V’vendy stood up and told her story.
I must apologize. I’m clumsy with words, as you’ve probably seen. To make matters worse, my life story’s pretty dull, so…so please be patient, alright?
I grew up an outcaste, raised by my mother deep in the northern wilds. We lived a wild and uncivilized, there in the forests and mountains
I’m sorry, I should explain better.
In civilization, everyone depends on each other to live: a baker can’t live without a farmer, a blacksmith can’t live without a miner, a city can’t live without a canal digger. If you remove one caste from the Kingdom, every other caste would fall apart.
But in the wilds, you can only rely on yourself and your kin. That’s how mother liked it.
“Civilization is corrupt,” she told me one day, as we struck flint against a heap of moist logs, beneath a large, wind-breaking cliff. “Worse, civilization chains you up. In civilization, you have to obey others to stay safe. You have to depend on others to stay alive.”
She gestured towards the flowing river near us, the grove of trees in the distance, the rolling plains that stretched out to touch the sky. “But here,” she said, “You owe no one. You depend on no one. You live simply because you choose to.” My mother smiled, cheeks rosy from the cold. “Here we are free.”
A year later, my mother froze to death in a snowstorm. When she didn’t return to the hut, I searched. I found her blue-cold body in a ravine, leg chewed to kibble, surrounded by three dead wolves.
My mother was weak or foolish. She was wise, skilled, clear-eyed. She taught me to read the wind and bake acorn bread. How to string a bow and kill prey with one shot. How to dress a carcass and light a fire in raging rain. With the tools she gave me, I survived on my own for a while.
Still, my mother was wrong about one thing. In the wild, you are free from the tyranny of caste and king. But the wilderness is a tyrant too; it’s snowstorms, droughts, blights, fires and scare foods are harsh decrees that can crush you as easily as the laws of civilization.
I wandered through the wild for years, eating rich some years, starving to skin and bones other years.
Then one day, I found two outlaws camping in a forest glen, roasting condors on a spit and laughing loud. I crouched outside their firelight and listened.
“Ridiculous!” The first bandit said. “Do you know what they call me in the Western Provinces?” He slammed his chest with his own cudgel. “They call me Ox-Crippler, cruellest of all bandits!”
“Pah!” The other Bandit said, adjusting the straps of his bronze nose, a wicked prosthesis tipped with a narrow spike. “Who’s ever heard of Ox-Crippler! When merchants pray to the Hidden Gods, they pray for deliverance from me!” He tapped his spiked nose. “Brain Slurper!”
“Brain Slurper?” Ox-Crippler scoffed. “Never heard of you!”
“Well, you should have!” Brain Slurper retorted. “I once burned down a village!”
“I once slaughtered a whole caravan of men women, and children!” Ox-Crippler replied.
“I once skinned a Saurian and tried to wear his hide as a coat!” Brain Slurper said. His spiked nose wiggled. “It didn’t work…”
“I once made a man bite his fingers off one at a time!” Ox-Crippler shouted hotly.
“Oh yeah?” Brain Slurper said. “The magistrates posted a bounty of ten cows and fifty shells for anyone who brings them my head!”
“OH YEAH?” Ox-Crippler said. “I’ve got a bounty of fifteen wheat bags and eighty gold shells–!”
I put an arrow in Brain Slurper’s neck, then one between Ox-Crippler’s eyes. After enjoying their fire and food, I sawed off their heads and brought them to the nearest village.
I’ve been hunting lawbreakers ever since. Ever since I met Rintha, I’ve hunted Roarers too.
I still don’t know why people call me Deathweaver. Really, I’m just a hunter trying not to go hungry.
I can’t live free of civilization like my mother wanted to, but by taking bounties, I can live freely. I can live a life of my own, a life that I can choose. I like to believe that my mother––