Kallar staggers home later that night more unsteadily than usual, aware that he has had rather more to drink than on most nights. He tries to sing the song he always sings at such times, a tune for banishing shadows that his father taught him, but the words die on his lips. His heart is too heavy for song.
These strangers have not come here for any reason that will not be trouble to Kallar and the village. It all has something to do with the dragon, but he doesn’t know what. Not yet. They’ll tell him when the time is right, they say.
He hears the breathing behind him first, then the footsteps. Bad Joe is light of foot, but he has the wind of an old woman, and the slightest exertion makes him puff.
“What do you want, Joe?” he asks without turning around or pausing on his way.
“Who are you new friends, Kallar?” demands Joe.
“Just people,” says Kallar.
“Just people,” mimics Joe, and Kallar belatedly remembers that Joe is never without his hangers-on, whoever they might be on any given night. Joe likes a fair fight about as much as a cat likes a bath. “You think you’re better than us, don’t you Kallar?”
“No, Joe. Just tireder. I just want to go home and sleep.” Joe grabs his arm and pulls at it, and Kallar lets himself be turned around. Three followers tonight, he sees – Joe’s in rare form. Tall Mick, Mackay the Farmer and Gerry the Slow. No one he can’t take, although if Mackay is armed it might be different.
“You look at me when I’m talking to you,” says Joe angrily.
“Of course, Joe,” says Kallar, and punches him. His dad always told him never to start a fight, but in Kallar’s experience, it saves time, especially when someone’s looking to start a fight with you. Joe recoils and Kallar hits him with his other fist. Joe goes to the ground, and his three followers take a step forward.
Kallar steps up to them and cracks his knuckles, casually resting a foot on Joe’s groaning form. “Who’s next, gents?” he asks, and that’s all it takes. Mackay, Gerry and Mick take to their heels. Kallar gives Joe a parting kick to make sure he stays down, and turns again for home.
Arrving home at last, Kallar looks around him, trying to figure out what he should take with him. For the first time that he can remember, he has no idea what’s expected of him. It’s a scary thought, but an exhilarating one, and he goes to sleep with a smile on his face.