THE LONGEST ROAD
Traya allowed his horse to have its head so that it followed the road further southeast. He wondered how long it had been since he’d been home. He remembered several winters huddled against the freezing rain at night by one of hundreds of meager campfires and facing Vindavian steel by day. Traya stretched in the saddle, closing his eyes in bliss.
Finally, the border war was over but alas, his king didn’t allow him to march home with the clansmen of his contingent. He found himself taken to the capital where his king placed the “Tonunda medal” around his neck.
He cupped the medallion briefly to inspect it then promptly placed it back in the folds of his tunic.
‘Small comfort’, he thought for the missing years of his life but he was at least grateful for the horse given to him as a further reward. He patted the neck of the huge black beast; a war charger bred from the king’s own stables. When he first went to war, he was on foot and the same when he went to Caliet. A grin colored his visage, as he was curious of what the village would make of his return on the proud steed.
To his delight, he saw his son ambling up the road toward him with a brown dog at his side. Both ran to him as he slid from the saddle and hugged the small boy on his knees.
‘My son, my son,’ he said, trembling. ‘How you have grown.’
He placed the boy on the saddle of the weary beast and held the reins, walking it to the village entrance.
A young woman ran to him screaming and leapt to him, wrapping her arms about his neck. Tears ran freely as she kissed every part of his face. The soldier pulled her head into his shoulder spilling tears of his own. Eventually, his wife pulled away from him but clutched his hand tightly as if to prevent him from leaving her again.
‘Come,’ he said with a reassuring smile.
‘Is that horse ours?’ she queried incredulously.
‘It is,’ he assured her.
‘We can use him for the plough!’ his son said excitedly.
‘No,’ his father guffawed. ‘He is not a plough horse.’
‘Then what will we do with him?’ asked his wife.
‘If we work hard for the next two years and save all we have, we may have enough to buy a worthy mare, then we will breed them.’
Traya wrapped his arm around his wife’s shoulders and hugged her tightly as they walked; now able to see their humble home with a gentle tendril of smoke rising from its chimney.
When it was first constructed, he remembered criticizing his brother’s thatch work and how the roof leaked the following year. As he looked on the dwelling, he saw that the stones looked out of place above the door and knew that he would have to reset them. As simple and run down a home as it was, it looked nothing less to him now than a magnificent palace.
Only now did he realize that the years he spent in the south of the country were not wasted. He was idealistic when he first marched away with his kinsmen with beliefs that he fought for the nation of Nusalle and the sanctity of its freedom. Traya shook his head unable to comprehend how he or any other man swallowed such stupidity.
He had heard it said once that what made people stay anywhere, was other people. Traya realized now that this is what a home constituted. Any man will stay where there is love as much as any cat would remain loyal to its food bowl.
He didn’t go to war for any glorious notions. It was this he fought for, and for this alone.
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