Stories

Small Town Wars


Our town was small. It meant nothing. It was barely even a town, really. It was more a village, out in the middle of nowhere. It was only called a town because once, a long time ago, someone had decided it really needed walls, so walls had been built. The walls weren't even all that sturdy, like city walls were. I'd seen city walls once when my pop took us all to Corpus to visit the marketplace. Those city walls were taller than five men standing on each others' shoulders and made of stone.

Gleeton's walls were no bigger than a child on his pop's shoulders and were made of logs. They did have sharpened spikes at the top, though, which looked impressive.

We were all farmers, mostly. Oh, there were some people who weren't. Rundy was the blacksmith, Eurl ran the general store. Jacib made paper and his wife Lanire was a seamstress. And we had a pretty nice temple to Optierus sitting off in a corner of the town. Some people only went for holy days, most of us went every fifth day as the priest told us was proper, and a few went every day to offer prayers and supplication.

Of course, there were a few people who never went at all. They hung the black cloth over their windows and wore the onyx disc around their necks. Galvetrus worshipers. The priest of Optierus told us they were evil people, but they never seemed to bother anyone else. In fact, one of them, an old man named Arnest, even helped my ma when she came down with a case of red welts. They were commonplace back in the dusklands where he grew up and you only needed to spread some herbs on them to get rid of them.

The priest of Optierus (his name was Ernold, but no one called him that. Everyone just called him Priest) warned us that Arnest had cast a spell on my ma and then got rid of it, just to fool us. But that was nigh ten years ago, and he never hexed anyone else, so we all just thought Priest was full of it.

So we got along pretty well. We heard rumors about the war, of course. People came through the town every so often carrying stories, but we paid it no mind. The war was far away, we told each other. Out in the dusklands, where people did things like have wars with each other. That's what Arnest said, at least. It's why he moved to the dawnlands, even though he still said his prayers to Galvetrus every night and squinted in the light even when it was overcast.

Of course, then we heard that Alywind had been taken over, and that was only two days ride away. Alywind was another city, like Corpus, except smaller, but it was supposed to be really strong with some of the best knights in the whole dawnlands.

We said it was impossible to the first few people who came through. They were just spreading unfounded rumors and all that. But then more and more people came through on their way to Corpus; refugees my pop said, people who had run off during the fighting and were trying to find someplace else to live. I asked, well, why don't we let them stay in Gleeton, but pop said there wasn't enough room or food in Gleeton for all of them and besides, if more people came to Gleeton then they might decide we need to be conquered next.

I said but we're just a small town, barely more than a village, and pop said that'd change if there was more people here. Even so, couldn't we just let a few of them stay? They looked tired and sick and hungry, but pop just told me I didn't know how the world really worked and that I shouldn't question him.

A few of them stayed anyway, even though pop said they shouldn't. Wasn't more than a hundred of them in total, which was still a pretty big number for a place like Gleeton, but not so much as to really throw things all topsy-turvy. Most of them boarded over at Hollet's farm. He'd inherited the farm from his pop, but his wife didn't pop out the kids like his ma had, and Hollet had gotten his kin angry at him so he didn't have enough people to work all the fields. He put the refugees to work in exchange for room and board.

The rest moved on to Corpus and that was the last we really heard of them, though once or twice someone visited the city and came back with stories about a shanty town forming outside the walls. We thought they were probably full of it, but we couldn't just say they were making rumors up like before, because last time we had all the refugees showed up and made us look silly.

But still, we thought we were ok, because we were just a small town, barely more than a village, and no one would bother us. After a few months, most people started to forget that Alywind had even been conquered at all.

Then on a five day, when we were all at the temple saying our prayers and thanking Optierus for all he'd given us, a man came into town riding a komostier. He was wearing all black, which seemed pretty silly considering it was the hottest time of the year, but he wasn't sweating or anything even though he had on a thick cloak that flapped loudly in the air when the komostier was running.

