He staggered to the ruins, soaked with sweat. Blood dripped into his eyes in crimson rivulets. It was over. He was home now. Fatigue and nostalgia meshed together in a haze of memories and reality. The thick clouds above him blurring and molding together into a dreary gray sky matched his mood.
How long had it been since he had seen this place: Weeks, months, ages? He ran his hand over the remains of a house wall. The craggy mortar and soft moss beneath his fingers seemed strange. Had this been his home? The toppled chimney behind him was growing a wild garden in the fireplace. Was this really home?
It had been a long journey, there and back again. He had fought and even loved it at times. He had the scars to prove it. He squeezed his arm tighter. More blood seeped through his fingers. The last battle that plagued him was finally over. Disapproval was the only thing that had spared him. The dense air popped his ears, muffling everything but his thoughts.
He ground his teeth at the memory. How stupid had he been to not predict a rogue ambush?
He had let the prospect of being so close to home drop his defenses and war trained instincts like a fresh recruit. The sharp blow to his head left him fumbling for his senses and his blade. His skull was still throbbing from the fresh wound.
When the stranger saw his sheath emblazoned with his company’s insignia and rank. The optimistic assault turned to calm malice.
The rogue spat then put up their knife before vanishing into the hazy shadows off the roadside.
The sting of shame from a highwayman was like being tossed into a wasp’s nest. In a way, the stranger denied him the a well-earned death. Life was cruel and Death had become an odd comfort in his time.
Plip. A raindrop landed on his arm. He jerked back at the cold tap.
He shook the memories from his mind. Blood seeped and clung to his shirt then ran down his arm. His return was far from the joyous welcoming throng or the spiteful glares or stones and chicken’s blood being thrown his way. His greeting was solitude. After trials, battles, doubts, and horrors to last him more than a lifetime’s worth; silence and rest were perfect salutations. More drops fell around him a soft applause of watery hands.
Was it worth it? Was this all he had to show for, to prove, this tiny, shambled hamlet around him? He slumped down. Blood clouded his eyes again. He swiped it away. The conglomeration of forgotten homes stood like sentry of guards around him. He scanned the remnants around him, He recalled scattered faces of friends, families, his family, to protect their memories, life and hardships with none but him to remember it. Others had survived, fled to other villages, only he dared to return here.
The breeze ruffled his hair before a gentle kiss of rain washed over him. The pelt of water seeped into every garment giving refreshment. He smiled at the irony of the unspoken welcome. He closed his eyes, giving exhaustion a chance to retreat from the invigorating hospitality. The wind tugged his soaked shirt and vest with childlike eagerness to be noticed. Yeah, it was worth it, He was home. Tomorrow could wait for a proper welcome. This was all that mattered now. It was worth it.