by Symon Pude
First Chapter of my epic fantasy novel
|Chapter 1: The last day
“The fuck you want?”
I called at the man in the doorframe.
Even though he was already bent over, he still easily surpassed the height of the small door frame of our house. Even comparing to his height, his shoulders were very broad. His clothes were dark green with brown plates at certain places of his torso and arms.
That’s definitely a Berserk. I’ve never seen one before, but some of the roamers that occasionally travel through our little shithole for farmers have told stories about the vast measures those people can have. They are actually also known to be aggressive. Yet I still don’t regret the way I have greeted him. Can’t someone have some peace and quiet after waking up with the sun to collect what little milk our 3 sick cows give?
“I’m here on behalf of the royal government”, he answered, clearly a little enraged by my way to speak to him.
The deepness of his voice was comparable with an enraged “Moooh” of a stubborn cow.
“They’ve already collected more twice as usual of our food reserves”
Tax collectors come by 3-4 times a season and take away whatever they want of all our products. Why? Well, they say because my land actually belongs to “our lord”(the baron) . When I asked, why he didn’t grow the food himself on his land, if he needs so much of, they beat me for “defying the order”. Since this occasion I keep my questions to myself. I prefer to have intact bones.
He ignored my response.
“Every able man in this realm should join the army to fight in the war”
“It’s an order”
“Oh, okay, then, Fuck off”
Enraged, he squeezed his massive torso through the door just to stub his head on the ceiling, which wasn’t much higher than the door.
His eyes looked as if they were to pop out of his skull.
Oh boy, that will definitely hurt. It’s the Tax collectors all over again. Maybe I should think more about my actions.
But joining the army is something different. I was needed at home. I am an only child. Or, better said, the only child that survived. My older brother died when he was born, that’s what my mother told me. My younger sister succumbed to some sickness at the age of two. We tried to bring her to one of the healer monasteries, but were denied, because we’re “just filthy peasants”. Fuck the church.
The berserk was coming dangerously close.
“Now, now, now, he doesn’t really mean that”
The man stopped in his movement and mustered the woman that came into the room.
My mother, who had been sleeping in the only other room our house has, apparently heard the conversation and woke up.
Although I know she’s still full of energy, looking at her fragile body makes me sad.
She turned to me
“You’re joining the army. Come on, say it”
My mother was the wisest person I’ve ever met. And thinking about it, I knew it was my only option. Either I say it now, or they’ll force me to.
“Fine!” I sighed
“Is there any other man in this household?”
“My father, but his leg is stiff and he can’t even walk properly.”
Plus he’s an alcoholic and beats my mother. Maybe he wasn’t always that way, but a winter after my sister’s birth he was called in for his duty in the army for some battle somewhere. He was heavily wounded. When he came back and found out about the death of his daughter, he blamed my mother.
“I decide whether he can still fight.”
“Good luck, not even ten horses can get this drunk piece of shit out of bed”
A second time, my mother saved me.
“I can assure you, he won’t be a good addition to the army. Also there’s just us otherwise and somebody has to take care of the crops”
The man thought for a few seconds and gave.
“Okay, we really can live with one alcoholic less”
Wow, that worked?
I was grateful that my mother was here with me now.
“But now: hippedy hoppedy get off my property”
Irritated, the intruder looked at me, than at my mother. Her neutral face didn’t help him to deal with this situation. After another quick glance at me he turned and grunted.
“Tomorrow at dawn, in front of the chapel”.
After he struggled through the door, my mother took one of the old chairs and set down at the small table, where I also was sitting at.
“That was very stupid of you. You know you don’t have any chance against the army”
“I thought you once said that acting stupid might save your life because they see no threat in you”
“Obedience is a great way of being stupid, you know that.”
“Either way, you need me here, I can’t go. Spring is just around the corner and somebody has to attend to the fields.”
“I’ve done it once before, I can do it again, plus I had to take care of two little children”
“But back then grandmother was alive. And then she worked herself to death, literally”
It’s actually a very sad story but both of us cope very well with tragedy by using sarcasm or just swallow down our depression. It works for us.
