What Makes A Hero

By Silent Elegy

I had a dream last night. It was very strange, but I’ll never forget it. I was walking along a dusty road. I was very tired and very thirsty. I think I had gone for several days without seeing anything when suddenly, a building appeared in the heat haze. At first, I thought it was a mirage, but as I came closer and it didn’t disappear, I realized it was really there, and I went inside.

Inside, it was dusty and hot, much like the road outside. There was only one other person, besides myself. He was an old man with white hair and beard, with sunburned skin and wrinkled hands. He wore armor that must have once been shining and new, but now was only rusted. A tattered and torn cape hung lopsided around his shoulders; it’s true color had long since faded away. Leaning against the back of his chair was a sword as old as himself. Its hilt might once have been jeweled, but they had fallen out long ago; its gold was tarnished so badly that it was black. Through the holes in its old leather scabbard, I could see the blade of the sword had rusted past even the hope of repair.

Although there was no bartender, the man sat at the bar drinking out of a mug that must have been as ancient as he was. As I entered, he raised his head slightly and said, “Weeell…I haven’t sheen any…any…anyone around *hic* around here shinshe…uh…a long…long…long time…”

I scowled slightly; the man was hopelessly drunk. Not noticing my scowl, he continued.

“Wha-whuh-whusher name?”

I didn’t really want to answer him. In fact, something told me I should avoid him at all costs. But something else told me that I needed to listen to him, drunk or not. “I am the Hero Rosalyn,” I said crisply, perhaps to show off exactly how not drunk I was.

“Weeell…a hero, eh? *hic* I knew a…a…uh…hero once… Name was Hopkins…”

I was startled. Hopkins had died 300 years ago, of course, but this was a dream; I wasn’t concerned with the timing. I was more surprised that this drunken idiot could possibly have known the greatest Hero in history.

“You couldn’t possibly…I mean…” I stammered. Finally, I managed to spit it out. “How could you have known him?”

The old drunk took huge draught out his mug; I thought for sure he would have emptied it, but I noticed there was still liquid inside. It made perfect sense, of course, at the time. Now I wonder if he had really drank at all.

Finally he answered, sounding considerably more sober. “We were very close, I suppose you could say. Yes, I knew him quite well…or I thought I did.”

“What do you mean?” My curiosity had finally gotten the better of me, and I sat next to him. Suddenly, I was very eager to hear what he had to say. The part of me that wanted to leave had been squashed into a corner by all the rest.

“Well, he had a real good friend, he did,” the old man said, speaking slowly. His eyes searched the blackened mirror behind the bar as if he could find all his answers in its tarnished depths. “Real good friends they were. Inseparable. Until the day the King and his daughter came to town.”

Here he paused to take another drink, but he didn’t continue. I fidgeted for several minutes while he drank and stared into the mirror. He seemed to have forgotten about me. Finally, when I was just about to remind him, he spoke again.

“Yes, the King and his daughter. After they came by Gohma was never the same…”

“Gohma!” I blurted out. He couldn’t possibly have been talking about Evil King Gohma, the greatest Evil King in history. He must have been talking about a different Gohma. He had to have been. Hero Hopkins would never have been friends with an Evil King as infamous as Gohma, or one who wasn’t infamous for that matter.

“Yep, the very same,” said the man, seemingly oblivious to look of shocked disbelief mingled with betrayal I wore on my face. “’Course, he wasn’t an Evil King at the time. Hopkins wasn’t a Hero, either. They were just two guys, buddies, compadres…until the King and his daughter came.

“Everything changed after that. Gohma got really mean after that. He’d always been a good mage before, but after they came, his power was unbelievable. It got to his head. He grew arrogant; he was obsessed with taking over the world. Hopkins couldn’t imagine what had happened. Then Gohma started calling himself an Evil King, and everyone knew. We knew what no one else did.”

He paused for another drink, but I couldn’t stand to wait. “What happened?” I almost shouted. “What did you know?”

The old man chuckled. “So now you’re willing to listen to the ramblings of an old drunk, eh?” He sighed and shook his sadly. “An old drunk…that’s me, all right.”

As he sat without speaking, I was suddenly struck by just how pathetic he was. He had obviously been a Hero at one time. His weapon and armor must have been new; they must have been very good, in fact. I knew by now that he come from a time long before the Hero’s Club. This old man might even have been as old as Stan. After all, he said he’d known the Great Hero Hopkins.

“We knew that the King created the Evil Kings and Heroes for his daughter’s pleasure. We knew because I saw her choose Gohma, ‘cept I didn’t know until later what she meant.

“Heroes came from all over after that. They came to acquire the power of the Great Hero and defeat Gohma. They fought because Princess Marlene wanted them to.”

I already knew that Marlene and her father were several hundreds of years old, but it still seemed surprising and unreal when the old man mentioned her name.

