He looked down at the still, half empty clay cup of hot water in his hand. Rapidly turning tepid and no longer smoldering with enthusiasm. Much like the assembled crowd. Stunned at his sensational story of accidental heroism. He felt its scrutiny, he felt the mocking, lackluster weight of the truth, and the paltry sum of his life in that mug. With a bitter, deliberate quaff he swallowed the rest of the warm liquid in one gulp, and placed the mug with a firm thwack on the table.
His comrades had been completely decimated in that skirmish. Some forgotten, muddy keep, on some forgotten pretendercade for glory, promotion, or a hill of shiney rocks. Probably just cousins squabbling over fenceposts, and hundreds of hired killers, mutineers, and cutthroats, or hungry plowhands of too many dry summers had been brushed away
like so many toy soldiers on a board.
He was only alive today because he was tired, wet, hungry and crazy enough to throw his shoe over a ridge. What right did he have to tell this story?
The silence had carried for too long. He rubbed his eyes, and let out a deep puff of air.
"I woke up in a field hospital, a couple days later, they had taken the bullets out, put some mud on my wounds, and handed me my contract. The fight was over. My employer pulled out... said it wasn't worth another hundred mercenaries."
He knew what they meant by worth.
"So I put on a sling, hopped from town to town, waited for my arm to heal and found my way back to a call to arms."
It hadn't been hard, exactly to keep going after that. But the bitter, meaningless terror of his life had reared its ugly head in that assignment. He was just a sword arm to a faceless bag of money. Always had been, would probably die that way. He was a little amazed that he hadn't. Why had he gone for so long? What was he holding these coins for? Land? Cottage? Wide hipped wife?
He stood up, unaware of the wonderfilled stares and slack jaws. The crowd parted as he stepped, and Byron found himself flat and still in the same quiet, smokey town he had wandered into a lifetime ago, wanting a pair of pants... and a place to sleep.
Was that all he had ever wanted? He worked a twinge in his arm, felt the haggard sinew pulling in protest, and the crunchy squeak of callouses rubbing against each other. What did he want? What did he know? Where was he going?
He jolted slightly at a faint, delicate palm on his shoulder, and a guiding parallel stride back inside, next to a quiet morning fire, the smell of baking bread, and another warm mug of clean water.