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The 13th Warrior 2

A note on love & anger

This man is a Southerner, a poet, whereas the Northerners are warriors. His fate comes from love, which is a law-breaker, & which earned him exile. Their fate comes from harsh necessity; even their women must work; they earn rule or death. He knows luxury; they know survival. He is like a child – they laugh at his weakness; he fears their uncivilized harshness. He learns their language; then he must earn their respect.

Speeches will not do, however; he must kill, stand his ground, & endure his wounds. He worries rightly that scars will ruin his good looks. The woman tending to him wants to use cow piss on his wounds; he wants clean water, no filth; she points out to him that filth will cure him; the pious nobleman submits. He tells them that there is only one God & Mohamed is his prophet. He does not believe their enemies are demons, or that there are fire serpents.

They teach him the art of war; the first lesson may be that artful warriors may kill the young & strong. To practice it, he has one of their smiths forge him a scimitar. He substitutes quickness for strength. They teach him that you need to kill even among your allies, to prevent dissent, & that even your allies need to fear your wiles. There are always some who contend for rule & who would risk destruction.

These men are not barbarians, he learns. They humiliate arrogance; they kill without cruelty. Their knowledge is in their actions. They do not speak much, & mostly of what they need to do or have done. Their reputations, presumably, are themselves an education in the art of war. Their captain is a fearless man, because he is undeceived about war.

The captain one day talks with the king who has sought his help; his race is dwindling, for brother kills brother among them; the captain says a man may be thought wealthy if his story is told; presumably, by a great poet. The truth is that such a man is beautified. Death, the heroes sing, returns them to their family, all the way to their origins, under the rule of gods. Only death relieves suffering.

Perhaps the poet has come to teach them the truth about Allah. But men must first live, & to live they must destroy those things that endanger civilization. The meaning of the divine law is only made clear when once the way of the tribe ceases to be an endless motion under the sky. Allah teaches men to act, but it must be possible for them to act. But divine power may humble men, make them unable to act.