0013 – Gareth: Love, Part 2

“He’s a madman.” The barman hissed. “Don’t go anywhere near him.”


“Why?” Gareth asked. He was dallying at the bar. Somewhere in the crowd behind him, Pam was sitting, waiting for him to bring the drinks. But he had to know.


“He killed a man in the street,” confided the barman. “Shouted something at him. The bloke just dropped down dead.”


Gareth tried to maintain eye contact. This fit what he’d heard of the magician. It might be a tall tale, but it still wasn’t a good sign.


“Didn’t anyone do anything?” He asked. “Why isn’t he in jail, or something?”


“Well first,” the barman patiently explained, “you’d have to work out what he’s actually guilty of. He never touched the poor bastard. And second, would you walk up and hit a man who just killed someone by talking to him?”


Gareth knew he wouldn’t. Nobody would. It would be suicide.


The magician in the windmill was renowned all over England. There were, after all, few such men left now. For someone held in such awe, though, few people had ever sought him out. Probably because of his reputation as a dangerous sociopath with a long history of violence.


“You took your time!” Pam teased him, but her eyes were smiling. Her eyes were always smiling. He set the glass of wine down in front of her. He couldn’t bear to see those eyes now. Not when he was keeping something like this from her.


“Sorry.” He mumbled his apology. His mind was already elsewhere.


Sparse conversation passed the bright, clear afternoon. She wanted to know why he had dragged her all this way, out to the middle of nowhere, just to sit in a completely unremarkable pub. He’d told her he had a surprise for her, but he couldn’t bear the trusting enthusiasm with which she anticipated it. He hadn’t even decided what it was. Truth be told, he didn’t even know why he’d brought her with him, instead of coming alone.


Finally, the grey-robed man walked past outside the window.


The street cleared before him.


Gareth made an excuse, rising from the table. He had sat Pam with her back to the window, both to give himself a view of the street outside, and to prevent her from noticing what he was about to do. The pub grew more crowded by the second as people outside, upon spying the arrogant man on his daily parade through the main street, suddenly realised how thirsty they had become.


The last of the passers-by found reasons to make themselves scarce. Gareth was alone in the street with the man in grey.


The man’s relaxed, confident footsteps drew to a slow halt.


They stood facing each other. Gareth held his thin frame upright, his careworn features fixed in rigid determination. If he must face the magician, he would do it with pride.


“You’re brave.” Karl stated. His clear, blue eyes regarded Gareth with amusement. They hid nothing at all.


“I have a good reason to be.” Gareth replied.


“Speak, then.”


Gareth was suddenly aware that despite the deliberate scurrying with which the street had been cleared, absolutely nobody was watching them. Even the people in the pub stood with their backs to the scene, wilfully blind to Karl’s presence. The sight of Pam’s back and her long, silvery hair gave him a burst of courage.


“You can kill men. Can you cure them also?”


Boredom flashed in Karl’s expression. He had heard this plea before. “I can. What I cannot abide doing is wasting my time. Or tolerating those who would waste it for me.”


Gareth swallowed. “I would not ask you to.” He was thinking fast.


“Oh?” In Karl’s throat, the question sounded like an awful, heavy door creaking open, exposing a yawning, black abyss beyond its threshold. The sound was full of icy anticipation. At least he was sounding amused again. “And what would you ask me to do, old man?”


“To teach me to.” He replied. “I would be your apprentice.”


Karl seemed legitimately surprised by this answer. He looked baffled for a moment, and then let out a long, quiet chuckle, his hand over his mouth in a boyish gesture. For a moment, his unkempt blonde locks hanging over his eyes as he shook with glee, he could have been mistaken for an innocent youth.


“I would not treat you well, if you were.”


“I know.” Gareth’s jaw was set hard. He will demand a high price, he knew.


“Your wife.” Karl stated. “It’s your wife, isn’t it? I can tell.”


He’s trying to get into your head. Gareth knew it. He also knew that a wrong move could kill him.


“It is.”


“What’s wrong with her?”


“Cancer.”


Karl bared his teeth, sucking in air between them. On a craftsman, the gesture would have indicated a hefty bill to come. The glee was in his eyes still.


“It will take a long time, you know.” Karl spoke slowly. “To learn.”


“I know. I’m prepared.”


“She may wither away in all the time it takes me to teach you.”


Gareth’s stomach tightened. How had he known? How, in less than a minute, had Karl’s appraisal of his prey’s weakness been so accurate? What a formidable, cruel man.


“Please.” It was all he could think of to say.


“Being robbed of your time with your beloved, slaving away in my service, only to learn your lesson too late to use it. That would be so unfortunate.”


Gareth shook. “Please.”


Karl smiled. “Very well. But there is a price. Something you must do, before I will take you. Do it right, or I’ll know. Do you understand me, old man?”


Gareth’s heart was hammering. He glanced at the pub window again. For just a moment, he could have sworn Pam was looking out into the street. Had she been, she could have hardly missed the spectacle. But no. Her back was turned, still. He thanked her, inwardly.


“Yes.” Gareth said. “I understand.”

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