The sharp-eyed among you will notice the title has changed. I wasn’t pleased with the original title, and the new and improved title came to me Monday afternoon. Thanks for your comments so far!
The Gods of Evergreen
Part 2: Journey East
Part 2: Journey East
Had Johnny taken everything the village offered him, he would have needed a cart and two oxen to pull it. Just the food — enough for several trips to Mount Evergreen and back — would have crippled a strong pack mule. As it was, Johnny reluctantly accepted a treasure, given knowing he may not return: a pack frame built from metal of the ancients, magically light. On this went what food and water he would carry, a few clothes, a warm cloak that doubled as a bedroll, his short bow and quiver, and the east-going mail, all covered by a thin oilcloth. Everything he needed for his journey was given well before the morning after the storm.
The road east was well-traveled — at least to the Wide Highway, two days’ walk from Johnny’s home. The pavement was potholed and cracked, and even disappeared entirely for short stretches, but the road was clear and easy to follow. Johnny pushed on into the evening, a little farther than absolutely necessary, to avoid having to spend the night in the deserted town halfway. Some of his folk believed that ghosts haunted the places where ancients had once dwelt; Johnny was more concerned about bandits lurking in the husks of retails and other buildings. He kept his bow at hand, but used it only to try for a rabbit, without success. With just a little light left, he turned off the road and went over a hill, to a place he knew — a little dimple that would shelter him from the wind and provide some cover if needed. The spring nights were still chilly, but Johnny wrapped himself in the bedroll and oilcloth and slept comfortably enough.
He woke at daybreak and built a small fire to cook breakfast and boil some tea. The lament for Big Sara and Little Sara welled up in his throat, but he willed it down. He would sing of his grief to the gods themselves. After breakfast, he buried the fire and moved on, setting a pace as fast as his burden would allow.
Eating lunch on the march, he reached the outskirts of another abandoned town in the early afternoon. Where his road crossed the Wide Highway, he entered a cinderblock building with a patched roof and withdrew the mail from his pack. All of it would go north or south, along the Wide Highway, and he sorted them into the proper slots. It was bad luck to mistreat the mail, and even the hardest bandit would either leave his victim alive to carry the mail or carry it himself. Johnny noted a pair of letters in the WEST slot; if the gods did not send him to the afterlife to rejoin his wife and daughter, he would bring them with him on the way back.
The name of this town was long forgotten, and thought by many to be a haven only for ghosts and bandits; yet a few hardy souls dwelt here, whether disaffected or simply seeking adventure. They sheltered in crumbling buildings, often in better repair on the inside than outside, and tended crops hidden from the roads by weeds or broken walls. And yet the people were not inhospitable. So it was, that Johnny turned and walked to a certain street corner, away from the main roads. “I am Johnny Qullio, son of Arthur, of the village west of the Wide Highway,” he called. “I seek shelter for the night as I travel east to Mount Evergreen!”
A man, neither young or old, stepped out from between two decrepit retails. “Well come and well met, Johnny Qullio,” he said. “Come, eat and rest, then tell us why you go to visit the gods.” He led Johnny between the buildings to a house that a trained eye could see was in better shape than it first appeared. They traded food for good luck, then invited him to tell his story.
“We will grieve for your wife and daughter as well,” an older women said, after Johnny finished. “The way east is overgrown, for at least a half-day’s walk, but it is not difficult to follow. If you return, come to us again and tell us what you saw.”
The next morning, he woke early and put as much distance between himself and the Wide Highway as he could, often looking behind him for signs of bandits. But the gods seemed to have it in mind to not impede his trek, and Mount Evergreen loomed just a little larger before him each day.