“It’s no use”
With this the discussion was abruptly concluded. This showed that she was well aware about the problems she’s going to have to face soon. But she has a way of not complaining about things you can’t change. That’s the biggest difference between our attitudes. It helps me to swear as much as possible for a short time.
Silently my mother started to cut some hard bread. She gave me two slices and I used my old knife to spread some butter on it.
Not too much, we don’t have much of it.
I took a bite of the first slice and my teeth were stopped in the attempt. Biting down with all the power of my jaw and turning my arm I was able to rip a piece from the bread. Chewing hard I was able to crumble the dry, hoarse something that was soaking up all my saliva.
After more than 40 bites I was able to swallow the food, scratching my throat.
I took the bucket of wood next to the table, and filled the last drops of water into my wooden cup. Fuck. I have to refill it.
It’s no use.
Using the last drops of water I barely managed to swallow my pieces of bread. Looking up, I saw my mother looking at me.
Shit, she probably also wanted some water.
With judging brown eyes she looked at me.
“Alright, I’m going” I exclaimed, taking the hint.
With the Bucket I exited through the door, which was still open from the man before. That didn’t bother me. It was one of the first clear, warmer days after the winter.
It was actually rather nice as I walked out. Almost no chilling wind rivalling the radiant heat of the sun.
Most of the water we need comes from a rain water barrel. Especially now, as the snow was melting, we definitely had enough. In the summer, when it is dry, we often have no other choice than to go to the well in front of the chapel.
I took a swoop from the top and poured it into my mouth to wash down the last pieces of bread. Then I filled the bucket and walked back in.
My mother took the bucket and filled her cup. She began devouring her breakfast.
What to do now? I had till noon to tend to the animals again.
“I’m going to plow the fields and the get our seeds from the town” I said as I got the idea.
“It’s rather soon for that”, she choked a little on her bread.
“Do you want to get them when you’re alone?”
“This is my last day, so that’s something logical that I still can do at home”
She had no further objections.
I went out to our little pasture. In total we had three cows, two sheep, five hens, a rooster and an old donkey named Ratter. I whistled and Ratter looked up and slowly hoofed to me without any hurry. I stroked him between his eyes and asked:
“Now, Ratter. Do you wanna get plowing?”
A nicking and a positive IA indicated that he was happy to.
“At least one of us”
I led him into the stable and mounted an old trustworthy plow on his back.
The field I thought of working on today was not that big. We two were quick to go over the whole area. I led ratter back into the stable and plucked out the weeds that would get growing again. I looked up. The sun was close to noon.
A few minutes later the donkey was pulling a small carriage with one axis. There is only place for wares on the carriage, but, as it was empty, I sat down on it.
Ratter was smart enough to know the way.
It was still a little too cold to drive the two whole Kilometres into Town to and fro with short sleeves. So I stopped at the door and got my jacket.
In a clothing way we were a little more fortunate. Having a few animals we were able to personally sew the hide or wool of those into clothes that are quite impermeable to wind or rain. We didn’t give a shit about aesthetics, so they looked bewildered and on the strange occasions where we had to meet other people, murmuring voices and judging looks followed us anywhere.
My jacket was made of cow hide. Due to years of using it, the hairs were already peeled off on most places, revealing to be a light brown colour.
It mainly was against wind, rain and snow. If it was colder I would also have a pullover made of wool. But that one was not necessary now.
The donkey was waiting patiently before the door. I climbed the carriage again and I felt it starting to move really slowly.
It is not comfortable. Nobody really cared to make a good way to our farm, so the carriage was rattling the whole two kilometres. Still I enjoyed the quiet. Hopefully there not many people out at this time.
But there were, fuck.
As the path got better (it can even be called road now), the murmurs became more frequent. I was aware there were many rumours about us, the only farmers that don’t visit the chapel on every Sunday. I looked around to see who was gossiping around me. And I realized there were more people that I’ve ever seen in this town. The soldiers have taken camp at the other end of the town and from the distance they seemed to have only just arrived. I wondered why they had stopped that soon. Shouldn't they be walking as long as it’s light out? Probably because we were the last larger settlement for a while.
