The cart trundled along the road as Neil thought of the position in which he had found himself. His new friends wanted him to accompany them on their journey moving forward, and while up until little more than an hour ago he had romanticized what it would mean to be an adventurer, he hadn’t considered that he would be in legitimate danger. As frightening as his encounter had been with the wolves, he felt a growing tension in his stomach threaten to make him sick as the entrance to the farm came into view.
“No turning back,” he said, “No backing down.”
Willow snorted in response as she pulled the cart around the corner and continued up the road.
“You think I’ll buckle again, don’t you?” Neil asked the horse.
Neil gave the horse a dirty look when she didn’t react to his question.
“You are smarter than you look, don’t give me the silent treatment now,” Neil said thinking about his father when he was angry. The wolves made for a good comparison in his mind.
A few minutes passed before Neil pulled the cart to a stop just outside the house. He was just climbing down as his mother came rushing out of the house, her face full of concern as she practically ran toward me.
“How the hell are you so irresponsible?” My father boomed as he pushed the door open hard enough to slam it into the house. It sprang back at him just as quickly, but he caught it before it could hit him. “You spend your time carrying on over your ridiculous obsession with your music and arts when this family has a greater need of you. You were late, again, delivering the milk this morning. You would have been later had your brother not woken you.”
Neil felt the blood drain from his face as his mother turned to face his father. He saw Goddard step out from inside the barn, a large bruise on the side of his face. The nerves he had felt melted away as he looked at his injured brother and his red-faced father.
“I will never hear you play that damned instrument in this home ever again. You will focus on your duties to this family from now on and put that fantasy of yours out of your mind.” His father continued. He had thought his father was walking toward him, but instead, he walked to the far side of the cart and pulled his instrument from beneath the seat.
“No!” Neil screamed as his father brought the instrument down on the side of the cart. It exploded under the force of the blow as though it were made of glass.
“Never again!” His father roared as he threw what remained of the broken instrument over the cart toward him. “It will no longer be acceptable for you to shirk your duties to this farm over your performing at the inn.”
Neil felt his sorrow flash into anger as his father began walking around the cart in his direction still erupting in his lecture. The words were washed over Neil as though they were nothing. He felt his cheeks growing hot as his nails bit into his palms.
“ENOUGH!” Neil bellowed, shaking the cart enough that Willow took off running. The volume of his voice nearly startled him as the breath came out of him. “I am done listening to you, or anyone, as to what I will do with my life. I will not live in a house that doesn’t have music nor with a man that is willing to break an instrument.
“I was nearly killed on my way back from making the deliveries. Wolves attacked Willow and almost finished me off, if not for the aid of a stranger on the road, yet you have the nerve to try to make me feel bad for waking a little late after providing entertainment for Credence the night previous?
“Goddard, Mother, and I work tirelessly around this farm to facilitate your dream of the simple life of a farmer. Have you never stopped to consider the sacrifices that Mother had to make to come here and start this life with you? Have you never thought that perhaps someone else in this family had a dream as well? Are you so near-sighted that you would attempt to crush my passion into the mud as though I were some dog who could be beaten into submission?”
Neil watched as his father stepped backward away from him. The color had drained from his face as he did so, but he found his footing once more and squared his jaw toward him.
“You wouldn’t have run into the wolves if you-” his father began.
“I’m leaving, Father. You clearly care more for the state of your farm than that of your family. You may as well save your breath for the toiling I’m sure you’ll be doing the rest of the day,” Neil finished in a final tone.
His father stopped talking, his face red as his eyes darted between him and his mother. Neil watched as his father opened his mouth as though she were going to say something, but thought better of it and turned in a huff, walking toward the field.
“I’m sorry about your father,” Neil’s mother said as she bent and began picking up the pieces of his broken instrument. “The fields have been especially difficult this spring. Your father-”
“My father is a stubborn fool that doesn’t need any excuses from you,” Neil said cutting her off as he knelt on the dirt and took her hands, stopping her progress collecting the bits of wood and string.
“Where will you go?” she asked, turning her eyes to him as they brimmed with tears. “Where will you stay?”
“Tevarin, Faleth, and Cade have invited me to join them in their travels,” Neil said, “I’ll be with a competent group of people that I can trust and rely on. Everything will be fine, I promise.”
“That was a hell of a display,” Goddard said as he walked up behind them. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone silence Father like that, except Mother of course.”
“Now is not the time for jokes,” Neil said straightening up with his mother’s elbow in his hands, “Did father hit you?”
“Him? Nah. You know he could never lay a finger on us. This is from Hurricane. Was putting new shoes on him when he got the better of me. Wasn’t the first time, likely won’t be the last.” Goddard smiled widely at him. “Sorry about Father. I had to tell him the truth when he asked me why I was behind. I’ve never been very good at lying.”
“I don’t blame you at all. He is who he is, and I am who I am.”
“I’ll pack you some things for the road,” Neil’s mother said as she pushed the pieces of his lyre into his hands. “Come inside before you leave.”
“You’re not going to try to stop me?” Neil asked.
“I’ve seen that look a thousand and one times over the years. You say that your father is stubborn, but you and he are not too dissimilar,” she said smiling as she walked away.
Neil turned to look at his brother. As the sun beat down on them, Neil saw Goddard as a true farmer and nothing more. He had no aspirations to leave the farm or make a life of his own. The smile that sat on his face was a mixture of pride and cleverness that he had seen so many times throughout their childhood.
“What are you smiling about?” Neil asked.
“Nothing,” Goddard said kicking a pebble from the dirt, “just wondering if my little brother wanted a horse to ride to town.”
