This is a short story I've had kicking around for some time now - an attempt a "cozy fantasy" piece. I attempted some submissions with zero luck and decided it had been collecting (proverbial) dust long enough. I really love this story, I hope you enjoy it too.

Petra rolled out of bed at the promised hour, forced awake by the tingle of her Rousing Stone. It tickled her mind silently, like the buzzing of a fly in her ear. Not painful or even unpleasant, but also not something she could ignore. 

Mort stirred slightly as she slipped out of bed, but her husband had a talent for sleep and had little trouble rolling back over and ignoring her as she fumbled through the dim of their home, searching for the spot where she’d stashed the relic the night before.  

She had made it difficult on purpose. The last few times she’d tried to use the Stone she’d made the mistake of setting it on her night table, mere inches from her bed. It had been too easy to just reach over, touch the ending rune, and silence its spell. Fletch hadn’t taken that well.

“You promised, Gran!” he’d protested when she tried to apologize the second time it happened. “It’s not okay to break promises.” 

Petra had been tempted to tell the lad that it also wasn’t okay to wake up at such ungodly hours, but she’d had the decency to know better. Her grandson was struggling, and he was only asking her to do this with him once. She’d had earlier mornings in the past, any ways. If she could survive on four hours of sleep after hacking her way through a horde of kobolds, she could manage one early waking with a six-year-old boy. 

Still, she thought, I was a lot younger back when I did that. 

She wondered, as she often did these days, how she could ever have gotten so old. It seemed only yesterday that she’d been cocky and fresh-faced, sniggering at the wrinkled greybeards who were so clearly past their prime. Now I’m one of them, she mused to herself. Minus the beard.

She tripped three times and stubbed her toe twice before she reached the Stone’s hiding place under a bowl in the pantry cupboard. It wasn’t that their home was some great labyrinth that was impossible to navigate in the dark. It was actually fairly small—much smaller than the house that their daughter Nari had grown up in. And that was the problem.

Most of the scant space they had was taken up by her husband’s workbench and silversmithing tools. The floor, in turn, had become a leaving ground for blocks, books, and whatever other toys Fletch could find to scatter. 

Petra was resistant to moving again. She and Mort had enjoyed some happy years here and it was a good size for two people. She’d convinced herself, at first, that they could make the place work with the addition of Fletch. The longer time went on though, the clearer it became that they needed more space. 

Fitting another child into their lives wasn’t something they’d been planning on when they bought this place.  They hadn’t been counting on Nari dying either, though. Life had little care for anyone’s plans.

Lifting the bowl in the pantry, Petra took the Rousing Stone into the palm of her hand. She pressed her thumb against the runes carved into its polished surface and whispered the phrase she’d been taught by the wizard that sold it to her. It was an Elvish profanity that she didn’t quite understand, but that somehow felt appropriate given the Stone’s purpose. It began to glow with the color of faint silver and then the tingle in her skull stopped. 

Mort, as though on cue, filled the air with a loud and bracing snore. Petra glared at him in the dark. You’re lucky the wizard didn’t have any louder artifacts, she thought grumpily. Or I’d have you up with me too.

She knew that was unfair. Mort, throughout the breadth of her adventuring career, had been left many times to care for Nari on his own while she was off on her expeditions. He had never complained once about it, always taking it in stride when some old friend or companion arrived at their doorstep in Oldmill, inviting her on some quest to kill giant vermin or raid an old tomb. There had been times when she’d been gone for weeks and even months, often with little more than the occasional message spell to let Mort and Nari know she was still alive. She was sure there had been plenty of late nights and early mornings for him too. 

He had always been a good husband and the best father. It had broken him when word arrived that Nari had died, a victim of a plague that killed scores across the continent earlier in the year. Petra had been devastated too, but it had been different for her. She had always been better at compartmentalizing things. 

Petra’s grief came in fits and bursts; moments of sobbing and sadness in between handling all the things Mort couldn’t. Things like figuring out what to do with Fletch. 

Fletch, who had found his mother’s body after she passed. Fletch, who needed someone to fetch him from Nari’s home in far-off Caldwick. Fletch, who was grieving and needed someone like Petra to be strong. Fletch, who, if his empty bed was any sign, was already waiting for her outside. 

That made Petra frown. A lad his age shouldn’t be outside by himself at this hour

Sighing the thought away, she dressed quickly and grabbed her cloak from its hook by the door. She unlatched the lock and stepped out into the morning cold. The brisk autumn air sent a tingle up her spine. In the distance, peeking through the cracks between the tight-knit buildings of Oldmill, she could see the thin edge of the dawn cresting along the edge of the horizon. What she couldn’t see was any sign of her grandson. 

“Fletch?” she said, loud enough that he might hear her without disturbing their still-sleeping neighbors. “Fletch?” 

“I’m up here, Gran!” came a wispy reply from above.

Petra turned her gaze upward and started at the sight of Fletch’s tiny silhouette peeking out over the edge of the roof. He waved at her excitedly. Petra’s blood ran cold at the sight of him.

