The Barbarian looked from the stone tower to the stormy horizon. Dark
clouds loomed everywhere, blocking out the setting sun. It was several
hours to nightfall, but it might as well have been midnight. The only
light came from the silent flashes of the lightning storm far off in the
distance. But there was something else looming on the other horizon, and
it hung over his head like a dark pall. From every land, every corner of
the world, a rumor had been stirring. At first it seemed too impossible
to be true, but as the rumors became ever more frequent and more
descriptive, mounting like a storm front, he began to feel a true and
The wind picked up and the clouds began to pour forth their
abundance. As the rain rushed down, his view of the horizon was
obscured. Still he watched.
The word had broken yesterday. They would be coming to his land soon,
the white-robed army, and he could do nothing to keep them away.
The voices from other lands had told of them, this army that covered the
land like a swarm, a plague. Though they were from every race and
nation, they all moved as one, and they were reputed to be unstoppable,
unopposable. Every army that had moved against them had disappeared, and
the white-robed army only grew stronger.
When the Barbarian's rowdy, violent men had heard of the coming of this
army that would surely desecrate their land, they had all moved as one to
oppose it. The Barbarian warned that they should remain within the walls
of the fort and prepare for a siege, but the men would have nothing of
it. They rose with swords and leather armor and great iron axes of war,
with spears and flails and clubs, and they set out to destroy the army
that whispers had told was about to overwhelm them. The Barbarian
watched as they marched over the horizon... and continued to watch as
nightfall came, and morning sprang in its place. Now nightfall was
impending a second time, and his men, he knew, would never come again.
The robed army WOULD come, though. No castle wall, no angry weapon of
battle, not even all the gods of heaven and earth and the waters under
the earth combined could save him from that. He had no more time; he
must choose now how he would face the juggernaut. And when the question
arose, he knew he had no choice. He would face them the only way he knew
As dawn broke, the storm had run its course, and the clouds were parting
like curtains, revealing the golden sun peeking over the horizon. The
fog fled before the amber rays of light. The Barbarian's eyes squinted,
as, looking eastward, he saw that more than just frost sparkled white in
the morning light. It was the blindness one experiences when looking
upon a freshly fallen snow in the morn. A moving blanket of robed men
ambled quietly forward even as the sun that illuminated them shrank all
the early shadows before it. Fear gripped the throat of the Barbarian,
and he tightened his grip on the enormous battle-axe he held. He was
standing defiantly outside the gate of his castle, vulnerable to whatever
wrath this army dealt upon him. He knew his death was near, and it
terrified him. Yet he would take as many of the enemy with him in death
as he could. He thought of archers and slingshots and catapults, and
snorted to himself. He could not appear so threatening to this vast army
that they would waste such artillery on him. He would lull them into a
talk, and then strike down their leader. That alone might shake their
ranks. He closed his eyes and swallowed. He didn't want to die.
The robed army was slowed by its mass, and it seemed like hours before it
drew toward the waiting warrior.
"Ho!" he called to the line approaching.
"Peace!" someone in the line called back.
This surprised the Barbarian. What manner of greeting was 'peace' from
an advancing battle group? He did not contemplate this long, but rather
called back, "I would speak with your leader!"
He felt small before this great group, and knew that their leader,
whoever he was, would most likely never concede to speak with him. Then
the Barbarian noticed something subtle happening up ahead. At first he
was not sure what was happening, but when the realization struck him, he
was amazed. The entire army seemed to be slowing and coming to a
halt. Why would so great a mass of people stop for one man in their
path? This utterly baffled him, but before he could contemplate it
further, one of the members stepped slightly forward of the wall of
"Come here and we will talk."
The Barbarian eyed him suspiciously, then gripped his axe in both hands
and slowly moved forward.
"You will not need the weapon," spoke the man, "we are not here to harm
The Barbarian held onto his axe all the more firmly as he moved
forward. He scanned the men as he neared them, and noted in surprise
that, though each carried packs and supplies on top of and under their
robes, they seemed to be devoid of weapons.
