Chapter 11 – Burn
I later found out that in my blindness…in my rage, I had killed a dozen or so enemies and then, when the rest turned to flee, three of our own men.
And then I slept for a long time. A sleep plagued by terrible dreams and the taste of blood always just outside my perception…flicking at my lips and nose.
I awoke to the familiar sway of the ocean, the brine and the sea breeze spraying at my face.
As soon as my eyes opened, any conversation came abruptly to an end.
My father was there. And the village elder.
My wounds had been bandaged but I could barely move. My body ached passed the skin and muscle, passed the bone and into the marrow and the taste of blood hung on for a moment, just outside my perception, before fading away.
It was night time. I counted the stars.
The dragon on our ship’s bow glistened in the moonlight and I knew that at least he still smiled with me.
My father came to offer me some water, which I refused. I thought I was doing the right thing, and yet I find myself here…a pariah among even my own family.
No one wanted me here. I didn’t need to overhear a conversation to discern that much. They probably would have thrown me overboard or left me to die in the field if they weren’t so damned afraid of me.
A curse that no one wanted to be responsible for…that no one wanted to inherit.
My father said that the raid had been successful. That three of the ships were loaded with gold and precious stones and three more with slaves and we had only lost ten men.
And three of them were because of me…I had known these men…lived with them. Said hello to them when I passed them in the street and hunted with them. Now their wives will be widows and their children will be orphans. Is orphan the appropriate word?
Does any of this really matter? Do I care only because I am programmed to or is it something else? Do any of us really care about anything except ourselves?
Accept our own best interests.
Continue this sepulchral march towards some unintended and uneventful doom.
I slowly opened the fingers on each hand and intertwined them with each other. First one way, then the other and then I turned my hand over to trace the scar there. When I gripped Thursbanr did it pulse and glow? Did it grow? When I delivered those men to the gates of whatever afterlife awaited them, did it bleed and sputter? Did I stutter? Would hacking it off at the wrist, inch by inch, only appeal to my brutal fate? Or should I wait.
When the men thought I slept I could hear them whispering.
They said that my hands brought only death…that I was possessed by demons. They said that I was glad I was on their side. They said I would grow up to be a monster.
Death Hand they called me.
Some of them wanted to kill me. They were afraid that I’d stalk through the village at night and disembowel the other children. My father thought he might awake to find me glowering over him with a knife in my teeth and I am reminded of the first man whose life I took. That look of confusion…despair. That look of knowing you were going to die, feeling the life-blood seeping out of your body, and there being absolutely nothing you could do about it. And having no idea why it ended this way.
I decided then and there that I would never kill another man while he slept.
When the sun rose that morning I felt energized and I sat up, finally able to survey my surroundings. There was some commotion and I was able to ascertain that one of the slave ships had disappeared in the night.
Visibility was excellent and two of the ships were appointed to backtrack and search for the missing ship, mine among them. To someone that is unfamiliar with sailing, the concept of searching for a vessel on the open sea might seem like a waste of time, and generally speaking, it was. The thought process was that maybe the slaves had somehow overpowered the men on the boat and turned it around to sail back home and so we had a pretty good idea of where to look. Our men were more skilled, and our boats less encumbered so catching up to them would be the easy part.
We were to search for one day and then turn back if we didn’t find anything. For the purpose of speed we used both sail and oar and set immediately to our task.
For a half a day we found nothing and then one of the men sighted a dark speck on the horizon. We were too far out to sea for it to be the shore we had left and it was too big to be an animal. With our new course we were able to close the distance quickly and it soon became apparent that this was our missing ship. The sail was tattered from improper use and my father said they rowed like half-wits, with no form or conjunction.
Like scared rabbits they fled only to find the beast breathing down their neck and nosing at their burrow.
As we approached, I could hear women and children crying. I saw some men standing on the ship waving swords and clubs around, but most were unarmed. They had stopped rowing and we stopped just out of range for arrows.
One of their men stood on the ship, yelling at us. I couldn’t understand him, but someone said he was begging us for mercy. Begging us to spare their lives.
We rowed a little closer and the bows went up but before the first volley could be fired the elder raised his hand saying “Wait, stop.”
He called my father over and they talked privately for a moment before he ordered the men to get close enough that we could board their ship.
He nodded at my father and looked at me.
“Kol,” he said, “There are a lot of people that want you dead. They are afraid of you, and they don’t want you coming home with us. Your father, your own flesh and blood, is among them. You are to board that ship and kill every one of those slaves. If you survive, no one will ever question your place with us again. This is your death sentence, and I hope that by placing the act in these fools’ hands I spare myself from your curse. Are you ready?”
I glanced at my father and he turned away…ashamed that he had agreed to this.
I asked for some water and then for Thursbanr and the axe I had taken from the battlefield.
When I tell you I was afraid, that is a massive understatement. There were no less than 50 men on that boat and then women and children too. My hands and knees shook as I drank the flask and my grip felt feeble and pathetic.
I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths as the ships came together…
Smile, Kol, and remember.
Remember that your destiny is not yet fulfilled.
Smile, and let the blood haze take you.
Think about the life you used to have. The life you could have had.
Think about Unn, the Wise, with that cackling old blackened maw.
Think about the man with the red cape and eyes of cerulean blue.
Open your eyes and step onto the ship, calm as a perfect arrow in flight.
The man on my ship that could understand the slaves said something to them and they looked at each other and attacked.
There was nothing they could do. They couldn’t even scratch me. I could sense their fear…I could smell it, like a dog and I turned it against them. A woman came at me, scratching and biting, and I flung her into the sea, her neck a red ribbon. A child, too, and his head cracked open like a melon.
One by one by one by one the corpses piled up and still they kept coming. When half of them had been killed, some tried to flee by jumping into the ocean and swimming and they were shot, floating and bleeding into the water.
One by one by one by one I killed them all…and I never lost control. Methodical, calculated, surgical. And not one could even scratch me.
There was nothing they could do.