The leaves crunched and crackled as footsteps continued to walk across them. The light at the end of the darkened forest grew brighter, a flame dancing in the breeze. Through the small hole in the damaged hood, the walking stranger glanced up at the forest brush overhead blocking off the night sky. The thick leaves on the trees even seemed to be guiding the stranger towards the flame.
What awaits our stranger at the orange flame?
Clanking glasses and cheers all around as the tavern opened up for the night. One patron has a crowd of people around him as he exaggerated a tale from one of his many triumphant hunts for bandits. Although many of the listeners know the truth behind the tales, they can’t help but cheer on in a drunken daze as he described his “dates with death” and how he compiled such a large amount of gold.
At the end of his current story the crowd cried out, “What be your greatest bout with bandits, ye ol’ Hagar?”
Stroking the greying beard longer than his neck and ordering another round of ale for the entire tavern Hagar began yet another tale, this one not needing any exaggeration. Getting down from standing up on the table, he
“Ay, so listen to this tale. This be one of great intrigue, and the true meaning of ‘staring Death in the face.’ So there be I, wanderin’ through Sublime Caverns just on the other end of Mount Dreatha. I be on my way back to turn in the finger of me latest bounty for Grethian Naklak, that lisardman who was caught stealing in town. The bounty called for his ring finger as proof of his death.”
One of the listeners question, “Did he still have the ring he stole from the shop?”
Bluffing compassion and honesty Hagar let out a deep sigh and shook his head, “Sad to say, but no. I think he traded it off before being found. Nonetheless, that finger was coming with me. As I navigated the road back down the mountainside, another person approached me. At glance, it be some hag covered in rags and tattered clothes. I paid no mind, until said person stopped in my path. The hag whispered, ‘Your actions will not go unseen. I am always watching.’”
“Maybe it was somebody you saved before, wanting to thank you.”
“It be weird for Death to be thankin’ ye.” Hagar gulped down half of his pitcher of ale before continuing with his tale. “I caught a glimpse of the hag’s face through the hole in her hood. Eyes red as freshly spewed blood and skin whiter than the snow from the first days of winter. That day, I saw Death face-to-face.”
The listeners did a collective gasp, whispering to one another. Everybody kept their eyes on Hagar and was stunned when they saw the large grin on his scarred face. With a slam of his fist on the table and kicking back his seat to stand up, Hagar roared in the tavern, “Death be afraid to confront me!”
Everybody fell silent, the words of a drunk man ringing in their ears. It didn’t stop them from bursting into cheers along with him.
It’s a shame none of them noticed Death was nearby.