Andre M. Pietroschek
She Who Dreamed Of Dragons (Barbarian Tales)
She Who Dreamed Of Dragons
© Andre Michael Pietroschek, all rights beyond display on the websites reserved
Disclaimer: No warranties. This is a work of fiction.
Beginnings: Frost, Hunger, and Bloodshed.
Survivors of the Ambush at Gerrymander and loyal warriors under Chiefs Asgar Bloodcleaver and his non-binary daughter Thieve Otherworldly, we became one of the most priced warrior bands of our age indeed.
But, such was not the hand of the Norns being merciful on us. It was earned by efforts, bravado, and thrice-paid in blood as well. We lost many good people, many loyal friends on that duty. Scalds may sing of them, widows remember them.
When it began, the clans were at peace and the Empire was far away, still unknown to around half the clans. Call it clans, call it tribes.
At age 30, four years after taking command, I, Tyrgalf Plebs, had earned a deadly reputation among the martial commanders serving tribal chiefs, and many whispered that even the Empire had contemplated assassinating me much more often than just once.
They always try to assassinate barbarians, as they have this innate loathing for our way of life, our way of worshiping nature or gods, and anything else we embody.
So, why do I believe in scalds these days? Telling my story could be done while training new blood in our ranks, it is true.
But, you, dear scalds, have a potential not often found in silent forest stalkers or hunters: You pass campfire tales by both, your way of telling tales and your ways of preserving those tales and what they may teach by writing them unto pressed, thin wood you called paper or papyrus before.
Thieve Otherworldly was what we learned to be a wildcard, a risk, a not easily estimated factor in the struggles & worries of leadership.
To those of us, who had grown up under Chief Asgar, doubts were few and faith was unshaken. Asgar Bloodcleaver was not the tyrant, nor the savage, our enemies depict him to have been. On the contrary, he was a believer in justice, a leader never shunning his responsibilities, and a warrior-king among the greatest known.
His greatness was in his decisions, in how he treated all his underlings, and how he respected the other clans. Needless to say, he indeed had enemies nonetheless, but such is the norm for any leader. Add the envy of the less successful, and you unmask the source of vile rumors and attempted intrigue.
To us clans, intrigue and politics were for women and eunuchs. Men went warriors and hunters to keep the clan healthy and strong, females went warriors and herbalists to do their parts. Non-binaries, and I swear, the canaries and the non-binaries must have something in common, joined where they could serve best.
So, Asgar’s non-canary daughter was coming of age, and had to prove her ability to lead us in wartime and peacetime alike. She did, to cut that short. She did not fail, nor excel in noteworthy ways, straight from the start.
For only that reason did Asgar reform his warrior ranks, and at that he proved himself courageous and wise. To warm it all up, he commanded us to patrol the borders of his lands, hunting down raiders and plunderers just as mercilessly, as we had to kill rabid beasts.
Crude tasks, but a way to make sure that fighting skills include the nerves to live with it and that vigilance for trouble that otherwise is impossible to develop.
We started in rags. Yes, we were mostly poor and low-born, or even worse: Poor and from outside of the Chief’s hall. Recruits from villages and small forest shelters never had the resources to even attempt purchasing from a blacksmith.
Our troop received bucklers and short sabers. Sabers, as the slim blades did not waste much metal and allowed the focus on axes to remain with the heavier axes our stronger warriors prefer to wield in battle.
Bandages for the feet and leather boots were also gifted to us, just like the small pack for supplies that we received. It was not much, as swords, axes, and spears were common weapons among enemy units.
Hence, our tactic had to either be stealth or mobility. We couldn’t last against a battlefield unit, as we were not supposed to do so. Yeah, warrior’s pride does not reign over duty!
I add right here, that we did not receive crossbows in the first year at all. Not, because of low resources, but back then not even ourselves could have foreseen what would become of us. An elite warband.
The bucklers, smallest warrior shields known, had to do with us also using crossbows, as a larger shield would be strapped to the back when marching, while we had to strap our bucklers to the belt, or keep them strapped to the parrying arm, which usually was the left arm, so to standardize training of parries and shield-bashing (a counter-attack).
A bunch of barely equipped vagrants, if we would have that term, awaiting death in battle to serve their chief and prove their families loyal members of the clan.
We soon learned that leather vest and cloaks serve to not need bedrolls, as carrying those all day would slow us down and enervate us. Bodily stamina was an important aspect of functioning as mobile warriors under Asgar Bloodcleaver, as my mention above should have told already. Mobility or stealth kept us alive, while bold charges got us cut down for sure.
In the early weeks, we were mostly expected to cut down stragglers. This means, we finished off those, who ran from the battlefield, slew poachers and plunderers, or formed the second or third attack on a unit first attacked by either our stronger warriors, or our javelin-throwers and sling-flingers.