The Galvetrus worshipers all came out of their houses and got down on their knees when he came. Some of them asked him to bless them, but he told them he wasn't a priest, he was just a messenger for the General.

The General is what they called the man leading their army (though rumors said he wasn't a man at all, but some kind of armor that could walk and talk on its own. That sounded like a good deal of ursis crap to me), but most of us called him the Dark General on account of his worshiping Galvetrus and leading armies from the nightlands. If he had a name, none of us knew it, and the messenger didn't tell us it either.

The messenger said that the General was coming to take over this town and that there was nothing we could do to stop him, so we'd best just surrender peacefully when he got here. We wanted to know what the Dark General wanted with a place like Gleeton, on account of it being so small and out of the way. I think when Priest called him the Dark General, he was hoping the messenger would get offended or something, but he didn't.

He just said that the General wanted to bring everyone to the soothing blanket of Galvetrus, the god of the night that spares us from the harsh light of the Orb, who brings us favorable dreams and cares for us when we sleep. To the General, the messenger said, there isn't a place too small or not worth visiting. Everyone, man, montane, goblin, dranomicax alike. They all needed to be brought before Galvetrus and showed the true path to strength and happiness.

Well, Priest didn't like any of that talk and called the messenger evil and hateful and asked how the crops would grow without the Orb to shine light on them. Who would keep us warm without the Orb of Optierus? He pointed out that bandits and thieves lived in the night.

The messenger said those things were nonsense. Everyone knew that bandits and thieves moved about during the day, when the glare of the Orb made it hard to see. Old Arnest was nodding his head when the messenger said that stuff and I knew why Priest had always warned us about Galvetrus worshipers, because I saw fine during the day and it was at night when I needed a torch to see anything at all.

Priest looked like he wanted to argue some more, because his chest was all puffed out and he was red in the face like he got during some of his really enthusiastic sermons about how sinners would burn in the fires of Optierus's wrath and be scorched by the Orb for their wrong-doings (he'd said the same things about my ma when she got the red welts, claiming they were burns from the Orb that were showing her sins. He didn't say what sins they were, of course and after Arnest fixed them he changed his tune to the whole evil spell thing). But the messenger just told us we had another five days to make up our minds before the General came, so we'd better make our decisions quick.

We all went back into the temple, even the Galvetrus worshipers like Arnest, because that was the biggest building in the whole town and we could all meet and talk there. There was a whole lot of debating about what we should do.

Priest was all for resisting. He promised that if we gave up and opened our gates, the Dark General would come and tear down the temple and build one to Galvetrus instead and force us all to go there and hang black cloths over our windows and make it so we could only come out during the night.

Rundy said it sounded like that would happen anyway, because the Dark General would come and break down our walls and kill a bunch of us to make an example, then do all that stuff. There were a lot of worried murmurs once Rundy had started talking about killing, even though the messenger had never mentioned that. I guess it was just sort of taken for obvious that if we didn't give up, they'd come and take things by force.

Priest told us that there was no way the Dark General was actually coming all this way just for our little town, which was barely more than a village. It was all just some posturing and bluffing to try and get us frightened and turn our backs on Optierus. If we just told him no, he wouldn't bother with us any more than we'd bother to step on any anthill we saw if it wasn't bothering us any.

I was pretty surprised when Arnest agreed with Priest and said that the General would just pass us on by and go to Corpus if we refused to give up. Everyone had expected Arnest to advocate giving ourselves up, not because Arnest was a coward or anything, but because he was a Galvetrus worshiper just like the General.

Arnest just shrugged his stooped shoulders and said he'd been living in Gleeton for plenty long and, even though he didn't give thanks to Optierus for anything, he liked most of the people just fine the way they were so he didn't want anything to change. I could tell by the way Priest was looking at him that he didn't trust Arnest as far as he could throw him.

