The Town Drunk  
Cable and the Sword of Destiny


Cable was the oldest boy in the world, and his dog was the ugliest dog in the world. (Actually, there once was a farmer who’d thought he’d discovered an uglier dog, one with two heads and eight legs; on closer inspection, however, the farmer found himself to be extremely and embarrassingly mistaken.) The dog, whose name changed daily, was currently going by the name Audacious Behavior, and he’d roll his eyes and snap at invisible creatures every once in a while to demonstrate.

The pair walked leisurely along a well-traveled road, scuffling the dirt with five limbs (the dog was missing a forepaw) and generally doing everything in their power not to hurry. As they crested a hill that had chosen to rise beneath them, they saw the gates of a large walled city.

“A city!” Cable cried.

“It is indeed,” Audacious Behavior agreed, drooling and huffing a bit. “And how far did that last gentleman say it was to the next city?”

“Three days’ journey.”

“And how long ago was that?”

Cable watched the dog’s face closely. “Thr... fi... uh...”

“Se-evv...”

“Seven days?” Cable guessed tentatively.

“Seven days exactly, very good. And my name, much to my own amusement, is now Tripod. It’s a good thing, too, because my teeth were starting to throb from all that gnashing.”

It should perhaps be explained that the well-intentioned “last gentleman” was not in error of his estimate. Rather, he, like most people, had assumed he was speaking to someone with some comprehension of time. He could not have known that Cable and the now aptly-named Tripod had their own little arrangement going—they ignored Time, and Time ignored them.

“Ah, the city!” Tripod exclaimed. “How many memories it brings back. Even now, I can see myself on those streets, a young pup, facing every hardship the cruel world had to offer with an insouciant snarl, my well-formed features twisted by sardonic laughter as I mocked my enemies—”

“I thought you said you’ve never been here.”

“Well, not to this particular city, no, but I’m speaking more in the general terms of—”

“I thought you said you were never a puppy.”

“Again, in the strictest terms I haven’t been, but there is a certain—”

“For that matter, you don’t actually have any enemies, do you? And while we’re on the subject, there is the matter of ‘well-formed features’ to be confronted—”

“Do you smell food?” Tripod asked.

Cable lifted an eyebrow. (Unfortunately, he had to use a finger to do it, which quite spoiled the appearance of superiority he was striving for.) “No, I don’t, actually.”

“Strange. I suppose that delicious scent must be coming from the veins in your throat.”

“Oh, food! Yes, yes, now that you mention it, I do smell food. Sorry, I thought you said hippopotami.” Cable did his best to look sincere, pushing his eyebrow back in place as subtly as possible.

“That’s what I thought you’d say. Shall we enter the city now, O Hopeless One, or would you rather stay here and sniff out ungainly herbivores?”

After an hour or so of searching the underbrush in order to prove his sincerity, Cable followed the dog to the city. The two mating hippos in the nearby river never missed them.


The city throbbed like a giant heart as the pair passed through its gates—which may have explained the blood flowing through its gutters. They breathed deeply of its fumes, which proved unfortunate for Cable, for they were standing behind a large cart of dung at the time. The breath caught in his lungs and sat there for a while, lying about and making itself quite comfortable until Cable evicted it with some force.

“Awfully strange air they have here,” Tripod remarked. “It actually seems to have color.

“Flavor, too,” wheezed Cable.

After a long moment in which Cable retaught his body the basics of respiration, he and the dog moved through the crowds clogging the city’s main gate and entered the marketplace. They were assaulted by a cacophony of shouts, screams, laughter, music, and strange, unidentifiable squishy sounds as the press of bodies around them thinned, ceasing to muffle the noise of the place. There was much to take in, and there were two ways of doing so; Tripod chose the scientific approach.

“We shall start here, Cable, and by careful maneuvering we should be able to take in the highlights of this festive panoply with a minimum of discomfort or inconvenience.”

Cable, on the other hand, chose the path of more immediate gratification.

