Like a man possessed.
I was still in a daze, but for the first time I knew that I was close to home, and I could not stop.
I thought I recognized a spring of fresh water bubbling out of the ground, and I knew those smells; even imagining that I could hear the river.
My strength and mental acuity began to return.
Then, I was there. Home. It was not as I had left it. How could it be? Everything was overgrown with a tangle of vegetation and mature trees, with other trees fallen down, rotting away. I had even stumbled blindly through my family’s vineyard and had not known it. The vines had long gone, choked out by weeds.
I could persuade myself that there was still the outline of a mound, where my home had once stood before I’d burned it down. Little, was growing there. It was too rocky; from the fallen stonework.
One could just see across the valley through trees, to make out other trees on the far side.
First things, first. I needed to find a marker that I’d left behind, just for this far-off day.
Another; her father; father of the woman I was already regretting leaving, watched me and my progress as I moved around from one side to the other, looking, searching.
I felt nauseated, torn with doubts. Was I doing the right thing?
Of course I was. I had tried to do this, to return here for a thousand years, and now I had succeeded, thanks to her.
And this is how you will repay her?
I still had a conscience.
Shut-up. Damn you!
I knew he watched me, but I ignored him.
He was looking around to see where we could pitch our tents, once the vehicle caught up with us, which it soon would. I could hear it, and chain saws, clearing the bigger impediments out of the way.
I scuffed around, uprooting scrub growth where flowers had once bloomed until I found what I was looking for. A marker block that pinpointed a family grave, and then another, until I had a line of them. I counted. All of them in place; accounted for. Nothing had been here since I'd left. I wished I had time to disinter each of them, sort out the bones into the well-loved individuals I still could see, could still remember, and bury them properly, as they deserved, but I didn't have time.
I already knew where everything was; the graves, the house.
I just had to be sure of one other thing.
I said nothing about these other voices in my head, filling it now. They were very different voices to those others; they were not so painful, but were just as insistent in another sense, drawing me in. They were not friendly either, but they knew better than to overpower me as those other voices had tried to do. They needed to encourage me, not discourage me.
‘Patience, I am here now. You will soon enough be revenged upon me.’ They would just have to bloody-well wait.
I knew those voices well enough. The last I’d heard them, they’d been raised in protestation, horror, and terror, as I had gone at their tortured bodies with hot irons and pincers as they’d lain stretched out upon the rack, begging for it all to end. It had ended, now they wanted their revenge on me for leaving them like this, after being revenged upon them.
‘This, first, and then I will be able to get to you.’ I tried to explain it to them why I could not see to them first, but they had no patience for that.
I cleared the graves first, ten of them, some with multiple bodies in each, with two others to one side that were not graves. Everything that my family and I had valued, was buried in those last two ‘graves’. I doubted the chests had survived those intervening years, but that was not something for me to discover, but others.
Now, I could get started.
I took a cord from my satchel and measured off ten spans, tied it to a twig which I set in the ground by the last marker, walking out and scuffing an arc in the ground near that mound. It looked about right.
I then measured twenty spans, and anchored that at the first marker, stretching the cord and scuffing another arc.
They crossed where I knew they should, about twelve feet out from the mound.
The remainder of our party caught up with us then, driving to the edge of where we were and then offloading tents and supplies.
They were well-organized, having done this, many times before, each with a role to play.
I saw a pickaxe and a spade lying in the trailer and I took those to get started on what I needed to do. They paused to watch me for a moment, not understanding what I was doing or why; then they continued with their own tasks.
They didn't need to know what I was doing, or why, and I couldn’t... wouldn’t tell them. They wouldn’t have understood the fire that drove me along or the reason for it. It was too absurd, like the rest of my story.
If I told them anything, they really would think me mad. And, this time, they would have been right.
Soon, they had the tents up; four of them with a cot in each of them, and had started a fire for supper, getting a large pan of water from the spring, heating on a large metal grill.
They’d provisioned well at our last stop.
I’d offered to pay for everything, but they’d just looked at me.
They were doing this for their friend, and their friend’s daughter. His daughter, but my, newfound love, my Rossignol, whom I had to protect from me at any cost. That was why I had deserted her; run out on her.
Protecting her. That’s what I told myself, fighting away that other voice that told me that it was not her I was protecting, but myself. Telling me, that in my selfish disregard of her, I was protecting only myself from another loss like that first one from which I had never recovered until a few days ago, thanks to her. And this was how I would repay her?
I did not want to feel that pain of watching a loved one grow old again, and die, for a second time.
Besides, I had this other obligation. They were not slow to remind me of that. They were still calling out to me, sensing my slow progress.
Hell, they’d waited already for almost a thousand years, and they were impatient that I might take a few more hours, or a day, or two, to get to them?
Food did not interest me, but I knew that I would have to stop and eat, or I would not be able to continue. However, I needed to get a start on this work, to confirm that I was going to be digging in the right place.
Within minutes, I’d found the top stair. I had to continue now. I worked like a man obsessed; swinging that pickaxe to loosen the soil, then digging it out, throwing soil to the side, then going after more. I worked toward the mound. I needed to dig down another two or three feet to uncover more steps, and then the top of the door.
My hands were bleeding by then, but I didn’t feel them; didn’t care.
I was so engrossed in what I was doing, that I hadn’t even noticed, seen or heard, another vehicle, like the first, pull into the campsite. I could have been overrun by the Mongol hordes, and I wouldn’t have noticed.