A Barbarian Enters the Bar
by Beowulf Martinson
The large, very blonde barbarian slouched over the bar, leaning
heavily against the old polished wooden surface. He was shaking his
head softly while muttering curses under his breath at any religious
figure he could remember. Hands the size of meat hooks were run first
through long, bundled hair, and then his full somewhat darker beard
over and over again in obvious consternation. Even the oversized
double-bladed axe seemed to have lost some of its usual luster as a
result of the deepening gloom of its heavily muscled owner.
Cliff, the barman, was polishing an already spotless glass mug for
the fifth time in an hour while he debated over the exact timing of his
approach to the desperate barbarian. It was obvious that the man needed
something to drink, and, judging by the quality and polish of his
leather armor, he probably even had money to pay for it, but when the
barbarian had entered Cliff's little family bar nearly an hour ago, he
hadn't seemed very approachable. In fact, he had seemed downright
pissed, and more than a little ready to hit something. Seeing as how it
was a little before noon, and Cliff couldn't count on any other
customers showing up at least for another couple of hours, and another
couple of hours after that before they were feeling good enough to risk
asking an angry barbarian what his problem was, Cliff decided to let
the man cool for a bit before popping the question. Who knew, maybe the
barbarian might even start the conversation himself? It was a bar after
Finally, at long last, there was a sign. The barbarian sighed
loudly, and put his head down on the bar, draping one rather long right
arm across its wide surface to dangle his hand loosely over the back.
Cliff didn't know any other barbarians, and this one was more than a
little out of place in Marysville, but a good sigh from most people
usually meant the likelihood of being hit had been substantially
reduced. Cliff stretched non-threateningly (or so he hoped) as he
replaced the mug on the rack above him, and said lazily to his only
customer, "You doing ok over there?"
The barbarian lifted his head up off the bar part ways, just enough
to get both of his hands up under his forehead. His hair dangled all
over the place, and his weapons and armor chimed repeatedly as metal
clanged against metal during the shift. The only response Cliff
received, however, was a soft, defeated grunt.
Cool enough, thought Cliff to himself. The man is ready for human contact.
Sidling over to where the barbarian sat, making sure to stay well
out of arms reach, Cliff put a glass down behind the bar for the
inevitable drink. "Need a drink perhaps?"
"Yeah," said the blonde man in a deep gravelly voice, "anything."
Cliff poured up a beer for the barbarian and placed it down next to
the man's large left hand with a light thump. There was a time for
smoothness, a time for sliding, and a time for thumping. Now was a good
time for thumping.
Grabbing the handle of the beer, the barbarian put it to his lips
and started in on what looked like a long-draught, only to nearly drop
the mug in slack jawed surprise. "What is this, barman?" demanded the
barbarian with a heavy, but understandable accent.
"It's a beer," answered Cliff with a frown, "and it's Cliff, by the
way, not barman." Cliff never could stand the generic title, 'barman'.
It always sounded more like an insult than anything else, and he felt
that his little polished wooden bar and gas-lit establishment was
deserved of at least a little respect.
"Beer?" echoed the barbarian stupidly, "But it's cold?"
"Yeah," said Cliff, "It's cold because I store the stuff in the ice box. Only way to drink it you know."
"Ice box?" echoed the barbarian again, frowning.
"Oh," said Cliff, who was feeling stupid himself for not having
figured it out earlier, "you're from out of town, and you don't get
cold drinks in the summer, do you?" The barbarian simply nodded
affirmatively, grasping the mug several times in rapid succession as if
to verify its coolness. "Well, having the Mage and his students around
has its advantages sometimes. Apparently they like cold drinks and
unspoiled meat, and they discovered that a lot of other local people
"Do you know the Mage, then?" asked the large man, then, the
beginnings of hope coming back to his face. Obviously, the presence of
a magical ice box must indicate a special relationship.
"Sorry, but no," said Cliff to his disappointed customer, who
slouched back down onto the barstool again. "I take it you're looking
for the Mage, then?"
