Joel McDormand

Human Warden - Mike in Heroes of Rosedale

The night was unseasonably warm and so was I. Maybe I'd take them down to the beach, and feel the water on my hands. Those that spoke to me (most would say too few, I'd say too many) would call me a quiet, unassuming man. To that I'd say (If I said much) that they are assuming a lot.

I made my way to drop off the rent to Tavvers, who didn't bother to count it, and my evening for the most part was done. I'd married young, and hadn't minded it those quiet simple nights. Sometimes I think Merideth did, but her second thoughts and aspirations would soon be beaten back the fear of what was out there. I didn't fear what was out there. I knew it was about the same as here. About.

A few months ago I made a trip south to Cadilabeth; had to pick up Jarrut's son Filun. Abner Jarrut had built himself a nice little life and for whatever reason he had given me a piece of it. He was a barber and his establishment was always full of those with something to say or something they wanted to hear. I'd been coming to his place for going on a year with my only business being keeping my hair short.

I'd heard a lot of stories but never told one of my own. The city of Salarosa was a popular wedding destination, and one could hear all manner of stories if one was inclined to listen to a variation on the same story every time one wanted a haircut. There was the one about the prince marrying beneath his station to the beautiful blonde peasant girl, or the one about the princess marrying beneath her station to the tall and darkly handsome soldier, or the one about two kids of royalty of equal station marrying from clashing families.

When Abner arranged for his daughter Merideth to marry me, he told me that she was marrying beneath her station but that he liked my scars. He had of course seen them many times over the past year as he cut my hair, but he said that I seemed like the type who didn't want to talk about it. There wasn't much to say, I told him. I'd been a barber on a ship for an outfit for this trading company who were seized by Vodda ships and took a blast of dragon's breath to my left shoulder and neck. The flames singed off some of the skin around the back of my head, so that's why I like to keep it short. That's why I was such a regular customer of Abner's.

But that's not what got me the gig, or his daughter's hand. Abner said he liked that after a year of coming in and listening to all manner of stories that I had never once offered up one about my scars. Said he needed a man who could keep exciting stories to himself.

After I got the job (and a wife), I didn't see the need to elaborate further on the story. If Abner found it exciting enough I suppose he didn't need to hear that I wasn't even the barber on that ship on the day of the attack. In a gig like that, the barber's duties contain all manner of things. Surgery, basic healing, along with the haircuts. The one I was most suited to though was making the call.

The call is when you have to assess when one of the other men you are hired on with has had enough, and it's in the best interest of the company to move on to the next man. On a ship that means to make room by throwing the dying man over the side and into the sea. Most men have issues with this because that man you choose to drown to death could be friend or family.

I don't have either.

But now I have a wife. And she likes my scars. But she doesn't like me.

No one really ever has enjoyed my company for any decent length of time, though I have no enemies that I am aware of. That's why I didn't take it personal when the barber tossed me over the side of the ship and I knew that I would die soon. I'd never done or said anything to the man, so maybe that was the one decision of death that was easy for him to make. I'm glad in some way that I could make it easy for him.

It's never personal for me.

I never blacked out. I didn't wake up on a beautiful beach. I watched the dragon born slaughter men I was with. The ones on the ship, the ones I would have to choose to drown if they hadn't chose to drown me. I watched and I floated. I've never had much need for conversation so maybe it was easier for me to survive. I'd like to think that this went into the barber's decision, but probably not.

It was a lot to take in. A lot to think about. I never asked many questions. Never asked what it was we were carrying on that ship. Didn't have the answer to what those men died for. I'm sure some of them knew. But what good did that do them? Did it comfort them as the blade came down on their skull?

At least I knew why I was tossed over board. The barber that day didn't know me. No one really does.

I went back home after I caught on with a fishing boat. Back to the city of Wethiel. Nobody recognized me there. Not even this girl I used to play a bit of music with in my younger years. She still had that beautiful voice, one that age had only helped add meaning to the words she sang. Her name was Jolanse and she was talented and beautiful and when I played with her I was thankful that I got to stand next to her for those few moments.

But I was never much of a musician. Jolanse didn't need me and the crowd never noticed when I missed a note. I moved on. And I moved on again. To Salarosa. And now to the big city of Buckmris. I've got a little room I'm staying at that doesn't come with too many questions from Tavvers. Sometimes I think he may be on to me. That he knows about Merideth.

Back home in Salarosa, everyone knew. Everyone but me. She had been stepping out with this guy who had come to town. A romantic. One of the guys who came into the shop with stories. Lots of stories. The kind that amazingly don't come with any scars. Her old man Abner must have sniffed him out, the reason he sent me to go retrieve his wayward son. On the way back when her own brother Filun gave her up, I didn't mind. I had something else on my mind.

