[Story] Thorns – The Journey Continued

On the second day of his journey, Uldred found himself missing the cool green forest immediately. The landscape below was parched and withered, the grasses yellowed and dry, and the sun beat mercilessly upon his back. His hat helped, a little, but not nearly enough. There was also the danger of being spotted by the wyvern riders; he’d seen them circling in the distance and a few times he was certain they’d chase him. But maybe even they decided the day was too hot for such things. Or, Uldred assured himself, the hippogryph had made this flight enough times to know where the wyvern patrols ended. Was a bird that intelligent? He had his doubts. Herds of animals roamed the grasslands below, and from time to time the hippogryph took notice of them, his head cocking at an abrupt angle. At least it wouldn’t go hungry tonight. Would it bring any meat back to the camp? Ordinarily, the idea of eating a bird’s half-eaten meal remains would horrify him, but Uldred was hungry enough to consider it by now. The rations he’d brought kept him alive, but they tasted terrible and weren’t filling at all. Some fresh meat might — no, he shook he head to clear it. That wouldn’t be a good idea at all. He thought about how hot it was now, and how it would surely be worse in Uldum. He wasn’t looking forward to that at all.

The hippogryph chose to roost in some rocky hills that overlooked the plains. They were high enough to be safe from the animals prowling below, but Uldred still worried about being spotted by the wyverns. He unpacked his things underneath a sparse tree, both for its meager shade and for some cover — it was better than nothing at all. As he’d expected, the hippogryph took off toward the grazing herds immediately after, going off to hunt. What if it didn’t return? At least there was an outpost here, Uldred had seen it as they had flown over. It didn’t look like much, a few towers and a barracks, but at least there were people, and not trolls or orcs. If he had to, he could seek help there. This particular camp had been used before, there was a fire circle already arranged out of stones, and their charred edges showed their use. Uldred noticed a small trail that wound its way a bit further up the hillside, and curiosity demanded that he follow it. Who had stayed here, and why? Where were they going? Uldred didn’t see any hint or evidence of the previous visitors. There was something, though, at the highest point in the trail. Uldred knelt and tugged away the dead vegetation to be sure what he was looking at. It was a grave stone, but the markings had been long faded by the rain and wind. He stared at it a long time, uncertainly. Had someone died in this place, making this same trip? And how? Who had buried them, and had they done it alone? Had they all gathered around to say their last goodbyes?

In spite of himself, Uldred was drawn back to that dark, rainy afternoon in Gilneas, staring at his mother’s grave marker. He had, thankfully, never had to see the body itself. Looking at the grave was bad enough, this physical thing that proved her absence. Uldred remembered feeling thankful for the rain, that it would hide the tears upon his cheeks. He didn’t want to sniffle, either, so he stood very still so that it wouldn’t drip down his nose but it did anyway. His father didn’t sniffle, or cry, at least that Uldred could see. He stared at the stone but not really at it, he was looking somewhere far away. Uldred envied that he didn’t have to cry. He wished he could be more like him, maybe it would have made things easier. Especially after Mother was gone.

Uldred took out a paper from his notebook, and sat beside the lonely grave. Carefully, he trimmed it into a square and then with great care, folded it over and over in the way he’d once learned from another boy at school. He didn’t have any ink, but he supposed a white rose would have to do. He adjusted the last few paper petals, and placed the folded flower atop the gravestone.

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