow down to puny humans!”

“Why do you all think the gods sent famine and pestilence to our lands?” Grimtar snapped. “That was divine punishment. We have, for far too long, been at war with every other race on Talmenor. We mercilessly terrorized them. Now, no one will accept us in their lands. The gods have sent us a message, and that message is that they disapprove of our ways!”

“Not this again…” One of the hoghers rolled his eyes.


Grimtar and his procession returned to the hogher village. The hoghers there were conducting their usual daily routines. Hogher children chased each other around the fields, carefree. Hunters were planning their next expedition, smiths were busy despite the ban on weapons, and farmers were tending their fields. The hoghers Grimtar had assigned to keep order, ones that had always been loyal to him, were patrolling the village, their armor making clinking sounds with each step as they moved between each of the huts and around the borders of the fields, watchful for anyone disobeying Grimtar’s commands.

Everything seemed quiet as Grimtar made his way to the center of the settlement. As he passed by, the other hoghers stopped what they were doing to stare at him.

The High Shaman ignored them. He crossed to the impressively large drum in front of his home and proceeded to bang on it. “Attention!” he bellowed in a commanding voice.

The huge drums caused nearby birds to scatter, so deep and resonant were they. The other hoghers all immediately dropped what they were doing and gathered around the large fire pit at the center of the village, all eyes on him.

“I have met with the humans. We will have peace,” declared Grimtar. There was some soft applause and cheering, but far from the usual fanfare when a High Shaman spoke. “However, we will need to gather more loot from the beasts and give it to the humans to maintain this new peace.”

The crowd instantly erupted in jeers and booing. “You want to give our loot to the humans?” came a shout from the crowd. “Why don’t you leave and go live with the humans instead if you love them so much?”

“SILENCE!” Grimtar boomed, before striking the drum with ferocity, sending an intense reverberation that drowned out the discontented din of the crowd. Instantly, there was quiet enough in the village to hear the distant cawing of crows in the fields. “I know these are not our ways, but we have no other choice but our own oblivion. For far too long, we have been prideful and arrogant. We have inflicted the same terror onto the other races of Talmenor as the humans have been inflicting on us. The gods have denied us the rains and have smote us with plagues, scattering us to the four winds. We do not have nearly the army to stand up against the humans, and we would not be able to gather such an army anytime soon.

“Our ways have failed us! It is time for a change. Though we may not like the humans, they have a truly prosperous and mighty kingdom, and we could stand to learn from them how to build a kingdom of our own. This day is the start of a new age of prosperity, and I will lead us there. We will have our own mighty palaces. No more small, dirty huts. Our harvests will be bountiful. We hoghers will live long enough to see our children grow up, and their children’s children grow up. No longer shall we be bound to live and die by the axe!”

The crowd responded with subdued applause and murmurs. It was at that point Grimtar noticed a handful of his guards were missing. Thinking he would have to deal with them later, he continued. “Today is the day we shall regain the favor of the gods. Today we exchange our axes for picks and begin gathering the stone to build a palace. Today–”

Grimtar was cut off by a sharp “LOOK OUT!” He turned around to see his own shaman apprentice with his hands crackling, halfway through a spell, his red robes fluttering in the wind.

Grimtar’s loyal bodyguard jumped in front of the incoming spell. White hot lightning coursed through him, causing his hair to stand on end. He dropped his axe in pain, both because it had become red with heat and because his muscles painfully spasmed with electrocution. He collapsed face down into the dirt.

Instantly, Grimtar readied his own lightning bolt. Chaos ensued as the other members of Grimtar’s guard ran to their leader’s aid, only to be blocked by turncoat guards charging back at them. Grimtar’s other apprentice, clad in blue, remained loyal to him and attacked the traitorous spellcaster with a blazing fist, which the red shaman dodged.

The crowd behind them erupted into anarchy. The guards were too busy fighting one another to subdue the violence among the villagers. Hoghers pelted each other with fists, rocks, and anything they could pick up and use as a weapon. Several of them tried to rush Grimtar, only to be grabbed and thrown back by others. Grimtar’s lightning spell was interrupted when a stone hit him right in the hand, causing the lightning bolt to release prematurely and go off course, striking a building behind the High Shaman’s house and setting it ablaze.