A few of the other Galvetrus worshipers lived up to our expectations though and said we should give ourselves up. Rundy agreed with them, even though he was a good follower of Optierus and his wife went to temple every morning to give thanks. He didn't believe the Dark General wouldn't come for us just because we were small and unimportant. A man who leads a war of faith, he said, don't care much about the size of the man he's fighting as long as he thinks he can get the man to believe the way he does.

Well, that was all Priest needed to start working people up into a frenzy. See, those Galvetrus worshipers are telling us lies and making us think we are doomed no matter what. That's just not the case, he said, we can stand proud and Optierus will protect us. To prove it, he did the trick where he clenches his fist and then opens it and there's a fire there.

Of course, then there were those refugees who had all been there when the Dark General had attacked Alywind. They talked about how big the Dark General's army was, how it was filled with masked goblins and evil wizards and all sorts of other things. We weren't much to believing some of their stories, because they rightly seemed made up. The Dark General was supposed to have komostiers that walked on two legs and held swords and were impossible to kill. I think there was probably just some tall men in scary armor.

They didn't agree one way or the other on if it was best to surrender or resist. Some wanted one, some wanted the other. A few I could tell were just going to run away and never come back. I think Hollet noticed that too, because he was eying them close and I was sure he was going to make sure he locked up all of his valuables tonight.

It went back and forth like this for a while and people were pretty evenly split, even when the Orb started to dip below the horizon, and Priest told us that the night was no time to be spent inside a temple of Optierus, so he sent us all home and told us we could come in the morning to make our decision. He was pretty sure we'd decide to refuse to give up that next morning.

I sure had a hard time sleeping. I kept asking my pop what we should do, but pop just said it doesn't matter what we should do, because the village would come to a decision and that would be it. The entire village would have to agree on something. We couldn't be divided. I said that I thought he was part of making the decision too, but he told me that he really didn't know these sort of things, but figured we ought to just listen to the priest.

Well, the next morning we all got together at the break of dawn to settle the matter. Unlike what Priest assumed, we did not come to an agreement immediately. Some wanted to surrender, some wanted to fight, and now some just wanted to pack up and run. I can't say I disagreed with those who wanted to run, but I also couldn't just up and leave my home. It'd been my home for as long as I'd lived, I'd only rarely been away from it. I'd planned on raising a family and dying in Gleeton.

Who was this Dark General to take that away from me?

So despite my pop telling me to keep out of it, I spoke up and said I was all for fighting back. I agreed with Arnest, the Dark General wouldn't come and bother with our little town. He'd hear we said no, shrug his shoulders, and pass on by to Corpus. By then he'd probably forget all about us.

We argued for the rest of the day, even though people should have been out tending to their fields or their livestock. I just know there were some ursises out there wondering why they weren't being milked and hating life.

As the day started to come to a close, Priest got pretty angry at the people saying we should give up. Especially since the Galvetrus worshipers (except for Arnest) were the ones leading the way on that front. They were the loudest and the most vocal. The priest said they were the reason we were still fighting, because they'd poisoned the minds of all the people against Optierus and were leading us to treason.

He said that we should have kicked them out of the town a long time ago and that the whole reason the Dark General even knew about us is probably because they told him. They tried to point out they'd been in the town the whole time the war'd been on, that everyone had seen them about and there was no way they'd have snuck off, but Priest shouted them down. He said the town should just go right ahead and throw them out and let the Dark General take care of them.

Almost everyone, even the people who were in favor of surrendering, thought that was a good idea, because no matter which way you cut it, they did follow Galvetrus and so if the Dark General came they wouldn't lose out no matter what happened. A few people tried to stand up for them, saying they'd been in the town for years or even longer and had never hurt anyone and had even helped out. Priest got really angry at that and said they should get thrown out of the city too, for trying to get us to treat with the enemy.