Naturally, every mother, every sister and every brother too young to fight from the “able” men were gathered around, as there was not much else to do at this time of the year. I turned away and looked at the two stripes the wheels of my carriage made. I kept my ears open for the rumours that spread around us.
“I heard they recently sacrificed a sheep for the devil”
Wrong, it just died of old age
“Well, I heard they sacrificed their little daughter to him”
I am so close of jumping off and beating the shit out of her for even considering this.
“Something like that has to have happened, because their crops are growing way too fast”
So if this works, why doesn’t everybody make a sacrifice once every year to get better crops?
But the success of our crops has a different explanation. Every year you have to collect the seeds the baron is ready to give every farmer. These seeds were freshly “blessed” to assure a good crop. The farmers are not even allowed to take the seeds from the previous year and plant those.
We do it anyway and it seems they are way better than the blessed ones.
But not picking them up would be suspicious.
“When their senior was drunk again last month I heard him say that their mother choked their daughter to death”
He wasn’t even fucking here when she died.
“I heard they gave refuge to someone who raped a nun.”
Well, that one is actually spot on. Kind of. A few years back a young monk showed up on our doorstep and asked us for a place to hide. His name was Yrgal. It turned out that his parents forced him to become a monk. At the monastery he managed to seduce a nun (he later referred to her as “this bitch”) and they both fell in love and even made plans to run away. But one night they were caught infilgranti and “this bitch” pretended that she was being raped. Yrgal barely escaped before they hanged him. I really like him. He also taught me to write, read and how to do simple calculation. A privilege that no other farmer got. Not that I needed it up to now. He also told us how the seeds are “blessed”. They go through a ceremony with one seed of each kind and then mix this one into some other seeds, so those get blessed too. Then they take those again and mix it with other seeds and so forth. In short, it’s complete and utter bullshit. After four winters he was sure enough that nobody followed him anymore and went his way.
Unfortunately this bullshit is served hot and fresh exactly beside the camp of the soldiers. Automatically, Ratter stopped right before the seed stock. I jumped off and turned the donkey with the carriage around. Better now than later.
In front of the seed stock a very old man was sleeping on the ground. His name was Joseph. He was old since I was young. He’s too old and confused to care about any rumours. But he is the only one who can (officially) write something in this town. That’s why he’s in charge of giving away the seeds. Not like anyone is going to steal anything. They have too much respect about the property of the church.
“Wake up, Sepp!”
He still laid there. Not moving. For all I know he could be dead. But he’s also deaf, so I don’t know.
I went to him. Yes, he was still breathing.
“Wake up” I kicked him with my boot.
That got through to him.
“I’d like to take my share of seeds”
“Isn’t it a little too early” he said, not moving at all.
“It is noon”, I extended my hand, so he could stand up.
Sighing in exhaustion he heaved himself on his feet and stood wary.
“No, I mean early in the year”
“I know. But I have to join the army tomorrow”
“There’s an army here?”
“They are literally 50m away from you”
“Aha, what do you know. So what are you doing here?”
“Getting my share of seeds”
“Isn’t it a little early for that”
I looked at him and he seemed to realize that he was in a loop"
"Okay, then let’s take a look at the list.”
Just now I realized that he used a big, leather bound book as his pillow.
I quickly picked it up, to avoid the time and sighing it would have taken from Joseph to pick it up.
“Thank you” he took the book and transferred it to the small table that was standing by the stock.
He opened the book and turned page by page until he got to a page which was only half full with ink writings. It was a table with everyone’s farm name in the first column and a few columns with numbers, where it was indicated how many bags the farm gets from the different forms of seeds. In the last column there was space for Joseph to sign.
I quickly skimmed through the column and found my name. Joseph took longer. Obviously struggling to read the names due to bad eyesight it took him more than two minutes to find it.
