“LOOK AT ME WHEN I AM TALKING TO YOU!! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? IT’S WAY PAST SUNSET! YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN BACK FOR HOURS! I WAS WORRIED SICK AFTER YOU THREE!!”
Theodas did love his sister very much, but she had quite the temper. Direct heritage from their mother he supposed. He kept his gaze to the ground as she continued yelling at Thamior, Laucian and him, waving a frying pan in the air menacingly.
“YOU COULD HAVE BEEN KILLED!! EATEN BY A WOLF OR A BEAR OR ATTACKED BY BANDITS!! YOU COULD HAVE BEEN LOST, AND WE WOULD HAVE NEVER FOUND YOU!! I TOLD YOU TO COME BACK BEFORE SUNSET BUT DO YOU EVER LISTEN?! NO, YOU NEVER DO!!”, she continued yelling at them.
They weren’t that late, Theodas thought. And anyway they never came back at sunset, especially Laucian. But Althaea wouldn’t care for that argument and Theodas didn’t fancy a crack of the frying pan on his head. He had never seen his sister with a weapon, but he knew that if they faced any threats, this frying pan would deal more casualties than Laucian’s daggers and Thamior’s sword together. Picturing his sister hitting people with a frying pan around made him smile.
“OH YOU THINK IT’S FUNNY NOW, THEO?!”, his sister turned towards him, ears almost fuming with smoke. She looked like an erupting volcano and had the voice range for it.
“No, no… I didn’t mean…”, started Theodas.
“I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU MEAN! YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO LOOK AFTER THOSE TWO IMBECILES! THAT’S YOUR JOB! I CANNOT BE BEHIND YOU THREE ALL THE TIME!!”, Althaea yelled even louder.
Theodas was amazed at the vocal abilities of his sister. Better singers than her would have already broken their voices yelling like that, but she seemed all fine. At least that also explained why wolves and jackals didn’t bother them anymore at night. Poor beasts…
Althaea yelled at them for what felt like another hour until she ran out of arguments and curses. She had been especially pissed at Laucian for getting back drunk and covered in goat shit. Theodas had the sense of removing his boots before entering, Laucian was not that careful.
Now his brother was forced in the tub as their sister scrubbed the filth of his face and hair, muttering more curses as the water darkened around their brother. Thamior had barely been punished but had been ordered to buy some new boots for Theodas after he explained what had happened and who started the fight.
For once Theodas had been left alone. Althaea was stern but just and she loved Theodas more than anything in the world, even more than her boyfriend sometimes it seemed. Althaea Loracaryn was a beautiful woman with a slender body and a round face. Her eyes were a darker blue than Theodas, and she had curls in her blond hair but apart from that they were quite similar, and they were no mistaking them for anything other than brother and sister.
Theodas had been the first boy of the family and Althaea had been praying for a little brother for years before he finally appeared. Since then, a strong link had emerged between the two of them. She was the first-born daughter of the family and another mother to them all but especially for Theodas. He had always found it very difficult to be cross with her even when she yelled at him, and she seemed to forgive him almost everything.
Her sister worked in the pottery shop in the village with her fiancé and used to live above the building in a small place. She wasn’t far from home, and the family had liked that. They could see her every day while heading to the village, making clay pots and other small tools. She was very skilled in business, and her fiancé, a massive and muscular dwarf was the best help she had. Theodas had considered for a time working with them, but that had changed when she had to come back after their mother left.
Theodas headed to the dining room of their house. The home itself was not very big for such a numerous family, but it was quite cosy. Their father and mother had built it together when they had settled here. Two floors and one cellar with a small garden, a vegetable garden, an orchard on the hill, a little water mill on the stream and a small barn for the horses next to it. It was quite a lovely place, especially in spring with all the flowers blooming in the trees around the house.
The dining room was an oval-shaped room in the centre of the house. A big brick fireplace occupied one side of the room surrounded by two windows looking towards the barn and the mill. A massive chandelier which had belonged to their great-grandfather loomed above the dining table. The table itself had been their father’s greatest pride: a massive oak round table with eagle-shaped carved edges. The table had been painted to represent the Loracaryn family. Theodas liked that table very much and the faces on it.
