The fucking city man was going to get it, he’d been asking for it all night and he was goddamned well going to get it all right. He thought that Brog Bingand was stupid but he was the stupid one because he was goddamned well going to find out what was, who was…
Brog Bingand had to concentrate on the card game now. The stupid city man would get his soon enough and Brog Bingand couldn’t lose another hand, he was almost out of money. It made him so fucking angry, he left home with eight copper bits he had saved since he made his first hunt and it was more than anyone in the village had ever seen. Everybody thought Brog Bingand was the richest and he was too. The last he had taken from a dead bandit. Oh, the goddamned army will never find me out here in the forest, thought the stupid fucking bandit: I can tell these stupid barbarians what to do and live like a king. Brog Bingand put him right sure enough. His head run through with a stick, hanging by vines, is all the army found of him, and there’s three more copper bits in Brog Bingand’s purse. When he left the village for the city, the first man who ever did so in his whole tribe ever, he did it not like some poor stupid savage but like a true man with so much money. They thought he was so rich but now the fucking city man was laughing at him!
The city man and his fucking friend laughed at him from the moment he walked into the tavern. He might not speak their goddamned mama-bird language so good but he knew what was what. The city man laughed at his clothes and his talking and laughed at how he didn’t know the rules of cards so much as the city man. His fucking friend was talking and maybe Brog Bingand didn’t speak the language so good but he know that word ‘barbarian’ when he heard it even if they said it soft, and he knew what it meant. The city man laughed at how come Brog Bingand didn’t have so much money. He thought he had so much and now it seems like maybe…
So he had to pay good attention to the game and not get so angry, not yet, even though it was hard. He put down his third card and the city man laughed. He didn’t want to hear the city man laugh anymore. “Hey, friend,” the city man said and his voice was weak and pretty and it had a woman in it. “That’s not the way to play. You don’t put your third card down, you know. Remember?”
“I remember! I…I remember. I made a mistake. I will turn it over again, and we keep playing.”
“Eh…ha ha.” The city man laughed again and every time he laughed Brog Bingand wanted to hurt him. “Look, I already know what card you have. Do you see? It’s no good, us playing the rest of the hand, because I know what your next card is.”
“So what?” Brog Bingand yelled and he knew that he was getting too angry and not paying attention but he didn’t know what else to do. The city man was telling a funny joke that was not so funny to him but Brog Bingand would tell his own joke soon, and then he would laugh but not them.
“So, look! We have to start a new hand, because this one is ruined. I would win this hand.”
“You think so! You want to take my money just because you say you would win. We play out the hand! Then see if you win.” The city man looked at him like he was a sick baby. He would not let anyone look at him that way again.
“No, no. It’s not that. Look, keep your money. We’ll start a new hand. I don’t win your money this hand.” The city man turns to his friend and says something quiet and there is the name of one of the weak woman gods of the city that Brog Bingand hears and then that word ‘barbarian’ again.
“Oh, now you are so smart! You try to steal my money. Maybe you try with the next hand too!” Brog Bingand has stood now, and he is tall and thick and strong like a tree, like a true man. When the city man sees what he is like the stealing and laughing will stop.
“Look, rube, I don’t need to steal to get your money. What little of it there —“ Brog Bingand has swung his arm, long as a leg, meaty and dirty, across the little table. In his hand is one of the wood and metal cups from which he has drunk ale, and then it is across the face of the fucking city man. The city man’s eyelid is torn and hangs like a flap of fat from a fresh butchered buck and his eyebrow splits open and there is a lot of blood. Brog Bingand knows how to hit, to make blood. And it is good to make blood because such people as the city man are always afraid of blood.
His friend is slow and fat and weak like all goddamned city men and Brog Bingand can see he is going to fight but not until he figures out what is happening. This is good. City men always want to fucking figure everything out and talk about everything until it is almost over. By the time the goddamned friend takes a swing Brog Bingand has already shattered the city man’s nose and pulverized his eye and lifted him off his feet.
“You think I am stupid! Big stupid! Not so smart as you, eh? Funny little joke to your goddamned friend about how stupid is the barbarian.” Brog Bingand is enormous even compared to his tribe, nearly seven feet tall. He is broad as a lake and strong as a bear and he holds the city man high above the floor and shakes him like an empty sack, because he knows for the shaking the city man cannot think. “Verbyr! Verbyr!” Brog Bingand screams the name of his people at the red ruin of the city man’s face. “Not barbarian! Verbyr! Is it funny now, fucking man?”
He has become caught up in punishing the city man and has forgotten his friend, who now hits him in the kidney. It is a weak blow and has no passion but it hits the right place and brings him by means of urgent pain to where he must be. He drops the city man who falls into the lap of a clown who is sitting by himself drinking whiskey. The clown spills his whiskey and looks very crazy but Brog Bingand does not care about the clown because now he is going to punish the city man’s goddamned friend.
He swings behind, not looking, his body not his eyes telling him where the city man’s friend stands. His fist and good left arm curves around the side of his enemy’s head like a meat hook and makes a thick thump. The city man’s friend’s head shakes on his neck like a new leaf on a tree. Brog Bingand moves quickly, like a true man, and snaps his right hand around the place where the enemy’s neck and jaw join, and he holds the sick weak scrubbed face steady and hits it and hits it and hits it.
Now Brog Bingand knows that other city men are wondering what to do. Some are acting like women, screaming and hiding. Some are acting like goddamned cowards, scurrying out like rats in a rowhouse set aflame. Most are just wondering what to do because the city spoils you and makes you weak and you cannot act, only think. But some are shoving and fighting, fighting whoever is near and Brog Bingand doesn’t know why, probably they just want to fight and don’t care who. Even the clown has begun to fight someone, some other perfumed city man, and he has a strange way of moving when he fights but Brog Bingand is too busy to pay attention to the clown. To fight, the clown has thrown the city man who tried to cheat Brog Bingand off his lap and onto the floor: good.
Brog Bingand walks over to the city man, stands over him until he is sure that the city man can see, through his useful eye, who he is: so he will remember why he suffers. And then Brog Bingand kicks him fierce right on the jaw so he will not talk again, and tell his lies and cheats and laugh and call ‘barbarian’, not for a long time and then only weak and bitter and beaten. The chattering noise of the tavern has become a beautiful din and it makes Brog Bingand very happy because it reminds him of battle: angry shouting in foreign tongues, crashing and breaking, the metal hiss of knives drawing out of sheaths, that perfect heavy sound of bodies hitting bodies.
He is only hitting now, hitting anything that comes across his eyes, until he cannot see it anymore. He hopes that soon he will see a sword, for the axe strapped to his back is heavy and he wants to pull on the strap that holds it there and feel its cold hard weight in his hands. Coming to this city, walking along the roads, he would often take up the axe and spin it at his arm’s full length, feeling it cut through the empty air while inside his head there were enemies on all sides. This is what he will do now, he thinks, thresh down the goddamned city men like crops for harvest if any of them try to stab him.
He has put a thick thumb in the eye of a man who looks like a fat pig when he is pulled back by many strong arms that he does not see. Men are behind him and then above him. He is thrown to the floor and he screams in rage, all arms and legs sweeping brutally all around him, but there are four or five men, rougher and truer than the city man and his friend, bigger and not so clean as them and all of them dressed the same like soldiers. His axe is pinned to the ground by his own weight and he cannot get to it and the soldiers have metal clubs and this is all he sees at this time because the soldiers start, all four or five of them, to beat him and he passes out of the light.
Better I die, thinks Brog Bingand: better I die, fighting here like a true man, that go back to the village with all my money gone, cheated away from me. Better I die.