Two men stumbled into the pub laughing. The quiet and dismal atmosphere sharpened as if to warn the intruders they were no longer in the cheery sort of bar where fights are just in good fun.
Their smiles faded as they warily examined those sitting around them.
Carefully they picked their way to the counter, one of them kept a careful eye on a cloaked figure in the corner.
The figure was missing a hand replaced with a hook. The hood of his cloak hung mysteriously over his face.
Both men turned slowly to the bartender and attempted a smile, they failed horribly.
‘Uh, two beers please. It is on me,’ said the taller of the two.
The other just nodded and the bartender quickly filled their mugs.
The low mumbling of talk slowly resumed, though no one took their eyes off them. The men found a place alone in a corner.
An older man bent and crooked with a scar across his cheek approached them. Anywhere else he would have appeared oppressive and frightening yet here he seemed friendly and submissive.
‘If you don’t mind me saying, I would recommend that you two hurry up and get out, it is only a matter of time before a knife fight starts. Most of us here just mind our own business, but your, uh, interruption might cost you your lives,’ he said.
The shorter one ignored the warning and asked ‘Would you sit with us? Sir?’
‘Not sir thank you, just Xeno.’
‘Pleasure. My name would be Thelis and this is,’ continued the shorter one, gesturing towards his friend, ‘Medus.’
‘I would seriously recommend leaving now.’ Xeno urged.
Thelis ignored him.
‘Tell us a story,’ he said. It was the first thing that popped into his head, the best distraction he could think of.
Xeno laughed quietly no more then a whisper, ‘a story, is that what you want? You seem a little old for a fireside story.’
Unwilling to seem a fool Thelis decided to press the man harder.
‘Then tell us a story of those in the dark. Not a fireside story.’
Xeno laughed again, ‘Have you heard of Maur?’
Thelis and Medus looked at each other before shaking there heads.
‘Ah, I see, Maur was a famous hero, strong as a god and smarter than one to. It was said he would race with horses and wrestle with lions, brave and kind as well. Then one day-’
Clunk! The cloaked man’s hook hit the table.
‘If you are going to tell the story, tell it right,’ he demanded.
Xeno looked down at the remains of his drink.
The cloaked figure turned to Thelis, and although Thelis could not see his eyes he could feel his glare.
In his head Thelis unconsciously titled the newcomer, “The Shadow Man” and knew even if he did reveal his name he would always think of him this way.
The Shadow Man invited himself to sit down.
Xeno continued his story, ‘They said that he was as tall as a tree and as stoic as one as well.’
‘Then just take an axe to his feet,’ laughed Medus.
Xeno looked very serious and said ‘He inspired true fear in his enemies-’
‘Tell the story right,’ spat Shadow Man.
Xeno winced and slid further away.
‘Or… You could just let me tell it,’ he commanded.
‘Maur was a hero,’ began Shadow Man. 'He was loved by everyone except obviously assassins, thieves and pirates. You get the point.’ He continued ‘Handsome and strong he won the hearts of everyone.
‘He had a loving wife and was true to her, kind and everything a husband could be.
‘One day He was called upon to fight a band of thieves. He was told where he could find them, so he went and waited at the top of a cliff.
‘Seven men slid out from the shadows, Maur was not worried, he drew his sword and stood his ground.
‘The men all drew their weapons and advanced.
It dawned on Maur, that he had been setup. He turned suddenly and realized he was cornered. The assassins advanced on him. Maur having nothing else to do rushed at one in a desperate attempt to free himself.
‘The man he rushed at blocked his blow and another assassin moved in.
‘The assassins laughed. None of them went for a death blow; they just slowly advanced and backed Maur towards the cliff.
‘Maur turned and looked down to a hundred foot drop. He inhaled with a hiss and held it. To the right there was a ledge ten feet below.
‘It was his only hope and Maur took it. Leaping off he hit the ledge with a thud. Pain racked through his body.
