Disclaimer: Not mine.
For the Hogwarts Online Forum. Prompt and title the same….Sword and Shield.
It was an argument that would change their way of life. The outcome mattered less than the fact that the disagreement struck at the very foundation of their purpose, putting them at odds with each other and setting up disagreements that would echo through the centuries.
Theirs was an old question. A puzzle mankind had fought for eons and always would. Fight or flight.
Sword and Shield
Gryffin lifted his axe and let it fall, its weight giving it speed and strength as it sliced the air. His shoulders tensed, muscle and sinew guiding the weapon's arc, not trying to stop its decent only guiding it to its mark by the shear force of his arms. He flinched as he heard the thwack of metal hitting wood, the edge biting the freshly cut stump. Recognizing the faulty handle from the hollow vibrating sound, he spat on the ground and turned to Salazar.
"We get better weapons or we open the door and let them take who and what they want."
"The wood isn't aged." Salazar nodded to the iron that still stood buried in the wood. "It has a good bite to it."
"Pull it out," Gryffin muttered, "you will have a club in your hand and no head. The wedge is too thick, the weight too light and the arc too long. Whoever wields this will be run through before it finds its mark."
Salazar shrugged and reached down to verify that Gryffin was correct. Not surprised when the axe head stayed buried and the handle came easily apart from it. "A man's body would not hold it so tightly. It will be easier in battle."
"Circe, now you are saying not to strike where the blade may stick? Should I avoid the shoulder? The leg? Should I aim for only the fingers? Should I start swinging before he gets in range because it is so slow?"
Helga heard them arguing before she saw them. Their voices rose higher the closer she went. Finally, when they came into sight she laughed aloud. Seeing them stand toe to toe, both with hands on their hips, leaning forward into the other's faces. She shouted for them to stop acting like donkey's arses as she hurried across the field.
"Your voices can be heard clear up to the castle." She huffed, struggling to hold up her long skirt over the uneven ground. "I thought this was settled."
"No," Gryffin spat, waving to the broken axe still embedded in the stump. "The throwing axes are useless against them and that is what this fool suggests we use."
"It is your aim that is…"
"Enough," Helga said, putting up her hand. "Last week it was arrows with weak shafts and brittle tips, the week before swords that were made of poorly forged iron. What will it be next week? Shall I find my sling? Should we just teach the children to hurl stones?"
"I agree." Salazar turned his back and strode away. "We are getting no place with this. We use magic or we are done."
"There is a Ridgeback on the northern slope, dead less than a day. Its skin will make a good covering for your shield." Helga broke the silence as they walked back to the castle. "Some of the students could use a lesson in curing hide."
"What killed it?"
"It is the old one. Fighting for territory with a younger male I imagine." She watched him from the corner of her eye. "They must have fought the same as you do with Salazar. Territory and pride are terrible things to fight over."
"You go to far witch," he spat.
"Obviously not far enough as you are still arguing," she said before laughing aloud at the look on his face. "We will never be their equals with swords and shields. We do not have the means to secure good Damascus steel nor do we have a stable full of steeds."
"I am only concerned with the school. Our enemies cannot ride through the pass, and if they do get that far, the people of Hogsmeade will come to the castle. It is them I worry for. That and the Ostmen come closer each year threatening to bring more with them."
"It is not them I worry about. The Ostmen will steal our supplies long before see them. They will meet the traders on the road. Harald's men we can hold off at the pass, as you say, but it is the men in the long boats I fear."
"Shhh." She shook her head angrily.
"Superstitious rot. Saying their name will not keep them away.'
"They believe only their woman have magic and for a man to use it he loses his …manhood," she said, blushing at the memory of the tales she had heard of what they did to men suspected of using witchcraft. "To use magic in battle would give you an edge, I agree with Salazar on that. It would also give us a fast reason to take our own lives if the battle is lost."
"I do not plan on losing the battle…or the war."
"I did not plan on cooking meals for two hundred children and teaching elves how to manage the kitchen. Yet I do so. I do so with…I try to do so with gladness. That and the knowledge that if we are successful here, our men will not throw themselves to death and our witches will not be burnt on a stake for a merciful and just god."
"You teach them well," he said quietly. "We have not had one witch lost since our third year and that was far from here. You do well."
