CHAPTER 1: Grimock, The Black Bull

Grimock il toro nero, parte decima: Spiriti in catene

The translation of the first chapter of Grimock is online! The  translator that was involved in this first chapter, now is following the second. It will be put online about a translation a month, time and money permitting! 😉 Enjoy the reading!
Piombo.

Imagine a giant of a man, so huge that when he’s standing behind you it feels as if the sun has set. Dress him in an armour of pitch-coloured mail and curved plate, heavy sheepskin and a steel helm topped with two impressive bull’s horns. Picture an enormous, double-edged axe with an embellished blade and blood-red handle tied to his back. Give him a face, a fierce one: a shaggy, unkempt beard, frizzy, mahogany coloured hair and deep, dark eyes that you would never wish to meet, but that if you did, you would be horrified by the deep scars furrowing his face.

Now make this mountain of a man move and bang his heavy, leather and metal boots to the door of the inn at the crossroads: a rough, unstriking building miles from the city.

It’s night time and pouring with rain. The soaking wet giant bangs at the door. The few voices within die down, and you can clearly hear the sound of steps. A crack opens in the door, just wide enough to let two lifeless eyes check who is there, but it takes them a long time to scale that mountain of muscle and flesh.

«Who are you, stranger?» says the man at the peep-hole.

The giant bends down and looks him in the face.

«Friend…» His voice is deep and menacing. «Ale, food, a bit of peace and a bed. That’s all I want.»

« Of course… of course, but, you see, we don’t allow arms inside», replies the guard, indicating the enormous axe.

« I understand, but I want to see it placed in a safe place with my own eyes.»

The menacing tone and scarred face are enough, and the guard opens the door and beckons him in.

«Certainly! Make yourself at home… the room you love most in your home.»

The mammoth doesn’t wait for him to repeat the invitation. He walks in, lifts his axe, frees it from the harness on his back and gives it to the frightened, little man hiding in the shadows, who is almost overcome by its weight.

«A bit of help… please!» gurgles the unfortunate man, in a whisper.

The giant  snorts with embarassment rather than surprise and takes back the axe.

«I’m sorry, my fault. Where can I put it?»

The guard recovers his breath and rubs his aching back. Once he’s feeling better, he takes a key from the pocket of his shabby trousers and heads towards the door of the armoury, on the right of the entrance: there are very few arms inside, and some appear to have been completely abandoned.

«This doesn’t seem to be a very safe place. How can you say that no-one will try to steal it?»

«I know, like I know that it’s going to rain again tomorrow and, if I may say so sir, I don’t think there is anyone sufficiently sober to take it away from you…»

The giant nods.

«All right, but I consider you directly responsible for anything that may happen to this axe. Mark my words.»

The guard swallows nervously.

«As though the axe were mine, the axe that I love above all my axes!” He makes as if to leave, but he remembers to ask one more question, the most dangerous: “I’m sorry, but I need a name for the imperial registers, what’s your name?»

The giant stares at the little man, menacing him with his silence.

«Grimock.»

«Just Grimock?»

The giant raises his eyes to heaven.

«Grimock, the Black Bull of the Clan of the Bloody Axes.»

The little man is frozen to the spot and can only mutter:

«B…but didn’t you die out?»

Grimock takes off his helm and bends down enough to look into the eyes of the terrified guard.

«If you’re looking for extinction, friend, you’re heading in the right direction.»

The little man tries to hold his gaze and cold sweat lines his face as he mutters replies without meaning. At last, terror takes over and he swoons like a sack of potatoes.

The giant stares at him for a few seconds, then shrugs and heads towards the saloon bar of the inn: it is roomy, dirty and above all dark, it’s only light coming from a large fireplace on the left, while on the right, behind a dark wooden counter, the fat ostler is polishing chipped tankards with spit and a rag.

There are a few regulars, most of them sitting by the fire and too busy drinking and heckling the lame, elderly waitress who slops beer or sauce with every step she takes; as soon as Grimock enters the bar, each takes his time to observe him in silence.

The giant looks around without saying a word, taking in the situation: the only way out is the door he’s just walked through, there are two imperial guards sitting by the fireplace, while a dozen disorderly mercenaries are drinking and playing dice at a large table in the centre of the room, all of them are armed, but none seem to want to annoy him, at least for now.

