A mystical brew, a fierce storm, and a drunk left to battle his past.
|The thin pane of glass rattled in its frame as the wind blasted against it. The sound of water smacking against the window and the wooden roof became more incessant as the storm’s intensity grew. Jarius stared at the shivering window for a moment longer, and then looked back at his empty mug. He could have sworn it had been full only seconds ago.|
He lifted the mug upside down into his mouth, and felt but a few tantalizing drops of the amber liquid trickle across his tongue and soothe their way down his throat. He sighed and laid the mug back on the counter, then looked up into the weary eyes of the barkeep.
“One more?” Jarius asked, shaking the mug in the other man’s direction.
“We’re closed,” the barkeep sighed, resuming his counter polishing around his customer’s hands.
“Just one? Please, Lucious. I don’t want to go out in this when I’m sober.”
“You’re not exactly sober,” Lucious pointed out. “Besides, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go out there drunk. It’s a long walk home, and this storm’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
“It doesn’t look too bad. We never get them bad around here.”
“Oh no? How about three years ago – what about the one that took…” Lucious trailed off and resumed wiping the counter surface, avoiding the eyes of the other man.
Jarius let out a long sigh and shook the glass at Lucious again – like a blind beggar rattling a donation tin.
“Look, it’s all put away. I’ve sealed up all the ale for the evening. You’re the last one here, you know. Now please, just get out of here. I’ll see you tomorrow, I’m sure.”
“Please?” Jarius all but sobbed. “Just one more – for the road. It doesn’t have to be ale. Anything you have behind the counter will do.” With a heavy, lethargic slap, he plunked three more shining coins on the counter. “I’ll pay extra.”
“What would your mother and father think if they could see you now?” Lucious asked with a long, heartfelt sigh. He snatched the coins and began hunting beneath the counter for something to silence his customer.
“Leave them out of this,” Jarius huffed as he drew one shaky hand away from his mug. “They never approved of anything I did.”
“Well, what about Anna?” the barkeep asked as he reappeared, holding a glass pitcher filled with a crystal-clear liquid. “What would she say?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Jarius mumbled. “She can’t say much now, can she?”
“Fine. Look, this is all the stuff I have out right now.”
“What is it?” Jarius asked, peering closely at the pitcher.
“I’m not too sure, honestly. I bought it off some traveling wizard awhile back. He assured me it was pretty potent. You wanna give it a try?”
“Fill ‘er up,” Jarius commanded with a foolish grin. He scooped up his mug once more and wagged it at the other man. “If it’s alcohol, it can’t be too bad.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see. Those wizards make some strange brew. But I’m not going to give it to you here. I’m going to put it in a waterskin, and you can drink it as you go home. I want to get to sleep right now.”
Jarius nodded in agreement, and waited for the other man to fill a small waterskin. He snatched it from his host, muttered a thank you, and stumbled toward the door.
“Be careful out there,” Lucious called.
Jarius pulled on the door handle, and the entrance flew open with all the force of an explosion. Jarius clutched the waterskin more tightly to his chest, and steadied himself against the attacking gale. With every ounce of strength he could muster, he stepped through the doorway and pulled the door shut behind him.
The wind ripped at Jarius’s clothing and sliced at his skin with razors of ice and water. The thin, pale man wrapped his threadbare cloak more tightly around his shoulders with one hand, and took a sip from his waterskin with the other. It tasted good, whatever it was, and he quickly took another drink.
“Well, well, look what we have here,” a voice came from the darkness ahead.
“Who’s there?” Jarius called out into the shrieking winds. He took a step forward, but the howling gale slammed him back against the door of the inn.
“My God you’re an embarrassment,” the voice continued, somehow sounding quite distinct despite the wail of the storm. The sound of boots crunching on the dirt road reached Jarius’s ears, and from the darkness stepped a man. Clothed in the red armor of a dragonslayer, and carrying a slayer’s sword, the man walked firmly despite the strong winds, which tore at his uniform and long, gray hair. “Look at yourself,” the old warrior sighed.
