“Buzzard’s Final Bow” concerns an aging former gladiator, Buzzard, an old wrong for which he’s been trying to atone for years, and an evil task he’s been given. The story is well told, and while it doesn’t hold any great surprises or unusual twists, it’s compelling.
Buzzard is a flawed hero. He carries a tiger around in a cage, to which he’s chained. And this is the only problem I had with the story. We’re not given a lot of detail about the cage, but he’s chained to it. The chains seem to be quite long, because he is able to go into another room without taking off the chains or taking the cage with him. Having drag this cage and tiger around with him everywhere went pushed the limits of my suspension of disbelief. If that’s what he actually does. I may be misinterpreting things a bit.
Anyway, the plot is fairly simple. Lady Astra is the regent for the young Lord Konrad, a weak and sickly lad. She wants him out of the way so she can assume the throne, as regents are wont to do. She knows Buzzard was once Bazzar Kiln, a slave who won his freedom in the arena, where she once watched him perform. Buzzard’s freedom is in some way tied to his tiger companion, Lady Razor, and it’s her life Lasy Astra uses as leverage.
For a short story, this one is deep and surprisingly moving. As we learn more about the circumstances under which Buzzard gained his freedom, he becomes more and more sympathetic. There’s also more to the young Lord Konrad than we’re first led to believe. He has unplumbed depths of courage.
I’ll not say more because I don’t want to spoil the ending. Ridler doesn’t take the easy way out. He’s set up a situation involving guilt and atonement, and he doesn’t flinch from the harsh reality of either of those things. This is one that will stick with me.
I’ve not read any of Mr. Ridler’s work before, but he’s published in a variety of smaller venues. If this story is typical of his work, then I expect his name will be appearing on the tables of contents in the venues with wider circulation soon. I’m certainly interested in reading more of his work.
This series, Seven Days of Online Fiction, was started to see just how high the quality of short fiction online is. Over half of the short fiction with multiple award nominations this year were published online. While I won’t even attempt to pick award nominees, much less award winners, I will say that this story is of high enough quality that if I weren’t familiar with Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and this were the first story published there that I’d read, I would read more.
Quality count (high, low), end of Day One: 1-0.