Resolutions

It all started with the resolution passed by the town council.

No, perhaps not. That might be giving it too much weight. It really started when Tomas got stinking drunk that evening. But since the council resolution comes into it, we’ll just have to start there.

It was passed unanimously, and was short and to the point.

Resolved, that some person or persons of courage, skill, and resolution should form an expedition to deal with the depradations of William the Marauder, bringing peace and prosperity to the town and region of Olimur.

Agreed to and signed this 321st day of the 37th year of Arnon the Mayor, by the Council of Elders of the town of Olimur.

Copyright © Henry E. Neufeld, 2011. This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of my imagination. Any resemblance to real persons, places, or events is purely coincidental.

“Typical piece of lilly-livered, yellow-bellied swill from our honorable town council,” said Tomas. He had already had too much to drink. One didn’t speak of the elders in that way. Lilly-livered and yellow-bellied they might be, and would likely even admit it privately, but they were the richest men in the town, and they could always hire someone to deal with critics. Critics, yes, but bandits? Not so much!

The bartender only grunted.

“They don’t even have the courage to tell somebody specific to do something specific,” continued Tomas.

“Why should they assume someone would follow orders once they were out the gate?”

Nobody had an answer to that one, so the bar fell silent for a few minutes. Olimur was an isolated town, living off agricultural products from surrounding farms and from good bought from the rare trading caravans that made it there from the mountains to the west or from the coastal areas to the east.

There was a castle just to the south which was known as the Baron’s castle, but there hadn’t been a baron there in as long as anyone could remember, and the idea that there might be a king was the subject of myth. Nobody in town had ever even seen the sea, except for one — Tomas. He had a certain fame here because in his late teens he had signed on with a caravan as a guard, and had actually returned to Olimur.

The silence was broken suddenly by a man at the end of the bar.

“So why don’t you do something about it, hero!”

Nobody could remember his name, but he did some sort of work for the council.

“You need an expedition, not just one man to deal with this,” said Tomas.

“Not if it was a man of resolution, as the proclamation says. You’re a man of resolution, aren’t you?”

Tomas just stared at him.

“I bet you never have been to the sea, or to the mountains. You just went out and hid in the woods like a rabbit, then came back with all those tall tales.”

“I have too . . .” started Tomas.

“Someone who had actually done those things would be able to think of a resolution for this little problem. Someone who actually had seen the mountains and the sea, and who wasn’t himself a lilly-livered, yellow-bellied coward, and a liar to boot!”

If Tomas hadn’t been so drunk, and if he hadn’t felt that his trip to the sea and the mountains was his only real claim to any respect, he might not have done it. If he had even thought he could get by with challenging a minion of the town council to a duel, he might have done that.

“OK, I’ll do it!” shouted Tomas.

“Is that your firm resolution?” The man rolled the word off his tongue and made it sound sort of oily. “Are you truly resolved to do it? Or is this another of your tall tales?”

“I am resolved to do it,” said Tomas a bit more soberly. It seemed that agreeing to deal with William the Marauder was sobering even to one barely able to stand due to drink.

It turned out to be impossible to get anyone to join him on his expedition. Nobody thought he had any chance, and they all preferred that the walls of the town be between them and William. As a marauder, William was a practical man. He could have raided the town any time he wanted to, but then what would he raid next? By being there, the town brought a small trickle of commerce, and supported surrounding farms, and he took his share of everything.

Various villagers were willing to provide Tomas with supplies, and even the council, normally as tight-fisted as any group of people, provided him with a horse. He was fairly well equipped when he left town.

Every so often he wondered why he was going. But then he’d remember the jeering tone of the man in the bar, and the knowing looks of all his friends who, to a man, thought he’d wimp out before the end, and he’d decide he didn’t have any choice. He wouldn’t be able to live in town if he didn’t go. He had to go.

He headed toward the mountains. What he didn’t realize was that William the Marauder had eyes and ears in town and had been planning for him almost from the moment he decided to mount his one-man expedition. So just as he arrived in the foothills, he found himself surrounded by bandits, and herded forward until he was face to face with William the Marauder. He’d drawn his sword, and the bandits hadn’t taken it away from him. He tried challenging William to single combat, but William just drew his own sword jumped forward, and within three seconds at most, Tomas was disarmed.

He thought he was dead, but the bandits didn’t take him that seriously. They beat him up a bit, stripped him to his loin cloth, took all his equipment and his horse. They kept him in camp overnight, and before they left in the morning they tied him to a post they had planted right in the middle of a small stream. His feet were in ice cold water. He wondered how long it would take to die

There’s nothing like the prospect of death to change one’s outlook on a problem. As he resolved the problem into its component parts he began to curse himself for a fool. The council had, of course, never intended anyone to carry out their resolution. It was just something to point to when people complained. They had also carelessly failed to specify how the problem should be resolved.

Here was how it broke down. The real problem wasn’t William the Marauder. It was the council, which did nothing about it. If there wasn’t William, there would be someone else. There was enough fighting power in the town, if it was properly organized, to protect the neighboring farms, and probably make it possible for caravans to come and go much more safely. The question was, where could he find someone who could shift the council from their position and organize opposition to the bandits?

By this time he couldn’t feel his feet any more, and he wondered why he kept trying to figure out a new resolution to the problem when he wasn’t likely to have an opportunity to carry it out. It was then that he realized just how strong his own resolution was. So he started to try to free himself from the post.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d worked on freeing himself, when he realized he had an audience. A flock of sheep and goats was coming down from the hills and coming to drink from the stream. They were accompanied by a shepherd girl.

“I would guess you’ve fallen afoul of William the Marauder and his fine associates,” said the girl.

“Could you please untie me,” he asked.

