The Journey Home

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Challenges

It was still late in the night, and a wolf’s howl echoed in the distance. I could not see much of anything, so I grabbed my torch and relit it. The moment the torch caught fire, five pairs of beady red eyes looked back at me. The wolves had found us.

Their teeth were razor sharp, and they had hunger painted about their countenance. They had formed a semi-circle around us, and left us no way of escape but the frozen river. I slowly, more slowly than I had done anything before, reached for my sword. After having my weapon in hand, I got up from the ground and unsheathed it. The wolves were still waiting, and growled viciously at any move I tried to make. All hope was not lost, however, because I had my torch. Against only five wolves who appeared weak from starvation, I felt my sword and torch would be enough. My problem was not what the creatures might do to me, it was what they might do to Arthen.

I braced myself for the worst; there was nothing else I could do.

With a mighty shout, I charged the first wolf and it fled before the fire. These beasts were clever, though, and whenever I went right, they closed in on the left. They did the same if I tried to fight them back on the left. Soon enough, I found myself standing above Arthen. I could tell the wolves were preparing for an attack.

One leapt toward me, and I seized my opportunity. I struck it down with a cross blow, and then stabbed it where it lay. While this had happened, one of the other wolves had come upon me and bit me on the arm. I cringed, but had the ability to smack the wolf across its face with the torch. It released its bite and whimpered away to a safe distance. At that moment, as I looked at the other three creatures, I realized the center wolf was their leader. If I took him out, the others might panic.

I ran straight at him, and he, in return, sprung toward me. His attack left him on top of me, but I was prepared. Before he could bite, I slammed the side of sword into him. This sent him reeling and gave me the upper hand. With the speed of a lightning bolt, I aimed my sword and jabbed it directly into the leader’s neck.

Continuing on this adrenaline, I shouted at the remaining wolves while swinging the torch toward them. Without their leader they had no courage, and fled back to where they had come from. I felt the triumph of my victory rise up within me. It was an incredible feeling.

“Maybe you’re more of a warrior than you give yourself credit,” Arthen said behind me.

I spun around. There sat Arthen, with the sort of smile that a father would give to his son. I did not know what surprised me more, the fact that he was awake, or the fact that he knew I did not credit myself as much of a soldier. I had not told him, had I?

“What do you mean?” I asked. Hopefully, he did not know what had happened that fateful night.

His smile faded. “You are starting to show that you can not only brave a fight, but win it. I saw the way you looked at me when I asked how you survived the battle, and come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing you during the fighting. At first I thought that you were afraid to fight. Now I see, however, that I was mistaken.”

It took me some time to respond. Arthen had seen what I hated most about myself, and told me that it no longer defined me. Maybe I was a new man. “I’m just glad that we are both alright. How do you feel?”

“Able to stay awake and keep you company. I’m afraid, though, that even with the ointment you put on my wounds, they might be getting infected. Hopefully I’m wrong…”

“I will get you home. I’m sure the medicine will do its job. Now, the real question is, how do we cross this river?”

Arthen turned his head so that he could survey the situation. “It seems like it has only formed a thin layer of ice since winter started. We will have to be very careful. If only we had my horse, Dimonryl. I named him after the diamond light of legend. He is the strongest and fastest horse in the region. We would probably be home by now if we had him.”

I nodded, not wanting to argue with him about the legend. Some of the people of Sanctity claimed that the knight of the silver fire would come to save Tres Sylfur. He supposedly wielded a sword of white fire as bright as diamond’s light. The knight of the silver fire would bring years of prosperity to Tres Sylfur in its darkest hour. With our darkest hour drawing close, more and more began to await the fulfillment of the legend. I was glad that it gave our people something to strive toward, but had no intent of believing in the tale.

Arthen snapped me out of my daydream. “You should probably test the ice first, before you try and take me and the supplies across.”

“Of course.” I tightened my belt. My first step on the ice went well, as did the second and third. I knelt down and felt the ice, and it did not seem too thin. The river was massive, and any part of it could be a thin patch. I knew that there was little good in waiting.

I laid Arthen down on his sled, telling him that everything would be fine. I gave him the torch to hold, knowing that we needed to keep the fire alive. I lowered him down onto the ice, and then went back up for our supplies and my bag with its precious items. Every single item, from the medical supplies, to the flasks and food stuffs I had obtained, to the memories of the fallen, were important to me. I did not want a single piece to not make it back to Sanctity.

Step by step I went. Arthen kept his hands clasped together. At least he was not the only one doubtful of the river’s intentions. So far, the river had been kind, but we were only half way. Moments dragged on, and every time I moved, I felt unsure. By the time we had neared the end, I had to stop and take a deep breath. We were close enough to the other side that I took our supplies and slid them across the ice so that they reached the dry ground.

Arthen had grown silent, but he continued to look at me to encourage me. He had placed all his trust in me. I took him to the final stretch of the river, and lifted his sled to set him on solid ground. I felt the ice crack beneath me. It was then that I realized picking up the sled had been a mistake. I instantly dropped the sled out of the way before being plunged into icy depths. The shock sent my nerves on edge, and I kicked and struggled against the water. My hand felt the top of the ice, but whenever I tried to grab it, my hand slipped.

This was it. I felt my lungs get heavy and my eyes grow cold. At the final second of my life, a hand grasped my arm. It was a firm grip that I had felt once before. Arthen. With the resolve of a dying man, I helped Arthen bring me to safety. He pulled me out of my grave and set me on the ice. I looked down at my arms and they were starting to turn blue.

