Heroes (In the Shadows)

by Debra Laich

A Mare Inebrium Story

Mare Inebrium Universe Created by Dan L. Hollifield

At the bar Max is smiling and listening to a very witty, charismatic gentleman. Golden locks cover his head, and muscles that Hercules would have envied bulge from his arms. The eyes are so blue and piercing that you can't take your eyes away from his gaze. Trixie the barmaid is drooling, and Kazahk-ak Tier is laughing at the gentleman's jokes though they sound inane once anyone else tries to tell them. The aura around the man is bright, and the bar has a glow for the first time in quite a while. The only drab and dark spot surrounds an average looking adventurer. You do not immediately notice him other than through the contrast between his ordinary appearance and the appearance of the hero. The hero leaves, and the bar goes back to the conditions of before. . . except for the nondescript man in the corner, who stays behind. . .


The place is the Mare Inebrium bar. The time is midnight. I'm nursing my whisky, wondering whether I should try to find companionship this evening or to seek deeper solace in the "Old Panther" in front. The clientele of this bar is a curious collection of misfits, neophytes, and adventurers. True adventurers are a thing rarely seen nowadays. There are pretend adventurers that have fancy equipment-technical, magical, or otherwise-with thoughts only of either money or glory. Often, they live off the stories they tell the neophytes who love to rub elbows with the "adventurer" so that they can vicariously pick up some of the glory and fame.

"Whoa there," the man in the corner says to the narrator, "my definition of a true adventurer is someone who survives. Its not someone who looks for adventure but who gets into it anyway. You survive by guts, intelligence, cunning, loss of blood (and maybe loss of friends too). But you survive. You take a job not because it will give you experience or new items but just to survive 'til the next meal, next ale, or next lover.

"I'm cynical and know it, but I have been betrayed too often and lost too many friends or companions in to really care anymore. Idealism is a state of mind only for the young or foolish. Look, you asked for my story so quit your squawking! Each one of the people in this bar has a story to tell. Did you think mine was going to be pretty?

"What do you mean stick with the script? You writer types always are a pain in the ass. Okay, okay! You're the writer. I'm just a character as you say, but I got writes too. You don't describe me in any detail. You give no name, no life. Just have me describe this bar and people here as if I was you.

"Now, don't get too technical on me! You're writing from your point of view? Who says so?!? I don't!

"Oh, threaten me will ya? Well, okay, but at least describe me and give me a name. I feel so bloody anonymous. Boy that's an awful long word to come out of my mouth ain't it! Alright, 'isn't it' or something along those lines. Boy, writers are so temper...tempra...oh, what the hell ever! Fussy!"

I'm old Mathias-adventurer par excellence.

"Now wait a cotton pickin' minute! Par what? What kind of garbage you trying to put in my mouth anyway? I'm an adventurer that has survived too many times to admit so, so keep it simple. None of those flowery words coming from me, okay?"

I'm old Mathias-an adventurer who has survived.

"Much better. That's more like it."

A man in his early fifties...

"Hold it there buddy boy! To reach that age I would have to be a miracle, not a regular man. Adventuring make a man of thirty look and feel like fifty, but there is such a slim chance to make it that it ain't funny. Now, start again!"

Old Mathias peers around the bar from over his beer, wondering if this evening will take the edge off of the loneliness or off of the wait to do it all again. Mathias is an adventurer, plain and simple. He wears brown leathers that from all of the wear and tear from years of use have taken on a multicolored effect that is unintentionally suited for blending in anywhere. He's of medium height and about 15 pounds heavier than when he started adventuring. Hard times and frequent work have kept him that way, even with all of his beer consumption.

"Just call it drinking a lot, okay?"

He is average looking, and his manners as you can guess are best left to the imagination. He fights hard and long for his friends-at least for the few friends he actually has. The crustiness of his demeanor is only skin deep.

"Yeah, right. Don't tell all my secrets at once, will yah!"

Surveying the bar, he sees the cute elfin barmaid Trixie.

