Flash Fiction - Homecoming
We went LARPing with the Profound Decisions Empire LARP and one of the characters in our Hall, Cadarn, died. It was very dramatic; at one point, we thought three of us had snuffed it, but two of us made it back. Sadly we had to leave Cadarn behind. It really brought home to me how important our characters are at these events.
When we got home, I felt that we'd left it somewhat hanging unfinished, so I wrote this. In the time this is written, we are just in the last stages of packing up our entire village to move to a new one, in Hahnmark, a move that was put forward by Cadarn himself. With him dead, we're left to carry on his wishes alone. Nina is the name of my campervan which, despite terrible past performances, was able to get us to the LARP and back again in one piece!
Algar rested his hand gently on the oxen’s neck. “Good girl, Nina. You saw us through the storm.”
The oxen bent her head to the bale of hay at her feet, rumbling appreciatively. He tutted, looking at the mud still caked around her hooves and halfway up her coat, matting her rough hair, but such things could wait until tomorrow.
Leaning heavily on his staff, Algar made his way across the square. It was oddly silent, only the gentle susurration of rain onto sodden dirt. Hellä had gone to finish her packing. Jag had taken his bag off the wagon and vanished into his house, muttering something about commissions. Roshar had gone in to her own dry house. Arhan was... somewhere. Where did the wanderer sleep, anyway?
Only ten remained in Ashenhall.
Stiffly, Algar checked the empty houses. Each one contained only the barest essentials, the things that couldn’t be easily carried. A bed, a chair, a table, each hearth cold for over a fortnight. As per instructions, anyone that could be spared was in Hahnmark preparing. Like a hermit crab grown too large, the people of Ashenhall had left a perfect shell for someone else to inhabit.
Algar pushed open the door to his inn. The interior was dark, a thin layer of dust covering the tables and chairs, a faint musty smell swirling through the air as he moved to the bar and fumbled for the flint and tinder. A small lantern hung behind the counter, and as the light licked around the walls he shook his head.
“Like shining a light on a skull,” he muttered, the words swallowed up in the emptiness. “About as much life here. Now then...”
With a grunt and a wince as his mending ribs protested, Algar fumbled under the bar. His fingers closed on a smooth bottle, half full of heady amber mead.
Bottle tucked awkwardly into his belt, lantern and staff in hand, he went back out into the rain.
The Hall was the worst of it. The heart of the village, darkened and empty. Algar pushed the door open and shuffled up the rows of empty tables. Most of the benches had packed down into wagons, but the tables were easier to make again. Plenty of wood in Hahnmark. In a corner, he found a discarded crate that hadn’t been taken, and dragged it over to the Thane’s throne. The lantern went on the floor, long shadows painting themselves up the walls in grotesque mockery of the life that had once filled the room.
The pop of the cork coming out of the mead echoed around, and he took a moment to savour its oversweet scent. Then he put one foot up on the raised step by the throne and took a swig.
“So,” he said, wiping his mouth with one hand. “Here we are one last time, Cadarn. Anvil’s been and gone, and we come home to cold comfort. But perhaps that’s for the best.”
A breeze swept through the Hall, the noise of the rain momentarily rising and falling, and Algar wrapped his cloak around himself more firmly.
“We did alright at Anvil. Made a little money. Less things to pack up and move, to be sure. The weather was against us, all the way, and the nights were dark. But you knew that, of course.” He smacked his lips thoughtfully. “A messenger caught us on the way back, the lad Dalin. Happened that the inn we stopped at, nice little place on the border of Hahnmark, lovely place, but their wine is a touch rough... anyway, he was there waiting for us. Everything’s going according to plan, he said. Houses built. The Hall. The new Scattered Stars. Just waiting for the final occupants. For us.”
He nodded and took another gulp of the honey wine. A warmth began to creep through him, from the inside out.
“It won’t be the same, of course. Things change; that’s the nature of the world.” He held a hand up. “And I know what you’re going to say, so don’t. The skein moves forwards only. No looking back. But it’s difficult, with so much of the path in front of us dark.”
Algar closed his eyes. “I never got to tell you about Redoubt,” he murmured. “Talk about a dark path that lay in front of me. The scramble through the woods was the closest I’ve ever been to death, in all my years. You could hear the swish of orc weapons just metres away. It was liked the earliest days of the occupation, back before you organised us. Moving on, finding a place to be safe, being discovered, pushing through enemy lines and snatching sleep wherever we could. It was only a day, but it was the sort of day I thought I’d left behind.”
The bottle was almost empty, and with one last mouthful he drained it. “You’ve never seen the Sentinel Gate open from the other side. Few have. That Jakari and another mage, I forget her name, they got us to the right place so we could use it. It’s nothing like what you see in Anvil. There’s this pulse of heat and light, and then you can hear them calling you home. See the lights of the faithful, those who have not given up hope.”
He stood, and stiffly knelt before the throne, head bowed. “Wherever you are, Cadarn, whatever path you walk, I hope that you can hear our voices calling you home. In our hearts, we stand ready to receive you whenever you find your way through the Labyrinth, the lights of our faith there to guide you back.”
Algar raised his eyes to the empty throne one last time, then rose and left the Hall.
There was much to do.