No one had ever called Bill Wick a handsome man, which in his mind, was just their way of being honest with him. He knew he had a tendency to frighten Ogres with his looks, but it wasn’t one of those things he lost sleep over.
He smiled at his reflection in the polished shine of his armor and had to admit, even he found himself a bit off putting. With a shrug, he resumed tending his gear, and didn’t give the matter another thought. Best not to worry over things you couldn’t fix, that was his view of life.
As he reached for the oil, the door of the room he had rented at the inn burst open, admitting his companion, the short, half mad Elven Druid, Krysthalanis Ar’Verum.
“Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! BILL!”
He waited patiently, rubbing oil into the leather straps, until she stopped to suck in air, then asked, “Yes, Kris?”
“I gotta go to the bathroom!” she declared and darted in, slamming the door behind her.
“Hmm…” Bill mused as he continued his work.
Ten minutes later, she wandered back into the room and sat on the bed, watching him absently. He glanced her way, but saw no signs of the excitement she had displayed when she had returned from shopping.
He also saw no signs of what he’d sent her to gather, which really didn’t come as a surprise. Kris’ attention span was painfully short, after all.
“What had you so riled up?” he finally asked.
“When you came back,” he said, nodding at the door. “What had you so excited?”
“I had to go pee,” she answered.
“I see,” Bill said. “And what happened to the shopping list?”
She gave him a withering glare. “I’ve got it right here. I’m not stupid, you know.”
“Of course not,” he agreed. “Just wondering why you don’t have anything on it.”
Kris looked at the list, then at Bill, then back at the list. “I got distracted.”
Bill waited a minute, but Kris just sat there smiling.
“A poster of what?”
“Oh!” she yelped. “Bill! BILL! BILL! BILL!”
“There’s a carnival in town!” she giggled. “A Gnome carnival!”
Bill stopped what he was doing and looked at her. “Let me guess. You want to go, right?”
“Please!” she cried, kicking her feet. “I’ll be extra good, and not ask for much of anything, and do my chores, and I’ll even not snore as loud, I promise!”
Bill held up a hand to still her. “Let me finish tending my armor, and we’ll go.”
“Really?” she exclaimed.
“Really,” he assured her.
Kris exploded into a fit of giggles as she rolled around on the bed, already talking about cotton candy, and other things Bill only half listened to. It wasn’t often she got this excited about something, and he figured it wouldn’t hurt to indulge her now and then.
For the next hour, she roamed the room, sighing heavily, and lounging with as much boredom as she could manage. Bill ignored her, as much as was possible, as he went through the process of maintaining his equipment.
“For crying out loud,” she bellowed at last. “I’ll be dead of old age by the time you’re done!”
Bill gave her a stern look. “What have we talked about?”
“Monkeys aren’t hats?”
“No, the other thing.”
“Patience is a virtue?”
“That’s the one.”
“I don’t wanna be virtuous,” she pouted.
“Too bad,” Bill replied.
“Are you done yet?”
“How about now?”
The carnival had been erected on the outskirts of town, a gaudy collection of brightly colored tents, booths, and the one thing Bill had most hoped wouldn’t be present, rides. At least half the town was there as well, making Bill feel a bit uncomfortable in just normal clothes. At least when he wore his armor, he felt a bit more capable of handling crowds, but without it, he was just a man, and people frightened him a little.
Kris was squealing with delight as he paid the man at the gate to get in, and he found himself wishing he had a leash for the tiny Elf as she almost ran off and left him, only darting back to ramble about whatever she had just spotted. Inevitably, it was something that made Bill uneasy.
First, it was the clowns. Bill hated clowns. Something about the grease paint on their face, the oversized smiles, and the bright clothing made him want to flee their presence. Or kill them. It was a toss up.
In this case, the clowns Kris had found were all Half-Orcs, which didn’t help matters any. Bill wasn’t a prejudiced man, but Half-Orcs gave him the willies. Possibly only because they were as big as him, but also because he felt, had it not been for a kind Fate, he would have been no different than them, and didn’t like thinking about where his life might have gone.