“Ah, there we go. So you can take…two bags of longseeds”
“That’s a three”
“Where’s a tree”
“No, I mean the number is a three”
“Oh, right, my mistake”
Shit, nobody is supposed to know that I can read. But thankfully Joseph is too confused to realize.
He went in the low room and pointed at three bags.
I barely can carry two bags. So I transferred them onto my carriage.
I already looked up all the quantities in the table, so the second time around I already took a broadcorn bag with me.
“Hey, that’s not a longcorn, put it back”
“But I know that I definitely also get a bag of broadcorn. This makes it faster”
“Put it back”
I sighed and put the bag back.
After I loaded the third back of longcorn onto the carriage, Joseph read the next column.
“Broadcorn, two bags”
I loaded the two bags onto the carriage.
“And one bag of potatoes”
“Only one? In the last years we were always getting two”
“Are you questioning the decision of the baron?”
It makes sense. The army definitely needed some provisions
Silently I took the designated bag. Furthermore I was allowed to take some onions, pumpkin seeds,…
I just sighed and waved him goodbye. He did the same and laid back again on the floor.
As I turned to the carriage I was surprised to see someone walking up and lean against it.
He was eating an apple and didn’t move at all even as he saw me walking up to the carriage.
What does this fucker want?
I mustered him. He was definitely from the army. Dressed in the same colours as the berserk, but he was wearing a way to thick leather coat above his armour. I could see there was wool on the inside of his dark brown coat.
I guessed him to be in his early forties.
His eyes were yellow-orange and his pupils were a vertical line.
I’ve heard that there are other humanoid races. Like the legendary dwarves or elves. Or, of course, Berserks.
This person at least has some blood from a race I haven’t heard of.
“Excuse me” I said without directly looking to indicate that he should move away from my carriage.
He didn’t move and kept biting on his apple.
“This is my carriage”
Just as I thought he wasn’t going to react again, he swallowed a bite and began to speak.
“I’ve heard many rumours about you”
“Interesting” I said sarcastically with a smile, then my smile was gone
“Now please step away from my fucking carriage”
“I wonder how much of them are true”
“Do you really suppose I know exactly what is being said about me?”
I constantly showed him that he should step away.
“That’s right, you can’t know that. The thing is that everybody I’ve met in this town talks bad about you”
“So what, I don’t really care what they say about us. They should care about their own shit”
“You want have it easy in the army. Without any friends”
“Okay, now if you just let me go my merry way…”
I was getting tired of this conversation.
He took another bite of his apple.
“Can you at least fight?” he mumbled with a full mouth.
“Why would I? Never needed it. Now please go away”
“That’s unfortunate. Often cast outs have developed useful skills because society won’t help them”
“Well you won’t find any skill in me”
I turned away and started walking home.
“We’ll see” the man said, still leaning on the carriage.
I whistled and Ratter started walking.
The man was surprised and fell because of the sudden movement. I saw his apple fall into the mud.
“You damn…” I heard him swearing.
I was wondering what word he would have used after “damn” to describe me, but I was already 20 metres away and quickly pacing further.
Ratter barely came after me.
The way back I laughed at what I did, which caused many of the female bystanders to look at me in fearful concern.
As we got off the road, I thought about what I’m still going to do today. It was still very soon but I had to consider planting some longcorn. As I got to our house I decided to do that.
The day went by without any other major occurrences. My mother helped me to bring the seeds we had left from last year (not the blessed one) on the field. And before I knew it nightfall came. I tended to the animals a last time and said my goodbyes. I assumed that some of them will die until I came back in one year or two.
When I came back inside I noticed that my mother had prepared a snack on the table. Personally she already went to bed. The room was barely illuminated by a lonely sooty candle.
My father was also there. And a bottle of clear schnapps.
I had reckoned that he already had drank a few shots, but when I came in I was surprised that he was sober for once and just looked at the clear liquid with tears in his eyes.
I slit onto my designated place and silently began eating. The meal consisted of the same old bread like the breakfast, some souse, a small piece of cheese and sauerkraut. Soon after, I was done.
“Son” my father said.
I realized he was now looking at me. I met his gaze with anger.
