"It's not far now, my lad," said Tier. "That's smoke ahead, not just mist we'll find a nice village inn where we can warm up."His horse snorted at him in reply, or more likely at a bothersome drop of rain, and continued its steady progress down the trail.
The horse, like the sword Tier carried, was of fare better quality than his clothing. He'd scavenged both the horse and sword from men he'd killed: the sword in his first year of war, the horse earlier this year when his own mount had been killed beneath him. A warhorse bred and trained to carry a nobleman, Skew had carried Tier, a baker's son, through two battles, six skirmishes and, by rough reckoning, almost a thousand miles of trail.
He was a valuable horse, though in the first few weeks of Tier's journey the avarice in the eyes of the ragged men in the areas torn by years of war had as much to do with hunger as gold. Tier had waited eagerly for one of them to attack him, to ambush him if they could. But something, maybe the battle-readiness that still lurked under his calm facade kept them away from him.
But in the more prosperous areas away from the Empire's borders, the chances of an attack were greatly lessened, damn the luck. A fight would have given him momentary respite from the dread he felt toward his current task -- going home.
So many were dead. The two young men from his village who'd signed on with him to fight in a war half a continent away from their home had died, as had many other young men hoping for gold, glory or escape. Tier had survived. He still wasn't quite certain how that had happened -- he certainly hadn't planned on it. He had never sought death, but any soldier knows his demise could come at any time.
If the war had lasted forever, Tier would have fought until he died. But the war was over, and the post the Sept he'd served offered him was nothing he wanted. He had no desire to train up more young men for battle.
So now he rode back home. It would have never occurred to the boy who'd crept out of the family home almost a decade ago, that coming home would be so much harder than leaving.
Tier's massive gelding shook his brown and white mane, splattering Tier with water. He patted the horse's neck.
"There, what did I tell you, Skew?" Tier said. "There's a roof down there, you can see it between the trees."
He looked forward to the warm common room of an inn, flooded with noise and ale -- things to fill his emptiness. Maybe a bit of cheer would stay with him until he was home.
He was getting closer. Even without a map, the bitter taste of old magic that filled these mountains would have told him so. Though the battle had been over long ago, wizard's magic had a way of outlasting even memories and the Shadowed had been a great wizard. Closer to the battlefield of Shadow's Fall, riding the forest paths could be dangerous. Near his home village, Redern, everyone knew to avoid certain places still held in fell magic's grip. More here.