In choppy, blocky, child-like lettering, the old man began to attack the page with his piece of charcoal. "Fer i m V'in va ven…" The man paused, a frown on his face. The first few words were already smudged as his palm had rubbed over them as he wrote, left-handed. Sucking on his teeth, which made a horrible clicking and slurping sound, he screwed up his face in thought. Then, letting out a breath, he mumbled to himself. "Vanquisher. Van-qui-sh-e-er. Vanquisher. Umm." Scowling, he crumpled up the piece of paper and threw it into the fire. As the flames caught it, the image on the other side unfolded for a moment, revealing a smiling, youthful face with a cocky grin. Beneath in a handsome hand read the words P'Tarek The Peaceful Brought Peace to the Warring Clansmen. Come See Him, One Night Only, To Learn His Secret And Maybe You, Too, Can Be a Hero! V'in wasn't too sure about all the words, but the gaggle of mooning girls who had surrounded the poster that afternoon had told him all he needed to know. Hero indeed. The boy couldn't be older than twenty, what did he know about hero's work? There wasn't a scar on him! V'in could proudly tell a story about each and every scar he sported, even those he couldn't quite see without a well-positioned mirror. Usually, the stories would be different every time, though anyone who tried to point this out to the old man found the cagey septuagenarian could become suddenly deaf when he wanted to be.

"For I am V'in, Vanquisher of the Seven Giants! Eagle of Baldrik's Ford! Dominator of the Tribeless Terror! The Hero of, well, really bloody everything now aren't I?" What had begun as a strong, defiant cry had dwindled into a nasty, defiant mutter. V'in went back to sucking on his teeth.

A dimply woman hurried over to his table. With one leg shorter than the other, she shouldn't have been able to move so quickly, but she seemed to use the foreshortened limb as a kind of springboard to propel her forward with alarming speed. "For the last time, I will not have you crying your fairy stories all over my establishment!" Establishment was pushing it, but Madame Caul'y had plans. She wasn't about to let it all go to waste on account of a washed-up ex-soldier who couldn't find the time to pay his rent. "You know there's a lecture going on in the next room. And you owe me for last week's rent."

V'in grinned up at her. "No money." Before she could begin the process of turfing him out, he proudly held up a package that had sat tucked beside him on the bench. "Lookie here. See this? This is worth more than rent. It'll get me a kingdom, it will!" Giddily, he unwrapped it with hands that nearly shook from the pleasure of his purchase. He held it out for her to inspect, clearly expecting her to be impressed and forgive his monetary embarrassment.

"It's a buckler."

"Ah, ah, it's not any buckler, see?" He slipped it on. As opposed to sitting on his fist, it slid up to his elbow. "See?"

"An elbow pad? Really?" She sighed. "Rent now, please."

V'in mumbled something about tomorrow. Madame Caul'y raised her hand to point toward the street when at the far end of the room the other door burst open and out flew a crowd of people, all talking excitedly. Young boys brandished wooden swords. Older men had the unmistakable looks of recollection and envy on their faces. Matrons primped their hair and pimped their daughters as a young man strode out of the other room and took up a position at the head of the bar. He bore a clear resemblance to the sketch on the poster, though his chin was weaker and his ears smaller. He slammed his hand on the counter. "Ale! All that talking made me thirsty!" And he laughed, as though what he'd said had been quite a good joke. Caul'y hurried over, her mouth smiling while her eyes made a quick count and her brain did quick calculations and her stomach did flipflops of joy at the thought of the money that would come in from the drink alone tonight.

P'Tarek was fending off three offers of marriage at the moment. "No, no ladies. You flatter me too much. I am off tomorrow morning, crack of dawn, to steal back the treasures of the temple of Emirikel. Who knows how long I shall be gone?"

V'in listened as P'Tarek kept going on about the dangers he would face, how lonely the journey would be, how tiresome life was without a companion at his side or a wife to come home to, but how that was the hero's lot: to be victorious at everything, except the basics of human life. V'in didn't realize it, but as he listened, he found himself being caught up in the spirit of adventure. His palms itched and he eyed his sword, which Caul'y had insisted he leave behind the bar along with all the other patrons' weapons. Well, why not? P'Tarek wanted a companion, V'in wanted an adventure. After all, he was the greatest hero there ever was. Surely the boy would kill for the chance to work with a legend like V'in. He'd be doing the lad a favor, really. He'd take him under his wing, show him the ropes, teach him how to swear in every language. Maybe if the boy was lucky, V'in would teach him how to kill a dragon.

V'in stumped through the streets, growling to himself about the lack of manners in kids these days and the insolence of young, red-headed, weak-chinned whelps in particular. He walked with a bit of a stoop, his bastard-sword slung across his back. He wore his buckler proudly. The straps had a hard time sitting properly on his scale armor and twice V'in stopped to tighten them. Still, it was a copper well spent to his mind. Now, if he could just get a second one, he could block attacks from either side, a handy advantage in a fight. Caul'y had thrown him out, her angry tirade about rent and racket following behind the laughter and jeers that chased him from the inn. It was still early in the evening, a warm breeze winding through the streets, carrying with it the scent of dinner and what dinner eventually became. His stomach growled. Patting it sympathetically, a small clink rang out. Looking down, on a long piece of twine, a small, grubby coin dangled over his abdomen. It must have slipped loose while he was gathering his things at the inn. V'in fingered it thoughtfully. The king's shilling. Well, not really from a king, and not really a shilling. The metal was too corroded to be worth anything, even if the currency hadn't changed in the years, decades really, since he'd first taken it. But he still had it. He'd been in the army for as long as he could remember, first as a grubby child listening to soldiers' tales and washerwomen's gossip, then as a drummer boy, then as a real soldier. Hero, V'in automatically corrected his internal monologue. From the moment he'd taken that shilling, he'd become a hero. There'd even been a parade, once. What battle had that been? V'in paused and tried to remember. No good. It'd come to him eventually.

It was growing dark by the time V'in's tired feet brought him to the temple of Gessar. He frowned up at it, his teeth clicking ominously as he sucked while thinking. Gessar. Yes. That was it. God of war. God of heroes! He'd been thinking about this for a while. Thon was all good and proper when you were in the army, proper soldier's god, but Thon had been too, well, lazy to actually help V'in since the army had finally made it clear that old codgers were not welcome unless they were generals who couldn't direct armies in their sleep (and sometimes did, in V'in's experience). That had been ten years ago. Since then, V'in had scraped along, doing the odd job here and there, easy guard duty most often. Once, he even got a nice, cushy position as head of a security team for some rich guy who thought he needed protecting. Turned out, he did. V'in hadn't had a guard position since. He sniffed at the memory. How was he to know people actually stole books. Who would bother? The man had yelled at him for an hour about the value of the ledgers taken, but V'in just shrugged. Anyone who needed to write down how much money they had deserved to lose some of it. Besides, all he'd lost were the numbers, not the gold itself. Silly thing to be so worked up about. He knew his old soldier pals would agree.

His mind drew back at the thought of old friends. No good dwelling on them now. He looked up again at the temple. Yes, Gessar it was. He even had a nice bit of red saved up for the occasion. What had her name been? Z'mora? Moir'a? Becky? He shrugged and the action caused his buckler to slip down to his forearm. Well, whatever her name was, she'd had a lovely red petticoat that she'd torn and given a bit of to him. Sweet, girl.

V'in walked inside.

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