The mornings had become terse events during the march. The week before his final disappearance, my father’s behavior had been sketchy, his whereabouts often unknown until late afternoon. The guards didn’t much care if anyone ran away, even if it was the ousted king. We’d been on the road for two weeks, and there was not even a road to speak of. We were far enough away from anything that no one could escape and survive long.
There was something in my father’s actions that worried Mom. She watched him like a hawk whenever she could find him. I kept to her side, eight years old and shy, and saw the change in him, too. His laugh had dimmed in the past years, but the march stripped something vital from him. I am inclined to agree with Mom; it must have been his Gift, gone first.
He stopped talking at the outset, but then stopped meeting my eyes, began walking the other way when Mom or I approached him. Maybe it was guilt, but I wanted to believe otherwise. My father was only sick, very sick. He finally disappeared about three weeks into the march. Mom searched for him that morning as she had for the past few days. The day did not feel particularly different than the few preceding it. I do not even remember being alarmed that my father was gone. He would return, I was sure. It was of little importance even if he didn’t. I had more important things to worry about, like keeping an eye on Mom and getting food. In effect, my father had walked out of my life even before he was gone.
I did not notice when he didn’t return at noontime. When the sun began to sink, Mom casually asked me if I had seen him that day, then frowned when I said no.
After sunset we set up for sleeping. I held Mom’s hand as she walked around the edges of the shabby camp, calling my father’s name into the woods.
I thought to tell her that he would know it was her. She was the only one who ever called him by his first name without a title. Even Ithan and I called him “Sir.” I didn’t say anything. Maybe she intended for my father to be certain that she was searching for him. Maybe it was a last intimacy before she gave up on him for good. Maybe she believed he would respond better to his given name. Either way, he did not appear.
I stood still as Mom hollered into the shadowy woods. My father was like a wild dog now, gone feral. I shivered, picturing him as a stranger half-crazed with disease, staring at us with glinting, hungry eyes. I pulled mom’s hand back in the direction of the others. My father, wild or dead, was now on his own. No one searched for him in the morning. We kept marching until we ended up settled at the sea for good.