by C.S. Lee
His past forgotten, Galahad journeys to uncover the truth. Is he a hero, or a villain?
|The gold coin clinked onto the bar top. The innkeeper glanced into the depthless blue eyes and the half-scarred face of the man who dropped it there and quickly returned his gaze to the coin.
" What'll it be? " The innkeep asked in a sheepish way, as if intimidated by the man opposite of him, and why wouldn't he be? The man's tattered face spoke to a past that the innkeep had no intention of inquiring about, nor did he think the man was eager to discuss. He also stood a great deal taller than the innkeep's five foot two frame and although he wore a thick overcoat, and a bandolier of various munitions, the innkeep could see that the man's body was covered in rigid muscle.
" Brandy, scotch, water. One is as good as the other, " said the man. The innkeep regarded the malformed gold coin. It looked as though the man had smelted it himself over some backwoods campfire. He scooped the coin up and rubbed his thumb across its rough surface. He'd been in business long enough to know the difference between the legitimate thing, and a fake just by touch, and this felt just as real as any gold coin minted by the Concordance treasury, or at least pretty damn close. He dropped the coin into his apron pocket and produced a small shot glass and a bottle of amber spirit from behind the bar. When he finished pouring, the half scarred man picked up the glass and drained it in a long, slow draw. He set the glass down and slid it back towards the innkeep with a flick of his index finger. The innkeep poured another shot as the man dropped another solid gold coin onto the bar top.
" One coin should more than cover two drinks, " said the innkeep
" One coin for the drink, another for a room, " said the man. The innkeep grunted in approval
" You're still overpaying, but I won't say no to a little extra gold in my coffer tonight, by the will of the Lord's, I could use it. Any accommodations that might need seein' to? "
"As long as there's a bed, and warmth, and a meal, supposin' you've got something to spare, " The man said.
" So be it. I'll have your room ready before the hour's up." The innkeep said as he slid the second gold coin off the counter, and into his apron pocket where it clinked against the other. He hadn't bothered to check the second coin. The man had paid well enough with the first, and the innkeep didn't reckon he would take to kindly to the validity of his gold being judged twice.
The half scarred man drained his glass " You got a name, sir? " The innkeep asked.
" Not one idly shared, " said the man. The innkeep's eyes met the man's once again, but he didn't seem to acknowledge the innkeep's studying gaze in any way. He seemed to look right through him as if he were no more than a mirage, a figment that he'd much rather not grant substance to. Instead, the man stared straight into the mirror beyond the bar as if to judge his own horrid face reflected back at him.
The inn was shrouded in a dim yellow light from the long outdated sodium arc lamps, and the smell of rancid beer filled the room along with stale bread and cheese that had long since expired beyond delicacy. The half scarred man stood at the bar, flipping a small card over between his fingers as the innkeep shuffled about.
" What brings you into Edgewater? " Said the innkeep as he emerged from a storeroom behind the bar with an armful of soiled looking linens and other disheveled bedware . The man placed the card on the bar top, and slid it across to the innkeep who fished a pair of glasses from his apron pocket and examined the card. Stylized across the top in reflective ruby lettering was a name. Lady Vivialena. Underneath the name in the same reflective ruby ink was an insignia, an open eye with two irises.
" A clairvoyant? " Said the innkeep. The man nodded. " You know most of them are frauds and crackpots? Take ya for every bit of coin you have to your name, gold or not "
" Not this one," Said the man.
" If ya wanted to lose all that gold, There's a Paddick game that gets played here damn near every evening. I bet they'd be happy to lighten your burden a’for you hit the road again."
" Money is the least of my concerns in this town," Said the man. The innkeep leaned in close and inspected the man's face. He'd gone past the point of worrying about rudeness now, the man was just too much of an oddity in the ho-hum town of Edgewater to ignore.
" You sure you ain't got a name feller? "
" They call him Galahad, Galahad Graves, " said a graveled voice from behind the man. " The Aimless Wanderer, Bloodletter of Bellowhall. " The man was standing in the inn's entryway. As he stepped forward into the squalid establishment, another man followed. The two took up positions on either side of the half-scarred man
" Now I've been lookin' for you for quite some time, led me all across the whole of Zhastland. That jaunt through the Scythian wastes was particularly brutal. Tell me, how exactly did you get through the wastes so quickly, damn near took us a month. " The man said.
" Surprised you could even keep up at all. Figured the wastes would have thrown you off my trail, if not killed you outright. " Said Galahad. He kept his eyes on his mirrored reflection as he swallowed down another shot of amber liquid.
" With all the death and destruction you leave in your wake, Graves? Hell, I could track you if I was blind, deaf, and dumb." At this, the man's associate let out a gurgling chuckle. The Bountyman slid across the bar and brought his face close to Galahad's, so close that his lips nearly brushed against the rough stubble that still grew on the unscarred part of his cheek. He spoke into Galahad's ear.
"Gonna see that fortune-teller eh? Think she's gonna tell you who you are? Fix that cracked egg you got on your shoulders? I can save you the coin and tell ya right now. " Galahad turned his head ever so slightly to meet the man's eyes. " You're nothing more than a murderous bastard, a mongrel, a dog that's bit one too many people. You know what they do with mutts like that ain't ya? " The man pulled back and resumed his position at the bar. " You're a bastard Graves, but a bastard with a substantial bounty on his head from Bellowhall keep, " he said in a joyous upward inflection as he removed a folded piece of paper from his coat pocket and slapped it on the table. " Seems like them old dwarves think their Pretty little Sovereign was worth a whole Two-hundred and fifty thousand Grailings. " Galahad's eyes returned to his own reflection.
