Nasty, Brutish, and Short
Evil Fiction by Patrick M. Tracy

Bronar Lives

By Patrick M. Tracy

“I’m surprised you survived,” Tahni said, running a hand over his stone-solid shoulders. “The Fortunes of Lighthammer must have been with you.”

“Everybody always says that. I don’t know why.” Bronar gazed down at his half-eaten elk steak, his face still, his eyes troubled. “They always call it luck, or fortune, or the work of the gods. Like I didn’t deserve to keep living.”

Tahni looked around the place, gone still in the middle of a hot summer afternoon. The only noise was the slow, rumbling rasp of a sick merchant’s consumptive lungs, and the buzz of the flies they couldn’t ever seem to rid the tavern of. A strange pang touched her, high in the chest. She sat down next to the hulking fighter, her elbows hooked against the bar. The heat of his nearness, all the bread-oven warmth cooking off his flesh seemed to envelop her. More than that, the sense of spiritual friction, the invisible remains of whatever horrors he’d seen.

“I always wanted to do this. Just…you know. Be the one who went and did brave deeds. Someone who people would want to meet. Not just a guy who broke rocks in the limestone quarry.” The sound of his voice just barely went above a whisper as he squared the meat between fork and knife, tearing it into bites with the casual strength of the massive.

Tahni watched him, watched the rough planes of his face in the dim light, working without guile or artifice. “You did it.”

Bronar shook his head, coming out of the reverie she’d imagined was a conversation. “Did what?”

“You went and had your daring journeys. You lived, and now everyone in town knows your name. They say you have gold enough to buy the limestone quarry three times over. Whatever you wanted to prove, have you not proven it?”

He shrugged, his jaws flexing as he went at the remainder of his food like a workman. “I know I’m not what they want to believe in. I’m not the guy from the old stories. Not the handsome knight or deposed prince from afar. I can’t say poetic things. I’m not pretty to look at. They want to think that it takes something more than brawn and luck, and maybe some broken spot in your heart to do what I do. They see me, and know that some stupid mutt can be a hero. It goes down bitter as a flat, stale beer.”

“Hey, it’s…” Tahni began, but lost what she hoped to say, instead, just letting her palm rest on the big warrior’s wrist. It vibrated with energy, the heavy bone and sinew reminding her of an ox’s ankle.

Bronar pushed the plate away, clean of all but a spot of blood. He looked at Tahni’s hand, saying nothing, without movement.

“What are you thinking of?” she asked.

He shook his head. “The faces of all the dead.”

The haunted look in his eyes made Tahni clench inside. She had to turn aside.

“I was just an overgrown boy, a buffon they all laughed at, and when the blue lightning crashed around us in that haunted cathedral, it went right through me. I can still smell the burnt hair and cooked man-flesh. All those empty eyes, and I stood unhurt. I still don’t know why. It’s happened more than once. Many go, few return. I keep outliving those who deserve it more.”

Bronar suddenly pushed her. Tahni went flying across the tavern, falling and sliding half under a beer-stained table. Pain bloomed in her hip, a splinter lodging in the flesh of her palm. A dark figure with two curved daggers leaped at the big fighter, seemingly appeared from nowhere. Bronar pivoted, jamming his dinner fork deep into the assassin’s eye socket.

The dark-swaddled figure stiffened, his daggers clattering to the tavern floor. One landed point-down, sticking into the rotten boards. The blade sweat with some stinking liquid, perhaps poison. Strange spasms and gyrations afflicted the dying assassin, and it took him a long moment to be still. Bronar picked up the daggers and made a search of the room, moving better than a man of his size should.

A second assassin leaped out, but his reward was a dagger in the center of his chest, followed by a mighty kick that sent his dying husk against the wall so hard that the whole building shook.

A heavy quiet fell, only Bronar’s breathing audible. Tahni shook all over. She tried not to look at the dead men, but her eyes, like the tip of a tongue to a cracked tooth, could not stay away. She’d seen a few bodies, even watched an aged stevedore succumb to a heart ailment once, but never this.

“Come on. It’s over for now.” He offered his thick hand, pulling her from the floor and leading her into the kitchen. Her legs wouldn’t hold her, and a strange taste crawled up the back of her throat. Her face felt numb. Bronar grasped the exposed end of the splinter and pulled it free with his blunt fingers before he stepped back a pace, eyes still flicking around the narrow room.

“Is it always like that? So sudden?”

He nodded. “Most of the time. The stories of speeches and duels are mostly from the minds of the poets who weren’t there. It’s quick and ugly, and the cleaning up is the part that takes forever. Some places, seems like the dead never leave.”

He walked back into the main tavern room. The consumptive merchant shuffled out, coughing and lamenting his luck. Tahni could hear the sound of bodies being dragged out the door. She put her face on her knees and remained there, simply breathing and trying not to think of anything. Those eyes. Eyes like tailings of glass, sparkling without life. The growing shadow of blood on rough boards. She couldn’t stop seeing them.

Bronar came back after some time. “They’re gone, off to the burying ground with the priest of the town. The worst of the blood is cleaned, though I’ve ruined a few of your bar rags in the task.” He pressed a gold coin in her hand. “I don’t know what such things cost.”

“Not a gold piece, Bronar. That would buy all the rags and towels in town.”

“Well. There it is.” He shifted. The floor beneath his feet protested his bulk. “Do you want me to go?”

Tahni reached out, holding his wrist with both hands, as hard as she could. “No. No, I don’t.”


One Response to “Bronar Lives”

  1. […] For after-hours gaming at Alan’s house, he ran the original Tomb of Horrors D&D module. I’ve seldom had such a blast or laughed so hard. Shawn Carman manufactured a background for his monk that had folks blushing and howling with laughter simultaneously. We also saw the advent of the great and mighty professional henchman Bronar who in many ways stole the show. Patrick Tracy’s creation spawned an entire series of flash fiction bits you can find here. […]

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