Small Mercies

And so, the last is laid to rest beside his brethren. With bowed head, my beloved husband retires a step, leaving me alone with my thoughts and memories. I return the mindful gesture with a grateful, trembling smile.

A cascade of white rose petals dribbles from my hands to shower the casket of gleaming oak and brass. If asked, long ago, which I might have have predicted to be the lone survivor, my selection would certainly not have been he who had recently been lowered into the sweet-smelling earth.

Not that I preferred one be taken before any of the others. I had no favorite amongst them and cherished all with equal affection. If such had been within my power, I surely would have granted each immortality.

No, it would not have been a matter of personal preference, simply the fact that he had always been more sickly than his kinsmen...the creaking gate which, apparently, is more sturdy than many might imagine.

Through a veil of repressed tears, I envision the last time I saw them all together, eager and more than willing to advance into battle against the dark forces threatening the kingdom from the Northern Forests. Courageous and gallant they had been, as always, in their custom-made chainmail, shouldering axes crafted from the finest of forged steel.

Two had not returned alive from that crusade, their lifeless bodies brought back in the midst of sadness and interred with all due honor. Brummig, who wore his cloak of gruff irritability as a shield to disguise the genuine tenderness of his character, had been the first to fall, followed shortly by Schlaf, alert and watchful for once, who had rushed to his dying comrade's aid and received, care of a poisonous dart, the same fate for his vigilant pains.

Those who remained had never fully recovered from the loss. Neither had I.

"Life must go on," dear Froh had insisted, trying valiantly to bouy the oppressive mood but, despite his ever-cheerful display of high spirits, I will swear with my final breath that he died of a broken heart at the untimely demise of his brothers.

A soft rain begins to fall and reminds me again of the day that I lost Affig. I said I had no favorites and that much is indeed true, but Affig with his absurd cavorting and captivating grin, holds a special place within my memory. My delightfully innocent court jester who was swept away by a torrential flood while trying to rescue a basketful of abandoned kittens. It was typical of his foolish yet endearing nature to attempt such deliverance.

Three days passed before Arzt, Scheu and Niese managed to seek out and retrieve his poor, mud-soaked body from the river basin. It was then that Scheu, always retiring, gentle and quiet, had withdrawn completely into his shell and withered away before our horrified eyes.

Still, Arzt and Niese endured and, for that, I was relieved although the dawning of each cold snap brought renewed worry as the symptoms of Niese's persistent malady grew steadily worse. I believe Niese would have succumbed some years ago, if not for Arzt's devotion and knowledge of the curative arts.

Physician, heal thyself, so the saying goes, but Arzt ignored the decline of his own failing health and worked tirelessly tending to the increasingly infirm Niese. Eventually, the strain proved too much for his frail frame, once so robust and strong. He passed away in his did Niese, who lingered but one short season beyond.

The tears flow freely as I look at each headstone in turn, bearing the names of those who never failed to champion my cause and who swore to defend me to the very end. They were my supporters and my defenders when I was in dire need of such protection. My small mercies for whom I shall be eternally grateful and indebted.

From the vast store of memories that we shared, I cherish most dearly the moment we first met. As I stood and gazed upon the seven little beds, wondering who the inhabitants of that tiny cottage might be, and then heard them singing as they returned from a long day's work in the mines.

Always, will I hold that remembrance close to my heart and never forget the joy at the way we once were.

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