“Fletch!” Petra yelled, paying no heed to volume now. “What are you doing up there?”

“It’s the best place to see the sunrise!” he replied. “Hurry! Come on up.” 

“How did you even get up there?”

“I climbed up the big ladder thing on the back of the house.” He waved again. “Come on!”

“Fletch!” Petra cried, her voice nearly slipping into a hiss. “Fletch!”

Fletch didn’t return and, for a moment, Petra didn’t know what to do. What in the hells is the “big ladder thing?” Petra puzzled over that for a moment and then realized he must have meant the garden trellis. 

Swallowing her anxiety, she circled around the back of the building, squeezing through the narrow alley between their and the neighbor’s house. Their small home was buttressed by a pair of competing cobblers. The one on the left, run by a gravel-voiced dwarf, was called Good for the Sole. The one on the right was run by a silver-haired half-elf and named Better for the Sole. Passive-aggressive naming schemes aside, the two actually seemed to get along well. 

She made her way to the garden gate and, straining on her tiptoes, reached over the top to open the latch on the other side. The gate opened with a rusty creak and Petra slipped inside. Closing the gate behind her, she peered across the stretch of their small, now barren garden at the dim shape of the trellis Fletch had used to climb up to the roof.

Mort had always loved the idea of a house with ivy on its sides. Petra had bought the trellis so he had could have a taste of that without damaging their walls in the process. It was wooden, flimsy-looking, and most certainly not built to support a person. Bits of withered brown vine still clung to its wooden frame, the last remnants of the warmer seasons’ growth. 

Petra crossed the garden, trying to take some mental measure of how far it was from the ground to the roof. Whatever it is, it’s too damned high!

She approached the trellis and reached up to tug one of its slats. It seemed firm enough, but that did little to ease her dread.  

She shook her head, laughing at herself. She had led a life marked by feats of courage and action. She had battled drunken orc berserkers and gone toe-to-toe with wyverns and bugbears. Her body was covered with scars of all shapes and all sizes—flesh-etched memories of battles great and small. Adventures that people still talked about in taverns and inns with wonder.

She tried to imagine what those same people would think if they discovered that the world’s premier halfling swordswoman also had a pronounced fear of heights? 

They’d probably laugh, and they’d be right to, she thought. Who fights dragons and then falls apart over a short climb?

Fletch’s tiny shape appeared over the edge of the roof again. “Gran? Are you coming? The sun will be up soon!”

Fletch was right. The sky’s pastel glow was growing thicker by the moment. Petra drew in a trembling breath. 

“I’ll be right up, dear.” 

Fletch’s shadowy head disappeared once more, and Petra took hold of the trellis. Even though she knew better, she let her gaze drift upward, tracing the length of its wooden frame. Fear pulsed in her skull like an extra heartbeat.

Are you really going to leave your six-year-old grandson alone on the roof? 

No, she wasn’t. Of course not. Swallowing her terror, Petra started up the side of the house, doing her best to ignore the cracking and creaking of the trellis with each new push and pull. No matter what she did to calm herself though, the stab of terror returned, needling her nerves until she was sure would freeze up and falter. 

What if you fall? Mort probably won’t wake up for hours and Fletch will be all by himself! What if he tries to help you and he falls too? He’s only a little boy! He could be hurt. He could break something. He could di—

Petra cut off the last thought before her mind could finish it. All her worst fears for Nari had come true. She wouldn’t let anything happen to Fletch. She wouldn’t even entertain the notion. She had fought her way out the pits of Nardock and raided the goblin tunnels of Borngeath. She’d slain ogres and battered hill giants into blubbering submission. She could climb fifteen feet to the top of her own house!

After what felt like an eternity, she finally made it to the roof’s edge. She pulled herself onto the prickling thatch and rolled away from the trellis, panting on the flat of her back. Her arms and legs were sore, and her heart was racing. She had done it, though. She’d made it to the top. 

“Are you okay Gran?”

Fletch was watching her from the roof’s center, sitting in a cross-legged bundle just like Nari used to when she’d been that age. An unbidden memory flashed before her eyes. Nari, wrapped in a blanket at the fringes of the fireplace, practicing her letters. The little girl glanced up at her, smiling with a toothy grin.

“I’m okay, dear,” she finally replied, blinking back tears. “I’ve just never been much of a climber.”

Fletch’s mouth curled into an all too familiar smile. “I like climbing.” 

Petra laughed breathlessly. “Imagine that.” 

Petra started to sit up, being careful to not let her eyes glance down to the ground below. That will be fun later...

“Careful on the thatch, Gran,” Fletch said. “I almost went through a couple times.”

Petra snorted to herself, nodded, and started crawling toward him. She probed the roof ahead of her with each new inch, making sure she stuck to the firmness of the house’s oaken frame. It was slow going, but it felt good to get away from the peril of the roof’s edge. After a few more minutes of shambling progress, she arrived at Fletch’s side and took a seat next to him with a wincing grunt. 

