I could tell by the look on the child's face (calling him a child may be a bit unfair. He was in actuality around twenty, but then, everything is relative. He was a child to me) that I was, to say the least, not what he had been expecting. I'm sure he had grown up hearing stories of how all great warriors strutted around at all times with their blades and armor buckled on, or at least wearing grand, rich clothing befitting someone of their station. So when he realized that I, the unkempt man in the corner wearing worn brown leathers and only a dirk for armament was the man he had been looking for, well, that was when his first lesson began.
To tell the truth, he looked much more the part of the warrior than I did. Wearing green leggings with a laced-up doublet, and a billowing, wheat colored cloak, he cut rather dashing figure. I hesitate to call what he had buckled on a sword, though. It as more like a longer, wider bladed version of a dagger, typical of poor warriors or peasant militias. That short blade and the unstrung bow which he leaned on as a staff were the only indicators that he was more akin to an armed vagabond at that point than a proper warrior.
Of course, he was what I had been expecting, so when he entered the tavern, I promptly motioned the boy over to where I was drinking, and introduced myself as D'Aristan. As I said, the his astonished countenance indicated that I was something less...inspiring than what he had expected, but then, that is always a truth for those who would be warriors.
He looked at me with a most amusing expression of confusion mingled with naiveté. "You are the one the Guild sent me to train with?" he inquired.
"That I am,'' was my taciturn response. "It has been quite some time since they sent me one such as you." I refilled my goblet from the bottle of murky, brown liquid and offered him a drink from it. He gave a small, slightly nervous smile and politely turned it down with a wave of his hand, then extended it towards me. "I am Saimen, it will be a pleasure serving under you."
I simply smiled at him. "I am certain it will be." I took a deliberate motion, and made sure that he saw me scanning him over, as if I was sizing him up. "Tell me, lad. What experience have you had so far?"
He grinned broadly at that. "You can ask Barsan, he trained me to fence himself." I nodded, knowing Barsan's formidable reputation, and motioned for him to continue. "I was the fastest sprinter in my village, by yards, I'd reckon! You'll not find a man my age who can shoot like I can, no bird or deer in the forest is safe from my aim!"
I gave another nod, with an almost sincere grin. I had to admit the boy had a certain charm about him. "This is well and good, but I doubt you have come to me because you can play games well. Have you ever seen a battle, ever been in one?"
The smile retreated a bit from his face. "I have escorted several of Longsaddle's bravest warriors into conflict, sir; I was even present at the battle of Mithral Hall. In each account, I proved myself quite worthy in keeping the lord supplied with arms, fresh shields, and keeping his prisoners arraigned."
"You were regulated to a support position, then?" I queried to which he gave a wavering nod, so I continued. "Therefore, you have never actually been in combat?"
He smiled again, but this time it seemed much more confused, almost apologetic. "Nobody so far has been willing to give me the opportunity. I was hoping you would be able to. That's why I requested it be you who instructed me on the final points of becoming a warrior. Nobody is more skilled in slaying then you, sir. Every lord I have spoken with on the subject agrees."
"Them simply agreeing on a subject does not make it true, my boy. But let me see if I have gathered all of this correctly. They have sent you to me, because they knew that you would end up in a situation where you would have to defend your life, most likely? In essence, then, they have sent you here, so that I could teach you to kill?"
He shuffled his feet. I could tell I was making him uncomfortable. Good, I thought. He looked at the ground for a moment, as if he were searching for the right words, then his head turned back up to look at me. "That's a . . . harsh way to put it, sir, but if you wish to be blunt, then I suppose you are correct. Yes, I have come here to learn how to kill."
I gave him my most friendly appearing grin, and gave what I hoped was a carefree shrug. "Well then, who am I to argue against the guild? Right, then. I have some business around the city that needs to be taken care of quickly, but feel free to make yourself comfortable here." I reached into my pocket, and placed a small pile of coins on the table. It was amusing to see the expression on Saimen's face, it was obvious he'd never seen this much gold before, let alone been offered it. "I will return in the evening, your training will begin then."
He nodded eagerly, and after returning the gesture with less enthusiasm, I stood, and walked out of the tavern. Once outside, I went over to a nearby tree, and after surveying some of the lower branches, I snapped off what I concluded was the most stout of the lot. In most other squares in the city, the people would have thought this an odd gesture, and in others, an illegal one. But most of the citizens were too enthralled with the bard who had arrived in the district a few days ago to pay attention to what I was doing. As I walked down the streets, branch in hand, I realized what a pleasant day it was. The cool air blew in from the Sea of Swords, and it brought not only the bard's song to my ears, but the smells from the square, which harbored the scent of breads, meats, and pastries in it today, instead of the usual stale fruits and rotting fish. Since the bard had came, there had been no fights in the neighborhood; the people had their distraction. I was occupied with my own problems, however. I needed some way to teach Saimen. I walked back to the bard, to listen to the story he was just beginning, while I thought. When I got there, I looked up at the troubadour, with his smiling, innocent face, and a smile of my own came to my lips. I had my plan.
The story was not a bad one, though it wasn't terribly interesting either. It was the same sort of tale, the paladin finding a lover, and protecting her from the villains, living happily ever after. It was enough for most of the people in the square, though, and they went away happy. That was the chance I was waiting for. Darkness had begun to spread through the square, and the bard was alone, sitting on the fountain he had entertained his audience from earlier, absorbed in his thoughts, and no doubt composing some new poem. It was good that he was so distracted; he never noticed me creeping behind him, and when I slammed the limb into the back of his head, he fell into the water without a word.
