As the games let out, there was a crush of people at all of the exits, all trying to leave. Hugh looked down at the exit and saw someone pushing to get in.
“Excuse me, I’ll be right back,” said Hugh.
“No rush,” said Walker, “I have to leave last, as per tradition.”
Hugh managed to find his way to the exit he saw from above, and he even found the man pushing through everyone. As Hugh made his way through the crowd, people recognized him and cheered his name. Many reached out to touch him, while many more just stared as he waded through everyone. He finally reached the man trying to get in, and he recognized him. It was the man who was begging at the statue.
Hugh positioned himself in front of the beggar and cleared a path for him. When they had made it through to where it wasn’t so tightly packed, the Hugh turned to the beggar.
“Did you forget something inside?” Hugh asked.
“To be honest,” said the beggar, “I don’t want to be inside.”
Hugh looked at his quizzically. “The games are already over, you’re too late, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry,” said the beggar. “I’m actually right on time.” He smiled and joined those exiting. Hugh stood there a bit longer, then went to rejoin the twins and the Chancellor.
When he got there, everyone was discussing the fights, sometimes mentioning his match and looking over at him expectantly. He just sat quietly, trying not to make eye contact with anyone. As the last people were leaving, everyone in the Chancellor’s box began to exit, as well.
The dinner was extravagant, with two long tables set with meats, fruits, cheeses, nuts, and heaping piles of rice. The dwarf went straight for the ham, while the giant loaded up on fruits and nuts before adding a thin strip from a leg of lamb. Hugh just wandered about, and sat down next to the twins without take anything.
“Did you see the plates?” the dwarf asked Hugh.
“Yeah, I’m not hungry.”
“You can eat off my plate, if you want anything,” the giant said.
Hugh nodded and just sort of stared at nothing in particular. Thoughts flashed through his mind… horns being blown, men screaming, flashes of fear in their faces, the taste of sweat and splattered blood on his lips, the desperation in their voice as they said, “No, please,” the surprise in their eyes as he dispatched them…
Everything around Hugh seemed to go on in fast motion. The smell of the food disgusted him. All of the people around him laughed, shouted, chewed with their mouths open, then laughed some more. They almost looked like pigs at a trough.
Hugh stood up, perhaps too abruptly. A few people turned to look at him, though most just glanced over and continued what they were doing.
“You okay?” asked the dwarf, looking up at him.
“I need some fresh air,” said Hugh. “I’m going to step outside for a bit.”
“Do you want some company?” asked the giant.
“It’s okay, I’m fine. I just… I need to think, and…”
“I understand,” said the giant, grabbing his hand. “You know where to find us when you’re ready.”
Hugh smiled at her and squeezed her hand in his before letting go.
“Here,” said the dwarf, handing him some bread and ham, “Just in case your appetite returns while you’re out.”
Outside, Hugh couldn’t just stand around, so he began pacing, which seemed odd to him, so he took a stroll. He decided he would just go down one of the roads, then when he felt better he could just turn around and head back, which should keep him from getting lost.
As he walked through the streets, he saw a man with no legs holding out a bowl, begging. Hugh leaned down and put the bread and ham into it. “Thank you!” the man said. “That looks delicious.”
“I’m glad you’ll enjoy it,” said Hugh.
Further down the road, Hugh saw an old man hobbling through the streets, making slow progress. Hugh came up to him and asked, “Want me to carry you somewhere? It wouldn’t be an inconvenience at all.”
The man looked him up and down. “Well, I suppose. My hip is in great pain, so be careful.”
Hugh gently swept him up in his arms and carried him where he directed. It was just over a block away, and when he knocked on the door, a young woman opened it. Hugh slowly set the man down and waved goodbye. The old man thanked Hugh and went inside with his wide-eyed daughter.
Further down the road, he saw someone lying on the side of the street. He knelt down and shook him. Hugh felt his skin, and it was cold. He slowly roll his body over to reveal a strained, gape mouthed expression. The man was dead. Hugh looked in either direction down the street and saw no one. He looked at the body again, a man he had never known, and he wept. He hugged it close to him and cried, rocking forward and back, kneeling in the street at night.
Hugh picked the body up and ran. He didn’t know where he was going, he just had to take the body somewhere, anywhere but the street, alone and neglected. Before long, he was at a fountain that looked familiar. He stopped, set the body down, and splashed water on his face.
“Couldn’t get enough killing done in the ring, huh?”
Hugh turned around and saw… no one. He scanned all around him, though he was sure he had heard the voice behind him. All he saw was a tree.
“Tell me, are you born a killer, or do you have to learn how to do it?”
Hugh squinted into the night. It was almost as if the tree was talking to him.
