The Road Home

Hi! This weeks story is very different. Not only is it fantasy (OK that isn’t so unusual as the last few weeks have been fantasy too) but also it is not some grand scale tale about saving the world, a species or anything else of the like. Instead, its a simple story in which the main character is trying to get home. As well this one is different because there is no violence, blood, or anything else untoward that happens. The only other things I have to say is that its about 7,100 words long and I hope you like it.

Brennan stirs from his slumber. His eyes remain gently closed though he begins to become aware of his surroundings. The first thing which dawns on him is the sweet multilayered chirping songs of nearby birds. It brings forth a smile to his face as he mimics the tune silently in his own head. Bird song has always brought the woodland dwarf a great deal of comfort.

Before long he becomes conscious of warmth on his skin. It sends a tingle rippling throughout his body. Several moments of consideration lead him to conclude that it must be the sun beating down on him. There is nothing like the warm glow of the ball of yellow fire as it looms high above to brighten everyone’s day. He wonders how his cousins the subterranean dwarves, the most common branch of the family tree, deal with being unable to awaken to such. He does not know. He could never do it. And yet his subterranean cousins are the ones every other species of the world, the humans, elves, giants, ogres, and so forth all know. Few, so Brennan has been told, are aware of woodland dwarves. He can’t say as to how true that is truth be told.

Still, he basks, eyes barely closed, in the sun until he realises that he cannot be in his bed. If he is then it has become most uncomfortable, hard and knobbly. His brow furrows while he attempts to consider what he might be pressed against. A short time passes prior to him determining that he must be pressed against whatever this hard surface is because he is propped up, sitting and not laying down. That confuses him further and so he slowly opens one of his eyes. At first he sees nothing except blinding light. It doesn’t hurt. It would have had he risked throwing both eyes open upon his initial rousing from sleep, but he hadn’t. Rather, he has become accustomed to the light as it shone through his eyelids. Many years ago when he had been quite young he’d learned that his eyelids are not as thick as he might have considered them to be. It was quite an amazing revelation to come across; at least it had been to him.

With the brilliance overcome Brennan rolls his one open eye about. Left to right, up and down, diagonally this way and that assessing what is within view and immediately surrounding him. His discovery is that he is wedged, side on with his shoulder and accompanying flank into the thick trunk of an old gnarled grey barked tree. It’s not one he recognises, but then does he know every tree in woodland dwarves home of Horheim? He doubts it quite seriously. Even if he were in his third age he doubts he would contain such knowledge. He isn’t. He’s far from being in his third age. In fact, he is still very much in his first age. Like all woodland dwarves not in their third and last age he is distinctive from his subterranean cousins due to his lack of facial hair. Woodland dwarves see no reason for the facial fuzz. It’s time consuming to keep clean and maintain. Plus often gets in the way at the worst possible moments. But worst of all it makes you hot, unbearably so. Especially, when undertaking manual labour under the hot rays of the summer sun where shade is at a premium and lasts far shorter than any in Horheim think is appropriate.

He wouldn’t trade any of it for being bearded and stuck below the surface of the world however. There is no beauty down there, not in his eyes. That is not to say his cousins cannot forge beauty, they surely can, but still it’s not the same. The surface is beauty. Everywhere you look there is a unique tree, stream, meadow, wood, rock formation. It’s proof, in his eyes, that the diversity of the surface will never be matched without outside interference, such as that of the subterranean dwarves. The name is one only the woodland variant use and though longwinded is certainly suitable. Still, none of that is of concern now.

Brennan peels open his other eye; they are both a deep brown colour, like wet mud. To a dwarf from the woods saying such would be considered a compliment most sublime. Nevertheless, it doesn’t change his surroundings, a wide open meadow filled with tall grasses broken up only by the occasional seemingly random gaggle of pretty vibrant flowers. He recognises them all and so he should. If he didn’t his kin would be most displeased. And with that he runs through the names of each; daisies, tulips, crocuses, daffodils, alliums and irises. He can’t smell their sweet scents and that saddens him. A soft cooling breeze glides past rustling the leaves overhead. In that instant he understands why the flowers odours do not greet his nostrils. The breeze is forcing the smells away from him. It brightens him a little to know that for he had feared that perhaps his nose had suffered, while sleeping, some issue that might have rendered him incapable of sniffing such aromas.

