Short Fiction — Trapped Decisions5 min read

“If we don’t attack them, we will regret it. They are starving. There is nothing we can do now. Their crops have failed two years in a row. We are greater in number. If we don’t attack now, they will come at night.” Isidore said.

Roderic knew Isidore was right. He had no choice. Him knowing that they could not supply these other families with food meant that they couldn’t be allowed to become desperate. Desperate people are dangerous. The more desperate and the less to lose, the more likely someone is to do something that you can’t predict.

Isidore was his most trusted friend and adviser. This was because Isidore could argue with him better than anyone else. Neither man cared about a specific decision. They both knew that the other would argue against any position the other took. This was the only way to know the truth. You had to find how you were wrong. You were always wrong.

Roderic grimaced as he spoke. “Wōden will need many sacrifices to sustain our good fortunes if we choose this path. I cannot allow us to kill those who have not wronged us without paying the proper price. Do you truly believe that there is no other way?”

“If we wait, we will surely suffer greater losses. Wōden will surely favor us. He must know the position we are in. Euric will lead his men into our village to take what is ours, sacrifice what they can afford, and take the rest of what is ours.” Isidore argued.

“And if you are wrong?” Roderic asked.

Isidore shrugged. “We can afford to make the sacrifice. If we take their land and put it to good use, in a years time we will be stronger than we were. We will have lost nothing, but we risk losing everything if we wait.”

Roderic nodded. “I am not as sure as you are. I am not sure they will attack. What if they have food we don’t know about? What if we attack them and lose many men? Even if we succeed, we need to sacrifice enough to save us from the ill will of Wōden. What do we stand to gain in this case?”

“I am sure we will gain more than the cost of the sacrifice we must make after killing these 25 people. We know what we must spend to satisfy Wōden. If we attack them now, we can catch them by surprise. We can end this before they become desperate. All of your questions can be answered simply in the same way you asked them. What if we are right about their food supply? What if we don’t attack and they kill you while you sleep? What do we stand to lose if we do nothing?” Isidore countered.

“I know that you are familiar with the true cost of killing a man. Wōden may be appeased, but what will happen the next time we are in the same situation? We will attack Euric now. Once we have done this, what will happen if other tribes learn of our aggression? Agila may take our aggression as a sign that we cannot be trusted. What then? We cannot meet him on the battlefield and hope to be whole afterwards. At best, we have to start over. Do we kill Agila while he sleeps as well?” Roderic inquired.

Isidore replied, “There is no correct choice. There is only the least wrong choice. Agila may crush us if he chooses. Our alliance with Agila is strong though. What if we involve him in eliminating the threat of Euric?”

“Euric is no threat to him.”

“What if we make him a threat to Agila? Will Agila join us then? Will he be persuaded by fear?” Isidore began questioning. “I cannot know. Our problem is that we have Agila past the forest and Euric on the other side of the river. They hardly have seen each other’s faces, much less had a reason to fight each other. This may be to our advantage. What if we insult Euric in a way that others will not see as an insult.”

“What do you propose?”

“Euric cannot abide his favorite daughter, Avina, being married to the Roman god. Your son, Ervig, has no wife. He also was a prisoner of the Romans. We can claim that they converted him to their gods as a requirement for his release. Ervig has done no such thing, but it should be done in short order to show him worshiping in a way that Euric will see as foreign. We can ask for Ervig and Avina’s marriage as a prerequisite for our help. If he agrees, we know he is desperate beyond measure and so must we be. If he disagrees, we can challenge him to single combat. After our victory, we make our sacrifices. We also banish whoever we see as unfit and allow in those who are true warriors and their closest family members.”

Isidore was persuasive.

“I am not sure this will work as you say. But I can see no other options.”

Roderic was trapped. At least he wouldn’t be alone. Euric would know soon that he had no options. He was a friend to Roderic, but he would not die so a friend could survive. That was the worst insult possible to Wōden, being a weak man.

Leave a Reply