Contrary to popular belief, going down a mountain is not easier than going up. Barrin struggled to keep his feet on the narrow ledge that lined a steep cliff face covered in pitted ice. At least a half moon gave him some light, and the snow reflected it brightly.
He slipped thick leather gloves onto his hands to protect them from the snow. One hand always brushed the face of the cliffs, just the fingertips touching. He kept taking his glove off to touch it skin-to-stone, and then winced when the cold seeped into his bones. The glove went back on, but never for long.
“Duty. Your body was given to you with a reason. Take care of it!” his father would say.
The old man would laugh at him, that dry chuckle. “If you don’t keep those hands of yours out of trouble, you’ll never make it to the gardens!” His eyes twinkled in the sunlight. “And what would we do then? The trees would never remember their duty!”
A light breeze stirred the upper surface of the snow, sending sparks of burning cold into his eyes. He took the hand out of one glove to rub his face. He stumbled down the ancient pathways he had been taught but had never walked. His foot slipped off the path. He threw himself against the cliff face, trying to keep from falling.
His other foot lost its grip. He slid off the narrow ledge. One glove struggled for purchase. One bare hand clawed at the icy path.
Fifty generations went before him. They had waited for this. They had watched for the end of the Summers. They had been prepared. Duty boiled in his blood.
He plummeted beside the cliffs. Barrin closed his eyes.
No. He didn’t weep for the old man. He didn’t have time to weep now.
Bands of iron wrapped in leather snatched him, dug into his skin. His head snapped down. Something stopped his fall, and it wasn’t the ground.
The smell hit him: rich soil and rotting vegetation. The scent of worms in the rain. The wind beat at his face, stabs of icy snow attacking his eyes. He struggled to open them.
What would his father say now? “Not even a roc should keep you from doing your duty!”
Barrin was sure that was true. However, the claws of a roc gripped him now. A great black bird with white-streaked feathers flapped its wings, carrying him – what direction?
He could get to his sword. Should he attack the thing? Would it matter? Given his angle, he doubted he could strike the claws effectively. And if he did any damage, the thing would just drop him.
“Take it easy, girl. You’ll have your supper soon enough,” a grizzled voice called over the wind.
Someone rode the roc?
Did that make things better or worse?
His father had never trained him for this. Where was duty now?
This is the tenth chapter of Summers’ End.