I had Dandi circle about at the crossroads so that we both could gaze westward one last time. She stood silently for a moment, then shook her head with a whinny, pawing at the cobblestones of the road with her hooves almost as if to rebuke them.
I leaned forward in the saddle and hugged her about her neck, whispering in her ear, “I know, girl. I miss it, too. Best we get out of the rain now.”
We turned and made our way through the Western gate and toward the Pony square. As we went, I watched the small rivulets formed by the rain striking the cobbles flow past us, back toward the gate. The sky drew darker with the end of the day, and the welling of thunder, both from earth and sky, sounded all around. We made our way up the rise.
The square was quiet and still, save for the storm and the unrest such storms bring. We circled the fountain once with what was left of the twilight and then made for the covered stables. I closed my eyes to the winds and rain washing over us while letting Dandi choose her place amongst the free stalls remaining.
It pleased me greatly to finally free her of the burden of carrying me through yet another journey, and a stormy one at that. A burden was being lifted from her shoulders in a very real way.
“But you never complain, do you, girl?” I asked, as I brushed her dry as best I could.
I wondered how long the storm would last. I wondered how long we would remain in town.
Bree is a town of crossroads, built upon the meeting place of three kingdoms of old, and the Pony a crossroads within that crossroads. But storms both within and without can shroud even the widest path in darkness, leaving only the first few steps in sight. And it is difficult to know the right path, even in the best of times.
“I will come get you for an early morning ride,” I said, as I finished up. After being sure there was plenty of food and water to keep her overnight, I gave Dandi one last hug and then hurried across the square toward the shelter of the Pony.
I went inside, shaking the water from my cloak and leathers as best I could, before crossing the hearth and side-stepping a couple of dwarves to find a free space at the bar.
“Good evening, Master Barkeep,” I smiled. “A mug of mead for now, and a room for later, if you please.”
“Of course, of course!” he smiled, as he finished cleaning the mug he had in hand, while I looked on a bit dubiously. As he went to fill it and fetch the key to my room, he called back over his shoulder, “It is good to see you about town again.”
I reached down toward my purse with a sigh, “It is good to be back as well.”
I pushed a few coins across the bar toward him as he returned, and he gave me a key and full mug in return. “The furthest in the back, up the stair,” he said with a nod.
We chatted for a bit in between patrons needing filled mugs and full plates, and we shared a toast to clearer and brighter days ahead for us both. After a time, I excused myself and went to make for my room. “How long do you plan to stay in town?” he asked, as I was turning away.
“Mmm… a while, I think, but it is difficult to say,” I mused. “I have some things to turn over in mind.”
He picked up the mug I had just set down on the bar and went to clean it, “Just see that you turn some of my mugs over in the meanwhile,” he laughed with a warm smile.
I looked back over my shoulder to smile and wave to him, then made my way to the back of the Pony…
Late Spring is upon us. All of May and most of June has come and gone. My days are spent leisurely, peacefully, with few errands save for those that can hardly be counted as such.
There have been so many enjoyable days, and moments within those days…
…attending the concerts, performances and lectures in town, while meeting up with friends both old and new…
…just being home again, visiting the festival grounds, trotting Dandi on the tournament lawn…
…and knowing when and where I will rest that evening, and the evening to come. Our lives are made of days, and even something so seemingly simple as having the power to decide when each of those days begins and ends is something to cherish and be grateful for.
…and I am. I truly am.
Yet I feel a burden weigh upon my shoulders that I have not been able to ease. And I feel a shroud of darkness surrounding my heart. A coldness, like that of a mailed hand clenching one’s wrist in the dead of winter, encapsulates my heart, its grasp allowing no light to escape outward or flow inward.
All is blindness, all is darkness, and the only paths I can find are its fingers, frigid roads that wind endlessly over a darkened surface of embers, where once there was blood and fire.
Between the fingers flow small rivulets of the lifeblood they squeeze from me, like the rivulets formed by rain striking the cobblestone and flowing away along its seams.
There are so many roads, so many crossroads. To hang my stickers upon the hearth and be done with them, once and for all. To make the journey to the Dale-lands, visit my father’s family, and see the places within his stories with my own eyes. To stay my course and hope that surrounding myself with the light of others will pry the fingers of the mailed fist from its grasp. I do not know.
I can no longer see my own heart’s desire.
What is it that extinguishes the light that once gave me clarity and purpose? By whose hand have these things come to pass?
In the darkest hours, I fear it may be my own…
I set down my quill with a sigh, leaving my journal open for the ink to dry, and made my way downstairs for breakfast.
It was mid-morning by the time I had finished breakfast, exercised Dandi, and returned to the Pony. I found a place to sit and write letters near the fire in the back common room.
I had not made much progress, when I noticed someone sit in the chair before the hearth, next to me…
The Spirit Gauntlet Saga
Also, the entire saga, with full-sized renderings, can be found here!
(The full renderings make for a completely different experience!)