“Whoopeeee!”

Tripod looked about suddenly, realizing that he was, at present, unencumbered by companionship.

“Hey, Tripod, lookit meee!”

The dog burrowed through a tunnel of legs to see Cable, wrapped in various cloths, assorted necklaces, and sundry dried meat products, darting from stall to stall as a growing horde of angry merchants fell over each other in an effort to catch him.

This is useful,” Cable shouted, grabbing something that looked remarkably like a jewel-encrusted sausage and enraging yet another hot, sweaty, heavily-armed tradesman.

“It’s my fault, really,” Tripod muttered. “I suppose, somewhere along the way, I should have brought up the concept of payment with the boy.” Taking a desultory nip at a nearby ankle, he followed in Cable’s wake.


Things did not look at all well for Cable when Tripod found him. Cable was bottled up in a cul-de-sac, surrounded by large men with big, angry noses snorting air into big, angry faces while their big, angry swords menaced the collection of trinkets and oddities that was their prey. To make matters worse, Cable, having weighed the options available to him, having carefully considered the long-term benefits of judicious reasoning, abject apology, even foaming at the mouth and raving like a loon, chose instead to follow the path least taken—keep everything and be damned with the rest. By the time the dog got within earshot, Cable’s self-defense consisted mainly of one rationale.

“But you’ve all got lots of great junk, and I don’t have any.”

There was nothing for it at this juncture but for Tripod to save the situation. It was time to go into battle.

The aura of menace surrounding Cable was broken momentarily by a trail of shouts and curses that traveled inwards toward the front of the group at about the pace of a trotting three-legged dog.

“I’ve been bitten!”

“By the gods, so have I!”

There was a short lull. Then:

“I’ve been peed on!”

“My hero!” Cable shouted.

“Yip!” responded Tripod as a well-placed sandal sent him tumbling into Cable’s feet.

Not my hero!” Cable shouted.

“No, boy,” a voice swelled from behind their antagonists, “I am!”

There was a moment of confused silence as everyone listened for the next sound. It came, and it sounded curiously like “gush.”

Then there were shrill screams and various impolite dying noises, and, in the space of time it takes for several grown men to call “Mommy!” a man appeared beside Cable.

Of course, to say he was a “man” is rather misleading. To say he was a MAN, with bold letters and exclamation points and little curly things all over it, would be getting more to the point. To say he was a slavering cross between a bull ox and a cave bear who had somehow been taught to wear a loincloth and walk about on its hind legs would just about put it right.

“My hero!” Cable shouted.

“Fickle,” muttered the dog.

The man/ox/bear drew in a deep breath, which also managed to draw the breath from several of those standing close to him, and, in a loud, yes-I-work-on-it-but-I-don’t-obsess-about-it voice, addressed the surviving attackers.

“Lay down your arms!”

Several weapons thumped to the ground, and at least one man tried to dislocate his shoulders.

“Can you not see whom you are attacking?”

Entire faces squinted in order to improve their owners’ eyesight.

“What kind of men are you who would raise swords against this poor idiot-boy and his hideously deformed monkey? Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves?”

Heartrending cries of abasement rose from the audience.

“Look at the face of this poor child. He has nothing! Not even a proper pet. Instead, he has to drag this around.” He picked Tripod up by the scruff of his neck. “By all the gods’ codpieces, look at the mange!”

There was open weeping in the crowd.

“Men like you make me sick!” he spat, thrusting his sword forward to make the point. Two men stopped crying in mid-wail.

“Now, go back to your depressing little carts and try to live with yourselves.”

The area filled with the sound of inrushing air as a mass of exiting bodies demonstrated the concept of a vacuum.

Tripod and Cable flanked their savior as the man wiped his blade on a dead man’s shirt. “Thank you for your help, there, my good fellow,” the dog said. “I especially liked the way you confused them with that nonsense about the monkey and all. Clever use of battle tactics, that, though I must say I was about to bring the situation in hand myself.”

