Arms crossed tight against a stone chest. Eyes sharp, glaring, judging. That was how he remembered Senroi, the man who was his father. He had been silent when he heard what his son planned, had not muttered a word, but then there had really been no need to. He had made no illusion of his aversion towards his son’s abilities. He had never understood.
It was funny that image should return to his mind now of all times, as they walked hastily along the dusty road. He smiled to himself, wondering if it was the aching in his muscles that had conjured it as some means of mocking him further. “If you had but listened, you wouldn’t be here, you’d be safe at home,” they seemed to say. “You’d be bored out of your mind, but you’d be safe.”
Heljak discarded the thought, but the image of his father standing there, statue-like and staring with those disapproving eyes, never faltering. He shook his head, and tried to fill it with thoughts of a lighter nature.
They were not hard to find. For all the aches and pains he endured since leaving the comforts of Marbrekhal, his sense of adventure remained intact and an ever constant source of inspiration. He marvelled at every little strangeness he beheld, fascinated by the outside world in a way that often amused his fellow travellers.
He didn’t care though, shut away as he had been much of his life, just breathing the air outside and seeing a new sky, a genuine sky, not the false perpetual night of the caverns or the small glimpses he had stolen late some nights atop the battlements, these things were wondrous to him. The world beyond the caves was real, and so much bigger than he could ever have imagined.
If only Helka could see this, he thought. An image replaced his father’s in his mind, this one of a woman, young, thin, lanky like he was, and with hair just as messy that wound its way between her horns and trailed down behind her sharpened ears. She looked at him with that sly smile she employed so often before causing mischief. How he missed her, his little sister.
Of course it had been her idea that he leave, defying Senroi’s will and disappearing in the night. He would have taken her with him if he could, but there was just no way. Father would have scoured the earth for them, and mother would have died from sadness. He had felt a great pang of guilt leaving her there, knowing that she would likely never experience the things he would. She had told him not to worry about that, and just to write to her all about them and in as much detail as he could. That way it would be as though she were with him. In a way he supposed she was.
He placed a hand upon the cold stone pendant he wore about his neck and gently clasped it. It had been his mother’s and as a gift to him became her subtle way of saying she approved, but it had been Helka that had given it to him. Helka who had placed it in his hands and bid him to wear it and think about them all every day. It had been Helka who had hugged him so tightly and waved him off, not knowing how long it would be before they saw each other again.
Heljak bowed his head and released the stone from his grasp. When he looked up, his mind was free from thoughts of home. He looked across at his fellows, at the jovial conversations and the mix of different peoples and modes of dress.
Lastly he spared a glance in the direction of their leader. She stood ahead of the group, head raised and staring into the sun defiantly, though for reasons he could not fathom. Eventually she stopped, looked around and held her hand up flat so that all of them could see.
It was time to set up camp.