What are my memories? I remember a friend that lied but meant no harm. A true friend. An act of daring courage. I remember the resolve of a leader. I remember the look of men ready to face death.
I remember a great battle against a terrible foe. A great evil threatening the land. I remember people in need, both close and far away. I remember the faith we had been given freely. Trusted with. I remember the burden.
And I remember that no matter what I would shoulder it, carry it with me all my days. For there are those too weak to carry even themselves.
I remember four brothers in arms fighting without fear, even as victory was slipping from their grasp.
But Erastil is merciful.
I saw them.
Remus was at his writing desk, as he so often was, dreaming up a new sonnet for the Mayor’s troupe no doubt. His hand still clutched the quill I had made for him, plucked from the goose I had shot at last summer’s harvest festival. Sarah laid on the bed, on the patterned quilt she had made from the foreign fabrics a caravan had brought through weeks earlier, newly finished.
It was ruined now. The blood had soaked it through. Nor did I need to look closer to know the papers on my fathers desk would no longer be legible. The bards would have to look elsewhere for their tales. They were only bodies now, incapable of sewing, or writing, or imagination. Or love.
No longer were they my mother and father.
There was a banging at the door, and shouting. Garrod the blacksmith must have kicked the door down because he was the first through. I remember his face. Horror, sadness, anguish. The creases in his skin going smoothly through the realizations. Then he saw me. Confusion, anger, disgust.
My face was blank as they took me away.
But Erastil is merciful.
It feels like I am asleep. I am walking through the forest as a young man. The forest around my village. But I am not going back there. I walk further through the trees and I am taller, and ahead in the distance is a great plain, and a lake. And on the shore is a great city, tall and proud.
But I am not going there either.
I walk further to the feet of great mountains, and I climb them. I climb to the highest peak, were the dirt and snow has never seen a human step, where the stars can speak to you. And then I am with them, and past them.
I stand on a flat plain of dust, where no grass grows. Before me is a great river, roaring with the force of its current. But I know I can swim across. On the far side I can see for miles. Across great plains and forests and mountains to the great seat of the hunter. The plains of glory, where the Stag God rides forever in the eternal hunt, are before me. I know them. They are the forests of my village, the hills of Ironhold. I am home.
But something is wrong. There is a figure rising from the water’s edge, weak and slow, wet and dripping with water and blood. The animal’s legs nearly buckle under it’s own weight, from the strain of a swim it could barely make. But it continues to walk, forcing itself forward towards me. The great wolf, scarred, with matted fur darkened by blood, turns it’s head to look at me. There is no fear or sadness in it’s eyes. It is not a look of curiosity, or surprise. It is a knowing look, a look that conveys a simple message. A command so often given to dog rather than by one.
And I turn my eyes forward again, to the rolling plains, and verdant forests of Erastil’s kingdom. And I know that to follow is to leave this place, to forsake salvation. The wolf is past me now, walking slowly off into the dust.
And for what? Must I return to watch walls crumble? To see those I love taken from me in pain and anguish again and again just as my mother and father!? Is salvation actually a cruel illusion, just on the horizon but forever out of reach, and when you look back there is nothing but sorrow and destruction!?
…but Erastil is merciful.
I turn, and slowly follow the wolf back through the dust.