The Road Home

Frederick had been right. This hill is ruthlessly steep. Brennan can think of little else as he struggles to put one foot ahead of the last. His legs are heavy; his back is aching but worst of all he’s boiling hot. The dwarf doesn’t think he has ever been as hot as he is right now. His clothes cling to him which only makes the presence of sweat all the more disgusting to think about. He’s tried not to but it seems his clothes, his body or a mixture of both, are desperate to keep the discomfort present in his mind at all times.

Brennan lets his head fall back so that his face is craned and pointed up toward the sky. He can feel the sun on his face. He doesn’t like the feeling anymore. He wishes he could be shot of the sun, if only for a short while. It might give him a brief reprieve, a slight chance to cool off, if only a bit. Ideally, he’d like it to be gone throughout the rest of his hill climb. He opens his eyes to gaze upon the endless stretch of blue. He shrinks while continuing his plod. It isn’t going to happen he knows. There isn’t a cloud in the sky. How much further, Brennan asks himself at some point after that.

A minute or so later, unable to hold off any longer, he lets his head fall back forward to its normal position. His dark brown eyes take a few seconds to adjust but once they do a smile splits across his face. It feels odd. He can’t remember the last time he smiled. He knows it was a good while ago. More than likely it was before he started up this cursed hill. He can’t be sure that such a thing is right however. Not that it matters now because the crest of the hill is in sight. Relief, huge waves of it, crash and break over the dwarf. They cause a spring to return to his step and for the first time in quite a bit he feels energy back in his weary body. He hopes it lasts. He’d rather not end up crawling the rest of the way, even if it doesn’t appear to be far now.

A few minutes later elation is fully realised. Brennan has conquered the hill. The dwarf isn’t sure he has ever felt this amount of joy in all his days. Still, it’s nothing compared to the beauty of his surroundings. Every direction he turns there are views for miles and miles around and one of them is most definitely Horvingham Forest. He’d recognise it anywhere. It would be impossible for him not to and yet he never remembers this hill. There’s a chance he has never been out this way before. He wonders if anyone else from Horheim has. They must have. It’s not like it’s unheard of for woodland dwarves to leave Horheim and venture into the world beyond.

It happens sparingly. Brennan concludes would be the best description. Yet, they nearly always return. It might take an age before they do however. On very rare occasions it takes two and so they spend their last age back in the place they were born, surrounded by the beauty of Horheim and the Horvingham Forest. Brennan’s grandmother was one such dwarf who took such a path.

The woodland dwarf turns about not quite on the spot, taking the view in each direction in. The only description for what he is met with is breathtaking and somehow each angle he looks out over is different enough for it not to be boring. Though, how anyone could ever grow bored of sights like this he does not know. He’s spent all his life in Horheim and never once got sick of his home. Still, this short excursion has, for the first time in his life, pulled at a strain of curiosity he did not know he possessed. It leaves him wondering whether he too should go out and experience the world, like his grandmother did.

Suddenly, a massive shadow appears over him. His brow furrows in response prior to him looking up. There is still not a single cloud in the sky. Then how is there… Brennan turns to find a huge mass taller than many buildings before him. His eyes go wide. He blinks, rapidly over and over trying to take the sheer scale of the form before him in but cannot.

“You’re little, are you a child who has wandered and become lost?” A deep voice that can only be from the huge mass that is a mixture of brown and tan says from a barely moving set of lips that are from Brennan’s viewpoint nearly out of sight.

“I am not. I’m a woodland dwarf. My names Brennan and I’m heading home. It’s just over there.” Brennan turns and points toward the Horvingham Forest, as he and his kin dub it.

Oh, a dwarf. I thought you all lived in caves and would be hairier and more… broad.” The mass replies with a monotone voice.

“Sorry to disappoint you…” Brennan begins. He doesn’t know what the mass before him is. It could be an ogre or a giant. It could even be something his grandmother never spoke of. He hopes his sudden trailing off will result in some kind of detail and so waits with anticipation.

More than a minute passes. During that time silence hangs in the air and the huge mass seems, for at least half of it, to have forgotten the dwarfs’ presence. When the massive creature next speaks he slowly states, “I am Urt, a troll. Don’t get many pass this way.” Urt sounds saddened to have to admit that.

“And where is it that you live Urt?” Brennan asks with genuine interest. He knows very little about trolls but the longer he looks at the massive mass the more he thinks the short description he’d heard as a child, not from his grandmother but he can’t remember from who to be honest, the more he thinks that it was right, and that perhaps he should have been able to guess Urt is a troll.

