Late Night Walk
Maredro leaned as far back in his chair as he could so he could avoid the drunkard’s swing. The latter’s empty mug crashed onto the wooden table hard enough that bottom portion of the mug broke, and the former was surprised part of the table didn’t cave from the blow. What was left of the mug slipped out of its owner’s hand then and shattered upon hitting the floor. As if to imitate, the drunkard fell face first on the table with a loud thud, somehow missing the other pieces of mug and leaving his arms dangling from his sides. Silent stares, at once both curious and irritated, surrounded them.
Maredro rose from his seat and tried to ignore everyone else’s eyes as he put a hand on the drunkard’s shoulder. “Okay. I think it’s time for you to go home.”
The man was too disoriented to protest. Seeing no other alternative, Maredro lifted him from his chair and began to drag him out of the tavern. The man seemed aware enough to keep his feet moving, but only just that.
When he passed by the tavern owner, Maredro turned to her and asked, “Oh… how much for the drinks?”
The owner shook her head of scraggled hair. “Just get him out of here.”
He searched the owner’s face or posture for some sign that she might say more. She remained where she was, standing against the wall with her arms crossed over her chest, and observing with eyes that looked as worn out as her clothes. After another moment or two—one in which she gave him a hard side glance—Maredro nodded his head and left the messy tavern behind.
The night was clear but chilly. The moon was not quite full, though it illuminated the empty dirt streets well enough. As if not to disturb those who were already asleep, the wind was quiet as it passed by. Maredro sighed, eyed his breath as it formed and disappeared in the air, and began a slow trek down the street. He tried to focus on moving forward instead of on his charge’s noticeable weight.
It occurred to him, then, that he had no idea where the drunkard lived. He hadn’t even seen the man before today, and even then, it wasn’t until he’d come back into town earlier that night and entered the tavern for a drink of water. It had been very busy, so much so that the only empty seat was the one next to the man. Maredro had no idea how long the drunkard had been there other than long enough to become incredibly off-kilter. To top it off, the man looked ill, but he’d been too far gone for Maredro to convince him to stop drinking and go home. Instead, he had listened to the man’s slurred but loud monologue of his ruined home life. The rest had happened from there.
He stumbled a bit; the drunkard’s footing had messed him up and nearly sent them both to the ground. Then it occurred to him that he didn’t know his charge’s name, though Deadweight, Fool, Stupid Drunk and others suddenly seemed like good substitutes. Not that any of those names rolled out of his mouth. In fact, no words did—just a couple of grunts as he struggled to get his slow pace going again.
A small shop was coming up ahead to his right, so Maredro steered his way over when he spotted it. Getting the stupid drunk to move with him was like trying to force a merchant’s cart to move without a horse. The only good side to this was that Deadweight wasn’t as heavy as a cart. Maredro had to kick him to direct him towards the shop. After the third kick, the drunkard groaned and moved.
Finally, thought Maredro.
When he was close enough, he knocked on the door. A few long seconds later, an old man opened the door. He rubbed his eyes, which were hidden under his bushy, white eyebrows.
Maredro stuffed his frustration somewhere below the surface and cleared his throat. “I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour, sir, but I have a quick question.” He jerked his head towards his charge. “Do you know where this man’s house is? I’m just trying to help him reach it in one piece.”
Whatever fatigue had been in the old man’s face vanished under a veil of quiet anger. “Just leave him in an alley somewhere. No one will notice.” His nose crinkled, and then he shut the door.
Maredro didn’t start grumbling until after he moved away from the shop. He adjusted the weight of his charge in his arms and shoulders and ignored the sudden, frigid wind that flew by him. “Sir Drunkman… it would help me a lot if you would sober up enough to tell me where you lived.”
Deadweight replied with the oddest of murmurings.
Maredro dipped his head and huffed.
The next building he stopped by was a home. A woman answered the door, and Maredro posed his question to her. At first, it looked like she would answer, but she stiffened when she saw the drunkard. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t even know where you two have been, so….” She finished her sentence by shutting the door in his face.
The third place he went to gave him much the same response.
Now he was just confused, and he didn’t bother to hide it as he eyed his charge. “Goodness, what in the world did you do?”
The response was, once again, rather incoherent.
Maredro walked off, threw his head back, and let his sigh seethe through his teeth.
