They reached the front lines after three long days. The second day, the coursers accepted riders again, though Keelath hardly found it more comfortable. Horses didn’t move like hawkstriders did, and Rosen’s ears were tight against its skull after an hour of Keelath bumping around like a sack of turnips on its back. It leaned over him like a great black phantom and whuffed indignantly into his hair as he lay, trying to sleep, that night.
“I know, I know,” grumbled Keelath. “Give me a break, will you? I’ve never done this before.”
The courser nickered, lipping his hair in a manner almost exactly like Keelath giving his younger brother a noogie, then wandered off to drink from a nearby stream.
Keelath closed his eyes, but sleep was a long way off. He had been a part of the Gladerunners for only a year, hardly a long time for one elf to get to know another, but he still felt their loss as a gnawing ache somewhere under his ribs. When he had looked back from the hilltop, he been unable to pick out any still standing among the horde of trolls, so at least he hadn’t been abandoning them, yet he wondered if he could have changed their fate.
Keelon had spoken –infrequently — of such losses in the Troll Wars. “You can either sit and brood about it, or you can move on,” he’d say gruffly, as he kneeled before the small shrine to the Light in the back of their house and refused to meet his son’s eyes.
Keelath had thought Keelon meant it derisively, but now he wondered. There was a time and a place for everything, as his mother said. Perhaps there was no shame in considering the woes of the past, so long as he did not become drowned by them. His fingers found the symbol of the Light he kept on a cord around his neck, and he held it, thinking, until at last, sleep claimed him.