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TITANS OF MEN
By Mickeal Tupper, Donovan William Henry
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2013 Mickeal Tupper & Donovan William Henry
All rights reserved.
A Care-Filled Meeting
Any moment now, any moment now, I'll be taken away. To be honest, I thought he'd find me sooner than this. Blackheart's melancholy thoughts of his father are muddied by drinks he wanted, and made more so by those that found their way to him when he wasn't looking. His voice, different and ruddier than he remembers, asks a passing maid for another cup. She smiles at his drunken smile, and he knows another drink will soon find its way to him.
The bar is a favorite of his when he is on the island of Grayshoal, which as of late has been too much. He has seen the bar pass through many hands in his brief time as a patron. The first owner was a man that was simply called Meza; his real name was something ... something ... Mezorian. It appears Blackheart's mind is as muddied as his voice. One thing he takes pride in, and with good reason, is he remembers a person's name when he is told it. What he does remember of something ... something ... Mezorian was his love of coin. He was a foreigner originally, that had passed to citizenship with some measure of respect. It was three captains that had vouched for Meza's character to the king, not just the required one. Blackheart felt that it was because each owed the still enthralled, Meza money. Blackheart's uncle would say that you would have to count your fingers after shaking the hand of a man like that. This thought makes its creator smile.
The bar is called the Care Full; Blackheart doesn't know if it is because of where it's located or because it is supposedly full of care. The sign swinging from a heavily rusted and rather ornate iron bracket displays small hands holding three overflowing mugs of a very refreshing and heady beverage. If that is the type of care this place is full of, Blackheart is now full of it as well. Its strange location is rumored to be responsible for at least twenty deaths since its birth some seventy-five years before. It originally started as these things do, as a home, but this one was made on the Northern cliffs of Grayshoal, just north of the castle walls but very much on the same very high, very dangerous cliffs. It is widely believed that the home was made on the cliffs because that is what a young bride wanted, and as the view is impossibly beautiful, that is understandable, but when the young bride's husband passed, not as a result of a fall but a drowning—he managed to survive the fall— she could get no men to come courting. Her beauty had faded some over the years from the harsh winds and winters on the cliffs, and her curves had receded, and as the couple never had any children, it may be possible that her loins didn't work.
To entice a mate, she began to work her brew craft to astounding results. Once she created her home brew, she gingerly took two quarter kegs down from her heights to be shared amongst men just returning from a ravage, a practice regularly performed by the more available ladies. Before leaving the men, who were very pleased by her samples, she told them to visit her, for she had not only more of this brew, but others that surpassed this one in taste, color, and health, like beer eclipses water. Her last words to them were to come to her and to be careful.
Another beer is placed on Blackheart's table, which widens his smile; his thoughts on the barmaid's beauty widen his smile further. The barmaid's hips sway as she walks away, and her long, straight blonde hair sways with them, acting almost as an ass duster. This thought makes him burst into a short fit of laughter. The maid, unaware of any joke, glances back at him with a wondering and slightly self-conscious look. Blackheart, seeing doubt and possible pain on her face, gives her a loving smile and a flirtatious wink, one or both of which makes the lady smile in return, and the hips sway a bit more as she returns to the kitchen. Blackheart returns his attention to his new beer. He must have shook the table—which was a feat as it was a hand-thick, old dark oak, with a single stout barley twisted leg supported by four heavily carved feet—because the foamy head of his beer that was once just floating at the top of his mug has since spilled upon the heavy tabletop's well-oiled surface. Slowly, but with more than a little practiced grace, Blackheart grasps the still very full mug, and without a shake to his arm or hand, takes another drink.
The second owner he met over a card table. This owner of the Care Full had acquired it after being rightfully accused of sleeping with Meza's wife; the accuser was Meza himself. Benin, the accused, denied it and requested an old right that the devout call "Bllor's answer," where single combat determines the validity of a claim. Unfortunately for Meza, Bllor's answer did not agree with him, and Benin became the new owner of both the wife and the bar after killing Meza. Blackheart had watched the fight, and Benin had the chance to spare Meza's life and impose a fine upon him for falsely accusing him. He could have had the bar and all the coin Meza possessed, but he couldn't have had his wife, so Meza died, and Blackheart was forced to watch and do nothing. He had liked Meza. Too bad Bllor's answer can't be heard through card playing; Meza was a much better card player than he was a fighter. Blackheart drains his mug and speaks in a subdued tone, "You could have said no Meza. Did you really think that Bllor would help you win a fight that you couldn't win just because you were right?" Blackheart's breath escapes his lips in a sigh.
