“You look ready,” Caleb said as he approached Gabriel the next morning. They were at the start of the southern trail with Gabriel’s black mare next to him.
“I am,” Gabriel said with a soft smile as he turned and faced his best friend. Leaving his mare where she stood, he approached Caleb and held out his arm.
Returning the smile, Caleb clasped Gabriel’s outstretched forearm with his right hand.
Gabriel returned the gesture with a silent nod.
“It seems that you two have decided to say your farewells before I could even show up.”
The two teens broke contact and turned to face the person who spoke.
Gabriel’s eyes brightened at the sight of the man before them. Dressed similarly to Gabriel and with the same color hair and eyes, Andrew Silver looked like an older version of his son.
Caleb’s eyes were not on Andrew though. They were instead on the man that was walking in their direction about thirty yards behind him.
Clad in brown leather boots, lighter brown pants, and an off-white tunic, he looked as imposing as an armored warrior. His father had always given off that impression. It was not much of a surprise though. Michael Sullivan was the only professionally trained warrior in the village, after all.
“Hello Father,” Caleb greeted with a smile. His father simply nodded in return, a hint of approval in his eyes.
Andrew glanced over his shoulder at Michael, allowing Caleb to see a hint of a frown trying to form.
I doubt he’s happy with Father. It was easy to understand where he was coming from in Caleb’s mind. He had never been pleased by Gabriel’s desire to join the King’s Army.
“It’s good to see you before I go,” Gabriel said, not noticing the tension between his father and his mentor.
“I could not let you leave without seeing you off,” Michael replied as he stopped next to Andrew. “We will all miss you.”
“I will miss all of you as well,” Gabriel said as he walked up to Michael and shook his hand. He then turned and gave his father a brief hug.
“Good luck on your trip,” Andrew said quietly when the hug was broken. “Be sure to write every once in a while, and we will see you when you return.”
Gabriel nodded before turning around and walking back to his mare. Stepping in the stirrup and swinging his leg over the horse’s back, he sat in his saddle. With the reins in hand, he let out a soft and nudged the mare into a trot. He did not look back until he was well out of sight.
Caleb’s eyes never left the trail, even after Gabriel was out of sight.
“Are you going to stand out here all day?”
Caleb’s head jerked to the side as his father caught his attention. He mentally noted that Andrew had already left.
“Sorry,” Caleb said softly with a noticeable inclination of his head.
“There’s no need to apologize, my son,” Michael replied in an even softer voice than he normally used. “Your best friend did just leave, and you know you won’t see him again for five years. I cannot blame you for being distracted.”
Caleb was unsure how to process his father’s words. They were quite unexpected. It was a side of his father that he had not seen in a while.
“I want you to listen to me very carefully, Caleb,” Michael said as he looked his son in the eyes with a tone that exuded importance. “As Hector may have told you, it is commonplace for an apprentice hunter to be given his first hunt alone a month before his eighteenth birthday. Though you have not yet seen seventeen and a half years, it has been decided that you will be allowed to go on a hunt by yourself.”
Caleb’s eyes widened at that. It was unheard of for such a thing to be allowed.
“This won’t be the hunt that marks you as a full hunter, however. This tradition can be bent, but it cannot be broken,” Michael said as he realized what had crossed Caleb’s mind. “This is good for you in many ways. There will be no repercussions if you fail in your hunt, though I have confidence in your abilities. It will also provide practice for you that other apprentice hunters do not receive.”
Though that sounded good to the apprentice hunter, a single question came to mind that needed an answer. “Is it fair for me to get this opportunity when others don’t?”
Michael sighed wistfully before he spoke, a look of experience in his eyes. “Life is not fair. You must endure when it is in favor of another, but you must seize the opportunity when it is in your favor.”
Caleb nodded his head slowly as he considered his father’s words. Rare as moments like that were, he often found that his father had a talent for delivering thought provoking explanations and arguments.
“When do I need to leave for this?” Caleb asked after a few moments of consideration.
“You can go in the morning,” Michael said as he laid a hand on his son’s shoulder. “I would suggest that you get everything together tonight.”
Caleb nodded his head with a small smile, but something felt different to him at that moment. He suddenly had a feeling that something was wrong, but he dismissed it as nothing more than his imagination.
What could possibly go wrong? He shook his head, breaking away from the earlier train of thought. Gabriel will be gone for five years, but Father is here. Nothing can go wrong with him around.
* * * * *
Hours passed before Caleb finally entered his room to get ready for the hunting.
