While writing the first draft of Rise and Fall, I took a small break and tried my hand at short fiction. The result was a story titled, The Old Warrior. I originally drafted it in third person, but later rewrote it in 1st person. I go back and forth on which version works better.
I’ve submitted the story a few times and although I had a little interest from a few places, the story never sold. Given the unusual structure of the story and the short length, I decided to post it for free on my website. It isn’t my best work. However, I do like the overall idea and tone of the story. Maybe others will enjoy it as well.
Let me know what you think in the comments below.
The Old Warrior
I sat near the edge of a cliff with my back against a giant oak. The sun sank below the distant horizon. Light bathed the wide mountains and deep valleys in a blood red. Years ago I might have actually enjoyed the sight, but not today.
My left hand squeezed a bottle of whiskey, knuckles whitening as the cool air blew against my face. A jolt of pain ran up my shoulder when I tried to take a drink. Dark liquor spilled out before reaching my half-open mouth.
I muttered a few curses while switching hands. After taking a long pull, I wiped my mouth on a tattered sleeve and settled the bottle in my lap.
I tried to work the sting from my shoulder, tilting my head back and to the side, laying it against the rough tree trunk, while trying to find the source of my discomfort. The wind rustled through the leaves as I wrestled with the old wound.
Anyone who had fought as long and as often as I had was bound to come up with a wound or two. Dozens, in my case. Each one of the blasted things had a memory I longed to forget.
The shoulder problem came from service during the Second Pithani War. Captured by the enemy and chained by my wrists and ankles, the Pithani had done their best to extract information from me. But, I never said a word. I had wanted to stop the pain, but what little I knew they didn’t want to hear. The shoulder came out of its socket during the ordeal and when I had finally managed to escape, too much time had passed for it to properly heal.
After a long sigh I spat over the cliff. The shoulder finally began to loosen up.
I could go on forever describing the aches and pains that haunted me. The most embarrassing injury came when a horse fell on top of me in a botched cavalry charge, breaking my leg.
I shook my head and chuckled. Even with a broken leg I killed over a dozen men that day, hobbling the entire time. Men talked about that for years afterward. Among the many names I’ve been known by, that day I had earned my favorite.
“The man who didn’t know how to die.”
I had been a man the enemy feared and one my allies held in awe. Of course, I didn’t think about consequences in those days. I was just worried about building up my name and adding to the stories about me, just like my father and grandfather had done before.
But no one looked at me in fear or awe any longer. All those battle scars caught up with me as the years crept along. Even the small injuries started to hinder my ability to fight. I guess when I look back at my life I started out young and foolish and I ended up old and foolish.
A missing finger caused me to lose my sword more than once. A bad leg hampered my footing. The shoulder caused my shield arm to dip on more than one occasion which resulted in the death of several good men.
Once those things started to happen, people began to look at me differently.
“The man who didn’t know how to die,” I said aloud.
In hindsight, the name has become a curse. None of my names will be remembered in song and tales like I always wanted them to. I lived too long. When a warrior gets gray and wrinkled, people forget the glory from their past.
My father and grandfather both died young and it was the best thing that could have happened to them. My name had once been greater than theirs, but not anymore. I never knew when to quit.
I could have raised a family when things started to fall apart, but I kept pushing myself. The more I tried, the further I beat my name into the mud.
I stared at the bruised sky.
They wouldn’t even let me join the field today. They laughed and sneered at me like some fool, yelling insults as I walked away.
“Too much of a liability.”
“Likely to get us all killed!”
“Old and useless.”
The worst part of it all is that I agree with them. I’m not the same man who had been first in at the siege of Hermath or the man who once stood toe-to-toe with the giant of Lanknar and won. No one remembers those stories any longer. They only know the broken warrior I am now.
The last hope I clung to before today had been denied to me—the chance of a warrior’s death. There would be no place for me in the Hall of Vashan, home of the warrior Uthal, the one god I ever cared about.
But, I guess that’s for the best. How could I look Uthal in the eye when we both know how far I’ve fallen?
I took one last drink and tossed the empty bottle out into the air. It fell down into the deep valley where the sound of it breaking was lost in the wind. I grabbed the other two empty bottles at my side and threw those over too.
Apparently the only thing I could still do well is hold my liquor. I had spent the last few coppers I had on the whiskey and still felt far more than I had wanted to.
I climbed slowly to my feet and shook the stiffness out of my tired limbs. Two steps later I stood at the edge of the cliff and looked down. A wall of tall pines stood to either side of a wide stream as if they guarded the passing waters.
I knew the stream was shallow, only a few feet deep and filled with rock. Despite the lack of depth, the water flowed with enough force to wash just about anything out to sea. Just the sort of thing I had been looking for.
“The man who didn’t know how to die,” I said one last time, chuckling lightly and feeling a surprising wetness on my cheeks.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t known how to die. I had never wanted to before now.