It was not wise for humans to meddle in the affairs of gods. Especially gods of death and mischief...
'Words are stronger than iron. Everything we do - everything we are - is born from words. A man's prejudices are passed on to him by the words of his father and mother, or by older friends he worships. Religion and myth - though both may be the same - are kept alive by words more than deeds.'
'It is not easy to honourable. The world is full of cunning, crafty mem who have no understanding of honour or loyalty. They connive, they steal, and and invariably, in the eyes of the world, they succeed. To be honest requires great effort, and continuous courage. And as for fairness, that is hardest of all.'
'Do you know what these are?" [Vorna] asked him.
'They are from the foxglove flower. A tiny amount of them can give a dying heart fresh life. Like a miracle. But just a pinch too much and they become the deadliest poison. Pride is like that. Too little and a man has no sense of self-worth. The world would wear him down to dust. Too much and he becomes arrogant, vain and boastful. But just enough and he is a man to walk the mountains with.'
'Do you know what a soldier is?" [Connavar] asked.
'A soldier? No.'
'It is a man who fights all year round.'
'Such a man is an idiot,' said Braefar. 'Who works his farm while he fights? Who gathers his crops, or feeds his animals?'
'He has no farm. He is paid in gold to fight wars. And because he has no farm he does not have to return home in late summer to gather his crops. Banouin's people have armies of soldiers.'
Braefar laughed. 'They must be very bored in winter, when all their enemies have gone home.'
Conn shook his head. 'Their enemies have no homes. For the soldiers follow them, and kill them and take over their lands.'
'That is stupid,' said Braefar. 'What can you do with land that is far away from yours?'
'Banouin says you force the surviving people to pay tributes to the conqueror. Gold, or corn, or timber, or cattle.'
'It still makes no sense,' insisted Braefar. 'You can only eat so much bread. And cattle need wide grazing lands. If someone offered Father a thousand more cattle he would refuse. There would not be enough grass for them.'
Conn chuckled. 'It is complicated, and I do not fully understand it myself. But these armies of soldiers march into a land and conquer it. The plunder they take is sent back to the cities of stone where their rulers live. With this plunder they create more armies of soldiers, and conquer more lands. There they build more cities, with great stone roads joining them.'
Heroes come in many forms. Not all of them fighters.
'So tell me, Connavar, why did you fight the bear?'
'I had no choice.'
'Nonsense. Life is full of choices. You could have dropped your burden and run.'
'Had I been carrying a burden, I would have done just that. But is that what you think I should have done?'
'It matters not what I think. You did what you did. Nothing can change it now. Would you do it again, Connavar?'
'I don't know. I have never known pain like it. Nor fear. But I hope I would.'
'Because a true friend does not desert his friends. He does not run from evil.'
'It is always best to avoid mocking what we do not understand.'
'I wanted you to think about the people who roamed these lands for thousands of year, living free, without wars. Then, one day, a new race came, with bright swords of bronze, and bows that could send death over a distance. They slaughtered the people, driving them high into the cold country. Even now if one of the people is seen hunting parties will gather to give chase and do murder. These murderous newcomers took the lands of the people, and settled them, building farms and settlements. You understand?'
Conn nodded. 'And now a new race has come, with swords of iron.'
'Exactly. And in a few hundred years, some other powerful tribe - or groups of tribes - will descend upon the gentle, peace-loving people of Stone. The a young man, just like you, will rail against the evil of it.'
'As he shoud,' said Conn. 'A man should be ready to fight for his land, his people, and his culture. What are we if we don't. When the wolf attacks our herds, we kill the wolf. We fight to defend what is ours. That is what makes us men.'
'Indeed, it is,' agreed Banouin. 'But before there were men it was the wolf who kept the herds strong. By killing the weak and the old, by controlling the number so that the herds did not grow so large that they ate all the grass. Nature in balance, Connavar.'
Conn laughed aloud. 'If I take what you suggest to its logical conclusion then when a robber comes to my home I allow him to take all that is mine. I do nothing. I let him rape my wife, slay my children and steal my belongings. This is not philosophy I can embrace.'
