I didn’t really know what to title this that wouldn’t spoil it.
So this started as a D and D backstory for a bit of an atypical barbarian and ended up being a full fledged short story with illustrations.
“From this day forward you are to shadow Lord Gabriel, Varian.”
The boy nodded. He didn’t mind, his family had served his for more generations then he could count. Gabriel was decent and kind. Varian had always known he was destined to be the boy’s steward when they were older.
The muscular dwarf held out his hand to shake. He avoided his hand but the man forced him to take it.
“When ya make a deal ya always shake on it boy! How can I know yer trustworthy.”
He pulled away as fast as possible.
“Should throw some coppers in for gloves. Yer hands are cold boy!”
Varian sat so close to Gabriel as the boy held the book and explained it’s contents. His lesson for the day. Varian did his best to keep up but Gabriel wasn’t the best teacher.
“You should just come to class with me Varian.” The taller boy said.
“Well, if you order it sir?” Varian wasn’t really sure what to say.
“Well of cause! We are going to be just like our fathers and be best friends along with lord and steward. So, you need to know all about history and- things!”
The way Gabriel smiled at him made Varian just nod along.
“Hey sorry to interrupt-“
“Collin- But my friend pointed at you and said you’d be able to help me with something-“
“It’ll cost you”
It wasn’t until the princess came to visit that Varian admitted it to himself. He loved Gabriel.
The fact that his lord’s sisters would flirt with him and he’d feel nothing, he’d been able to deny. But the raw jealousy he felt after Gabriel found his way back to his friend talking dreamily about the girl… He knew he couldn’t pretend anymore.
“Just… Be careful My Lord.” Varian said. “Her brother doesn’t take kindly to suitors.”
Granted the king didn’t take kindly to anything. Varian really wished Gabriel would choose a girl who’s only family wasn’t known to execute those who looked at him funny.
Gabriel turned to him.
“I know, I know. You’ll help me won’t you Varian?”
He had that smile on. The one Varian would do anything for.
Who was he kidding. He’d just plainly do anything for Gabriel.
“Adrian.” The boy said.
“How old are you?”
“Legal.” The handsome man laughed and brought him a drink. A couple more and he was paying for the boy’s dinner. Some good conversation and the boy didn’t have to pay for his room.
Truth be told the man was likely younger then he was.
“He’s a mad man.”
“Gabriel keep your voice down!” Varian did his best to hush his lord as he pulled him into the small chamber. They would be alone and the thick walls would mean no one could hear them.
The moment they entered Gabriel pulled away.
“He’d think a new born babe was a spy Varian!”
“Yes, he would. So, don’t give him cause to notice you!” Gabriel huffed and crossed his arms. He was looking past Varian at nothing.
“We can’t let him…” Finally the man’s eyes snapped back to his servant and friend. “Varian, you are like a brother to me, you know that right?”
He knew that very well. But Varian simply nodded.
“I am not going to order you to do anything.” Gabriel put his hand on the smaller boy’s shoulder. “But I am going to ask you-“
“You know I’d do anything for you.” That smile.
“Thank you Varian… I need you- to reveal my planned rebellion to directly to the king.”
“So, who are you again?”
“Quin Borrows. I grew up down south in a small farming village. Not much more to say.” The farmer looked back at him.
“I’ll be frank here kid. You don’t look like you could lift a stick.”
The boy smiled and instead of picking up the nearby hay bails he picked up the beefy farmer.
“I’m stronger then I look.”
Varian fiddled with his new clothes. He was a royal servant now.
Gabriel had gotten away as planned. Off to work with the real rebellion.
Their (Gabriel’s) plans had casualties though. Varian’s father lay in the pit with all the other bodies. Hung, drawn and quartered. The noble house they once served in tatters. Varian couldn’t even keep anything to remember him by. He had to leave everything behind or risk the mad king thinking he was a traitor.
He was though wasn’t he?
That didn’t matter. He just had to hold on to his duty, his father would have always wanted him to serve Gabriel without question.
And he was.
Varian tried to push his hair down.
He had a job to do. Be Gabriel’s spy and that meant doing anything to get as close to the king.
He left the farm like he always did. Before they could notice he was always cold and his story didn’t quite make sense.
It was never a good feeling to leave a safe bed or good money behind for the unknown. But he couldn’t stay.
This wasn’t the right place.
Torture, interrogation. Varian wasn’t sure there was any difference anymore.
The Butcher they called him and he couldn’t ague with it. How many innocent people had he killed… in such horrible ways?
How many lies had he fed the king. All to keep his place. What did truth matter anymore?
At least the rebellion grew stronger. Gabriel was at the head of it now and the princess had run to him.
All the while Varian wasn’t sure he could wash all the blood away.
Who would he be after all of this? When the king was dead… He asked himself the question but he knew the answer.
When all of this was done he would be the Butcher. Maybe in time he might be remembered as something else. But while his victims (a few at least…) and their family lived. He would be a monster.
The boy watched them from the shadows. Purple eyes aglow.