He paused and glanced at me, and knew he was waiting for another outburst. He seemed a bit surprised when I motioned him to continue, but he grunted as though he’d expected it.

“Thought you might know that name,” he said. “All the princesses have used it.”

“They were all the same one,” I replied. “I know her, sort of.”

“You were supposed to have been her Hero.” It wasn’t a question, but I nodded anyway. “Hopkins wasn’t. It was supposed to have been some dashing young fellow with spiky black hair and a sword practically as big as he was. Arrogant young cuss…”

Hopkins chuckled. “You should have been there. Quite a row, that was, when that little whippersnapper came waltzing into town. Hopkins couldn’t stand it anymore, by then. He just walked right out in front of the boy and challenged him to a duel. Winner fights the Evil King; loser gets out of town for good. Hopkins won, of course. Everyone knew he was the greatest swordsman in the whole kingdom.

“The King was not pleased, though. He nearly had Hopkins beheaded right then and there, but Princess Marlene stopped him. She had a weird look in her eyes, then. Like she’d just realized that these were people, not playthings. I think that’s exactly what happened, too. She’d never seen us as anything more than dolls that moved and acted for her pleasure. And then, all of a sudden, one of them could feel. And she knew he could feel ‘cause she felt it, too. She felt the pain she’d put him through by choosing Gohma for her Evil King.

“’Father,’ she said. ‘I’ve changed my mind. Let this one be my Hero. He has displayed courage and valor in the face of much adversity.’ I’ll never forget those words. She wanted me to be her Hero…”

He trailed off. Tears ran down his cheeks at the memory. I was so caught up in his story and his grief that I almost missed his faux pa. “She wanted me to be her Hero…” he had said. “Me,” not “Hopkins.” I let out a breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding. This old drunk couldn’t be… He had probably just misspoken. After all, he was drunk. Very drunk.

I didn’t want to think about how not drunk he actually was.

“It was tough on him, Hopkins, I mean,” he continued. The only signs of his tears now were his reddened eyes. “As the Great Hero, he had to fight the Great Evil King. He had to fight, possibly kill, his best friend. But he felt it would be better that way, that he should do it instead of some young, uncaring stranger.

“So he went forth to the place Gohma had decided to call his castle. And he battled Gohma’s minions with a fury he had never felt. All his aggression he felt for the King and the Princess, he took out on the monsters and ghosts. He fought without quite realizing why he fighting until he broke into Gohma’s main chamber.”

Once again, he had to stop, but not for very long. He took no drink this time.

“For a long time, Hopkins and Gohma just stood there, watching each other. Gohma with that infuriating arrogant smile; and Hopkins, on the verge of tears.

“’I have to kill you now,’ he said, and raised his sword. Gohma just shrugged and raised his hands to ready his magic. And they fought. But it was over all too soon. Gohma just seemed to give up at the end.

“As he laid there on the floor, the smile was gone. His eyes were almost normal again. He looked up and he said, ‘Better you than someone else.’

“And Hopkins replied, ‘It almost was.’

“Then Gohma said, ‘Please, friend. End this…’”

The man tried to choke back a sob, but it burst through anyway. He sat with his head in his hands crying as though he’d never been allowed. I thought I should do something, so I patted his shoulder as he rocked back and forth. He picked up the mug as though to steady himself with drink; however, instead of drinking, he stared at as though he had never seen it before. In a sudden rage that made me jump back quite a ways, he threw it at the mirror, shattering both. Liquid the color and texture of blood drained out of the ruins.

“I don’t need it anymore,” he said, almost wonderingly. “Thank you, Rosalyn.”

“For what?” I asked, extremely bewildered by both his display and his gratitude.

“For listening,” he replied. He picked up his sword and stood up straight. He seemed every bit the Hero I now knew he was once. “By listening, you made me face myself. You healed me.”

As he turned to go, I called him back. “Are you Hero Hopkins?” I asked, though I already knew the answer.

He smiled and said, “What do you think?”

I had always thought that Heroes fought Evil Kings because it was right. It was in the name, after all. Heroes were the good guys, and Evil Kings were the bad guys. I was a Hero, so I was one of the good guys. I was going about defeating evil in the name of Justice. But what did that make Stan? He was an Evil King defeating evil in the name evil. But we were on the same side. Did that make him good, or me evil?

I know now that there’s more grey to it than that. Stan’s reasons might be skewed, but he was helping me to defeat evil. That made him a good guy, whether he was an evil good guy or not. And Ari may have been Stan’s servant, but he was every bit as much a Hero as any true Hero I’d ever met. More so, in fact.

As I looked around the empty bar, devoid for probably the first time in about three centuries, I understood. I had always thought that as a Hero, I was right. But it was really the other way around. I wanted to be right, so I was a Hero. Just like Hero Hopkins, who only wanted to save his friend Gohma.

“What do you think?” the old man had asked. I didn’t have to think. For the first time in my life, I knew.

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