Rogue Gratitude – (Re) Quest
Part 7 of (Re) Quest* a retelling of Quest
(Picks up where Burned left off. )
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Day four of his cross-country trek dawned cold and clear. Henneth tipped his head back and gazed at the swath of sky visible between mountain peaks. Thank you for that kindness, trekking in snow wouldn’t have been fun. The sky gave no reply. Though hope lent his gratitude wings that would, with luck, fly north to the Storm King’s abode and whisper his thanks into that elemental ear.
Hope lent wings to thanks
gratitude soared on the wind,
carried message north.
Or maybe not since it’d been a long time since anyone had seen that worthy walking the world. Maybe his thanks sped to an empty hall ruled by a broken down throne long uninhabited. Maybe. Better he sent that thanks out just in case. The god-born were a touchy lot. Best not to annoy one so early in his travels especially since he had no idea how long he would be on the trail.
Henneth shouldered a pack much lightened by three days’ trekking and eating. Should he eat breakfast? Barren stone surrounded him rising up to twin peaks, both wearing snow caps, with no sign of anything green. His stomach growled ending the debate. He fished out the last hunk of bread and bite of cheese from home–made by his deceased wife’s hands.
Grief burned his eyes and blurred the two items for a moment. Then he put them back, taking care to wrap both items in her kerchief before stowing them. He’d eat later. Maybe he’d get lucky and pass an enterprising All-Fruit vine. That cold-weather loving vine bloomed in winter when sunlight penetrated deeper into the leafless forest. So its fruit should be overripe by now. They should be easy to spot since those fruits looked like gigantic apples and tasted like them too. His mouth watered for a bite but that damned vine had no love of rocky ground.
Melted snow had carved a deep furrow that meandered down the mountain side. At the moment it was a dry gully since the spring sun had not enough strength to melt the snow this high up. It made a shaded, but cold, track for him to follow with limited sight lines. Just the kind of place a brigand or three would hide out. Henneth listened hard a yard back from the next bend.
The wind whistled a tune unknown to him–one that echoed off all that naked rock, making it hard to hear if anyone else used this track. He waited but heard only the wind. Maybe he had this stretch of Shayari all to himself; it was possible. Shayari was a big place, too big for its few inhabitants.
He waited some more and then risked it. Better he run into armed trouble now four days’ out from home when turning back was still an option. Rock walls rose on his right and left as the riverbed narrowed until he had only a few inches clearance on either side of his shoulders. Let it not get any narrower, or he wouldn’t fit.
Henneth hadn’t gone far ‘fore he heard voices
that weren’t real friendly like; he hid behind
some rocks, sat as he reviewed his choices.
Go back or go on, hope those rogues are kind.
He set one foot in front of the other. He’d come this far and there was still so much of Shayari to see. Around the next bend more rock met his eyes. The voices remained a low murmur. Their owners must be further on down the track. The walls closed in squeezing Henneth as the riverbed narrowed to a point where it dropped off a sheer cliff.
An outcropping of rock provided a good hand hold and using it, he scrambled up until he stood on the uneven shoulder of the mountain. Its twin peak rose behind it from this angle. Clinging to rocks smoothed by wind and weather, he worked his way southwards and all but fell onto a wider trail.
He stepped out to see no rogues on the sprint
just an old man, antique brass watch in hand.
“I’ve lost my ride,” said the old man, hoof prints
attested to his word, “Damn spooky land.”
Henneth blinked at the first human he had encountered in four days. He opened his mouth to say something–probably a question–but its dry state made his words stick in his throat.
Henneth paused, questions on his lips, and took a moment to give thanks.
Thanks be the way’s clear
no rogues bar the mountain’s ways,
travel safe and free.
Then the questions crowded back in as his short prayer winged its way to the patroness of travelers.
“You need water or something?” asked the grizzled stranger. His ears didn’t taper to points; he wasn’t Magic Kind, just regular old human same as Henneth. Dark eyes that were almost black narrowed as they scanned Henneth from head to toe. Wearing woodland colors, the frail black man looked to be in his nineties.
What the hell was an old man doing on a mountain side alone? He had no pack with him, thus no supplies. He wasn’t a brigand or some kind of decoy for a band of them either. With just a branch for a walking stick and nothing else. So who was he and why was he here?
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To be Continued…
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