When I Met a Barbarian

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This was the place. Josh was sure of it.

It’s just that it didn’t look like the sort of place you’d expect a barbarian to live. It was a quaint little bungalow with a brightly coloured flower garden. There were at least a dozen garden gnomes outside, and it had a pink door! Maybe I’ve got the wrong house, Josh thought.

He looked around the street, expecting to see a house covered in metal spikes or with a sign outside that said ‘enter at your own risk’. But every house seemed so boring. There was even an old woman sitting in the garden next door doing a puzzle book.

Josh rang the doorbell. It made a pleasant ding-donging sound.

He was about to leave and try somewhere else when the door opened. An old man with long grey hair and a bushy beard stood on the other side. He was so tall that he had to stoop so his head wouldn’t touch the top of the doorframe. His arms were almost as long as Josh’s entire body. His hands were like shovels, and his feet were like boats.

‘It is you! Bobar the Barbarian! I knew this was the right place!’

‘I—I think you’ve got me mistaken with someone else. I’m no barbarian,’ the old man boomed in his deep barbarian voice. He glanced at his next-door neighbour. She was peering at him over the top of her puzzle book. He shrugged his shoulders at her.

‘I know it’s you. I’ve got your posters all over my bedroom wall. Your hair’s greyer, and you’re a lot thinner, but I don’t think there are many people around that are seven-foot-tall!’

The old man quickly pulled Josh inside. ‘Ok, you’ve found me. I am Bobar the Barbarian, but keep your voice down! How do you think the neighbours will react when they find out they’re living on the same street as a barbarian? They’ve only just come to terms with the fact that the postman rides an electric bike.’

‘It’s not like you’re any barbarian, though. You’re THE barbarian…

‘The saviour of the Golden Realm…

‘The champion of the Four Kingdoms…

‘The man who single-handedly took down the Dak Empire…

‘I’ve read all of your stories…

‘I’m like your biggest fan!’

Josh pushed up his glasses. ‘To think I’m in the same room as the legendary Bobar the Barbarian.’

‘It’s just Barry, now,’ Bobar said. ‘So, do you fancy some tea?’

‘No, thanks. I don’t drink tea.’

‘We’ve got some freshly-squeezed orange juice if you’d prefer that. I made it myself this morning.’

‘Err—Ok, then.’

‘And would you mind taking your shoes off before coming into the sitting room, please?’

Josh slipped off his shoes and put them beside a pair of fluffy size fifteen slippers.

‘The sitting room is through here,’ Barry said, leading him through the hallway. ‘I’ll nip into the kitchen to get our drinks. Make yourself at home while you wait.’

Josh sat down on the sofa and looked around.

The sitting room had sky-blue wallpaper with a flowery purple trim. There was a bookcase in the furthest corner, filled with books. Photographs covered the walls. Some were of Barry cuddling up to a woman with dark hair and kind eyes. Some were of spotty-faced teens trying their best to smile. There was even one of a Yorkshire terrier wearing a fourth-place rosette at a dog show.

Barry came in carrying a tray. It had two glasses on and a plate piled high with cupcakes. Each of the cakes was decorated with white icing sugar and pink sprinkles.

He ducked to avoid hitting his head on the lampshade.

‘I’ve been baking my famous fairy cakes,’ he told Josh, sliding the tray onto the coffee table. ‘They’re supposed to be for my wife’s book club meeting later, but I’ve made plenty, so I thought it’d be nice if I brought some out for us.’

He sat on a green armchair opposite Josh and took one of the fairy cakes.

‘So, what did you come all this way for?’ Barry asked.

‘I wanted to meet you. To see what you’re really like. You’re my favourite hero of all time. All of my mates at school like Cyril the Cyborg, but not me. I’m old school. Bobar the Barbarian’s the only hero for me.’ He took his orange juice off the coffee table and had a drink. ‘Although I have always wondered what happened to you? It’s like you just vanished off the face of the earth. One day you were riding high, righting wrongs, slaying sea monsters all willy-nilly, and the next, nothing.’

Barry smiled. ‘Do you remember when I captured the four-headed lioness of Lyria?’

‘Sure,’ Josh said, reaching for a fairy cake.

‘Well, when we were fighting, I threw my back out dodging one of her fire blasts—it was a right nasty one too. My left eyebrow still hasn’t grown back properly! As soon as I got back to the settlement, I went to see my healer about my back. He said what I needed was some rest. He told me I should go on holiday.

‘So, I did, and I ended up staying in a little cottage in a foreign land. At first, I was a bit nervous. I’d never been over the boundary before, but it ended up being a real game-changer. I went to pubs. I played bowls on the village green. I watched television for the first time. I really enjoyed it.’ He took a sip of his tea.

