Raindrops fell lightly on the soldier’s face, dancing across closed eyes and sun-baked skin; and he breathed deeply as the wind washed over him. The heat had beaten down during his travel to this sacred hill, and even this slight weather was a welcome reprieve.
It couldn’t really be called heat, Drachwald didn’t have much weather that could, but when you’ve spent most of your life in the battered outposts of the northern border, even the dead of winter could feel like an inferno. In truth, the drizzling rain was not far from becoming dusting snow.
Slowly, his gaze fell to the ground and the mess of flat, ruddy-colored rocks, and small weeds dotted sparsely across the mountaintop. From a distance, the top plateaued into an expanse only slightly smaller than the base itself and appeared table flat. Standing on the top itself revealed a rolling slope, gradual, but enough to keep you from seeing all the graves that filled it in one view.
The rows were not straight by any means, but well enough that you could see the pattern and walk between them. That is what the old man did, slowly, deliberately, head bowed in reverence, arms hanging by his sides. Every so often he would reach out and rest his hand on a gravestone, the way one might on the shoulder of an old friend. He moved up and down the rows, past those he had lived with, fought with, all the dear friends he had lost. It was not a short walk.
His hands moved to the pommel of his sword, and rested there, folded one over the other. He stared into the middle distance and sighed deeply. "Too many new faces back home. I'm getting to where I'm more comfortable here with you boys." He said with a half hollow chuckle.
It was true. Times were different now, still brutally dangerous, but not like they had been. Many of the new men would get through their whole career without filling a single row of the Warrior's Rest with their friends. Their eyes hadn't seen what his had, and hopefully never would. That was good, but it sure made him feel out of place, and old.
The horizon was a mottled tapestry of color with a foreboding bank of clouds clawing their way across the distant pale blue mountains to the northwest. It was nearing time to go, but he had one more task to complete.
Past the graves, near the edge of the mountaintop, stood what appeared to be a pile of rubble. Small rocks stacked atop each other forming a mound roughly twenty feet long and six feet high now. The old soldier had no idea when it began, but the tradition had been going for some time. The Warrior's rest was a sacred place where many of Drachwald's soldiers were laid to rest, and many of Drachwald's citizen's journeyed to pay their respects.
It had become a tradition to bring a small rock from the start of your journey and leave it on the pile at the end of the Rest. It was like bringing a piece of Drachwald to those who would never leave the mountaintop. It made for a colorful collection of rocks and stones that looked very out of place but created a unique memorial.
The Soldier pulled a weathered stone from his pocket, stared at it for a time, then added it to the others. He turned to go, but his rock slipped off the pile, banging against the loose ruddy stones that were more native to the mountain. "These old, shaky hands of mine." He muttered as he bent down to retrieve it, and caught the movement out of the corner of his eye.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish