Standing atop a cliff on White Peak Mountain, Caleb Hart surveyed Cadre Island for the last time. The soft morning wind blew over his heavily-muscled body whilst he peered over the forest and the sea. As the gentle breeze passed over him, he closed his eyes and basked in the cool air, the sensation subtly raising the hairs on his body. Opening his brown eyes, he reflected upon the serenity of his surroundings; the white sun rising, casting its bright warm rays across the reflective dew that rested on the tips of the pine tree needles making them glisten in the sunlight. Birds, hidden from the eye, but known to the ear, sang their peaceful morning song, which carried over the stillness of the forest. It seemed to hearken to the slumbering denizens to awaken to a quiet and friendly morning. He knew that he would miss the natural beauty of his surroundings, but he had a sound purpose for leaving. Somehow, as is common behavior among many people, his knowledge that he must depart produced a more acute awareness of the beauty around him and he lamented that he had not always appreciated such lush surroundings to a fuller extent. Still he remained resolute in his course of action.
In pursuit of that design Caleb descended the mountain. As his hard-soled brown leather boots beat down the worn path, in his mind, he walked over the best approach to his master, Raven. “I’ve no choice but to tell him what has occupied my thoughts these past few years, returning to my homeland to restore my family’s honor and lands. He was kind enough to grant me my freedom and for that I owe him an insurmountable debt of gratitude, but I owe others as well. I shall tell him after breakfast.”
As if trying to outrun the memory of the past, Caleb’s rapid descent down the mountainside reflected that desire. The speed of thought outstrips the fleet of foot and despite his best efforts to race ahead of this life altering event the memory stayed with him as he continued towards home. His breath grew short and his lungs burned, but still he pressed onward towards home. As he pondered the past his thoughts eventually returned to the present and the course that lie ahead, “I must return to Skitheria and the Luminous City to stand before the king and face his judgment. Whatever task he lays before me, if mercy he grants, I will complete. I must restore the honor of the family that I have shamed. Hopefully, his majesty recognizes that the actions of a boy may not represent the man who stands before them. Still, I need to see to another matter first, convincing Raven, to let me return home. It was one matter to free me after years of slavery. It’s quite another to let me leave the island. Raven has become like a father to me and I suspect when I tell him why I want to go that he will grant my wish.”
How quickly times passes in the mind when occupied by thought for as Caleb retraced his adolescent years in his mind, his feet guided almost by memory, found their way to the outskirts of the wooden hut that he called home. There was nothing fancy about the place, a one room collection of logs and rough hewn planks, sealed with a mud mixture and covered with a thatched roof of leaves and grass. It had a few windows so as to let in the light which the sun-drenched island offered in abundance, sparsely adorned with simple furniture, uncovered floors, a stone fire pit in the center, and a loft above where all inhabitants slept. Due to the floods caused by the rain running down the mountainside, the hut stood on thick wooden posts. “I remember when those wooden suspended my hammock, before Raven let me sleep inside,” he thought.
A tall, lean, sinewy figure with long, gray hair and green eyes gathered wood near the hut. “Good morning!” Caleb hailed.
Good morning to you, Caleb. My lad, how red your face is. Racing yourself down the mountain? You’ll never win.”
I’ll never lose, either.” Caleb chuckled.
Come, help me gather this wood. Then, we can talk over breakfast. I see that look in your eyes, which tells me that you have something on your mind.”
He knows me too well, thought the young man. “Very well then, we will talk over breakfast.” Caleb started running to the hut, “I might not be faster than myself, but I’m faster than you!”