‘Maur felt something snap in his foot, he pressed his face into the ground. Sharp stones sliced his cheeks, scaring his handsome face.
‘Stumbling up right he looked up at the assassins.
‘Then he realized, he would starve to death, or he could throw himself off.
‘Night fell and Maur thought only of his family, the son he had left behind, his beautiful wife.
‘Flickering shadows danced above him. The assassins had lit a fire and camped there to make sure he would not climb up again.
‘Maur waited his foot throbbing and eventually he turned to the wall.
‘Slowly he climbed up and finally his hand grabbed the top ledge.
‘Maur pulled his chest up, only to see someone’s boots in front of him. Slowly he craned his neck up and looked into the face of one of the assassins.
‘The assassin lifted a sword and swung it down.
‘Maur felt his gut wrench as he saw his left hand disappear behind the blade.
The Shadow Man lifted his hook as if to emphasize the loss of a limb before he continued.
‘Maur nearly screamed. The assassin laughed at him before kicking him in the face and sending him tumbling down to the ledge again.
‘He sat up and looked at his maimed arm then howled to the sky “why? Why have the god betrayed me?” There was no answer.
‘Maur cradled his truncated limb, and wept, wept for the loss of his family, wept for the loss of his hand and waited.
‘Waited for what he did not know. To die Maur assumed. That night he didn’t sleep, the sun rose and still he cried.
‘The pain in his foot seemed nothing now. He looked at his right hand and shuddered.
‘Maur looked down from the edge of the cliff, he would throw himself off he decided but didn’t.
‘He heard laughing from above and saw the assassins looking down upon him as though he was some sort of freak display.
‘Maur threw up over the cliff. He reached with his left arm to wipe it away before remembering he had lost his hand there. Again he threw up, but there nothing came up, and so he choked. There was more laughter above him.
‘Maur went and leaned against the cliff wall.
‘The night passed again and the assassins left. Maur did not cry again, he didn’t have the energy. He just sat shocked, never before had such misfortune fallen upon him.
‘The sun rose again. Maur went and looked down. The valley below was covered in thorns. He might be able to climb down. What ever happened he would not die here.
‘Slowly he inched his way down. Be became level with a crude pathway and he took it.
‘Down into the valley he descended, and came to the edge of the thorny vines.
‘He got down on his stomach and crawled, the vines ripping at his face. By nightfall his shirt had been reduced to tatters and his shoulders and neck had been sun burnt. He finally slept, not because he wanted to but because his body could not resist.
‘He awoke before sunrise and continued on his way.
‘By the end of the day he came to the edge of the thorns, he stumbled on, and did not stop till morning. He could see a town in the distance, but finally blood loss and exhaustion defeated him and he collapsed, hoping that someone would find him.
‘When Maur awoke he was in a soft bed. He looked at his left arm it was bandaged but the site of it still made him feel sick again. There was a beast clawing at his stomach. He needed food.
‘Maur rolled over and cried, he thought of his family and friends. Finally a woman came in, she didn’t recognize him. She talked with him and gave him food then left.
‘Maur sat up and looked at his reflection in a mirror across the room.
‘He winced he once handsome face was scarred. He didn’t recognize himself.
‘When the woman came back in he told her who he was and she laughed before realizing he wasn’t lying.
‘She left the room in a hurry and sent for Maur’s wife.
‘Maur cried again, dry racking sobs.
‘The next day Maur’s wife came with her son who was only three. She took one look at him and fled, and Maur never heard from her again.
‘When he had healed, Maur left and never returned, some say he became a pirate, others say he killed himself, it was also thought the goddess of love took pity on him, she swooped him up and gave him his hand back and made him the more handsome then he had been,’ as Shadow Man’s story came to a close he laughed bitterly. He stroked the edge of the table with his hook.
Then he stood and left.
Thelis went after him.
‘Shadow Man!’ he called once out of the pub, then realized his mistake.
