Flash Fiction: The Coat, Part 1

It was black leather, faded with years of neglect and abuse.  It hung heavy across his broad back and shoulders, the hem of the coat hanging down to mid-thigh.  It slapped against his legs as he took each step, as though the edge of it was weighted somehow.  The coat was festooned with pockets, though no one knew quite how many or what their contents might be.

It was worn in a patch around back, where the leather had scrapped against booths and benches and the rough brickwork of city alleyways for years and years.  It was a hard-worn coat, full of secrets and dried blood.  He’d been stabbed three times while wearing the coat; shot with arrows at least twice as many times as that.  He survived, and so did the coat.  Some new stitching, and each were patched up again.

Folks around the city recognized the coat and its wearer.  They became something of an institution, a familiar, mobile landmark in the city that wandered the streets in search of work and adventure.

Some coveted the coat, not because it was a particularly appealing piece of sartorial splendor, but because it represented something primal and daring and great: the coat was as much an adventurer as its wearer.  The coat had survived just as many narrow escapes and famous last stands as the man who wore it.  The coat was a piece of history, one that could be passed on like a torch or a crown or a family heirloom.  The man had no children – none he knew of or was in contact with, anyway – so the coat would just be buried with him when he died, assuming he was buried and not just left on some desolate battlefield or deep in some dank dungeon to rot.  It would be a damn shame for that coat to not go on, these folks reasoned, and so they tried to steal it and discovered the man who wore the coat was not an individual to be trifled with.

No one could say for certain how old the man was, or when he’d first appeared in the city, but everyone agreed they’d never seen him without the coat.  It was as much a part of him as his arms or his eyes, as important a tool in his arsenal as any sword or dagger.  He wore it during the defense of Halftown, and the brawl in the Giant’s Barrel that followed the glorious victory in that battle.  He wore it when he explored the fabled Catacombs of Meril Catharak, where he defeated the Lich Lord of the same name.  He wore it when he wooed the beautiful princess of Dorivo Tower, though he declined to ravish the princess in favor of ravishing her brother, the tower’s defender.

The man wore the coat everywhere, regardless of weather or circumstances.  It was like a uniform, a second skin, an indispensable garment by any measure.

So it came as some shock to everyone when he died without it on.

It came in the fourth month of the Year of the Notional Serpent, deep in to the sweltering summer season in Halftown, the city of heroes and adventure.  The man came stumbling into town one evening near dusk, blood matting his hair and the coat nowhere to be seen.  He collapsed in front of the Giant’s Barrel, bleeding from more wounds than any living person could reasonably expect to survive, and the life ebbed out of him as adventurers stepped over and around his prone form to reach the bar inside the Giant’s Barrel.

Only two individuals stopped to check on the man: Valeria, a tall woman from the great northern barbarian tribes, and her stout dwarven companion, Garric.

“He’s dead,” Garric said, straightening up from a stoop next to the man, though it hardly seemed worth the effort given how minor the effect of standing was on his overall stature.  Garric was, to put things bluntly, short.

Valeria nodded.  She’d assumed as much.

“No sign of the coat,” Garric muttered, eyeing the dusty street.  No one else was around; even at dusk, the city was so stiflingly hot that most people were quietly suffering indoors.

“That damn coat is more trouble than it’s worth,” Valeria said.  She didn’t put much stock in the legends and stories surrounding the coat.  Many thought it was enchanted, spelled against blades and blows.  Valeria was convinced it was just an old, ugly coat, but she also knew you couldn’t discount an item’s magicalness when so many people believed in it.  Belief had a power that was hard to beat.

“What job was he on?” Valeria asked despite herself.  She didn’t want to try to find the coat, but she could see the shape of the narrative forming around her.  Someone was going to go out and find the damn thing; it might as well be someone competent.  It might as well be her and Garric.  The man in the coat had always been known for taking on challenging jobs, and it was better that professionals take up the task than some amateur with delusions of grandeur.

“Clearing out the goblins in the Krober Pass,” Garric said immediately.  His memory for little details – like who had taken what job on the Adventurer’s Community Board – was sharper than most.

Valeria hefted her axe over one shoulder and her lute over the other.  There weren’t too many barbarian bards out there, and she was easily the best of them.  Garric rested his hands on his daggers, arching his back until the vertebrae popped one after the other.  “Right, then,” the dwarf said, a grin splitting his bearded face, “let’s get to it.”

Continue on to Part 2!

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