Fell was one of his captains and a loyal warrior but Bard knew that he would just as soon kill a troublemaker, and an outsider, if not for the clan law that dictated a trial for any crime short of murder. Bard prompted, “So, this man, he is some sort of Berserker?” He was referring to the near mythical warriors who could go into a battle rage that filled them with the spirit of the demon god Woden. Such warriors were rare and unpredictable. No tactics could be employed with a Berserk other than to unleash them and get out of their way as they would hew friend and foe in a bloody harvest.
Fell hesitated for a heartbeat. “No, my chief, In fact, he was calm throughout. He never uttered a single war cry nor cried out when struck and there was no fear or joy in his eyes while he battled. Even when we overwhelmed him he seemed barely out of breath.” Bard waited for it was clear that the captain had more to add and he was struck by the notion that Fell seemed uncertain of himself. “It’s his eyes. They are empty, as if he has no soul, no spirit.”
Bard clapped Fell on the shoulder in a comradely fashion and said, “You mean he is like a keeper of the law?” But Fell merely smiled loyally at the weak joke. The chief took his chair of carved wood and bone and the elders stood around him. He summoned the wretch before him and noted that there was indeed something, flat, about the man’s eyes. He addressed the prisoner. “What is your name?”
“Beren, son of Hassaf.” Was the reply.
“Why did you kill one of our sheep.”
“I was hungry and there is little else to eat in this land.” Bard waited but it was clear that the man thought this was a complete answer. In truth, he reflected, it was. But any other person in his position would have added excuses, mitigating circumstances and almost certainly lies, in hope of improving their situation and encouraging their captors to treat them less harshly in their judgment. Begging, shouted defiance, offers to pay… none of these were proffered. Just a calm look that lacked even an air of challenge.
“It’s his eyes.” Fell’s words came back to mind. Bard knew then what he meant. He had seen this once before, as a youth in the halls of his father, before the time of the fall and the great migration. An old man had been dragged before his father’s seat of judgement. He had been discovered, transporting a young child, drugged unconscious and hidden under sacking in the back of his wagon. It transpired that he had a cellar filled with horrors that had brought tears to the eyes of even the most seasoned warrior. This man, having been caught and with no escape, had calmly answered all questions put to him and revealed a life of inhuman predations that went far beyond anything anyone had heard of before. There was no motive that anyone could ascribe and the man himself struggled to even understand the concept. The closest he ever came was, “hunger.” His father has asked the man what fate he thought he deserved and the man had simply answered that death was the only punishment that would do. If imprisoned, he would soon die, and if let go he would surely return to his ways. His father had agreed and, although many had screamed for revenge, his father had told him afterwards that the execution had caused him no satisfaction for he had perceived the old man had a sickness of the head that had caused his actions whereas most criminals were driven by a malice of the heart.
Bard spoke again. “Beren. Our warriors may eat the heart of a stag or bear, to gain it’s power but none eat the flesh of goats raw when it may be cooked. Perhaps you are a savage like the copper skinned Jamiroquai Indians to the South?”
“No. I was born in the lands to the West of here and am an outcast from my people.”
“Tell me then, Beren, for what were you cast out?”
“The leader of my village desired my mate. She declined and he took her by force. I killed him.”
Bard considered for a moment. There was more to this tale but this was not the time. Why had the villagers not killed him in turn, or perhaps exiled him for his ‘justice’? Instead, he asked, “And your mate?”
For the first time, Bard detected a flicker of emotion in the man’s eyes as he gave a short sharp shake of his head. “She is no more.”
Bard turned to the elders and waited for a few moments. None deigned to speak and offer opinion, tacitly leaving the decision in his hands. Turning back to the bound man he asked a final question. “Tell me, Beren, what would your judgement be if you were in my position?”
The man, Beren, tilted his head slightly to the side as if considering. For a long moment he said nothing, and then, “I would order restitution for property and damages. As I have no possessions, such restitution would be in the form of service. 1 year for the goat, 1 year for injury to the warriors, as no one was seriously hurt.”
The captain coughed, not very discreetly, into his fist at these last words but Bard managed to hide a smile. He considered the prisoners words and found himself reassured. It was a just sentence without the anger that often fuelled disputes and made them more, ‘messy’ than they need be. The real issue was how safe was it to let this stranger have the run of the camp. The Wild Angel clan were not slavers and it was not practical to keep him in chains. Perhaps he should just order him beaten and turned out into the wilds but… “And what is it that you desire in life Beren?”