She’s going to tell you a story – as she so often does – about O’Dean, a man she might have met on his travels. He was a bit of a wanderer, that one. A strange one, riddling and shifting from one shadow to the next. She’s going to tell the story well. Probably not the way he would tell it. She’s a good storyteller – he is, too – but she’s not going to lie, or embellish much, and she’ll remember most of the bits where he was a fool and leave out some of the others. She just weaves the story, in a time long enough ago that you can’t quite imagine it, far enough away that you’ve never been. She’ll tell the story much better than he ever could have even if he weren’t long gone. She tells good stories in her singsong voice – listen.
His name was O’Dean, yes, and he was a wanderer. The longest he’d ever stayed anywhere was in the home of a woman, in a town with a name he’s forgotten. He stayed nearly four months. The woman was one of the few he remembered, later. Her face drifted through his mind sometimes, and it made him yearn for what could have been a home. He had meant to go back to her someday. He would have found her, sweet face more lined but smiling, and the child he’d left her with, whose life he’d never learned of. He never did go back. Instead he wandered. One town to another, down one dirty street and up the next. He accumulated a gang and they followed him around, for a while. One town threw stones to drive them out. O’Dean had insulted someone quite badly. Three of the gang fell and bled as the rest fled with O’Dean, and he laughed. He was always laughing. Joking, telling riddles. Lying with a glint in his eye. He was almost always charming enough, dark hair and craggy face grinning, for long enough to be believed or humored. Long enough to wander away unscathed.
There were so many small adventures. After the stones, they had gone to an old fishing town, reeking with brine and creaking old damp wood. They had found the tavern there more than adequate. It smelled strange, but the whiskey was good enough to ignore that. O’Dean flirted with the barmaid as his companions got heartily drunk, guffawing and yelling. They had retired for the night, to various places, and gathered again in the morning to squint against the bleak pale light.
As O’Dean led them all down past the wharf, an old sailor started forward. He asked them, raspy and belligerent, who they thought they were. What were they doing in this town, and hadn’t they better leave, then. O’Dean had a way of making himself welcome, and he clearly wanted none of it. He scowled at them, face twisted behind an eye patch, words ringing in the salty air. O’Dean spun, and glowered. His answer was contemptuous, as he grimaced at the bony old man; “Nobody to concern you, old man. We’ll do as we like.” The old sailor staggered forward, fists clenching, and O’Dean swung to clap him across the face. The sailor slumped back, curling over, until he could look up from behind a protective hand to glare at O’Dean with his one good eye, already red and swelling. He muttered, “Go then. Curses of the sea on you – go!” O’Dean scoffed and turned, waving his hand for the others to trail after him uncertainly over the slick cobblestones.
They left that town soon after. Most of them, anyway. Several stayed, consumed by something or other – O’Dean was never sure. He never quite bothered to find out. He just kept going. He kept on, to a crowded town bustling with merchants, gamblers, thieves. They stopped first at an inn, on the outskirts. It was run by a formidably busy woman, a middle-aged spinster who gave the impression of condescending to speak with any person at all. They stayed a week, enticed mostly by her cooking – though, admittedly, by her sharp-edged allure too. O’Dean left half his men there, still gorging themselves like pigs at her table. He had no taste for her cooking, and he’d lost his taste for her after so long a time. They went on, now only four others with him.
In the midst of town, O’Dean and the few with him hung around the edges of a bar with a card game planted in the center, watching the gambling. O’Dean held back, clung to the shadowy corners and the dusty tables. His men were less able to resist the whirl of money and anticipation, and they were drawn in. He escaped the gambling hall with two of his men. They left to explore the streets again, to hear the music drifting from the windows and the eerie silence of the darkness of the streets too late at night. They were drawn to the bustle and brightness of a tavern nestled in the corner of two streets, wings fluttering to the flame of loud voices and the smell of meat cooking. O’Dean stayed back again, and watched warily as his men jostled their way into the room. He joined them, after a minute, at the corner where they were already draining their mugs of beer. They called for meals, and he watched from his corner, dark eyes in the shadows and mouth twisted in apprehension. He knew not to trust anything, and the tavern-keeper had a shifty look to him – O’Dean didn’t like anyone who thought himself stronger than he was. The person didn’t exist who could outwit him, that he’d yet seen. So he stayed quiet, and shook his head at the steaming plates. His companions ate eagerly, without further thought. After another minute, he stood to leave – not before cutting the purse from a belt or two. It didn’t cross his mind to wonder whether the proud tavern-keeper would be angry at the men, once they found themselves without money to pay for all they had just taken. He left, swinging the door shut behind him and closing off the warmth and light. He started down the street again, comfortable in the softness of the cool dark.
He spent another few days wandering those streets. There O’Dean met a woman, a beautiful whore, down a dusky corridor in the upstairs of the brothel. She drew him in and cared for him tenderly – or tried to. She wanted him to stay, promised him forever. O’Dean sometimes had that effect on women. He wanted none of her forever – he left after a week, tired of the need to stay.
He went on to a place further on, another town with streets that looked the same and alleys with the same shadows. Every place seemed to have the same shape to it, after a while. It was easy to forget where he was – he’d been everywhere, for so long. He was a wanderer. Sometimes he thought of staying in a place, but the restless heart in him balked at the idea of settling. The face of the woman he had almost forgotten rarely surfaced – and when it did, he could remember that he had no home. He was meant for the roads, the streets, the new corners of places far away. Always finding an adventure didn’t leave him anywhere to return to, and he liked it that way. It was just him and the stones beneath his feet.
The next place he went was his favorite. It was a village filled with noble, decent people – gullible. O’Dean didn’t trust kindness either. He pronounced them all fakers, and went on without scruples. He stayed among those fake, kind people for a time. It was comfortable there. He slept in clean crisp sheets, and on his last night he dreamed that his adventures were grand. He dreamed that he fought off the impossible to do what he’d always thought improbable, and at the end of his dream he went home, to a place he couldn’t quite imagine. There was a woman there with a familiar face, and he knew just what to do and how to be. He always did, of course, but in his dream he grasped a sliver of contentment, of some strange far-off place he’d never been. In his dream he returned after his wandering, and he triumphed over those who wanted his place, and after that brutality there was a warm body and a fierce pride.
When he woke, he gathered his few belongings and slipped from the inn before its owners awoke. He started down a new road, feet finding the patterns that led to someplace unknown. The dream was already fading from his mind, and he set his face toward the distance, to keep on, to find an adventure, to wander and nothing more.