On the morning after the fight, Grimock wakes up while it’s still dark. He goes outside wearing only his breeches and boots and starts running. He trains every day and not even the annoying drizzle can sway his determination: he must tame his body to be able to destroy and resist anything.
He runs for a whole hour and then stops in front of an enormous oak, flings himself to the ground in front of it and does push-ups until his muscles feel as though they were on fire. After a brief pause he stands up, takes a few steps back and hurls himself against the trunk with all his might: once, twice, a hundred times; neither of them gives in.
When his aching shoulder forces him to stop, Grimock, roaring, eyes the oak and, shaking his head, starts to climb it. Once he reaches the top, he climbs down and starts again, dozens and dozens of times. He carries on in this way, without stopping, until he is short of breath and every fibre of his body is aching from the strain. He allows himself an instant of respite, then turns and runs back to the inn.
When he reaches the entrance, Grimock has barely opened the door when a panick-sticken Flint reaches him.
«Grimock! Where were you?» he asks, frozen by the stench of sweat coming from the giant «And, oh my gods, what have you been doing?»
The barbarian gazes unperturbed at his companion, panting just slightly.
«I was training.»
Flint is about to retort, but then waves his hands in the air.
« Let’s not waste time! The mercenaries have disappeared!»
« And…and…so…» stutters the young man, taken aback « they could return with reinforcements!»
Completely ignoring his companion, Grimock goes up to the counter and beckons the ostler. The latter goes into the kitchen and then returns armour, helmet, fleece and rucksack to their rightful owner, adding a sackful of provisions.
«We’ll be miles away by the time those dogs have recovered from their fright» replies Grimock, putting on his gear, «but if they find the nerve to strike a second attack, I’ll be delighted to teach them new kinds of pain.»
Flint gulps and strains a smile.
«Crystal clear.» he replies, then adds «Why are you gathering your belongings?»
«We’re leaving.» asserts the barbarian.
«But I haven’t told you where we’re going yet!»
Grimock goes within inches of the young lad, threatening him with his enormous bulk.
«Only one reason would push a frightened little city boy so far south: flight.” then he looks around “you’ll tell me your destination when there aren’t so many indiscreet ears around.»
Thus said, he glares at the guard who has been lingering close by to eavesdrop, and he jumps to attention and runs to open the armoury.
Picking up his enormous axe, the barbarian concludes by saying «Go and get your things, lad. I’ll give you five minutes.»
Flint nods nervously and runs to pick up his belongings: he only has a small knapsack containing a few clothes and a wooden casket; just a moment and he is ready to leave.
It is still raining when they leave the inn, but they ignore it and start walking along the dirt track. They don’t speak to one another for at least half a day, then Flint breaks the silence.
«I haven’t even thanked you for rescuing me last night…thank you.»
Grimock turns back for a brief moment
«Those mercenaries were making too much of a racket, that’s all.» he replied.
Flint folds his arms and snorts.
«Do you intend to go the whole way without talking to me?»
«No,» answers the barbarian, stopping at a crossroads «you have to tell me where to take you.»
Two dilapidated roadsigns have been nailed to a bent wooden pole: the first indicates left, towards the mountain pass; the second indicates right, to the track in the gorge leading to an Imperial outpost.
«If you don’t want to die, warns Grimock “you have to tell me the truth: are you wanted by the Empire?»
The young lad hesitates at first and then nods.
«Get ready, we’re leaving this country across the mountain pass.» concludes the barbarian, as he starts to walk.
«Hey!» Flint stops him. «Don’t you want to know where you have to take me?»
«When we reach the other side of the mountains you can tell me whatever you want but, up till then, I’m not interested: save your breath, you’ll need it.»
The young man tries to retort, but in vain. In the end he gives up and follows his companion. They walk for the whole afternoon, crossing a dense wood of conifers at the foot of the mountains: the close-packed branches shelter them from the rain, but every so often they let in big cold drops which land between their clothes and their necks. They carry on walking till just before sunset, then Flint, exhausted, stops.
«I refuse to take one step further! Let’s have a rest, I beg you!» he implores.
The barbarian turns towards his exhausted companion.
«All right.» he says, leaving the narrow pathway.
« Hey! Where are you going?»
«To find a place where we can set camp.»
«By the gods, yes!»
Flint follows him to a small clearing overhung by the tops of two, hundred-year-old pines and there, beneath the largest tree, Grimock unhitches his axe, sits down, rest his head against the trunk and shuts his eyes.
«Hey!» shouts the young lad.
«Now what is it?» snorts the barbarian, impatiently.
«Do we have to sleep here?»
«You’re the one who wanted to rest.»
«Under the rain? With no shelter!? You must be joking!»
Grimock takes a deep, irritated breath. His chest expands beyond measure.
«You decided to stay here, so don’t complain.» he reminds him «Take responsibilty for your choices, boy.»
Flint lowers his head and starts biting the inside of his cheek, nervously.
«I’m sorry…» he replies «but couldn’t we at least light a fire?»
«The wood’s too damp.»
«I can take care of that!» exclaims Flint, gathering and piling up branches and twigs in a disorderly fashion to form a bonfire.
«Don’t waste your energy» admonishes the barbarian «That fire wouldn’t catch even if it were dry.»
