Flash Fiction: No More Heroes

This week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig is “The Complications of Heroism” so I have written “No More Heroes”.

(Rendered complex by the fact that I thought I’d said everything I wanted to about complications of heroism when I wrote “There Where Things Are Hollow“, a wee Cap and Iron Man conversation fic. Themes overlap but are non-identical, I suspect.)

Anyway. Tiny story.

*****

The children swarmed in, bubbling over from excitement at the itinerant storyteller.

“I want to be a hero!” proclaimed one, stick in hand, swishing it this way and that with heedless disregard for others.

Grandfather looked up, his eyes blazing like dragonfire.  “Don’t you say such things,” he snapped, and the children were a tumble and collapse of shock.

“Don’t you say such things,” he repeated, more quietly, as they stared at him.

“But Grandfather—”

“Nobody wants a hero,” he muttered.

“Everyone wants a hero!” one of the children said.

“Heroes are trouble,” Grandfather snapped back.

“But Grandfather—”

He picked up his great black stick, a gnarled stave of a wood they did not recognize, and pried himself out of the chair with it.  He had once been a tall man, once a broad-shouldered man, even if age stooped him and thinned him.  “Heroes are trouble.”  The stick tapped and scraped over the floor.  “When do you need a hero?”

The children traded looks, trying to figure out the answer.

“Monsters,” one of them said.

“Monsters,” the old man agreed, pointing the stick.  “And why do you need a hero for monsters, then?”

“To stop them eating people!” crowed another little voice.

“So who do you want the monster to come eat, then?  Your mum?  Your dad?”

The children made uncomfortable noises.

“How about the baker, I imagine she’s sweet and plump with all those fancy pastries she makes.  Monster’d take her early.”

One of the children sat down hard and started to sniffle, and one of the others curled an arm around him and patted gently.

“So if you actually want a hero, you’ve got trouble you don’t want.  Monsters.  Wars.  Terrible blighted curses.  If you don’t have one of those, what’s a hero good for, huh?”

Several of them were watching him earnestly.

“And how do you get someone fit to do all that heroing, then?  If the trouble’s so bad you need someone special like that, where’s that come from?”

One of the older children ventured, after a moment, “Blessing from the gods?”

“Ha!”  Grandfather turned away, turned his back on them, walked back towards the fire, leaning on the stick.  “Your hero, likely some god’s bastard.  If there’s no trouble to hand before, they’ll follow after, for sure.  His da’s jilted wife, taking it out on him, or maybe some divine dispute to be answered in mortal blood.  Or oh, here’s some test, see if you can pass it and make yourself worthy of godhood.”  He turned back.  “Do you see, yet?”

Several of the children nodded.

“You hear stories about heroes and you think the bards will sing your name forever, just like that, and how that would be.  But if you want that, if you want to be famed around the five seas and the thirteen realms for ending a disaster, first you have to have a disaster.”

He leaned on the staff, the fire seeming to go out of him, leaving only embers of the fury behind.  “You want to make a difference in the world, don’t pray to the gods for monsters.  Life’s got troubles enough without wanting anything would make a grand showing for a hero.”  He gestured irritably with one hand, and collapsed back into his chair, resting the end of the stick between his ankles.  “Go to bed.”

They slowly scattered, with many a backwards glance, and he sighed and shook his head as they went.  After they had gone, he poked at the flame with his stick, turning over the log, making the embers flare, before tucking it back against his foot.

“Kids.  They want to be dragonslayers without risking dragons,” he said.

The firelight spurted and shifted.

“Not a one of them doesn’t have godblood in their veins, if they wanted to make trouble,” he added.  “I won’t be having them deciding they fancy to be heroes, with a list of great and terrible deeds to their ledger and no bard to sing of the ordinary folk died to make it so.”

A coal popped.

“Let them turn their minds to what can be done without aspiring to being legends, right?”  He sighed, and shook his head, and closed his eyes.  “Having a name remembered forever’s not worth the price.”

“Do you have regrets?” asked the fire.

“I’m an old man, cousin,” he said.  “I have so many.  But I’ve never raised a hero, and that’s worth remembering.”

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