"I'm not the champion our people need," the young fighter said while pouring another cup. He struggled to stay seated.
"Why are you like this?" She smacked his cheek. "Why won't you fight?"
"I have my reasons." He filled the empty cup again, draining the last droplets of wine from the clay pitcher.
With tears in her eyes she said
"What about your son? Will you not fight for him, for our family?"
"He's not like me, I can feel it. He takes after you." His voice lacked all emotions, his gray-blue eyes stared into the wine filled cup. "You should get the fuck out, take him with you…"
"And go where?! Where would we go?" On her knees she sobbed.
"Find a cave. Pray you get buried in there. Go deep down, till you reach the devil himself. Maybe there you'll both be safe."
The woman rose and ran to the crib. She held the baby tightly, her tears soaking the linen wrap.
Leaning on walls and fences he stumbled out of their home and rested under an apple tree. The orchid was bathed in a sweet flowery miasma. The night's breeze cooled his stinging cheek. No armor dawned his shoulders, no sword hung by his side. Fighting back the dizziness he pinched a nasty crimson scar.
"I bet that must have hurt…"
The warrior closed his eyes.
"Remember the soldier who cut you? The tall, dark-skinned fighter?"
He cupped his face.
"He stabbed you in the back while you were slaughtering left and right. I specifically remember the horror on his face when you gutted him."
He covered his ears.
"Pulling his intestines out like that, oh my; he didn't go right away, he held in there."
"He struggled to die. His eyes begged for release," the young man said without lifting his gaze.
"And death came for him, as it did for the rest of their army."
"We conquered the city. Never before had such a fortress fallen." He struggled to his feet, leaning against the trunk.
"You brought glory to the empire. People praised your name. The best commander the king had ever seen. How your men fought when you stood in the front line…"
"How they died," he whispered, "you mean how they died, all of them. All I knew died in battle. None lasted more than a year."
"Friendship, the greatest of all riches, oh noble Champion," it said mockingly. "They were weak to begin with. Not like you, skilled and strong."
"Why won't you let me die?" The warrior stared into cloudy, milky-white eyes. It roared its amuzament.
"Death will not come for you, warrior. All must come to pass, as it is written."
"Two days from now I will be dead on that beach. When the ships come I will be waiting. I'm done fighting. May death embrace me."
It clapped its hands circling the fighter. "Such raw emotion, I love it!" It sat on the trunk, legs crossed. "In two days time, another victory will hang beneath your belt. Your forces will decimate the invaders, many men will die on both sides. Once again your light will shine and lead people to their deaths."
His hands grasped a near-by branch just as he was about to topple.
"You used me for your sick pleasures for the last time. I banish you, devil! Leave me be!"
It paused, silently starting down the fighter. Rolling in grass on its back, kicking the air it said with teary eyes:
Oh my, such amusing creatures you humans are. I like you, Donovan… You're much funnier than your father. He was a greedy fucker, that one: lusting after women and riches. "
It rose, an expression of utter hatred on its deformed face.
"It was your father, your loving father, who sold you to me. The great hero, the terrible fearsome, ruthless warrior who led the empire's armies for decades. Millions died under his command, all while he enjoined the finest luxuries. That is how this works, Champion… The sins of the father shall be visited upon the son. He begged me, in his most agonizing hours, to let death take him. The pain he suffered was nothing like any pain man has ever known. He felt one's soul punishment upon his flesh…"
Donovan breathed heavily.
"That is when I offered him a deal: his male bloodline for four generations, and his flesh may be at ease. He took it, oh how happily he took the deal. Now here we stand, you the Champion like your father before you... "
"No, you can't have him!"
"And your son, the future Champion of the empire. And his son after that, and so forth…"
"You lie! I'll never let you have him. He'll never give up his own children." Donovan spat his threats but crumbled to the ground the instant he was hit.
"You have lost all say in this long ago, warrior. You rode on wings of glory with my aid: my hand covered yours in battle, giving you the strength of angels; my feet stepped on yours so you could move like a wild cat; my chest pressed against your own so my hatred could feed the fire with which you fought. I know you inside-out, butcher. I've seen your sickness, your rotten heart. You, Donovan, enjoy killing. It's what you are… "
The shamed warrior struggled to remain conscious. He feebly grabbed thin air, trying to stand. A deep sleep came over him. When he awoke he stood in front of his villa. Sounds of sorrow came from the house, no light shone in the windows. Slowly opening the door he saw his wife crying, holding their son. Donovan embraced them, promising his wife he'll fight when the day comes. He took the child in his arms, kissed his fingers. He looked peaceful, sleeping, breathing ever so softly.
"As long as I live you will not pick up a sword. You will set things right, for I have been a fool. It ends with you, my son."