Chapter Five: Homecoming

Four days had passed since Lyne had left and Kalid was growing tired of staying in the cottage in the forest. It wasn't that the place was unpleasant, it was as welcoming as always, but it was quiet and lonely and he knew Ari needed to be in a place with people to distract him.

The boy had grown more quiet, more detached, as the days passed. He wouldn't say anything, but Kalid could tell that he was thinking of those he had lost. It was natural that he would be upset, but Kalid still worried. After Ari had woken him twice due to nightmares, Kalid had decided to give Ari the calming tea that Lyne had left. It worked well enough, but the man wouldn't fool himself into thinking that it was a permanent solution. He needed to get the little boy to a better, livelier place, and his brother's home seemed perfect. They would have left already, if not for the storm raging outside.

It had started on the second day after the wizard had left, and had not weakened in the least since then. There were fierce winds that rattled the windows at night and torrential rain that turned the ground into a muddy mess that was nearly impossible to walk on. Fortunately, Kalid had gathered enough firewood to keep them warm for a while and, as Lyne had told him, there was enough food for him and Ari. Still, he planned to take the boy to his brother's home as soon as the weather improved. He knew he would have to leave soon to avoid being trapped by the more severe Winter storms.

"Hey, do you think the wizard's okay?"

Kalid looked up from the meal he was preparing and focused his gaze on the little boy looking out the window. Ari had pushed a chair over to the window to watch the pouring rain outside. He turned to look at Kalid, waiting for a response. The question had caught the man off guard, but he managed to compose himself after a moment.

"Yeah," he said, still a bit surprised.

"Why do you ask?"

Ari hesitated a bit, fidgeting in his seat.

"It's just, the weather's pretty bad," he muttered with a shrug of his thin shoulders.

Kalid felt his lips twitch in amusement, but he managed to keep a somewhat serious expression on his face.

"You're right," he said thoughtfully, looking out the window.

"Now that I think about it, if he's heading North, the weather must be even worse."

He watched the little boy take on a worried expression, his brow furrowing in concern.

"Really?" he asked shakily.

"What if he gets stuck in the cold or a tree falls on him?"

Kalid took a moment to wonder where Ari came up with these ideas.

"Or what if he's in a mountain somewhere and there's a mudslide?"

"An avalanche would be more likely, or he could just fall off the mountain," Kalid added, fighting the urge to laugh.

"What?" Ari exclaimed, now having a mild panic attack.

Kalid couldn't help but laugh at that, and Ari quickly glared at the man once he realized he was being teased.

"Hey! Stop laughing!" Ari demanded, still glowering at Kalid.

"Alright, alright," the man said, finally calming down, thought there was still mirth in his voice.

"I was just joking, but I didn't know you worried so much about Lyne," he said to Ari.

Ari looked away, pouting, though he would never admit to doing anything so childish.

"I don't but...he was pretty nice to us," he admitted, uttering the words quietly, as if he didn't want to admit it.

"And I never really thanked him."

Kalid smiled at the little boy. Maybe Ari was a little rough around the edges, but he was a good kid, and he was kind and maybe that was why Kalid didn't mind looking after him.

"Ari, he's a wizard. I'm sure he can take care of himself," he reassured the boy.

"But he said he's not that strong," Ari protested.

"Remember? He said it was 'cause that other wizard took away his magic rock."

"Okay, first off, it was a sacred gem from a Goddess' circlet and I don't think she'd appreciate you calling it a rock," Kalid said, trying not to laugh.

"And I'm pretty sure Lyne said he still has half of it, so I'm sure he will be fine."

"Second, there's a village not far from the edge of the forest that he should have reached before the storm started and if not, he can take shelter inside the cart," he pointed out.

"Lastly, he's a wizard. I have a hard time imagining him having any trouble with the things he must be able to do."

After a moment of thought - and one last glare in Kalid's direction - Ari admitted that the man was probably right. The wizard would be fine. He had said he traveled often, after all.

"So what are we going to do?" Ari asked after a while.

"Are we going to stay here for long?"

"No, I don't think we will. I was planning on heading to my brother's village once the weather improved," Kalid answered, glad to see Ari in a more talkative mood.

Ari didn't say anything else for a while, the only sound being that of the crackling fire and the rhythmic chopping of vegetables that Kalid would use for dinner.

"What about me?" the little boy asked after some time.

Kalid looked up again, a puzzled expression on his face.

"You'll stay with me, of course," he answered easily.

"We can stay with my brother for a while, just until I can get a place for us to live on our own."

Kalid had already planned it out. He would work hard to earn money and then get a small home for him and Ari. During Spring and Summer he could work on one of the farms in the village. He wasn't sure what he would do during the colder months, but he would think of something.

"You don't have to do that," Ari muttered.

"I know you think you have to, 'cause I don't know anyone else and you feel bad, but you don't have to. I can take care of myself," said Ari stubbornly, and Kalid felt bad for the little boy who tried so hard to seem so tough after the world had left him on his own.

He stood and walked over to the boy, kneeling before him.

"Ari, your father and mother were very kind people. They helped me a lot and often looked after me when I was younger and I promised them I would look after you."

