Cozy Flash: “Moving Day”

Hrok the Hillman hated few things, but none so much as moving.

Sorcerers were high on his list of dislikes, alongside giant snakes, and spiders too. Still, none compared to boxing up belongings, piling them in a cart, and then unloading them somewhere new. That said, there were few so good at moving things as Hrok.

Born and bred in bleak northern hills beneath a grim grey sky, even his first few breaths had required great strength. As a youth he would climb sheer cliffs and wrestle with wild bulls for sport. By the time he came of age, Hrok was tall and broad, iron thews adorning his sturdy frame. Because of his barbarian vitality, the folk of the frontier villages called on him for many things. He had slain savage raiders, buried his axe in the skulls of mountain apes, and even stormed the keep of a mad mage.

But most of all, they asked him to help move.

Hrok understood the villagers’ obsession with moving as much as he understood convoluted court systems or organized religion. There wasn’t a turn of the moon when someone didn’t need something moved. Since coming down from the crags to this civilized existence, Hrok had been asked to assist in moving more times than he cared to count.

First it had been his nearest neighbor, an aging farmer, who needed supplies moved from one barn to another. The purpose was beyond Hrok, the ways of settled folk still foreign and strange, but being an honorable man, he agreed. It had taken the pair from sunrise to sundown to accomplish the task, with Hrok performing the bulk of the labor. His muscles ached and sweat ran in rivers down his muscled back, but he never complained.

Upon completion, the farmer thanked him profusely for his time but could not offer coin. It seemed, however, the farmer’s wrinkled wife had been slaving away as well. Not in the yard nor in a barn, but in the kitchen. Hrok’s payment had been a feast unlike any he had partaken in before. His were a simple people, their food cooked plainly and unseasoned over an open fire. He was wholly unused to the luxuries of salt, sage, rosemary, and thyme. While Hrok’s coffers remained empty, his stomach was full. That was payment enough.

Unbeknownst to him, the farmer sang Hrok’s praises at the village market the very next day, regaling the villagers with tales of his great strength and skill. Soon enough, a comely woman and soot-stained child appeared at his door bearing sweetened rolls. It seemed she ran a shop in the square alone, her husband dead and buried. A new shipment had arrived bearing priceless mammoth tusks. The sale of a single tusk could feed the pair for months. She hoped for Hrok to lend his strength in moving the stock from the caravansary to her stall.

Hrok took one taste of her offering and agreed.

Before he knew it, Hrok had been enlisted to move all sorts of fare. The stables required aid in tossing hay. It was hot, itchy work. The town guard, a ragged lot of volunteers, could not muster the strength to manhandle polished arms and armor sent from some faceless politician far away. Hrok agreed to help for a pair of sharpened swords. A wealthy man in ermine robes asked him to haul brick for his new manor. The blacksmith wanted Hrok to stack ingots and ore. Despite his superstitions and rocky relationships with occult practitioners, Hrok even agreed to carry sacks of alchemical ingredients to the top floor of a half-ruined wizard’s tower. There was not a villager in town that had not asked Hrok to move one thing or another.

Now it was Hrok’s turn to move, and he would do it alone.

In truth, the displaced barbarian loved the company of people. He would even go so far as to call them “friends.” Despite asking for countless favors, the villagers had always been accepting and kind to him, a stark contrast to the dour warriors and lone huntsmen of his homeland. For too long he had lived on the fringes of town, existing in the foggy twilight between wilderness and civilization.

While he would always fondly remember the thickets and glades of the deep forest, visiting them often, Hrok found great enjoyment in walking the village’s cobbled streets and mingling with the people there. The time had come for him to leave his simple cabin and move to town. When he told the villagers, his friends, they seemed excited. However, when he asked for their aid, he was greeted with only excuses.

The farmer was too frail. Besides, it was planting time. He could not leave his fields empty for even another day. Nor could the woman and her child lend a hand. It was a busy day at the market stall and they could not afford to close up shop. The horses at the stable were due for baths, the town guard were scheduled for drills, the nobleman was hosting a guest from far afield, and the blacksmith simply had too many orders to fill. When Hrok showed up to the wizard’s tower, the magician was nowhere to be found.

Hrok slumped in a chair, resting chin on giant fist. His brow furrowed as he contemplated the strange feeling in the pit of his stomach. Every corner of his cabin was filled with his belongings, many of them gifts and payments from the villagers he thought were his friends. Perhaps he had misjudged the people in town? Maybe this move was a mistake?

There was a gentle knock on the cabin door.

Hrok pulled himself from his seat, shoulders slumped in defeat. This was something he had not experienced before. He did not relish it. In that moment, Hrok decided he would not help anyone move ever again.

He opened the door, warm light filling his cabin. Hrok squinted and raised a hand to dim the luster. Dark shapes moved beyond the threshold, silhouettes against a gilded sun.

“We’re sorry, Hrok.” The voice was soft and sweet, like a freshly baked roll. “Sorry about before.”

Slowly, the barbarian’s vision cleared and the world came into focus. Standing on his stoop were the shopkeep and her child. Behind her was the farmer, his wife, and a dozen volunteers. The nobleman stood nearby with seven hired hands and the blacksmith sat atop his cart. Even the wizard had returned to lend a hand. A thin smile sprouted on Hrok’s craggy face, then blossomed to a broad grin. He felt his heart fill with warmth. A single salty tear rolled from his eye.

His friends had come to help him move.

— L.D. Whitney

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