With his head back, he noticed that the moon was high. He was late—and noticing that made him stamp his foot into the ground. Hadn’t he already promised Rosa and the Elder that he wouldn’t be late? Another lecture that he didn’t want to hear repeated would be waiting for him at the very least. Why am I bothering with this? he thought.
Rosa had asked him a similar question before. The Elder, too, in fact—just not as often, and not in Rosa’s sisterly fashion. Since he’d come into their household seven months back, Maredro had been more or less a live-in guest at the house. The Elder, both town leader and Rosa’s adoptive mother, had been very clear about what she expected from Maredro so long as he remained in the household; in her words, “You can stay as long as you need to find yourself.” That included errands both big and small, some of which he did with Rosa and some of which he did alone. After all, how could he not oblige the Elder for her lasting kindness and patience with him? As he had realized some time ago, however, the Elder’s expectations of him weren’t the reason why he went out of his way to help so many strangers. Maredro wasn’t sure when he’d begun to do that, but he hadn’t stopped doing so.
He caught an alley out of the corner of his eye, which refocused his train of thought. In that instant, he recalled the old man’s words. Maredro stopped walking, partly to catch his breath, partly to consider that suggestion. He really did want to just heave the stupid drunk into the alley and leave him there. It would allow him make his own trip home all the sooner, and he’d be carrying a whole lot less and be a even less sore. So he tried to will himself to do just drop the man. Nothing happened. In the end, Maredro took a deep breath, prompted his charge to start moving again, and continued to walk.
He arrived at the end of the dirt road where another intersected with it to form a T-shape. Maredro looked right, then left, then started to move rightward.
At least, that was what Maredro thought he’d heard. It sounded more like, “Awvver way,” and it took him a few seconds longer to realize Deadweight had spoken.
“Your house is the other way?” asked Maredro.
He got one tiny whiff of the man’s ale-ridden breath and nearly choked. Once he recollected his bearings, Maredro turned to go the other way. He decided, then, that if his charge could still tell where they were, then he would just keep going straight until he was told otherwise.
“You don’t seem to be very popular in this part of town,” he said. “People take one look at you, and they don’t want anything to do with you or anyone with you. What did you do?” He only half-expected an answer, so he wasn’t that surprised when he didn’t hear anything. Nonetheless, and for no real reason he could discern himself, he kept talking. “Never mind; you don’t have to say. But why drown yourself in so much ale?” Again, nothing. “You ought to take care of yourself better than this.”
After saying all of that, though, Maredro shook his head. It wasn’t likely that he’d see the drunkard again, so there was no point in trying to make small talk. Just focus on getting this man home and go back to your own.
The drunkard made another odd sound. Maredro couldn’t decipher it, but when he saw another place to turn either left or right, he forgot about it. “Which way?”
There was a hiccup, and then, “Right.”
Eventually—and awkwardly—they reached the man’s home. Maredro somehow squeezed both himself and his charge through the doorway. It was dark in the room, but the moonlight helped him see just enough. He went straight to the first piece of furniture he saw, a low table, and hauled Deadweight onto it. Maredro let out a huge breath, then rolled him over onto his side. Deadweight fell fast asleep with his mouth open. Seeing nothing else he could do, Maredro left the house.
Outside, he stretched his sore arms up and out. With the load off his shoulders, he felt free again. He proved it to himself by drawing in some of the cold air through his slightly open mouth and then releasing it. For a few moments, he didn’t move, just relaxed, then started on his way home once he was ready.
After having done something like that so many other times, he still asked himself why he’d done it. He had reasons for some—one helped him retrieve some medicine, another lent him a few coins to buy some food—but he didn’t have any of the sort with others, like the drunkard. He knew for some time that it wasn’t his debt to the Elder which compelled him, either. And he knew that, once he got home and Rosa asked him where he was, he would tell her what he’d done and have no way of explaining why. He was growing a bit weary of being caught in that corner, but there were worse things around than lectures.
He picked up his pace. There was nothing weighing him down, so he jogged to keep warm in the cool night. After passing several thatch-roofed buildings and making a few turns, Maredro finally spotted the house where he lived with the Elder and Rosa. It sat on a small island that poked up from the surface of the town’s central river. The only way to access it was to cross the long, wood-and-stone bridge that connected it to the rest of town. The house itself was no different from the others he had passed, neither in size nor in general shape. When he drew a little closer, he saw a small light coming from one of the front windows. That only meant one thing.