“This could be the last time we’re going to have a meal together!”
“You don’t say”
He broke the eye contact.
“The battlefield is a place you will wish to never come to”
“I am aware of this”
His face began to show some anger at my answer. He looked into my eyes.
“You think so, but you are not. It’s chaos, pain and loss. I’ve seen the some of my bravest friend freeze at the sheer sight of it. And that costed them their life”
He gave in to his obvious craving for alcohol and took a big gulp from the bottle.
The alcohol caused him to press his eyes together.
“No logic and no form of morality apply to the battle. Only your determination not to die can help you.”
I have heard this speech from him before. But never when he was almost sober. I only knew this melancholy from times where he couldn’t even sit straight.
He suddenly reached out to my hand.
“And nothing else cares on the battlefield. Not even the life of anyone else. There we aren’t human. We are just wild animals in ecstasy driven by the notion to survive. And even if you have one clear moment when your weapon is about to end one’s life and you think about sparing him, don’t give in to it. It’s your life or theirs.”
I looked at him. I saw that witnessing this can crumble a man’s soul.
He was still a piece of garbage.
“And don’t place your hope in what you have at home. Even there nothing is save from the war.”
He definitely referred to my sister.
“Here, take a sip” he extended the bottom of the bottle in my direction “in the hope you will have more luck than me”
“I’d rather like to stay a decent person as long as I can” I remarked, not making any attempt to take the bottle.
“One sip won’t hurt you”
I only kept my stare.
He got the hint.
“Very well then, I just thought that, you know, this is possibly our last encounter and I don’t want to part in anger, but a good moment…”
That was too much.
I jumped up and screamed
“You could have thought about this in the last few years”
This sudden and atypical reaction of me caused him to jump back. His seat fell back at his reaction then this asshole laid defencelessly on the ground, big eyes at me. The bottle in his hand was still intact and just some of it had been spilled.
“Now listen up you petty excuse of a father. Nothing that happened to you justifies your behaviour. It was your choice. You looked for someone to blame for everything that went wrong in your life and searched salvation by punishing your scapegoat. Well guess what: There is nobody accountable for what has happened to you. Not in this world. Now what are you going to do, create even more problems or will you finally realize that there is no way to get back what was taken from you and nobody can change that. Learn to live with it. Life isn’t fair. The only way is to look forward and accept what you’re given, learn from everything that happened and do the best to make it better”
I stepped over to him, kneeled down and took the bottle from his hand.
“I might be away, but be sure of one thing. When I come back and I see you even grazed one hair of my mother, I will not take my own advice and live with it, because I know exactly who to blame for this. And I will repay everything ten times back because you don’t seem to understand what it means to be decent.”
He may have fought in a war, but this threat still got through to him.
“And this shit”, in the dim light I pointed at the bottle
“Is just a waste of our crops. And a drink of cowards”
I went to the door and emptied the bottle on the floor.
As I got back I saw this alcoholic escaping into the other room. His stiff leg slowed him down.
I could have easily stopped him. But I said what I wanted to say so I let him be.
I still had to pack my rucksack. It is basically just a bag out of cowhide with two strips of leather attached to it. I put in my pullover of wool and every other type of clothing I had: a second pair of pants, another pair of crappily tailored, ripped underpants, another pair of socks, a drinking tube made out of a sheep's stomach and a T-shirt. I also put in a portion of the souse, a piece of cheese and a loaf of bread. I was sure the army itself had provisions, but just to be sure. I closed the bag with a piece of yarn. I tested it. It felt okay to have this on my back. I remembered my knife and added it to the bag.
I went to the closet and searched a needle of bone and some threat. And a few patches of hide and fabric. Now I could repair my clothes if I needed to.
This’ll be everything I was going to own from the next day on.
I went into the other room. There were three mattresses made out of straw. My mother lay on the one in the middle. My father on the right side looked like a disgusting embryo, trying not to make a sound. He normally snored quite heavily so I was sure he was still awake. It was unusually late and I now I realized how tired I was. I got into my bed and stayed in nostalgia, until finally sleep engulfed me.