Well, there sure was a huge ruckus raised and a few punches and kicks were thrown, and one man got cracked over the head with a staff, but no one was killed. So we gathered all of the Galvetrus worshipers (even Arnest, who was in favor of fighting) and all the people who had been trying to stand up for them and took them to the city walls and kicked them out. They asked, hey, what about our homes and our things and the priest said, you should have thought about that before you talked about giving the entire town to the Dark General, even though some of them hadn't.

It was night time then and the priest said we should turn in to bed and come back in the morning, so we did. The next day, with the Galvetrus worshipers and the people who had backed them up gone, we came to the consensus pretty quickly that we should fight against the Dark General. Priest said that was because with the Galvetrus worshipers gone there was no one to raise up those silly ideas about surrendering, but I noticed a bunch of people who had been in favor of it who were keeping their mouths shut this time.

Afterward we went back to our homes and farms and tried to do two days' work in less than one. It was hard work, but we got it done, even though we had to work even after the Orb set to get things finished. I was dead tired and just fell flat asleep so much that I didn't get woken up by any of the commotion that night. I just heard about it later.

It turns out one of the people who got kicked out of town, Jacib, tried to get back into town. He climbed over the wall at the gate and went to his house to get some of his stuff back. One of his neighbors had seen him and raised an alarm, so people grabbed him and dragged him to the wall and tried to throw him off. Except he was struggling and it was hard to throw him far, so he got impaled on one of the wood spikes, which snapped off in his chest and he landed on the ground outside the wall, dead as a kelad.

The next morning, when I was walking to Rundy's to get a hoe fixed, I heard Lanire wailing outside the walls and I asked someone about it and that's when I heard the story about what happened the night before. By the time I was finished at Rundy's, Lanire was gone or at least she'd stopped making such a noise.

After that, we started posting a guard at the gate every night to make sure no one tried to come back in. Because none of us were used to staying up through the night, the men drew lots to take shifts. My pop drew the twelfth lot, which meant he had to take the third and last shift on the fourth day.

Well, the next few days went by without much trouble, until the fifth day since the messenger arrived came and we all got nervous, wondering if today would be the day the Dark General came to take us over. But we went about our business as much as normal as we could and when half the day was past, we started getting even more antsy, but then half again went past and there was still no sign of him so we all started to relax and then the Orb set, so we figured there was nothing to worry about at all.

Of course, Galvetrus is the god of the night and the darkness, so of course his Dark General wouldn't come during the day. Our walls didn't do us much good, because the person who was supposed to be watching the gate opened it up for one of his friends who had been kicked out of town, only the friend had a bunch of the Dark General's soldiers with him and they came into the town and took over.

The Dark General himself never came and there were only about twenty soldiers in all, but it was enough because they had swords and armor and all we had was butcher knives and pitchforks and a few axes for chopping wood, plus it was the middle of the night, so they were able to round everyone up out of their beds. A few people got killed, because they tried to fight back.

The brought us all to the town square and killed Priest right in front of us. He did the trick where he made fire in his hand and managed to set one of the soldiers on fire, but the others put it out and then cut his head off. They took the orb around his neck and smashed it under their boots, then put us to work tearing the temple of Optierus down. The only ones who didn't have to work were the people we had kicked out of the town; they got to sit there and watch us do it.

It was hard work, because we didn't really have the right tools to do it, but there were a lot of us so by the morning it was all torn down. The soldiers locked us in our homes then and didn't let us out until it was night again. Then they started us building a temple to Galvetrus out of what we could use from the temple of Optierus.

In the end, the temple didn't look all that different from how it had been in the first place, except shabbier because it was put together from torn up parts. A few days later, a priest of Galvetrus came to the town and showed us a trick where he made a little black ball in the palm of his hand and threw it into a fire and the fire went out.

He said that's the way things would be here from now on. Half of the soldiers left after a week, to go join up with the attack on Corpus, but the rest remained to make sure we went to the temple every dusk and were in our houses by the dawn.

I've seen pop having a tough time of it, but I think I'm finally starting to get used to milking ursises when the Orb is down and the Disc is up.


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