It was another quiet afternoon in the neighborhood and Neville Bartson was looking forward to a warm cup of tea while sitting out on his lawn. He was growing accustomed to retirement, to hours spent without worrying about tasks that needed to be completed, and naps that weren’t interrupted by crisis. It had been two years since he moved into the neighborhood looking for a change of pace, and he’d certainly found it. He had no family to speak of, though he had come to know his neighbors quite well. Neville was truly enjoying his golden years.
He went out to the little garden that he had started tending. A few buds were starting to sprout; it wouldn’t be long before the flower bed would be a bloom of colors. Satisfied, Neville was about to walk back inside when he saw someone standing on the sidewalk, watching him.
The figure was covered from head to toe in copper-colored armor, with little touches of black and steel gray to break up the color. A dark cloak was slung around one shoulder and he wore a helm on his head with two curving bull-like horns and a slot through which baleful eyes glared. A scabbard hung from his left hip with a sword that might have been half the length of his body.
“Hello there,” Neville said, with a small wave. “Are you looking for someone?”
The mysterious figure raised one gloved hand, each finger covered by several overlapping armored segments. He pointed right at Neville.
“It is you I seek, Neville Bartson!” His voice was like thunder booming in an auditorium. “I have traveled many leagues on a journey of many days to find you. Long have I awaited our meeting. ”
Neville’s forehead wrinkled. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe I know you.”
The figure thrust its armored chest out and loomed over him. “I am Glomdar the Misfortuner, Terror of the Saltlands and Scourge of Fenhall!”
“Glomdar…” Neville thought for a moment. “Hold on, are you the Gillings’ boy from across the street? I always thought your name was Kevin. You work in insurance, don’t you?”
“I know not of this Kevin! I am Glomdar of the Ravenspit! Despair is my helm and Devastation my cloak!”
“And that pays well, does it? Sounds more exciting than insurance.”
Glomdar gawked at him in disbelief. “Enough of this!” he roared, waving one hand in a loud, clanking gesture. “I have not come here to speak of insurance! I have come for you, Neville Bartson! I am your nemesis!”
“You are?” Neville scratched his nose. “Odd…I don’t remember hiring one. Very well then, you may be a nemesis if you like. I’m not reimbursing you for meals, though.”
Glomdar stiffened. “What?”
“Look, I don’t fully understand the terms of our contract, but if you’re going to be my nemesis you’ll have to cover your own expenses.”
Glomdar was trying to assess the situation, his dark eyes darting around furiously behind his helmet. “I had not expected this. I was told that you were a formidable foe, Neville Bartson. But you are just…just…”
“Old?” Neville smiled. “You may mock me now, young man, but one day, you’ll have aching joints to worry about too. Rather soon, I expect, with all that heavy armor jangling about.”
The both of them stood where they were in silence. A car passed by, slowing momentarily as the driver did a double take. A bird chirped somewhere above them.
“Would you like some tea?” Neville said.
Glomdar was dumbstruck. He clenched and unclenched one fist, considering this unexpected proposal. He nodded.
“Come on in then.”
Neville got out his most elegant tea cups, white porcelain with a floral design along one side. They had always been reserved for guests, but Neville didn’t have too many people coming around of late. He filled them with boiling water, put tea leaves in two strainers (Neville never used tea bags) and let them steep for a few moments. Glomdar was sitting at the small round table in the kitchen, shifting and adjusting his armor.
Neville placed the cups on a tray and brought them to the table.
“I’m sorry, I should have asked if you wanted any sugar.”
Glomdar shook his head. “Sweetness does not suit me, Neville Bartson.”
“You can just call me Neville, you know. No need for such formality.”
“Very well. Neville.”
The little china teacup looked even more dainty in Glomdar’s giant hands, as if he were cradling a newly hatched bird. He took a sip, taking care not to scratch the cup against the sharp edges of his helmet.
“How do you like it?”
‘It pales in comparison to the nectar of the Dire Gods, but it is quite nice.”
Glomdar placed the cup gently back on its saucer with a soft clink.
“I am grateful that you invited me into your home, Neville. But I must fulfill my purpose. As your nemesis, I have come to challenge you to a duel from which only one of us can emerge victorious. Prepare yourself for battle. I will give you fifteen mi – ”
Glomdar paused then, and his eyes widened as he looked at Neville. Both hands clutched at his throat.
“You cheated!” he croaked, before toppling to the floor in a clanking heap.
Neville finished his tea, put the cups away and walked up to his attic. Soft cooing sounds greeted him. He smiled at the white pigeon that sat in a small coop by the window, its feathers tinged with silver. There was a desk near the coop with a sheaf of parchments. Neville took a parchment and scrawled a message on it, then went to the coop and tied it around one of the pigeon’s legs.
The pigeon fluttered out of his hands, circled around the neighborhood twice, then disappeared into the clear spring sky. Neville went back down and set about removing Glomdar’s armor. He had given up the old ways so long ago. He didn’t think anyone still remembered his name anymore. It was flattering to think that some young upstart should consider him worth of a challenge, but he was well past the age of dueling.
Neville preferred to kill his enemies with kindness. A little cobra venom didn’t hurt either.