Blackheart looks over the rim of his cup and seems surprised by its emptiness—empty except for a few strands of thick black hair that have escaped the leather binding meant to keep it back. Looking around the bar for the maid, whose name he knows to be Sherry—but he does not use it as it feels odd to call someone by their first name just because they bring you food and drinks—he sees that his cup is not the only thing that's empty. The last time he looked further than the barmaid's hips there were still some folks in this place, including good-natured Bart, the fisherman, who was asleep by the hearth. He must have wandered outside to relieve himself. Blackheart's thoughts are hazy but still there and keep sending messages that he can't seem to fully grasp. This series of thought is something like, Bart, fisherman, gone. This, he guesses, means something, but for the life of him, he can't figure out what that is, so he carries on with his original plan; get another drink. He stands up slowly; he isn't some novice drinker that just jumps from his seat to find himself rushed to drunkenness and then the floor. No, he takes his time and eases up to get a better look about the place.
It's a dark bar, in its woods and stones that make up its construction as well as the near absence of light. Due to its location on the windy and sea-sprayed cliffs, the shutters are always lashed tightly closed. Again, the thoughts come unbidden: Bart, the fisherman, gone. But this time, before Blackheart gets the chance to work out the mystery, the heavy wooden door is thrown open, and what passes for daylight in Ascadia solves it for him. With the sound of the heavy door crashing open the whip of the wind comes in to extinguish the candle at his table, with an ease that mirrors things he doesn't want to think about.
Standing, he turns to greet his father, who stands in the entry way—no, blocks the entry way. The outside is visible only through the space between his legs. They don't call him the Sea Bear for nothing. Blackheart's thoughts don't bring a smile this time, but his act does, for he deals with his father repeatedly very much in the same way.
"Daddy, I had hoped you would have found me earlier. I left word with many of your men about where I was to be found, but I guess they either did not pass it along, or you didn't want to drink with your only living son." The leaving word bit was a lie, but if Blackheart could get some of his father's men in the shoals, all the better. "In either case, it is a tragedy, for I am quite far along, and it will be quite the chore for you to catch up." As he speaks, his father makes the necessary turn to fit through what would seem to be a wide door, and Blackheart observes him and their very different features. Blackheart is small for an Ascadian, at least in height as he is heavily muscled, but to think himself strong this close to his father is laughable, which he almost does. Blackheart's hair is a dark black and his father Anunder's, where it isn't white with age, matches, but that at first glance is where the resemblance stops. Anunder's features are square and rough, whereas Blackheart's are sharp and arresting. Blackheart's young face is unmarred by blade, hair, or blemish. His father's skin carries with it a many lined story, one of violence. Anunder's green eyes, which are very similar to his son's, stare out unregretful from that face.
"Hey there, handsome. Come have a drink with me. I was beginning to worry about you." Blackheart's tone is one of seemingly genuine concern, his eyes the only thing betraying his real thoughts.
His father's reply hides nothing; scorn drips off the words like water from a freshly pulled net, "Tell your lies to someone who gives a shit, boy. Now pay your debt, and out with you. You have wasted enough of my time."
"Papa, you wound me by thinking I need your reminder to pay my debts. Father, I always pay my debts." The last words were said as if to a child who forgot the most simplest of lessons and needed some gentle reminding.
"I hear your words, boy. Now make good on them." Anunder stands to his full height; his eyes and serious manner remain unchanged. Blackheart'sdisheartenedthoughtscreepintohisno-longer-quite-drunk mind, for though he appears calm on the surface; his father's presence alone is enough to cause his blood to boil and his heart to thrash in his chest. He does not fear me, and why should he? Well, I guess I shouldn't waste an opportunity to anger him.
"Daddy, let me tell you a joke." At his son's sudden change of course, Anunder's brow furls over his already heavily covered eyes, but before he can speak, Blackheart pushes on.
"Come now, I know you love a good bawdy joke." As Blackheart speaks he notices that his father is not alone; in the doorway there are two heavy figures with robes soaked with spray and the fine drizzle that so often coats the islands and their inhabitants. The thick black robes, which have become synonymous with the priesthood of Bllor, are actually a dark-brown when they are dry, which isn't often. Blackheart thinks of a tale told by his uncle of a time when there were no "Priest's of Bllor," just people that would argue incessantly over what Bllor's teachings meant and how they should be practiced. Blackheart still doesn't know if his uncle wished it was still that way or preferred it the way it is; stories of religion never kept Blackheart's attention for long. Still, the presence of the priests causes him to lose his bearing for a moment, a small moment.