Grimock stops at the bar and stares at the fat ostler, who stares back at him, spitting into another tankard.

«What do you want, stranger?»

«Meat, ale and a good bed.»

«Have you got the money?»

Grimock takes a bag the size of a rucksack from his belt and extracts a pouch of coins, he takes out a handful and slams them down on the counter. The ostler picks up a piece of silver and bites into it with his only four remaining teeth.

«I don’t want any trouble», he says, putting the coins in the pocket of his greasy apron.

«Heat the meat properly, don’t spit in my beer, keep any troublemakers away and you won’t.»

«It’ll cost you extra for me to keep the troublemakers away.»

Grimock glares at the ostler, who carries on rubbing the bottom of the tankard with his rag. He throws another piece of silver at him and heads towards the fireplace to dry out. It’s been days since he last slept in a bed and even longer since he ate at a table, and he wants to savour every minute of his rest.

«Hey!» shouts the largest and ugliest of the mercenaries. He is bald and has only one eye. «You’re shielding us from the light, giant!»

Grimock turns, visibly irritated.

«I’ll get dry and move away.»

The mercenary looks at his mates, who nod, sniggering.

«No, you’ll leave now because we’re about to skin this poor devil.»

He insists and grabs hold of the arm of a young lad who, up till now, had been hidden from sight by the dirty, bulky mass of the soldiers of fortune: a small, slender boy with a smooth, delicate face wearing a hat and clothes that are far too big for him.

«I haven’t said I want to play yet…» replies the young lad, in a high, frightened voice, «but if you insist!»

On hearing these words, the mercenaries turn back to concentrate on their business, too convinced of making some easy money to concentrate on the giant by the chimney. Grimock, on his part, isn’t looking for trouble, and once he has dried out, he seeks out a free table in the gloomiest corner of the room. But nowhere seems to be dark enough to hide him completely.

After a few minutes, everything goes back to normal and the slovenly waitress arrives at the giant’s table, bearing a large plate of stew and the biggest tankard in the inn, brimming with ale.

«With the compliments of the house, gorgeous!» says the woman, winking with her good eye. «If you’re looking for a bit of company tonight, I’m charging special rates: for you, just a copper!»

Grimock gazes imperturbably at the waitress’ face and shakes his head; he’s ready to face any menace or monster, but not to have a witch in his bed. The stew is gristly and tasteless and the beer is warm and watered-down, but he’s eaten and drunk much worse and doesn’t complain. In fact, he orders another three plates of stew and four tankards of ale before the astonished eyes of the ostler.

Once he’s finished his meal, Grimock stretches his back and burps so loudly that everyone in the bar suddenly goes quiet; no-one has the courage to turn around. The giant is relishing on the fact that his stomach is full when a shout of rage makes him open his eyes: at the mercenaries’ table, the young lad appears to have won a bit too much and his new mates don’t seem to be appreciating it.

«You can’t have won again, dog!» Growls the bald, one-eyed warrior.

«Are you calling me a cheat?» he arrogantly replies, «And how could I? The dice are yours and I only roll them!»

Another mercenary, tall, thin, with a broken jaw and an oval head covered with straw-like hair, intervenes.

«If we say you’re cheating, then you are, you bastard!»

«We’ll have to teach him a lesson, what do you say? Shall we take back all our money and something more?» asks a third, a short, stocky man with a face disfigured by horrible burn marks.

«I say we should chop off his hand!» the bald one proposes.

«Why not his whole arm!», retorts the other.

«And we take all the money!» insists the stocky one.

His other comrades shout «Yes!» and toast each other loudly, while the young lad, realising that he is in a dangerous situation tries to negotiate.

«Come on, gentlemen, it’s just a game! I’ll tell you what, I give you back your money and take mine, and each goes his own way, what do you say?»

The bald mercenary pretends to think about it and then grabs the poor young lad by the arm and bangs it on the table.

«I say that’s fine but your hand and your money stay with us!»

«The knife, chief!» intervenes the stocky one, taking a long cutlass from his belt and giving it to his companion.

