Aghilas

Copyright Cormac Doyle © 2015

Edited by Peter Rudin-Burgess for The Guild Companion

"But that day his world changed utterly. That was the day the al-majus attacked his village."

Aghilas

The morning had been hot. That much he remembered. That fateful morning, sun was beating down stronger and hotter than he had experienced in the many long years since that day.

He remembered the village of Tazaghout where he had spent the first half of his childhood. The shifting sands around the village were broken only by the salt-ridden waters of the deep ocean where the villagers cast their nets every day. He remembered spending his days repairing the nets; drinking Gariss (when he could steal it); and sheltering from the sun in the shade of the white walls of the houses and the occasional palm.

But that day his world changed utterly. That was the day the al-majus attacked his village. Whether they were looking for gold, or pearls, or just some water on the barren desert coastline, what they brought was death and bloodshed. The fishermen saw them first — their strange square-rigged ships striking a novel silhouette against the shimmering horizon.

They beached their ships when they saw the white walls of the village and attacked without warning or provocation. The fishermen running in from the nets were cut down first; then the traders from the village bazaar. Soon all resistance had ceased; the older children and young women were separated from the elders of the village and the infants and were forced to carry the food and goods from the bazaar down to the ships. Aghilas had no memory of what happened the infants, the mothers and the elders of the village nor even the injured and captured men — for the maidens and children old enough to work never returned to the village.

The al-majus were alien. Their language was harsh and guttural. They worshiped fire and death (or that was what his parents had taught him). Their skin was pale and demon touched, unlike the cool dark tones of his people but the last few years had taught him more.

They were fair in some bizarre way. In fact, in the last season, he had earned his freedom; acknowledged by the Dragon of Öheimstǫğ. His skill as a shipwright had earned him the respect of captains of the leiğangr (fleet). Now, he traveled with Haldor and his four ships ready to guide the repairs on the ships should they become damaged in bad weather or enemy action.

But this morning's action was different. They had landed quietly, two ships either side of the small village in the fjord, while the last ship stood off the coast and attacked the two fishing vessels out in the open waters. He had seen the men pull on their hauberks and metal helms and ready their axes and shields. He remembered once again the terror he had felt when the freemen had attacked his village those many years before.

The first hour or two went as planned. The villagers were caught unawares. The oyster farmers on the coast were captured or killed; the fishing curraghs were sunk and the fishermen slain as they swam for the safety of the shore. Then he saw the freemen swarm across the beaches and close in on the village in just the way he had seen as a child.

Why change a successful strategy? He shook his head in sorrow and sat as his ship — the Şengill's ship — sailed into the nameless small harbor on Eirfjara (the Bronze coast). The Şengill's ship had taken no damage and he knew his knowledge and skill would probably be required only to repair the damage caused by a rough beaching of the other two ships but as the ship docked he saw one of the other ships engulfed with flames.

This level of resistance is rare at such unnamed villages — we've been avoiding the main settlements for many moons since they started to fight back! I wonder how they know we were coming?

The freemen of the ships had the village secured, but the fighting outside the village had already unsettled the men when the Şengill's ship docked. Looking at the burning ship, he simply yelled “Tíğ eğa Flóğ biğa neinn” (Time and Tides wait for no one).

They started to load the ship immediately, but as they were doing so, one of the crew from the second ship came running in saying their ship was under attack. Aghilas ran back with them to survey the damage — the loss of two ships on such an inconsequential raid would be a great shame to the entire leiğangr. The fighting near the ship was over when he arrived. Just two of the Eirlandr lay on the sands, among the bodies of nine freemen. Without armor, nor even true metal weapons, their onslaught had taken with them more than three times their number.

Having regained full control of the area, the Şeng of the ship roared an order at the freemen nearby - “They sleep now. Bring them that they can rejoin Oğin the wise in the dreamlands!”

As the bodies are dragged on board the ship Aghilas reviewed the damage to the ship. There were several ax-holes near the waterline of the snekkja, but the burning torches had failed to catch on anything and were lying smoldering in the sodden keel. Taking some of the leather stored in the locker, he guided two of the freemen to fix the leather across the holes to ensure that the ship did not leak water during the trip back to Öheimstǫğ. A coating of tar on top would be better, but if the Eirlandrs had attacked once, they might indeed attack again.

“The boat will float — but not in a storm. She needs to return to harbor and have these planks repaired!” Whether his advise was heeded by the Şeng was always going to be the luck of the dice, but having given his advice, his duty was done.

“I return now to the Şengill. I have your permission?” His mastery of the freeman's tongue was still rough — after more than 8 years, but as a freeman under the Şengill's direct command, the Şeng of this snekkja could not delay him further.

“Go. Pray that we do not sink, or the last words from my mouth will be to curse you to join me in the realm of the Drekkjagóğr”. The words ringing in Aghilas' ears, he nodded wordlessly and started on the return run to the village to board the Şengill's ship again.

As he approached the village, he could already see the Şengill's ship drawing away from the shore. Running towards the village was impossible, but turning, he could see that the newly repaired snekkja was also pulling away from the shore. Running into the sea-foam, he screamed to the freemen on the ship in both their tongue and his own that they could not leave him, but his pleas were left unanswered.

Turning once more, and with a sinking heart, he began to struggle out of the waters of the fjord when he saw one of the Eirlandr appear from behind a piece of scrub. How do I beg for peace? His thoughts were short-lived — the Eirlandr drew back on their bow and the arrow shot true, striking him under the collar bone. Falling into the surf, his last thought was that of the Irony of being slain on a raid so similar to the one upon which he had first been captured by the freemen!

###@###

The Fomóraig are a fiction; that is what I have always been taught! But the black demon that had landed with the lochruthair raiders looked like nothing less than a creature from the Daoine legends. If that truly is a Fomóire, he should not allow it to die! Conn waded over the stony shore and dragged the body of the bleeding Fomóire from the waters of the Fjord.

Whatever you are — your association with those lochruthair is enough for me to cut your throat! Pray that the old man still breaths and is more lenient!