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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Barbarians

by Gurmeet Mattu (writer), Glasgow, December 23, 2009

When a modern man comes face to face with legends from the barbaric past, he is surprised to find their true nature.

The great hall rang with a thousand voices. Burning torches around the walls cast dancing shadows as the great throng moved around. The air was rich with the smell of spilled beer and roasted ox meat. Tables were thumped and voices raised and occasionally a female voice shrieked in indignity. But suddenly there was silence as Olav entered. He was a big man. Bigger even than the many fur-clad brutes who clustered around him. But they made space quickly, for Olav was known to be short of temper and quick of sword. He swung one iron shod boot onto a bench and hoisted himself onto the head table. A cry of welcome was quickly stifled as Olav looked around him and slowly nodded his bearded head in approval.

His voice was low and gravelly. “It has been the way of we Norsemen,” he said, “to gather together in time of war and on the eve of battle to declare ourselves before our brethren and before the Gods, that all may know our names and remember them lest we fall in combat.” He paused, unused to lengthy speech and his great chest filled with air before he bellowed, “Hail, ye gods, and listen to my words. I come before you, a Prince of the Fiords, Master of the Longships, Holder of the Battleaxe of Logrin. I, Olav, son of Baldur, the Soul Shredder.”

The crowd roared enthusiastically and a low chant of ‘Olav, Olav’ began. Almost instantly a smaller man leapt up onto the table beside Olav. He was smaller only in height and matched his chief in the breadth of his chest and the width of his thighs. Unlike Olav he was clean shaven and his face was marked with countless scars and his eyes burned. He placed the head of his great battle-axe on the table and rested his hands on the haft. His voice was higher than Olav’s but carried a terrifying coldness. “Hail, ye gods,” he roared, “and listen to my words. I come before you, Lord of the Night Realms, Victor of the Battle of Zildar, Terror of the Saxons. I, Agnir, son of Fenris, the Blood Scorcher.”

Again there was an enthusiastic roar but as this died away there was a strange uncertain pause. Finally a small man, dressed only in a t-shirt and shorts was pushed forward. One of the warriors grabbed him as he passed and whispered in his ear. “It is your turn, stranger. Guests precede the nobility in our tradition.” His great, meaty hand then propelled the stranger onto the table with one shove.

The stranger looked around him and his heart fell at the sight of the huge, imposing throng, but Olav put his hand on his shoulder and gave it an encouraging, though bone crushing, squeeze. The stranger’s voice was weedy and did not carry far through the crowd, as he said, “Hail, ye gods, and listen to my words. I come before you, a confectioner and a member of the trade federation, a member of the bowling club, fined for speeding, twice. I, Derek, son of Gladys.”

Silence rippled through the crowd before voices bubbled again. “Derek?” they cried, and “Gladys?”

It was Olav who calmed his warriors with a raised hand. He turned to Derek and asked, “Is this true … Gladys?”
Derek cleared his voice and answered in a thin voice, “Yes. I ..I .. never knew who my Dad was.”
Olav’s great head nodded sympathetically, “Truly, a tragedy. Enough to crush a warrior’s very soul.”
Agnir came from behind them and lay his strong arm across Derek’s shoulders. “Aye, and sap his very strength,” he said, “To carry such a burden. A loathsome destiny.”
Derek’s spirits rose as Olav added. “But be not afeared, Derek, son of Gladys. Where evil lurks, that is where The Brotherhood of the Blade are to be found. We have faced many such mortal challenges before, and crushed them beneath our heels.”
But the crowd seemed to be not so easily accepting. A slow chant began, “Gunnar, Gunnar …”, which filled Derek’s soul with dread.
As the chant grew in volume the biggest man Derek had ever seen pushed his way through the crowd towards them. He was bigger even than Olav with a great mass of unruly red hair on his head. His biceps, bulging from beneath his tattered furs, were bigger than Derek’s head and his beard seemed like the fiery breath emanating from a dragon’s maw. But it was his eyes that most struck fear in Gladys’s boy. They were dark and deep-set and should have disappeared inside that giant head, whereas they shone like beacons. This was Gunnar.

Despite this Derek tried to make light of the situation. “Bit of a mismatch, isn’t it?”
But Olav looked puzzled. “Mismatch?”
“Trial of strength? Test of manhood? Struggle to the death.”
“Nay, stranger,” Olav laughed, “Think ye that we are barbarians? Gunnar is our resident social worker.”



About the Writer

Gurmeet Mattu is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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4 comments on Barbarians

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By Gurmeet Mattu on December 23, 2009 at 01:07 pm

Sorry. Twice married. Twice divorced. One 29 year old daughter. Now, vasectomy, so no super-child.

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By Gurmeet Mattu on December 23, 2009 at 01:39 pm

We must do this properly, according to tradition. I therfore offer 3 goats and a camel for your hand in mariage. The sharing of DNA can come later.

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By Gurmeet Mattu on December 23, 2009 at 02:44 pm

It is the tradition of my people. We are brave and honourable and I offer the same price my father offered for my mother. Mind you, the goats had scurvy and the camel was lame. For you, fair Melody, I shall have the livestock inspected by a qualified vet.

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By Theresa H Hall on December 24, 2009 at 01:13 am

This was a good read and I love your playful banter. Cool!

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