«Wait and see.» exclaims the young lad, arrogantly, taking a small glass jar containing dark, purple powder out of his knapsack. After sprinkling about ten pinches of it on the kindling, it catches fire immediately.
«What have you done?» asks Grimock menacingly, reaching for his axe.
Flint, unprepared for this kind of reaction, falls backwards in terror.
«Calm down, Grimock, calm down! I only lit the fire!»
The barbarian comes closer to the flames and sniffs suspiciously.
«It’s witchcraft, isn’t it?»
«Well, witchcraft’s a big word!» chuckles the lad «It’s fire powder, just a little trick they taught me at my village.»
«You shouldn’t use witchcraft for little tricks, it’s dangerous.»
«Come on, take it easy. I only lit a small fire!»
Grimock looks at his companion with a serious expression on his face, he reaches out and collects some rain in the palm of his hand.
«It always rains here» he affirms.
Flint doesn’t understand and raises his eyes towards the grey clouds.
«Yes, it’s annoying, isn’t it?»
«It always rains here» repeats the barbarian, resignedly. «While in the capital it’s always springtime. In one way or the other the world finds a balance and it isn’t wise to trouble the spirits. Use your tricks as little as possible.»
Flint shakes his head, offended.
It’s strange that it should be you saying this, aren’t you one of the Bloody Axes? The most violent clan the world can remember? How many lives have you taken? And you talk to me of balance?»
«We paid for our mistakes with extinction.» whispers Grimlock, gazing at the fire. «Now I’m going to rest; don’t disturb me.» he concludes.
The barbarian leans against the tree again and shuts his eyes. Flint, feeling somewhat guilty, follows his advice and lies down under a big, leafy branch.
A few hours go by and the darkness of the night invades the forest. The rain doesn’t cease for one minute. Now and again it slows down, but nothing more. All of a sudden, there is a howl from the nearby bushes, followed by fierce growls and a desparate cry. Flint wakens with a start and turns towards Grimock.
«What was that?» asks the lad, worried.
«Wolves or worse» replies the barbarian, getting up.
«And that shout?»
The answer runs out of the trees: an old man with long, grey hair and a shaggy beard. He is soaking wet and looks terrified.
«Help!» he cries, gesticulating and hiding behind Grimock.
Flint has hardly taken in the stranger, when a pack of big, black wolves with blood-red eyes comes out of the forest and surrounds them. The beasts growl hungrily, but the barbarian keeps his cool and draws up to the biggest.
The leader of the pack barks and growls, slavering at the mouth; its thick, shaggy coat makes it seem three times bigger than its actual size and it’s white fangs threaten to rip and cut. Grimock, unperturbed, takes a deep breath and his chest grows so large as to make the wolf seem like a puppy. He yells so powerfully that the treetops shake. The yell is long and unwavering, as powerful as a cannonshot, and forces those present to put their hands over their ears. The wolves, petrified, lower their tails and ears and withdraw yelping among the trees.
Flint and the old man stare at the giant in wonder.
«What kind of monster are you?» asks the old man.
«The kind who saved you» replies the barbarian «and I advise you not to make me regret it.»
«You’re right…» says the old man, nodding «I’m sorry I was rude. My name’s Oderic and I owe you.»
Grimock looks him up and down and then goes back to the tree and sits down.
«I advise you to stop for the night, Oderic.» he suggests, as he looks for a more comfortable position.
The old man, surprised by his kindness, turns towards Flint.
«But yes… of course! Go ahead and stay, stutters the latter.»
Oderic approaches the fire and rubs his hands to warm them.
«Thank you, but I won’t disturb you, I must leave at once.»
«You’ll be dead before morning.» pronounces Grimock.
Flint gives his companion a dirty look and intervenes.
«Pay no heed to that brute! As far as he’s concerned, none of us can survive!»
«That’s alright», reassures Oderic «The barbarian’s right, it’s very dangerous.»
«Then spend the night here!» The boy invites «Tomorrow you’ll take up your journey again with us.»
The old man shakes his head.
«I’d like to, but I can’t.»
«Why?» insists Flint «What difference will a few hours make?»
Oderic lifts up the leather, cloth and fleece rags he’s wearing and takes a phial containing a clear liquid from a pouch tied to a belt made of rope.
«My granddaughter is very sick, my son-in-law is dead and I’m the only one who can bring her healing draught in time.»
Not knowing what to say, Flint takes his jar of fire powder and gives it to the man.
«You’ll need it.» he says
«What is it?» asks Oderic, accepting the gift.
«Firepowder: a few pinches of this and you can set fire to wood even if it’s soaking wet.»
«Thank you…» replies the old man after a few moments of embarassed silence. He turns towards the woods.
«I think the time has come to say farewell, my friends.»
«Are you really sure?» asks Flint.
Oderic nods, says goodbye and leaves; the young lad follows him with his eyes for as far as the light from the bonfire will allow.
«You think I was silly to give him the firepowder, don’t you?» asks Flint, all of a sudden.
«I think you did what you thought was right.» replies Grimock.
Flint sighs and sits down at the foot of the pine
«Will he make it?»
«Only the gods can tell.»
Having said this, both of them fall asleep, with the certainty that after the barbarian’s roar, no one will disturb them.