Recognizing the futility of a footrace when his foe had a good head start, Raven simply walked to the hut, ascended the steps, entered the abode, and put his wood onto the floor. As they breakfasted on a meal of cooked rabbit strips, bread, and berries, Caleb spoke first, “Master, long have I lived here on this island, first as your slave, now as your guest. You have generously given me freedom, the freedom to do as I please. I am flattered by the kindness you’ve given even though I had been your spoil of war and duty bound to obey you. I owe you a true debt of gratitude for it lay within your power to ill use me. All of these facts make it much more difficult for me to….” Caleb paused for it pained him to speak words which might be displeasing to Raven. “He struggled to control his emotions as the words issued forth from his mouth,
I want to go home. I need to return to my country and to restore the honor of my family. The burden that I have placed on my mother and sister weighs heavily on my mind and I wish to see them returned to their rightful place of respectability. I know that I will have to face the king of my country and hear his decision on the matter. What’s more, it pains me to leave you, but I know in my heart I must do what is right. In a moment of selfish, boyish haste I brought my family shame and ruin. If I’ve learned anything from you, it’s that my actions define me as a man and I must answer for all of them, both good and bad.”
Raven raised his hand and Caleb grew silent and eager with anticipation. “My son, speak no more on this matter no more. The pain shows clearly on your face and I know that to keep you here would be a selfish act. As time passed, I knew this day would come, but it comes too quickly for an aging, lonely man. I wish you luck in your journey. The man that stands before me does what is right and he fears no man, like the men of our tribe. I’m proud of that man. You have my permission and my blessing to depart.”
He continued speaking and looked up at the ceiling as if he were trying to look into the past. “My boy, that strength of character and the passion to make amends saved you. When first I took you as my slave as a spoil of war, left behind by your friends for your interference, I despised you. That battle claimed the life of my only son. I sought to break your spirit through hard treatment and neglect to exact my revenge on you and your kind. One time early on, during a harsh storm I sent you into the forest to get firewood thinking you would either flee and perhaps die in the woods or return to me, crying, begging for mercy, mercy I wouldn’t grant. Instead, you returned with the wood and said not a word. No matter what I commanded, you obeyed without argument or complaint. Because of your kinds appetite for material goods, which I noticed during the campaign, I judged you to be soft and weak, but I never broke you and at first that made me try harder. I came to respect you, and then eventually love you like my own son. I do have one last request, though.”
Caleb dropped to one knee before his host as he solemnly replied, “I swear to honor any request that you lay before me.”
As a stray tear rolled down his cheek, the old warrior answered, “Go home and face their judgment. Meet their demands. Save your family and when you have succeeded come and see a lonely old man.”
Raven…..father……I promise to return. I take your wisdom and courage in my heart, always.” Caleb then rose to his feet, the two gripped each other’s forearms, gave a knowing glance, and then Caleb set about packing.
Four walls form a box, such a simple shape. In small spaces such as these, large amounts of life are spent. In them dreams take their shape, bonds are forged, they hold the beginning and the end of many days, miniature lifetimes, held together by the common thread of belonging to the same parties. In this box, Caleb stands and as he packs his belongings to return to his homeland, he dreams of seeing his mother and sister. He packed supplies for his journey, stuffing his brown leather sack with dried sticks of beef and fruit, but his mind was already on his boat. Slinging the waterskin over his shoulder, he sees himself trekking across the landscape of Skitheria. “Ah, my swords, I don’t doubt I’ll need these,” he remarked. Strapping the dual black scabbards on his back, which sheathed the swords, he headed towards the doorway. “I wonder what punishment the king will exact from me?”
Raven stopped him in the doorway, “Caleb. Before you go, I want you to have something. It’s a piece of my home and my heart.” He presented the young man with a fine wooden bow. “I made it for my first son. He called it “Whisper”, for how silently it killed. I send his spirit with your body. The son I lost and the son I gained, united as one. Carved from the solid heart of a Houmain tree and treated with oils from the Ghan tribe to make it extra durable. You won’t find its like anywhere, I promise.”
Reverently, Caleb took the bow. “You show me more kindness than I deserve. I shall honor the memory of both its maker and previous owner. We’ll talk over a cup of ale when I return.”
It will be over many cups, son. May the winds carry you swiftly and safely on your journey to your homeland.”
Caleb nodded and closed the door on the place that had been his home for nearly a decade. He headed down to the edge of the sea where he borrowed a long ship from a friend of Raven’s and began the nearly month long voyage home. While such a trip could prove fatal in a small craft, Caleb trusted in his map and his craft. Knowing the risks involved he departed homeward.