He glanced at it again upon entering and looked at the faces of his great-grandfather and his great-grandmother. The same eyes that seemed to be the heritage of the whole family. His great-grandfather had been a very well known goldsmith in his time, and he had taught their father to build his furniture. His great-grandmother had been a herbalist, his father had told him. It could be because of her that Theodas had such an interest in plants and botany.
His father, Tharivol, was also represented on the table. Long hair flowing in the wind, a thin well-cut beard and a broad smile across his face, probably because of the presence of his wife at his side. Theodas’ father had been an only son and always thought it had been a shame that he never had any siblings to play with. He managed to remedy to that with his children, Theodas thought, grinning.
In his father’s arms, he saw the image of his mother, Shanairla. She had long auburn hair and a round shaped face with deep chestnut eyes. She was stunning with her curls and her heart-shaped lips. Her kindness and love could be seen on her face and in her eyes.
“Hey, Theo!”, Someone said as he was shoved on the side. A small young woman had jumped on his back and was hugging him fiercely. He could not see anything over the curtain of auburn hair that had fallen on his eyes.
“Hey, little one!”, He said smiling. He turned and faced his little sister, Drusillia. She looked at him grinning and made a face. That was her way of greeting people and especially Theodas. She liked to annoy him, and he liked to tease her. They made quite the pair together and often drove Althaea half mad with their “adventures”.
She was small, smaller than he was and Theodas was already not that tall. She was the only member of the family not to have blond hair. She had thick auburn curls that she never cut to the greatest annoyance of their older sister. Her hair was already past her waist now, and she seemed not to be bothered by them at all. Theodas rather liked them; she was different from the rest of the family because of those tiny details and to him, it made sense in a way.
She had the same eyes as Theodas though, and they shone with malice and cleverness. She was very bright and cunning. Laucian did bring his fair share of trouble, but no one could compare to Drusillia’s recklessness. They were now used to her bringing pets of all kind, be it stray cats to racoons and even once a baby jackal. She had suffered her fair share of bites and scratches from her beloved furry friends, and yet it would not stop her from trying again with another one, who usually was as indisposed at being moved around from its comfy lair.
However, Drusillia was a gentle and robust person too. She was a good-hearted and friendly young woman who would always be there to offer a helping hand. In the case of Theodas, she was the first one to tease him about his inability at using a bow, but would also be his first and best supporter at trying again harder the next day.
Sometimes she would come with him and sit by the fence, cheering him and then laughing when he missed his target before fetching the lost arrow for him. Theodas was never crossed with her and would always give in quickly with a kiss on the cheek before he would try again. She was annoying, but he loved her sincerely, very much as Althaea loved him. I guessed it was just a cycle that was meant to repeat and Theodas didn’t mind that.
“Did you hit the tree today, Theo?”, asked Drusillia with a smile.
“Well, I did for once.”, proudly answered Theodas. “Then we went to celebrate…”
“I know. I could hear Althaea through the floor. I’m sure the whole forest knows as well by now.”, she said with a little giggle. “So, tomorrow you show me ?”
Theodas mussed his little sister’s hair. She giggled happily. She had always liked when he did that.
“Maybe I will, little one.”, he said gently. “Where’s Sumnes?”
“She went to the garden to fetch some carrots for dinner.”, she answered. “They’re making stew… again.”. She pretended to vomit.
Theodas laughed. Drusillia’s hatred for stew was part of her legend. She had the sweetest tooth in the family and preferred cakes and cheese over stews and soups. Theodas had started to name her “Little Mouse” because of that. She didn’t like the mouse part, so he took it out. The “Little” part had however stuck on.
Theodas moved to the kitchen and entered it with Drusillia following him like a shadow. Birel, his sister was there, watching the stew bubbling in the massive cooking pot over the hearth’s fire. Birel was a sailor, and that was visible by her way to dress. Althaea usually wore a wool jerkin and breeches while Drusillia favoured slashed leather doublets and wool breeches. Birel seemed to be always ready for a fight, and she often wore studded leather jerkin with pieces of reinforced leather armour over the chest and the arms. She wore dagger and a handaxe at her belt, and her long blond hair was tied into a braid that allowed her freedom of movement and speed without the inconvenient hair flowing in the eyes. Theodas knew she also had a dirk, a vicious and twisted piece of iron in one of her boot, ready for action when most needed.
