The Boxer - S&G
I lost, he thought. I lost.
They’d left him alone. No, he’d sent them away. No one had argued. They’d seen the defeat, the resignation and humiliation in his face. No one wanted to be around such. When you won they flocked around you like bees to honey. When you lost they felt your shame, and felt shamed in turn. Couldn’t leave fast enough, scared losing would rub off somehow.
Time to go, he thought. Truth was he’d never wanted to stay. The fighting was something he’d fallen into for a lack of anything else. He’d allowed things to happen, never made a decision of his own. Easier to let other people do the thinking. He’d never known what he wanted to do. All he knew was he’d wanted to be somewhere else; someone else. Hiding behind the fearsome reputation of Kiran Katas had been, what, convenient? Even the name wasn’t his own. Someone else had picked it out for him.
I lost. He wanted to laugh and cry but he did neither, just sat.
I lost. A relief in a way. Like coming out of a long, long tunnel out into a light so bright it hurt. Someplace he’d wandered blindly in darkness, pulled along by invisible others. Dragged by the strength of their convictions, lacking any of his own.
Time he’d realized he could never escape what he was running from, it was too late. Things were settled. He’d discovered he had a following; fans who screamed his name. No, not my name. People who had rained their devotion down on him in roses red and blood money. But he’d never got away. Never escaped. Never been free. You can’t run from yourself.
Kiran Katas, Kiran the Red. Where’s he gone? Dead. Dead dead dead.
I’m leaving, he thought. He stood up, wincing at the pain in his side. The sword had cut him there. He’d heard himself cry out. He’d been cut so many times but this time it was different. He’d never lost before. I’ve got scars on my scars. But I never lost before.
He dressed slowly, buckled his sword to his side again. Not to fight though. No, not to fight. He wanted to leave it behind, only he couldn’t, couldn’t leave it. Fifteen years and all he had to show for it was scars and this sword. The money, and there had been money, had bled out of him like out of an open wound into the sawdust.
He snuck out, making sure no one saw him go. Though he was big he could be quick, could be quiet. Not what anyone expected and so he’d always won: Until tonight, when all his strength and all his speed had not been enough to win against a younger man. Better man, let’s face it. Face the truth. He was a better man. Whole and himself, not divided and lost and a bloody coward.
Outside it was cool. The arena was at the edge of the city, beyond the old wall, so it was quiet, the trees rustling softly, the sky streaked with the red of a fine evening. Kiran walked into the woods. He wanted to be alone to think. If nothing came to him he would start walking, choose a direction at random and leave, the way he always had when the road called him. They said there might be war. Could he enlist? Could he do that? Would they take a man past thirty?
Angry shouts and cries caught his attention. He didn’t want to be bothered with it, but he hadn’t realized how open he was. He was scooped out, empty, wide-open and waiting to be filled. There was a hollowness inside him that yearned. His sword was in his hand and he ran toward the sounds, wanting a purpose, needing a reason. The attackers heard him coming. He made no effort to be silent, crashing through the brush. There was a shout and the sounds of running and by the time he pushed into the clearing there was no one in sight.
Disappointed, he double-checked. Disappointed? Any sane man would be glad.
But there was something. A gem glinted in the last rays of the sun. A gem on a ring on a finger that lay beside what he’d thought was just a stone. Not a stone this, rather a man lying wrapped in a cloak.
He approached, turned the man over, saw what he knew to be a killing wound. Dark blood soaked the man’s clothes, a glistening curl of intestine moved each time the man took a ragged breath. He was young, probably handsome when his face was not so drained and pale, his eyes panicked and bulging. He clutched at Kiran’s arm.
“Who attacked you?” Kiran said. “Why?”
“Lies,” the young man breathed. “All lies. The mirrors. What you want to see. All lies! You have to tell. Please?”
“I will,” Kiran said, though he didn’t know what he was agreeing to do. The young man coughed. “What’s your name?” Nothing but more coughing.
“Please!” he said again, and died.
“Blessings be on you,” Kiran said. He closed the lids over those fixed eyes. “Blessings be.”