A piece of flash fiction I was originally intending to make a little longer:
The man they called simply the Grey looked down from the hillside above the village where he had been born, taking in the cars and the houses, the neat lines of the roads and the little church on the way into the place. He stood, and he watched, and he tried to remember his name. Norman? Neville?
So much had gotten in the way. So many other places. So many other worlds. A long lifetime of experiences racked up, ever since he had walked out of the taproom of the village pub aged eighteen, too young and too drunk to know better than to follow a man who claimed to be a wizard. He’d sobered up soon enough, when he’d seen the dragons.
Neil? Nigel? He felt certain it had begun with an N. Or maybe not. There were too many other memories.
The time he’d spent walking across the moors of the mist-lands, for example, hunting after wraiths that should have been invulnerable to mortal weapons, yet dissipated at each touch from a silver spoon given by a farmer’s daughter in exchange for a kiss. And more than a kiss when he’d brought it back.
Perhaps it was an M rather than an N. Perhaps he was a Mark. Did he feel like a Mark?
That brought back thoughts of the great city of Arn where thieves ran the night and the Grey had learned that everyone was a potential mark. In his time there, he’d picked pockets there and cut purses, run over rooftops and made his way up walls as easily as walking. He’d stolen gems as big as chicken eggs, and found himself stealing chicken eggs to eat when he’d gambled away the money.
Matthew, Maurice? Names slid through his memory without even touching the sides.
The Pit of Darkness. Now there had been an adventure. Diving into it, pursued by a dozen Things too hideous to contemplate, then climbing out of it over three days with the aid of a pair of elven twins cursed so that only one could see at any given time. How many creatures had they slain on the way back up? And there had been the sword sticking out of the rock half way up. If he hadn’t paused to retrieve it, would both twins have lived, in the end?
Adam, possibly? No, not Adam.
Memory gave way briefly to regret, as he recalled all the ones who had died on the way. There had been the Erracan dancing girl sacrificed on the altar of the Mad God, and the whole Company of the Hawk in the battle before the gates of Prel. The bard Illian had died trying to outdrink a mountain giant, while too many others to count had fallen to the sword.
Door, perhaps? Book? No, those weren’t even names.
How could he, of all people, have forgotten this? He who had learned the names of demons, and spoken the true names of fallen gods. He who had helped to build the tower of the seven mages, then brought it down again when they dedicated themselves to darkness. How could he find himself so stymied by one little word?
Perhaps he should just give himself a name and have done with it, the way he had when the northern folk had held their naming contest, bragging about their achievements and their victories. He had stood up on the stage then and said simply, ‘I am Grey’ and that had been that. Would that be enough here to make him Barry or Daniel, Stephen or Zackary?
Zackary, he liked the sound of Zackary. Zackary could become Zack, or even just ‘Z’ if he acquired any friends close enough to warrant it. Zackary sounded like the sort of man who had a minor hobby that interested him a lot more than it did his girlfriend, who went to the pub with his friends once a week, and who held down a nice job in marketing. The Grey believed that Zackary would be a nice man.
He stood at a sound behind him and found himself facing Lillia the Red, greatest thief in the Five Kingdoms since… well, him. Since she only made any noise when she wanted to, the Grey nodded to her, assuming that she wasn’t there to try to kill him this time. Though she had once tried that tactic back in the ruins of ancient Kar. Had that been the time they’d ended up in bed together too?
“I brought you a present,” Lillia said, fishing a rolled up piece of paper out of her belt.
“A map to some lost temple? A spell no mortal mind can hold?”
“I think we’ve both seen enough of them for the time being, don’t you? Read it.”
The Grey read. It was a birth certificate. There was a name at the top.
“This is mine?”
Lillia shrugged, then nodded to the village below. “What do you see in all that, anyway?”
The Grey read the certificate again, rolling the syllables over in his mind the way he would some complex incantation, trying to find a way for them to fit. Finally, he rolled the certificate up again, and ignited it with a word of power.
“Not as much as I was hoping to.”