Theodas had never been at sea, but he knew how dangerous it could be. Storms that could sink your boat or send massive waves crashing on the deck to swallow sailors into the depths of the sea; monsters that could pull down your ship right under you and lurked into the abyss ready to attack; pirates and other scoundrels prepared for slaughter and plunder… But Birel was strong and swift. She was a fantastic fighter, and from what Theodas heard an even better sailor. Birel used to tell him that the sea was in her blood and she could not stay long on the land without having the wish to feel the waves under her coming back in her mind.
When at home, Birel would often take Drusillia and Laucian fishing together. The three of them would often catch carps, pikes or trouts which made tasty dinners. Theodas had often watched them from the garden. He didn’t enjoy fishing as much as hunting, but he did have a good time the last time Birel took him to the stream. They had caught a red salmon together. He remembered how fiercely it had fought to stay into the water and how at the end, Birel threw her homemade harpoon into the water, straight through the fish to kill it.
They had had quite the feast on that evening. Laucian had “bought” some lemons from the marketplace to go with it, and their mother had allowed everyone to have a cup of mead to Drusillia’s greatest delight. Sumnes and Birel had fetched some instruments, and they had sung, danced and laughed until late in the night. It had been a long time ago now before their mother had gone.
Theodas approached Birel to look upon the stew. Birel noticed his approach and smiled.
“Went out drinking again have we now, little brother?”, she said mockingly.
“Thamior and Laucian wanted to celebrate my first hit on the tree.”, he answered mildly.
Birel turned to him with a proud smile and put an arm around his shoulder.
“That’s my Theo! I knew this tree was no match for you.”, she said proudly with an amused smile. “Next year, you will be better than me at it, I am sure.”
Theodas made an unconvinced face which made Birel laugh. She had a sweet laugh for such a dangerous looking woman. Her face was very much alike Theodas with the same eyes, the same lips and the same hair but for an ugly crooked scar across her mouth and left cheek all the way up to the eye. Small souvenir of an encounter with a pirate and his sword. Theodas knew she had kept the pirate’s sword somewhere in her room as a reminder. He had managed to wound her before she took his head off with a single swing of her axe. Theodas admired her bravery and her resolve and hoped he could be as brave as her in battle if he ever came close to one.
“What’s in the stew today?”, he asked to change the topic.
“Rabbit, bits of that deer you brought down last week, potatoes, mushrooms, lemon juice, sage and soon to be carrots when Sumnes comes back from the garden.”
Drusillia sighed heavily. Theodas turned to his little sister and smiled.
“Come on Drusillia; you like deer usually.”, he said gently.
“I prefer them when they’re still alive.”, she answered with a pouty face.
Birel turned to Drusillia and smiled.
“Now, what could we possibly do to bring up a smile to that face… Hmm, I wonder”, she said, faking deep reflexion.
She pointed towards the cupboard behind Drusillia. Wearily, their little sister turned towards it and opened it slowly to reveal a beautiful cheesecake waiting to be served. Drusillia’s eyes went wide as her stomach suddenly rumbled.
“Tut, tut… Baby Sis. That’s for dessert!”, said Birel, half amused, half stern. “Now, little miss, have you washed your hands? You know Althaea is going to check that before you sit for dinner.”
Drusillia turned to Birel and sighed. Birel crossed her arms, waiting. After a few seconds of waiting, Drusillia showed her hands. They were not as filthy as usual, but the typical dirt under the nails was indeed there.
“Digging for worms again, are we?”, Birel joked. “Go on, up to the bathroom and don’t make me ask twice.”
Drusillia stuck her tongue out at Birel before running to the bathroom. Birel didn’t move and sighed before turning back to Theodas and her stew.
“I swear one day she will dig us up a new hill… I wouldn’t mind if she could find at least a treasure of some sort, but she seems adamant at vexing me with worms…”, she said while stirring the pot again.
The kitchen’s backdoor opened, and a tall elf female entered the room, baring a dozen carrots in her arms, followed by a sturdy dwarf burdened with black onions and cabbages. Sumnes was the tallest of the family. She had short wavy blond hair and those deep blue eyes that seemed to understand and notice everything about you as soon as they looked upon your face. She was fatter than her siblings too, with chubby arms and a plump but jolly face. Sumnes was a ray of sunshine in everyone’s life, always joyful and happy about everything. Very few things could darken her smile and her mood for she seemed always to find a solution to any problem.
