Varick checked the hunting knife he had strapped to his thigh. He knew it was fastened tight, just like the one secured on his back, but he made a show of it. Let them think I’m off hunting.
He proceeded to string a bow. His movements expert and practised. Shortly thereafter a quiver was hung at his hip. The red and black fletching incongruous with the plain brown of the quiver and belt.
Ostensibly he looked as thought he was readying himself for a hunting expedition. In reality, Varick was making sure he had not been followed – followed out of the camp and, more importantly, followed from Angel’s Rest.
Once he was satisfied that none of the Folk were following him, Varick set off at a brisk pace. Unfollowed but not alone. He knew that no matter how fast he walked or how far he went, the spectre of memory would always be with him. Many days he fought this daemon. Fought hard not to remember for he knew that he would never forget.
So much death. And Blood.
Today, however, he gave in. He invited the spectre into his mind and wore his memories like a mantle. Not a garment that would keep out the cold, but the type of thing a destitute man would wear out of habit rather than function.
He remembered Angel’s Rest. The friendly faces. The surrounding mountains and the smell of pine. It was a small village inhabited by people with big hearts. Those people, those children, none deserved their fate, he thought bitterly.
He remembered all too well the calamity they had ridden away from. It was enough to make the boldest of men furtive. Varick was not bold by nature, nor was he comfortable being surreptitious. He was a man who knew how to cover his tracks. It was a prerequisite of being married to a Lawspeaker.
Lea’s work had meant that Varick and Marshall rarely laid down roots in any one town. It’s damnable hard to settle when you’re at the whim of the bloody Empire. The sight of an Imperial messenger was often times all it took for a young Marshall to pitch a fit. On several occasions Varick and Lea had rows about whether or not they should unpack.
Husband and wife would travel from town to town helping settle disputes, ensuring death rights were adhered to and spreading the Emperor’s Law. Lea made sure that the local Edler or Baron, depending on what town you were in, did not use the law to cheat the peasantry. And Varick made sure that she remained safe when petulant nobles failed to get their way.
Lea’s understanding of the law was vast and rich. She understood how to manipulate it for the betterment of those in need and how to trap those who were exploiting the law. She was a hunter. Not in the traditional sense. She used her cunning and her wit in place of bow and blade.
She was a fighter too. Stalwart and stout of heart. Lea stood before Kings, unbowed and undeterred by their standing.
Varick recalled an incident with an Ahn’Ahrani princeling. Lea stood before him, eyes ablaze with passion. ‘Why should the common folk adhere to the law when their Kings thumb their noses at it?’, she had declared. The young man was in such a fury that he drew a blade. Then and there before his council members and the assembly of the court. Lea held her head in that way Varick knew so well.
She’s so bloody stubborn, the thought elicited a chuckle. I love that about her. Loved. Just like that, memories faded and he was back in the forest. Trudging about in a sullen silence oblivious to the world around him.
The bush to his left erupted with movement. Leaves and branches gave way to a beautiful dappled hide of a doe.
The movement caught Varick by surprise. So much so that he did not even recall nocking an arrow and levelling it at the doe.
For a moment he stared at this magnificent creature and it stared back at him. It large dark eyes calm, it seemed satisfied that he would not loose the arrow. The doe began to graze at the edges of the trail. Unconcerned that certain death was aimed at it.
The faint smell of citrus fruit filled the air.
Varick laughed in spite of himself. Or rather, in spite of the situation. The hunter poised but unable to strike. The prey undaunted by his presence. It was worthy of laughter or tears. The latter had all dried up since Lea died.
Soon his body shook with amusement. Scared the faith right out of me! The doe looked up and swung it’s head towards Varick.
‘Don’t worry now,’ he said aloud. ‘I’m not going to hurt you. Still got a trail to check.’ He was not shocked, nor even aware of the uncharacteristically garrulous he was no in.
He continued to wander down the trail, the doe flitting in and out of the bushes. Always nearby, but constantly out of reach. Varick found himself talking aloud about everything and nothing. More often than not, he would mention Lea.
He would describe her hair; long, carefree curls the colour of chestnut. Describe her demeanour; kind and caring, stubborn and brave and all those contradictions that make a person who they are. Describe how and when they met, their wedding day, the birth of their son. Each and every statement would be followed by a heavy, deep sigh and the strong smell of oranges, lemons and limes.
CW SY 2013