“Father?” Jarius asked, staring at the man in shock as he held one hand before his eyes, trying desperately to stave off the swirling storm. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to see what a mess you’d become,” the older man replied as he walked to his son and leaned against the inn. “I should never have left you on your own. Just a few years alone and look what your life has been reduced to.”
“It’s not my fault,” Jarius growled, pushing away from the wall, against the storm, and making his way out into the dark of the town. “And you didn’t exactly choose to leave me.”
“Don’t take that tone with me, boy,” the old man said as he waded through the winds after his son. “I am Methos Argyle. There’s no warrior in the world I let talk back to me, much less a lay-about like you.”
The two men forged ahead as the storm picked up in intensity, neither saying anything further. Finally, Jarius stopped and looked around – a confused look on his inebriated features. He pulled the cap from his waterskin and consumed another gulp of its contents.
“What’s the matter, boy, lost?” Methos said with a nasty chuckle. “My God you’re useless. You’ve had more opportunity than most men dream of, and look what you’ve done with it. You’re the town drunk. You’re a laughing-stock.”
“It’s not my fault,” Jarius pitifully whined. “She left me. I couldn’t go on.” the man suppressed a sniffle as he clutched his waterskin more tightly to his chest and pressed on in the direction he thought might have been east. The rain came down in sheets, ripping through Jarius’s thin clothing and soaking his pale skin. His dark hair matted down in front of his eyes, despite his best efforts to wipe it out of the way.
“Are you sure this is the right way?” Mehos mockingly called from behind his son. “You’re so drunk I’ll bet you couldn’t find your way in broad daylight.”
“You’re not doing much better,” Jarius muttered before taking another long drink from the mysterious contents of his waterskin.
“I don’t know where you live,” the older man chuckled. “You sold the estate, remember? Who knows what Godforsaken hole you’ve crawled into since then.”
“Leave me alone, old man,” Jarius growled, a fire burning within his belly and lending him strength.
“Don’t you talk that way to your father,” someone commanded from a few feet away. Jarius turned to see a middle-aged woman with long, dark hair and flowing red robes that caught and snapped in the torrents of rain. Her sandaled feet moved gracefully across the dirt road, despite having to hold firm against the wind.
“Mother?” Jarius asked in confusion. “When did... when did you...”
“Was wondering where you’d got off to, Mariam,” Methos chuckled. “I should have known not to worry.”
“Jarius, what are you doing?” the woman sighed as she stopped next to her husband and turned to her son. “Why are you rotting away in this sad little town? Why aren’t you continuing your father’s work?”
The storm seemed to grow in intensity, smashing Jarius’s shivering body with sheets of icy rain. His face and hands felt numb, and his fingers barely worked as he tried lifting the waterskin to his mouth once more.
“Don’t you ever stop?” Methos asked. “Don’t you ever put the bottle down? No wonder she left you, you worm.”
Jarius downed another great swallow of liquid and fixed a glare on his parents. The two stood side-by-side, staring down at their son with disapproving looks. The wind whipped their hair and clothes about them, but they held their ground against it.
“I don’t want to be like him,” Jarius whispered, pointing a shaky finger at Methos. “I don’t want to be killed in some other land by some dragon that gets lucky.”
“No dragon could kill us,” Methos scoffed.
“So what do you want to do?” Mariam asked, her tone dripping with scorn. “Sit around a ghost town and drink until you throw up and pass out in an alley?”
“You never asked me,” Jarius said, turning from the woman and marching out against the storm once more. The intensity had flagged a bit, and he felt certain he was going in the right direction. “You never asked me what I wanted to do.”
“You little brat,” Methos returned, moving quickly to keep up with his son. “You ungrateful little—“
“You just stuck a sword in my hand and said do what your old man tells you,” Jarius interrupted. “You made me go hunting with you when I was twelve! I could barely lift a sword, and you made me kill.”
“You didn’t complain,” Mariam countered as the storm waned further. “Besides, what did you want to be? A farmer? An innkeeper? Do you really think she would have taken you if you were that common? No,” the woman said, moving quickly to stand in front of her son and halting his advance. “She wanted you because you were a slayer. You were something more than the rest of them. Now you’re nothing, and she’s left you.”
