Keon almost leapt up from the ground, wiping the dust off of himself furiously, refusing to offer his father a hand. Orlo’s movements were slower, but once he had risen, the flame of his anger seemed to devour his whole being. I imagined that if his face weren’t already a dark blue, it would have turned that color eventually from his exasperation.
I couldn’t understand a word either was saying as father and son bickered-- and likely cursed at one another-- back and forth in the Alfarian language. It wasn’t comical, in truth; it rather darkened the mood of the entire band. The rain fell down in plump drops, increasing in intensity, but no one made an attempt to move as we gawked at the argument. Keon tried to shove Orlo, but his thick and sturdy frame wouldn’t budge. Then there came one heavy moment in which no one spoke in word, but the severity in the eyes of the young man and the old elf showed a deep divide forming between the two. I had to hope it could be reconciled, if for no one else’s sake than my own.
I watched as Orlo’s eyes softened into sadness. The next words he spoke were lighter, but he was hardly given a chance to finish them before Keon stormed off from the group on his own. I watched as Orlo’s gaze sunk to the dirt. The rain made it impossible to tell for certain, but I thought that he might have been crying. It was only the afternoon, but the black clouds overhead made it seem to be much later in the day. When Orlo was sufficiently composed, he barked out orders that were, I assumed from the reaction of the Alfar, to pitch tents and try to get some rest. Travel would resume the next day.
Orlo made brief eye contact with me, only to quickly return to his look of misery and shuffle away.
I had to do something. I didn’t really understand what had just taken place, but I needed Keon’s help, as much as I hated to admit it. Every moment counted. I summoned Fia and planned to perform an aerial search. Perhaps this sort of thing happened frequently, I speculated. Perhaps Keon is the type to fight with his father often, but always return. Well, one thing was certain: I couldn’t ask Orlo and decipher an answer. So I would have to find out from Keon.
Thunder crashed and lightning set the sky ablaze with white-purple tints against the grey clouds. My woolen coat could only do so much to guard me from the cold rain. Just as I was wondering what could be done, I noticed Fia become shifty. I turned around to see a half-soaked Orlo offering me a very sturdy, well-made dark cloak that could easily be draped over what I was already wearing. It wasn’t the most flattering article, but it would come very much in handy for my mission. He nodded at me and managed a slight smile as he draped it over my shoulders. I could tell he believed in me, but I didn’t understand why. Touched, I gave him a quick squeeze around his hefty midsection. He offered me a leg-up to help me get on Fia before heading back into the shelter of a tent.
The thunder roared at me again, and the wind howled, and once I had taken flight, the rain mercilessly pelted what remained uncovered of my kerchiefed face. But, in that moment, I was filled with steel and grit. I had a fate to fulfill, and I needed Keon's help to bring me closer to it.
I quickly learned to take advantage of those moments that the lightning coated the sky in its white glow, carefully scanning through the treetops for a blonde head. I only knew roughly which direction Keon had taken, and I knew he was an expert at hiding, so I couldn’t expect an easy find. He had had five minutes at least for a head start, and judging by his pace, he could’ve been fairly far out already. I wondered, though, if he had sought out shelter when it had really started to pour.
I decided to act on my hunch, lowering for a landing near the base of a steep hillock, the decline of which was so sharp that no trees could take root upon it. I was at least a mile from the trail by now, and I sought out an area of the rocky face that might serve as a sort of shelter. Fate was on my side, for I soon discovered a wide crack that cut away about a third of the hill. The crevasse was just wide enough for a person to walk through at its base, and it narrowed closer to the summit so that it effectively blocked out the rainfall, though it was still dampened. As I soon as I squeezed into the crack, I caught sight of a silhouetted figure standing fitly between the two natural stone walls.
There was hesitation, but when his voice came, it had a peculiar echo to it.
“Not all of us can simply take off on a flying horse when we’re upset, dear. Depraved thief-rats like myself have to go to darker, damper places.”
“Tell me what happened.”
“Orlo destroyed a perfectly good prospect.”
“And what was Orlo’s perspective on that?” I probed in irritation.
“He knew I was handling things well, but… when I aimed at the girl. It upset him.”
“Why?” I asked, though in the blackness I rolled my eyes, knowing that there were all too many good reasons for that to upset a decent person.
“It reminded him,” Keon’s voice quivered and he took a moment to complete his thought. “It reminded him of when he found me. During Eirethstead’s war with the Alfar all those years ago. He found me in a supply cart, as I told you, but when he did, one of the elves in his group nearly shot me in the head. He had to put a stop to it. Why? Because that tough bastard has a tender heart underneath it all. And deep down, he doesn’t like making innocent people pay for his dishonest living. Even after all these years.”
“Is that what he told you?”
“Of course it is. Why else would I be so upset? He says he wants to limit our banditry from now on to target only corrupt men. That takes a great deal of study, mind you. And it’s far less lucrative. Harder, too. And do you know,” he continued as my eyes began to glaze over from his endless talk, “it’s not just because I aimed at that girl. It’s because of you that he’s made this decision.” He had shimmied closer to me now and I could feel his warm breath accusing me.
“Because of me?”
“Yes. He’s quite moved by you. Appreciates that you don’t like to get your hands dirty.”
“You mean he appreciates that I have exceptional moral standards. I’m flattered.”
“Yes, well, while you’re blushing, the whole economic system of Sekerheim is put at risk, dear!” the sound of his voice bounced sternly off the rock faces.
His fervency was contagious, infecting my next remark. “Yes, well, if you could stop being so obsessed with money for a moment, you might just find out that doing what’s right pays off far better than robbing the good-hearted, and in more ways than you can imagine!”
“You think all I care about is money?” he demanded. I held my silence. “Well?”
“Well…” my resolve weakened, but I hated losing arguments. “What else do you care about?”
He brought his face yet a bit closer and answered me in a kiss. I could neither slap him nor kick him in such a tight fissure, nor could I easily loose myself from his lips. And a part of me, it is only fair to admit, enjoyed the moment.