Onslaught and the Greydogs
A tale told by Thiolf the Restless, Wanderer of Mastakos. Year - Unknown.
It was a late windsday on the road to Runegate when I finally stopped at the Greydog Inn. The inn was dank and dreary under the copious blessings of Heler but all I wanted was a hearty meal and a dry bed for the night so I cared little of outward appearances. The common room was almost empty and the few that were left in it sat amid a clump of tables, away from a solitary man in the corner.
I asked the innkeeper, a hearty man named Bestaf Longbrewer, what caused such incivility towards the solitary figure. He pointed at several patches of bloodstained sawdust. “He killed three Osgosi householders earlier tonight, including Fergus Windbag, best piper in the clan.” Bestaf shook his head sadly. “he said he did it in the name of Gorin’s Household. I think his blood will join theirs when their kin show up.”
I was curious. The reasoning of men of great violence has always been something I wished to fathom and Mastakos was ever for the new and dangerous. I approached the fellow cautiously. He sat hunched, with a furious concentration, as he stabbed the table between his outstretched fingers over and over again. So fast was his movement that I could barely see his large, sinewy arm move at all. The rest of him matched that arm. He looked like a statue of woven iron wire, like a Mostali construct. The image became stronger in my mind as he grinned at me, revealing his blacksmith smile of serrated iron teeth. Upon each high cheek the rune of Death was carved deep and his face bore scars beyond count, creating a weave of once-wounds about him. “Good eve.” Said I.
“Wotcha.” Said he. I did not know the term but assumed it was friendly from his tone. Not that his voice held much tone, as he spoke like a sword sliding from a sheath. His voice had a metallic edge to it.
I sat. He didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he looked expectantly at me. “I see you had a dispute and manslaying tonight?” I commented.
He nodded cheerily. “Are you claiming feud?” He asked. His smile was huge and glinted in the lantern light.
“No. No!” I assured him hastily. I was no craven to fear battle but something about this man warned me that even with no weapon but the dagger sticking from the table, he would master me in moments, chain, sword, helm and all. “Just curious. What is your name?”
“My name is Aldarch Roven-Drax, but most simply call me Onslaught.”
I had heard the name ‘Onslaught’ on my travels. It was said to belong to one of the most avid Death mercenaries of any land. A man so steeped in war and killing that he called no land home but quested ever onwards for battle and bloodshed. “What would a man of such renown, indeed infamy, be doing in a tribal inn, killing clansmen?”
“I was paid well to kill those named and await here the night for the act of vengeance or a reckoning. That is what I’m doing. Besides, I was passing through the area so I might as well work while I’m here.”
I was appalled at his callous disregard for the danger he was in and the blood he had spilled in the name of mere remuneration or relief from boredom. “Well if you wish a witness at the moot after your death, I will stand for you. It might not be a favourable telling but it will be true.”
“I thank you, but that won’t be necessary.” He stood and pulled sword and axe from beneath the table, slid an iron hauberk on and began strapping on helm and limb-guards. “The day my blades cannot take a score of clansmen is no more likely to occur than the Red Moon falling from the sky!”
As he spoke a thane appeared in the doorway with many warriors behind him. “What have you done?” He shouted at Onslaught. He came into the room with hand on hilt and his men were likewise cautious.
“As you asked, Yanbaum Braveblade. Or perhaps you aren’t so brave when the swords are drawn and the blood runs hot?” replied Onslaught.
“I asked you to offer insult so that they may assail _you_ and be outlawed or killed. I didn’t want you to just walk in and kill them without reason! Now I’m up to my ears in a feud that will kill many of my people!”
There was a commotion outside as a new group of warriors appeared. They were led by several housecarls and thanes, all well harnessed for battle and girt for swordplay. Pushing to the front of this new group was a smaller man, armed for war but clearly not a warrior in the way he moved. Every inch of him shouted - FARMER to me. He glowered at Yanbaum and then at Onslaught. “You!” He shouted, though not at all impressively. “You killed three of our kin and there has to be an atonement!” He switched his glare to Yanbaum once more. “And what will you give, who hired this killer to slay your fellow clanfolk?”
“I say, I will pay weregeld for their death as if each were a carl. That will be fair and just if you will accept it to end our feud.” spoke Yanbaum seriously. Regret and anguish were clear on his face. Whatever desire had led him to hire Onslaught had died in him at the sight of all the blood on the floor.
“Agreed! For feud weakens us all and the farming is already poor without laying sword to sword among us.” spoke Cornard Lifefinder, for that was his name, as I found out later. A more peaceable man it would be hard to find. My hopes for an ending were raised, then dashed.
Onslaught struck his weapons together to attract their attention. “Yanbaum spoke to me of a cow’s value per head I took. He owes me three cows value so far. If you have settled for weregeld between each other, I want payment before I leave you be.”
Both Yanbaum and Cornard looked incredulous. Yanbaum spat. “You went against my word and expect payment? To the underworld with you!”
“Have you not done enough damage to our clan without wishing to impoverish it also?” snapped Cornard.
Onslaught grinned into the lantern light. “You renounce your oath of payment?”
“An oath you broke with your foolish actions!”
“A sword does not kill unless wielded by a man with the intent to kill.” spoke Onslaught quietly though his words held a chillingly grim tone, soon manifested by his actions.
My mouth hung open for the few moments it took.
He stood still one moment, then his was simply there, among them. Shield and mail did nothing to slow his weapons, powered as they were by Death itself. In a blink of an eye three warriors standing close around Yanbaum were killed, their heads removed at the neck with the precision of a Mostali crafter.
Onslaught stood back in his place, not even breathing hard, before the still spurting corpses hit the ground, adding yet more stains to that bloody sawdust. Yanbaum’s eyes were so wide with shock I thought they would start from his head. He was drenched in the life of his three best men yet had barely had time to register their deaths before Onslaught spoke again. “Three men die for three heads taken. If you will not pay me with cattle, then I take the lives as weregeld for my loss. Humakt will be pleased with the deaths. If you wish no more, you shall not follow me. If you do then there will be none of you left to claim weregeld!” With that, he strode out the door and no man lifted a hand against him, nor have to this day, for the Greydog clan still exists.
Bestaf Longbrewer later told me the tale of the two households and their old enmity and shared a fragment of his innkeepers wisdom with me, “We have our fights and our arguments but our clan is who we are. It takes the coming of a stranger and the killing of our folk for us to see it sometimes, but it’s there all the same. There has been death today, but we are better for it. Closer.”
I pondered his words on my walk to Runegate the next day. I praised Mastakos for bringing me to that inn, to see a change in a people. Without change we are nothing but shadows of what we might be. The Greydog know this now.
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