“I wonder if that would be safe,” she said, sort of meditatively.

“I promise I won’t hurt you. I just don’t want to die here.”

“OK,” said the girl. And while the sheep and goats drank, she went and untied him.

“I think you should probably get out of the area,” said the girl. “I think I can find you sandals, a robe, and perhaps a walking stick, but that’s it.”

“I’m surprised to get even that,” said Tomas. “And very grateful!”

Tomas changed his route. He headed northeast. Nobody went northeast from Olimur. That took him toward the sea, but in a direction where there might be new things. He had also come to realize that the council had not put any time limits on the fulfillment of their resolution. He would take his time, and he would resolve it.

He had seen many towns and castles and had always been disappointed. In every case, he had found that people’s vision was limited to their own little area, and they were satisfied to see things continue as they had now for decades, perhaps centuries, though nobody could be sure of that.

He was coming across a line of hills and looking down into another valley when he saw what looked like a town larger than any he had seen before in his travels. He was not much better equipped. He was riding a mule in place of his horse, and his sword was old, but it was reasonably sharp, and he had made himself a hunting bow as well. As he rode down the trail, the town resolved itself into two walled areas, one on either side of the stream. The farms around looked uncommonly well tended. The road became better as he approached, and he could see that where it left the valley to the northeast it looked better than anything he had seen thus far.

The question, of course, would be whether the sort of person he was looking for would be willing to leave such a fine place to go with him to what would seem to be a poor village beside this town.

But his resolution held, and he entered the town.

That night he listened carefully in the bar. He was interested in the way the town worked, in the individual personalities, and who might be interested in some adventure of a particular type.

Surprisingly, he found plenty of people interested in adventure. It seemed there were more people with swords, bows, and excess time on their hands than he had ever imagined. But they quickly lost interest in conversations with him when they found he didn’t know where any buried treasure was located (or didn’t seem to). They wanted adventure with quick profit. That would solve nothing.

Finally, on his third night, he was joined by a girl. At least that was what he called her. In fact, she was probably in her twenties, and didn’t seem to have suffered the ravages of early marriage and continuous childbearing that characterized women back in Olimur.

“I hear you’re looking for someone to solve a problem for you,” she said.

“Why do you say that?” he asked, surprised.

“Well, you may think you’re very subtle, but the questions you’ve been asking other people, when considered together, resolve themselves into a pretty clear picture.”

“Oh,” said Tomas.

“Is that the best you can do?”

“No.” But he didn’t really know what to say. “Do you have any ideas?” he asked finally.

“Yes. Me.”

“You? What could you do?”

“I can do this,” she said. Then she waved her hand in front of his face, and there was a flash of light that blinded him. “That’s just a sample,” she said, when he had recovered.

Tomas had heard of wizards. He’d even been told they were around when he was working as a caravan guard. But he was pretty sure he had never met one. He certainly had no way to judge one and determine whether she could do what needed to be done.

But he was dazzled, almost as much by her as by her sample spell. She was beautiful. She seemed smart. What was more, she was very sure of herself. No question but that once she had made a resolution, she would carry it through! He was missing her greatest asset, but who could blame him?

It was less than a week later that Tomas found himself traveling southwest toward Olimur with the wizard, half a dozen men-at-arms, a couple of apprentices, and more bright and shining equipment than he had ever seen before.

He remembered one of his employers when he was a caravan guard who told him that there were two types of men in armor. Those who were there for show, who normally reflected the light of the sun and looked very good, and those who were there for action, whose armor usually was dented and much less shiny. The caravan guard hadn’t cared for the former.

He approached the wizard about it, suggesting that perhaps they needed more capable, but less showy guards.

“You’ll see,” she said. “What people see depends on who they are and what they expect.”

They arrived at the gate of Olimur, and as he was instructed, Tomas approached the gate ahead of the rest. “Tomas and the wizard Adrina, here according to the resolution of the town council with the ultimate and best resolution for their problem.”

Then he kept riding. The guards were uncertain what they should do, but they didn’t feel qualified to challenge a wizard (they might have thought differently had they known she was just a girl), and so they allowed the travelers to pass unmolested.

When the council saw that Adrina was just a girl, they were careful to have her followers disarmed before they came before the council but they didn’t bother taking anything away from Adrina herself. They assumed she was some kind of impostor, and they were angry with Tomas, but they weren’t afraid.

“Why have you brought this girl to us?” they said. “We authorized you to deal with William the Marauder, not to bring some other people to the town.”

“Silence!” said Adrina, and instantly the one councilor fell silent. His lips still moved, but nothing was heard.

Another councilor yelled for guards, but suddenly the door slammed, and somehow the guards were unable to open it.

The council and the guards weren’t very sophisticated, and by the standards of the larger world, neither were they very rich. It wasn’t long before they agreed to go along with her plans.

Even though she was just a girl, everyone expected the great wizard Adrina to go out and challenge William the Marauder, thus resolving all problems in one move. But instead she set up guards and patrol routes involving the various farms. Then she sent Tomas as her emissary. William agreed to plunder elsewhere and to leave Olimur and caravans going to and from it alone in exchange for his life. By this time Tomas was so convinced of  Adrina’s power, that he presented this with the proper confidence, and William saw wisdom and went along.

Back in the town, various of the town elders began to retire or disappear. This usually happened right after they had tried to some scheme over on the wizard Adrina.

It was heard that they complained to Tomas. They thought he had played fast and loose with their resolution.

“You should be very careful what you resolve,” said Tomas. “Someone might actually carry it out.”

And that became a proverb around Olimur, long after everyone had forgotten Tomas, and the council’s resolution.

(This post has been submitted to the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival – Resolution.)