The Barbarian knew even as he approached the last several steps that
something was very different here. These men seemed more like a
monstrous caravan than they did an army. Nevertheless, he was committed
to a course of action, and would carry it out. Even as the speaking man
raised his hand in greeting, the Barbarian darted forward on his last two
steps, and with a great cry, cut deeply into the man with his battleaxe.
The greeter fell heavily to the ground, and was immediately pulled back
into the mass. His comrades quickly produced clothes to wrap his wound,
and salves to clean it, while another man stepped into his place, and
finished the greeting where his wounded predecessor had left off.
"You do not need to be afraid, we will not harm you."
The Barbarian was frozen in shock. Finally, he screamed in desperation,
"You should be the one afraid! I cut down your leader, and I could cut
you down with another stroke!"
"He was not our leader, just as I am not our leader. I am aware of the
danger. Cut me down if you must, but another will simply take my place."
"I'll cut you ALL down!"
The robed speaker offered a small smile, "I doubt very much you could
summon the energy it would take to kill us ALL. Please, may we speak
before you set about slaying?"
The Barbarian stared ahead darkly. Things were obviously much different
than he had believed, but he found it difficult to halt his hatred-filled
impulses after already attacking one of the number. In an instant, his
entire outlook on the situation had radically been brought up short, and
he was struggling to adjust to the change. Deep within his chest, an
ache of guilt struggled to break free.
"What do you people want?" he finally asked.
"We simply ask for permission to cross through your land. In exchange
for this favor, we will help you in any way we can," the speaker shrugged.
"And if I refuse you passage?"
"We would avoid your land. And we would still offer our help, if you
"You and your people are already well into my land."
"Our apologies. We were led to believe you would allow us to pass
"Forgive me if I do not believe you," the Barbarian snorted, "I have
heard rumors from every land and nation of your... people. They say you
are a great army, and that no nation has been able to stand before you."
"We are a simple group of pilgrims," the speaker replied. "Many have
abandoned their native lands to join us, and our ranks have grown. We
have not come to conquer, but to divide."
"Two days ago, a group of my very close men went out to meet your people
in battle. They have not returned since."
The speaker nodded. "They came out against us as have many armies. They
fought and cut down many of our number before they realized that we were
not fighting back."
"Then where are they?" the Barbarian cried.
"Hold your peace, they are with us even now."
The speaker motioned behind him, and out of the mass stepped several
robed figures. Each figure removed his hood, and one by one, the
Barbarian saw the faces of those who were his comrades and friends.
The Barbarian stood speechless. Finally, he managed to whisper, "What
treachery is this?"
One of his close friends stepped forward to speak.
"We have chosen to join them, my friend. Please do not be angry."
The Barbarian looked sadly at his friend.
"What have they done to you to change you so? Why would you leave this
land, and all that it has to offer, for a nomad's life?"
"These people are like none I have ever met," his friend said, almost
pleadingly, to him. "They live, the entire lot of them, to help one
another. They travel as no army or caravan I have ever seen. They do not
leave the young and the weak behind to be picked off by savages. The
strong remain on the outside of the group as they move, and the weak
remain safely at the core. They take no consideration for themselves at
all. As you have seen, they would unthinkingly give up their lives to
protect the group. At first we thought as you do, that they were fools,
idealists. But once I saw the reality of their commitment, I could not
live outside this life that they have."
The Barbarian looked into his friend's face for a long time. This man
who he once called friend seemed a stranger to him. For a moment, he
even entertained the idea that these people were who they pretended to
be. And then he knew the truth. They were a headless body, a monstrous
creature that moved across the lands absorbing the weak minded into their
"To perfect," he growled, "to perfect..."
"We made no claim to be perfect," the speaker replied. "We bicker,
fight, and disagree. But in all this we strive not to tear one another
down, but to do what is best for the whole."
The Barbarian was too tired of heart and mind to argue with this
pretentious lot. They had taken his friends and his people from him in a
way no army could ever hope to do. They pretended to have a desire to
help, when all they sought was to proselytize.
"Who is your leader?" he asked.
"Our leader cannot be seen."
"Well tell him that your people may pass through my land, camp here if
you must, but be on your way as quickly as possible. I will have nothing
more to do with you."
The speaker nodded, "Very well."
Without another word, the Barbarian turned on his heel and strode quickly
back to the waiting gates of his cold, stone castle.