«Wait, wait!» cries the defenceless boy «What about the guards! The imperial guards are here! You can’t hurt me or you’ll be arrested! Let’s solve the matter legally, it’s better for all of us!»

For a few minutes the madness seems to come to an end and the mercenaries look at each other and then stare at the guards who, up till now, have not taken their eyes off Grimock; feeling the attention on themselves they intervene.

«We’re off duty, it’s not our problem.»

The young lad pales.

«…No.» he moans.

«Yes!» concludes the chief of the mercenaries and lifts the blade, ready to chop off the boy’s scrawny wrist, but an enormous hand blocks his arm. Furious that he’s been interrupted, he turns to face the man who has had the nerve to stop him: it’s Grimock.

«You’re making too much noise.», he states, «and I need silence to digest my food.»

«You again? Are you looking for trouble?» cries the chief, trying to free himself from the grasp, but with no luck; the grip is so strong that his arm feels as if it’s blocked in a rock.

The tall, thin mercenary rushes towards the giant, brandishing a table knife, which he sticks in the arm that’s holding on to his comrade. Grimock is unperturbed. he glares furiously at his aggressor and flexes his biceps. The blades flies away from his muscle and even the bleeding stops immediately.

«Who the hell are you?» yells the stocky one.

The little man from the armoury, who had kept to himself up till then, climbs onto the counter and indicates the giant.

«He belongs to the clan of the Bloody Axes!»

On hearing this, everyone’s eyes widen, the mercenaries and guards stand up, take out their arms and surround him. Grimock slowly looks around him, lifts up the hair from the back of his neck and uncovers a brand: a broken axe.

«I’m an outcast. I have nothing more to do with my clan.»

The imperial guards put their swords away but the mercenaries don’t.

«There’s a bounty on your heads.» threatens the chief, still in his grasp.. «All we need to do is to cut off that piece of flesh and you’ll be worth your weight in gold! Isn’t that right, guards?»

The two servants of the empire exchange a rapid glance.

«Solve your own problems. We’re off duty and the death of an outcast is none of our business.»

Thus said, they sit down and go back to their drinks.

The mercenaries, strong in number, pull out daggers and swards, surround the giant warrior and charge him. Grimock lifts their chief from the floor and, using him as though he were a bat, hits anyone holding a weapon; everything happens too quickly for anyone to be able to do anything about it and, in the end, only one is left standing.

«I’d said no trouble, barbarian!»

Grimock turns towards the ostler. There is no sweat on his brow, but only the blood of his enemies.

«No-one’s dead and he’ll pay for the damages.» he affirms, pointing his finger at the little sneak, who nods in terror.

It is only at this point that the young lad over whom the fight had started, peeks out from under one of the tables that is still standing. He approaches his saviour and stretches up on tiptoe to give him a pat on the back.

«Thanks, friend! I would have been lost without you!»

Grimock gazes at the stranger like a dragon would look at an ant and goes back to his place without uttering a word.

«Really! You’re fantastic!» the lad continues. «My name’s Flint. I’m travelling and I’m looking for someone who’ll accompany me. Are you interested?»

«I travel alone.», concludes the barbarian, shutting his eyes.

«And what if I pay you?»

Grimock turns towards Flint and looks him in the eye.

«How much?»

«Thirty pieces of gold: five now and twenty-five on arrival.»

The barbarian opens his upturned hand and makes a sign for the lad to pay up and without adding a word, the boy empties a pouch of coins into it .

«Perfect! So now we’re travelling companions!»

Grimock checks the gold pieces and puts them in his money-bag.

«As from tomorrow morning.» he concludes.

«Tomorrow morning? But what if the mercenaries wake up?»

«They won’t wake up.»

«How can you be so sure?»

Grimock glares at him and Flint sits down beside him with his head lowered. Then, with a surge of courage he adds:

«Grimock?»

«What is it now?» asks the barbarian, more menacing than curious.

«There’s blood on your face…»

«I know, it’s the reason why you won’t have any more trouble until tomorrow morning.»

Flint swallows and smiles, nervously. He is tempted to try and make a new deal, but terrified at the thought of asking to have his deposit back.


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