The Savage Knight rose slowly from the ground as the energy surrounding him slowly dissipated. He straightened and removed his helmet, looking intently at the door in front of him. Recognition brought a tired smile to his face and he reached for the handle. The door opened easily and he walked through, his smile growing wider as he took in the welcoming sights and sounds of Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon.
The first face he spotted was, as usual, Mike Callahan, who returned The Savage Knight’s smile with a nod and a wink. “Greetings Traveller,” he said wiping clean the bar at an open spot. “It’s been way too long since you visited.”
“Aye, that much is very true, old friend,” said Savage, taking the proffered seat. “You have been in my heart for many moons and thus have I visited in my dreams while duty has kept me away.”
Mike nodded in understanding and placed a drink in front of Savage. “Welcome back,” he smiled and turned to his other patrons.
Savage lifted the glass and looked at the dark ember. He couldn’t remember the last time he had the opportunity to hold that magical potion of Ire in his hands. He took a small sip, savoring the flavour as the liquid spread over his tongue. With a happy sigh – a sound seemingly strange coming from his lips – he put the glass down and looked towards the fireplace.
The Savage Knight’s eyes began to gleam, whether in reflection of the warm fire crackling in the fireplace or because of a sudden rise of tears in his eyes, he would not say. There, seated at the table closest to the fireplace, was his old friend and comrade who he had not spent more than passing moments with in over 48 moons. Savage immediately made his way over, taking the seat next to the Olde One and grasping him firmly by the arms.
“Olde One!” he exclaimed, “how it does my heart good to see you again! I should have known I would find you here, right by the heart of Callahan’s good cheer, stoking the flames you so gallantly control!”
Flamebringer, the Olde One, smiled at seeing Savage again, his eyes twinkling like a mischievous elf while his ever-present grin acknowledged the play on words he was so fond of. “Savage!” he greeted, “time seems to have played a foul trick on you considering how the weight of ages seems to have spread upon your face!”
Savage sat back and toasted his friend, his laughter ever louder than the clinking of glasses.” I’m not certain you should be throwing such stones, old friend. Your glow is a little dimmer than I remember and there is certainly more white to your features.”
“You know me,” he replied. “I am not one to make much public in regards to bad tidings, especially when they come from the matter of the ages catching up to me.”
“But what of Callahan’s decree?” asked Savage. “Shared Pain is Lessened, Shared Joy Increased. It is at the heart of our beliefs.”
“Yes, it is. And for me, the focus has always been on the Shared Joy,” he replied. “And that’s exactly what this moment is for me! Joy at seeing you again!”
The Savage Knight held his tongue for a minute and frowned in thought. The Olde One continued smiling, enjoying teasing his friend. Before Savage had the chance to speak again, the doors to Callahan’s opened once more. This time, everyone within felt the energy change. Callahan’s doors open regularly and constantly, so much so that no one pays any mind. And, as is custom, those who enter aren’t barraged by questions as each visitor arrives for their own reasons and only when they are ready to share do they find themselves surrounded by friendly ears.
Mike Callahan looked at his latest patron and sadness chased his smile away. Most of his clientele couldn’t recognize him, but there were definitely some who knew the Grim Reaper. It wasn’t the first time he had set foot in the bar, nor would it be his last. After all, even the Reaper needs a place to get away sometimes. This visit was different, unfortunately. He was here for one of them.
The Savage Knight was in his direct sight and watched him enter, just as he watched the subtle changes around him. He noticed the Olde One shiver just a tiny bit and felt the heat from the fireplace dim. Death was not unknown to either of them and both were brought back to their last encounter as they met to remember a fallen comrade, the Slicer of Pix.
The Reaper passed them and sat at the bar stool closest to them. He greeted no one but just sat looking at Savage and the Olde One. Although the bar still hummed with activity, it was a lot more subdued than before. Savage glanced around, watching the reactions of other longtime friends from the Lands of Baud who were familiar with Reaper. They kept their tongues and their distance.
“This is not a normal night,” said Savage, still keeping an eye on the Reaper. “It is no wonder I found myself drawn here.”
“True, true,” replied Flamebringer. “That’s probably got more to do with me than with you,” he grinned.
“What do you mean?” asked Savage.
The Olde One moved his drink off his coaster and picked it up. He showed it to Savage and whispered, “Hello, I must be going.”
“No!” yelled Savage, standing up suddenly and brandishing his sword. Holding it towards the Reaper, he yelled again through gritted teeth, “No!”
The Reaper cocked his head to the side and looked at Savage. There was nothing for him to say. The black coaster was a universal sign.
Savage felt a hand on his sword arm and he turned to look at Mike Callahan’s sombre face. He knew. The Reaper comes for all. In time. He sat back down and stared silently at his friend, the sadness palatable and heavy.
“I would give of my own time to keep you here longer,” he said. “I am certain that all your friends would as well.” There were nods all around at this statement.
The Olde One smiled and shook his head. “As generous as that sounds, it would end up being a curse for me.” Savage looked puzzled so Flamebringer continued. “There’s so much love here that you would end up making me live forever. It would then be my curse to keep on while I outlived all of you,” he finished.
Savage sat silently, fighting back the tears that were beginning to force their way out. Around the bar, everyone was doing the same thing. Staring into their drinks or looking at the floor, they were trying to stay brave in the face of this most frightening reality.
“We’ve been down this road before, my friend,” said the Olde One. “There is no bargaining with death. It comes when it must and it is not up to us to know when that time will be. All we can do is face the final walk with dignity and pride in having lived the best life we were able to.”
“I am proud to call you my friend,” said Savage, finally losing the battle with his emotions and letting the tears fall. “I will miss you, terribly. But I will carry you in my heart until such time as we meet again and can rekindle our friendship.”
The two men stood and hugged as everyone else began to move closer to say their goodbyes. “Teh flame of our friendship will never die, oh Savage One,” smiled the Olde One.
Savage nodded and moved closer to the fireplace. He raised his glass to his friend, nodded to the Grim Reaper, and said, “To The Flying Yank, known in some lands as Flamebringer, known fondly as The Olde One! Long will his presence and history be felt! Though you move off this plane of existence, you will never vacate our hearts!”
Savage downed his drink, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and let fly his glass into the fireplace where it crashed and tinkled before disappearing in a whoosh of flame as the fire accepted his offering.
Before he could walk back to the bar, a line had already formed and toasts rang out as more glasses crashed into the fireplace. It was a night of sadness, but also full of love and remembrance. Savage, his eyes focused on the Olde One, watched as he slowly made his way towards the door with the Grim Reaper beside him. As he got to the door, he turned back towards the Savage Knight. Placing a finger on the side of his nose, his eyes twinkling, he gave Savage one last smile, and then the Olde One… disappeared.
At that exact moment, from the Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon in the land of The Crypt to The Drunken Wench in FayryLand, to The Restaurant at the End of The Universe in The Savage Land, the Olde One flickered from existence and was no more. On the walls of each of those establishments a frame appeared with the photo of their old friend and would hang in a place of honour from that moment on.
“Rest in peace, my old friend,” whispered Savage looking at the frame. “My journey has been better because we shared the road for a time…”
For Gene 9/16/2018