It wasn’t comfortable, but she didn’t complain. She had spent entire nights sleeping in ditches; bruised, soaked, and frequently coated in less than delightful substances. A few minutes sitting next to her grandson wasn’t going to kill her. Although I might be a bit sore come noontime. 

Fletch, on the other hand, was shivering. The lad, in his youthful eagerness, had neglected to wear anything even resembling warm clothing. He was dressed in the same tunic and breeches he’d gone to bed in—the clothes he’d been wearing all the previous day, as well. His bare arms, hugged across his own chest, were visibly trembling, even in the dark.

Petra opened her cloak and poked him with her elbow. “Come closer, love.”

Fletch didn’t need any further urging. He crawled inside her arms and let her wrap the wool of her cloak around him. The chill of his body pierced through Petra’s clothes and almost made her jump. Still, she drew him closer, doing her best to warm him with her body. His shivering soon stopped, and he relaxed against her. 

The sunrise was close now. The edge of the sun’s golden orb had started to peek over the rim of the horizon. Its light flowed across the plains outside of Oldmill, going so far as the creep up the streets of the town itself. People would be waking up soon, but the morning was peaceful for now. Wisps of smoke billowed up lazily from sleepy chimneys. The decrepit mill that was town’s namesake stood silent in the distance, wreathed in soft hues of mingling orange and pink.

Fletch, now nestled firmly against her side, yawned quietly. Petra’s gazed drifted down to him. He looked so much like Nari. He had her bushy eyebrows and her round nose. His eyes glittered with the same quiet curiosity. His hair was the same shade of sandy blonde—a mark of Mort’s side and doomed to darken into a grayish brown as he grew older. 

Seeming to sense the weight of her eyes upon him, Fletch glanced upwards and met Petra’s gaze. He looked tired and not just for lack of sleep. His mouth flapped opened as if he wanted to say something, but the words seem to catch in his throat.

“What is it, love?” Petra asked softly.  

He forced the words out. “I miss her, Gran. I miss her so much.”

Petra said nothing at first. What could she really say that would make anything better?

She had always considered herself a woman blessed by the gods. It was hard for her sort—mercenaries and adventurers—to build families the way she had. She had no doubt that with any other partner or any other child, her life would have been different.

Nari had never begrudged her for all the times she’d been gone, and Petra didn’t think she had been a bad mother. There were still things she’d missed though. Milestones and moments she hadn’t been there for. Every time she returned from wherever she’d been off to, Mort had always been brimming with stories to share. How Nari took her first steps or the funny way she said, “I want an apple,” before she learned to say it proper. 

Petra had always told herself there would be more time to make memories. More time to spend with her daughter. Even after she’d grown and moved away, she’d clung to the notion that there were still chances left for her grasp at. That the well of opportunity had yet to run dry. 

But now she’s gone, she thought. She’s dead and you were wrong, and those regrets will never be balanced. 

“I miss her too,” she managed, struggling to keep her voice steady.

She felt Fletch’s tiny fingers slip into hers, squeezing her hand in that small and enormous way only a child could. Petra squeezed back, using her free hand to brush away a fresh round of tears. The sun’s fiery shape grew larger on the horizon. 

“Are you going to go too?” Fletch asked, his voice quiet and unsure. 

Petra sighed. It was a question that been on her mind these past months as well. She wasn’t the young woman she had been when she first took up the sword. Most of the folks still left alive from her heyday had fallen into one sort of retirement or another, even if that just meant drinking their days away in dingy taverns. Her travels had brought her more than enough wealth for her and Mort to relax for the rest of the lives, even with the addition of Fletch. She didn’t need to go anywhere anymore.

There was no denying that she still felt that urge to do something, though. She’d felt that way countless times before in her life and knew it wouldn’t go away. She wasn’t the sort of halfling that bards wrote charming songs about: content to idle her life away in some pastoral village, puffing on a pipe, eating pies, and relaxing until a fat and jolly end.

As she sat next to her orphaned grandson, however, she knew without a doubt that her days of questing were behind her. Fletch needed her—perhaps more even than Nari ever had. He had already lost too much, and Petra knew she couldn’t leave him. Whatever her next adventure was it would have to be something closer to home. 

“No,” Petra replied. “That part of my life is done. I’m here to stay.”

Fletch wrinkled his nose. “And you won’t die either?” 

Petra laughed, realizing what he’d really been asking. “I can’t control the fates, love, but I don’t plan on it.” She added, “At least not anytime soon.”

Fletch nodded, seemingly satisfied, and didn’t say anything for a while after that. The echo of a distant rooster’s crow pierced the quiet. The entirety of the sun was visible now, a disc of blazing brilliance rising high into the dawn’s brightening sky. Even with the climb back down hanging over her, Petra had to admit it was beautiful. 

“It’s pretty,” Fletch said, seeming to mirror her own thoughts.

“It really is,” Petra replied, pulling the little boy closer. “Well worth waking early for.”