"As well as your axe will?" She stopped and waited until he turned back to her. "If we fight and fall, as every other village on the coast has fallen, what then? Do we let them take the children as thralls? Do we let them take the girls to use as they want and sell when they are done with them? Is that worth staying and fighting for?"
"Where do we run?" He hissed. "To the priests with their fine words of love and acceptance only to throw witches into their fires? To Harald's men? To his army who will take our loyalty or our lives? Where do we go?"
"We move. We move on again and again. We find our safety until the last of us lay dead in a mound. We keep going until their heirs no longer breathe and it is again safe to show our faces."
Later that night they sat in the kitchen, joined by Rowena who had agreed to listen to arguments on both sides. Although she agreed with Helga, her motives were completely different and she readily admitted, more selfish and self-serving. Whereas Salazar's people owned lands in other parts of the world, and he could easily find a place amongst them, Rowena had left her people in disgrace, unable to return. Having refused her father's choice in husbands she was no longer considered one of the clan.
Helga's family had learned to live unseen with the non-magical men, and Gryffin after seeing the last of his line slaughtered ached to leave the safety of the valley and join the fight. This left only Rowena who would be alone to fight…or take her flight with the children. A thought that terrified her. A thought that raced through her mind every time she listened to the tales passed on by the traders and every time she saw a black mourning band wrapped around a stranger's arm.
"There is something more we could do," Rowena said, chewing on a quill. "I quite agree with Helga on the aspects of using magic in battle. It will go poorly and put our men and older boys in serious peril. What if we magic the weapons instead?"
"What of the girls? They do not have the strength to…" Salazar started.
"Many do, you worm infested hunk of rancid venison," Helga hissed. "If they can carry the supplies form the wagon down two flights of stairs and all the way to the end of the blasted corridor to where you have hidden the kitchen…they can lift an axe."
"They use a spell," he spat back.
"Not in my kitchen! Not on my food!" Helga folded her arms over her ample chest and leaned back in her chair.
"Give Rowena a chance." Gryffin leaned forward, resting his arms on the table watching Rowena intently. "Go on."
"Our swords are made of soft metal. Softer than…"
"It is not in the steel but in the wielder where the fault…"
"Enough," Rowena sighed, waving her hand at him. "There are spells to enable the sword to capture the strength of the one whose life it takes."
"Instead of weakening with each blow it will grow stronger?"
"Yes, with no outward sign of magic," she said, looking at Helga. "We can also spell the iron lighter than the true weight and put spells on the shields. Our girls can then fight to save their dignity and in failing, would not be known to be witches. They may be taken as thralls if we lose, at which time the battle will be over and they can use their magic to escape."
"This is moot," Gryffin muttered as he came to his feet. "They will not be able to find us. We have already charmed the castle and the pass to hide…"
"From the non-magical, yes. Listen to what Helga says. Their women have magic. And the men that do, although used in ways we deplore, can still lead them here."
"Only if they already know of our existence." Gryffin offered.
"When you took the first student that was not from one of our clans, when you accepted the first Mudblood you told the world where we are! Do you think for one moment none of our students come from those loyal to the Ostmen or are there are none of the red headed children of the long boat?" Salazar ran his hands through his hair as if trying to collect his thoughts. "Look around the hall at evening meal and tell me how many you trust. The Mudbloods must go."
"You can't mean that!" Helga hissed. "My brother's children are here. Their mother non-magical and not of the longboats. Do you intend to throw them out?"
"I intend to protect these halls and what is mine. If that means ridding these halls of all contamination I will do it!"
Gryffin came to his feet, his hand going to the hilt of his sword, his chair crashing to the floor behind him. "NO!" Rowena screamed, throwing herself between them.
"These walls are not yours," Gryffin spat. "And these weapons are useless against what they can throw at us."
"We fight! It starts now! Today! We rid this place of…"
"Do not say it, Salazar. Do not force our hands," Gryffin said, his voice steady.
"We have built a tunnel," Helga admitted, seeing the fury with which her words were received. "We can get us and the children out in case the war comes here."
"So you will run from a fight to save a rotten piece of muddied flesh?"
"To save a child? Yes. None are useless…none."
"Take it then, take this whole place. But know this, know that one day I will have my revenge against all those that threaten these halls!"
Salazar swept out of the room and mounted the stairs two at a time. This fight was not over and would not be until the castle was once again pure and his clan safe from outside forces.