Someone’s up, and I’m in for it. He felt the fatigue he collected throughout the day creep up on him but ignored it for now. Maredro dipped his head briefly, drew in a breath or two, and kept his pace.
He didn’t get a chance to reach the door. He was just about to step off the bridge when the front door opened, and a figure stepped out holding up a small lantern. The lantern and the moonlight, the latter of which barely poked through a passing cloud, allowed him to see the figure’s long, blonde hair and dark green robe. Not that he could see much color in the night; he just knew how Rosa looked in the daylight. He slowed down once he closed the gap between them. Rosa stood in a way that reminded him of an older sister ready to scold her little brother—something he thought was oddly fitting for the moment even though they were about the same age.
“There you are,” said Rosa, frowning. “Where have you been? The Elder and I have been worried sick about you! Again!”
Maredro sighed, resigned. “I got caught up in helping another stranger.”
Rosa looked both annoyed and incredulous. “Another stranger.” She turned her eyes away from him for a moment. “So who was it this time? Someone begging for coin? A lost merchant? Someone who tried to drown out sorrow with ale?”
“The last one,” he answered.
“You should be glad I’m too tired to be angrier at you.” She gave him a hard look and a subtle shake of her head. “Mar, did it ever occur to you that those people you help are just trouble? Especially the drunks. You have no idea what they might do on a daily basis. You could’ve gotten into a fight; he could’ve been using you, or worse. Why do you—”
“Why do I feel like I have to help them, right?” Maredro refrained from rolling his eyes, opting to shut them instead.
“Well, yes,” said Rosa. “Why?”
He tried to ignore her interrogator’s gaze and tilted his head up a bit. The breeze passed by him again, making it seem cooler than it was. Focusing on that allowed him to calm that spike of irritation he’d felt upon recognizing the corner he’d been caught in yet again. The reprieve was brief, though, much like the last one, and he found himself back in that corner without the answer to help him out of it.
Except, he realized suddenly, he did. He didn’t know if it was a good answer, but it was something. When he opened his eyes, he noticed that the cloud had almost finished passing the moon.
“Why not?” he replied at length.
Rosa’s agitation left, leaving only room for surprise. “What?”
“Why not help them?” When he heard no response, Maredro tapped his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Rosa, when I helped that man from the tavern just now… I had half a mind to leave him in the nearest alley. He’d been loud and obnoxious, he’d disturbed almost everyone—I hadn’t even seen him before tonight. But I didn’t leave him. I didn’t stop until I got him home.”
On Rosa’s face, confusion settled in where surprise used to be. “Then why didn’t you leave him if he bothered you so much?”
“It just didn’t feel right.”
Rosa breathed in like she was about to yell—except all that came out was a long sigh. “You had no other reason than that?”
Maredro shook his head.
And then she followed suit, her tone almost playful when she spoke again and opened the door. “Well, does it have to take you half the night to do it? Still… that sounds like a strange reason to help people.”
“Is it?” asked Maredro. “I don’t believe you’re a stranger to that philosophy yourself.”
At that, Rosa’s shoulders relaxed and a smile crossed her face, laughing quietly after a moment of thought. “No… no, I’m not. Truth be told, I probably would’ve done the same as you, and for the same reason.” Though she shook her head, that little laugh escaped her again before she calmed herself. “Did you finish the Elder’s errand?”
Maredro gave her a sheepish smirk. “Where did you think I was all day before I went to the tavern?”
“I’ll take that as a yes, then.” She gave the lantern over to her other hand. “Come on. It’s late, it’s cold, and you must be tired.” After barely concealing a yawn with her arm, she added, “I know I am.”
“You look it.”
Rosa gestured for him to enter first. “I think the Elder has another big errand she wants us both to do tomorrow. We need as much rest as we can get.”
Maredro nodded and gestured for her to go first instead. From where he was, it seemed Rosa didn’t want to argue with him silently about courtesy, and so she went in first despite having been the one who opened the door. Maredro followed behind her, but before he entered the house, he took one more glance at the moon in the sky. The cloud had long since passed by. He guessed the moon would be full tomorrow night.
With that, he went in and shut the door behind him.