"Looks like you aren't that bright, either," Legg said as he cast a disdainful glare on Leguna.
"Hey! It's one thing to say I'm not bright, but what's with the 'either'?! Are you including yourself in the mix? Being mocked by an idiot like you truly is embarrassing," Leguna couldn't help but spit.
"Forget it, that's not the point." Legg waved to show he was the bigger man. "I am just surprised. I thought you would understand after all the things I showed you."
"The current living conditions of the barbarians. Think about it! After experiencing our way of life here, do you think it's pleasant?"
"No," Leguna admitted, "The environment here is harsh. That's why I suggested giving you aid."
"We don't need your help! The ancestors never relied on the pity of others to survive. If we want something, we'll make our own, or take it from others! We'll never beg for it."
"So you're set on going south?" Leguna's expression darkened.
"Yes!" Legg said passionately, "As you can see, that barbarian youth Ja'il, his mother, and that child… They're all living people. But because of these lands, we have no choice but to abandon them! Do you think I like doing it? Do you think everyone else wants it? Of course not! But if we want to survive here, we have no choice! We do not get enough from our hunts and our farming efforts to support anyone that cannot contribute. If we tried, we'd all die!"
Leguna could hear the seething rage in Legg's words. Even the barbarian king could feel pain from giving away his son, it seemed. He didn't show it in the slightest, however. He was their king. He had to be the exemplar for his people. If he took in his weak son, would the others do the same? If that continued, the hardiness of the barbarian people would begin to deteriorate.
"You wanted to save Ja'il and Frenda… You wanted to save… that child! And that was what you did! Not only that, you can judge us with your so-called morals! Call us savages!" Legg's rage soared as he said so, "That's right! We are barbarians! Barbarism is in our nature! We are primitive, unsympathetic, and inhumane, according to your people! So you came here and showed us your sympathy! Your humanity! As you humans would call it, you're so awesome! So cool and dreamy!"
"I…" Leguna stammered.
He finally understood that the barbarians weren't indifferent to his judgment. Instead, they endured his disdain and contempt, no one had said a word despite what horrible things they all knew the human brat was thinking. They hated him for it, of course. He had a cushy life, orphan brat or not, his life had been a hundred times better than the one they fought for out here. What did he know of their hardships? Of what they had to do and give up just to survive? Yet the brat dared come here and judge them for doing what they had to to survive?!
"Have you stopped for even a second to wonder why we do what we do? Have you thought for even a moment that we might do it only because we have to to survive? That it might kill us inside every time we have to kick someone out, or watch someone die, but that we do it nonetheless because we'd be next if we didn't?"
"Of course you haven't! And do you know what forces us to do it?"
"I… I don't--"
"Of course you do! Every one of you, every human on the continent knows! Look around! Do you see forests and lush green fields? Or do you see ice and snow and rock-hard frozen ground? We have to be hard and coldhearted just to survive here, and we'll continue to have to be as long as we stay here! Yet you humans, in your cushy cities and towns, you humans who grow more food than you know how to eat, you come here and judge us for doing what we have to survive! You have enough to make yourself die of being too fat and at the same time you dismiss us as mere savages because we have to make difficult choices to stay alive! The only, the only reason you can be 'humane' is because you have enough resources to waste of people who can't earn it for themselves. You stay here for a year and you'll all either be dead, or you'll have learned to live like we do. You can have your 'high morals' only because you have the resources to waste, but then you come here and use your 'high morals' to judge us!"
Leguna was speechless.
"When I first went to your empire, I was completely shocked when I saw how well even the people live. Even your poor and homeless live better than we do in the best years. Tell, me, who do you think would be the barbarians if you lived here instead, and we had the fortune of living where you do instead?"
Leguna couldn't answer him. He'd never thought a barbarian was capable of such complex thought, much less of giving a voice to those thoughts. It was clear he would not achieve anything with further talks.
"I have to go south. I am the king, the shepherd of my people, as you humans might say. I have a duty to find a better life for my people, and the only way to do that is to head south. If you let us in, we'll walk to our new home, if you don't, we'll fight our way there!"
"Well said!" Arikos clapped and bowed. "I didn't think you would be so thoughtful. I admire your concern for your people very much!"
"You flatter me, Mister Arikos," Legg replied, "We barbarians don't like to talk in circles, so I'll be direct. I want to go south, and I will go south. If you want to try and cut down 200 thousand barbarians, you're welcome to meet us on the field. If not, however, then stay out of our way."
"And what makes you so sure we can't just cut you all down?" Arikos asked, a smile still on his face.
"I've been to Hocke. I've spoken to Stok as well. Your people are weak, and on top of that you're also fully engaged in your war in the south. You don't have the men to spare, and even if you did I doubt you'd be able to stop us, not without losing so many people you'd be trampled by Stok. And don't bother with your secret weapons and saints. I've investigated them carefully and I'm not afraid of any of it."
"So you will march south no matter what we say today?" Leguna asked.
"Yes. I took you around the highlands as a courtesy to the past we have together, hoping you would understand why I must march south. I did not invite you to negotiate on whether I march south or not, but to find a way to do it with as little loss of life as possible."
"You want the empire to give you land in the north to live on?"
"If that can be done, I would be eternally grateful. If you can do it, I will swear in the ancestors' name to repay the debt."
Leguna sat quietly, considering things.
"It's not out of the question," Arikos chimed, "But what will you give in return? Sending 'one' barbarian our way isn't help."
"You think we would do something like that? We're too proud," Legg countered.
"After what I've seen, I don't think you actually even know what the word means. Especially not since you're trying to take advantage of our current situation," Arikos mocked.
Legg wanted to lash out, but he contained himself since this might just save several tens of thousands of his people's lives.
"So what do you want?"
"If we give you land here in the north, then you have to join our war," Arikos said.
"I cannot do that. My people will need time to settle in to their new home. We need to learn to farm, build proper houses, and acclimatize to your weather. It's much warmer down south, after all, and for most of my people it will be very difficult at first. We cannot afford to send our men away at such a crucial time. If we have to fight a way either way, then we'd rather fight to get our new homeland, than fight someone else's war."
"So you want to take a piece of our land without paying even a single life? And you expect us to accept that?"
"We are willing to help out, but we will not go to war. Maybe if the war could be won quickly, we might have considered it. But you are two rocks, grinding away at one another. It will take many years, probably even decades, for this all to end, if it ever ends at all. You have millions and millions of people to throw into the war and make children to replace your losses. We are just 200 thousand. We cannot."
"Then what are you willing to give?" Leguna asked.
"That depends on how the war is going and how well my people adjust."
"So an empty promise," Leguna concluded.
Arikos rolled his eyes.
"How about we settle this with a duel?"
"What do you mean?" Legg asked, intrigued.
"We fight a duel to decide the price," Arikos smiled with a shrug.
Previous Chapter Next Chapter