Grimtar then decided to make a run for it and escape the bedlam. He did not know who he could trust among the rioting hoghers, but he knew he would be safer with any potential enemies on only one side of him.

The crowd behind him was breaking loose; several hoghers were charging him. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted one of his missing guards. By the looks of him, the hogher had broken into the weapons stash and was carrying as many illegal axes as he could in a bundle. Grimtar shook his head and dashed the other way as fast as his aging legs could carry him, but he soon found his exit cut off by the other missing guards.

“You are mad, Grimtar, and it is time to get rid of you!” shouted one.

“Kneeling before humans? You are a coward. You dishonor the tribe!”

“Death before dishonor!”

The three traitorous guards charged him, their faces red with rage. Grimtar noticed they were redder than usual, even for hoghers, and moved particularly fast for being clad in full metal armor. Thinking quickly, he placed his palm on the ground, his eyes glowing green. Instantly, thick, gnarled tree roots burst forth from the earth in front of the traitors, causing all three of them to trip. They landed on their faces, their own momentum spinning them several feet forward to land right at the feet of Grimtar.

More hoghers appeared in the gap between the huts that Grimtar had planned to escape through. They, too, had broken into the weapons stash and now bore axes. The three he had tripped were also quickly returning to their feet. Grimtar had only one place to run to now – his shaman hut. An arrow whizzed past his head as he turned to the door of his home, the seat of power for the entire tribe.

Grimtar jumped through and slammed the door behind him, only to have the edge of an axe pierce through the wooden door with a deafening crash that shook the whole building. The shaman flinched as though it had actually struck his flesh. He knew the door would not hold long, so he desperately channeled more magical energy into the ground. The wooden floorboards burst open with thick, thorny bramble bushes, reinforcing the door even as the axe continued work on it like it was made of paper.

Grimtar stumbled from the front room into the audience chamber and then into his private quarters, panting heavily. Thunderous bangs against the door could be heard over the din of the battle outside. He knew he could only hold them off for so long, and although he had acquired tremendous magical power through decades of practice, his time-worn body could only handle so much spellcasting, much less running. Yet maybe, just maybe, it would be long enough, he thought. Desperately he dashed to his shelf of spellcasting ingredients. His hands trembled as he grabbed a jar containing crushed purple herbs. The pounding on the building caused the jars to dance on the shelf with each impact, and he fumbled a couple to the floor. Another jumped, crashed to the ground, and shattered from an especially violent strike on the door.

Grimtar hurriedly emptied the herbs into his cauldron and began to stir. Purple smoke emanated from it as he added to the blaze with own channeled fire magic. Outside, over the din of battle, yelling could be heard:

“I always knew you were a traitor, Gartan!”

“Hmph, you side with Grimtar…! I always knew you were yellow with cowardice, just like him!”

“Coward? I was just about to run you through!”

“Well then, it’s time we finish what we had started last moon. Time to die, Tangarth!”

Both of the old rivals charged each other, weapons drawn, right outside Grimtar’s chamber, but Grimtar was too focused on creating his potion to appreciate the irony of the situation. He was also too focused to notice that the pounding on the door had stopped. Furthermore, the intense, overpowering smell of the purple haze masked the scent of burning wood and thatch.

“Grimtar shall die a coward’s death!” yelled the red-robed shaman as he struck the shaman hut repeatedly with lightning bolts. Other hoghers began lobbing lit torches onto the roof of the hut and through the windows. Soon the whole building was ablaze. As the inferno grew, sparks from the fire began to spread to nearby dwellings. A plume of thick, black smoke drifted upward.

Grimtar’s hut was consumed utterly in flames.

***

The red shaman stepped over dead hoghers as he proceeded to the center of the village, some hours after the rebellion. He struck the massive, heavy drum, which was now on the ground on its side, its skin miraculously still intact after the earlier fires. He began to shout as the surviving hoghers gathered in the center of what remained of the village.

“I am Warlord Kitar, the new High Shaman!” he called. “Tonight, by my orders, we shall take the fight back to the humans!”

His voice was drowned out by a rising roaring cheer of the hoghers.

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