The dwarf having formed an answer to his concern continues to gaze on his surroundings for a time before realising his intent was not to survey the beauty of this place. Rather, he is supposed to be discerning as to where it is that he is sat. With that a sudden burst of discomfort shoots up his side reminding him that he is pressed against a ferociously knobbly tree. He feels inclined to move and so does exactly that, pushing off against the rough bark to clamber back to his feet. As he does so however he feels a whir in his head and goes a tad dizzy. He halts his efforts immediately to consider what is happening but just as he does so the feeling passes enough for him to no longer hold fear that he might go head over heels.

Odd, Brennan thinks taking in a slow couple of deep breaths of the fresh spring air. Each is soothing, though do little to ease the dull ache he is now incredibly aware of in his skull. He frowns irritated in response to it while considering as what might be the cause. He hasn’t the foggiest. Should that worry me? He shrugs, unsure. If he were in his third and final age it most definitely would but he’s still young, for a dwarf, at almost fifty. His hand, absentmindedly, strokes at the stubble around his jaw line, his chin wide and square. Chiselled would be the best description, but such a characteristic is unremarkable for a dwarf no matter the family branch.

Brennan dares to take a step forward. To his relief his legs hold and his head does not spin. To be honest he did not believe that they would. Especially after the dizzy spell that he was sure would put him back on the ground. It wouldn’t have been painful. At least it wouldn’t have for very long. A short burst of pain followed by several minutes of a dull throb. Brennan has suffered a great deal worse in his life as a carpenter. Sadly, with his third step he trips. His arms flail high and wide as he desperately fights to keep his balance and stay on his feet. A number of stumbles, that see him cross almost a metre, and somehow Brennan manages to stay upright. He sighs relieved. After all, falling face first into a patch of thick hard dry dirt around the base of a substantial tree that has thick long dark green leaves would not have resulted in a short period of discomfort like him landing on his backside. No, instead it might have resulted in some serious damage. He already has a chipped tooth after one particular incident when he’d been young. He can recall the pain he felt to this day and does not wish to repeat such an event ever again in his life, he must say.

Not that it matters because Brennan managed to stay on his feet. Danger averted, he thinks in the moments before he does a slow turn, no longer trusting his legs, to see what it might have been that caused him to trip. Immediately the woodland dwarf spies the culprit, a mead jug, cork popped as it sits at a lazy angle. Brennan sighs disappointed that someone would leave it here. However, on closer inspection it strikes him that this jug is of decidedly dwarven design. He gulps and moves closer. It can’t be, he tells himself but after less than a minute of study it is undoubtedly so. He shrinks but shows no hesitation as he takes a hold of the narrow necked jug and hauls it effortlessly off the ground. To no surprise it is empty, which is why with deft ease Brennan is able to flip the jug over and examine the base. He already expects he knows what he will find and is soon proved correct. His initials, BM, are carved into the base. He sighs and allows the jug to flop out of one hand, still held by the long handle in the other, so that the jug swings down to rock back and forth a good half metre off the ground. Soon after Brennan begins to bite his lip, the inner edge of it to be exact, not the outside like most others do. He does this whenever he is deep in contemplation. During his thinking he asks himself why he is taking so long to consider what has happened because he already knows. After all, it’s not uncommon for dwarves, of any origin, to overindulge and then wander about aimlessly while as drunk as a skunk. And that is exactly what Brennan has done to end up where he now stands. The only question is where is he? He spins about on the spot, his eyes carefully searching. However, after three revolutions he not only feels a little dizzy, likely caused in part by the mead he ingested the night before and mostly as a result of spinning about on the spot, but also can confidently say the terrain is not familiar. That’s a worry, he thinks prior to shaking himself out of this mood he has gotten into. It’s not helpful or conducive to any kind of progress that should be made. It’s purely procrastination, plain and simple. He quickly moves on and concludes that his only real course of action will be to pick a direction and head in it in hopes of finding someone who might be capable of pointing him toward home. How likely is that? For a second time since waking he shrugs. No response is offered, not that he expected it would be as he hauls the empty mead jug over his shoulder and fastens it to a knot on the sash that runs across one of his shoulders. Following that he retrieves the discarded cork stop, looks around one last time and then heads off to what would have been his left had he still been propped against the tree.

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