“Unh.”

“Oh, be sure of it. In fact, I can tell you even now that there’s a certain sandal-wearer out there whose ankles won’t be safe for some time, I assure you.”

“Umph.”

“So...”

“...”

“How about a drink?”

The warrior smiled. “Who’s buying?”


“But the main thing, the most important thing to remember, is to never, ever, laugh when someone’s head comes off. They hate it when you do that.”

The warrior, whose name was a strange, guttural sound akin to a wet belch, but who was known as Clot to his friends (all, unfortunately, deceased), was showing his new acquaintances the rudiments of swordplay. After a long afternoon of drinking, paid for by the many charming and unique curios that Cable had collected, the trio wandered about the city until they found themselves in a desolate courtyard. (Of course, when they’d first stumbled upon the place it was quite popular, but Clot decided that this would be the perfect place to get in a little exercise, and after the first several bystanders were unburdened of extraneous limbs, there was a general consensus that the charms of the spot were quite overrated.) Clot had continued to parry, thrust, chop, slash, and generally decimate the foliage until Cable asked if he could try the sword for a bit. Clot was amused.

“You wish to try my sword? You wish to challenge your pasty, uncalloused fingers with the grip of a real man’s weapon? You wish to suffer the shame, the utter humiliation, of placing yourself into the mold of true, no-mincing-allowed heroism, only to find your pitiful form sadly lacking?”

“Yep.”

“Sure, why not?”

There are stories throughout the worlds of swordsmen, special swordsmen, whose blades serve as extensions of their bodies; men whose speed with weapons blurs the very air around them; men whose accuracy in battle is unerring, whose grace and style have been known to draw tears of gratitude from the very foes they eviscerate; men whose dedication to the sword has become the stuff of legend. Men who are one with death, whose weapons bear proud, imposing names, and whose hair is always long and perfectly windswept whenever they finish a battle.

Cable was none of these men. But if you leave out the accuracy part, and throw dedication right out the window, then he was definitely a swordsman.

Cable leapt about the courtyard with unfettered abandon, thrusting at trees:

“Hoo-lah!”

Slashing at shadows:

“Hee-ho!”

And punishing shrubberies:

“Haa! Hooo! Bonk it onna head!”

He looked like nothing so much as a dust-devil with a point.

Clot turned to Tripod, who was huddling behind a cracked but still intact fountain. Both were covered with leaves, branches, and a fine layer of sawdust. “That boy definitely needs a sword.”

The dog shuddered.

“His own sword.”

The dog gulped.

“When he’s finished playing with mine, just bring it to the nearest tavern, will you?”

The dog nodded.

“Thank you.”

Clot ran away, losing very little blood and only part of an ear in the process. Tripod enviously watched him leave. He huddled closer to the fragmented statuary and waited for Cable to run out of energy. Or targets, whichever came first.


Clot sat in one of the countless seamy taverns in the City—seamy being a specialty of the region—talking to Cable and the now-monickered Stoic Virtue (it had taken two days for Cable to wind down, according to the dog’s reckoning). Every so often, he would gaze in dismay at the nicked and battered blade of his sword. By the time the smith restores the edge on this, he mourned to himself, I’ll have to use it as a boot knife.

“As you said,” Stoic Virtue continued, “it seems there’s nothing to be done but get Cable a sword of his own, otherwise... well, you can see for yourself.”

They both turned to Cable, who sat with a glazed look, his now-empty hands twitching as he mentally enacted some private fantasy.

“What ho, varlot! Take that!” he cried out, grinning dashingly. (It was actually a rather silly grin; he’d rubbed some fireplace ash on his upper lip to emulate a thin mustache, and it looked instead as if some sort of fuzzy slug had taken residence there.)

Stoic Virtue sighed. “As you can see, there’ll be no living with him until he gets one.”

En guarde, cowering fiend!” cried Cable.

Clot shifted uncomfortably. “The way he uses a sword, there may be no living with him when he gets one.”