Nodding to himself, Cliff noted that his hairy customer had finally
overcome his surprise at the cool beer and drained the mug. "You have a
name?" Cliff asked.
"Angvar," replied Cliff, "that's quite the unusual name around here. Can I perhaps get you another drink, Angvar?"
Having begun a good stare into his empty mug, Angvar seemed almost
reluctant to part with it, not replying for at least a minute.
"Please," he said with another sigh, which carried a low raspy growl
along with it.
"Ahhh," Angvar shouted quietly, raising his hands up to the side of
his head and staring at the ceiling. "This is so damn frustrating."
Cliff, who was busy refilling the glass behind the bar, merely said, "Oh?"
"I traveled dangerous paths to reach the insane city, seeking
desperate advice from the all-powerful Mage, only to find out that he
isn't here?" He was shaking his head in frustration again, like he had
been doing for an hour before after entering the bar. "I don't have
much time, and he's not here? What did he do - go on vacation just to
"Vacation," said Cliff curiously, "what are you talking about?"
"I've waited for days outside the Mage's place, never letting that
door out of my sight," replied the barbarian, slamming his fist down
onto the bar. Cliff was relieved to see that the wood beneath appeared
undamaged, despite the strength of the blow. "I've knocked, over and
over again – he just isn't here!"
By this time, the volume of Angvar's deep voice had gone well pass
common decency levels, or so a wincing Cliff thought as he prepared to
shush his agitated customer, but Angvar, seeing Cliff's expression shot
an apologetic look at Cliff, and lowered the volume himself. "What do I
do now?" he asked hopelessly.
"Did you try this morning before you came in?" asked Cliff
perplexedly. Seeing the barbarian nod, he stated matter of factly, "I'm
sure I saw him this morning as I passed his house."
"What?" blinked Angvar, brushing some loose hairs out of his eyes,
"When exactly? I banged on that door and shouted until I was hoarse,
and no one ever came."
"Not that I know the Mage personally, mind you," said Cliff, wanting
to repeat that fact again for the easily worked up barbarian, "but I
passed his house this morning on the way to work and saw him through
the window. I don't remember seeing you, though, and I think I'd
remember that. Did you take a break or something?"
"Yes," frowned the barbarian, scrunching his eyebrows together in frustration, "but only for a very short time."
"Well," said Cliff, nodding to himself, "that must have been it
then, as I'm sure that was him I saw sitting down to eat in the living
"Living room?" echoed Angvar, as if the concept were somehow alien to him.
"Yeah, you know. It's the room with the table in it you can see through the big glass window."
"I know what a living room is," assured Angvar, who was still
frowning despite the Mage's apparent reappearance, "but I don't
remember any big glass windows." He raised an eyebrow at Cliff and
asked, "What kind of tower has big glass windows anyways? Are we
talking about the same place?"
"Tower," replied Cliff, an odd thought entering his head at
seemingly the same time it entered the barbarians. "Where exactly were
you standing for the last 3 days?"
"Outside the Mage's huge tower just north of the city. Why?"
Pinching the bridge of his nose as he rubbed his eyes and tried to
suppress a small laugh, Cliff replied gently, "Ahhh. That would explain
"What?" hollered Angvar in disbelief, "Don't tell me I've been standing outside the wrong damn tower these last three days."
"Well, you see," began Cliff, "that is his tower, and it is his only tower, so far as I know, but he doesn't live there."
"What kind of self-respecting magician doesn't live in a tower?"
replied Angvar, settling down again onto the chair. His hand, left this
time, found its way back to his forehead and began kneading an obvious
"It's actually a rather amusing story," began Cliff, settling in for
one of his favorite tales. "Before that tower, the Mage was relatively
unknown in the lands, especially around here. He apparently had power
and money aplenty, but he'd never settled down long enough to do
anything with it. About thirty years ago, the Mage walked into our
little town of Marysville and decided to stay. He even sat at this here
bar a few times before he became famous. Now, though, he mostly goes
down to Harrys' place or stays in, so that's why I don't really know
"Anyways, after scouting the town for a bit and finding just the
right place, he strolled into the town square and began demanding to
see the mayor quite loudly. He even shot off a few small fireballs and
torched a dead tree trying to get someone's attention. When the ruckus
started, I took off without father's permission and ran down to the
square to see what was going on, so that's why I can tell you these
Angvar motioned for another drink while Cliff talked on, apparently
willing to stay long enough for the duration of the tale. Cliff was
only happy to oblige.
