Abidal, a Profile in Barbarism
The decadent horizons of judgment built these towers. Off-white, wailing walls of corruption and misfortune anoint the bruised sky. The vendors stand with idle intent and the tradepost bursts with unknown imminence. The false spirit of religious tolerance encases the city with halcyon ease while the haughty bastions of savagery, dressed in the appropriate Aquilonian uniforms, stud the land with opression. Tarantia: the unwashed scarab of Mitraic theology, the hub of austere reverence, the heart of the Hyborian age.
Moreover, my home. At least for now. A woman is helping me remember my true identity – but I am not one for arcane soothsaying or magic. I falter and misstep when my mind wanders north to Vanaheim and Asgard. The frosted beckon of Ymir’s cold storm is a whirlwind itself to my mind. This emotion conquers the intellect of Mitra and the sorcery of Crom and Set combined and it is in this way that I can place my origin to these frigid lands where culture, civilization, and judgment are merely servants of ice.
As I walk the dull and lavish avenues, I am drawn to a particular belief wherein we are held captive by order and the only redeeming quality of man is his chaotic intent. The urban culture is supplemented by the counter-culture in all the faltering facets of creativity: art, history, war.
The only culture I embrace is ice. My only belief is victory over defeat.
Abidal, the barbarian, is what they call me. Or, at least, what I introduce myself as. I have no recollection of my first name, and I believe this lack of knowledge kept me alive in the slave trade, for my parents obviously weren’t people of means. In fact, I begin to doubt they were people of ends, either, in the literal sense – a man knows when his mother has died. It is an odd superstition bound to those without roots. It is like a vine that whirls its way to the canopy, clinging for support in an amorphous gyre. It can feel when it has stretched beyond its capacity, the point at which its grounding heaves and is left hanging like a surly man’s coy courtesan. Ymir must have preserved them in a lair of snow, in which case they were people of strength. Perhaps I could not feel the uprooting death because they had shamed Him, and He spared me the dishonor, in which case they were cowards.
I look out over the harbor, amidst Old Tarantia, facing the commons and the upper echelons of degenerate power comprising the noble district. This is the delta in which corruption flows from the aqueous basin of faulty men. This is a noisy place. The markets mumble incessantly, and the water craves to tear through the resilient walls below. The boats creak, the harbormasters and coxswains beckon illustriously, and the wooden planks themselves are the place-mats for loud boots. Adventurers and urbanites climb the Avenue of Honor with an intensity that makes one question the virtue of patience. The clang of their armor codifies their intent. I coldly set my hand on the off-white barrier and gather the livid sky. I want to tear the barrier with my maul and dismantle my grievances through force.
My maul, I killed a man for it – and many men to get to the one in particular. I am glad to have it, I am glad he doesn’t, and I am glad to have torn his body like the scythe tears grain. It is a trophy, signifying nothing except brutality. Victory over defeat; there is no victorious path achievable by remorse or humanist sentiment. War is hell and life is war.
I feel like I have wasted enough time reflecting. Identity and belief pale in comparison to physical prowess, for it is only through austere methods that one can influence people. Conan himself symbolizes this. Just as I am ready to continue with the killings, the brutal slaughters, and the beheadings, I am approached.
“Mighty barbarian,” with brevity and belief, he continues, “a coin for the children who have lost their way?” A priest of Mitra. Compassionate, I can tell, and gutsy in the act of approaching an absorbed barbarian who carries a foot and a half on him.
“If you want charity, talk to someone else,” I don’t mean to be cold, but I am. “Mind your own business.”
“But charity is my business, barbarian,” he thinks I’m stupid, and I intend to call him on it.
“I know what you do, and I don’t believe in it. If the children had any to them, they’d pick themselves up and earn a living.” I pride myself in my forcefulness.
“Judgment comes in just one form, barbarian, and that is from Mitra,” he says with stringency.
“People come in one form, but can easily be split in two,” I suggest, and I am pleased.
“Barbarian whose heart is frosted by anger and stolid intent, know that it was compassion that built Aquilonia and judgment that taught it to sing with civilized art and architecture. Conan himself is a man of severity, but propriety and good will are the virtues that reverberate in his wake. Many falsely regard him as the symbol of victory through death, but Mitra and His people allow Conan to rule not because of some epic tales, but because of his justice and prudence.” He lectures, I am bored.
I place a few copper in his hands, but refuse to believe what he says.
Victory over death. Life is war. The sky is a sheet and I am a razor. I must know killing and nothing else. I tell myself these things. Truthfully, I am presented with the salient dichotomy of my identity: to know or to kill.