As the wagon bounced its way down the rugged, dusty cart tracked road Vrabin drove silently. Sophia lazed in the wagon bed reading a book of psalms about the five gods. Occasionally she would blow a loose strand of her chestnut hair away from her face. Jessica rode beside Vrabin quietly observing the passing countryside. The trees were larger here than around the twin metropolises of Ascalon City and Rin. The hills had become steeper with ragged tops as they traveled further south and east nearing the Blazeridge Mountains. Occasionally the hills would give way to a basin with flat fields bracketing a river or stream. Many of these basins were filled with farmer’s fields and stands of trees. It was to one of these basins that the trio was traveling.
Vrabin and Sophia’s family the Alariks owned a farm in a basin near the base of the Blazeridge Mountains. It was a successful farm well known and respected in the region for its favorable rainfall and excellent soil. The boon of Melandru was said to be on the Alarik fields. As each successive generation expanded the farm the blessing had held true. The blessing from the earth encouraged the Alarik’s pious nature and so they gave back by allowing the spring planting festival to be held on their lands. Farmers from miles around would gather for three days of feasts and rituals dedicated to the five gods.
In Vrabin’s twenty eight years he had only missed the festival six times. Five years he had been abroad exploring in Cantha and Elona with the Mocking Corpse guild. The sixth spring he had missed he had spent in a burnt-out village in Kryta. Vrabin remembered wondering if he and the soldiers with him would ever see Ascalon again. Shirak had been mad then leading his guild into danger at every turn and as the casualties mounted the Mocking Corpse had dissolved. Now every time he passed the hill where they had picnicked Vrabin would stop and climb to the top. It had been Shirak’s favorite spot to mediate. A part of Vrabin hoped by going there he could puzzle out Shirak’s madness. Sometimes he would look out at the view for hours before silently turning around and returning to the road no more enlightened than before.
“Did you get any more insight into Shirak’s mind?” Jessica asked her husband quietly as if sensing the direction of her husband’s thoughts.
Vrabin responded by exhaling deeply and running a hand through his dusty blond hair. “No, of all the madmen I’ve healed over the years his condition continues confound me.”
“Do you think if you saw him again you could heal him with the skills you have now?” Jessica pressed.
Vrabin shook his head, “I don’t know. His mindscape was so uniquely broken that I’m not certain that it could ever be reassembled. Perhaps if he were younger…” Vrabin trailed off contemplating. Studying Lyssa’s magic under a mad man had indirectly allowed Vrabin great insight into the variety of mental maledictions that afflicted humans across Tyria. As Vrabin pondered he wondered if the madness in Shirak had been alive, growing and adapting over time.
“Not that it matters,” Vrabin returned to watching the road, “Shirak disappeared nearly ten years ago. I doubt I could find him even if I did devise a cure.”
“You’ve never really tried to find him,” Sophia chimed in as she twisted her slim body around to face her brother and sister-in-law.
“I had other priorities,” Vrabin said a grimace marring his stately face, “Shirak’s guild was falling apart, and the Ascalonian push into Kryta was faltering. Those of us that made it back across the Shiverpeaks were in poor condition to mount a search for the man who had abandoned us.”
“Speaking of those that crossed the Shiverpeaks with you, have to spoken to Celdrid or Terran recently?” Jessica asked deftly changing the subject.
“I received a letter from Terran this past week.” Vrabin replied, “Most of it he spent complaining about the new recruits in the guard. He did mention Celdrid had gotten a job working as a guard for a Xunlai banker or some such in Rin.”
Jessica smiled, “Ah Terran he always has been obsessed with he work hasn’t he?”
Vrabin smirked, “He certainly writes about it enough. I Suppose I should see if I can’t find him a wife to distract him from his trainee woes.”
“If you could find a middle aged woman that could keep up with him,” Sophia giggled. “The new guardsmen at the garrison in Ashford all have horror stories about his north of the wall survival training.”
Vrabin laughed his agreement. “He and Celdrid are the only reason I survived traveling with the mocking corpse. Did I ever tell you about the time they rescued Shirak and I from a jade brotherhood gambling house?”
“No,” Sophia replied enthusiastically.
“You never mentioned it before,” Jessica said, “Is it a very bloody story?”
“Its how I got the scars on my shoulder actually,” Vrabin said.
“I thought you got those hunting drakes in Kourna?” Jessica said quizzically.
“No, those scars are in the middle of my back.”
“Oh,” Vrabin’s wife responded.
“Anyways,” Vrabin said, “It all started when Shirak seduced the sister of the local gang leader.”
The tale of his Canthan exploits took Vrabin several hours to recount. He finished as the sun was setting behind the mountains. Jessica lit lamps and hung them from poles rising from the corners of the wagon’s bed. In the dying light Vrabin saw the dark smudge of trees that marked the river in the middle of the basin they were crossing. It was a familiar and pleasant sight as homecomings often were for Vrabin. They were surrounded by Alarik fields now the scent from the recently churned earth filled Vrabin’s nostrils, he breathed deeply to take it in.
As the wagon drew closer music drifted out of the forest accompanies by the flickering light of bonfires filtering through the trees. Several families always arrived early to get a jump on the next day’s festivities. Sophia squeezed in between Vrabin and Jessica. Vrabin could sense her barely restrained excitement at seeing the rest of her family again. The final minutes of their trip took them through the Alarik woods a mishmash of birch, alder, oak and the occasional fir. They waved at the families gathered around bonfires in front of their colorful tents. Then they were crossing the Jessup Bridge named after Vrabin’s great grandfather who had built it. Finally they entered the core of the Alarik farm, a large grassy clearing encircled by a barn, a grain silo and the collection of thatched roof cabins that housed the extended Alarik family. Vrabin exchanged grins with his sister, they were home.