Jarius turned away as the winds suddenly roared back to life, nearly knocking him from his feet. He drank from the waterskin again, and felt the fire in his belly intensify. He tried to walk in the opposite direction, but his father stood firmly in his way.
“She’s left you,” Methos taunted. “She’s left, and she’s not coming back.”
“She’ll be back,” Jarius growled back as he felt the wizard’s brew flowing through his system, making him stronger. “She’ll be back, and she’ll stay this time.” He reached out and pushed his father in the chest, forcing him back a step. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, his voice growing stronger with each word. “You don’t know anything about my life. Just because I didn’t do what you wanted, doesn’t mean that I’m a waste. I have friends, and I have money—“
“You have other drunks,” Methos spat. “You have money from selling what I gave you. You sold your sword, you sold your home, and you sold your pride. You’re nothing.”
“You’re worthless,” Mariam hissed. “You threw everything away. Everything we worked for, you’ve ruined. I hate you.”
“I despise you.”
“I disown you.”
The wind and rain were a force beyond reckoning, as Methos and Mariam stood over their groveling son, spitting insults and curses. Lightning blasted across the sky, and thunder shook the very ground as the assault continued. Jarius felt as though his head would be torn in two as he clutched his hands to his ears and screamed out into the night.
“No!” He ran blindly away from the taunts and derision of his parents. He had no way of knowing where he was going in the torrential downpour, and he did not care. He wanted nothing more than to be free of his failings being thrown back at him. He ran, and he ran, as far and as fast as he could, until he stood before the open doors of his family’s estate.
The rain had stopped, and the air was still. A light shown through the doorway, and a silhouetted figure stood there. Jarius looked down at the waterskin he still held in his hand, wondering what strange creation he had consumed. He looked back at the figure, which was now beckoning to him. Jarius took a step forward, and the face of the person became clear.
“Anna?” he whispered. He took several more steps forward, and his wife smiled back at him with the same beautiful beam he remembered from so long ago. His wife said nothing as he reached her and melted into her arms. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered as he held her close and ran a hand through her long, dark hair. “I’m so sorry...”
* * * * *
Charing stared down at the form of the man in the middle of the street, his head cocked to one side. The man was as still as the grave, and soaking wet with rainwater from the night before. He knelt down to get a closer look at the man’s face.
“Who is he?” Charing’s companion asked.
Charing put his pike aside and reached out to smooth some of the man’s dark brown hair away from his eyes. He let out a long sigh once the man’s face was revealed.
“You know him?” the other man asked.
Charing nodded once. “Jarius Argyle.”
Charing’s companion let out a low whistle. “Jarius Argyle?” he asked in surprise. “The dragonslayer?”
“Former dragonslayer,” Charing sighed. “He gave it up a couple of years ago. Never told anyone why, but he sold his sword and his family home. He wanted to settle down, they say, but his wife wanted none of it. She left him for some knight, and Jarius turned into a drunk.”
“Shame,” the other man sighed. “Looks like the storm got him... or something. Haven’t seen a storm like that before.”
“We had one a few years back,” Charing said with a shrug. “Vicious one, really. Few people died in it, including Jarius’s parents. Building they were in collapsed. Funny, really.” He gave a sad smile as he stood up once more. “His dad was quite the dragonslayer himself. His mother was a sorceress. They both survived fighting dragons for years, and got killed by the rain.”
“Seems strange he would have died this close to the inn. The lights were still on. Why wouldn’t he just go back if he wasn’t going to make it?”
“I don’t know. He knew this town. He’d lived here his whole life. Only lived a little ways away.”
“What’s that he’s holding on to?” the other guardsman frowned, pointing at the waterskin clutched between Jarius’s dead arms.
Charing reached down and pried the waterskin loose before popping the top open and peering inside.
“I don’t know. He was quite the drinker; maybe this stuff had him so drunk he couldn’t find his way home.”
“What is it?”
Charing shrugged and took a quick drink. He turned a confused look on the other man as he lowered the skin and licked his lips.
“I don’t get it,” he frowned. “It’s just water.”