Thursday, June 4, 2009

Berserker Part 8

Lars met Jarn ahead of the groggy caravan. Gerda had the idea that they could make their travel easier by cutting trees that were alongside the trail down for firewood, thus widening the trail as they went. It wasn’t really a bad idea, but then again she wasn’t the one who had to lug huge logs off the path. It made Lars especially irritable because it had been Lars’ turn for the menial task three times in a row. That sophisticated young dandy in chain mail complained of a pulled muscle. Back in Klav people had done such tasks while suffering from the ice rot and not complained! So when Jarn picked a squat old ash tree to start on, Lars didn’t act with particular tact or a sense of self preservation.

“Hey, big oaf!”, he yelled as Jarn was about to dig into the tree. Jarn stopped, startled from the sudden noise. “Got rocks in your head, or just empty space up there?!”, Lars continued, bringing himself to stand directly in front of the man and having to look up to see his surprised features.

“Ash is a man-hating tree!”, he yelled up the taller man’s nose. “Look in those branches”, he indicated the upper regions of the ash’s expansive foliage. “See anything?”

Jarn followed Lar’s upward pointing finger to a large branch with holding a great deal of slowly decaying plant matter that numerous autumns had deposited from taller trees. Now it looked to have the density of a brick and contain the remains of smaller trees and numerous mummified squirrel and bird corpses.

“What should I be seeing?”. He unconsciously changed his stance to a more aggressive form, accentuating his height to discourage violence.

“Ash branches give way without a warning crack”, Lars responded in a slow voice Jarn recognized as being used on children and the mentally impaired. “Do you really want the load of rubbish crashing down on your head? I doubt that even your thick skull could take a knock like that!”

“Besides, Ash give off terrible smelling smoke”, he added, backing off a little.

Jarn took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. He seemed to unfold after that thorough tongue lashing. Still, at least it was just a verbal lashing. He turned away from tree and Lars, and quietly counted out fifteen paces under his breath. He turned around yet again and let the head of the felling ax drop to be perpendicular with the ground. In one swift move Jarn whipped the ax over his head and brought it back down with a yell. He let the ax go at just the right moment, it pinwheeled until burying itself deep in the bark of the offending ash tree and a fingerlength from Lars’ ear.

“I”, Jarn simply stated, “happen to like the way ash smells”.

Lars just stood there with the ax quivering next to him, not knowing whether to scream in rage, fear, or soil himself.

Jarn caught his eye and pointed upward with a knowing grin. Just as Lars regained the coordination to look up, the bough with generations of the putrefying remnants of life, both plant and animal, broke. To credit Lars, this happened with absolutely no noise. Luckily, he managed to stumble aside before the heavy load came crashing to the ground.

He regained his breath to immediately get rid of it again by screaming, “You could have killed me! What were you thinking?!” Lars was shaking with rage and shock over almost dying.

Jarn remained still with a smirk of satisfaction on his face, “If you’re such the expert on trees then you should know not to stand so close”, he said.

Lars glanced up and down the trail to see if anyone was watching. Finding none, he threw himself at Jarn with a scream, trying to knock the other man over and kill him quickly. Jarn was caught completely unaware and was sent skidding on his back into the middle of the dirt trail. Lars kept up the attack by running up to where Jarn lay and attempting to bring his boot down on the other man’s face. Jarn managed to grab hold of the leg which was not raised in the air and twist it, toppling Lars. Jarn quickly got back up and ran over to the aforementioned ash tree. He then grabbed at the ax embedded in the tree, pulling desperately. But to no avail, Lars had managed to rise but was limping, he must’ve twisted his leg in the fall. He moved carefully over to the tree opposite from Jarn, where the other ax had been set down. He picked it up and hefted it, giving Jarn a calculating look, wondering if he could take the taller man with the advantage of an ax and disadvantage of a limp.

He obviously thought he could as he made his way toward Jarn. Jarn frantically scoured the ground for anything he could find, coming up with a study looking stick. He widened his stance and gave himself room to maneuver as Lars came closer, suddenly braking into a run! It had been a ruse, Lars was fine! Jarn charged forward to meet him and warcry on his lips that was swiftly echoed by his assailant. They were but a few yards apart as two arrows came whistling toward them, slamming home in the haft of Lars’ ax and the head of Jarn’s stick.

“Knock that off you two!”, shrieked a voice that they were both familiar with.

“S’right”, agreed a gruff man. “Where the hell is breakfast?”

The two would-be combatants turned to see half the camp was watching their fight. At the head of the crowd was Millienya and Tyrel, the self-proclaimed bodyguard of Seryan’s. Both were in the process of reloading their crossbows.

“Lars!”, Millienya yelled. “You finish cutting the wood and leave Jarn be!”

“He tried to murder me”, Lars protested in dismay.

“By the look of it you almost killed him too, so you’re level”, she countered. “You deserve whatever he did”.

Jarn put down his pitiful looking stick and walked slowly back to camp, while Lars stomped deeper into the woods, muttering to himself and cursing in a language Jarn didn’t understand. The camp watched him go with a mixed sense of anger and hunger, it was already mid-morning and very few of them had eaten because they couldn’t get a fire going. When they go to find out what the hold-up was, they find him tussling with the newcomer and ignoring their rumbling bellies!

“Are you hurt?”, Millienya asked in concern for Jarn.

“I’ll be fine, I just need to be wary of Lars, nothing more”, responded Jarn sullenly

The crowd dispersed with grumbling mouths and bellies as they got about their chores of packing up their things, taking care of the pack mules and horses, and a few small children collecting sticks in hope of cooking breakfast a little faster. Only Jarn and Millienya remained.

Why does Lars have to fight with anyone he ever meets? It’s not as if everyone else in the world is out to get him, well at least not until they talk to him.

“I apologize for him”, she said. “He just doesn’t get along with other people”.

“Really?”, Jarn said in mock surprise. “I thought he was being coy....If he doesn’t get along well with people, who does get along with?”

“Damned if I know”, she said theatrically throwing her hands up in surrender.

Jarn began walking back to the camp to load up his bedroll and other things into the guards’ wagon. Since Karnar vouched for him, people thought he must be a guard too.

“Jarn, wait”, Millienya said. “Don’t worry about watching Lars, I’ll keep him civil”.

“You have my thanks”, Jarn said, warming up to her a little. Jarn smiled to himself, liking the idea that someone else was looking out for him. And then there was the embarrassed smile he always received when facing her, it gave one pause to think about it’s implications. Jarn might just have an admirer.

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