“Come on, I know you can talk. You talked just fine earlier.” Out from behind the tree walked a man who slowly approached him.
“It’s you,” said Hugh, recognizing him as the one who begged from a statue and who earlier wanted to enter the arena as it was letting out, only to leave again.
“Yes, I’ve always been me, or at least I have been for as long as I can remember. But seriously, I want to know, how does one become a killer?”
Hugh looked down at the body. “I didn’t kill this man, he was dead in the street when I found him.”
“So why are you running with his body through the night?”
Hugh took a deep breath. “I was just at a party, and I saw a hungry man, so I fed him. Then, I saw an old crippled man, so I carried him home. But then… I found this man dead in the road, and… I couldn’t stand to think of him just rotting in the gutter.” Hugh began crying again.
“Hold it together, man. I hear you killed twenty men today, and here you are crying over…” he looked down closely at the body, “Ha, over a petty thief and consummate rascal. This bastard has groped just about every respectable lady who ever set foot in the market place. Even if you did kill him, they might give you a damn medal.”
The man walked up next to Hugh and put his arm around him. “Come on, let’s go sit down under the tree, I’m sure you’ll feel better soon.”
“I’m Hugh, by the way.”
The man stuck his hand out to shake, which Hugh reciprocated. “I’m Theoson, the wisest man in the world.” Theoson smiled. “You look skeptical.”
“I just… I only know you from doing two things, and I thought you were insane.”
“I am the only vessel of sanity on this great sea of madness, my boy. Come, let’s sit down and chat.”
They both sat down in a grassy patch under the tree.
“Why did you do those things?” asked Hugh.
“Oh, I have my reasons,” said Theoson.
“I want to know them,” Hugh said.
“I’m a teacher,” said Theoson, “And I only teach those who have given up everything.”
“I have nothing,” said Hugh.
Theoson’s eyes opened wide. “Really?”
“I have the clothes on my back, and another, dirty set in my room. I suppose I could give up some swords or spears that I’ve been working on, though they may not be mine to give.”
“Ah,” said Theoson, “So you have a room?”
“Well, I don’t own it,” Hugh said. “It’s being let to me for… I guess for my services.”
“As a killer?”
Hugh looked down. “I suppose so.”
Theoson stuck out his staff and lifted Hugh’s chin with it.
“Since you have basically nothing, I will teach you the basics. Your first lesson is: go over to that statue and beg for food and money until you have learned.”
Hugh just stared at him.
“What are you waiting for, a horn to blow? Get your ass up and get over there!”
Hugh got up, almost startled, and walked up to the fountain. He tried not to look at the dead man lying nearby. He stepped into the water and approached the statue. He looked back at Theoson.
“Don’t look at me, I don’t have anything to give you. Ask the statue.”
Hugh coughed a little, put his hands out, and asked, “May I have some food?”
Nothing happened. Hugh looked back again.
“Don’t tell me you gave up already!” Theoson said.
Hugh asked again, and again, and again. He begged for something to eat, for some money, for bread, for coin, for meat…
“Meat?” Theoson called out. “You think beggars eat meat? What kind of fool are you?”
Hugh tried to ignore Theoson’s criticisms. He asked some more, with varying levels of enthusiasm, for quite a while. Finally, Hugh sighed and said, “This is pointless.”
“I begged that statue for food and money for days on end. Do you know what I learned?” asked Theoson.
“That you’re insane?”
“No, Hugh, I assure you, I’m quite sane. I just possess a nearly incomprehensible kind of sanity.” Theoson walked over to Hugh and stepped into the fountain with him. “This statue will teach you a lesson you will never forget. Now, keep asking until the sun comes up. I’m going to get some sleep.”
Theoson went over to the tree and lay down against some roots. “I better hear you begging when I wake up, or so help me I will crack you upside the head with my staff. And may the Divas save you if I find out you fell asleep.”
Hugh stood there, his feet and shins cold in the water, begging at the statue for hours, until finally, morning broke. Theoson woke up, sauntered over, and got into the fountain once more. Hugh had begun asking in a long, continuous, repeated pattern. He barely registered Theoson’s presence next to him.
Theoson put a single berry into Hugh outstretched hands. Hugh looked at it, then at Theoson, then he ate it.
“That,” said Theoson, “That was practice for dealing with rejection.”
Hugh looked at Theoson. “So… why did you want to get into the arena?”
Theoson slapped Hugh on the back. “It was just practice for going against the crowd. That would be an easy lesson, especially for you.” Theoson got out of the fountain and walked over to his tree and leaned against it. “Go on, get out of here and get some sleep. You’re no good to me tired.”
To be continued…