Julen started to help Numidar and Osaw unload the wagon. But he hadn’t made much progress before his work was interrupted by the sound a voice crying his name, quickly followed by a fervent hug. Careful to make sure that his armor didn’t bruise or jab Rosemary, Julen returned her embrace, drawing his wife’s body close to his own.
“Welcome home,” she greeted.
Julen smiled. It was true that, although he still missed his farm, the compound really had come to seem like home to him. Then again, maybe home was simply wherever Rosemary happened to be. “It’s good to be back. I saw some things today...” Julen thought of finding Cherie chained to the bed, lying in her own filth. “Some really bad things.”
“Me too,” Rosemary admitted. “I went out with Rollick and Uluki this afternoon, to help them buy sewing supplies, and people acted so nasty around Uluki. They didn’t care how nice she is, or how much she helps everyone she meets. They hated her for just being a fairy. It was terrible.”
Tenderly, Julen cupped Rosemary’s face in his hands, tilting it up so that their gazes could meet. No matter what horrors he faced, Julen knew that he would always find sanctuary and healing in the depths of her hazel eyes. “It’s nice, isn’t it? After seeing all that, we can just see each other for a little while. Just see love.”
Rosemary nodded, her eyes shining. But their moment was interrupted by Krarug’s arrival.
“Note for Julen,” the orc announced, handing Julen a piece of folded paper. “From lady.”
“From lady?” Raising an eyebrow, Julen glanced at Rosemary. He couldn’t remember any other woman ever sending him a note. But his wife shook her head. Curious, Julen unfolded the piece of paper and read the words written on it. As he did so, bemusement turned to surprise, and then to pity. Julen didn’t understand how any man could beat his wife. And he certainly didn’t understand how knowing that Callie’s husband had done such a terrible thing to her was supposed to make him feel better.
“That poor woman,” Julen murmured.
Rosemary, however, had seen deeper into the matter. With eyes full of concern, she placed her hand on Julen’s arm. “You didn’t have a choice. It was during a fight, and he was trying to kill you...”
At first, her words didn’t make any sense to Julen. Then he scanned back over the note and certain phrases jumped out at him. ...my husband was one of the people who beat you up in the shanty town... my husband is dead... Gods! Callie’s husband must have been among the thugs they’d slain that day. Intellectually, Julen had always understood that every man he killed in battle might be someone’s husband, brother, father, or son. And even intellectually, he’d never been entirely comfortable with that aspect of being a warrior. Now, confronted by a concrete example, Julen’s fingers seemed to go numb, nearly making him drop the note. It didn’t sound like Callie’s husband was much of a loss to the world. But still, he was a man she had loved enough to marry, to have a child with. Julen couldn’t keep himself from imagining how he’d feel if someone took Rosemary from him in the same way that he’d taken Callie’s husband.
“I have to talk to her,” Julen announced. “Which one is she?”
Rosemary pointed to a golden-haired woman, seated with several other refugees, all of them industriously working on their knitting. A young girl sat beside her, playing with a colorful strand of yarn. Julen guessed that must be the daughter Callie mentioned in her note. However, when Julen moved to join the group, Rosemary held him back. “Not like that,” she cautioned gently. “Take a moment to clean up first.”
Glancing down at his armor, which was splattered with gore, Julen recognized Rosemary’s wisdom. Callie had enough reason to be frightened of him. It would be better if he didn’t seek her out with her husband’s blood still clinging to him.
After giving Rosemary a kiss, Julen went upstairs to carry out her advice. As he scrubbed at the filth caked onto his armor, he tried to remember the people he’d fought that day, tried to catch hold of some memorable detail: hair color, a crooked nose, a remarkable scar...anything. And his efforts brought him nothing. In a few cases, he recalled an unusual weapon or distinctive bit of armor. But not one single face. He hadn’t thought of his opponents as people, just as obstacles to be quickly overcome. Now, he’d killed a woman’s husband, and he couldn’t even remember what the man had looked like. Somehow, the anonymity of act made it seem even more heartless.
When Julen came back downstairs, most of the younger refugees were sitting in a circle around Sigvard. Swinging an imaginary sword, the Northlander gestured wildly as he recounted the adventures of five brave warriors, led by the mighty chieftain Wings-Of-The-Angel, who had battled many monsters in order to rescue some captive princesses. The details were so colorfully embellished that it took Julen a minute to realize that Sigvard was actually describing a version of what they’d done that day. However, Sigvard’s audience seemed to care more about dramatic flair than historical accuracy, and listened to him with wide eyes and open mouths. Julen was pleased to see Callie’s daughter among them. It would be best if he had a chance to speak to her mother alone.
Attempting to appear as mild as possible, Julen addressed Callie. “Miss? My name is Julen.” In one hand, he held up the note. “I’d like to talk with you about this.”