"Poor old Jerome had been elected Mayor only the month before, and
so it fell on him to talk to the angry magician in the square. Truth be
told, we all pushed him forward, anxious to see what happened next. The
Mage hadn't actually hurt, or even threatened anybody yet, so we
weren't too worried for Jerome. I'm not sure Jerome ever quite forgave
us for that, though, as he stole the town's taxes and headed for the
hills shortly thereafter, but I digress."
"Apparently, the Mage was just announcing to the crowd in his own
spectacular way that he was going to build a huge tower and school here
in Marysville – make us all famous. He made it clear that he wasn't
asking our permission, but he wanted us to know anyways. Jerome later
told us that he also promised to take care of any trouble makers."
"So he did build that tower," questioned Angvar. "Why isn't he there now?"
"I'm getting to that," said Cliff, calling for more patience. "He
did build that tower, yes. It took him nearly a week to put up all 7
floors, magically of course. Half the town showed up for the show as he
would create a wall out of thin air, or maybe calling it from deep
within the earth (I really couldn't tell you), and levitate it into
place with the flick of his hand. He also called down lightning to fuse
parts of the tower together and even occasionally shaped the stone
directly with his hand as he sought out the perfect shape. Now you know
that most of that conical effect was done by hand."
Angvar was blinking his eyes and rubbing the muscles in his arms as
he contemplated the feats of magic necessary to build that tower. Most
building was done by a team of laborers where he was from, and anything
as tall as that tower was likely to fall down during the first winter
"And once the outer walls completed, the Mage created himself a
doorway in the front and moved inside. " Cliff waited for a moment for
Angvar to chime in something about the magical construction, but
nothing was forthcoming. Sometimes the customers participated, and
sometimes they did not. Neither really affected his enjoyment of the
story. "So it was one week after the Mage started that the walls were
finished, and it was another two after that before the insides were
done. Much of the crowd left after the big show was over, and even I
had to go back to helping out Dad at the bar, but I snuck out to the
tower as often as I could to watch windows suddenly appear in the thick
stone walls and lights flash every now and then from the inside. It was
"The whole tower was done in less than a month, complete with seven
floors, an impressive sloping conical structure, and the mandatory
platform at the top for controlling the weather. The mage moved in
right away and began work on planning for the school back in town."
"So if the mage moved into the tower," asked Angvar, who was still
trying to figure out how to complete his mission, "why isn't he there
now? It is an extraordinary tower that any magician would want for
their very own. Even back home, we've heard stories of the magical
chaos tamed in the construction of that tower."
"True enough," answered Cliff. "That tower sealed the Mage's fame,
as everyone with an ounce of magic in their blood could feel the power
of its awesome construction. Even the rest of us yokels knew it was
"So what happened?" asked the blonde barbarian.
"Well, that's the funny part. The tower was built in the Fall, and
for most of that winter, no one here in Marysville saw hide nor hair of
their resident magician. Most just attributed it to the well known
surliness of magic-users in general, while a few others like Phil
Brakson, who had a crazy idea he wanted to pitch about building magic
powered mills next to his fields, took it rather more personally."
Clearly caught up in the story, Angvar risked a tangent, "and the man who thought up the ice boxes, too, I suppose?"