The Barbarian ate alone that night, forbidding himself to think. He had
pulled a great jug of wine from the cellar and hoped to down the entire
vessel before the night was done. Outside, the sinister force of the
white-robed army built their fires, ate their meals, played with their
children, and rejoiced at the many people from his land that had
abandoned him for the utopian vision they pretended to offer.
A knock came at the thick, wooden door that closed off the pathetically
empty dining hall to the rest of the world. Startled, the Barbarian
spilled his drink.
"Who is it?" he called gruffly.
The door creaked on its hinges, and a narrow face appeared around its edge.
"It's just me," the face smiled. It was one of the Barbarian's fighting
men, a Savage.
The Barbarian grunted, "I thought you would be feasting with your
The Savage let a slight smile cross his lips.
"Just because I joined them, it doesn't necessarily mean I am one of
them. I slipped away from their company to speak to you."
The Barbarian raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
"You see," the Savage began, after helping himself to some wine, "When
the rest of the men grew tired of killing those who would not fight back,
they began to speak with them. They were, as I am sure you are,
fascinated by this strange group. At first they granted the robed
strangers passage through your land, and then, as the talk continued,
they offered to escort them. As the next day followed, the group would
stop at every farm, and every cottage. They would offer food to the
inhabitants and help with farming and repairs. They would tend to the
sick, clothe the poor, feed the hungry, and go out of their way for such
niceties. For most, that was all it took. Almost everyone they helped
ended up joining their ranks. In the end, so did your men."
"And so did you," the Barbarian grunted.
The Savage shrugged.
"I travel with the white-robed army now, yes, but my objective has never
changed. We set out to defeat this army that came to desecrate your
land, and I still intend to do so."
The Barbarian leaned forward in interest.
"Well, my friend, it's like this," the Savage smiled, "Once I realized
that this army did not conquer with swords and spears, but with kind
words and good deeds, I changed my strategy as every warrior must. Your
other men may have fallen to their beguilements, but I found that the way
to the defeat of so great an army was not in violence but in subtlety.
"I," the Savage gestured grandly to himself, "will be like one of
them. I will infiltrate their ranks and slowly undermine their ideas and
teachings. So great a mass of people cannot hold themselves together
through kindness alone. They already have the seeds of destruction in
their midst. I will simply nurture the seeds until they disintegrate in
The Savage looked greedily into the face of the Barbarian. "Join me," he
spoke in intensity, "we can accomplish more together than I can
alone. You will have the revenge I know you desire!"
The Barbarian considered the man for a moment before giving a sigh.
"I know what you are saying to me, and I think I can appreciate what you
are doing. But I am tired of this struggle."
"The struggle will not die when this army has left your land," the Savage
spoke. "Better to fight than to remain in your castle walls withering
away from absence."
"No, my friend, no... I will not be joining you. If my men ever regain
their minds, please tell them to return. Otherwise, I will set about the
business of rebuilding this modest kingdom of mine."
The Savage glanced heavily back at the door.
"Once our backs are turned to the rising sun, I'm afraid there will be no
return," he replied. "Very well, your decision is made. It was good
seeing your face once again. If you ever wish to find me, follow the
trail of white robes that have been cast off the backs of the
disillusioned and malcontent."
The Savage reached within the folds of his own robe and removed another
thin, white cloak. He tossed it casually across the table, where it
landed in the lap of the Barbarian.
"A memento," he smiled. And with that, he was gone. The Barbarian took
the robe in his hands and ran it's soft fibers between his fingers. A
long time passed as he stared off into the distance. Finally he grunted,
threw the robe into the fireplace, and strode out of the room. Behind
him, the fire flickered and then died as it smothered under the white
It took a full day for the vast sea of robed bodies to finally disappear
into the setting sun. The Barbarian watched their departure with a deep
uncertainty brewing within him. He smiled it away. The army was as good
as doomed. Their mass was so great it could not support itself. They
had no leader, and any soul with greed could seize the reigns. No, the
army would collapse beneath its own weight, and history would never even
remember its existence. He thought back to the words the Savage had spoken.
"They already have the seeds of destruction in their midst."
On the eastern horizons, the storm clouds were mounting anew.