'Fought with a few elves in my lifetime,' he thought. 'Some of them are good fighters! Most of them, though, are snootier than hell. Trixie seems okay so I don't give her too hard of a time. She serves my drinks on time, and except when Max the bartender is on vacation, exactly how I want them.

'Over in the corner of the main bar is a new fangled contraption that plays music. Trixie let it be known that it is experimental and on loan from some gnomish fellow called "Fixer-of-the-great-and-interesting-musical-items-of-wonderous-and-infinite-being." Sounds pretty crazy, and pretty damn long, but that's a gnome for you.

Anyway, you are supposed to be able to put any form of money into it from any planetary system or dimension. . .'

"Right you are."

'. . . and the music of choice for that era of time will play. You can use steel for Krym, gold for whomever, and these stupid looking silverish quarters from some backwater. But put the stuff in, and out comes the most gol-dern music you ever did hear. You would think dwarves were trying to be musicians or something.

'Trixie comes by and I give her a silver piece to put in the machine. I ask her to play something nice. She goes and puts the silver in the thing, but then I realize I just gave her the silver piece from home!!!'

"Now wait a minute!!!! Just wait a gol-dern minute! You are telling me and telling them that I would just give up the silver piece I have been keeping for 15 years as lucky piece from my little sister just like that? What kind of dang fool you take me for? She gave it to me before I followed my hero into more muck and trouble than I'd ever seen before!

"What do you mean a plot device? You want me to tell the tale of how I got into this business by getting me maudlin or something? It's stupid, trite, and demeaning to me and to the readers! Anyway, it's been done more times than not. If you want me to tell about by past, read my memoirs in ten years.

"That's not good enough, huh? Well, no, you won't talk about my sister. If anyone talks about her it will be me.

"You mean it's either my version or yours one way or another? Okay, it will be mine, but that's a damn dirty trick! You sure you're not related to Satan himself!?!?

"Oh well. Here goes. I was always getting people out of trouble when I was a kid, but nobody seemed to notice me, only the guy I was getting out of trouble. If he fell through the ice and I dived in to get him out, it always ended up with him looking like he saved me. If he fell into a river to rescue a dog, I had to save both, but somehow the hero was noticed, not me. It's not that he purposely tried to take the credit. It's just that he looked and acted the part of the hero too well for others to believe otherwise.

"I'm an average looking kid who had to work at getting noticed even in school. (Is that maudlin and self-pitying enough for you, Ms. Narrator????) My sister, though, was the only one who noticed what was going on, and before the hero got ready to leave for his big quest, she came to me and told me how great I was and how she knew who the real hero was.

"Cindy, my sister, said, 'The world and the little man need heroes to believe in or the mundane and true horrors of life will destroy what little spirit there is left in them.' She held me and continued speaking. 'Religion is great, but they need to see someone winning and succeeding, not being put upon by others.' Cindy asked me to go with the hero. 'He may grow into the role or he may not,' she said, 'but you will keep the hope and the hero alive.' She said she loved me and that she hoped someday the both of us would return.

"She gave me the silver piece and sent me off with love. She's the only being I ever did love. Someday I will be back, but we left our planetary system years ago and I haven't seen her since."

Mathias quietly wipes a tear from his eye and takes a long drink from his tankard.

"That foul sorcerer's storm sent us far and away from there to this end of the galaxy. I hope she remembers me. But until we get back, I get to keep my hero out of trouble. Enough said now. I hate crying, and anyway it waters down the whiskey.

"You ask where the hero is? He'll be around when he needs me."

Mathias takes another drink, and watches the bar, completely unnoticed by nearly everyone around him.

"You said it pal."

But outside, there are sounds of shouting, sounds of fighting, and Mathias grabs his sword, preparing to make the hero look good once again. . .

The End

Debra Laich lives in North Carolina. She is at times (and sometimes at once) a mommy to her two Persian cats, an electron microscopist, a doctor's assistant, a reader of good books, a gamer, and a politician. This is her first published story.

Copyright 1999 D. S. Laich