Ugh. I wipe my face with the worn leather glove on my left hand. The sweat is sticky and abundant. Walking is easy, but it won't be easy forever. My old legs tire and now I sit. My helmet is about a thousand degrees. Why did I ever buy a black steel helmet? I bought it from a widower. She was married to a sword-wielder, a hired blade. It’s a funny thing though, a sword-wielder marrying. I have been at this job all my life and never thought one of us could marry. This job is the job of a loner, one who travels light and never makes roots. Sword-wielders are the tumbleweeds of life. We are neither flowers nor trees. There is no beauty with us and no color. We are ugly and always on the move. But just because we don’t make roots does not mean we do not have seed. I know a few guys that left a child or two in a brothel. Not me, of course. There are things even prostitutes won’t do.
It’s my scar. Like many current sword-wielders and ones even before my time, I have scars. People do not generally like to be killed, so they fight back. So the women of ill-repute do not mind the scarred fellas. But I have one that is too bad to overlook. They got my eye. Back when I was good, I fought for the king’s men. The Royal Army fought the Regal Army of another kingdom. It was a pointless war between royals who got their feeling hurts and endangered an entire generation of men. The war was awful, full of burning oil, hot tar, branding, and poisoned blades. They fought dirty and we fought dirty too. I was lucky to come back from the war at all. But I did lose my eye. Stabbed right in the left side of my face. The scar never healed right. The pupil turned gray and now the gash looks like a canyon on my face. Pure ugliness. Who could ever love a face like that?
So I started to wander. After the army kicked me out, no one would help me. Then I just walked and walked. I learned how to walk from my days of marching, but now I did it to survive. That’s how I became a hired blade. I still had a sword and a wanderer’s got to eat. The first man I killed was only to get a hot meal and a place to sleep for the night. I got better at killing. As my skill grew, so did the money. And I just never stopped.
But it's funny; a guy like me marrying? How does a woman look past the fact that her husband kills people for a living? Well, that lady did. Then her husband died. Now I have his helmet. I’m scum. Garbage that kills for money. I did not want to be this way, but the world is full of people who hate their lives. Then there are the few lucky bastards that like their lives. We all have a moral code that changes and bends back and forth all the time. Every few years, the person you are will appall who you once were. Times change and situations make the man (or woman). Actions speak volumes and my words are cheap. A lesson in morally from a sword-wielder is like a blind person teaching you how to paint. It does not make sense. You can learn nothing from me. I am a worthless piece of trash that overstayed its welcome on earth. My ancient body is a relic of sin.
How many men have I killed? I don’t keep track anymore. The number is lost in time. But there are many that I remember distantly. The ones that beg for life. The ones that curse your soul. The ones that beg you to kill them. The difficult ones to kill. They all have a place in my mind. Many blur together. Others fall by the wayside. There is a special place in hell for me.
Sand falls from my boot. The townspeople have been staring at me this whole time. I’m not doing anything wrong. But a strange man with as many scars as me resting on a hay bale is alert. First I take off my helmet, then the boots. After walking for a while, you have to shake your boots out. But in this line of work, you learn pretty quickly not to become attached to a pair of boots. They wear out fast. Some pairs hold up well and you get used to them and like them, but, as always, they break. You get what you paid for, a cheap pair of boots will rip faster than a good pair. Eventually, they all break and fall apart. Nothing is forever.
The boots I have are still good. The people with the most courage start to come up to me. The townspeople try desperately not to look like they are about to attack. They shake while holding their weapons. The strong men of the town grab the sharpest piece of farm equipment they can find. They crowd around me to see who will attack first. Tying the straps of my boots, I cannot help but chuckle at the summer soldiers. Superior in numbers, but lacking in all confidence and skill. They band together because they think I’m here to kill one of them. I reek of death; the smell lunges and follows me everywhere.
“Listen, I mean no harm and I want no trouble. So if you will let me, I will leave in peace,” I say, standing up from the hay. The folk get defensive and wait for my next move. I put my helmet back on and start walking out of town when one brave soul said something.
“We don’t want your kind.”
“My kind?” I say without turning around as I listen to this little f***er set up behind me. “I am just one of many. I cannot control the others in my profession, just like you are unable to control your neighbor. You can kill me, but that will not stop members of my profession from coming to your town. It will simply end me.” He continues approaching, ready to strike. I speak again. “But I will leave with no trouble. Or you could challenge me. Your risk, your life, and your choice. So… make your move.” The young, dumb man swings his axe with all his might. But I move out of the way of the blade and grab the dagger in my belt. In one swift motion, I move and duck from the blade of his axe, turn around, pull my dagger out of its holster, then plunge the blade into him. He looks at me, pained, defeated, and lost: the look of death.
“How?” he says. Looking at my eyes he repeats, “How?”
“What do you mean?” I ask him.
“How do you do it? How do you kill so effortlessly?” he whispers in my ear. I whisper my answer into his.
“You get used to it. The secret is… I want to die. But something inside of me keeps fighting. I don’t want to fight. I wanted that axe to hit me so badly. But my instincts always take over and I live. Please kill me.” He falls to the ground to bleed out. The blade in my hand is crimson red. The gang comes closer. They run at me with their pitchforks and scythes. I duck and roll to have the one with the pitchfork stab his counterpart that brought the broom. I pop up to stab the one next to me. Turning, I find one in front of me, grabbing his head with one hand and slicing his neck with the other. His body hits the ground like a sack of flour. The rest of the gang lose their courage and run away. All eyes are trained on me. The remaining people in the square watch me as I wipe my knife clean with one of the shirts of the dead. They judge as I take the money sacks from their belts. What? They don’t need it anymore. Onto the next town. I have to replace my boots soon, they are getting a bit ratty. Maybe I could get a town or two more out of these, but not much more.
The dirt paths really do a number on these boots. Oh well. If I just keep my helmet on, then people will not see my scars. Then maybe they will make a pair of boots for me. Only if I don’t show them the scars. The scars scare people and fear motivates people to do something stupid.
How does a sword-wielder get married though? It’s crazy to think about. The world will always keep surprising me.