I stumbled upon Jolanse in a bar that Filun had taken up residence in. I gave him more days than Abner had allowed to get himself cleaned up before our travel back home. I think this perceived kindness is why Filun told me about Meredith and her wanderings from our marriage. He didn't know that I was also wandering away from her at that moment, if only in my mind.

The years since I had made my way back home to Wethiel had not been kind to Jolanse. She drank and smoked too much, that much I could tell in the week I kept Filun in Cadilabeth. But she still had that voice, even if she had done everything in her power to destroy it.

I got up the nerve to approach her one night. I told her how special her talent was. How she could give the illusion of feeling and meaning to even a dive like this. To a guy like me. I told her how I wasn't the sort to take it for more than it was. I knew that she was just going through the motions with a godly given natural ability, but what if there was something more?

What if I was thrown off that ship for a different reason?

She only really looked at me when I mentioned the ship. But she didn't recognize me. And even though this was the one time I wanted someone to ask me a question, to ask me about my scars, ask me to tell them the story, she didn't. She just laughed and walked away to get another drink.

When I got back to Salarosa I went home to Meredith and waited for her to leave with this man. I didn't know yet who he was, or how far he had entered our life, but I knew he was out there. That he existed. And I waited.

Meredith left two weeks later and there was nothing Abner or Filun could say. A barber and a son of a barber had nothing to say. And I wasn't going to start.

So I cut hair, and listened and waited. Until I heard a story one day from this guy whose buddy had a thing going on in Buckmris. His friend had convinced her that he'd gotten word of an old inn on the coast whose owner had taken ill. The owner had no family and was looking to sell. He just wanted to make enough for one last trip to see his daughter clear across the other side of Taern. It was a steal. A once in the lifetime opportunity for the two of them.

And of course none of it was true.

This woman had gone willingly, but she was a prisoner. She just didn't know it yet. But her father would. The man getting the haircut smiled at Abner who was already making a move to close up the shop early, apologizing but strong-arming the gossiping men of Salarosa out the door.

At first, I admit, I didn't catch on entirely that the guy getting the haircut was demanding a ransom for Meredith. That he had come to her father and her husband's establishment to make demands for her safe return. It probably took me a bit because I had a blade to his throat. And that does not seem like a good bargaining position.

Now no one was ever going to accuse me of giving them the best haircut in the world. When you are on a ship full of men who haven't seen the eyes of a fair woman staring back at them for months, the demands for their hair stylings are not high. But the work is rough, and injuries are many. I'd had more practice in surgery and neck manipulation.

Which is a long way of saying that this lackey, this messenger with his hand out, that this man who spoke beautifully about dark intentions, well… he got his haircut. And all of the other training that I had acquired on that ship and had been unable to use since.

He pointed me in the direction of the romantic and I left his body with Abner. He was also a barber. Maybe without all of the extra training that I had, but it was his place. It was his call.

Abner would decide if this man with the new haircut went overboard. He knew that I would drown the romantic. He didn't know what I would do with Meredith, and it struck me as odd that he didn't ask.

About fifteen minutes after I dropped off the rent for the room, I had my hands around the romantic's throat, holding him underwater. I was drowning him and I was watching Meredith as she screamed for me to stop. She didn't understand me. She didn't know what to make of me. I wasn't really a part of her world.

It was the same look the barber on the ship gave me that day. He was making a choice. It was me or someone else, and he could only choose one. Or we'd all die. We'd all drown.

I think Meredith would have drown me. If she had known me. If she had known me maybe this would have been the end of my story. Brokenhearted. Alone. Lost. If the barber on that ship had chose to save me over the other poor bastard with an arrow in his chest, I'd have died with the rest of them. And maybe the poor bastard thrown overboard would have needed someone out there in the sea on his own.

Someone to talk to.


I don't know if Abner needed his daughter anymore. I don't know if he wanted me to kill her. I got the impression that this wasn't the first bit of trouble she had given him. She attracted danger, and though I looked like the sort, I wasn't. I didn't have any thrills to give.

I was, and am now as I make a bit of business cutting hair in Rosedale, someone who attracts the thrill seekers. The Merediths. The Abners. Those that want to get close to what they think they see as someone who has touched danger, as if some of it will transfer over to them and their safe lives of contentment and resentment.

But I am not exciting nor am I excited at the prospect of danger. It's a decision to be made is all. To die quickly with a sword in your hand on a ship of comrades. Or to sink alone into the quiet and the peace and the darkness. Dying slowly and bit by bit, day after day, cutting the hair, further away from the fight on that ship and the sound of her voice.

I would tell you all of this as I cut your hair. But I don't. It will make it easier for both of us to toss the other over the side of the ship. If that day should ever come.

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