“May you have a life of safety and peace”, said the witch, cursing the bloodthirsty warrior.
The words of the slain hold tremendous power.
It’s why any sensible warrior is a master of swift endings. Such as an arrow through the eye or a clean separation of head from shoulders. In a pinch, a slit throat will do. Though it really is best to avoid giving your enemy the chance to make even garbled curses out of their last bloody breaths. For even those without the slightest touch of magic have been known to make a curse stick if it’s uttered on the cold brink of death.
Eindred the Bloody collected curses in the same way that other warriors collected scars. Even in the wild chaos of battle, he was known to take a knee, pressing his ear to a felled enemy’s laboring lips.
May your every loved one die screaming in pain.
I hope you die with your eyes stabbed out and your heart in your hands.
You will never know happiness.
Your existence will be suffering.
May your greatest enemy rise from the grave and never leave you alone.
The last was his most recent curse, and Eindred wondered if it meant some great murdered brute was tracing his steps, waiting to catch him while he slept.
Eindred crossed the peninsula with a company of barbaric warriors, gaining a new curse from every enemy he felled. Not all of them would stick, he knew. But some undoubtedly would. And he would deserve every one.
Others in his company treated him with to wary, sidelong glances, because surely it was dangerous to travel with one so cursed as he. But Eindred was a force in battle, relentless and unstoppable as an icy winter gale, and so they swallowed their complaints, and contented themselves with leaving a wide berth on either side of his scarred, patchwork arms.
Eindred was marching at the back of the company when they came upon the village. It was a collection of squat, wooden homes tucked beneath a snow capped mountainside. From thatched rooftops, wisps of smoke from cooking fires rose, painting the blue sky in pale, meandering strokes.
This company tended to leave such settlements alone, and Eindred was glad for it. No warriors would be found in tiny mountainside villages, and though he might live to fight, he had no interest in wholesale slaughter.
This time, however, the company leader – a silent, brutish man, held up a hand.
Their company was running low on food, it turned out, and even from a distance, the warriors could see the village’s sheep – a trail of white spots on the green hillside.
Eindred was disappointed when, ultimately, violence erupted in the quiet village, though he did not lay down his thick handled blade.
The shepherd boy had refused to give up his master’s sheep, and when he shouted, a blacksmith had burst from his home, wielding a great hammer in his hand.
The battle was short.
When all was done, four lay dead. The shepherd, the blacksmith, and two young men who’d foolishly taken up crude wooden spears. The rest of the villagers huddled, terrified in their homes. The warriors expected to slaughter the sheep with no further trouble, but when they turned back to the field, an individual stood blocking their way.
His hair was dark – as the hair in these parts tended to be, and his face was sharp, both nose and cheeks splattered with freckles. Golden eyes beheld the warriors, and he watched them with a steady, measured gaze. Without the slightest hint of fear, he stood before them, his simple robe fluttering in the icy mountain’s breath, and said: “These are simple people. They have little in way of money or goods. It wasn’t for nothing that the shepherd, blacksmith, and teenagers died. They need these sheep. And I cannot allow you to take them.”
The other warriors in the company laughed at the young man’s foolishness – for that was what it looked like to them. Eindred did not laugh, however. Though the stranger’s voice was light, the air stirred around him.
It was rare to encounter one who commanded magics. Rare – but not impossible. And so Eindred alone was unsurprised when the young man turned his golden eyes to the heavens and summoned great branches of lightning which cleaved the skies above them. The world erupted and the men around Eindred screamed.
Eindred, who’d expected something like this, had already begun running.
Later, he would think it odd that the witch hadn’t bothered to move. But in the heat of battle, with lightning splitting the field at his back, Eindred’s attention had narrowed to the rough point of his blade – and then, the crimson place where it pierced the witch’s chest.
The skies silenced as Eindred pulled the wet, crimson blade free of its target.
It took just a moment for the witch to fall, but in that single, infinite moment, Eindred was subjected to the full weight of that golden gaze.
Legs folding beneath him, the witch crumpled, collapsing back onto the wild, wet grass. Eindred knelt beside him, grimly eager to hear the curse and be done with it. Surely a curse at the lips of one so powerful as this would finally bring an end to things?
To take one’s own life was an unspeakably shameful end for a warrior such as he. But a curse? Well, one couldn’t help how the wrong curse might speed things along.
The witch’s black hair was damp from the dew in the grass, and when he turned, it stuck to the side of his face and neck. His mouth opened and closed. Holding his breath, Eindred leaned in.
“-my hut…it’s just past…the next hill over,” the witch whispered. “In it, I keep medicines and herbs. For the villagers. And travelers who pass.”
Eindred shook his head. He didn’t understand.
Impossibly, the witch smiled. When he lifted a hand, Eindred twitched, expecting to be struck.
The witch’s bloodied finger, however, did nothing more than tap his chest. And then, in a wet, rattling breath, the witch, with his great power finally spoke his curse.
“May you live a life of safety and peace.”
Eindred sat, his thick, scarred knuckles braced in the dirt as the cold mountain wind whistled down the hillside at his back.
“What?” he whispered.
But the young man’s golden eyes were blank and empty, and the other warriors lay dead in the field. Only the relentless wind snapped and whistled in answer.
Within a month, he’d joined up with another company. And it soon became clear the witch’s death rattle had been a curse of great power indeed. For wherever Eindred traveled, peace inevitably followed. Enemy warriors surrendered and when they didn’t, members within Eindred’s own company had sudden changes of heart. As for Eindred himself, not a single person would raise a blade against him, and Eindred had never been the sort who could raise his own blade against one who had no wish to fight.
And so for another month he wandered, hapless, without even the dark purpose of collecting curses which had driven him for the last several years.
He’d been raised with a sword in his hand, brought up knowing full well that his job in life would be to cut short the existence of any who stood against him. Not even thirty, and his soul was exhausted, worn ragged by such an life. And so, he’d sought a way out if it. Eindred had accumulated a terrifying number of curses – curses which would surely have felled lesser men than he. Before everything had gone wrong in the tiny village, he’d been sure it was only a matter of time before they overcame him.
But now, the witch’s single curse had overpowered them all.
Eindred was safer than he’d ever been in his life. He’d never known such a quiet, terrible peace.
After another month, he returned to the mountainside village. He didn’t have any good reason to return – other than perhaps the distant hope that a villager’s rage might be enough to overcome the curse. As he climbed the grassy hillside, he resigned himself to potential death by club or rake.