‘What did you call me?’ said Shadow Man laughing.
‘I…’ Thelis trailed off, what would he say anyway?
‘Haven’t heard that one before.’
‘Err I just wanted to thank you,’ mumbled Thelis, ‘and ask you your name.’
Shadow Man hesitated, ‘Maurice,’ he said eventually, ‘my name is Maurice, and yours?’
Maurice was suddenly lost in his own memories then he said ‘good name,’ and strode away.
It began to rain. Thelis leaned against the wall his short hair plastered flat against his scalp.
Medus eventually came out after him, and said ‘what did you say?’
‘I just asked his name.’
‘Oh? And what is it?’
‘Oh. I was expecting you to say Maur,’ laughed Medus.
Together they walked to their home and slept.
Maurice walked along in the shadows of an ally. He leaned against the wall his metal hook and cuff banging the stones.
He looked at it in disgust.
‘Thelis,’ he whispered to himself, ‘that... is… interesting. Thelis, he mumbled again.’
Thelis did not sleep well, haunted by dreams of cloaked figures stalking him. Once some one reached for him and when he tried to grab there hand he realized his was missing. He awoke before the sun had risen covered in cold sweat.
He got up and slowly dressed thankful he had two hands to do so.
Slowly he walked down stairs, Medus was not awake. The two were more like brothers and had both earned enough money working on farms to move into the city where they planned to seek their fortune. So far their plan was not working.
Medus had taken to picking pockets to get them by, but sooner or later he would be caught.
Thelis planned to apprentice for a merchant, he was normally quick witted and would be useful when it came to grains or livestock.
Thelis lit a fire and sat in a straight back chair.
Eventually the fire burnt out and the sun pushed feeble rays in threw the crooked windows.
Thelis dragged himself to the cellar and took out dried meat and ate it, not in the mood for cooking breakfast.
Eventually Medus came down stretching and yawning but looking refreshed.
He took one look at Thelis before saying ‘you didn’t sleep well did you?’
Thelis shook his head and changed the subject ‘I’m going to see if I can find an apprenticeship like I planned. If I can’t then I guess I have to move back to the farm.’
‘You shouldn’t give up so easily. Hell, I don’t even know what I am doing here but I am still staying.’
‘Only because you can make a living being a pickpocket,’ retorted Thelis.
Medus shrugged, ‘maybe you should try to, you would probably good at it.’
Thelis shook his head saying ‘I don’t want to make a living tricking honest men.’
‘At least I am making a living.’
‘My mother needs me at the farm, I don’t like the man she just married, he is…’ Thelis didn’t have the words to explain it.
‘Are you upset that she had remarried with out trying to find your father.’
‘No! It’s just… he is, I don’t know.’
Medus rolled his eyes, ‘well I am going out, I will see you later.’
Medus left and Thelis decided he would see if he could find an apprenticeship.
Later that day he returned, tired but in a good mood. Medus sat on the straight back chair, his money pouch full.
Thelis scowled but his friend didn’t see.
‘I have a job now. Not what I wanted, but I have been apprenticed to a blacksmith. I can work up from there.’
Medus grinned, ‘well we can at least live here for another day with you making your honest living.’
Thelis glared Medus and sat at the floor near the hearth.
‘Well here is my life, it might not be honest but it works,’ said Medus dumping a pile of coins onto the floor. Thelis didn’t look at it as though the site of it hurt his eyes.
‘Well if your father is alive would be proud of you.’
‘So would yours,’ snapped Thelis.
Medus’s face darkened, Thelis immediately felt bad. Medus hadn’t known his father.
If Thelis brought up the subject of his real father around his mother then she would just become very quiet. Medus’s mother would grow angry and then very, very sad. She had never remarried.
Thelis raised his hand to put it on his friend’s knee. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t mean…’
‘No, I brought that on myself.’
They were silent for a very long time. Even when Thelis got up to light a fire neither of them said anything.
