They were laughing. Yoglus knew they were laughing at him; his now-emaciated frame, his patchy hair, his wasting away. He knew them, or others like them. Once they had pressed through a crowd to shake his hand; once they had shouted his name from the stands; once they had taken their son to the city so that he might see a Hero, just for a day, just for an hour. 'See him? That's Yoglus The Bone! Go on, see if he'll lift you with one hand!'. That was before: now they just laughed.
A young man was at his elbow, clean, well-put together; wealthy. "Yoglus!"
"I am no one by that name."
"I know you, Yoglus. My father is Patron at Houl. I was presented to you after you fought the whillerwalk." The young man's eyes gazed off into the distance, into the past, seeing the contest in his memory. "We thought you would surely die; most fighters underestimate them due to their size."
Yoglus was silent.
He continued, oblivious to Yoglus affecting to ignore him. "It was fast. It carried your sword away in its gut on that last pass. From as far up as our box is, we couldn't tell it was stricken until it collapsed on the way back. I don't think it even knew."
Yoglus remembered another life, scant months ago. "I thought to try strangling it if it reached me."
The young man laughed; with Yoglus, not at him. "I would have liked to have seen that." He sat down at the bar, next to him. "I am Julion."
"I remember you. Your father is fat."
Julion laughed. "Yes, very. He ate most of the whillerwalk meat that night. He always eats too much after a Contest. You took ill not long after that, I think?"
Any man, winning enough contests in the dirt and blood and sawdust, once again coming away with nary a scratch or bruise and holding aloft the bloody thighbone of some creature thrice his weight, would think himself favored by the Gods. Any man, bedded by the most beautiful wives and daughters, fawned over by them, worshipped by them, might if only for a moment think himself a God.
He might even say so, out loud.
"And you've seen a physician?"
"My ailment is beyond his talents." Yoglus finished his drink in one draught, and struggled to take his feet. There was a hard bed in a cheap room upstairs, on which and in which he intended to die. "Good night."
Julion reached out to steady him, and Yoglus felt the power behind the unfamiliar touch. not physical power, but magical. The young man was clearly a sorcerer. It made sense: son of a wealthy, powerful man; idle, time enough for a dissolute youth to waste himself in drink and whoring or for an industrious youth to find great purpose. "Let me be."
"I can help you."
"You cannot." Yoglus tried to pull away, succeeded, but lost his balance, falling loudly against the bar with a rattle of glasses and bones. Again there was a titter of laughter from the farmers.
Julion shot them a withering look — with eyes that, for an instant, began to glow a cold blue — and they were silent. He turned back to the gladiator. "I can try. What could be the harm?"
Yoglus looked the young man in the eye, took his measure. "You are kind. This is a commendable trait; kindness to the unfortunate is smiled upon by Seu. But I am not just unfortunate, I am accursed. I have offended the Gods and will die for it, regardless of what you do. Better for all to leave me to it."
"I have not come upon you accidentally, Yoglus the Bone. I sought you out. I believe I can put an end to your suffering—"
"That end will come on its own."
"You can live. I have power."
It was readily apparent: it seeped from him in intoxicating waves. "But you are not a God, that you might oppose the will of a God. There is no magic that will appease those I have offended."
"I may yet. Why not try?"
Yoglus shook his head as emphatically as he could manage. "Just help me up the stairs, for that no God or man can fault you."
Julion obliged, putting his shoulder under Yoglus' armpit, taking some of the gladiator's weight on himself. They made their way up creaky stairs and into Yoglus' tiny room.
There was a hard, small bed, there was a small table with a lantern, and — on the floor, under the window — a shrine to Mek, patron God of all those who draw the blood of beast or man. "You still worship him, when he has forsaken you?"
"Mek has done no wrong. It is I who have failed him. Help me onto the bed."
Julion did so, as gently as he could manage. "You hope for his forgiveness?"
"Perhaps after death, when I have paid my debt, Mek and the others will forgive my arrogance. Perhaps then. I do not look forward to an eternity of punishment." Yoglus looked up at the young man, coughed, spoke in an increasingly raspy voice, "How did you find me? Houl is a long way from here. Was it magic? Tell me."
"Magic. I can find anyone I can hold in my mind. Easy."
"And why? Because I killed a whillerwalk? Others have done it too, you know. It's not really that hard once you know—"
"Because you are mine."
He squinted up at Julion. "What? What do you mean?"
The young man's eyes glowed blue again. Yoglus saw not Julion, but another face: a hard, martial face. Mek.
"You've come to take your final vengeance."
"I've come to forgive you."
Yoglus felt the pain seeping away, felt light. "Why?"
"It pleases me."
His strength began to return; there would be no more laughing at Yoglus the Bone.