Arthen sprang into action. He turned me on my side so that I could breathe and then rushed for the blanket and my cloak. He picked me up, trying to hide the obvious damage it was doing to himself, and set me on dry land. The dirt never felt so warm and the leaves never were so welcoming. Arthen finally gathered our belongings, and threw them beside me before collapsing in relief. We sat there for some time, talking as we had before, only between grasping breaths. This whole time, I had expected I would be the one to save Arthen, but he had been the one to save me. I needed him more than I realized. We would have to do this together.

That is exactly what we did. Together, we moved on from the river with frost clinging to our bodies. The travel grew easier from that point on, but we had to keep each other’s minds focused, lest we fall prey to the ever-growing winter. Several days passed as our food supply dwindled and our flasks started to freeze. We kept them sealed as much as possible, but the cold continued to attack them. The days brought us close, but brought our desperation to a new height. Although his wounds stung him from all sides, Arthen insisted that we leave the sled so that I could retain my energy. He rested most of his weight upon me, but walked enough on his own right.

We had to be getting close. We had not stopped often, and had maintained an honorable pace. I heard Sanctity calling us.

This promise of a bright future did not increase our current odds. The fourth evening brought us to the end of our food supply, and near the end of our water. It was one thing to travel without sustenance, it was another thing to travel this way in the cold. Frostbite sought after our ears, since our hands and feet had protection. Arthen rubbed his ears constantly. I worried he would not have them much longer.

What courage was there to find in this journey? Every marker we passed was a marker we had seen before. This forest taxed us with its uneven terrain and hostile nature. Hours stretched until becoming days, and now we had no food.

I could not allow myself to cry, for I did not want my tears to be frozen to my face. Arthen, being the bright hearted man that he was, kept his optimism alive. I did not have this luxury. Soon enough, I called for him to stop. We sat down in an open area with few pines to block out the sunlight.

As if betraying the very direction of my heart, I shared everything I felt with him. Still, he did not grow downcast, but reminded me of the families waiting for us.

“What if we don’t make it home?” I shouted, not at Arthen but at myself.

He went to reply, but noticed something rising from the ground. It started out small, and Arthen leaned down to get a good look at it. It continued its ascent until it blossomed before us as a rose. How this rose had sparked life we could not say, but it was more beautiful than anything we had ever seen. Its petal were bountiful and colored red, purple, gold and white. It was life in the midst of chaos, an emblem of hope which we could not describe.

Beside it, we found a scroll which we had not seen a moment prior. I untied its golden string, and unraveled its glowing parchment. Its words were written in the most costly of ink which appeared unaffected by the forest. The scroll read:

Kingdoms come and go. Armies fall to never rise again. Nations lose their lands, but heroes are always remembered.

You are the hero of Tres Sylfur. Sanctity shall know you as the knight of the silver fire. Wrap this rose around the hilt of your sword and claim your destiny.

Do not lose your friend. He is a true light and an honest soul. His wounds are but of flesh, but his heart could make a mountain shake.

I showed the scroll to Arthen, and his mouth hung agape. “The legend is true.” He knelt before me as if I was to knight him. “You are the hero we have been waiting for. I shall never leave your side.”

I did not feel worthy of such a compliment. “Wait. I don’t understand…”

“Wrap the rose around your sword and maybe you will.”

I did not know what to say or think, but without delay I pulled the rose from the earth and began to wrap it around my sword’s hilt. As if possessing a will to obey, the rose started grafting itself into my weapon. When it had finished, the blade of my sword was ablaze with fire not red, but grey and white. It was a silver fire of diamond light, just as the legend had predicted.

I held the sword in my hand in awe. It was now no longer a common blade; it was majestic beyond that of a king. In my delight, I looked to Arthen, but stopped dead in my tracks. Arthen was dying.

“Arthen? Wake up, Arthen.” I unwound his bandages to find his wounds blackened. He had been infected. I took more of the ointment and generously applied it to his injuries, but the cuts were deep, and hi eyes began to cloud. Nothing I did seemed to work. Nothing I tried remedied his condition.

With no options left, I grabbed my flaming sword and touched its’ tip to the cut. Maybe… just maybe, the fire would burn away the infection.

Arthen screamed as he suddenly awoke, causing me to jerk the blade away from him. The pain, however, had brought much gain, as Arthen’s wound was rid of its infection. It was still a nasty injury, but at least it was clean. I gave Arthen some cloth to bite down on as I completed this process with his other wounds. I then bandaged them to the best of my ability.

He looked more dreadful than I had ever seen him before, and his face showed his writhing. Nonetheless, I would not have had it any other way. A friend in distress is better than a dead companion. With an hour’s worth of nurturing, Arthen recovered from his inflictions, and in the process used up the last of the water. It did not matter. With the heat my sword now provided, we had a better chance of surviving than ever before. I did not know if I was this hero of legend, but at least I was the healer of my friend.

“Can you walk?” I asked Arthen. My zeal exploded within me, and I felt that I had the power to reach home a hundred times over.

Arthen was now the doubtful one. “You seriously expect me to walk in this condition?”

I did not answer, but instead hoisted the supplies and honorary treasures upon my back, and tied them around me. This left my arms free to lift Arthen and carry him, as if he was my brother. At first he was shocked and confused, but he saw the drive in my eyes and could tell there would be no convincing me otherwise.
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