Next came the mimes. Bill hated mimes more than clowns. Just as painted, but quiet, and doing things that made him nervous. Pulling ropes they would never reach the end of, or trapped in invisible boxes, or climbing ladders with no end. It just wasn’t natural.
The rides were the worst, though. Steam powered monstrosities that made his stomach roll just to watch. Rides that threw people around in the air, or spun them in circles, or hurtled them along narrow tracks. Watching them in action left him with the desire to break each and every one of the infernal machines, least they kill everyone.
Then, there were the games. It was there that Kris finally stopped her frantic running, looking in awe at the various prizes each of the booths offered. Bill could tell just by looking that they were rigged, though. The bottles the rings were to be tossed on were too big for the rings to fit, all save one or two. The bows for shooting the little wooden ducks had the sights altered to miss their mark. The holes for the bean bags were too small to allow the bags to pass through, and so on through a wide variety of such things.
At each booth, as Kris drooled over some nick knack, Bill urged her on, not caring to waste their money on chicanery. Each time, she whined, but did as he asked, until they passed the strongman bell. There, even Bill had to stop and study it a bit.
He could see how the small weight had been rigged so it was heavier than it should be, and the spring that sent it up the tower was too tiny. Still, it felt like a challenge to him, so he stepped forward.
“Care to try your luck, good sir?” the Gnome tending the device inquired.
“What’s the prize if I ring the bell?” Bill asked.
“Why, none other than this finely crafted toy!” the gnome replied, producing a good sized stuffed rabbit. It had buttons for eyes, and had been dyed pink.
“Yeah, I don’t think so,” Bill laughed.
As he turned to leave, he saw Kris, hands clutched in front of her, eyes wide in reverence. He paused, looking back as the barker made the silly thing hop and dance in the air. Kris’ eyes grew even wider, and began to tear.
“Do you want it?” Bill asked.
“I need that,” Kris whispered.
Bill sighed and turned back to the barker. “How much?”
“Just three coppers, my good man!”
“Hmm…” Bill pondered, but ended up handing over the coins anyway, accepting the large wooden mallet he was handed in return.
People began to stop, sizing him up as he swung the mallet a few times, getting a feel for the balance and noting it was seriously off.
More people stopped, staring as he eyed the device before him, and gauging the distance the weight had to travel to ring the bell atop it.
A small crowd had assembled as he shifted his grip, gave Kris a wink, and drove the mallet down on the springboard, rocketing the weight up the device, till it struck the bell with such force it lodged there, emitting an off key twang.
Kris squealed in delight as the barker stared in horror and the gathered townsfolk applauded his accomplishment. Bill blushed, unaccustomed to such things, and plucked the rabbit from the Gnome.
With her new treasure in hand, Bill waved to the townspeople and hurried them away. He had never been good at dealing with compliments, and for no reason he could name, felt embarrassed for having drawn such a crowd.
One day, he knew, he’d have to learn to deal with the crippling shyness that always reared its head whenever he had to do something that wasn’t smashing things or people. Just, not today.
Or tomorrow, probably.
Kris clutched her toy rabbit to her chest with one hand, the other holding the giant gob of cotton candy Bill had bought her as they exited the main tent, having just watched a troupe of Dwarven acrobats perform death defying leaps.
“Nothing death defying about it,” Bill grumbled. “They had a net.”
“But the tiger was neat,” Kris told him.
“Yeah, I guess,” Bill agreed hesitantly. “Just wish it had been more awake.”
“You want too much sometimes,” Kris said.
“No, I don’t,” he answered a bit indignantly. “Just when you bill something as death defying, make sure it is.”
Kris stopped and smiled at him. “Not everyone is you, my love. Not everyone can defy death, laugh at it, and make it flee in fear. Not everyone can be you.”
Bill stared at her in shock, unable to think of a single thing to say, not only because of her statement, but because of the completely lucid manner in which she had said it.
“Doggies!” she squealed, darting away.
Shaking his head, he trailed after her, feeling uneasy for no reason he could name. Ahead, he saw several fire breathers, fire jugglers, and animal trainers with large dogs that were jumping through fiery hoops. He had to wonder what the obsession with fire was as Kris watched and laughed.
“Have your fortune told?”
