The scent of fresh baking bread permeated the large, tidy, kitchen. Flowers and herbs, growing in the garden outside, added their own bouquet through the open window, carried in on a gentle breeze. Afternoon sun shone inside, casting everything in a lovely warm glow. It was beautiful. A perfect day.
He hated every inch of it.
He wanted little more than to tear the pots from where they hung, to fling the family crockery to the ground in a massive, broken, heap. In his mind he pictured himself slamming the window closed so hard the glass shuddered. At least it would keep the damned sun out of here. It was all too normal. It was wrong. The world was laughing at him.
His father’s voice broke into his thoughts, and he tore his gaze away from the slice of green and blue paradise he’d been glaring at through the open window.
“I was saying, you do not have to do this.” The man’s voice was firmer now, but no less caring.
He didn’t answer.
His father and mother had been here since the news had reached them. Now they were trying to dissuade him from leaving, from avenging his wife’s death.
Seibel’s fingers curled into a fist, nails cutting into his palm. He welcomed the pain. It understood him. When it looked as if his father were going to speak more empty reassurances he slammed his fist down hard on the thick wooden table.
“Yes, I do!”
A shudder rocked the teacups arrayed between them, liquid sloshing over the edge of the one closest to him. He felt a perverse glee at the shocked look on his mother’s face, her eyes widened in disbelief at his outburst.
Maybe that would open her eyes, make her understand. He wasn’t the same mild househusband he’d been. His blood boiled and he could no longer find rest or peace here.
The anger inside of him only grew hotter as her expression shifted to one of concern.
“Your place is here, my son. What about the house? The lands?”
“They don’t mean anything, mother. Not to me. It’s just bricks, and wood, and dirt.”
“But it was her house. Her home. She shared it all with you.”
Instead of being reassured Seibel narrowed his eyes. He didn’t want to hear this, and he wished his parents would stop. Though he loved them, part of him wanted them to hurt as he hurt, so they would understand why he needed to do this.
“And she’s not here anymore. What am I supposed to do? Just sit here baking bread while those things rampage through our lands? Should I stand only when they appear on my doorstep? You want me to do nothing? The house will be fine. You are all are free to stay as long as you want, and we have a steward to care for the place otherwise. This house isn’t going to stop me from joining the army.”
The two older elves looked at each other, worry touching their features.
“And the children?” His father asked. The man straightened up, looking much like he had when he’d been a child in trouble.”You would leave your boys behind to run away into this… this madness?”
A stab of pain twisted his insides at those words, and he bent forward a bit as he tried to tame his wildly beating heart. His children. They were so young, and they still couldn’t quite understand that their mother wasn’t coming home ever again. The monsters had taken her from them all. In those first days he’d though he could do nothing to ease the pain, but he’d realized that was wrong. He could fight, and kill, and protect.
The anger he’d been feeling suddenly swelled inside and he turned on his parents. How dare they try to turn him from his path by using his children?
“How dare you. Madness? Was it madness when Laleh fought for us all? I am doing what she did! For her. If you can’t understand that I don’t see the point in continuing this conversation. The boys will be fine. They’ll understand.”
“And what are you going to tell them?”
“That I’m going away for awhile. They’ll understand.”
But he wasn’t having any more of it. He stood so quickly it pushed the chair back, nearly knocking it to the floor.
“I leave in two days time. Stay, if you like, or go, but you will not sway me from my path.”
And with that he stalked out of the room, leaving his stunned parents behind.
The night before he was to leave, Seibel worked to pack the satchels he would take with him.
His brother had joined him, offering to advise him on what to take. He’d been wary at first, only agreeing let him in since Lysandir had not spoken against his choice.
“You won’t need that, Seibel.” His brother said, as he’d been about to add some clothing to the bag. “They’ll give you standard issue everything, at first.”
“Thank you.” His parents had barely spoken to him over the past day. At least his brother was willing to help. He was a solider, he understood.
Lysandir toyed with a pair of socks he’d laid on the bed.
“The army isn’t exactly big on individuality. They try to work that out of you pretty quickly. They don’t want troops who disobey orders. It’s not an easy transition to make.”
“I can imagine it’s not for someone who’s not determined.”
“It’s not easy for anyone, even those who become the strongest warriors.”
Seibel noticed how his brother carefully avoided adding his wife’s name to that list.
“I’ll manage, Lys, but thank you for the warning.” Already his tone was crisp, a subtle reminder of what he did not wish to speak of.
Lysandir was looking at him, green eyes taking him in. They’d always been close, though he didn’t see his brother often these days. He could tell the man was debating whether or not to speak.
“Don’t just sit there, brother. Spit it out.”
The edge of a frown tugged at the corners of his brother’s mouth.
“You’ve only ever known sturdy homes like these. They are luxurious compared to an army camp; practically heaven when compared to one on a battlefield. What are you going to do when you find yourself sleeping in a tent in the cold mud? You don’t know anything about being a solider.”
Instantly he stopped, eyes narrowed.
“It doesn’t matter. I know enough. They’ll show me the rest.”
“More like show you the basics and then throw you at the enemy first chance they get. They’re desperate for green recruits just like you, eager to defend the homeland. What are you going to do the first time you charge the enemy, Sei? It’s not like how they present it in the stories. It’s horrible, bloody carnage.You think just because Laleh could do it, you can too?”
