“Look me in the eyes and tell me that you have never heard of Smythe Carradam.”
“I swears it to you, I ain’t never heard the name.”
The old man looked at the thing at the end of his fists. It was sobbing and crying and smelled like a puddle of piss. It wasn’t a man and wasn’t worth his time.
“Get the fuck away and keep out of here.” He gave the thing a shove and watched it scurry off. Maybe it was a rat. He took a drink and scowled.
“You can’t keep running off the customers.” Augustus, the bartender and owner, sounded bored to even be saying the words. He had said them too often and knew they would have no effect. He wondered what would be the excuse this time.
“Doing you a favor. You don’t want rats in your bar.” That was the closest he would come to an apology. “Besides, he had no respect for his elders.”
“Who does anymore.”
“Heh,” Smythe’s laugh sounded lack the cawing of a raven. His fingers dealt another coin on the bar. “Fill my glass, Augustus.” Carradam had a regular patron here since Augustus’ father, Vico, had run the tavern. It was actually for him the bar was named The Dragon Slayer Inn. Back then Smythe Carradam had been a renowned hunter of dragon’s and the second and third stories of the building had been rooms to rent. But times had passed. Augustus had grown older and started a family taking over some of the rooms. Vico died leaving behind a widow, a son and his bride and three grandchildren There was no room for an inn, but plenty for a tavern. As for Carradam, it was hard to be a dragon hunter when there seemed to be no dragons left to hunt. Augustus had found peace in the simple act of maintaining a tavern and a family. Smythe had grown bitter that his dreams had vanished with the passing of the dragons. Every few days he would drift into the Dragon Slayer. It was easier when he was silent and just stared into his glass. It was easy to mistake him for just a regular old drunk. It was on days like today that he was a hassle.
In the past crowds would form to hear the tales of Smythe Carradam. He was a celebrity, a legend. Now, he was forgotten. Some days he was sullen about being forgotten. On such days he was quiet and peaceful. On days like today, being forgotten made him angry and he looked for an excuse to remind whoever was nearby. The offense that had set him off today was the taking of a container of salt nearest him without asking leave.
“What the fuck was that?” rasped out the old man.
The offending party, a young man broad of chest and sporting a thick crop of hair was surprised by the comment. He didn’t want to get in a brawl with an old drunk, but he didn’t want to let the comment slide either. It would make him look weak.
“The fuck was what?” he offered back.
“You just took my salt.”
“Your salt? You weren’t fucking using it.”
Carradam rose from his seat. He tried to keep the smile from cresting his lips.
“Just because your dumb fucking eyes doesn’t recognize that it’s my salt doesn’t stop it from being so. But I’ll give you a choice. Tell my you apologize. Ask my permission for the salt. I’ll let you have the salt. Do that, or I ring your fucking head like it was a bell.”
Uncertainty crossed over the young man’s face for the first time. Did he really want to get into a bar fight with a crazy old man? Not particularly, but he couldn’t see himself begging forgiveness and asking permission. It was just salt and just an old man.
“Fuck that. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You sit down and shut the fuck up and I’ll forget this happened. How’s that sound, you old fuck?”
On the other side of the bar Augustus shock his head. He knew what was about to happen just as he knew that there was nothing he could do to prevent it.
“Old fuck? Boy, you’ve just insulted Smythe Carradam.”
“Is that supposed to mean something?”
There was a flurry of action. The young man felt a blinding pain in his knee followed quickly by one in his ribs and then another just in the center of his head. His vision was blurred and his eyes watered. His pants felt wet. He could hear the old man asking him something about a name, but everything sounded far away. The question was repeated.
“I swears it to you, I ain’t never heard the name.” It was the truth. What did the old man want? Things were still out of focus and his head ached. He was being shoved and made way for the door. He could feel his stomach growing unsettled and desperately wanted to make it outside and into a private alley.
Back in the bar Carradam had just finished telling Augustus that no one respected their elders and had asked for another drink. Normally, this would have cheered him up, having proved that he was more of a man than some young punk. This time, it just made him feel empty. The kid really had never heard of him. Other times, when he had told younger men just who it was that was about to kick the shit out of them there had been a spark of recognition mixed with fear. This time there was nothing. Just confusion. He had been forgotten.
“Fuck,” he muttered to the glass in front of him. He felt old. And useless. “Fuck.” He looked deep into the glass. All he saw was a past that meant nothing to anyone but himself. For the first time he felt old. He watched the light reflect off his glass. Hours passed. The glass grew dark. He just stared. A few times Augustus came over, but Carradam just waved him off. People came and people went. He just sat there, feeling less important than the seat he was filling.
“Master Carradam?” It came from a young voice. Someone next to him. He looked over. It was some young Scarlet.
“Sir, I need you to come with me.”
Carradam looked into the young face. It was smooth and lacked any of the lines that age carved in. It was earnest. And so fucking young.
“So, the little shit called the Scarlets. Can’t even take a beating like a man.”
The Scarlet opened and closed his mouth a few times, unsure of what to say. “No, sir, I don’t know anything about that. I’ve been asked to escort you to the residence of Lord Guard Evvert.”
Carradam looked over and raised his brows. “The Lord Guard? What does he want with an old fossil like me?”
“Sir, I think it would be best if you heard it from the Lord Guard himself.”
Carradam turned back to his drink. “Son, the only interest I have is to sit here and grow old. Maybe die, haven’t decided on that one yet. So, if you want me to get off this stool, then you will have to offer a better reason than a man half my age wants to say hello.”
“Sir, the Lord Guard feels that the news he wishes to impart would be best if told at his residence.”
“Then he better start living here, because I will not jump through his hoops unless I deem the reason to be work it.”
The youth looked around the tavern. There were a few souls around but they were all engaged in their own conversations. None were paying attention to the old man and the guard. He leaned forward and lowered his voice.
“Sir, the Lord Guard needs you to know that there is a request for your services.”
Even unmoving, Carradam felt his body go still. “Give me more.”
“Sir, the signal fires towards the north have been lit. At this time we have no confirmation, but protocol demands that a hunter be called to assist with making the guard ready.
“The fires have been lit?”
Carradam could feel something inside of him coming alive and roaring out. He did his best to keep from smiling and as a result the expression on his face twisted into a snarl.
“You’re saying there is a dragon for me to kill.”
“Sir, I think it best if you come with me to the Lord Guard’s residence.”
Carradam stood up. He felt lighter, stronger, than he had in decades.
“Son, lead the fucking way.”