"But they're dead!" Ari cried angrily.

"And you shouldn't have to keep me around just 'cause they were nice to you!"

Kalid looked at the boy sadly, wishing he could do something other than simply offer small words of comfort.

"I want to keep you with me not because I feel like I owe your parents anything, but because I'm as fond of you as I was of them," he told the boy.

"I've always looked after you and I'm not going to stop now. Besides, it would be boring if it was just me, and my brother will want to meet you."

He ruffled the boy's hair affectionately and was happy to hear the boy grumble about it and push his hand away, all the while trying to discretely wipe his moist eyes. Ari had always been prideful and hated being treated as the child he was, something Kalid had always found amusing. Now, he was glad that Ari had that pride to keep him strong.

"Hey, Kalid," Ari said after a while.

"What's it like in your brother's village?"

The young man smiled and began to describe his brother's home. He told him about the small little town surrounded by the forest and the fields and farms worked by the people. Kalid spoke of the men and women who lived there, raising their families in peace, happy with their simple lives. And then he told Ari of the travelers that sometimes passed by the place, stopping for a night's rest and delighting the children with stories of their adventures. It was a good place, with kind people who lived in peace and would welcome just about anyone. It was, Kalid thought, the perfect place for them to go.

Ari listened intently, liking the sound of the place, and wishing that his parents had been the ones to take him there, to show him what lay outside their old home. But those thoughts made his heart ache and his eyes prickle, and he knew he had to be brave, he had to be strong and he couldn't give Kalid any more trouble. And that was all he needed, because Kalid was with him, would take care of him, and it was a comforting thought.

Once the storm had finally cleared off, an almost unnatural silence had fallen over the woods around the cabin Kalid and Ari were staying in. There were no animals skittering around, and only a few birds could be heard singing on the skeletal branches, once heavy with verdant leaves, but the songs were dulled and never lasted long. Gone were the sounds of the roaring rain and the howling winds, and Kalid knew it was time to leave the place at last.

They set off early one morning, both wearing warm cloaks left behind by Lyne. The wizard had left a few things for them, just as he had said, things that would come to be of use. It was nearly a day's walk out of the forest, and by the time they reached the nearest village, it was nighttime and Ari had fallen asleep on the way, leaving Kalid to carry him. He didn't mind, the boy was light enough, and they were near the town, but he was still glad when they were able to find a place to rest. They slept peacefully, Kalid knowing that in less than a day, they would be in their new home.

As they had the previous day, they set off early, beneath clear skies and with gentle winds. The sun shone down upon them, warming the earth a bit, though it was still chilly, with a light mist hovering around. Ari pulled his cloak closer to his thin frame, wishing he had been able to sleep for longer.

"Kalid, how long until we get to the village?" the young boy asked, stifling a yawn.

"Not very long. Since we left early we should be there in the afternoon," Kalid responded, truly glad for that.

For a short while, they walked in companionable silence, with only the sounds of their surroundings breaking through the quiet and peace.

"Are you sure your brother won't mind us staying with him?" asked Ari suddenly, uncertainty clear in his voice.

Kalid understood the boy's insecurity, knowing it was because he truly wanted to find a new home.

"I'm sure," he reassured.

"My brother enjoys having guests and his wife loves children, so I am sure we will be welcome. Besides, my father is ill, and staying with them, so I'm certain he will like to have more company."

Ari nodded, now looking more at peace.

"What are they like?" he asked then, curiosity clear in his voice.

Kalid smiled faintly, and thought best on how to describe his family,

"Well," he began.

"My brother, Emil, he's a calm sort of person, always smiling and kind. It's very hard to get him mad at all and he can never hold a grudge. I remember when we were children, he could never be angry at me," he recalled fondly.

"His wife is just as nice. Her name is Sarah, and she's a very good woman. She has a vegetable patch she tends to, and she will often share what she harvests with the neighbors. She really loves children as well," and Kalid was sure she'd warm up to Ari right away.

For his part, Ari was forming a very favorable image of the man's family.

"And then there's my father," and Kalid couldn't help but feel a bit sad at mentioning him, knowing he was ill.

"He's always been proud and strong, very hardworking, but he is pretty stubborn at times. Of course, now that he's sick he's probably even more stubborn than usual," and Kalid didn't envy his brother, who had to care for him.

"I suppose he gets tired of being told to stay inside and rest," he said with a shrug.

"I'm sure he'll like you though, maybe he'll tell you some stories. He knows a lot since he used to travel so much when he was younger," Kalid commented.

"Where did he go?" asked Ari, with growing interest.

"Lots of places, he was always a bit adventurous, so he just decided he wanted to travel, you know, see the world. Then, he met my mother and settled down, started a family. Didn't travel much afterwards, but he says he did enough of that to be content.

"Did he ever get to see any demons?"

There was no way for Kalid to hold back his grin at that because, as scary as they were, demons were a common point of interest. This was especially true for children, and it was good to know that Ari, for all that he had gone through, could still be fascinated by the monsters just like other kids.

"Probably," he told the boy.

