In hamlet nestled between two mountains and surrounded by lunch trees a man was seated in an inn eating breakfast; a cider filled to the brim by his plate. He was dressed in a plain cloth shirt, stained with blood and sweat. His beard had not been trimmed in a month’s time and filled his face, mostly concealing his otherwise fair features. His nose and ears were somewhat prominent but didn’t give him a grotesque look but instead a sharpness about him. His hair too had not been trimmed in some time and reached the top of his collar and rested there. His eyes were the distinguishing feature.
The innkeeper’s son, a boy of twelve who helped his father run their business and this morning fed their guest, was staring at the man from behind the bar. From the dimly lit room, the man’s eyes shone light sapphires; bright and blue. They transfixed the boy. His eyes were bright and seemed to project some great tale like the constellations that reminding folks of myths and legends. From his otherwise dark, bearded face, the man’s eyes were a purposeful light.
The boy watched the man eat from the safety and concealment of the bar. The guest arrived two days earlier on a large and powerful horse with significant equipment that only a soldier, a warrior, would carry. The lad spied, what appeared to be a full set of plated armor and all the accompanied equipment to wear it. The guest also had many weapons with him but the most intimidating of all was a long halberd with a curved massive blade at the tip. It was not a weapon the boy had seen before and he in fact had to ask his father what it was.
For his days at the inn, mysterious guest had hardly spoken to anyone, except to order food and drink. Indeed, as he ate his meal and drank his cider, the guest remained transfixed as though in a world removed from the physical. The strong, quiet guest had finished his cider and raised his stein to request another. The boy scrambled to collect the stein like a mouse grabbing a piece of cheese held by a cat, then scampered to the cellar to refill it.
When the boy returned with a full stein, he crept carefully toward the stranger. The guest noted the boy’s hesitation and turned to face him. When their eyes met the lad froze as if caught by a predator but the man smiled, showing bright white teeth and the intensity melted from his face and was replaced by kind softness.
“Do not be afraid, my son. I apologize if I made you nervous,” the warrior explained.
The boy smiled as he tilted his head to the side slight and grew a little red in the cheeks. “It’s ok, I wasn’t afraid,” he lied as he set down the stein but lingered at the table.
The warrior smiled. “Thank you for more cider. It is quite tasty.”
“My father makes it himself,” the lad beamed.
“Well thank him for me. He’s an artists to be sure.”
“Won’t you be here longer?”
The warrior leaned back, gripped the stein and drank deeply from it as he stared off once more, the warmth disappearing from his face and the stone cold lines returning. “I’m afraid not,” he replied.
The boy’s voice dropped to barely above a whisper, “Where are you going?”
The question snapped the man from his trance and he once again smiled. “I’m afraid I have something important to do.”
“Like a mission or an adventure? We get adventurers around here sometimes. They are usually looking for some sort of lost treasure or artifact but sometimes they are monster hunters. You seem like you’re more of a monster hunter.”
The warrior smiled widely at the boy. “You are very bright, young man. You’re right. You might consider me a monster hunter, though it is not a job I relish.”
“Do you hunt ogres or trolls?”
The word hit the boy in the stomach like a punch and stole the air from his lungs. He stammered, “Is there a dragon around here?”
“Indeed. Unfortunately there are many and often times they are much closer than we would like to believe.”
“But, you’re going to kill it, aren’t you?”
“Indeed. I will kill it.”
“But aren’t you afraid? Aren’t you scared it might hurt you, or kill you?”
“I’ve been hurt by them before,” the warrior explained, “But none have killed me. I am not afraid of death, only of living in fear.”
A long silence froze the boy in his shoes. The dragon slayer stared off once more before finishing his cider and standing. “Remember to thank your father for the cider,” he reminded as he held out far more coin than was required for the lodging and the meals. “I will return for some more when I have completed my task.”
“And if you don’t? Return I mean.”
“Then a dragon has at last got the best of me, but know that I died on my feet with courage and honor.”
The warrior turned and headed for the door. He opened it to leave, but faced the boy once more and smiled, “But do not worry. I have the advantage. The dragon wants to live and I’m prepared to die. I will see you soon, lad.”
The dragon slayer calmly walked into the morning sun and smiled. “Today is a lovely day to die,” he told himself.