Tell A Tale in 500 Words
Childe Roland Returns By Deon Lee
On an old, haggard beast treading through plains of vast heather, Childe Roland awoke from yet another half-slept dream and upon opening his eyes had found them gazing towards a familiar sight coming to view in the distance. Beneath the evening’s heavy ochre, thin white rays lit up the thatched roofs of a lonely hamlet, and from its direction, the laughter of children, faint but raucous, did seem to echo. Perhaps it is crows, Roland thought. He could not be sure – indeed, he hadn’t been for quite some time – but towards it still his tired mare toiled its rain-rotted thighs.
When he arrived, the sounds had dissipated and not a child could be seen. But somewhere, he felt, here or there, pale memories of a once-lived childhood lingered. Roland looked to the empty pens, to the flayed swing rope of a diseased ash, he regarded the remnants of broken huts, empty, desolate, and pondered. He was home.
Further in they went, and the more vigorously the dismal scene forged itself back into the landscape of his memory. Then, passing along a jagged stone wall, Roland saw a little crow sitting there, watching him with its crow eyes yellow and black.
‘Merlin,’ he whispered, ‘could that be you?’
The crow twitched, and the man’s eyes widened.
‘Ah, my dear, old master… how I missed you. But where is Ellen – my sister? Where Beatrice, Peter, Jacobs?’
Names long forgotten once more found themselves on his tongue, names of his family and loved ones, and as he said them his eyes, like old, dusty wells began to water and to sting. The crow twitched on indifferently.
‘I had found the Dark Tower, master, against your wishes… and indeed, it was empty. Now, countless years gone and finally I’ve found my way home… only to find that it too, is….’
Soft winds played over the silence of the hamlet, over Roland, horse, and crow.
‘If only I had heeded your words,’ he continued, lowering his gaze. ‘Many times in my journey I’d thought to go back. But when backwards I turned it seemed always I was too far gone, and turning back ahead, the distance always promising….’
Roland raised his head suddenly, his countenance brightening.
‘But have you not a way to change all that, master? Change the past as effortlessly as now you’ve changed to crow’s form? Yes. Surely you have a way.’
The crow was still.
‘Could you not change the resolution of my arrogant youth, so that at least I could have perished with my people? I am so old, so tired, and so alone in my weariness…. I beg you, master, please…. Alter just one moment of my past.’
In desperation he reached out for the crow, but off it flew screeching into the sky. And as he traced its journey with his eyes, a dreadful sleepiness once more clutched his soul, and his eyelids lowered helplessly.
‘Ellen…’ he sighed.
Then falling asleep, dreamt he was a boy again.
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