I grabbed him under the arm and dragged him towards the tavern. He was a scrawny thing, lankier than even Saimen, so the trip did not take too long. When I entered the tavern, I was greeted by several inquisitive stares. "He's had a bit too much to drink," I announced to the patrons. "The next time, perhaps you should be more careful about how you indulge your guests, he nearly drowned in the fountain before I came along." After a few approving nods from the drinkers, I hauled the bard up the stairs and into my chamber. As I had hoped, Saimen was waiting for me, and was as equally surprised as the rest of the populace to see me dragging the entertainment into my room. I set him down on the floor, and looked to Saimen. "There's some rope in the chest by my bed, fetch it for me."
Saimen gave me yet another of his puzzled glances—I hoped he would run out of those soon—but compliantly gave me the rope, which I tied around the bard's wrists and feet. The remainder, I tied around his mouth in a sort of gag, then I stood up, and drew my dagger from its sheath, which I gave to Saimen. "Now," I said, "your training begins. Kill him."
He swallowed, and looked from me, to the bard, to the dagger. "You want me to do what?" he asked, the heroic timbre gone from his voice, leaving only a frightened, childlike quality to it.
I nodded; as if what I was telling him to do was the most natural thing in the world. "Go on, kill him. Stab him in the heart, slice his throat, give him a good poke in the back, I really don't care how you do it, but I would appreciate it if you'd lay a blanket down first, I don't want such a mess covering my floor."
All admiration was gone from his eyes now; he looked at me as one would a mad man. "What in all the hells does this have to do with my training? When I said I wanted to learn how to kill, I didn't mean like this! I meant hunting bandits, or going to the border to fight the barbarians in the North, but this man has done nothing!"
"What makes you so sure of that?" I narrowed my eyes harshly at him. "How do you know he didn't kill somebody in the last town he was in? It's not any different than when you kill a soldier in a war. You have no idea if he volunteered, or if he was conscripted, if he is a new recruit, or if he's killed men in the hundreds. Even most of the barbarians north of the Spine haven't done anything more wrong than to be born in an icy hell, and so what if you kill this bard? He was sitting in the wrong place, an equally grave crime, by my estimation."
"But what if I simply wanted to slay monsters?" Saimen's argument was growing weaker by the minute. "At the battle of Mithril Hall, there was no small share of savage creatures for to be slain. Your logic fails there, mighty D'Aristan!" For the first time, he had an air of sarcasm about him. It did not suit him well.
"But you will never exclusively kill inhumanoid creatures. That is a certainty, child. Out of the hundreds or warriors I have known, living and dead, not a one of them has been able to stick solely to the killing of dark little beasties. Eventually you will have to turn your blade on a human, even if it's they're fault. Even if they simply want to best you in a duel. You may not be to blame, but the blood will still be on your hands."
I took his silence as a cue to go on. "And with all those battles that you have seen. What do you think happens after the field has been cleared, the rebels subdued, or the town conquered? If what you saw on the field was horrible, you will not stomach what comes next. Dead children, ravished wives. In a grand sense, killing this minstrel will be the least atrocious thing you will ever do if you decide to take up the sword. You may as well do yourself the favor of getting used to the horror now."
I believe that by that time he was in some sort of shock. He raised the dagger, and stepped toward the bard. For a moment, I thought that he was actually going to do it, but as the tip of the dagger touched the unfortunate's throat, his eyes opened slightly as he came out of unconsciousness. When he saw the young man pressing the knife to him, ready to drive it in, his eyes shot open much quicker, and the room was filled with the smell of what was unmistakably the bard's bowels being vacated in fright.
The scene was too much for Saimen. He dropped the knife, letting it fall harmlessly on the bard, who was whimpering softly from behind his gag, and backed up against the wall. He slid down it, till he was sitting on the floor, and looked up at me. "I can't do it...I simply cant, not like this, maybe not ever now. What should I do? I do not know anymore."
"Go," I said. "Go, back to your home, be a hunter, join a carnival and show off your skills with a bow, or even learn to play an instrument like this bard, but don't try to become a warrior. The trade of butchery was not made for you, boy, and they were wrong to ever encourage you in it in the first place. Now go, and I never want to see a sword in your hand again."
He was more than eager to oblige, and he stood, with tears in his eyes, and unbuckled the sword from his belt. He said nothing to me, but gave me the slightest of nods, and then walked out of the room, out of the Tavern, out of Waterdeep, and I back to his family's cottage in Longsaddle, I hoped. It had been harsh of me, I know, and the Guild would be furious if they found out what I had done. Perhaps Saimen was right, perhaps I should have let him go fight soldiers or bandits or goblins he wanted to kill, and even then, not until many months of training. To do that to him though, to take away that innocence that he possessed, and leave only a killer behind, that would have been a harsher act by far than what I had just done. I felt a sense of satisfaction I had not experienced in a long time. It was a sense that I had actually saved a life, perhaps many, rather than taking one. I then glanced down at the bard. He looked at me with gratitude, it seemed. He must have thought I had talked Saimen out of murdering him. Well, there was no reason to let him think ill of me, so I cut him loose, and, after profuse thanks on his part, he asked me how he could thank me.
"Sing one of your ballads for me" I requested. It was selfish, I admit, but I required something to chase my own ghosts away. I had succeeded in letting Saimen keep his innocence, but mine? Much too late for that, but it is never too late for a good drink, and a good song.