Archers were rare, as formation fighting isn’t exactly the barbarian way, and no clash with the Empire yet did teach us to adapt better.
Being `cowards´, means being a less preferred by warriors warband, we also had tasks like hunting for food, investigating ruins, shrines, and lots of scouting. We literally learned to sleep where we collapsed, as fatigue made us do that nearly every time.
Then, a neighboring tribe challenged Asgar, which meant we were at war. A clan larger than ours, and filled with a surprising hostility that was not explained by the typical barbarian rage.
Their first attacks hit villages and homesteads along the border we shared with them. Their savagery, leaving no survivors and fighting our children exactly as they fought our warriors, spoke of a real hatred. A grudge from days bygone? Fated dreams, or power-hungry chieftains and thanes? I did not know.
It came, as it had to come. One day, the main horde aka army had to split-up, as Asgar Bloodcleaver had to reach more than one objective to win the proverbial field. The battlefields were bloody, the feasts for crows to folly were smelly and dirty, often triggering diseases most vile. In scald's tales, it sometimes sounds like fun and glory instead, I know.
Thieve Otherworldly, our non-canary commander, proved herself to be more formidable than expected, a true child of Asgar. Her courage and her cunning made her inferior force defeat the army, and her reputation started, when she defeated the first enemy champions in close combat. Then, she beheaded one of the Chiefs sworn against us.
The warriors cheered so loud that the fighting all across the battlefield stopped for a moment. A legend had birthed itself. A non-binary legend at whatever that is supposed to tell them poor canaries.
Thieve Asgarsdottir had made herself. No longer the daughter send to the priestesses and witches, only brought back, when the successor son was killed in battle, but a leader making warriors want to join our war-bands and serve our clan.
Her banner, a white-bluish dragon nimbly holding itself to the bloody battle-axe serving as the insignia of Asgar, soon became a sight to behold. A sight, even the Empire would be made aware of.
The first year passed, and in that year I never led more than 25 warriors at the same time. Two boat-loads, when the only coast we had was patrolled. From this, my first adjutant candidate arose, as I could not command both boats simultaneously. Eigir Odinson, and yes, family names among poor people were very often replaced by names of old gods or famous chieftains.
Still, even slaves arose to join the ranks of Thieve Asgarsdottir, and we made no secret of all non-warriors starting as slaves in our clans. Most of our allies indeed handled it in similar ways. Ways taught to us by ancestors and gods alike.
The deep forests surrounding most of our homesteads were becoming rare, as we advanced on enemy territory. Countless skirmishes and erratic attacks by wild beasts now were accompanied by strike-teams, swiftly rushing warriors eager to assassinate or cut down our leaders. Myself included, and even younger Eigir Odinson learned the reality of living with enemies.
Death was always close, a nerve-wrecking test of the warrior spirit. Duty prevailed, so did all of us, who survived and continued to serve aka fight.
Our first recognition came, when an unexpected situation and a lucky find occurred during the same battle. Battles and banners seem more focused in the tales of the high-born, as warrior-kings rightfully do so.
The battle was on the brink of being lost, and one of our finest band of axe-wielders got hit so hard that they could not last much longer. Despite the odds being against us, Asgar and Thieve spoke with one voice, when commanding our warband to rush in and save the field.
Relieving our true warriors was a symbol of trust, besides being a guarantee of many of us being hacked into bloody chunks and pieces.
As scouts, we field no banner, and camouflage meant we neither had the dragon banner on our cloth or shields. We were clad to fit in with our surroundings, so green cloaks (forest), beige cloaks (open fields), and gray cloaks for the mountains were all the enemy saw incoming.
We struck fast, we struck hard, and we did strike repeatedly. While lightly armored and barely able to parry warrior weapons or spears with our silly seeming bucklers, we were practiced in dual wielding our sabers and slashing with shield edge or bashing faces or throats with our bucklers.
The first band outflanking our axe-warriors lay dead, before anybody even noticed that we made a difference on the battlefield at all. Some of us did lie dead, but we already had cut down an entire warband and rushed the second enemy warband.
Again, the Norns must have threaded us that way, as our first attack on the second group, experienced warriors with spears and shields, should have benefited from our rushed approach. Instead, most of us did manage to slap their spears aside with our bucklers and stab killing wounds into the opposing warriors.
By then, our hard-pressed axe-warriors were at our side, as the blood soared when seeing us come to their aid and seeing us triumph MAY have seemed a sign from the gods to some, who fancy such follies.
Before the enemy could shrug off the shock caused by that bloody loss, we had charged and defeated two further enemy thanes in bloody combat.
