Arynd laid his tools aside in an unusual display of discontent. He’d not achieved much in the last half-hour. Aswig watched the carver as he sat silently, staring at nothing. „The fight early this morning?“ he guessed. Arynd nodded. „Gurnog was killed by Perjak.“ Aswig snorted. „Serves him right, big brute that he was.“ „Aswig!“ Arynd’s head turned round sharply and Aswig shrugged. „What? Are you expecting me to feel sorry for him? He smote Haram more times than I cared to count. I’m not sorry.“ „He was a good fighter and a most successful hunter. We’ll miss him dearly.“ „Well, I won’t. But I can see it really bothers you, so I’ll not gloat over his misfortune.“ He went on stirring ingredients into an oil that would be used to impregnate wood. But Arynd still sat silently and didn’t pick up his tools again. „What else?“ Aswig wanted to know, but Arynd just shook his head. „I have no wish to add to your amusement today.“
„I will not laugh. What else?“ Aswig repeated. Arynd sighed. „They fought over a girl and Perjak took her home with him, the winner’s prize.
She cooked him his meal and as he ate she stabbed him.“
Aswig tried hard and succeded not to laugh. He’d hated them both but Arynd’s face was pained as he looked up. „He made it over to his cousin alive, but she’s in his home now, and he won’t go back anytime soon, and now we lost two strong warriors because of that girl. I can understand she chose the better hunter in her heart and was angry he’d lost, but she had encouraged Perjak, either. They’d been friends from childhood. Things like these just make me feel sick. They never end well.“
„Depends on the persons“, Aswig said, stirring in a fragrant resin. „Although I admit ‚well‘ might be the wrong word.“
„There once was a young warrior in our land“, he began, knowing that the story would not sooth Arynd’s loss. But he decided to tell it anyway, to distract him. „He wasn’t born a warrior’s son, but like so many, he dreamed of becoming a great hero one day nonetheless. He’d gotten his parents‘ consent, he’d trained, and when he’d turned eighteen he’d joined a company of warriors. Beaming with pride he strode around. The world was his, it seemed, and now he dared approach the woman he’d set his eyes on long before. She was older than him, but he wasn’t a child anymore and his heart burned for her, for he thought her the most beautiful lady he’d ever seen. Things went as such things go. He courted her, they were seen together more and more often, be it at a dance or on a ride, she fell in love with him and he deemed himself the luckiest man alive.
Aswig had Arynd’s attention, and the elder man listened to him intently as Aswig went on, because he anticipated what was to come.
„Then“, Aswig said , „his company was sent on a mission. They did not return for weeks.“
„The mission had been a success. Beaming with pride the young man ran to tell his teacher of it. That man was only about ten years his elder and he’d been his first student. They’d become good friends and our young fighter admired him greatly. He told him of how what he’d taught him had helped him win against an Easterling of enormous strength, but then stopped short as he noticed the look on the other one’s face. „What’s wrong?“ he wanted to know.
„A woman told me she loved me“, his friend answered gravely. „And I… found that I love her in turn.“ Perplexed the young man shook his head. „But that’s great! Why aren’t you happy?“
Pain now showed clearly in the elder man’s eyes. „Because,“ he answered softly, „before her heart turned to me, it beat for a very good friend of mine.“
There was a lengthy silence between them. Understanding dawned on the young warrior’s features and he grew very pale. Trembling, he had to sit down.
He looked up at his teacher and fought with words. „Why?“ he managed. „You knew how I felt, how could you… seize the moment I was gone to… to…“
„I didn’t“, came the unhappy reply. „She told me she’d always held affection for the two of us, and that your dazzling manner led her to believe you were the right one. But then she realized she couldn’t forget me. Worse, she thought more and more of me. She knew she had to choose and that she’d have to do it soon. So she did. And then I held her in my arms, and she was crying, because she knew how much her decision would hurt you. It hurt herself, too.“ He sighed. „A woman’s heart can indeed beat for more than one man. But a lady knows she shouldn’t marry more than one.“
The young man had turned to stone on the crude stool he sat on as he heard that. Knowing that woman he was sure that no matter what he did, there was no way of winning her back once she’d decided.
He arose on unsteady feet and glared at the other one, who sighed.
„I’m sorry. The hardest lesson I ever had to teach you. Loss.“
Without a word, the young fighter left.
Soon, his company rode out again. The reports that got back to the elder one spoke of brave deeds, of how his friend had gone after his foes without fear. Valiant, they called him. Reckless, he thought, and he feared for him when he wasn’t mentioned again after one last report that had had him going after a group of the enemy with only a handful of others at his side.
Aswig stopped there. He carefully poured the mixture he’d been stirring into a flask and secured it with a cork.
„He died fighting rather than face his loss, didn’t he?“ guessed Arynd.
‚No,‘ thought Aswig. ‚He was so angry he hacked you to pieces, now that I know your part of the tale.‘
„The elder one didn’t want to wait for reports. He mounted a horse and rode after them. He came in time to help another patrol out of a bad fix and won renown for that fight. When he finally reached his goal, his friend had already safely returned. They called him a hero, for he’d stopped an assault almost single-handedly. He was ashamed of being called that, though, as he looked at the elder man. They both knew why he’d risked so much.
Yet the mood was clear between them like the air after a storm and they stayed friends. He’d come to terms with the woman’s decision. But to this day he hasn’t married another.“
Arynd took the flask from Aswig and handed him another one to fill. „Gurnog would never have come to terms with it. Perjak had no other chance but to kill him if he didn’t want to have to watch his back for the rest of his life. Your men were luckier than most.“
„They probably were, “ agreed Aswig, taking the flask.