Entry #2 in the second Dreams of the Quill Writing Challenge.
Bjorn the Bookkeeper
A heavy sigh fell through Bjorn’s lips as he stared at the papers in front of him. The papers were full of numbers that detailed yesterday’s revenues; taxes mostly. The kingdom was good at taxes since the war ended and the transactions in front of him had familiar names of his friends and colleagues. Bjorn filed the papers into the monthly books.
The books from the day’s transactions stared back at Bjorn. It seemed as though the government books were getting more complicated from year to year. He had been doing the government financials for about five years now, and they got more convoluted from year to year.
The amount of money the government brought in was increasing steadily, because the lords had figured out that taxes work well to make money for the coffers.
Bjorn looked at the nicely lined sheets and his counting stones through the bushiness of his own red beard. He had been too lazy to braid the strands of hair flowing from his whiskers like he usually did, because it mattered less and less. His job of keeping the books was natural as he was good at counting wealth. Before the war Bjorn was a celebrated miner that took stock of jewels and gold and financed some of the greatest wars ever fought.
Those days were past, and the enemies long gone. Peace reigned over the land, and the once mighty hands of Bjorn the war hero were now the hands of Bjorn the bookkeeper. It’s not that Bjorn was old, but his place in the structure of the new regime wasn’t of his choosing. So in the darkened room lit by the flicker of candlelight, who needed to primp for doing the kingdom’s finances?
The dim light from the window was fading and the day was ending. Bjorn’s solitude in his little room was rarely broken, but the noise in the hallway was increasing with the sound of footsteps of people heading home for the day. Bjorn packed the books and marked his place in the receipts to pick up with tomorrow. He pouched his counting stones, tied them to his belt, picked up his walking stick from the wall, and left his small dark office locking the door behind him.
He joined the throng hastily leaving the building for the evening. As the crowd muddled through the dark stairwell up to the main floor it was hard not to bump into pretty much everyone. Bjorn had to return the key to his office as he was not trusted to keep the keys. So at the main floor he turned left instead of heading out into the streets. As he made his way toward the next staircase heading up he ran into two soft pillars inadvertently. A pair of legs to be exact. Bjorn fell backwards onto his rump and grimaced.
“Watch where you’re going, you stupid dwarf,” said the golden haired elf. “Know your place when you’re on the main floor, and for the sake of appearance clean yourself up.”
The elf threw his silk cloak over his shoulder and continued his conversation with his counterpart muttering something about how the mighty dwarven war heroes were disheveled idiots.
Bjorn collected himself, sighed, and moved to the marble staircase heading up to the upper offices. The top floor was lavish in comparison to the cave-like feel of the basements where the real work was getting done. The elves that populated the top floor were more concerned with meetings and making decisions that weren’t really of any relevance unless it benefited the elves.
The war against the dragons was long and tiring. Dwarves were the heroes that stormed the stronghold of the great dragon kings through hard carved tunnels that surrounded and surprised the sleeping beasts. Bjorn was there when the dragons woke and fought back, and the resulting carnage from the fight still lingered with the scars on his arms and legs that he kept covered. It took nearly five years for Bjorn’s curly whiskers to become a respectful beard once again, and now he had nothing to show for it except keeping the kingdom’s books.
He reached the office of his superior Goren and found, as usual, that he had left early for the day leaving Bjorn to slide the key into the bastard’s mail slot again.
Bjorn turned around and headed back to the ground floor and headed for the stables to get his pony and head home for the day.
By the time he reached the stables most everyone was gone for the day and it left his little pony there all by her lonesome. He patted her face, untied her bridle and put the saddle on for the short trip to the tavern where Fiorina worked to pick her up for the day.
Fiorina worked at Blalock’s bar and spit where she supplemented the income from Bjorn’s government work. It was a busy rough job, but Fiorina was the best at running the bar’s food stand and taking payments from customers. She liked her job, it was the thing she was best at, when there wasn’t any wars to be fought that is.
As the sun fell in the sky and as things darkened, she knew that Bjorn would be there soon for a flagon of ale and the ride home for the night. Like clockwork the door swung open and the room erupted in a hearty cry of “BJORN!” He had arrived.