"Not really," answered Cliff. "Elisabeth, the Mage's wife of nearly
twenty-five years now, didn't think those up until after they'd already
been married a few years. I doubt she'd held much of a grudge, or even
had a get rich scheme at the time, or the Mage probably wouldn't have
"Anyways, like I said, the tower was completed in the Fall, but,
come Spring, the Mage came marching back up the road from out of town,
this time with a small group of people. We hadn't even known that he
had left, and I think Phil had waited out in front of that tower on
more than a few occasions just like you had, Angvar." Cliff said the
last with a smile, but wanting to make sure he added, "No offense."
Frowning slightly at his own stupidity for not enquiring about the
Mage's residence earlier, Angvar waved just off the jest.
"It turns out that the after all that construction on the tower, the
Mage moved in just long enough to realize that it was really unpleasant
to live in. All the stonework made the temperature impossible to
control, even with magic. It was constantly dark, and dripping water in
all sorts of random places during every rainstorm. He'd done his best
to patch up the problems magically, but never liked the place.
Apparently, he took off that winter to go asking his other magician
friends for advice, but all of them simply told him to get used to it.
That was the nature of towers apparently." Cliff looked about at his
cozy bar, which, although the fire wasn't burning now, even contained a
fireplace for long, cold winters. "Glad I don't live in one."
"Hmph," said Angvar, clearly disagreeing. "That IS the nature of
towers," he stressed, "but magicians are supposed to live in them. It's
how we find them after all."
"Well apparently," countered Cliff, "the Mage disagreed with both
you and most of his friends. The small group of people he brought with
were master house builders from neighboring cities. They hired a small
army of us Marysville folks, and we built him a wonderful house down on
Blackberry Lane – complete with indoor plumbing, gas lights, and a full
kitchen. He even insisted on those big glass windows in the front for
his living room, which he magically enspelled not to break. A few kids
some years back actually threw a couple of rocks at those windows just
to test out the spell, and while the windows didn't break, I've been
told that the rebounding rocks hurt almost as bad as the beatings the
kids got from their parents."
"A house?" repeated Angvar, shaking his head in disappointment. "The
most powerful magician anyone has ever heard of lives in a house with
glass windows and indoor plumbing?"
"Can't say as I blame him myself," replied Cliff. "Do you want to
live in that monstrosity outside of town? Besides, here in town he
grows a wonderful little flower garden that all of us can stop by and
admire. I understand he's quite proud of it."
"I suppose I can't blame him for wanting something else," admitted
Angvar, as if his hero had let him down, but a smile had appeared on
his face for the first time since Cliff had seen him enter. Standing
up, Angvar shifted the big axe on his back and adjusted the leathers of
his armor. "I can't believe I've come all this way to talk to a
magician with a house and flower garden, but at least he's here. "
Rolling his eyes again and sighing, he asked Cliff, "I don't suppose
you can point me in the right direction this time?"
"Not a problem," said Cliff, smiling broadly. It wasn't everyday
that a big barbarian got lost here in the city looking for the Mage,
and he'd make sure everyone heard about it, but, what with the Mage and
his students about, it wasn't too extraordinary either. "Take a left
out the front door, and then take another left down Apple Street a
couple blocks up. Go for a few blocks, I don't remember how many, and
turn right on Blackberry Lane. If you get lost, most of the locals call
it Mage St now. You're looking for the large, single-storey house with
a white picket fence. If you reach the house with the big barking dogs,
you've gone too far."
"You're welcome," said Cliff. "Oh, and by the way, don't open the
front gate without getting the Mage's attention, you'll..." Cliff heard
the front door shut as the barbarian walked left the bar again in
pursuit of his epic quest, "... let the dragon out again."
Cliff scooped the barbarian's money up off the bar and then paused.
"I'm probably going to get blamed for it getting out, aren't I?" he
asked aloud in the empty room. "I suppose I'd better go help catch the
damn thing." Sighing deeply, Cliff hung up his apron and headed for the
© 2016 Beowulf Martinson
Bio: Dr. Martinson plays with robots for a living in the San Francisco Bay
area. He has authored more than 30 scientific articles professionally
and enjoys writing short fiction whenever he can.
E-mail: Beowulf Martinson
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