He’ll take the low road, he said. And he’d get to Scotland afore me. Stupid of me not to realise what that meant.
I stop, take off my cap, rake my fingers through my hair. I look back across the hills, towards where I’d buried him, beside the road, under a cross made from sticks. He’d had no sword to stick into a mound to remember him. He’d had a dagger, but I took that with me. No sense in leaving something like that on the side of the road for anyone to nick off with.
He’d be angry, anyway, that I stayed to bury him. It took so long, with no one to help. But I couldn’t leave him there, for some scavenger to pick the eyes from his head.
It’s a long way. I am tired already. My feet hurt, and my legs ache. I stop and sit on a stone wall to rest, just for a moment, and my feet begin to throb.
And then it is night, without me realising time has passed. Had I dozed? I am still perched on the wall, so if I have slept, I have done so without toppling from my seat. The stars glow above, and the moon skulks on the horizon, and I slip down and resume my long trudge home.
What can I say to his children, when I get there? Will they blame me for leaving him, instead of bringing his body home? Will they cry, and rage, and cast me out?
Of course they’ll cry – their father has died. Of course they’ll rage – at fate and the universe and probably me. And that’s… that’s fine. They should rage at me. I’ll not begrudge them that.
The long road is so long. I miss him at my side.
I lift a hand and rub my face. My fingers are cold. I want to stop and weep, but I keep moving forward: as soon as I reach home I can weep. Not now, though. Onwards.
I remember his hand in mine. His reassuring smile. The grey of his growing beard. The way his hair hung across his face. His skill with a knife. His laugh at the fireside. His jokes. His warmth.
I weep anyway, step after step, through the cold night. I push myself onwards though I could have stopped, made a fire, slept some. I push myself on as if it is a penance paid for my uselessness.
God, I miss him. I miss him.
I glare up at the sky as if he was there and curse under my breath. I kick at the ground, the low road, and bite
back a sob. No, he’d be home before me. Did that mean home already? Or is he still journeying there, under the sod?
I take a shuddering breath, and force myself on.