This story is by Michael W. Clark and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Throngs of people gathered before the White Spire, waiting nervous and apprehensive. They milled about noisily, anxiously asking for any news and spreading more than a few rumors. A hush fell over the crowd as a man, flanked by four guards made his way to the Spire’s entrance. The man strode with purpose and with palpable contempt for the masses surrounding him. He was a victor come to demand his prize and he wasted no time bursting through the Spire doors to the collective gasp of those inside.
“You come to this place like a conquering hero, Aaron,” Lord Holloway observed.
“Because I have won my freedom from this oppressive regime, my lord,” Aaron shot back.
“Then you intend to proceed,” the Lord sighed with sadness.
“This very instant,” Aaron bowed mockingly and made directly for an ornate door at the end of the great hall.
Lord Holloway tugged at a silver chain around his neck producing an intricate key. He followed Aaron to the door and with a trembling hand, inserted the key, beginning to turn the lock.
“My son,” he whispered with eyes welling with tears, “please, don’t do this! The door will be closed behind you forever.”
Aaron’s mask of pride broke and Lord Holloway thought he had finally broken through.
“That is why I need to leave, father. Your rules, your absolutes, your unwavering rigidness…I want the freedom to make my own way. So I will live with the mortals of Earth.”
Lord Holloway hugged his son, pulled the doors wide, and watched helplessly as Aaron stepped through.
* * *
“Another drink, for everyone,” Aaron shouted, raising his gladius and slamming the hilt on the bar for effect.
“Honor to the warrior, loyalty to your brother,” Aaron called out.
“We’ll drink this tavern dry until we all can find a lover,” the crowd roared back.
The pub erupted in cheers and the local bard broke into the most raucous tavern song he knew, whipping the night into a dizzying frenzy. Aaron drained another pint and smiled widely.
“What’s the occasion, friend?” the barkeep asked.
“I’m celebrating newfound freedom!”
“Freedom? You weren’t no prisoner were you?” the barkeep asked. “You’ll be able to pay for all this, right?”
“Relax, my friend,” Aaron shook his purse, pulled out a silver and tossed it over with a wink.
He turned quickly and grabbed a serving girl by the side, spinning her about the room. They danced and laughed long into the night, ending up under the stars together.
“So, you’ll be staying around awhile then?” the girl asked hopefully.
“Sadly, no. There’s so much of this world to see! So many new things to experience and it’s always changing! It’s wondrous!”
“You’re a strange man, Aaron. With strange dreams flitting about in your pretty head,” she laughed and snuggled her head on his chest.
Aaron kept smiling, remembering everything he had experienced since living with mortals. He’d seen a few empires rise and fall, numerous wars, and countless battles. He was equally proficient with a sword as much as any number of instruments. He had won and lost fortunes and probably would again. The memories gave him less comfort recently though, and he pulled the serving girl closer, almost clutching her.
“I don’t think we can get much closer, but we can try,” she laughed, winking up at him.
“I don’t suppose you’d ever want some company on your journeys…” she let the thought linger along with her hungry gaze.
Aaron laughed it off, but to his surprise, the thought appealed to him. Maybe one day, yes, but for now he decided he savored his time exploring this world alone.
“Constantine has reunified Rome and it looks like the empire still has some life left in it. My road will take me places less civilized,” Aaron explained.
“I understand,” she whispered back, holding him tighter.
The serving girl awoke mid-morning to the empty ground next to her.
“Farewell, Aaron…” she whispered to the wind.
* * *
“I don’t think we can outrun them, Captain,” the barrel-chested first mate called out in fear.
“That’s the Forlorn Ranger giving chase; Adamant Aaron Holloway himself, the scourge of the Caribbean.”
As if on cue the mizzenmast split with a shower of splinters and crashed to the deck.
“Hard to port,” the Captain yelled, “and arm yourselves, men. Holloway takes lives, not prisoners! We fight as one!”
“Or we sleep in Davy Jones locker,” the crew yelled back.
They whooped themselves into a frenzy and prepared to be boarded. The Ranger pulled alongside and the battle, if you could call it that, was joined. Aaron Holloway, as always, was the first across. Centuries of warfare had honed his reflexes and the two swords he fought with flowed like streams of silver through the air. It was mesmerizing and terrible and more than once men from both ships stole a glance to watch him work. He cut down men with little effort and less remorse. It was over as quickly as it began and the captain and surviving crew were placed on their knees before him.
“Sir, my men,” the Captain pleaded.
“What of them? I suppose you’ll trade your life and ship to secure their escape,” he laughed, bitter and cold.
“I will, Captain Holloway. Gladly-”
“But I already have your life and ship,” Aaron explained and began to slit the survivors throats, one at a time.
“Honestly, Griev, I don’t know why you even bother bringing prisoners before me,” Aaron chided his first mate.
“Well, Cap’n, I wanna see if you e’er let one go. Ye used to, remember…”
“Aye, I remember. And it bit me in the arse once and I’m not fer learning any more lessons that way. Grab their powder, rations, and any rum for the boys. Scuttle the ship and we’ll make way.”
The boys did as they were told then set the ship aflame.
Griev walked up to Holloway later that night and offered him a bottle. He could see flames reflected in his Captain’s eyes, watching the ship burn in the distance. He gave Aaron a nudge and tried to hand him the rum to no avail.
“Bah, I don’t know why ye never drink, Cap’n, but it’s a bit unsettlin to me…”
“I used to survive on ale and excitement all the time, Griev. Trust me, like many things, it loses its appeal over time.”
“Well, ye haven’t found the right crew to keep up with ye yet, or the right woman,” Griev exclaimed and slapped Aaron on the back to which he received genuine smile.
“Dos’t my eyes deceive me? I don’t think I’ve er’r seen you smile and we’ve been raiding five years together! You mean a lot to me and the boys, ye know…”
“I appreciate that sentiment. You’ve done great with the crew, Griev. They’re loyal to a fault and three times the fighters as when we first took them on. I’m…I’m going to my cabin. Set sail for Tortuga and we’ll all make for the Wench!”
Griev walked into the Captain’s cabin two days later as Holloway never showed at the Surly Wench. He found a note on his desk with the Captain’s seal.
The Ranger is yours,
Take care of her and the boys.
* * *
“So what’s next for you after selling Holloway Enterprises for a cool six hundred million?”
“Well, partner, I’m thinking of a startup since the economy has recovered from Covid, and I want you on board, Brett. Let’s do it again, bigger this time,” Aaron declared.
“Former partner, buddy. This was it for me, remember? We work hard for ten years, sell the company and retire like kings,” Brett reminded.
“Oh, you were serious…”
“Very serious,” Brett laughed. “I have a family, and wealth now, and I want to spend my very healthy retirement traveling, going to school plays, and spoiling Molly. I’m out and I’m already loving it!”
“Are you sure? I could really use you on-”
“There it is,” Brett sighed, “you would use anyone for anything wouldn’t you. We had a good run and it didn’t cost me too much of myself, but now I’m free, Aaron. I’m free and I have an awesome family to enjoy it with. I’ve had my adventure and my fun, but there are people in my life that want to be with me as much as I want to be with them. I want to leave the right legacy for my family and I have to be with them, present, to do it.”
“Look, why don’t you come over this weekend? No adventures, no work. Just some people who truly care about you. You have all these people in your life you never connect with. Molly has this friend and-”
“We’ll, see, Brett. Look I have to run for now but I’ll call you about this weekend,” Aaron lied and made his way to the door at the end of the reception hall.