Grayne looked up at the hand-painted sign that hung over the door to the shop. Though he could not read the words he recognized the map of Westeros on the wooden sign and knew he had come to the place he could purchase a map.
Grayne took a moment to look at the other shops to make sure there wasn’t anything else he needed to purchase for his journey home. Standing in front of the mapmaker, his good eye scanned the businesses that were open on the quiet overcast afternoon. He had warm clothing, weapons and armor. Even a horse was stabled for him. He caught his own reflection in the mapmaker’s window. The northerner had put on weight now that he was eating regular meals, and more than a year of cross-country travel had redeveloped his muscles. He took a moment to readjust his eye patch over his right eye so it covered more of the scar. Even though he was what any but the most scrutinous observer clean-shaven, he felt his own face for stubble and was displeased to find some. His years in a stagnant windowless prison had left him with an unquenchable thirst for cool air and no tolerance for facial hair. He stopped to shave no less than three times each day.
In the window’s reflection he saw a figure exit the weaponsmith’s shop across the street. He noted the figure carried an unsheathed blade in his hands and was armored in chain mail. Grayne turned to get a better look at the fighter.
Horrible recognition crashed onto his face like waves upon the shore.
Grayne knew the man, though he couldn’t make out his face from across the street. The armored man had long blonde hair tied into a ponytail that told Grayne he was not a commissioned soldier, for no military in Westeros would allow their men to have such long hair.
The figure watched with trained interest as Grayne strode determinedly toward him. As Grayne walked, he drew his sword in a swift, almost angry motion. The blonde soldier did not move as Grayne approached. The soldier’s naked blade remained loosely held across both of his hands. Grayne stopped a few feet away, close enough for a sword swing and stood there, his sword at the ready. Several people stopped to watch, paralyzed and uncertain of what was happening or what to do.
The blonde man simply asked Grayne, “Have I wronged you in some way, ser?”
Grayne scrutinized the man for long moments, long enough for him to doubt his actions. How could this man be the man I think he is? It is insanity! I am three-hundred leagues and a year from where and when I encountered him. I never saw him clearly, yet I know it is him!
A single voice shouted for the guards, yet Grayne and the man never took their eyes off one another. Finally Grayne spoke. “You took my eye.”
The man smiled sheepishly and said, “How do you know it was me?”
“I know not. But by the Gods old and new, I know it is you.” And with those words, Grayne attacked!
With both hands on the hilt of his greatsword, Grayne brought the blade down in a downward strike, fully intent on cutting the warrior in half from crown to crotch. However, the pony-tailed warrior had other ideas and sidestepped Grayne’s blade easily and tapped the greatsword with his own blade to create a perfect ping of metal on metal.
A woman shrieked.
Grayne stood before his opponent with his larger sword before him in both hands. The other man simply held his blade in one hand with his body facing sideways. The men began clanging their blades together as Grayne sought to cleave his enemy in two, while the other man kept Grayne’s larger blade at bay, while seeking an opening himself. The two circled one another while the sounds of their grunts and the clanging of their blades rung through the city streets. The melee lasted for a minute with neither landing any serious strikes, when a pair of city guards approached with swords drawn. “Halt!” they commanded.
The blonde fighter deflected another of Grayne’s furious attacks and said, “Lest ye wish to spend the night in the city jail, we’d better change our tactics.” Grayne backed away but did not take his eye off his opponent, his two-handed sword at the ready.
The guards approached the combatants cautiously, “Throw down your blades!”
“Men, men”, said the blonde warrior thrusting his sword point in the ground so that the blade stood straight up harmlessly. He held his hands out palms first in surrender. “My friend Grayne and I were just testing the balance of my Valarian steel blade I just had re-hilted.”
Grayne looked quickly at the man and back to the guards. “Yes, sers. My friend…”
“…my friend Talbit, and I were just practicing.”
“You!” a guard shouted at the man with the Valarian steel sword. “Kick your blade over to me.”
Grayne saw several more reinforcements running down the road to assist the two guards. He said to the blonde man, “Our situation worsens. We cannot let them take us. You will never see your Valarian sword again.”
The man nodded and said, “And I suspect you have had enough of prison cells. “
Grayne laughed for the first time in a very long time as the five city guards encircled them. “More than enough.”
The clang of steel and the sounds of combat lasted less than a minute.
“Who are you?” Grayne asked seemingly to his empty ale.
“Talbit,” said the blonde warrior, patting Grayne on the back. “Innkeep, two more ales!” he said with a shout.
The bartender came quickly and refilled both of their mugs. “Sers, you have had twenty-two ales between you. I must insist on settling your tab before I can let you continue drinking.”
Talbit flipped a gold lion to the man and said, “Keep them coming every ten minutes until one of us passes out.”
The innkeeper greedily snatched up the coin and said his “yes sers”, and became obsequious again.
“It is you, isn’t it? The knight on horseback.”
“Eye?” said Grayne standing up. “Is that some kind of joke?” he said, pointing at his eyepatch with feigned anger. His legs became tangled in the stool and he fell over to uproarious laughter from Talbit and the other tavern patrons. Talbit leaned over and with a mighty pull, yanked Grayne unceremoniously to his feet.
“Let’s get some air,” suggested Talbit as he firmly pushed Grayne toward the door.
The two stumbled from the stuffy, smoke-filled bar and into the cool night air. Grayne lifted his face to the sky and relished the cold air on his face. The two men clumsily walked with arms around each other, each trying to remember the words to a Marbrand drinking ballad.’♫…in flaming fields, we praise ye ♫” they ended the song in separate keys, neither of them correct.
“Grayne, I want you to have this,” said Talbit.
Grayne didn’t turn his head to look at his new friend and teased him saying, “I told you, Talbit. I’m not drunk enough to look at your tiny shillelagh. Save it for the tavern wenches.”
“No, you drunk idiot. My sword. I want you to have my sword. For my remorse. For your eye.”
Grayne stopped and slowly turned. Talbit held the naked blade before him as an offering. Grayne put his hands on the smooth, almost blue steel of the Valarian steel broadsword. The metal came from a continent far away and only the richest men carried a weapon of the finest steel. Many lords and knights would sooner lose a son than a Valarian steel blade.
“’Tis the finest weapon I have ever seen.”
“Take it. I want you to have it.”
“I am not worthy. I am not the swordsman you are. I am a three-legged horse compared to you.”
“I can teach you. You have what no other man I have ever seen has. You are the toughest man I have ever met! Or even heard about. Even the mighty Bjorn the Indomitable of the Age of Heroes would have been lucky to carry your codpiece. When that soldier hit you over the head with the flat of his blade and his sword broke! I thought he was going to shit himself!”
Grayne chuckled and smiled at the memory of the fight they had been in hours before. He turned away from Talbit and the blade. “I haven’t the time for lessons, Talbit. Nor can I take on the responsibility of such a weapon. After what I have endured, I simply don’t have it in me to care for such a fine weapon.”
“What is it, Grayne? Where do you have to be?” Talbit asked with sincere concern in his voice.
He turned back to face his new warrior companion. Grayne opened his good eye wide, smiled, and said, “I am trying to get back to Summer.”