They drew in then, this team of men Their purpose now achieved: To reach the house among the trees Upon Great Hallows Eve
They looked around and, smiling, found Their party stood alone No hidden forms, no nocturne eyes No sign of threats unknown
All skyward tracks lay blanket-black From sylvan canopies The house, a span of candlelight That glimmered in the trees
So drawing near, the men found clear A door within the stone Three knocks, and then the door swung in Beyond, a lantern shone
The torch was cast among the last Of every man so gathered Its brandisher then hooked his light Addressing each one after:
“Good time you made without my aid, Yet only eight define you— What happened to our missing three? Were they delayed behind you?”
“One’s been misled,” another said, “We tried to intercept him But found him not. …The other two, The Sunless River swept them.”
“Well, come inside,” the first replied, And snuffed his torch, disheartened. “Our lofty business gambles all, And none by chance are pardoned.”
They followed him and left the dim Of twilight and the forest Inside, the candles danced their light The wind maintained its chorus
He led them to a central room With chairs and roaring fire The first began to hog the flames His body cold and tired
The second toured the open floor Then fell into a corner The third and fourth would join the first Their own boots none the warmer
The fifth and sixth grabbed chairs, and with The seventh, sat together The eighth then gestured toward their host Who waited at their center
“A sight inspired! Among this fire, We nine rejoined again!” The party smiled at the sight This company of friends
Yet somber, too, the gathered grew Remembering their missing But as they sat, their woeful thoughts Returned to reminiscing
“I think of lore from long before, Our bonds a happenstance Such evil tidings shaped our lot, Yet fortune did it grant.
“Before you hear what brought you here, I’d like you to consider: What’s time begotten you since then? Have you aged well, or withered?
“You look confused,” the host bemused, “Yet know it to be true: In peril did we find ourselves In strife, our spirits grew
“We vanguards then, this team of men! The Heroes of the North! We saved the Palace of the Plains And legends issued forth
“Yet since that time, we’ve all resigned To carry our last days With neither purpose nor ambition— Our idleness our shame.”
A silence seized the company In thought they all withdrew The seventh then began at length: “What would you have us do?
“Such deeds amassed are of the past And dire, desperate straits It wasn’t choice that called us there, But shared, unlucky fate
“We’re not the men we were back then We’re old now, can’t you see? And age encumbers each of us— This journey cost us three!”
“Suppose instead,” the other said, “Their homes they never left. Demanding nothing of themselves Inept and weak, bereft.
“Would that not make for crueler fate? You’ve far more grit to give! I’d see you hurl it one last time Again I’d see you live!”
The party stirred amidst his words They sat and they considered Have they in age renounced themselves? Were they indeed so withered?
The second eased his knotted knees— Was he as spent as they? The has-been or the resolute Which role was he to play?
The seventh frowned across his brow And family swept his thoughts To tend one’s home in older age Was noble, was it not?
Behind, the fifth balled up his fist And drew his knuckles white What modern terrors wait for them Beyond that candlelight?
The sixth and forth looked to the north The road from which they came Has age deprived them of themselves Or were they still the same?
The first and third together stirred Reliving exploits past All turned to look upon the eighth “...Go on,” he said at last.