A Harvest of Broken Stars

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Chapter 36: Win-win?

‘Good, you are here,’ Gilmir said, turning from the window where he had been watching the street. ‘Things are moving along, we have …’ He trailed off when he saw Hobble. The halfling closed the door behind him and took a seat. ‘What happened?’

‘A lot of things. Where to start?’ Hobble said, seemingly to himself.

‘At the beginning, I would suggest,’ Gilmir took it upon himself to answer.

Hobble seemed annoyed for a silent moment before he cleared his throat. ‘Okay, so I went to Bits, planning to lose a few matches as you suggested. I was drawn against a boy called Tommy. Perfect. He is a decent sort. No problem losing against him in any regard. But then the strange started. You know, like when women with beards and men tall as trolls come to town?’

‘Is that an analogy?’

‘Yes, of course. Did you think that was my story? A woman with a beard?’

‘I hate analogies.’

‘Why?’

‘Because they are useless. You misdirect and lose important information in the process of making an analogy. In this case, you had my thoughts going in the direction of a travelling circus. Tall men and bearded women. Wasting time and effort on things that have no relevance. Please tell me what happened and skip the stupid analogies.’

Hobble stared at him.

‘You were supposed to fight Tommy but then …’ Gilmir said, compelling Hobble to go on by drawing circles in the air with his hand.

Hobble shook his head. ‘In the next moment, Tommy was gone, and Faster was discussing with some fellow called Victor. He then announced that this Victor had agreed to step in for Tommy. He was tall—looked the part of a real fighter. Next thing I knew, I was in the ring with him.’

‘Have you ever seen this Victor before?’

‘Never.’

‘And then?’

‘It became immediately clear that this Victor wasn’t pissing around. He wanted a real fight. And I had to do all I could to keep living.’

‘You are killing the suspense by being here—quite in one whole little piece!’

Hobble gave him a look before he continued. ‘I found myself parrying blow after blow just to survive. And then, suddenly, I was too late. He had me beat. As a last resort, and without any hope, I countered with a blow of my own. I knew I was too late, but the weirdest thing happened. My blow connected first. Hard. Victor went down with a broken head. Everything went still. At last, it dawned on me that I had broken the rules, and I took off. All the others woke at the same moment, and some guys came after me. I ran.’

‘Did you escape?’ Gilmir asked, in mock horror before a grin spread over his angular face.

‘You are in an annoying mood today. I liked you better when you were barely living. Remember? When I rescued you? Again and again? Smiling doesn’t suit you.’ Hobble rubbed his broken nose.

‘I’m sorry! I’ll do better,’ Gilmir said, trying to stop grinning. ‘Where did you go?’

‘I’ll come to that. The strange isn’t over. I ran down a side street. Hoping the shadows would conceal me. Suddenly a globe of darkness fell over me. But the strangest thing was that nothing more happened. I crept out on the other side and ran off. Whoever is casting that darkness over me, didn’t get anything out of it.’

‘I’m not so sure about that.’

‘How so?’

‘Let’s take a step back. When—’

‘An analogy?’ Hobble broke him off.

‘No, a metaphor. It’s not the same. And don’t interrupt me. I had a question for you. When you cracked in Victor’s head—did something else happen at the same time?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Did you see something, feel something, hear something?’

Hobble went silent a moment before his eyes widened. ‘How did you know?’

This time it was Gilmir giving Hobble a look.

‘There was something. I heard this sound. Like when the wind comes down the chimney,’ Hobble said, imitating the rush of wind with his hands. ’Whoosh.

‘You magician!’ Gilmir replied.

‘What do you mean?’

‘You wished for your staff to hit Victor faster than possible. It did. You wished for the shadows to conceal you and it went completely dark. I reckon there is quite a bit of magic in that tiny body of yours.’

‘But I didn’t do anything. I don’t know any spells or incantations. I didn’t mutter or wave my hands!’

‘Do you know anything about magic you haven’t read in children’s books?’

Hobble did not answer. Gilmir continued.

‘That’s mostly how magic happens. Manipulating energies with your mind, if you possess the ability for it. Wind magic or light magic, you can manipulate wind and shadows. You have the makings of a moon mage in you.’

‘But I haven’t done anything like that before!’

‘Are you sure? Maybe not that potent, but something smaller, more subtle? Hiding in shadows that were barely there? In some time of dire need perhaps? That stone of yours would aid you, making your magic more potent. Making a globe of darkness when you wanted shadows. Cracking a man’s head in when you sought a fast jab.’

Hobble went pale. And silent. Gilmir let him take his time.

‘So what you are saying … I know magic? I have used it before?’

‘So it would seem.’

‘And I can do it again. Even without the shard?’

‘You probably can. Perhaps better than before. Because the stone helped you sense it more clearly. You know better how to manipulate it now, I would think.’

Hobble smiled, but his expression revealed that there was more to this story. Gilmir gave him a pause before he continued. ‘So, what happened next?’

‘I ran,’ Hobble said, his eyes focusing again, ‘If they caught me, they would surely lock me up in the dungeons until Saturday. And then some starved beast would tear me to pieces in the stadium for the pleasure of the crowd. So, I had to find another solution.’

‘Not getting caught?’

‘I could run from the city, but I have nowhere to go. No, I met someone. Someone who could help me.’

‘Who?’

‘A lanista.’

‘How did that help you?’

‘I don’t have to spend the next days and nights in the awful dungeon. And it may get me out of the “feed-the-beast fights”, and into something I could actually survive.’

‘And the rose’s thorn?’ Gilmir kept asking.

’I am his gladiator. Until I have earned my freedom.’

‘And how easy would you say it is to earn that, on a scale from “bloody hard” to “dating an ogre half-god”?’

‘Let’s just say owing that crazy dwarf doesn’t compare to this.’

‘Good.’

‘Good? Why in the name of all fallen gods do you deem this a good thing?’

‘I reckon that before we see the end of this, I’ve had the chance to save you a sufficient number times to call it even,’ Gilmir said, smiling.

Hobble stared back at him, apparently unable to see the humour in the situation. Gilmir decided to help him. ‘Or, and this is a distinct possibility I am sure, you will be dead, and I will be free of all obligations. It is a win-win situation for me. No, sorry, that was a bit discourteous of me. Truth be told, it is more of a “win-break-even” situation. And that’s better than I have been used to the last few months!’

‘Balls, I miss the time when you were too sick to speak. I hope this mood of yours gets gutted and fed to the rats!’

Gilmir grinned, and felt more alive than he had for ages.

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