“Father would be more furious than he already is if I took a horse to town,” Neil replied.
“I know, but I also know that you’re not going to get far on foot,” he said pointing down to Neil’s dirty pants. “Looks like you’ve already run into some issues on the way home.”
“There were a few wolves, and they scared Willow off,” Neil said as the smile fell from his brother’s face.
“Wolves? I should tell Father. We’ll need to make sure the cows are-” Goddard stopped forcing a smile back on his face, “Not your problem anymore, eh? I got you a going away present regardless.”
“A present? You knew I was leaving?” Neil asked.
“I figured you would sooner or later. These adventurers are just a good reason for you to go. I bought last year from the smith, I think you’ll like it,” Goddard said, “Go see Mother. I’ll be inside in a few minutes.”
Neil walked into the house, leaving Goddard behind. He found his mother standing in the common room waiting with a leather pack in her hands and tears in her eyes.
“My baby,” she whispered, “I knew you would leave eventually. I just didn’t think it would be this soon.”
“Mother, I’ll be sure to come back and see everyone. I just need more than this,” he replied gesturing around him. “I’m not a farmer. I don’t think this is a life I can live.”
“I know,” she said nodding. “You were always more adventurous than your brother. I just worry about you.”
“I’ll be fine,” Neil said touching her cheek. “You’ll see.”
“I want you to take this with you,” his mother said handing the pack over to him. “It belonged to your Grandfather.”
Neil set the broken instrument in his hands down on a small table and took the pack. He looked up at his mother to see her smiling. Opening the pack, he found a small assortment of things that he could use on the road. A small metal tinderbox, a few torches, some rations wrapped in waxed fabric, paper, and a set of clothes.
“Come with me,” his mother said as she walked back to the kitchen without waiting for a reply.
Neil took out the shirt, laid it on the chair and placed his broken instrument on it before wrapping the garment up and sliding it gently into the pack. He secured the buckle on it and pulled the strap over his shoulder before stepping into the kitchen.
The kitchen was small and warm from the stove to his right. To his left he found his mother standing next to the table, on top of which lay a full set of leather armor. He walked to the table quickly and looked at the armor in disbelief.
“I want you to take this with you as well,” his mother said. “It’s not in the best shape, but it’ll protect you as it protected my father in his travels.”
Neil looked over the dull brown of the armor, catching dark lines that looked as though it had seen its fair share of fights. A few places seemed worn from use, but overall it appeared sturdier than anything he had worn before.
“I don’t know what to say,” Neil said feeling a surge of gratuity wash over him. “This is all too much.”
“Put it on!” Goddard said from behind him, “I bet you’re too skinny to wear it.”
“You knew about this, Goddard?” Neil asked as he turned to see his brother standing with his hands behind his back.
“Mother showed it to me a few years ago when that goblin was sighted nearby. Thankfully the goblin never became an issue because it was too small for me,” he replied. “Put it on already so I can give you my gift.”
Neil picked up the armor and pulled it over his clothes. With his mother’s help, it took less than a minute for it to be adjusted and the belts strapped down so it hugged him. He moved his arms, testing the capabilities of his range of movement and found that it was very forgiving and allowed him nearly his full range.
“It’s a perfect fit,” his mother said as she stepped back to look him over.
“I’ll be damned,” Goddard said, “Now all you need is this.”
Goddard stepped forward and pulled his hand from behind his back. Neil looked at him in disbelief as he presented a sheathed short sword to him.
“Take it,” Goddard said as a smile spread across his face.
Neil reached out and grabbed the weapon, it felt light in his grip despite the way it looked. He looked at the hilt with the leather bands wrapping the metal.
“I wanted to give it to you when I got it, but I thought better of it when I remembered the time you hit me with the bola,” he teased. “I didn’t want to give you the chance to hit me with this too.”
“Goddard, he would never!” their mother scolded.
“I know, I just like teasing him,” Goddard said. “Let’s go outside so you can check out the blade.”
Neil stepped out the back door with Goddard and his mother close behind him. He took a few steps from the building and pulled the blade free of its sheath making a metallic hum ring out in the air. To his surprise, the weapon wasn’t the silver color he had expected, but rather a dark shimmering gray.
“It’s beautiful,” Neil said as he moved the weapon through the air effortlessly.
“I made sure that Jared did a little extra so it wouldn’t be too heavy for you,” Goddard said. “He assured me that it was just as strong as a regular sword.”
Neil’s father stepped out of the house a moment later his face still set in a disapproving grimace.
“You almost look like a regular mercenary,” he said as he walked up to him. “I wanted to apologize for breaking your instrument. I went too far.”
Neil set his jaw hard and sheathed the sword before pulling the belt around his waist.
“You really are leaving then?” their father asked.
“I am,” Neil replied.
“Then allow me to give you this,” he said holding out a small pouch. “It’s not much, but it should cover the repair, or replacement of your lyre.”
Neil took the pouch and felt the coins moving around inside.
“Thank you, Father,” Neil said.
“Goddard, take your brother into the village and hurry back, we have more work to do,” his father said quickly before turning around and walking back into the house.
“I’ll go inside too,” their mother said, “I’ve never been good at these things.”
Neil gave his mother a quick hug and watched her walk into the house behind his father.
“I’ll go get the cart ready,” Goddard said as he walked away.
Neil watched as Goddard walked toward the barn. He turned slowly back to the house as it hit him how much he would miss the farm, his family, and the village. None of those things could hope to keep him there, but he knew that he would miss it just the same.