Coffee Break Read – The Walking Shadow

“How long you friend to Avilon?” In the flickering light from the fire, it was hard to see the other man’s face clearly, but there was genuine curiosity in his tone. It was odd, though, how he pronounced the name with the emphasis on the wrong syllable.
Jaz gave a slight shrug. “If you add it all up – including our time in the Specials I’d say around fourteen, fifteen years.”
The other man seemed thoughtful.
“Avilon have many?”
Friends, presumably. That was easy.
“No. I think I was about the only one for most of that time. Now – he has more. And a woman too.”
“He is – change? Not the same?”
There was clear concern in the question. Concern Jaz couldn’t lay to rest. He nodded briefly and felt his breath escape in a slight sigh.
“Yeah. Much changed. Not the same at all.”
“But – he is Avilon?”
Jaz had no idea how to answer that. It was something he struggled with himself over the past few years. There had to be something or he wouldn’t have kept with the grindingly thankless task of nurturing the empty shell he found in the Specials. But sometimes – and more often now than before – he was left wondering how much of that had been wishful thinking and how much had been real. How much he needed it to be Avilon as opposed to how much it actually was.
“Sometimes it’s like you can see a ghost of who he was,” he said, at last.
“Uh – yeah – like a shadow of who he was.” Jaz moved his arm so the firelight sent his own shadow reaching away and gestured to that with his other hand. “He’s like a walking shadow of the man he used to be.”
“Shadow – yes.” The Overlord nodded, moving his hand to match the shadow. Jaz noticed the triple line of scarring on the back of the hand, identical to the scarring Avilon had brought back from Temsevar. He put a finger towards it, running his hand through the air as if drawing three fast lines.
“What is that about? Avilon has it also.”
The Overlord looked at him as if he wasn’t sure that the question could be a serious one, but he must have seen from Jaz’s expression that it was. Then he nodded slowly and shrugged off his coat, pulling at the sleeve of his shirt so his shoulder was exposed. Jaz saw a crude raised mark that he took a moment to realise was caused by some kind of strike branding process. He knew Avilon was similarly scarred but not with the same design. The other man covered his shoulder again and pulled his coat back on. “Slave mark,” he said. Then closed his fist so the three scars on his hand stood out. “Fighting slave mark.”
Jaz had no idea what he could say to that, but the other man went on, hunting for words. Clearly struggling, but wanting Jaz to understand. His gaze intense with it.
“Avilon make him – made him -” The Overlord broke off and started again. “He made his choice. To be fighting slave – to find me. To free me.”
Something shifted in Jaz and he suddenly understood what this man must have meant to Avilon and had no doubt at all what Avilon was to him. He held the intense gaze and gave a slight nod, then reached out his hand. The other man took it, his grip strong.
“You’re my brother’s friend,” Jaz said, making each word clear so he could be sure he was understood. “That makes you my friend.”
The other man nodded.
“My friend.”

From A Walking Shadow, the final book in Haruspex Trilogy of Fortune’s Fools by E.M. Swift-Hook.

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