The Swordsman's Lament - Allison Fairfield
9" x 14"
The Swordsman’s Lament
“You think you’re better than me?”
The swordsman didn’t look at the man when he replied. He only winked at the bartender and tipped the shot glass back into his mouth. “Same as anyone else, I figure. Sometimes up, but mostly down.”
The red-headed firebrand spun the swordsman out of his seat by the shoulder. The laconic warrior saw the knife coming before it cleared the sheath. He saw it coming before the young man knew he was going to pull it. Decades of fighting for fun and profit had taught him what to look for. The set of a jaw. Dilated pupils. A quickened pulse. It was all there if you knew what to look for. And the swordsman did.
Red’s arm went behind his back, and the knife skittered into a corner, where it was promptly scooped up by a regular customer. The youth’s head went into the bar top, once. Twice. It came back up just in time to intercept a clumsy overhand right from one of the boy’s rowdy compatriots. Patient bar patrons ejected the whole rabble in a heap. They’d seen it all before.
The swordsman went back to his bottle.
“They’ll be waiting. The whelp won’t let that lie.”
The swordsman nodded once.
He gave them an hour. An hour let the adrenaline completely flush from his system and gave his hotheaded friend time to gather whoever he could. An hour to get drunk. The duelist imbibed more than he should have, but not quite enough to save them.
The bartender raised a questioning eye when the swordsman finally asked for his blade from behind the bar and headed for the side entrance which led into the alley.
“They’ll just follow me if I don’t. Besides, maybe tonight is finally the night.”
The fight was short and violent. What the brawlers lacked in skill they made up for in thirst for blood. The cramped alley prevented them from using their superior numbers, but the ferocity of their assault forced the swordsman to kill two of his attackers. He numbered his friend from the bar among the dead.
The swordsman shook the blood from his blade and frowned down at the red-headed youth. How much longer would it be? How many more bodies would he leave in his plodding, sputtering wake?
A bulge in the corpse’s pocket revealed the heavy purse of a nobleman’s son.
The swordsman hefted the princeling’s gold and stood. That pouch would buy a lot of whiskey.
He was just like anyone else; the swordsman opined with a razor-thin smile.
The swordsman turned toward the town’s gate with an audible groan and pressed his hand against the long but shallow cut on his midsection. Blood spattered against his thread-worn boots. His blood.
It was a long walk to the next town with a decent bar, but he didn’t think he’d be welcome here when the sun rose.
Just like anyone else. Sometimes up, but mostly down.