Walking over to the cupboard next to his bed, he removed a pair of light brown pants, a green long-sleeve shirt, a brown leather bracer, and a dark brown tunic. He carefully placed them on the top of the cupboard next to his bow and quiver.
His eyes stayed on the bow for a moment. The fine craftsmanship of the yew longbow made it an oddity in a village as small as Kirakath. Some of the best longbows were made from yew, but the time it took to actually craft one meant that only people that were fairly well off owned them.
A small smile found its way on Caleb’s face as he remembered when his teacher gave the bow to him. It had been the most important gift that he had ever received.
I wonder where you are, Hector. With his mentor on his mind, Caleb eyes lingered on the bow once more. It had been four months since his mentor’s departure from the village to go on a hunt that he refused to tell anyone about.
Caleb pushed such thoughts about his mentor to the back of his mind. He was not worried about Hector, despite the fact that he was worried about Gabriel. Through was a toughness to his mentor that he had never been able to describe. If he was anything, it was a survivor.
When Hector was finally back, he looked forward to telling him about this trip. Try as he might, he had no idea what he would say about it.
Opening the cupboard again to make sure he had not forgotten anything, he saw a cloth covered object that was roughly the size of his palm. Lifting it into his hand and removing the cloth, he found that it was a finely made bowstring.
I guess I still have a good one after all, Caleb thought as he rewrapped it and slipped it into the hidden pouch of his quiver. His eyes then went to the rolled up bowstring that was sitting right next to his bow on the dresser.
Carefully picking the bowstring up, he unwounded it and held it out fully stretched. He inspected the string from all sides with a careful eye before rolling it back up and replacing it on the dresser.
I shouldn’t need to change the bowstring too soon, Caleb thought with satisfaction. The process of making a bowstring was rather complicated, and it was one of the few things that Hector had not yet begun to teach him. The prospect of having to use an inferiorly made bowstring did not set with Caleb very well. Hopefully, Hector would return before either of his strings broke.
“I think I’m ready now,” Caleb said as he turned away from the cupboard and began to change into his smallclothes so that he could retire to bed for the night.
* * * * *
While Caleb was just starting to go to sleep, Michael was sitting in a chair in front of the fireplace with his eyes focused on the dancing flames before him.
“Michael, are you sure that it’s such a good idea to let him do this?” his wife asked as she stood by his side. “The forest can be a dangerous place, and even full hunters don’t always come back.”
“I’m sure,” Michael said with a light smile. He turned somber as he continued. “Caleb needs this. With Hector still on that search of his and Gabriel away from the village for such a long time, Caleb is going to be very lonely. Getting away from the village and doing what he loves is the best idea that I could come up with. I’m more concerned at to what we will do after he returns than anything else. There aren’t many in the village that are the same age as him, and the closest girl to his age is six years younger than he is. There won’t be much in the way of companionship for him.”
She looked at him curiously. She could see most of his points, but the last part surprised her. “Are you suggesting that we find someone for him?”
“Stars above, Sophie,” Michael muttered as he fiercely shook his head. “I’d never do such a thing to my only son. I’m just thinking that we might want to think about taking him out of the village for a trip later on. I’m sure you’d like to get some more cloth from Caldreth.”
“Maybe he’ll meet someone?” Sophie speculated.
“Hopefully,” Michael said with a sincere smile. “I still remember when we met back when I first arrived in Zabryan.”
“I do too,” Sophie said with a sparkle in her eyes. “You looked so lost in the grand city of Zabryan.”
“Can you blame me?” Michael asked with a hearty laugh. “Lucas never stopped teasing me for it. I had never seen such a magnificent city. I suppose I would have been even more shocked if we had not served in Caldreth together beforehand.”
His wife nodded her head with a smile. “I think your idea is a good one, but I doubt one trip will be enough.”
“Then we’ll just have to make it into more than a single trip,” Michael countered with a smile.
Sophie nodded, but a small frown formed suddenly. “You never addressed my concern.”
“I didn’t,” Michael agreed without a hint of hesitation. The look in his eyes made it clear that he had expected her to bring it up again. “You fear that something bad will happen during the trip.”
“I do,” Sophie said, the frown upon her face growing ever so slightly.
“I do not fear that he will come to harm. His mentor has taught him well,” Michael said, laying a reassuring touch on her right hand. “Besides, he’s got the blood of Kirakath on his side.”
A slight look of confusion became apparent in Sophie’s eyes at those last words as it always did when Michael said them.
Following what she had learned from past experience, Sophie said nothing further. Michael had made it clear many times before that it was not a question he could answer.
Releasing a heavy breath, Sophie’s eyes went to the dancing flames in the hearth.