A/N: This has been sitting on my flashdrive for simply ages because I've been thinking it over, and at last I've finally decided to post. This takes place during Taran Wanderer while Taran is living with Craddoc, the man who says he is his father. That bit in the story has always been my favorite, if only for the depth of emotion Taran feels as he struggles to reconcile himself to his new life. This fic is a sort of vignette, a deeper look into that segment of Taran's life. Enjoy.
He is trapped inside a barrier of lifeless stone, hills so ancient that they no longer mean harm or good to any man. Yet they keep him in, hinder his view of the horizon and the places he once loved and goes on loving yet.
But even that does not stop him from gazing up at the sky sometimes, dreaming, hoping, as Taran walks slowly across the land that is not his home.
His feet lead him on the path that he has tread a thousand times before in his vigil of watchfulness. His mind no longer tells them to watch for this stone or watch for that one, for his legs know their way better than he. Each step lasts an eternity, like a heart-beat, a drumbeat that echoes across the endless plains. A throbbing pain that hurts worse than the blisters on his hands or the aching in his tired muscles.
For Taran knows there is no hope to be found on the horizon; and yet he also knows, however long he walks this barren land, that it will never be his own.
He sits at the wooden table night after night, staring down at the meager rations on his plate. They are enough to satisfy his hunger, but only just. He and Craddoc eat in silence. When they are through, Taran rises and puts another log on the fire. He watches the flames consume it slowly, eating away at its bark until it reaches the inner core, and then departs, leaving naught but cold gray ash behind. For the first time, he recognizes the process taking place inside of him, the process that has already taken place in his father. Dull routine of life, hard living; they are the flame that eats away at first the flesh, and then the soul. Perhaps that is why Craddoc seems just the shell of a man at times, staring at Taran with an empty longing in his dark eyes.
Sometimes all is not so quiet. Sometimes they talk, one sharing a tale of the past with the other, or a story of old. Sometimes the dark eyes watch him carefully as Taran tells of his past, his own adventures. He can never quite bear to meet the eyes that watch him, though, so he stares into the fire until the brilliant flames remind him of hair the color of red and gold and her laughing, mocking eyes—and the words lock in his throat. Craddoc never seems to mind. Sometimes the silence speaks better than any words either could summon.
The days drift into weeks and the weeks to months. Seasons change. The sky pales until it reaches a blue so fragile you could reach out and tap it and it would shatter like glass. The leaves do not glow with vibrant colors; in this waste, they fade to brown and crumple in his hands and under his feet. He wonders if his soul is fading likewise.
He wonders, sometimes, why he regards his father with such scornful pity. Ought not a boy to love his father? And surely Craddoc loved him in such a way as to banish all hatred from their relationship. He was all that a boy could want in a father: strong, brave, relentless in his pursuit of the thing he wanted most. A hard man, but kindly. A weary man, but determined.
And yet Taran lingers as he walks along the many trodden paths, and wonders why those kind, pale eyes are so unlike what he expected, and the battered cap pulled low over his father's graying eyebrows so unlike the crown for which he always wished.
He is determined, however, to persevere. Even when the winter winds blow so ruthlessly upon his face that he would rather have the skin torn away; when his arms ache from hours of heavy lifting and moving of boulders; when he is so tired of treading the same paths as the day before and repeating the previous days and weeks and months that he wants to cry out and tear apart the whole of that horrible, silent hovel, Taran is strong.
For he knows, even while his heart tells him that it is not so, that this is his home; his place. This is his land, and his responsibility. His father to obey. His life to live out the way it was destined to be lived.
He may not ever come to love Craddoc the way he should; he very likely won't, merely for the lack of light and joy in the barren little house on the waste. But the two men who live inside the hovel share something beyond blood, beyond looks, beyond the relationship that is professed to be between them.
They share a will of iron. And it is that iron, above all else, that gives Taran the strength to take one more step.