The initial joy I felt when I first saw my wife through teary eyes lasted for quite a while. Hugging my children extended this joy still longer. The true significance of what had happened to my family had not caught up to me, and looking back, I was glad that it didn't. We were able to enjoy a meal together, a simple pleasure that I thought I would never experience again.
Later that evening, though, my thoughts turned to the burns and scars on my wife's face and arms. The two of us were sitting on the ground in front of the fireplace. The children were asleep, and our gracious hosts were staying with a neighbor in order to give us some space and privacy.
At one point while gazing into Helena's eyes, my vision shifted a little to the left where a nasty scar curved from her temple to just above her lip. I looked away quickly, disgusted by the scar. Would I be able to look at my wife the same way I had before?
Though her youthful beauty was a thing of the past, she was still the same woman underneath. If anything, this ordeal had brought out a strength that she had not shown before — at least not to this extreme. I forced myself to focus my thoughts on this strength of character that she had displayed and was continuing to display.
Helena reached out a hand and stroked my cheek, trying to bring me to look at her again. "What's wrong, Lukas?" she asked. When I didn't immediately respond, she added, "Is it the way I look?"
I looked her in the eye. "I will not lie. The scars are disturbing, but that's not why I look away. Not really." I lowered my eyes and looked at our entwined hands. "Our youth was fading anyway, but for it to be taken away against our will angers me."
Without evening noticing, I tightened my grip, causing her to pull away. I apologized and lowered my head, ashamed that I had lost control, even if only slightly.
"Handrin must pay," I whispered. "They must not be allowed to get away with this."
"What are you saying?" Helena asked, rubbing at her hands. Her expression was mostly of worry but with a hint of fear.
"I'm not stupid enough to go over there by myself," I replied. "But, I will gladly volunteer my services with whatever our army decides to do. If the rumors are true, Ibera is no longer going to sit on her hands."