Thursday, January 17, 2013

Halitor the Hero (short story)

Note: this is the product of a challenge on Chuck Wendig's blog.  (Caveat: blog not suitable for children, but many of the stories linked in the comments are great fun for adults).  Using a random number generator and only cheating a little, I ended up with the prompt to write a comic fantasy in which someone is mad or going mad, and someone gets poisoned.  Limit 1000 words (I clock in at 999).

Here it is:

Halitor the Hero

Halitor the Hero was going mad. 

Who wouldn’t, when every day he had to do again what he’d accomplished, at great personal risk, the day before? 

Halitor should have known better than to accept a quest from an unknown client in a hooded robe that hid his face.  But the Hero business had been slow lately, and a guy had to eat, and feed his horse.  The uniform didn’t come cheap, either.  You’d think a few hunks of leather and fur and a pile of weapons wouldn’t run you much,  aside from the initial outlay for the sword and axe.  But the stitching on the leather kept coming undone, and moths had gotten into the fur fringe on his cloak, so he’d had to have the whole thing redone.  And sword polish cost money.

So Halitor took the job.  It had sounded simple enough.  Just kill this fellow Thoriston.  Had to be an easy mark, with a name like that, right?  Mind, Halitor was a hero, not an assassin.  But he had it on good authority—that of the mysterious hooded stranger—that Thoriston was a tyrant from whose bloody rule all Polyopolis waited to be freed.  There would be cheers and feasting, as well as a bag of gold, just as soon as he’d done the job.

And that was the problem.  The job wouldn’t stay done long enough to collect.

Halitor used his sword the first time.  He leapt in front of Thoriston on the street, claimed offense for something or other, and beheaded him on the spot.  Then he’d faded into the crowd and waited for the cheering to begin.  The silence was deafening.

He hadn’t expected the beheaded tyrant to reach around for his head, stand up, and twist it into place.  Halitor was halfway to the border before he remembered that he was a Hero, and Heroes don’t give up.  Also, he needed that bag of gold.

Next day he used his war axe.  It took Thoriston a little longer to assemble the pieces, but he’d still finished before Halitor could find the stranger and get paid. 

He’d used his longbow, crossbow, dagger (that had nearly been fatal to Halitor, as Thoriston now had guards whenever he went out), throwing knives, pike, and a team of runaway horses.  All Halitor wanted was for the fellow to stay dead long enough for the mysterious stranger to pay up. He wouldn't.

By now, Halitor knew that Thoriston was an alias.  This was a god, and the obvious god was Thor.  And trying to kill Thor was plain crazy. 

And so Halitor knew he was mad, because he didn’t give up.  You couldn’t kill a god.  That was written in the rulebook.  Gods can’t be killed.  Not for more than a few minutes.  To try was insane.

Halitor lurked now in the shadows of Thor’s home.  Palace, really.  Crouched behind the arras in the dining hall, he gripped a glass vial with the tenderness he usually reserved for cash payments.  This was the one that would work.  A poison so strong that it could even kill a god. It could only kill him for a few minutes, but it was a long-lasting poison.  Each time he brought himself back to life, it would kill him again.  Halitor liked it.

The table was set for two.  The only challenge was to guess which place belong to Thor, and which to the unknown guest, for a Hero couldn’t randomly kill the wrong person.  He was mad, but not without honor. 

Halitor studied the table.  A plate of gilded china sat before an imposing chair, crossed battle-axes at it’s back.  The other was a mere wooden trencher, sitting before stool.  Thor was out to demonstrate to someone their relative positions of might.

Halitor considered what he had learned of the god in a week of killing him.  He made his decision, and crept into the empty hall.  It took only a moment to drip the poison into the already-filled goblet and turn to leave.

“You are punctual.  You will join me, Halitor the Assassin.”

Halitor nearly peed his fur-lined loincloth.  Where the kraken had Thor come from?  And had he seen what Halitor’d done?  Halitor thought of escape, but Thor had brought his bodyguards, giant men from some other world, big as boulders and bright blue.  They cut off all exits, so he had to bluff it out.  Thor waved  toward the table, and Halitor turned toward the lowly stool.

“No, my friend.  An assassin as persistent as you should not take the humble seat.”  Thor gestured to the throne-like chair.  “Please.  That one.” 

Halitor again searched wildly for an escape, and still found none.  He took offense instead.  “I am Halitor the Hero.  I am no assassin.”

“No?  Seven times you have killed me this week.  Odin certainly found a persistent tool this time.”

Odin.  Halitor could have kicked himself.  No wonder the chap who’d hired him had hidden his face.  Even Halitor would recognize Odin.  He was drinking in nearly every tavern you entered.  Halitor was pretty sure Odin could be in at least ten taverns at once.  Maybe more. 

Nothing to do  but play the game to the finish.  Seven times doing the same thing and expecting a different result.  But maybe he wasn’t mad.  This time the end would be different, and someone would finally be dead.

Halitor sat where he was told, but didn’t take up the goblet when Thor offered a toast.  “I never drink on the job.” 

Thor nodded and took a drink from his own pewter mug.  Then he looked at Halitor, appalled. 

“Odin!  You--”  Thor never finished the sentence.  Halitor stood and smiled. 

His gamble had paid off.  He hitched his sword into place, brushed off the giant blue guards, and turned to the door.  He had one task left, and little time to do it.

He had to collect his fee from Odin before the poison wore off. 

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