"So you bring some of Bllor's finest to drink with us? Very well. I'm afraid my joke isn't as long as the ones they prefer, but they may find humor in it still." Blackheart motions for them to all take a seat at his table and then moves to get another chair from a nearby table; he stops his efforts when one of the priests speaks.
The voice is solemn as it poses the priest's question and comes from the tallest of the men in robes. He is also the one standing furthest away from my father. Smart man.
"Blackheart of the Storm, what did you mean by the jokes we prefer? What might you think those are?"
Before the smirking young man can set the hook, his father's voice thunders off the walls in an all too familiar admonishing tone; this time, though, it isn't meant for his son.
"Don't climb into the whelp's boat. He wants to sink it with you in it! Damn him, and piss on his joke! Boy, you can walk down these cliffs or be carried."
"Yes, Daddy, you are right. This is about you and me, but now I find myself really wanting to tell this joke. Let me tell the joke, Father, and you will have no problems from me on these cliffs. They are dangerous enough without having to worry about someone else." After that though, I intend to appear very drunk, making the remainder of the walk a misery.
Blackheart stares at his father, who looks back with the same hate-filled eyes. Blackheart fills the silence with his words and closes the space between him and his father with carefree strides.
"Why is it of the ten children you begot, because to call you Father and mean it would be a little too much, even for a joke, unless of course that was the joke." Eyes still locked with Anunder's, Blackheart lifts his cup and finds it empty before continuing. "Back to this joke though. Why of the ten children am I the only one left alive?" Having made his way to his father, he now stands just beneath his gaze and pauses just long enough to meet it. "Give up? It's because you love me Daddy."
Quickly, but not quickly enough, Blackheart stands on his toes, purses his lips, and attempts to kiss his father on the lips. He is met on the way by his father's forehead, which crashes into his lips and teeth. Blackheart gets the mental picture of himself trying to kiss a mountain ram as it lives up to its name. I have had better ideas.
Knowing what comes next, Blackheart throws his arms up in defense of the right cross that follows the headbutt. The blow rushes through his arms as if they were made of reeds and finds his chin, but his arms were not his only strategy. Rolling to the right with its force lessens the power of the punch somewhat, but it still nearly takes him to the ground. An arm, which had not quite done its duty previously, finds its way to lead a hand to the ground, keeping him from completely falling. Anunder's heavy steps are in sync with the terrible pounding inside Blackheart's head, jaw, and teeth. This is the most physical pain he has ever felt; in a life riddled with specks of violence, this moment screams out its position as king of the hill, and it wants Blackheart to scream its presence or cower at its creator. Not much of one to follow directions, the young man stands up with a bloody smile to mask his discomforts and watches, with the beautiful green eyes of his father, pain's approach.
Laughing nonchalantly, as if to a joke still unsaid, Blackheart finishes telling his own.
"That's just the half of it Daddy. Do you get why that is a bawdy joke? Because, now we both feel dirty. Get it Father? Our love for each other makes us feel dirty!" As he finishes telling the joke laughter erupts from Blackheart—until his father's fist attempts to push its way through Blackheart's stomach and out his back. The force of the strike lifts Blackheart from his feet, and before he can get back to them, his father disdainfully shoves him back. The young man, bloodied, forced to breathlessness, and now horribly off-balance, feels like falling, but he just can't let himself. His arms never spin about in an attempt for some type of featherless flight; they hang loosely at his side, relaxed. His feet and legs though—that is another matter.
Closer to falling than he is standing, his legs begin thrusting him back as if he is pushing an invisible cart with his legs, his back pushing against its low aft side. Unfortunately, this low, invisible, and imaginary cart is also light because he strikes the stone wall behind him fast but, more importantly, hard. A thought ripples through the desire for panic—a panic that numerous blows of this type have trained him to resist. The thought, I wonder why that didn't knock the breath back into me?
Back against the wall, but ass off the ground, he looks at his father and calmly wills air back into his lungs. When he thinks them full, he attempts to speak, but only a weak hiss passes his lips. Anunder walks forward, coming within an arm span, which, for him, is quite a sizable arm span, of his son. Blackheart's words are stronger this time, and it is obvious by his father's look of deliberation, a look not normally assumed by his father, that his words are heard.
"Why hadn't you killed me before this, Father?"
Excerpted from ASCADIA by Mickeal Tupper, Donovan William Henry. Copyright © 2013 Mickeal Tupper & Donovan William Henry. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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