Tyrgal’s Pack now was no longer a derogatory or contemptuous call. It was the mention of a proven battlefield unit. Needless, to elaborate, that honored unit was back at hunting, poacher killing, and scouting not one day later. No willing sex-mates, no nights filled with Met and dancing.
Eigir, I nearly forgot. While I had to lead that charge, and did so, dear Eigir had also done his part, leading his smaller group of ten warriors to protect our other flank, as we expected sling-flingers hiding in the forest’s edge. Instead, Eigir had discovered a relic long lost to our clan. The notion of a sign from the gods spread soon thereafter.
Duty went on, and several more months, now with those crossbows also strapped to our backs, made the war we had to fight and survive.
Then, two crucial happenings occurred. The treacherous Empire was discovered to be in league with the tribe we fought. The thought of serving us willingly dying puppets to an Empire that had nothing but hate and contempt for what they called barbarians puzzled our warriors and our witches and priestesses.
But, it only meant we were back to scouting, as from thereon, Asgar and Thieve had to face heavily armored enemies more often. It had glorious moments, but also fierce and desperate ones.
The Empire wanted us eradicated, and our allies soon learned that imperial attacks were not limited to our lands, nor to our known ways of winning wars.
The second occurrence, only weeks after we had made the first, came as a more shocking revelation. Reacting to our triumphant advance, by then we had nearly overrun the tribe that had dared assaulting us, made the Empire decide that drastic measures have to be taken. And, from their perspective, that was what they did.
They construed a god-speak, a thing to listen to the fates’ decrees, then used the gathering to rape and slaughter all the witches, all the priestesses, and all the warriors who guarded them.
Needless to mention, not for fun, but to position their strongest army so far into ambushing us where we couldn’t expect an ambush. Nothing of us is sacred to our enemies, that IS the nature of true hostility.
Let these words sink in, gulp down ale or wine, but do not forgot to honor the dead. The Empire indeed meant to destroy everything dear and sacred to us, as they meant complete eradication. No turn-cloaks, no converts, no slaves.
If I survive a while longer, I may continue these words. For now, though, I am called back to my duties and will be busy. Tyrgal.
Death of a Warrior-King
Two opinions remained popular after the death of Asgar Bloodcleaver. One was, that he did chose the best choice possible, and subsequently died a warrior’s death while taking plenty of enemies along with him.
The other opinion, closer to the Empire’s propaganda, was that his pride allowed his enemies to predict & lure him. That is, when one forgets that Asgar was fully aware of the fact that the enemy forces had to be kept busy, else they reinforce the assaults on our allies, or cut off our supply lines.
Explaining the unexplained, or utterly unexpected, is never easy. People needed a verification on their way of life not being auto-inferior to the Empire. It was of strategical importance, not only vanity and treachery!
It is one reason, why our women and our non-binaries & non-canaries are with us on the battlefields. People who never faced the reality of war tend to fall for lies and suggestions that simply cannot be true.
Witchcraft and sorcery should never underestimate, how politics and treachery can get even, or at least try to do so by every foul play possible!
We communed with the gods personally, or studied witchcraft when able to find any witch willing to guide us towards starter competences. The Empire instead invented `religion´, where people can invent what their gods want and decree, as THEIR people did never face the reality of war, or anything worthwhile.
The Empire keeps people bred and held like cattle, so a small elite can reign without any fear of repercussions. Learning such words to describe it took longer than realizing it.
Asgar only was still alive, because enemy attacks had slowed him, so he reached the sacred meeting, the thing of god-speak, late. Then, he contemplated the idea of gathering his allies to destroy the enemy army lurking for us in ambush, hoping that the blasphemy and atrocity would make us lose nerves and fly into the stereotypical barbarian frenzy.
But, that prudence overlooks that we knew this army, powerful as it was in metal armors we had never even seen or heard of before, was only ONE imperial army marching against us. And, believe it or not, competent warriors can make the idea of an ambush backfire by really proving themselves to be able to handle extreme violence. It is among WHY they are entitled warriors, not soldiers, not slaves, not mercenaries!
So, I see no reason in debating what cannot be remedied. Asgar chose to assault a fortified enemy army, and he chose to do so after only a short rest barely allowing anyone to fully recover from the forced march with fighting off harassing attacks.
What the Empire did not seem to realize is that Thieve Asgarsdottir was not in that warband. She was neither sent to some convent or monastery. Thieve did fulfill Asgar’s will and marched her war-bands in protection of aforementioned supply-lines and toward our allies, who not yet knew of the bloody treachery gone sacrilege of unspeakable proportions.
I think, that knowledge made me stick with not doubting Asgar’s final moments, as commanding us into Thieve’s war-bands and taking all willing and vengeful enough to risk certain death, so to punish the enemy and CRUSH the hubris of the cowards lurking in fortified positions, did serve the war efforts.