'Nor I,' said Banouin. 'But now we come to the crux of the question. I am saying do not fight. I am saying do not hate. It is not war that leads to murderous excesses, but hate. Whole villages, cities, peoples wiped out. Hatred is like a plague. It is all-consuming, and it springs from man to man. Our enemies become demons, their wives the mothers of demons, their children infant demons. You understand? We tell stories of our enemies eating babes - as was done with the people. Our hearts turn dar and, in turn, we visit a terrible retribution upon those we now hate. But hatred never dies, Conn. We plant the seeds of it in every action inspired by it. Kill a man, and his son will grow to hate you and seek revenge. When he obtains that revenge you son will learn to hate him. Can you see what I am saying?'
'No,' admitted Conn. 'It is necessary to hate one's enemies. If we don't hate them, how can we kill them?'
'There are only three ways to deal with an enemy. Destroy him, run away from him, or befriend him. The man who has come to hate you will never befriend you.'
'Confidence is to be applauded, arrogance avoided.'
'He does not speak your tongue, but I will translate for you. When last we spoke you could say "Hello" in Stone. You would need to do better than that, as a wing leader.'
'I can say "goodbye", "how are you" and "watch where you're going, you shit-eating barbarian pig." Will that do for now?'
'If the Seidh are truly a race without hatred, or anger, why do they allow the Morrigu to walk among us, bringing such evil?'
'An interesting question, Connavar, In response, let me say this: You wanted glory, the Morrigu gave it to you. Vorna wanted to be loved and accepted. Now she is. In what way does that make the actions of the Morrigu evil? All our actions, Seidh and human, result in consequences - consequences we do not always welcome. The Morrigu offers gifts. If a man - or woman - chooses to accept one then surely they must also accept the possible consequences? You asked for glory. What if you had asked for true love, or the healing of Rhiamfada, or peace and harmony for your people? Think on that, Connavar. Those who seek the gifts of the Morrigu always ask something for themselves - personal gain, fame, skill with a sword, beautiful women to grace their beds, or handsome men to woo and love them. Always selfish. Beware judging what you do not understand.'
'This man is Keltoi. He may not be my tribe, but I'll be damned if I handed him over to Jasaray's torturers.'
'A strange way to fight a war. Why have you let them live?'
'This is how wars should be fought. Men against men, equally matched. Valiant hearts, ferocious fighting, and victory tempered with mercy. These Stone men take all the glory from battle. They are like an avalanche. No heroics, just a vile and deadly mass that rolls over everything in their path. I dislike them. I truly do.
'Then why do you fight alongside them?'
'Happily I dislike the Perdii more. Arrogant bastards.'
'Does that mean we won't be hunting down the son?'
'Aye it does. I'll report the murders to the Long Laird. He can send hunters out to find him.'
'That's a shame,' said Parax. 'I'd enjoy cutting his heart out.'
'If you can find it,' said Connavar, sadly.
'Not one of the creatures of blood can escape death. We all face it, and succumb to it. It follows us like a dark shadow. Yet, if we live in terror of it, then we do not live at all. Yes we are born alone, and yes we will die alone. But in between, we live. We know joy.'
'Evil? An interesting concept. When you have walked this world for ten thousand years you begin to see matters differently. The fox eats the partridge chicks. For the fox it is a delightful breakfast. For the mother partridge it is an evil calamity. It all becomes merely a case of which perspective one takes. The partridge or the fox.'
'More than a thousand children were slaughtered in the Perdii valleys,' said Conn, 'because they had no value in the slave markets in Stone.'
'In my life,' replied the Thadga, 'I have seen tens of millions die. I will see you die, Connavar, and your sons and their sons. How many men have you killed, and deprived the world of their sons? How many children became orphans because of your blade? You think those children see you as good or evil? It is in my experience that the race of Man does little that is good, and much that is self-serving and, ultimately, evil.'
'It is so easy for people ro praise or condemn. I am a fine swordsman. Therefore I am a hero. I become a brave man. Yet where is the bravery without fear? I have never feared a battle. Varaconn did. He trembled with fright. Yet he was there. Beside me. He overcame his fear. That, to me, is the greatest courage.'