Dhom was gardening again. His hands and small tools pierced and overturned the dark earth, leaving black tendrils on his arms and clothing. Each turn opened up and reburied the small creatures who led their secret lives underneath, which he had disturbed. Shira sighed and took this in as she came down the road toward the home she shared with her uncle. Over two score springs and she had never seen him care about what grew around their home. But for the last three months since the incident at Brindledown he rarely left the small field before their three room cottage. Tonight they would probably go to the village’s only tavern for dinner, have a couple drinks, and head to sleep just after sunset. Everything as usual, though she had a good day otherwise. Afterall, the huntress managed to find and catch the wolf pack that had been preying on Marshan’s flocks.
When Dhom looked up, Shira waved calmly, trying to keep her concerns for her uncle from showing. He would probably see them anyway, but she could try. Brushing her hair away from her slightly pointed ears and readjusting her quiver, Shira smiled and called out, “Dhom? Good day? Any problems, is Tar’s field doing well? His deer problem hasn’t returned, has it?”
Looking up from his tubers, Dhom shook his head slowly, “No one has come out all day.” He began to gather up his meager tools, “How is Marshan, niece? Are the young ones well?”
Shira unslung her bow and quiver as she drew near Dhom. He knew how their living worked and that she had not actually seen Marshan today. But she nodded anyway. If he wanted to avoid what had happened months ago and everything related to it, she would let him. He was getting rather old afterall, something she had only recently realized.
Leaving much unspoken, as was usual among the pair, both put their respective tools away within the cottage. Shira had a moment of reflection seeing her bow and quiver next to Dhom’’ spades and stakes. There had been a time when he would have set a twin to her tools on the hooks beside the door. A part of the young huntress longed for those lost days very briefly before the rest beat it into submission and hiding. Shaken from her musings, Shira moved to the door and took Dhom’s arm in their new tradition.
Their short walk to the tavern was interspersed with occasional greetings from fellow villagers. A few well wishes and calls of thanks, which Shira accepted readily, though Dhom ignored the latter. And this previously unusual reaction, or lack thereof, merely added to her concern for him.
Taking their usual table, they signaled Haru, the owner, for two meals. While waiting, both leaned back to relax. Dhom lit a pipe, a habit he had picked up in the last month. Shira watched her uncle carefully while letting the growing sounds of fellow villagers entering for evening meals flow over her. There was something a little odd about Dhom this night, she thought. Maybe something about the wrinkles around his eyes or a minor shift in the way he sat.
Once most of the meal was complete and both were picking at the remains, of what neither could recall, Dhom slouched on his bench. Lifting his mug for a sip of Haru’s homebrew, he seemed to consider his niece for a moment, then took another sip as if gathering his thoughts. A moment later he set down the mug and his shoulders heaved as he sighed heavily. Suddenly he blurted, “Yermotherelfranwilderlandsfatherdied.”
Shira’s almond eyes widened notably. This was not the sort of talk she had expected through his preparations. Forcing her face into a mask, she inquired, “What?”
After another deep breath, Dhom repeated slower, “Your mother is an Elf. She, um, ran off east, when your father died. She might have . . . made her way into the Wilderlands, maybe.”
In the silence that followed, Shira recalled moments of the past that she now understood. There was the one, in the nameless village tavern after her first hunt. Dhom had been tired and unsettled. He had said there was something important that needed saying, but kept stalling. In the end, all that came out was, “She was different.” Then there was the last attempt, nearly a year ago while they were out working. Again, all he had said was “She was different,” then they were interrupted by a flock of geese and he led them home. Neither had said anything about it since.
Dhom watched as anger and confusion warred across his niece’s features. He could almost see desire and indifference sitting to the side waiting to see which won. Who the anger was directed at: himself, his missing sister-by-marriage, or both, he could not say. But it was strange to see this battle taking place. Normally she kept as tight a rein on her emotions as he had before Brindledown. But those days were long past for him, hopefully enough remained for the daughter of his brother. Old memories he had thought long forgotten returned unbidden to his mind. Fire and stones, clubs and threshing flails. What he had just said may not have been the whole truth, but it was enough. And maybe it was better for Cioren this way, and Shira. He would have passed three score and ten winters by now if he had still been alive. Dhom’s gaze returned to Shira. From the set of her mouth and look in her eyes, it seemed that anger and confusion had reached a truce. He braced himself for what would come next. She surprised him by remaining remarkably calm. For a few moments her face became flushed and he suspected the worst, but she pushed it back with visible effort.
Finally she spoke in clam measured tones, “So that is what you have been trying to say for the last eleven years? Believe me, Dhom, I can understand why,” she sat back and looked bewildered, “I sort of guessed and its not exactly something you tell people, is it? Not that you’re off the hook for not telling me sooner, uncle.”
Dhom knew then that his niece was seriously upset. But he felt a surge of pride as well. Rather than lashing out emotionally, she had slipped into formality. Almost exactly what he had taught her from his days of dealing with officers and petty nobles. Sure, she was upset, but she had taken his lessons to heart. At that thought, Dhom tried to decide if her father would be as proud. He became so wrapped up in trying to figure out what his older brother would say that he missed what Shira had said.
Wincing as he did, he asked, “Excuse me, what was that last part?”
The ex-hunter’s belief that he had said the wrong thing was confirmed when Shira tossed him a fleeting glare. “I said that I am going to leave for a while. Maybe a couple months, maybe a few years. I was thinking about this anyway, but the moment seems best. By dawn tomorrow I will head out on the road.”
When he started to say something, she raised a hand, “Sorry, uncle. No arguments. I am firmly set on doing this. I need to find out why.” Whether the last meant why she had been left behind or why her mother had left, she left unsaid and Dhom never found out. Perhaps she was not certain what the answer would be.
Dhom gave her a thin smile, “I know, Shira, niece. I wish it could be otherwise, but I understand. Cioren would do the same. You have his stubbornness and curiosity. Take what you need from the house. I can always get more. And may the gods, especially Varphi and Majearl, watch over you.”