"Oh, my little bird," my mother reached down to ruffle my hair. Beside us, a pot of stew bubbled over the fire. "One day you'll do great things."
I smiled widely up at her. "Of course! I'm gonna be a pirate, mama! And I'll go and find treasure for you and papa, and you guys can live in a whole castle!"
She chuckled and brushed a shaggy lock of brown hair out of my eyes. "You're so bright, though. Pirates are mean and dirty, you're a proper gentleman. Just you wait, and your father and I will save up enough money to send you to the city to get a proper education."
I flushed and looked at my bare feet. "The other boys say that's stupid, pirates are cooler. Besides, that's for prissy rich boys, they told me so."
"Ah, but you don't think so, do you? I hear from Mrs.Montali you've been sneaking over to her house to learn how to read-"
"That gossipy old hag! She swore she'd keep it a secret!"
"Young man, show some respect!" my mother's gaze turned sharp. "We do not call our elders 'old hags'. Least of all those who are helping us!'
My mother turned away to stir the stew over the fire. "You don't need to change who you are for the other boys. You're special for a reason, you're going to be a great man one day. And they'll just be crusty old men."
I giggled, but the sound was quickly cut off by the sound of someone coming through the door.
"Where's my little fella?"
"Papa!" I sailed through the air, straight into his arms which hoisted me up.
"Woah there!" he exclaimed, bushy mustache twitching. "You're getting pretty big, tough guy! Let me put you down so we can eat some dinner, okay?"
Suddenly I was at the table, digging into my stew. I closed my eyes at the rich flavor, my grandfather's original recipe.
When I opened my eyes, the world was blurry.
No. That's not right. I was crying.
I was fifteen years old and weeping at my parent's graves. I clenched my fists and rose from knees. When I did that, child-like giggling rang in my ears.
"I wonder if this is how my parents felt when I died. Inconsolable, angry, asking why, why I was taken so senselessly." I knew the cadence of that voice. I had only heard it once, in a panicked, questioning cry, but I had never forgotten it.
I doubled over as if punched and pulled at my hair. "I didn't mean to! I was just there for the money!"
"Yes, I'm sure that must have been comforting to hear. You only meant to rob us blind." The boy was suddenly standing in front of me, a disturbingly innocent smile on his face. "You really are a vile creature."
"Shut up!" I swung my fist at him with all my force. He disappeared with only the tinkle of his laughter left behind."
Waking up in a cold sweat was not uncommon for me. I slowly raised my hands to my face and pressed the heels of my palms against my eyes, trying to get the burned image of my parents' graves out of my head.
Heaving a great sigh, I let my arms flop beside me. Light filtering into the tent made me squint slightly and I could hear the muffled chirping of birds outside.
I quickly got dressed, armor over tunic and the sheath of my sword strapped to my back. I ran my thumb methodically over my brand, looking at it closely for the first time in nearly a year. It was in the shape of a snarling fox head, signifying my wrongdoing.
I need new gloves, and fast.
I remembered getting my first pair. It was the day after I had helped some other poor soul on the run. I hadn't been able to make out his face at the time, but he was a wanted man. He had been bleeding pretty badly too, so I had done my best to patch him up. Considering my lack of general medical knowledge, probably not well. The wound was pretty bad, the guy probably has a nasty scar.
I pushed thoughts of the mysterious acquaintance out of my head and quickly wrapped my hand in bandages. I stooped through the entryway of my tent and was shocked to find my glove there. It was torn, certainly, and of course dirty, but unmistakably mine.
A lump was quickly building in my throat from the relief at seeing it again. I quickly ducked back into my tent and knelt on the ground. I studied the worn leather scrap in awe. A drop of water fell onto it and rolled of, leaving a wet trail in its wake. I reached up and found that tears were rolling down my face and I realized I was shaking.
Brushing away the remaining tears, I wondered how it had gotten there. It had to have been planted, I would have seen it when we picked out the campsite. And I would have noticed it if it had been there before I went to sleep. Or, for that matter, when I got up to keep watch, and no one was up and about when I did. That means it must have been either Aaron or Tuuka, who kept vigil after me.
Whoever it was, I'm eternally grateful.
After making sure I was at least somewhat composed, I placed the glove in my knapsack for safekeeping until I could mend it. Slinging the bag over my shoulder, I stepped out of my tent and set about deconstructing it, resolutely not looking at anyone else. The others were doing the same. When we were finished, we all fished some dried fruit out of our bags and ate them.
Aaron clapped his hands together. "After yesterday's set-back, we've got a lot of ground to cover to get back to where we can follow the Roc's footprints. We need to get moving."