“No, no, no,” the dog assured him, “once he actually has it, he’ll lose interest soon enough. It’ll be just like the time he got that Orb of Ultimate Evil. He played with it for a couple of eons, then left it lying around somewhere, and sure enough, the first fallen angel that came along snatched it up and set up shop for himself. Cable didn’t even miss it. It’ll be the same with this whole sword business.”

“Tremble, knave, for I will surely dine upon your impaled heart ‘ere this night is out!” said Cable.

“I hope,” Stoic Virtue added.


“S’gotta be a good sword, a special sword.” Yet another tavern (their fifth that evening), and Clot was drunk again. It was the only way to get him to agree to help them find a sword for Cable. “S’gotta be strong. Better be magic, the way that kid works.” Clot was still a bit morose about his own blade. Maybe a butter knife, he kept thinking. “S’gotta be big. Real big. An’, an’ heavy. Slow him down some, give bystanders a chance to hide. Maybe some kind of anvil on a stick—”

“No, I’m afraid he’ll settle for no less than a true sword, friend Clot.”

“Are you talkin’ ta me?” snarled Cable.

Stoic Virtue cleared his throat a time or two. No response. “Cable, dear boy, yoo-hoo, back from whatever strange little world you’ve drifted into, it’s time to find you a sword.”

“Sword?”

“Yes, yes, handle, blade, deadly killing instrument, looks great with a cloak. Shall we proceed?”

Cable snapped to alertness. Reaching out, he seemed to unzip the air in front of him—two edges of somethingness appeared, framing a large hole composed of something-elsedness. Holding an edge open like a curtain, he ushered the others through with a small bow. Clot hesitantly followed the dog through, knowing as he did so that he had not drunk nearly enough ale for this, still being conscious and all. “You travel like this all the time?”

“Of course not,” Stoic Virtue chuckled. “Usually, we’re being chased.”


The three travelers searched, and they found many swords, but none of them seemed right to Cable. He discarded swords with hilts carved from dragon bone and unicorn horn, swords with blades of ebon hue, swords covered in mystic runes, singing swords, shouting swords, even one that told off-color jokes and made farting noises. Whatever the nature of the weapon, Cable would find something wrong with it: it’s too big, too small, too gaudy, too loud, but I like my soul, et cetera. (Actually, they found one wonderful sword just lying around in an old rock, but some old bearded guy ran out and made Cable put it back.) After tearing several holes in the fabric of space and time, Cable was grouchy, the dog was limping on two of his three legs, and Clot was looking thoughtful.

This last occurrence, naturally, drew attention.

“It seems, noble warrior,” the dog said, “that an idea has had the temerity to insinuate itself into your gray matter.”

“Huh?”

“That is to say, you seem to be in the midst of a cogitation.”

“?”

“Whassup?”

“Oh. Well, I know of a sword...”

“Yes?”

“Yes?” Cable echoed.

“A sword of great power...”

“Again, yes?”

“Yes, again yes?”

“A sword of legend...”

“Yes, yes?”

Silence.

“Cable?”

Cable quit counting his fingers. “Yes, yes... yes?”

“It is the Sword of Destiny. It is said that the fate of worlds rests on its pommel. It is said that it waits at the end of all time, locked in a tower surrounded by insurmountable obstacles, floating in a swamp of poisonous acid, guarded by a wise and powerful sorcerer, waiting for the Final Hero to conquer Death itself in order to finally wield it in the battle for Light against Darkness.”

Stoic Virtue sat on his haunches, overly impressed. “You memorized all that yourself, did you?”

Clot reddened. “All us barbarians have to.”

Cable hopped from foot to foot, crowing with excitement. “That’s it! That’s the sword I want!”

Clot was aghast. “But—but the swamps! The guardian!”

“Eh,” said Stoic Virtue.

“Double ‘eh’,” said Cable.

“But only the Chosen One, the Final Hero, can take the sword.”

