Sweat dripping from my brow, I head back towards home. Dinodas bounds towards me, shifting to walk on the customary left side as we stroll. My hand reaches up to scratch that comfortable spot behind his ear. It’s an instinctive move now, for both of us.
We’re kin for many years now, this massive hound and little me, a halfling from Kirtin, just off Slope.
On certain days in the field he’s closer to me than others. On rising full Glibbon he knows I’m going to cut wood and brush. The physical exertion helps me focus, or unfocus — whatever. Those things that happened down Slope, and the years after, normally sit back in my head, but since the Hornjaws started visiting on full moons I’m unable to avoid the thoughts.
Don’t know how they got me to open up — probably something to do with how well they treat Dinodas. He likes them, so I like them. It’s typical for a bond. Meeting Belni and Terdu was good for him, probably good for me too.
I don’t like thinking about those times. I don’t want to remember the decision I made.
So that’s why when a moon rises full I cut brush and start a burn pile. Because this evening I’m going to share some stories. Daytime cannot be about Down Slope and regrets. That’s what moons rise is for.
I think back to the week-moon Feylf’s rise in Autumn. Belni was at the door. I didn’t have the rituals then, no stories. Just a drink from second mug. First mug is for caf in morning; second mug is ale in evenings. I lost third mug a while ago, that’s the one that Serg’nt gave me with the bottle. The fire was blazing, a bit too hot for this time of the year. Din’s at my feet when the knock comes.
Wrong time of day for a visitor.
Out here in Cold Creek things are pretty spread out. Down by Iron Road they be more city types. Here we’re alone at night, and that’s why I live by Creek.
“Ho. Door’s open.”
I set second mug down. Looking towards the door, one eye on the dusty sword that hangs to its right. Dinodas lifts one ear, one eye. The old hound is apathetic.
“Sir, ‘s Belni. I been looking for Terdu. He late from bonds-day.”
I helped the older Hornjaw look for his younger brother. They human, Belni with a solid herding dog. Good size to his bond, smaller than Din.
We searched for a few hours, the light of Feylf helped, and a few hours after sunset the month-moon Glibbon rose too. That made things easier. We found Terdu crying in a briar. He was embarrassed. His bond were two little sheep — two little fluffy wool sheep.
So I talked and talked and talked. I told tale to Terdu of all the kin and their bonds I met Down Slope. Many dogs, horses too. But when you’re on the northern front you see a bit of everything. Cold Creek doesn’t have a lot of people. Most of their bonds are herding dogs, we’re a herding community and then Iron Road nearsby has the ford. Still mostall the bonds have purpose.
Telling Terdu and Belni about the bigger world helped. Terdu was willing to go home. Belni, his dog, the two floof-sheep and the now prideful Terdu waved away. On that first night I didn’t know they’d come back. They’ve been back five Glibbons now.
Winter on the Slope and Rise gets cold, so the fire rages and the Hornjaws started to bring their friends.
There’s a first-timer tonight. Someone from Iron Road? Not from Creek, that’s certain.
He’s with a pony, carrying a lance and shield. Oh, and the helm of a new conscript. Older than the Hornjaws. Hmmm.
Feylf and Glibbon are both rising now, full. Kin is three-quarters too. It’s a bright night, but bitter cold. The Dragon is tucked behind a cloud and years from being full.
“Terdu, is this everyone you invited?”
“Yessi.. I mean, yes.” They’d stopped calling me sir. I’m just a man, and a dog, and a past that interests them.
There’s three girls, not the same families, as one is a goliath. She’s got a flutter of sparrows round her, several braiding her beard while she sits and waits.
“Belni, serve the cider. Tonight I’m going to talk about Fer and his bull. Fer came from out east. Getting to know Fer was probably the best thing about serving Down Slope. Warm soul who knew warm songs, and would always smile.”
The new one is clearly disinterested.
“It was Fer who taught me talking-drum. I never picked it up the speed he could do, but didn’t matter. He made me practice. Made me good in the head. Hitting that little drum meant not thinking about the lines across the river with the people of Az and Sel, their mastiffs, their rage…”
New kid stops muttering to himself and just interrupts.
“How was he at fighting?!” He shouts.
“Fer would sing too. Not a deep voice, not falsetto — just that type of voice that is confident in itself and willing to share…”
“His fighting! Was he a master at the sword, or bow, or an axeman?” Another interuption.
It’s going to be one of those nights. This isn’t the first time a near-child has wanted the focus to be on the violence in the front. It most certainly won’t be the last.
“Others may tell you those stories. My tales are of the friendships made, the acquaintances held close, and the connections lost. I no longer swing a sword or throw my spear. But I still think warmly about the women and men with whom I serve.
“They are what I miss. They are my regrets. The people and their bonds are the only thing worth my time, for any other thought is sorrow and pain.
“Maybe you’ll find another to tell you your tales. Here, at my fire, under the full moons, my stories are of them, because these are the stories I have.”
Chided, the man-child laughs and storms off. No one joins him.
“Another custom Fer taught me…” I continue with my tale of my friend, the story I have.