Bill looked at the beautiful young woman standing a few feet away, in front of a tent labeled, not surprisingly, Fortune Teller. He began to beg off, but Kris was already in front of her, pelting the woman with a myriad of questions.
“Uh…” she stammered, recoiling slightly from the crazed Elf.
“Sorry,” Bill cut in. “She gets excited sometimes.”
The woman smiled uneasily as Kris spun to face Bill. “Can we? Can we? Can we? Can we? Can we? Can we? Can we? PLEASE!”
“The only fortune we have is the one we make, Kris,” Bill told her. “There’s nothing she can offer us.”
“But, she’s a gypsy,” Kris argued. “They see things!”
Bill sighed. “Fine, but don’t take it too seriously.”
“I won’t, but Bunny might,” Kris replied, waving the rabbit at Bill menacingly.
Inside, the noise of the carnival was lessened, something Bill noted with a bit of curiosity. The young woman seated herself at a table with a deck of cards to one side, and motioned for them to join her. Feeling absurd, Bill sat, Kris plopping into the chair next to him.
“Shouldn’t you be old and ugly?” the Elf asked the young woman.
Bill buried his face in his hand and waved the fortune teller on. Looking a bit off balance, she shuffled the cards and set them on the table, telling Kris to cut them.
Kris produced a large knife and almost did before Bill managed to wrest it from her with a scolding glare. The gypsy looked mildly terrified of the Elf.
Bill cut the deck and nudged it back towards her with an apologetic smile while Kris talked to her stuffed rabbit. The gypsy snatched the cards back, staring at Kris in horror.
Some days, Bill wondered who people were really more afraid of. Him, or her?
The gypsy began laying out the cards, explaining what each one meant in the vaguest way possible. Bill had seen this act before, and was hardly impressed, though Kris oohed and aahed at each revelation.
The last card however, depicted a demon, and that caught Bill’s attention, even against his practical nature. The gypsy’s hand faltered a bit as she laid it out, looking at Bill with uncertainty.
“A dark cloud is gathering on the horizon,” she told him. “Something terrible is drawing towards you, something that will forever change your life, should you survive it.”
“Right,” Bill drawled. “Thank you, but I’m a mercenary, so that describes an average day at work for me. Let’s go, Kris.”
“What? Why?” the Elf whined.
“Mr. Wick, wait,” the gypsy cried, stopping him cold. He hadn’t told her his name.
“How do you know me?”
“Be warned, Bill Wick,” she said softly, tuning her eyes to Kris. “He returns.”
“That’s enough,” Bill snarled, scattering the cards. “That’s enough games. Let’s go, Kris.”
Kris stared at him in surprise, but offered no further arguments as he lead her from the tent. Outside, in the noise, he took a minute to calm himself. It wasn’t often he lost his temper, and it usually passed quickly, but he had half a mind to go back inside and tell the young woman just what he thought of her.
“Bill?” Kris tugged his sleeve.
“I’m alright,” he assured her. “Sorry I snapped.”
“It’s okay,” she said softly. “But, where did the tent go?”
Bill looked back and found the tent, and the fortune teller, had vanished. “It’s just a trick. Pay it no mind.”
“Okay,” she smiled, hugging her rabbit.
“Troll!” someone screamed. “Escaped Troll!”
People fled for the exit in a wave, making it hard for Bill to navigate, much less hold on to Kris in the press of bodies. Still, somehow, he managed to get clear and find a city guardsman directing people out of the carnival.
“What’s happened?” Bill asked.
“The Troll they keep for one of their shows has escaped. It’s on a rampage,” the guard answered. “Best you clear the area, sir. We’re shutting down the carnival till it’s captured.”
“Got it,” Bill said. “Be careful.”
He turned back to Kris, who was already giving him a wide eyed look. “But, I wanted to ride the rides.”
“I know, and I’m sorry,” he told her. “But it isn’t safe right now. We’ll come back tomorrow.”
“Bill,” she cried. “I’m not ready! I want to have more fun.”
“Kris, please,” he implored. “We’ll come back tomorrow.”
She stomped her foot, tears in her eyes. “Billy, make it safe so I can ride the rides!”
Bill sighed heavily. Never a dull moment, he thought as he turned and looked in the direction the city guards were running. For her, he knew, there was no other answer.
Moments later, Bill spotted over a dozen guardsmen as they circled the massive beast, trying to contain it with nets. The monster, a towering behemoth, threw anything it could lay its hands on at them, snarling and roaring.
“Beat it’s ass, Bill,” Kris urged.
“Sometimes, I think you’re trying to get me killed.”
“Silly Billy,” she giggled.
He nodded and told her to stay put as he marched towards the creature. The ring of soldiers around it was the only real obstacle he knew he would have to face.
No sooner had he approached than one of them stopped him, saying, “Sir, you have to leave, it’s not safe here.”
“Let me by, and I’ll tend to this,” he answered, trying to push past the young man.
“Sir, I can’t let you do that. Now leave, and let us deal with this. We’re professionals.”
“Boy,” Bill chuckled. “I’m Bill Wick, and there’s no one more professional than me.”
“I don’t care if your the King himself,” the guard retorted. “Get back.”
“Hold there,” one of the older guards called, a grizzled man that looked to have seen many battles. “Did you just say you’re Bill Wick?”
“I did,” Bill answered.
“By the Fates, so you are,” the older man said, looking up at him in awe.
Bill cocked an eyebrow. “Have we met?”
“Not in person, though I was at the Battle of The Blood Hills. I remember well that day, and you.”
Bill blushed a bit. “Oh, that.”
“Let him pass, son,” the old man said.
“Sir, with all due respect…”
“Let the man pass.”
The younger guard stood down and Bill nodded his thanks to the older guard. Pushing through the soldiers, he found himself face to face with an angry Troll.
“Don’t hurt him!” someone yelled from the sidelines. “He’s well trained, and expensive!”
Bill looked at the Gnome in the top hat in disbelief, and was rewarded with a Troll sized fist to his face. He staggered a bit, then rubbed his chin and punched the monster back.
It staggered, shook its head, and looked at Bill in surprise. Bill smiled as the beast roared.
“You can go easy, or you go hard, but either way, you’re going back in your cage, big boy.”
The Troll gave him an evil smile and came at him.
Ten minutes later, Bill swung the cage door shut as the Troll inside nursed its bruises and whimpered. Behind him, the city guard cheered him, and he felt that old blush rising to his face.
“Well done, lad,” the old guardsman said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Classic Bill Wick.”
“Nothing doing,” Bill said as the Gnome in the top hat approached.
“You’ve saved the day, sir,” he cried, pumping Bill’s hand enthusiastically. “For that, and not harming old Tosser there too much, I am deeply in your debt.”
“It was nothing,” Bill insisted again, feeling nervous at all the praise.
“It was hardly nothing!” the Gnome exclaimed. “Never have I seen such a feat as that. Beating a Troll into submission with your bare hands? Brilliant!”
“Nah,” Kris intoned as she joined them. “That’s just Billy.”
“Regardless, I owe you a debt, my good man,” the Gnome told him. “We’re in town for the next week, and you are welcome here the entire duration, at no charge, for anything!”
Kris squealed in delight. Bill wondered if he should let the Troll back out.
Night was falling by the time Bill and Kris returned to their room at the inn. She had eaten candy apples, cotton candy, and other treats till she had made herself sick. They had ridden rides until Bill had gotten sick. Finally, she had yawned, and Bill had carried her from the bright tents, lights, and sounds of the carnival.
He lay her on the bed, smiling at the cat whiskers one of the carnival workers had painted on her face, and brushed her hair back. She yawned again and clutched her pink rabbit, already more asleep than awake.
“That was fun,” she murmured.
“It was,” he agreed.
“Can’t wait to do it again tomorrow,” she sighed.
“Yeah,” Bill agreed as his stomach rolled. “Tomorrow.”
She was sound asleep though, and he left her to it. Stepping to the window, he stared out at the dusk sky, the brilliant reds and oranges of the setting sun washing the sky with natures majestic brush.
On the horizon, clouds were gathering, and Bill felt afraid.
©-2016 Cain S. Latrani
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
No Trolls were harmed in the writing of this short story.