“Here, on this hill. Urt thought many would pass for this is where roads cross. But very few do. It’s why I came here. I wished to meet others, but mainly spend my days alone. I don’t like being alone.” The troll explains deflated.

Brennan feels sorry for the troll who having angled his head is now able to look the dwarf in the eyes. As a result the dwarf is aware that Urt’s eyes are black like the night sky. But that is not all Brennan has noted from them. He also can plainly see they are filled with sadness. Even if he couldn’t tell that the tone of Urt’s voice has been enough for him to reach such a conclusion.

“Oh I’m sorry. It can’t be easy living alone. Have you…thought of moving elsewhere? To somewhere that might get more footfall?” Brennan asks carefully. He doesn’t want to say anything that might upset the troll, not for fear that he might crush the dwarf. Such a thought does not enter Brennan’s head but perhaps it should as trolls can be bad tempered. Urt is not such a troll. He’s a good natured meadow troll who doesn’t understand why his species feel the need to live the sort of solitary lives they so frequently do. It certainly isn’t the type of life he wants. He likes people, being around them, conversing, or at least he thinks he does. In truth Urt has never been able to experience being around people. He would just very much like too.

“Pretty normal for a troll.” Urt replies with an unconvincing shrug meant to convey ambivalence. It fails and leaves Brennan debating his next move. He wants to get home, in large part because he is exhausted. He’s spent much of the day on his feet. They ache something fierce as a result and yet to cut and run on Urt would be cruel. Others might but the dwarf will not.

“What if I came by every couple of days so that you had someone to chat with?” The words are out Brennan’s mouth before he realises it. He doesn’t regret them, not one iota. He just hopes they don’t come across wrong. 

The reply from Urt the troll is instantaneous, a smile that splits across his face in the moments before he begins to nod frantically and then finally say, “That would be…good.” Urt knows his vocabulary is limited. Partaking in a chat, as Brennan put it, might help with that. He hopes it will. After all, he wants to be able to speak with others. Just the idea of getting a regular visitor is enough to make him feel overjoyed. Urt doesn’t believe he has ever been this happy before in his life. That might not be quite true. Though, he cannot recall a time when he was anywhere near as thrilled as he is in this exact moment.

“Then it’s settled. I’ll come by every couple of days. It’ll be nice to get out for a change of scene and have the chance to converse with you Urt. Might even spark off something grander, or bring more souls through this way, you never know.” Brennan, as always, is ruthlessly positive. He doesn’t believe in settling on or fixating over the sadder, darker sides of life. There is little point in indulging the shadows of every soul, his grandmother used to say. She was right all those years ago when she’d said it and still is to this day.

“Sun is falling. You should get home Brennan.” Urt advises after a long happy look to the sky.

The troll is right he should. So with that he bids the troll a short goodbye, promising he will be back before long as he departs. Again, much as he did when he and Frederick the merchant had parted ways, Brennan waves furiously. On this instance however he quickly disappears from sight over the crest of the hill.

The dwarves short legs pump at a near uncontrollable pace as his weight and momentum carry him swiftly down this less severe incline. He understands now how he would have managed to climb and surpass it in the drunken stupor he inevitably had to have been in. Whether he took the road or not is a matter he might never know. Though, something tells him that he could not have as Urt clearly didn’t show any recognition from what he could tell.

Still, it matters little as both Brennan and Urt have made new friends. A smile rips across the dwarfs face as he considers what a great day it has been.

By the time he pulls himself out of his thoughts he discovers that he is now deep into the Horvingham Forest. The air, now cool, is a relaxing change after the roasting heat of the sun he had been forced to suffer through while on that hill. He doesn’t know if it has a name. He should find out, he thinks.

Suddenly, Brennan hears voices singing. He would know that tune anywhere and soon feels an uncontrollable urge to join in and so he does. His whistle pierces the air and carries for miles around. For a few seconds the singing stops. Brennan wonders why and then hears a rush as the merriment recommences, quieter now.

He wonders what the rush might be; a springing family of deer perhaps? He does not know. It’s the only possibility he can conceive in his current state. That is until a sizable group of dwarves come flooding into views. He chuckles in response to the sight while they chant and cry his name.

It’s good to be home he thinks and soon after is mobbed by his family. He wears an agape smile across his joy filled laughing little round face as they welcome him back.

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