“Hey there you salty fucks, you better have been treating my wife well while I’ve been working for the tall shit heads so you could all get paid for your hard work.” The bar erupted in laughter, even though Bjorn said the same thing every night. The sad truth was that the castle’s books were considerably larger while the taxes increased on the working folks like those in this bar. The system was failing the little people.
Literally, as he looked around the room at the working class, no one was taller than an elf’s waistline. Barden the halfling sold vegetables in the market, his skills being most useful on the farm. Gary the gnome built the very castle the high lord went home to every night. This was a “little people’s” bar, and the people here were in good company even if the discrimination of the high elves put them down at every turn.
“Fiorina my love, where is my ale?”
“Here waiting for you,” she handed him the cup as she leaned over the counter for a kiss with the scraggly haired dwarf. Bjorn sat with a melancholic smile as he looked around the room at the revelry that could be afforded by the workers of this tiny establishment.
“Fiorina, look around. What’s going on with the world?”
“Honey, don’t start that again, you do this almost every night.”
“I know, but it feels different tonight…”
She interrupted, “Yes, yes, Barden is going to stop picking turnips and his wife will stop baking bread to protest the establishment. Now drink your ale, I want to get home and rest my weary feet.”
Bjorn walked next to the pony while Fiorina sat side-saddle on the way to their hole in the ground they called home.
Their walk was largely silent as Bjorn was drunk and Fiorina was sleepy from the day’s work.
When they arrived Bjorn put the love of his life to bed. He stroked her hair and said, “My love, do you remember when we fought the dragon kings? Side-by-side, you and me…”
“My dear, you need to stop living in the past, and move with me into the future.”
Bjorn bellowed, “The dragons left for the stars, and left us with the damned elves. Now we have nothing but our meager skills, shining the boots of those tall thieves while they tax us left and right…”
Fiorina silenced Bjorn with a kiss, but he pulled away. “I’m not much in the mood for those kinds of pleasantries, I’m going out. I need some time out just for today.”
With her eyes turned downward she said, “Honey, do what you need to do, it’s fine for tonight. I’m a wee bit tired anyways.”
“Thank you my love.” Bjorn left the room, and Fiorina thought about how this wasn’t just for today, but the fifth time this week he needed to go out. She turned and went to sleep as she would need her energy when Bjorn would return drunk from the night’s parties.
Yes, this was the fifth time this week, but today Bjorn unpacked his battle axe and took it with him. This was the day of plans, and the day that the elves would realize that they could no longer look down on the masses that fed them, clothed them, and even collected their taxes for them.
Bjorn went back to Blalock’s and knocked the secret knock at the cellar door. A handful of dwarves, gnomes, and even a few homeless goblins were there with weapons in hand.
Barden spoke, “I’ve contacted the humans in the west, they’re willing to help us get what’s ours. It ends tonight.”
Bjorn’s axe shone in the candlelight, with the pommel made from the claw of the dragon he cut himself that fateful day five years ago.
The conversation got livelier and livelier as the ale was passed around the room when the ground shook, and rocks fell from the ceiling.
Bjorn flung the doors of the cellar open and found the surroundings in a familiar shade of orange and red. Flickering firelight engulfed everything around him. A roar from behind him erupted that was all too familiar.
As he turned around he saw the government building in ruins with pieces of rock and rubble everywhere. At his feet was the key to his office, staring at him like it did every morning, only this time it was unable to taunt him like usual. He kicked it aside, and tightened the grip on his axe.
“BJORN!!!” Screamed Fiorina from his right, as she tossed his war helmet to him.
“I love you my heart and sun,” he yelled through the commotion. Fastening the helm to his head he looked around at the rag tag group that was about to camp in front of the lords and without saying a word began the most cheerful war cry anyone had ever heard.
Weapons and chants filled the air as the group turned toward the new yet old common enemy of the past.
The dragons had returned, apparently tired of the stars, and Bjorn was ready for them, he had been for five long years.
He grabbed his wife’s hand and yelled, “TO BATTLE!” and began charging the enemy with his friends and love at his side. If there were a definition to living, this was Bjorn’s definition.