The embers cast dancing reflections on the coins on the floor. Neither of them moved to pick up the coins.
‘I’m going out,’ said Thelis eventually.
Medus just waited, Thelis walked out into the chilly street.
Maurice paced. His cloak lay uselessly on the floor.
Maurice’s face had been grotesquely scarred so that he looked inhuman and more like a demon from hell.
Another figure sat in the shadows.
‘So his name was Thelis. That is very interesting,’ said the figure in shadow.
‘What was his friend’s name?’
‘I didn’t get it. They have probably left the city by now anyway.’
‘You could still try looking for them. It might be worth a try.’
‘It might,’ said Maurice though he sounded doubtful.
The shadowed figure leaned forward into the light. He was a very handsome young man, though his bright green eyes gave him an inquisitive look and were slightly disconcerting.
‘Go on Maur-’
‘Don’t call me that!’ snapped Maurice, ‘no one has called me that since…’ he felt the stump of his left hand. The hook had been removed, he took a breath and continued ‘Adelphos just shut that hole in your face before you make an ass of your self and I decide to slice your throat out.’
Adelphos leaned back into the darkness. ‘Let’s hope you don’t do that.’
‘I am going out!’ snapped Maurice.
Adelphos didn’t reply.
Maurice stooped down to pick up his cloak and left.
Thelis walked the streets. He met no one, the fine drizzle soaked threw his clothes and felt like it seeped into his skin and that warmth was just a fantasy, only imaginable when told in a myth.
Then he saw him. Shadow Man, leaning against a damp wall.
‘Er, hello,’ said Thelis.
The cloaked head turned and a voice emanated from the depths of the cloak, ‘hello Thelis.’
There was a long awkward silence where the only sound was the susurrus of the rain gently hitting the cobbles.
‘I never asked your friends name,’ said Maurice turning his back on Thelis.
‘His name is Medus. One of my friends from the farm lands.’
Shadow Man whipped around, for a moment his face was exposed to the light. Thelis recoiled. Maurice’s face was repulsive; a large chunk was missing from above his eye.
Then the moment was gone, Thelis thought it had been more like a nightmare.
‘Medus,’ said Shadow Man sharply, ‘are you sure?’
Thelis laughed despite the fear at what he had seen, ‘of course I am sure, he and I have worked in the same fields and been friends since we were boys.’
Maurice waved his hand ‘you are still boys, you have a lot of growing up to do, and then you will learn life is cruel.’
Thelis’s neck prickled and he resisted the temptation to turn around.
‘Bring me to meet him properly,’ commanded Shadow Man.
The way he said it forced Thelis into a position so that he couldn’t object.
Medus stoked the fire, but didn’t pick up the coins.
The door opened and he turned and forced a smile then it slid off his face.
Thelis was in the doorway and behind him was the man who told them the story about Maur the day before.
‘He wanted to meet your formally,’ said Thelis briskly.
Medus stood and bowed slightly.
‘You may call me Maurice,’ said Shadow Man.
‘Ah, yes your friend has already told me. What are the coins from?’
‘I, er…’ started Medus.
Thelis quickly stepped in, ‘we had been, uh counting it before. It was a gift from my mother’s husband before we left.’
‘Not your father?’ asked Maurice casually.
‘No, I have never known my father.’
‘Oh, I am sorry,’ Shadow Man sounded sincere.
There was a long drawn out silence where the only sound was the crackling of the fire.
A knocking on the door resounded through out the house.
Thelis opened it. Outside was an agitated girl waited there here red hair plastered to her face.
‘Oh, er sorry, is Medus here.’
Thelis nodded and stepped aside to welcome the girl in.
She looked at the pile of coins on the floor then at Medus and said ‘it was you?’
Medus’s remained impassive.
‘You did it? I trusted you and you did it?’
Medus stood and walked slowly over. The girl backed away then she turned, fled out the door and up the street.