Sitting in a wooden chair at the dinner table with his nose in a law book, Hallam waited patiently for his father to return from the docks. Stopping for a moment, just before the section on ethics and after the section of rhetoric, The Junior Badger looked up across from him and saw a faded etching of his mother. Although it was simple and not very well done, the etching captured one particular detail of his mother that Hallam, and frankly Trufflehunter, could both agree was the best physical quality- her eyes, which intoxicated the beholder in a glance of warm embrace.
"How was she loved," Hallam said with a smirk, "How was she loved indeed."
The aspiring lawyer stood from his chair and stretched a moment, rolling his shoulders, shaking his paws, and jumping in place to wake himself up from the dreary articulate nature that was the three-thousand five hundred and eighty-seven page monstrosity known asThe Precise Way of the Law by Fairbanks Mullengrave.
Entering the living room from an adjacent small library, Kashmir, the former King of Milland, looked slightly confused as to why Hallam was exercising instead of preparing for his future career. The Owl said nothing as he crossed the dirt floor making his way to a small green chair that was nestled warmly near a fireplace and a bookshelf. He sat down and watched as The Junior Badger began to pace the width of the room.
"You know Kashmir," Hallam said, "I've been thinking a lot about your situation recently and I've come to the conclusion that you can sue your country for exiling you."
The Owl laughed and shook his head, "You'd be dead within a week moi droog. Besides, I don't think there needs to be a legal battle."
Hallam stopped in his tracks and turned towards Kashmir, looking at him as if he were insane. His eyes became bulbous and his mouth agape.
"Forgive me Your Majesty," he said, "but I think you're wrong. You most certainly will go to court and you will win. Be it by my wits or your strength I shall see you seated on the Great Throne in the West."
Kashmir smiled and shook his head, "Forgive me Court Badger, but I am not a King anymore. I am simply an Owl."
"If you were just an Owl," Hallam replied, "then you'd be feasting on me right now. No, Kashmir, you're an exiled regent of a beautiful country. I promise to fight your case."
"Why? It's not like Damien will step down any time soon." Kashmir said as he relaxed his muscles and let his wings drape over the arms of the chair as he grabbed a small tattered ottoman by his talons and pulled it closer. The poor piece of furniture scraped across the floor, making an unpleasant sound and two small ruts that were crooked and shallow, much like Kashmir's talons, which had grown smaller due to war and wear over the years.
"Damien forced you out. There must be reprimands." Replied The Junior Badger as he resumed his pacing, kicking loose bits of dirt around. He paused and heard a grim hacking sound come from one of the back rooms.
Hallam sighed and shook his head, not wanting to believe what his heart and what his head told him. His little brother, an orphan adopted into the house three years ago, was close to meeting his parents, and even though that reunion would be happy, it would break Hallam's heart and it would kill Trufflehunter- to have another episode of grim over the house would be too much for his aging heart to bear.
"Please tell me it's not what I think it is." Hallam said.
Kashmir nodded solemnly, "It is." The Owl stood from his chair and walked slowly over to him trying his best not to wince in pain too much.
"Are you alright?" The Junior Badger asked.
"Old war wounds," Kashmir replied, "I'm not as young as I used to be."
The Owl ruffled his feathers, removing bits of lint and twigs that somehow managed to be entangled in his once gold colored feathers, which were beginning to gray. Hallam looked into Kashmir's eyes and noticing that the right one still bore a scar across it, couldn't help but see love and fear in them. A history of war, struggle and a life poorly spent all flashed before Hallam as if the mammal were seconds from death and yet, Kashmir pulled him back to reality with a pat on the shoulder curtesy of his left wing.
In a voice that was filled with both hope and fear, the once proud regent of Milland nodded his head and turned towards the hallway from which he entered upon hearing the sound of more coughing and a frail voice which bore the quintessence of innocence.
"Uncle Kashmir, when is father coming back?"
The Owl shook his head, the mere thought of hearing that poor child's voice broke his heart and knowing that there was nothing to be done was the same as driving a stake through his heart. Nevertheless, Kashmir carefully walked through the threshold of the living room and turned to his immediate left, standing in the doorway of a small frail badger who was another son to him.
"I don't know сын. Do you want me to sing a song for you to help you get back to sleep?"
"Yes please." The child answered.
Kashmir cleared his throat and in the sweetest voice he could sang the only lullaby he knew. It bore no name but it told the story of a brave soldier returning home from war and finding that his love still cared for him. When he reached the chorus, his voice soared into pureness that even a blue jay could not possess, for this was not a blue jay's song. It was Kashmir's song. A song that he bled for, a song that reminded him of what peace was. To sing it to anyone was the greatest honor he could give, and the melodic memory of love was perhaps the best medicine he could conjure.
As The Owl sang, Hallam watched and became mesmerized by how much he cared. There was always the impression that owls were harbingers of death in a negative sense. There was never anything positive or uplifting about the sage-ness of death, and even though Kashmir could predict the solemn grief stricken act of life in his own way, Hallam knew there was love and care. For he saw no malice, no evil, just a sad singing bird.
The Junior Badger walked over to Kashmir when he was finished, noticing that the bird had placed his right wing over his eyes to cover the tears.
