The Cloud Dwellers


An edited and improved version of this story is now available for purchase as part of the ‘Prophecies of the Drowned Oracle’ collection.

I lie comfortably on a soft patch of grass. The wind rustles the leaves of the trees I can just see around the edges of my vision. The calming sound is accompanied by the singing of birds, and far off somewhere in the distance, I can hear a wild boar mulling around. Footsteps sound on the gravel path behind me. They won’t be able to see me, but I can hear their voices. The voices drift away as they walk further down the path until the only thing that’s left is a soft unintelligible murmur.

I watch the clouds above me drift slowly across the sky. Nothing could be better than this view. Nothing can turn me away from this spectacle. In the clouds, I see people. I see knights in armour, horses galloping and bucking, a battle. The swords clash against each other, but the sound doesn’t reach me. They’re too far above, but I can imagine.

The screams of wounded soldiers, the fearful whinnying of their horses, the rumble of a thousand hooves hitting the ground in frantic patterns. A sword breaks under the weight of a horses leg. It stomps down in a panic as an enemy soldier swipes at its rider. Another attack, another dodge. Heavy legs nearly crush a motionless hand, still loosely grasping onto the reins of an equally still horse. Their still forms a kind of morbid oasis in the midst of a raging storm. A violent whirlwind that struck them down ruthlessly, yet — mercifully — together.

They met when they were both young, born on the same day of the same year. The boy’s father handed him the reins and told him, “If you take good care of him, he’ll do the same for you.” When the boy looked into the horse’s big cloudy eyes, he knew he’d made a friend for life.

Together they grew up. They rode through the cloudy forests, bathed in rivers of mist, ate the white berries that were said to grant clairvoyance to the lucky, all before — always — returning home where father would be waiting for them with warm food and a soft bed. When night fell on the days they hadn’t yet returned from their journey, the boy would curl up against his companion’s side. A place so warm and comfortable he didn’t need a fire to stave off the cold.

They knew the cloudlands better than even most merchants and used their knowledge to guide lost travellers and bring messages to and from distant towns and cities. Back home, father would listen to his son’s stories with a small smile.

But then came the war.

I watch them from below. Two clouds crashing together to become one, but first fighting a desperate battle. Two armies made of soldiers all dragged from their peaceful lives on the whims of nature. Two figures, lying motionless between their still fighting comrades, gone on a journey they will never return from.

I can’t hear their swords clash, but I can imagine.

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