Strongboar was another piece of work. He was tall for a dwarf and stronger than an ox by far. Despite being bald as an egg, he had a luxuriant black beard that he oiled daily. He even wore little gold and silver bells in it that chimed every time he took a step. His arms and chest were covered in coarse black hair, old scars and tattoos. Theodas remembered the first thought that had crossed his mind when he met him. Dangerous was the word he would have used then to describe him. Troublemaker would have worked too. But Strongboar had proven that he was very different from his appearance. He was calm and thoughtful. Very intelligent and well educated, he was a philosopher and poet and liked to perform in taverns with his lute and flute. He owned the shop where Althaea had been employed, and in only a few months they had gotten engaged. Bakham Deepbasher was his real name, but everyone called him Strongboar for a reason Theodas had never known. He didn’t seem to pay any mind however and accepted the name as his own.
Sumnes dropped her carrots on the kitchen table and hugged Theodas warmly. She was always gentle with everyone around her and seemed to have an endless reserve of love for her family and their friends. She was well loved by the people who knew her but seemed to be devoted only to her family.
When their mother had left, Sumnes had taken over the farm and the orchard, mainly helped by their little sister Drusillia. She had managed for a time but couldn’t earn enough money to provide for the whole family who decided Althaea to come back with her fiancé to the family home.
Now with Althaea’s help and Laucian’s little jobs they could manage to survive. Thamior would soon enlist to become a guard who would help the family even more, and Birel saved as much money as possible to send it back home whenever she was away for work.
That was what Theodas liked about his family. They cared and provided for each other. There was always room for them both in their home and in their hearts. And together they waited for their father and mother to come home.
Sumnes broke their embrace gently and smiled.
“I hope your day has been good, Theodas. Althaea was quite worried. You know you’re not supposed to be out after sunset.”, she said kindly.
“I wasn’t alone, sister. Laucian and Thamior were with me…”, Theodas answered with an apologetic smile.
“I know. It would put our sweet sister’s heart at rest if you convinced them to obey this simple rule.”, she insisted.
“I’ll try.”, Theodas promised, knowing too well that his words would be of no effect on his brothers.
She smiled, and Theodas knew that his promise, as hollow as it was, was enough for her. Birel was already starting to chop the carrots into little bits before dropping them into the stew. Sumnes turned to the cupboard and took an apron before taking a sharp knife and cutting the onions into tiny cubes.
Strongboar took Theodas by the arm and brought him towards the dining room.
“I cannae stand chopping onions”, he said in a thick mountain dwarvish accent. “They make my eyes cry like waterfalls. I’d rather keep them dry and open.”. Strongboar laughed at the thought as they exited the kitchen.
A howl echoed in the wild as Theodas’ eyes opened. His fire had burnt to embers and the cold night air was blowing into the summer leaves. Theodas listened to the howl. Melancholy tainted it… Sadness…
The wind seemed to whisper to him. “Watch for me, little one”… An echo of the past. A past he would rather forget. A history that had cost him so much.
Dawn was rising slowly as pink and orange of the morning sun was mixing with the blue and purple of the night. Theodas felt tired and cold. He has spent years on the road, fleeing, walking, searching but never finding.
He stood up slowly and walked to the lake. He knelt by it and dipped his hands into the clear water. It was pleasantly cold. He washed his face with two splashes of water. His eyes looked at his reflection, and he saw them.
Althaea was standing behind him, a hand on his left shoulder. Thamior was wearing his armour next to her, a hand on the hilt of his longsword, looking at him proudly. Birel was standing next to Althaea, holding hands with her. Sumnes was standing to his right, smiling sadly to him, both hands on Drusillia’s shoulders. His little sister was holding his hand firmly. Laucian was standing next to Sumnes, still dressed in his black garb like the last time he had ever seen him.
“Watch for me, little one…”, the wind whispered.
Tears filled Theodas eyes as he looked at the reflection of his family. Lost, he thought. Lost it all… But not forever. He would come home. He had to…
He had made a promise.
Theodas stood back up and walked to the fire. He took his bow and quiver, his arrows and equipment, his bag and food. He kicked the ashes of his campfire with his foot and rolled his bedroll, thinking of home.
He could almost remember the smell of the air back there. The pines and oaks, the fresh crisp scent of the stream and the sweet scent of lavenders and roses of the garden.
Theodas set on his way again, walking deeper into the wild. He had to find her first, then his mother and father… Then home.
He had made a promise. He intended to keep it.