Stoic Virtue snorted, which for him was a nasty sound indeed. “Red tape.”


They stood on the edge of a vast quagmire. The air reeked of deadly gases, and from the depths of the swamp issued horrid cries of animal agony and the booming, soul-wrenching voices of creatures too malignant to name. In the distance, a wall of living vines writhed against the yellow sky, their foot-long thorns glistening with green ichor, glowing with sickly phosphorescence. Even from their current vantage, the trio could see the mingled bones of adventurers and their mounts, fused together with immeasurable strength by some unknown force. Many warriors had died in this place, and only their contorted skeletons remained to tell of their failure.

Cable gave a low whistle. “Appalling.”

The dog concurred. “One might add formidable.”

“Oh, yes, yes, certainly that. Seems fairly impassible, doesn’t it?”

“To be sure.”

“Good thing we’re on this side, then, isn’t it?” Cable asked as he zipped the sky closed behind him.

Stoic Virtue turned to the dark tower which loomed several paces behind him. “Truer words, my boy, truer words...”

“What’s with our friend?” Cable gestured towards Clot, who seemed actually to be crying, moaning something about a wasted life.

Stoic Virtue shrugged, scratching an ear. “Must be the fumes.”

Cable and the dog walked to the tower doors, which were, despite the absence of anything resembling a lock, firmly secured. Clot stared transfixed at all the imminent peril he had missed out on. Stoic Virtue sniffed the air.

“Magically barred, no doubt,” Cable said.

“Yes, indeed, my boy, and a splendid job of it, too. My deepest respects to the architect of this particular spell. The weaving is sublime, the quality of the lines of power are unsurpassed, and—look at that!—he even threw in a villainous laughter glyph. You know, it’s so rare to find quality craftsmanship these days. If someone were to break through these doors, their body and soul would be shattered into cosmic dust and spread throughout the universe. And with the built-in time delay, they’d actually remain conscious through the whole affair. A masterpiece, pure and simple.”

“Can we see it work?”

“I admit I’m tempted. But no, Clot’s been much too generous already. It’s probably better if you just knock.”

Knock?” Clot’s voice thundered from behind them. “A mighty wizard has been guarding this tower for centuries from all who seek it, and you think he’ll answer the door for you if you knock?”

Stoic Virtue gave the barbarian a patient glance. “I know he’ll answer it. Cable has a way with knocking.”

And with that, Cable began to knock. He knocked, not in the way of a stranger wanting admittance, nor in the manner of an expected visitor announcing his presence. Instead, he knocked like your stupid, drunken friends who have no responsibilities at all and expect you to get out of bed at four in the morning on a weeknight and join them on their oh-so-merry way as they try to find a tavern that hasn’t already thrown them out once or twice, and so what if you have to work the next day. He developed a sort of drum rhythm, starting soft and then getting gradually louder, then he threw in little side riffs, as if he’d just thought of a song that fit the beat, then he’d lose the beat altogether, trailing off into staccato raps that gradually became yet another rhythm altogether, all the time shouting, “C’mon, open up, it’s dark out here!” and other such inanities.

Within moments (about the length of time it takes to be pulled kicking and screaming from a perfectly wonderful dream full of scantily-clad enchantresses, remember where you are and what ungodly hour it is, and trip two or three times in the dark as you try to throw on some clothing), the doors burst open, and a withered, white-bearded gentleman shouted, “What the blazes is going—

He would have shouted more, but the spell, which he had neglected to disarm, went off in a flash of brilliant color.

“Yes!” Cable cheered.

The wizard waved his hands frantically, mouthing something the trio could not hear over the sinister laughter which filled the air, and the lights and sound died as quickly as they had begun.

“Rats!” Cable complained.

The wizard sagged against a door, beating small sparks out of his nightclothes. Sensing that there would be no further pyrotechnic amusements, Cable entered the tower, followed by his two companions (although Clot seemed fairly disgusted with the whole thing). The wizard looked up from quenching a small brushfire in his beard to see the three staring at him, two expectantly, one in apparent sympathy.