The Empire may disagree, but to those fighting for that Empire it sure delivered a message. Their goal would not be reached by lies, false promises, and backstabbing sorts of treachery without severe losses to their side. Truly not, it is one reason why we went from plundering to outright city burning, in example.
Leave no survivors who can inform the enemy or rejoin the enemy’s forces arrayed against you. Not cruel, mere necessity. Facing monstrous odds does justify desperate measures, as anything else makes the enemy win and go unscathed.
Thieve was a witch, more than she non-canary was a priestess. Because of that, we did not have great preaching about her visions and dragon-dreams. But, her teachings bred warrior maidens that neither male nor non-canary could easily defeat on battlefields or in wild skirmishes.
Fighting spirit, ferocity, trusting ones instincts, and living without regrets were part of those teachings. They were also proof of her dragon dreams not contaminating the barbarian soul.
Officially, the Empire signed a peace treaty. Tactically, such only means they want to wait until our experienced warriors have grown too old to undo their invasion again. A trick we learned to watch out for, when we had to bloodily press on to burn their ships and raze entire cities, not just military outposts.
To serve a witch, to ride a dragon!
Whoever served under Thieve Asgarsdottir, and impaired by whatever degree foreign invasions and bloody treachery may manifest, the very best of Asgar Bloodcleaver lived-on in Thieve. She had not only learned from her father, she lived-up to many of his ideals and added hers to it repeatedly.
We had not the slightest idea, and neither omen or prophecies, about the fact that the Empire had send only marginal troops due to being elsewhere to conquer other regions. We wouldn’t have cared, as self-preservation and supporting our allies would have remained the duties we had to face.
Aforementioned 25 warriors under my command, in the second of the four years mentioned ago, had become 40. Now, commanding not only Eigir, but also Wulf Strathspey and Svenya Freydottir to assure that our warband was fully capable to react to enemy strategies and situational challenges.
In formation, a crossbow volley before rushing the enemy could surprise even armored enemies. Needless to say, our bucklers and blades also were far from the leather shield and blade we once had started with. Our victories had their share for us, and by now slaves could purchase their freedom, and some of us even dreamed of owning their own homesteads, perhaps even family.
We never had quivers for more than five crossbow bolts. Going lightweight, as mobility or stealth still remained crucial aspects of our fighting style and the purpose of the entire warband.
It would indeed be rare that an outpost or stronghold aka fortress that our warband alone had to secure would allow the time to fire more than thrice. One can shoot guard during nightly rushes, and a light saber also benefits from support by an armor piercing option. So does hunting. It is just that people impressed by bows tend to forget that the wartime use of a crossbow was more to stop charging enemies than long-distance killings.
Truly, early crossbows had not more range than what a muscled warrior COULD achieve with throwing axe or javelin (throwing spear).
A griffon was sighted, a harpies’ nest was scorched. Werebears tore eight of our warriors to shreds while we tried to rush to the battlefield. Trolls did not sleep under bridges, but venturing into caves smelling badly was still a dangerous stupor indeed.
Experience does not make invincible. It only prevents that the difference between competence and folly seems non-existent and worthless.
The Empire puppeteered foreign troops unknown to us into joining tribes allied to the Empire. Bolstering their ranks with nasty surprises, but nothing to fear, when ready for war.
Assassination attempts against Thieve Asgarsdottir now came in blades, poison, and whatever magic trickery could be mustered. May be, the Empire did not believe it, but Thieve indeed was able to commune with the dead, so interrogating assassins took no torture chambers for us. Our priestess also did have some functional divination. As said, it just didn’t win the wars, that devotion to the magical & spiritual.
Animals, sometimes, sided with us. Boars led a charge against imperial soldiers who had defiled their habitat. Yep, boars didn’t like to be made homeless and out of food. Wise boars. In truth, we were barely able to cover the stubborn pigs with our crossbow volley, as otherwise the enemy warriors would have picked them off with spears and javelins. But, the surprise attack did make the pigs get their point across.
Needless to mention, the Empire disregarded such with the same ease with which they held down everything barbarian.
To be continued… Or, carelessly abandoned by the author. Hard to play the prophet on such, as I am no prophet at all.
A spontaneous freestyle approach at writing short fiction. Contextually, I aligned moments from strategy
gaming into an attempted short story. While I intent to continue it, it won't be enough for a series or true
`Swords & Sorcery´ league. I use some modern terminology on purpose, for it is true that neither the
commander nor the listening scald would talk that way, it does help modern readers to more easily
understand the text. Or, such were my silly hopes. ;-)Authors comment
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Andre M. Pietroschek.
Published on e-Stories.org on 11/01/2023.