" Is that all?" He asked. The Bountyman smirked.
" Suppose you'd have killed a king, What then? Hell, you'd probably be worth millions, then again that's just one bounty on your head from one province. You've been all over Zhastland my friend. Theiv'n and killin' like it's goin out of style. They want you dead or alive. So suppose I just take you all around, back to all the places you been causin' trouble and claim every coin, collateral, and cooch they're offerin' to bring you in hmm? " Galahad gestured for the innkeep to pour another.
" And two more," He said. The innkeep did so, but not before taking a small swig for himself.
" Well, that's mighty kind of you, Graves. Much obliged, but you ain't gonna buy your way out of this. We're long past bribes.
" It's not a bribe, " Galahad said.
" Well, then what it is then? A toast to our soon to be fortune? " Both of the Bountymen chuckled.
Galahad gulped down his shot " I reckon it ain't a pleasant affair to meet the devil stone sober " The bountymen exchanged haughty glances.
" Well aren't you one cocky sonofabitch. " The Bountyman said as he turned back to Graves, the arrogance now gone, having given way to a much darker tone. He pulled his coat aside to reveal a barrel box six-shooter at his hip.
" That iron's a little long to draw on someone this close. You sure you wanna take that chance? " Galahad said. The Bountyman's smirk widened as his partner drew back his coat to reveal his own pistol. Galahad slid the two shot glasses across the bar to either man. " You came to collect, so collect, but as soon as you finish that drink, I'm gonna kill you. "
He kept his gaze on his own reflection.
" Is that so?" Said the bountyman. " Well then hell partner, drink up," he said as he picked up his own shot glass and raised it to his lips." Here's to our good fortune," He said. Then he drank.
Galahad was moving even before the two men had even a chance to swallow. He spun to face the man to his left, pulling his overcoat open with his left hand, and drawing his pistol with his right, he leveled the pistol at the man and swung around to face the Bountyman on his right. He extended his left arm towards the man and flicked his wrist. As if appearing out of nowhere an object shot out of his coat sleeve and into his hand. At first, it seemed to only be the hilt of a blade, but then from its tip, a cavalcade of segmented pieces erupted forth coming together with a metallic clatter until a seamless blade formed. The tip halted just before the Bountyman's Adam's apple. The Bountyman attempted to retreat, but his back was met with one of the inn's support pillars. Galahad flicked his wrist again, and the blade extended another two inches to once again meet the man's neck. Sweat had already begun to glisten on the man's nose, and tiny flecks of it were dripping down onto Galahad's blade
" Well now, that's a fancy trick," Said the bountyman his voice growing noticeably more tremulous by the moment. " So, what now Graves? You kill us, and what? Walk out of this inn like nothing ever happened? It's always like that for you, isn't it?
" You're still goading even with a blade at your throat. "
" Given my circumstances, it seems I have nothing else but torment to offer
" You could beg for your life, " Galahad said.
" I ain't no coward Graves. I ain't you. Go on and kill us, keep killin'. Everyone you meet. Everyone you love. Who's gonna be next eh? That pretty little soothsayer of yours? " Galahad pressed the blade against the Bountyman's skin. A line of crimson blood welled over the edge as the he winced at its sudden sharpness. " Run all you want Graves. We ain't the first to come after ya, and we won't be the last. " He stared at Galahad, his eyes shifting from his face to the tip of his blade, and then to his companion. Galahad watched. The Bountyman's nod was subtle, so subtle that one with eyes less keen than his own would've surely missed it. His companion moved with skilled ease, his draw was neatly executed, and quick for a cross-draw. He was, however, not fast enough. Galahad's shot rang out before the barrel of the Bountyman's gun left its holster.
Without looking to check his aim, Galahad pulled the trigger on his own revolver and felt its hard kick against the palm of his hand. He could feel the bullet spiral out of the barrel and fly through the air impacting the man at the corner of his eye just where it met the bridge of his nose. There was a sickening sound much like the splintering of wood and the sloshing of a split melon as the man's skull ruptured and spilled its contents out onto the hardwood floor behind him. Galahad swung his pistol around just as the bullet exited the barrel, and bore it down on the second man.
" Wait, I... " The man's voice was cut short as a second shot exploded out of the gun, and opened a hole in the man's chest. His body slid down the pillar and crumpled lifelessly onto the floor as if it were a marionette puppet that had had its strings abruptly cut. Galahad slid his pistol back into its holster and retracted his blade back into its holdout position in his coat sleeve. He turned once again to the mirror. The innkeep was cowering behind the bar when Galahad tossed another coin onto the bartop.
" For the mess, " He said as he picked up the business card, and slipped it into the breast pocket of his overcoat. He exited the inn, and stepped out into the muddy, grey street. There was no reason to stick around if the Bountymen were already caught up to him in Edgewater. He'd have to see the clairvoyant now. There was indeed no rest. Not even for the weary and certainly not for the wicked.