“Don’t use her name against me! Who do you think was there every time she came home from all that? Who eased her weary spirit and sat with her each time a nightmare woke her? I know the horrors better than most civilians do. You really think I would do this without a thought?”
The thought of his wife caused his chest to constrict. He’d seen the horror of war etched in her face, but he didn’t care if it ruined him. He would destroy every last orc, would fight until the breath left his body.
There was no other path for him but in her footsteps, no redemption but in the blade. They would know his pain and his anger.
“This isn’t thought, Seibel! It’s grief, and you’re going to feed yourself to the beast because of it.”
“Enough! You’re just like mother and father. I would have thought you, of all people, would understand.”
“I do! You’re not the first I’ve seen. That’s why I know you don’t run off to join the army in your state. It’s suicide.”
Seibel fixed his brother with an icy stare.
“No, it’s revenge. It’s all those creatures deserve.”
He hoped his rage was plain on his face, daring his brother to speak more.
Lysandir’s frown only deepened but, for perhaps the first time in their lives, he turned away. He set the socks back down on the bed, and when he looked back up there was sadness in his green eyes.
“Do as you wish, my brother. But be warned as to where you may end up. Vengeance is cold, and lonely. Life doesn’t wait for those who walk that road.”
“I care not.” Life didn’t need him, nor he it.
Lysandir said nothing else, merely resigned himself, and helped him finished packing.
The morning of his departure was foggy and mild, and he’d set out well before the sun could burn away the mist.
No one had come to see him off, no doubt in protest, and he’d left well before the children would be up. He would miss their smiling faces, but the steady flame inside of him would not be denied. They would understand.
The happy cry broke through the mist, but he didn’t need to see to know who it belonged to, and that they shouldn’t be out alone here. He drew his horse to a halt, looking around frantically for his son, Esrafel.
“Here papa!” The call came again and the mist parted enough for him to see the boy waving at him, from his seat in the crook of Lysandir’s arm.
The momentary panic was replaced with that familiar anger, which grew as he dismounted and approached. The fog recoiled from him, almost as if it melted away, to reveal his father and his mother holding his younger son, who looked half asleep.
How dare they bring his children out here, now. He knew exactly what they were trying to do and it only fueled the flames inside of him. Even so, he tried to school his expression, not wanting that anger to show in front of his children.
He approached and Esrafel reached out for him, and he took the child from his uncle’s arms.
“What are you all doing out here?” He kept his tone light, but the pointed look in his eyes surely told the other adults how he felt about this.
“Grandmother woke us up so we could say goodbye before you went on your trip. I wish you didn’t have to go, papa. Aryn said so too. We like it when you’re home.”
His son’s words pulled at his heart, and he drew him close against his chest, hugging him tightly for a few moments. He loved his children, truly, and he did not want to leave them behind.
For a few long moments hesitated, thoughts of his wife swirling in his mind, the pain of her loss still so fresh. Her memory tugged at him and he could not let go what had been done to her. The fire burned inside of him, growing ever stronger, slowly consuming his heart.
He drew back and lightly stroked his son’s blonde hair, so much like his mother’s.
“I know, but I have to go. I need to help keep you all safe, and I have things that need done.”
“Things that are more important than your children?” His father’s voice broke in, and Seibel narrowed his eyes slightly at the man.
“At the moment, yes.” He looked down at the child in his arms, his look softening. “You understand, don’t you Esra?”
His son looked up at him, eyes a bit wide, though it was clear by the puzzled look on his face that he didn’t really understand the full implications of what was going on.
“You won’t be gone for long, will you?” He asked instead.
“I don’t know for sure, my darling, but I’ll come home as soon as I can.” He knew, even as he said it, it wasn’t a promise he could keep. “Until then you’ll have grandmother and grandfather to watch over you, and you’ll be man of the house. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Esrafel seemed to perk up a bit and nodded, seeming to take it as if it were going to be a little vacation.
Leaning in, he pressed a kiss to the boy’s forehead, and Esra responded by pecking him on the cheek, and leaning in to hug him. Seibel held him tightly for a few moments before handing him back to Lysandir.
His mother looked as if she were holding back tears as she held out his younger son for him to take, and he cradled the half awake child to his chest before pressing a similar kiss to his forehead.
“Sleep well, my little Aryn, and dream sweetly.” He was young enough he might not fully remember these moments, or this morning. Perhaps that was for the best.
He drew in a breath and handed the child back to his mother.
A chill breeze blew around them for a few moments, though no one spoke. Lysandir looked stonyfaced, his parents a mix of upset and angry, but at this point everything had already been said.
“Keep well, everyone. I will be in touch.”
He couldn’t bear to stay any longer and turned to mount his horse.
When he glanced toward the group, like an island in the billowing fog, he saw tears running down his mothers face, unable to hold them back any longer. Esrafel had already taken notice and was looking increasingly distraught. There’d be no hiding it now. Fighting the urge to dismount and comfort his son he turned his horse away quickly.
He hadn’t gone a few feet before he heard small footsteps pounding on the ground behind him.
“Papa! Papa, don’t go!”
He couldn’t go back home. He couldn’t be a father to his children like this, not when every atom of his being demanded revenge, and blood to be paid for what had been stolen from him.
He swallowed the lump in his throat, and sat up straighter, steeling his back. With each hoofbeat the flames spread where his heart should be. With each moment it became easier to ride away. He spurred his horse on, not looking back.
The fog, and the fire of his hatred, swallowed his son’s cries as he rode away to war.