The long way home


Heavy rain makes the ride down the mountain side more difficult.

Not only for the horse, but for me clinging to it, the dented brass of my armor making me seem wounded instead of drunk.

No, hung over.

The warmth of the drink vanished hours ago.

Now each drip on my helm is a torture I care barely stand.

I pull my hood over my head but it hardly helps.

Sleep or better more ale would.

A thick mist covers the vale ahead so I do not know how far I have come or how far I must go to reach its heart.

I lead the horse this way and that as the path appears, a winding passage back in time, a track I took so many years ago I hardly believe I am the boy that fled along it, returning now as a man.

A grey shack appears out of the mist, telling me that the village isnít far ahead.

I slow the horse.

The pain in my temple eases.

The memory of sword strokes and eruption of blood fills me.

I still see the eyes of the dying and I close my eyes.

I hear the voices of grown men crying for their mothers as they lay on the ground of the now distant battle field.

The scent of their rotting flesh has remained with me the whole ride, clinging to me despite the distance.

When my horseís hooves strike cobblestone I know I am home.

Slanted buildings poke out of the fog on either side, looking to me as if not a day has passed since my leaving this place.

The hooves splatter through mud holes spraying stray dogs asleep under leaking eves and they howl.

The muddy water makes me think of blood. I shiver.

The village I can make out through the shifting mists looks smaller than I remember, although I have walked this place thousands of times in my mind.

I dream of these street and my barefoot boyhood along its passages, a boyhood always hurried and full of passion for escape, and once gone, aching always for the long return, always fearing what I might find upon my coming has changed.

But a glance tells me nothing has.

This is just another shabby mountainside village with shabby people scratching out shabby lives from soil so poor no one else would bother with it.

Ahead, I see shapes appearing and disappearing in the mists, small shapes like those of dwarves or boys.

A boy appears, eyes so wide he looks blind, his admiration dripping from him as heavily as I drip of rain.

The boys asks if he can stable my horse, then helps me down even taking possession my gear, pausing lastly to look over my long sword which he handles as he might a relic.

He asks about the war.

I tell him to forget about it when I know he cannot.

I ask him about the tavern so I might forget the war at the bottom of a glass of ale.

He nods in the direction of a pale glow and I stagger that way, thinking of how I might die finally in this place, how I might find a patch of worthless soil to work before I do.

In the dark behind me, the boy still holds my sword.

He is me from long ago.

He must still learn what I have learned before he can truly appreciate this place.

If he learns to kill rather than be killed and do it so well as to get sick of it, he might even become me.

Then drunk and sad and perhaps wiser, he will make his way home as I have.

Boy, do I pity that boy.



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