The Journey Home

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One survivor

“Water,” was the only word he said.

Without hesitation, I scrambled to give him my flask. I did not say a word. There were a thousand things I wanted to ask him, but I held my tongue. Before the man was finished, I had retrieved the medical bag. I needed to bandage the man’s wounds quickly, so I scavenged through the bag to find anything that might help. No time was wasted as I wiped blood from the gash on his side and bandaged the wound.

I could tell the soldier was in agony, but he clenched his teeth and sealed his eyes without making a sound. The sun had started its ascension when I finished bandaging his injuries. He did not look well, and I feared nothing would help him recover save reaching Sanctity. The morning light reflecting off the snow-covered trees awoke me to a startling reality. It was daytime, and the attack party sent against us was probably reporting to the fifth division at that very hour.

My first thought was to ask my companion if he could walk, but I was thrown into deeper anxiety. He had blacked out. I paced to and fro, left and right, and about every direction I could. Think. I told myself to think far more than I would have liked. Eventually, I discovered a way to move my friend. He would have to be dragged.

Opening my bag of treasures, I drew out the dagger. I had no scarcity of branches to choose from, and soon had the sides and back of the sled assembled. I was motivated by my desire to leave the area, fearing the forces of Moor would return. Using what rope I could find, I tied the pieces together, and brought it to my ally. He was still unconscious, and the color was draining from his face. I feared the worst, but put that fire out before it rose to dread.

I wanted the transition onto the sled to be as smooth as possible. Thus, I patiently waited after each movement to make sure he was alright. After I was content with his position, I reached toward the soft ground and picked up a handful of powdery snow. I spread it across everything I could, hoping to camouflage into the winter’s fold.

It grieved my heart that I could not bury the fallen, but I would not let another man die. With that in mind, I left the battlefield as it had been, hoping to one day return. The direction toward Sanctity was clear; I had kept a mental note of it. Home was where my heart remained. I had lived my whole life in the quiet village nestled in a remote corner of the region of Tres Sylfur. Never had I strayed from its garden beds or wanted to leave the safety of its burning hearth. The war had hit me harder than most in Sanctity, though it affected every citizen’s life in some way.

The more I considered this, the more I realized that the warrior I was fighting to save had a cottage of his own. He no doubt had a family, and a garden bed, and a pile of logs waiting to be chopped for kindling. I wanted him to see these things again, even if it was for one last time.

I drove through the wind which wailed around me with such ferocity that a banshee would be jealous. The fire which lit my bones caused me to move too fast, and I had no idea the energy I was exhausting. For the moment, my challenge against winter’s bravado consumed me. I had allowed myself to be conquered by fear, but to be conquered by nature was another story. I had been a lumberjack before the war, and the pines that loomed around me granted me a sense of relief. The forest scent that overtook the air was one I had grown accustomed to.

With the sack weighing down upon my right shoulder, and the sled holding down my left, I walked on. The quiet gave me time to think, but the only thing I could think about was conversation. I desperately longed to learn my companion’s name, for of all the members of our unit, I had known him the least. This did not make his less valuable in my eyes; in fact, it made him more. I could not let him die without knowing who he was.

As if he had heard my thoughts, the man awoke. “Where are we?”

“We are in the forest. I am going to get you home,” I responded.

“How did you survive the battle?”

I smiled, hoping it would mask my shame. “I could ask you the same thing. You’re lucky to be alive. I’m afraid, though, that I never caught your name.”

The man struggled to get enough breath. It was hard for me to hear him cough so violently. “Arthen. Thank you for saving me. That is what you are doing, isn’t it?”

“Of course. My name is Imro, by the way.”

“What a curious name.”

My weight shifted as I tripped on an ill-placed rock. I tried as best I could to spare Arthen of the pain, but was too late. He let out a cry, but I knew nothing serious had occurred. I rose from the ground to retake my burdens. “Is it? Why do you say that?”

Luckily, Arthen did not realize that I meant to distract him from his agony. He forced himself to refocus on the conversation. “No real reason, I’ve simply never heard it before. Now if you don’t mind, I would like to rest.”

I was surprised how quickly Arthen fell back asleep, even though I was dragging him up a hill. With my remaining stamina, I wove between trees and reached the top of the hill. From the height, I expected to be able to look out over the horizon, but the pines obstructed my vision. Instead, I searched the area for signs of Moor activity. Several pairs of footprints caught my eye, but they were too small to be human.

With Arthen resting, keeping his mind off his dire state was no longer an issue. I trekked past the hill and on for most of the day. Every part of the forest seemed the same, save for the scattered footprints which I found once again. Toiling against the landscape did not bring me pleasure, but at least the trees were well-spread, and the branches did not hang low. Many times I had to pause for a quick recovery, but some force kept me going. I could not put my finger on it. I did not feel brave or courageous; on the contrary, I felt afraid of what lied beyond. It must have been hope.

Hope walked by my side as if an angel. It gave me constant motivation, and helped me see past my circumstances. Arthen broke in and out of sleep, and we talked of the forest and its animals, and of the condition of Tres Sylfur. I found Arthen to be quite the idealist and dreamer. He had refreshing views on how the war could bring future peace and how Sanctity could be an example for other villages to follow. I pictured Arthen as a wishing well, whose waters both reflected your image and cooled your throat.

Night came upon the forest far faster than it should have, at least in my opinion. I was left in a troubling position. Nightfall gave me no choice but to try and get some sleep. As I searched for a place to set up, I continued walking on. I almost regretted this, as a frozen river confronted me. This was horrible. How was I going to cross this stretch? That problem would have to wait for the morning. In the meantime, I wanted to dream without remembering the nightmares around me.

I found a comfortable spot on the edge of the river, and lit a torch as the surroundings grew darker. I set Arthen in an open area, and wrapped my cloak and blanket around him. He was already struggling… he did not need to get sick. The only way to not think about how cold this left me was to lean back and close my eyes.

The emotions which clung to my subconscious muddled my dreams. Everything was a blur except for my recollections of the terrifying fight. I tried to shake off these horrors, but instead found myself startled back into reality.
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