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Knots

Filip Wiltgren is a writer and tabletop game designer based in Sweden. A member of Codex and the Ubergroup, Filip has published in markets such as Daily SF, Grimdark, and Nature Futures, as well as a number of anthologies and semi-pro markets. In his day life, he's worked as a journalist, copywriter, and communications officer, and when he isn't writing, he spends time with his wife and kids. He can be found at: wiltgren.com.
The ogre doesn't react when you enter her hut. She's deep in concentration, head down, hands moving in complicated patterns, dark-brown leather thongs flashing through her fingers.
For a moment you hesitate between clearing your throat and banging the pommel of your drawn sword against your shield.
"Ahem," you say.
"Hello," she says, not looking up from her weaving. The pattern of knots and slacks, large knots and small, twisting in upon each other, draws your eye.
"Stop that," you say. "Stand up. Prepare to be searched."
"I haven't done anything wrong," she says, but she stops her weaving. The pattern looks familiar.
"Hold it up," you say, and she complies.
The pattern is definitely familiar, and surprisingly pleasing. Not something you'd find in a castle or an elven forest abode, of course, but interesting, in a barbaric sort of way.
"That's it," you say, "you're under arrest. Stand up."
You start to pull out your pendant.
"And the cause?" she says.
You hesitate.
"Infringement. Stealing magic. Unlawful weaving. Non-compliance with regulations. Being an ogre."
Finally a reaction. She draws herself up. Green-skins are so sensitive about their race.
"Infringement my hairy arse," she says. "I'm an artist."
You poke her weaving with your sword, making it swing.
"Hey!" she yells, "careful with that!"
"Derivative," you snort.
"Made after an ancient pattern!"
"So you admit," you say, "that you copied it?"
She clamps her mouth shut. Her flat, piggish nose trembles. Fear, you think.
"Ancient ogrish pattern," she snarls.
"Looks elvish to me." You poke the weave again. She pulls it away. It looks like she's about to bundle it up and shove it behind her back, but then she flings it into the air.
For a moment the leather thongs stretch tight, the knots flickering in pale blue, jade green, sunset orange. Then it folds and collapses to the ground.
"Broken," you say.
"Unfinished. Half a weave and it still sparkles. Find me a snotty elf plaid that does that!"
There's spine in her, you got to give her that. But then, ogres are the fiercest fighters, captivated by blood and death. You fingers tighten around the hilt of your sword.
"Right," you say. "Come along now."
"No," she says. She's bigger than you. Almost. Would be if you weren't big for a human.
You run your suddenly dry tongue over your teeth.
"I didn't hear that," you say, and jerk your head toward the door.
"No," she says.
"That's resisting arrest."
"You haven't arrested me yet, only said it," she says. "And I have rights."
"Ogres don't have bloody rights," you say, louder than you intended. Almost screaming.
"Are you going to kill me?" she asks in a soft, casual voice, but you can see her claws tremble, and a bead of sweat runs down her jaw.
"This is a law abiding country," you say. "No one gets killed without a cause."
Your words make her tremble more.
"Elves don't," she says.
Of course, elves have their own enforcers. You've fought a Spear-maiden in practice once. She broke two of your ribs. Silly buggers, elves. Take away their money and they're nothing but skinny, old geezers, with old geezer attitudes to everyone not elvish.
The ogre's fingers dance, a leather thong flying through them, knots tying and untying.
"Hey," you shout, slamming her with your shield. "Stop that."
She stumbles to the side, falling over the rocks she's using as a chair and table. Her leather thong lands by your feet. You poke it with your sword. Nothing happens.
The ogre is grimacing.
"That's it," you say. "Enough nice guy. You're coming with me."
She stands up, favoring her left leg, clutching her left side.
"No," she says.
"Influencing an officer of the law, unlawful magic, using pork products without a license."
"Pork?"
"The thong."
She laughs, a coughing wheeze.
"It's deer."
"So you're a poacher, too."
She just stands there, green blood dripping from her nose.
"Aren't you going to staunch that?" you say. "It's disgusting."
"What for? You're going to kill me anyway."
"Only if you resist arrest."
"You still haven't arrested me."
She's right. You haven't. Haven't pulled out your pendant, haven't spoken the official words, haven't branded her.
"Why?" she says.
It's so easy. I hereby arrest you, in the name of king and court and gods. Thirteen words, and then the brand.
But you hate the brand, the stench of burning flesh.
"Why do you do it?" you ask. "The pattern, the magic. Why can't you find your own?"
"It is my own," she says. "Every weave is individual. No one could make this like I do, and I couldn't make it at any other time."
"The pattern is elvish."
"And ogrish. And gnomish, human, dwarfish. Magic is the same everywhere, and anyone can reach it, with enough practice. It should be free to everyone willing to make the effort."
"But it's not," you say.
"But it's not," she repeats. The same words, but completely different.
The same pattern, but completely different.
"Are you going to arrest me?"
You think about it.
"Would you come along?" you ask.
"No."
She wouldn't. Sitting here, on a rock in a damp hut in the middle of the forest. She could have gotten a job in the city. Ogres are strong, and get good pay hauling cargo.
Except she isn't hauling cargo. She's weaving magic.
"Why?" you say.
"Because it's my life," she answers. "Because it's what calls me, what talks to me, what compels me. Because magic is my beauty. Because doing magic gives me joy, and if I couldn't do magic there would be nothing left to me."
You think about that, and about why you're a guard. You could haul cargo, too.
"Justice," you say.
"Yes."
"Without justice there is no life."
"Justice is your beauty."
You nod.
"Are you going to arrest me?"
Are you? Would it be the just thing go do?
"No," you say, and slide your sword back into your scabbard. "I'm sorry about your nose, and about calling your magic broken."
She smiles.
"All magic is broken," she says. "It's the imperfections that make it come alive."
"You'd better leave," you say. "There will be others."
"I know."
"Will you?"
"No," she says. "If I run, who will ask what's just?"
Who indeed? You?
"Me?"
"Maybe," she says, straightening, pulling her hand away from her side. "Take this," she says.
In her palm is a slim thread, with the most intriguing knot on it. The knot sparkles like ice on a clear spring morning. It feels warm when you take it.
The ogre hobbles back to her stone, picks up her weaving. You can see that this is her place, and not yours. You tie the tiny knot to your chain of office, right next to your heart, and start for home.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, March 16th, 2018


This story exploded from my head during a flash fiction contest hosted by the Codex writer's group. It wasn't the story I was trying to write, that one was a piece of horrible dystopic SF tripe I kept struggling with. But the image of an ogre weaving a pattern of leather ropes kept intruding. I couldn't get it out of my head. I couldn't continue writing the story I was trying to write. So I gave up and handed the reins to the ogre. And suddenly there was the story, leaping from my mind to the keyboard in almost finished shape. I wish all my writing worked like that.

- Filip Wiltgren

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