‘So, you liked it so much that you never went back to being a barbarian?’ Josh asked, picking up another fairy cake.

‘I did,’ Barry said proudly. ‘And I’ve never looked back. I managed to get a job at the local council office. I got a mortgage. And then I bought this bungalow. I even put my name down for an allotment. A few years later, I went back to the settlement to pick up some of my old things. You know, the sentimental stuff like my old weapons.

‘Eventually, I got married and had kids, then my kids had kids of their own, and I became a grandad. Best job in the world if you ask me. But yeah, that’s my life now. In the morning, I do a bit of baking or gardening. Then, in the evenings, I sit down to watch TV with my wife. It’s a much quieter life than when I was a barbarian, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.’

Josh pointed to a photograph on the wall. ‘Is that your wife in that picture?’ Josh asked.

‘It is. She’s the love of my life. It’s a pity you couldn’t meet her, but she’s at her dog yoga class all morning.’

‘Then, all these pictures of children, are they your grandchildren?’

‘They are,’ he said. He pointed to a photo of a boy standing on a basketball court. He was holding up a trophy. ‘That there’s little Stefan. He takes after his granddad, you know. Ten years old, and he’s already six-foot-two.’

Josh finished off the last dregs of his orange juice.

‘Would you like another?’ Barry asked.

‘No, thanks,’ Josh said. He checked his watch. ‘I’ve got to go now, anyway.’

‘If you like, I can put it in a flask, so you can take it with you when you go?’

‘I’m ok,’ he told him, glancing out of the front window.

Josh got up.

‘I could plate up some fairy cakes for you to take if you want?’

‘No, thanks. My mum says I need to stop eating so much sugar because it makes me hyper.’

‘Fair enough,’ Barry said. He followed him out of the room.

‘Thanks for having me,’ Josh said. He picked up his shoes.

‘No, I should be thanking you. It’s not often I get visitors that aren’t relatives.’

Josh had almost put one of his shoes on when a thought came to him. ‘I don’t suppose you still have any of your old weapons lying around?’ he asked. ‘If you do, I would love to see them.’

‘I think you might be in luck. A few days back, I put some into a box, ready to go to the charity shop. If you like, I’ll go and fetch it so that you can have a quick look through.’

‘That would be awesome!’

Barry went back up the hallway and ducked into the spare bedroom.

While Josh waited, he laced up his other shoe.

Barry came back carrying a big cardboard box. It clinked and clanked with every step. From the sound of it, the box must have been jam-packed. Josh didn’t even want to imagine how back-breakingly heavy it would’ve been for a regular-sized person.

Barry gently put it on the floor as if it were a box full of air. ‘Now, be careful. When I packed it the other day, I made doubly sure that all the weapons were sheathed, but you never know.’

Josh flipped the lid open and began to rummage through the box.

‘You can have whatever you like. I was planning on donating all of this to charity, but looking at it again today, I don’t think any of it is the kind of thing that’ll go down too well in an Oxfam shop.’

After some frantic rummaging, Josh pulled out a small axe in a dusty leather wrapping.

Josh’s eyes widened, and his breathing quickened.

‘Is this…

‘It can’t be…

‘The Golden Axe!

‘Is this the one the Queen of the Golden Realm gave you for rescuing her daughter?’

‘It is,’ Barry said.

Josh unfastened the wrappings and inspected the axe.

It glimmered in his hands.

‘I can’t believe I’m actually holding the Golden Axe of Awesome Annihilation.’

‘You know, it’s not actually gold. It’s gold-plated. If it were made completely of gold, you wouldn’t even be able to pick it up! They wanted to keep it small and light so it could be used in battle. I don’t think they really thought it through, to be honest. I mean, what pillock would go into battle with a gold axe!’

‘Can I have this one, then? Please! Please! Please!’

‘If that’s the one you want, you can have it.’ Barry put his hand in his pocket and took out a Waitrose bag. He handed it to Josh. ‘Put it in this, though. People might start talking if they see a boy walking around with an axe.’

‘Thank you,’ Josh said. He put the axe in the bag.

Barry went over to the door and held it open for Josh. ‘If you are ever in the area again, do pop in for a chat,’ Barry said.

‘I will do. Bye, Barry.’

‘Bye, Josh.’

As Josh was leaving, a pink car pulled into the driveway.

When the engine stopped, he looked back. Barry had stepped outside. He was helping his wife into the house. Their Yorkshire terrier was running around him, yapping excitedly.

He looked happy.