An old man sits in a darkened room. His frame is still powerful, broad shouldered, but starting to run to fat. Once thick black hair has started to thin, to recede from a face heavy with jowls, thick, furrowed brows shadow dark eyes, narrowed with age. He is cloaked in peasant garb, a simple tunic over homespun trousers, boots marked and scuffed with wear. Maybe his clothing had colour once, but now it is faded, brown and dirty. He raises the bottle full of strong drink to his lips, reflexively, no longer even aware that it exists. His unfocused eyes are filled with memories of who he used to be, what he used to be.
Once upon a time he was a swordsman, the best the land had seen. His speed, his accuracy beyond measure. Accolades flowed with each battle he won, each foe he cut down. He came to believe them, believe that he deserved it all, that he had a god-given destiny. Funny how it all fled, in an instant. Not in battle, not a grand spectacle. No, drunk in an alleyway he fell down and landed the wrong way. The pain didn’t hit right away, possibly partially because of the drink. Instead there was a popping sound, audible to him and to the girl he was taking home for the night. His leg wouldn’t hold his weight when he stood back up, his normal sure footed stride suddenly impossible. He leaned on the girl, used her to help him hobble back to his quarters. The knee never fully healed, it threw off his balance, made a mockery of that beautiful timing.
His time in service to the king left him with enough gold to live a meager life, to buy a small house on the outskirts of town. He would never be a soldier again.
Now, a knock on the door. “What do you want?”
“Tomas, the king wants to talk to you.”
“I don’t know, just come to the palace.”
“Your king commands it.”
“Too far. My leg hurts.”
“We have a wagon, you can ride in comfort.”
“Hell. Okay. Come in.”
The old man stands, grabs his walking stick from where it sits, next to his chair.
“He said to tell you to bring your sword.”
Tomas turned, looks at the hated thing above his mantle, dust thick on the scabbard. It is a serpent, waiting to sink fangs into him, it is poison, it is his greatest love. He walks to it, limping heavily. His left hand occupied by the cane, he closes his right around the hilt, still contoured to his palm after all these years. He closes his eyes, the drink leaving him dizzy, uncertain. A long, rasping indrawn breath. He lifts the blade from where it sits.