Even with his short stature and boyish looks the group backed away and left him to his drink.
He had received his orders. The rebellion would strike soon but it wasn’t soon enough. People would still suffer… He’d still be forced to make them suffer.
The king was also planning something. Varian knew Gabriel couldn’t move the timeline up. But…
He stopped and looked at himself in the polished metal that embellished the walls. He still looked like such a child. But his purple eyes were duller and his face thinner, paler.
The Butcher, a monster… He had already thrown his life away. Why not end it on his own terms?
Tonight the king would meet with his council. Varian was the only one trusted with such things as the wine.
Well no time like the present, he was ready as he’ll ever be.
“How?” One of his recent traveling companions cried out. In front of her were three turned over cups.
The boy held the silver coin in his hand. He flipped it back to the woman.
“It wasn’t hard. Just a little misdirection.”
They were all coughing and spluttering.
He felt nothing much. Not like he had with the people they had ordered him to torture.
He walked to the head of the table and stood before the king.
“Vil-l-villian! T-Trai-tor!” Varian shrugged.
“Maybe… I was never your creature your majesty.” The words were twisted and said almost sweetly. “At least this way I know justice has been done… with less sacrifice.”
Only a little less. Their faces will never leave him.
As the mad king died Varian expected something. Anything. But nothing. He was left in a room full of corpses and all he could think was how easy he had done it.
Such a long wait and so much blood. But now it was done.
All that was left was his fate.
“You know Brain… How long have the group of us traveled together?”
“Long enough?” The boy said. He turned and walked backwards looking at the lot of them. “So?”
“Feels like we still don’t know a thing about you.”
Because they didn’t.
Finally he heard the sound of steps. Soft steps and the subtle sound of finery. Someone important was coming to see him.
“Varian.” He turned to look up at the man. It had been so long since he had seen him. There Gabriel stood. He was clean, dressed neatly.
Varian though. He was a mess.
“It was you order that stopped them from actually causing me damage wasn’t it?” There was the soft clang of metal as he moved. The cold of the stone walls and floor of the dungeon soaked into him. “Did you come for a thank you?”
Gabriel looked at him as if he was a stranger and not someone he had known for most of his life.
“What happened to you?”
A strange smile crossed Varian’s lips and a almost manic look came to his eyes.
“Your plan made me the villain. That’s fine, it never mattered to me. I would sink as low-“
“-I would sink as low as I had too for you. I told you I would do anything for you. But I couldn’t stand it any longer. I was done hurting people not when everything was in place and all I was doing was waiting. I am the Butcher Gabriel. A monster. So, I thought fine. I will be it and end everything on my terms.”
Gabriel ran his hand through his hair and just stared at him with pity.
Varian hated to be looked at with pity. He didn’t expect the man to be happy, didn’t expect him to be proud. But of all things pity…
“I had a plan Varian. If you had left things be I could have sav-“
“We both know that isn’t true. You are the heroic rebellion leader who will wed the princess and bring our land back to prosperity. I was always the monster. The Butcher went mad and killed the king right? That’s what they are saying?” Gabriel didn’t speak. “No matter what plan you had Gabriel. I would be in this cell. Because your people want a villain and they want said villain’s death.”
“The best I could hope for was in time -when the anger had died down- they would see my contributions. But I would be long dead.” He looked the man in the eye. “Just be happy. If nothing else I did my father proud. My hands are stained but yours are clean.”
Gabriel stepped away, Varian wasn’t sure if he saw fear, anger, pity or sorrow in his eyes. Maybe a it was them all?
“You will be executed in the mor-morning.” He had turned his back to the boy in the cell. “Hung, drawn and quartered.”
A traitor’s death.
“Like my father.”
“Just as deserved.”
He sat by the dying fire alone. The others asleep.
Under the stars he felt it. Things still didn’t fit.
“Still not the right place.”
As they pulled him down from the noose the people cheered. As they sliced him open and his guts spilled out it only grew louder.
Not a single friendly face was watching. Gabriel was nowhere to be found as Varian lost his sight. All he could hear was the cheers. As they took the blade to his limbs-
“May you find rest. In death, find a place worthy of you Varian and the peace you deserve.”
As his eyes opened Varian understood it as Gabriel’s voice. He felt cold, a chill in his bones that he couldn’t lose.
He was atop something… soft and fowl smelling. He pulled himself up ever so slightly and saw it was night. In the moonlight he could see that he was within a pit.
On a bed of dismembered corpses. The bodies of the king’s loyalists.
Indescribable emotion grabbed hold of him and before he knew it he was no longer himself. He was a golem made of shadow and purple lightening. Black smoke spilling from his chest.
In this form he was able to climb out of the pit and he ran.
He only stopped when the sun had risen, and he finally realised he was himself again. He turned back to the castle and looked at it. Gabriel’s prayer came to mind.
It was like one last order… And Varian admitted he was too cowardly to return and see what fate awaited him. He had this strange second chance. He might as well make use of it.
“Keyo!” The boy gave the name without thought.
Would this be the right place?