"Why are you crying Uncle Kashmir?" The frail voice asked with all the sweetness in the world.
"Don't worry my dear," Kashmir said wiping his eyes and producing a fake smile, "I'm just tired and sad that's all."
"Why are you sad?"
"Because I'll be leaving soon." Kashmir answered.
"Are you going away just like Uncle Reepicheep is?"
Kashmir shook his head and entered the room quietly. It was small but befitting a kit whose spirit was that of his father, his heart that of his mother, and his voice all his own. The little one was nestled snug in a hand-woven blanket, propped up against the headboard in a bed that was slightly too large for him. To the right was a small nightstand with a candle and a musty book, the standard and most necessary gift for a future orator of history, Narnian Tales, Myths, and Legends by Dyson Gracie.
A large rug covered most of the floor and on the far wall stood a bookshelf with home-made wooden toys and balls all delicately hand painted in reds, yellows, blues, magentas, and nice lavenders by Bede, a ferret who was the local physician. The walls were made of dirt and the window, although panned in glass, was covered in grime, the sun's rays, although having good intentions, casted a reaper's shadow over the place. In opposition, Kashmir stood in the shadow of the grim and stood firmly on the rug. Despite his claim of leaving soon, Kashmir was going to make sure he would leave before this innocent son of Mathias Trufflehunter did.
"I don't think I'll need a voyage to go where I'm going, George." Kashmir said.
George, the small weak badger in the bed, nodded slowly and coughed a bit, this time producing a bit of blood. "W-why did he go so soon? He didn't even say goodbye to me."
The bird walked to George's bedside and caressed him gently on the cheek. "I'm sure he meant to, perhaps he just couldn't."
"I suppose. I bet father said our goodbyes for us." George said, taking an asthmatic breath and wheezing slightly. "I-I don't want to be sick anymore."
The Owl shook his head as he closed his eyes, sighed and refused to look upon the face of a dying child who wanted so much to live more than anything.
"Uncle Kashmir," George continued, "are you okay?"
Kashmir opened his eyes and witnessed a young badger with a slightly showing rib cage, a barrel shaped chest, and frail, thin appendages. It was like looking into the eyes of a sweet skeleton, with all the skin and bones still there.
"Yes," the bird said, "would you like something to eat?"
"Do you have any more of that soup?" George asked. "That was delicious."
Kashmir smiled, "Anything else?"
"Whenever father gets here," George said, "can you send him in?"
"Of course." Kashmir replied as he slowly crossed the expanse of the floor, allowing his mahogany tail feathers to lightly droop across the dirt.
When he passed the shadow of the window, and noticing that it still resembled a reaper, Kashmir purposefully turned his back towards the window and clawed the top of the shadow on his way out.
Trufflehunter entered the house looking as if he lost the most important thing in the world. His eyes frantically searched for an answer he knew was not there but when he heard Kashmir enter the room the Badger sighed in relief.
"How is he?" Trufflehunter asked, a bit breathy, for in truth, he ran the last half mile to get home in time for supper.
In the most sincere way he could, The Owl said nothing and walked towards the kitchen and prepared the requested meal. He jumped up a bit, grabbed a bowl from the higher shelf with his beak and wandered into the living room, situating himself near the pot that hung over the fireplace. With his right talon he began filling the bowl with the simplest chicken broth in the world- the ingredients were chicken broth and a dash of pepper. Nothing else. It was soup- the humblest meal Kashmir had ever prepared for a person and because of George's humility the former regent cried.
"He wants Soup." Kashmir said beneath his grief. He stopped pouring, seeing that the bowl was full and made his way for the door with tears running down his face. "He wants damn Soup!"
Trufflehunter turned towards his friend and then at the lonely bowl of soup. He walked over to it, gently picked it up and made his way to his son's room with the best smile he could muster and the happiest thought he could think of- the day George first arrived on his doorstep in a foundlings box with a small note saying simply, 'Please love and care for him'.
Upon seeing his father, George smiled and outstretched his hands for an embrace. "Father!" He cried as loud as he could, which wasn't loud and still relatively soft.
"Hello George," Trufflehunter said as he moved for the bedside, placing the soup bowl on the nightstand and sitting on the edge of the bed. "Have you been good today?"
"Yes," George inevitably said, "is he gone?"
Trufflehunter nodded, "Yes, Uncle Reepicheep is gone but he sends his love."
"Actually," The Badger thought, "what you meant to say was, he forgot to come and say goodbye to you. I guess that's one promise he won't be keeping. Out of all the promises to break Reepicheep, you choose the one that meant the most and I honestly can't forgive you for it."
"Do you suppose we'll see him again?"
"I sure hope so," Trufflehunter replied with a smile secretly thinking to himself 'so I can wring his little neck a bit' as he loving embraced his son for one of the final times. "Now, let's eat and get some rest, hmm?"
George nodded and as Trufflehunter was about to spoon-feed him his supper, Kashmir's crying could be heard from the living room.
"Is Uncle Kashmir alright?" George asked.
Trufflehunter sighed and nodded slowly, wanting to believe and hope that Kashmir was fine but knowing full well that he saw and understood the future.
"He's fine George," The Badger said, "He just loves you."