Cradling his side, he limped into the graveyard, aware of the irony of his situation. Even as the wound festered, he had other obligations.
He had someone waiting for him.
The ground was wet, swampy. Most of the headstones had tipped, leaving him with an assortment of wayward monuments. Mud caked his shins, his chest, his arms, from where’d he fallen.
At the top of the hill, a shattered tree waited for him. It’d been large and glorious at one point, but after far too many ice storms, all but the main trunk had been snapped off, a gloomy reminder that nothing lasts.
Ravens mocked him as they circled overhead. They’d been following him for the last mile, occasionally running ahead to wait for him to amble forward. In these cases, they watched him with their unflinching eyes, no doubt making bets how long he’d last. If he’d actually make it to his destination.
He’d decided to beat all their wagers.
His breath came in shallow puffs, controlled, only as much as he needed. He didn’t even have the energy, the will, to pull off his armor. His longsword ticked impatiently at his leg. He fumbled with it, but it still clung to him like a needy child.
He pulled himself up on the rock underneath the tree. He dared not look down, instead he searched the bag, eventually pulling out a thick book. His hands shook as he opened it, but a smile hit his lips as he heard a giggle.
Looking up, he spotted the child. It peered from behind the tree, then presented itself. A white glow permeated its skin, hair, clothing. It bounded over to him, its voice coming out in lilting tones: “You came!”
He nodded his head. “I told you I would.” The wound had gone cold and he couldn’t feel his legs anymore. He leaned into the stone, book open. “I’ve got time for one story.”
“Can’t you stay longer?”
He shook his head. “Now shush, I need to start now if we’re going to finish.”
It sat in front of him, not worrying about the marshy ground.
He turned to the page, his vision faltering, but he started as he knew every good story did. “Once upon a time . . .”