"It's like I said, he traveled to a lot of places. A lot of the forests have demons in them, even now. He must have run into a few of the smaller ones, nothing too dangerous, luckily."

And it really was very fortunate, considering how wild the world was.

The sun was setting in the distance, when they finally caught sight of the village. Light from the sun washed over the horizon, an orange tone tinged with red, growing fainter as the sun sank behind the edge of the world. It wasn't warm enough, not to compensate for the cold wind, growing more frigid as the light retreated and both travelers were happy to be close to shelter. A sense of melancholy hit Kalid as the village grew closer, and it finally sunk in that this wasn't just another of his visits, this was his new home, their new home.

At his side, Ari was quietly observing the village. It was larger than their old home, with more shops and homes and not as many dirt roads. The main path leading through the middle was paved with stones. Though it wasn't as neat a job as you would see in one of the larger towns, it was still a big difference from the more rural village Ari and Kalid had lived in.

It was obvious that the village received it's fair share of travelers, since they passed at least two inns on their way. Most of the people didn't pay much attention to them, probably because Kalid had been visiting more often since his father had fallen ill. The children, however, stopped in their play long enough to stare at the visitors. Ari tried not to show his discomfort at this, and stayed by Kalid's side. Still, he could feel their stares, curious as only a child's could be. He couldn't really blame them, not when he had stared jsut as intently when a stranger passed through his old home. Thankfully, they didn't have to walk for much longer.

Kalid's family lived in a homely little cottage with a plume of smoke flowing out of it's chimney. The scent of fresh bread wafted out onto the streets, enticing the two travelers and bringing a smile to Kalid's face.

"Sarah must be preparing supper," the man told Ari.

"Come on."

The two made their way up to the door upon which Kalid knocked on firmly. From inside the house, they could hear a slight shuffling and then footsteps growing closer. A creaking sound was heard as the door swung on its hinges and opened to reveal a young woman on the other side.

"Kalid?" she said, openly surprised.

"Good evening, Sarah," the man responded with a smile.

As nervous as Ari had been about meeting Kalid's family, he couldn't help but think of hos kind the woman seemed. She had a pleasant face, he thought, slightly rounded and with soft features. Sarah's eyes held a warm sort of sparkle within its earthy brown color, the same tone as her hair, which was currently tied back loosely. It was all, he realized, painfully reminiscent of his mother.

A moment after Kalid had spoken, the woman pulled him into a hug, seemingly relieved. Kalid stumbled into her hold, confused and alarmed, wondering what had happened and worrying about his father and brother.

"Oh thank the gods you're alright!" the woman said, and it was one of the few things Kalid could understand.

Gently, he pushed her away and tried to calm her, asking her what was wrong.

"We heard what happened," she said, teary eyed and Kalid understood.

"We were so worried, and Emil wanted to go look for you. Then there was a storm and it was just - I'm just glad you're here," she said.

"Oh, but, come in, come in," she said, ushering the guests into her home.

The door closed softly behind them, blocking out the cool wind and the warmth inside was welcoming.

"You said my brother wanted to go look for me?" Kalid asked, taking a seat offered by Sarah, with Ari next to him.

"Yes, but there was a terrible storm and he couldn't go, you know how dangerous the forest is. Then we realized it had happened quite some time ago, and, well, we thought," and she couldn't continue, because it was too upsetting.

"It's fine Sarah, I'm fine," and then he turned to Ari.

"I've brought Ari along, seeing as we're the only ones left."

Ari sunk back in his seat as Sarah looked at him.

"Well it's wonderful to meet you, I've heard a lot about you from Kalid," she said smiling.

"It's nice to meet you too," Ari answered, voice soft and tone shy, and Kalid found it amusing, considering the boy's usual disposition.

"Sarah, where is my brother?" Kalid asked, taking pity on the boy at his side.

The woman turned her attention back to him.

"He should be home sometime soon," she said.

"And he will be very happy to see you. Your father as well."

Kalid nodded, and asked about his father's condition.

"He's doing very well, actually," Sarah said, looking very happy about it.

"There is a young healer that has been treating him, and he has improved much thanks to him."

Kalid was both surprised and relieved, as his father had not improved much under the care of any of the previous healers that had seen him.

"He is resting now though, but I'm sure he'll be up soon, and he will be happy you're here."

They talked for a while longer, Sarah giving them warm drinks and making them feel very welcome and both Ari and Kalid were happy to be there. If that was to be their new home, they thought, it would be a good one.

Well first off, sorry for the wait, but I kinda lost my notebook and just found it after a perilous adventure into my closet. So yeah, that happened. I know the story's kinda going slow, but it'll pick up soon, so just be patient, and you can always check out my other stories while you wait(shameless self-advertising). On another note, I have created a blog for my stories and notes and sketches on them, so you can check that out, just go to inkanonymous. tumblr. com without the spaces of course. I will be offering to take up prompts from others, so whether it's a random idea you'd like to see written or a drabble you want from one of my stories, you can ask for it.

Hope you've enjoyed this chapter and to those who've reviewed and added me to their lists, thank you. As always, please review if you get the chance!