“Well?” he demanded.

“We’re here for the sword.”

The wizard appeared shocked, to say the least (unless his eyes tended to bulge out like that on a set schedule). “Excuse me?”

The dog stepped forward. “Allow me. I am, for today, Ipso Facto, and this eager lad who now stands before you is Cable, also known to his friends as the Final Hero.”

This is the Final Hero?”

Cable offered his hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

Ipso Facto continued. “Cable, who shall heretofore be referred to as the party of the first part, having fulfilled all prerequisites set forth in a verbal but valid and legally binding agreement between the Forces of Light, who shall henceforth be referred to as the party of the second part, and all comers, who shall remain nameless until notification of next of kin, is hereby and forthwith entitled to all benefits offered by the party of the second part as payment for fulfillment of said agreement, which shall henceforth be referred to as Exhibit A.”

The wizard shook his head, dumbfounded.

“In other words, he passed the tests, so give him the sword.”

“Oh.” The wizard closed his eyes. If he got right back to sleep, maybe those visions of naked witches...

“Right.” Reaching into the air and muttering eldritch phrases, he pulled a shining sword from the nether regions. “Here. Happy hunting. Give Darkness a good rap in the ass for me, too.”

Then he stumbled back to bed...

...only to be awakened again after what seemed like scant moments later by a rustling outside his window. This was a significant event, considering that his window was two hundred feet up the unscalable side of the tower. He prepared a spell (why hadn’t he thought of that before?) and crept to the shutters. Quickly throwing them aside, he cocked his spell-throwing arm (the right one—he used to use the left one, but someone told him he threw spells like a wizardess that way).

The man outside the window fell into the room, rolled, and sprang into a defensive stance. His clothes were shredded, hanging in strands across his muscular torso; his body was covered with bruises, scratches, and burns from the various creatures and substances he had battled on his way to the tower; ichor dripped from his face, his arms, his legs; his fingers were torn and bloodied from the grueling climb up the tower; but his hair was immaculate, and a small breeze seemed to emit from a spot two feet in front of his face in order to gently toss his golden locks.

In short, he was a Hero.

“I have arrived, O Wise One, after seven years of struggling against innumerable foes, overcoming inconceivable odds in order to reach this tower. The struggle between Light and Darkness has reached its crux; without the Sword of Destiny, and the warrior foretold in the prophecies to wield it, Darkness will surely prevail. I am that warrior, O Wizard, here to lay claim to the sword and vanquish the evil that threatens us all!” The Hero assumed a dramatic pose, causing his muscles to vie furiously for attention.

The wizard smiled sheepishly. He edged away from the warrior, ready to make a mad rush for the front door. “Well, you see, it’s like this...”


Cable and Ipso Facto sauntered down a sunny roadway. They’d left Clot in the middle of a fierce battle, at his insistence, even though he had no idea what the fight was about. As they left, Clot was doing a very good imitation of Cable’s swordplay, and many of the combatants were wondering where the third army had come from. Now, though, Cable and the dog were enjoying the peaceful afternoon as they followed one of their favorite paths. Cable paused every mile or so to strike another pose, sword flashing brilliantly as it caught and intensified the sunlight.

“Why don’t you give it a go, my boy?”

Cable swung the sword in a shallow arc. “Oh, no, I couldn’t do that. I might nick it or something.”

“Ah, the responsibilities of ownership.”

“If I had a room, I could hang it on the wall over my bed. That would be perfect.”

“Right next to that Grail, eh?”

“No, no, that’s being used as a paperweight.”

“That’s right. Well, put it away, then, and one day we might just be able to find a place for you to hang it.”

Cable opened a small space in the air and dropped the sword in. “Do you really think so?”

The dog shook himself and chuckled. “Stranger things, my dear Cable, stranger things...”



Copyright © 2006 Mikal Trimm
 
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