Jourd’Umbra, 18th Decima
A month of leave passed all too swiftly, Jules reflected as he said his farewells to his family. At least I got to see them again, he thought. His father had aged considerably since Jules’ last visit; with all likelihood the man wouldn’t live through next winter.
But he’s not that old, Jules had protested to Nathaniel one night as the brothers sat by the fire.
Da took mom’s death hard. He’s been getting weaker each year.
Jules heard the unspoken accusation: if you came home more often, you’da noticed.
He was stung, but there’d been nothing to say. They’d sat, staring at the fire, until late in the night, when Nathaniel retired to his bedroom and Jules curled up on his bed in the common room.
When Tania had died, her wife Eric had sold the family house and moved in with his younger son and daughter-in-law. It was a small house, and quarters were cramped, but Alanea and Nathaniel bore it with good grace, for they knew it wouldn’t last forever.
Nothing is forever, thought Jules, and suddenly wished he wasn’t in the military so he could spend more time with his father before Muerta’s appointment with Eric.
The wish was futile, and he’d turned over and gone to sleep.
Now, riding back to Atherton with the mail caravan, he wished it again, and more passionately. He was absolutely blessed with his family – I just want a chance to enjoy what’s left of it.
His thoughts were interrupted by Suki’s snort. He looked in the direction she was yanking the reins and saw two distant figures, riders, coming upon them. The rest of the caravan hadn’t noticed.
“Hold!” he called, and the caravan slowly ground to a stop. The lead rider looked back at him, questioningly, and Jules indicated the riders.
The members of the caravan took up defensive positions quickly, readying themselves for a fight. Jules swallowed and put his hand on his sword, ready to draw and fight if need be. He had hoped not to run into trouble this trip, but Athering had lost peace and safety in the past decade, and bandits on the roads were commonplace. Wishful thinking.
The riders were closer, and Jules felt a spark of recognition as their features became more distinguishable.
The lead rider called out a challenge and the approaching figures slowed their horses to a walk. There was a silent conference between them and the more broad-shouldered one answered: “Bellica Anala and Major Aro of the Second Regiment, looking for safety in numbers!”
Jules let out a bark of relieved laughter and assured the dubious leader – Pazil was his name – that these people were his friends. For lack of a better word, he added mentally as he rode out a bit to greet the Bellica and Major.
“Ho, officers,” he called as Suki let out a welcoming whinny. “What brings you to join the Atton caravan?”
Anala and Aro, both looking as if they could use a night’s rest and a bath, exchanged careful glances. Aro answered, again. “Roads are dangerous. We decided our luck had held out long enough and to play the last leg of our journey safe.”
Jules nodded in understanding and led them back to the caravan, where Pazil was waiting impatiently. “Begging your pardons, Dama, monsieurs, but we have quite a bit of land to cover before we break for camp, so I’d like to get moving again.”
The officers silently moved into place with the other riders. “Proceed,” Aro said.
Pazil cracked the whip and they were off.