Far away from any shore, a small sailboat drifted on the Valenfaer Ocean, its sail missing, its mast broken. In it lay a man in ripped clothing and with a ragged appearance. He was clutching a bag along with a belt that bore the insignia of a bard. Too weak to lift his head past the railing, his eyes stared blindly into the clear blue sky. He wished for rain, for that was what had kept him alive during his ordeal; however, during the last two days, not a drop had fallen. His dry tongue brushed over his even drier lips, tasting salt. A sigh escaped him and for a mene he closed his eyes, awaiting death. When he opened them again, he saw a large fishing boat. Not trusting his blurry vision, he thought he was hallucinating, and then voices reached his ears.
“Captain!” a screeching voice sounded. “Captain, there’s a man in that boat!”
“Looks like he’s still alive!” somebody else added hoarsely.
“Then get him on board!”
The man’s vision failed and he felt himself lifted over someone’s shoulder and carried upward. He was laid down on the deck of the fishing boat. Helping hands tried to get him to sit, but his muscles wouldn’t cooperate and hold him sitting. He slumped back down, his head hitting on hard wood. Drops of fresh water dribbled in his half-open mouth. It tasted like nectar to him and he smacked his lips. He tried to lift his hand, but found he couldn’t. His eyelids fluttered and he saw several men standing around him.
“What’s your name?” one of the men asked.
The man tried to say “Kal,” but only rasping sounds escaped his throat and then he passed out.
“Kal, come over here. See what I’ve found,” Simona called out and waved her hand. Her long black hair was unbound and being blown in the wind. Her white tunic had grass stains. As Kal came closer, he could see her blue eyes sparkle in the sun. He reached out to take her hand and pull her close, but found he couldn’t get a hold. Suddenly, Kal found himself standing in the middle of a clearing, alone. Simona was nowhere in sight.
“Mona!” he called and began to run. He tripped over a root and fell. Kal got up and rubbed his knees. As he looked around, he realized he wasn’t in the woods, but in a ship’s cabin. “How did I get here?” he meant to say, but only inarticulate sounds came out.
The door to the cabin opened and a black-haired boy entered. Kal was reminded of his own youth upon a ship.
“Captain,” the boy called out. “He’s awake!” The sound of heavy boots on wood came nearer and a broad-shouldered man stepped inside. He wore blue pants and a brown tunic, which was fastened by a rope. A full, black beard covered most of his face and made it difficult for Kal to judge the man’s age.
“Thank you, Sam. Why don’t you go and bring a bowl of fish stew for our passenger here.”
“Aye, captain,” Sam replied and scurried out of the cabin.
“You finally decided to wake up. It’s only taken you three days,” the captain stated. “Do you have a name?”
Kal made another futile attempt at speaking. He placed his hand on his throat in an attempt to tell the captain his voice wasn’t working.
“You’re mute?” the captain asked. Kal shook his head.
“You do know your name, straight?” This time Kal nodded.
“Here, write down your name.” He handed Kal a piece of charcoal and pointed at the board on the wall. Kal shook his head and handed the coal back.
“You’re unwilling to tell me your name?” Again, Kal shook his head.
“You can’t write?”
“But you carry the insignia of a bard and your sack of belongings contains a lyre and a flute. Are they yours?” Kal shook his head at first and then nodded, a tear in his eyes.
Sam entered without knocking and placed a bowl in Kal’s hand. Kal gave him a grateful look and a smile.
“When you’re done eating, come on deck. Everyone here works. We can use an extra pair of hands to gut and salt fish.” Kal nodded again and began to eat.
For the next fortnight, Kal spent his waking bells gutting fish and placing them in barrels of salt. His skills as a sailor and fisherman returned quickly, which pleased the captain. Every night Kal lay in his hammock and dreamt of Simona. It was the same dream every time. He was chasing after her. Unable to reach his beloved, he tripped and fell. Every morning he found himself on the floor, much to the amusement of the others. When he finally had a voice again, he answered to the captain’s satisfaction the questions about how he had ended up in the sailboat and why he carried the belongings of a bard with him. He didn’t lie to his rescuers, but he didn’t tell them that he had helped Simona steal a statue for the purpose of throwing it into the sea and thereby saving a town from a curse.
A sennight later, the ship returned to its home port. When the first shouts of “Land ho!” had reached his ears he felt saddened. He didn’t want the voyage to end. While the crew had gazed upon the shore, Kal had directed his view to the sea where Simona was, ignoring the passing land. He longed for her and more than once had he considered jumping overboard in the middle of the night. Each time his own cowardice had prevented him from following through.
Kal had been so absorbed in his thoughts about Simona that he hadn’t paid any attention to where the vessel was heading nor had he bothered asking the crew where they were from. As he glanced towards the town they were approaching, something about the harbor struck Kal as familiar and he looked at it in surprise. It had a striking similarity to his former hometown, yet it was different. Ten years had passed since he’d last seen his hometown’s harbor from sea. This harbor had a larger dock area and some of the buildings he remembered were no longer visible. Could this be the town he had left so many years ago? Kal swallowed hard.
“Hey, Kal!” The captain’s voice sounded angry. “Everyone here helps docking the ship. Move it!”
Kal jerked around and nearly tripped over his own feet. Some of the crew laughed. He gave them a twisted smile. Moments later, he was busy tying down the sails. By midday the ship was tied at the dock and the unloading began.
“No, it can’t be Armand. It’s just another port,” he thought as he stared at the docks before assisting the crew. He shook his head briefly and then focused on his work, banishing all thoughts about his hometown.
As soon as all the barrels with salted fish were transferred onto the dock, Kal was called into the captain’s cabin. He was surprised to receive pay for his three sennights of work and a job offer.
“Where are we?” Kal asked the captain after he had pocketed his earnings.
“Armand,” was the simple answer and Kal felt the blood drain from his face.
“I will consider your offer to hire on permanently, but first I have some unfinished business to attend to,” Kal said and turned to leave the captain’s cabin.
“We’ll leave for our next trip a sennight from today. If you decide to sail with us, let me know within three days and then report for duty the night before.”
“Thank you.” Kal bowed. He walked back to his sleeping place and picked up his bag. He was back in Armand, his hometown. “Of all the places on Makdiar, I had to end up back here,” he muttered as he made his way down the gangplank.
Kal walked along familiar streets for over a bell before he realized in which direction he was heading. As he set foot in the street that harbored his parents’ house, he hesitated, debating with himself whether or not to proceed. “I might as well find out now if they’re still unforgiving.” Taking in a deep breath, he continued on.
The house looked just as he remembered it: reef grass grew over the tiles on the roof, the fore garden had a single rosebush, and the rest of it was various herbs. The blackberry bush he had loved so much as a child still grew along the south side of the building. Two boys were playing in the front yard. He was about to address them, when they looked up and then hurried inside the house. He smiled. Kal thought briefly of his younger sisters Keana, Kaylee, and Koryn and wondered if they were still living with their parents. Kal walked up to the door and knocked.
“Who’s there?” a female voice asked. Kal smiled.
“It’s Kalanu, mother,” he answered. “May I come in?”
“We don’t know anyone by the name of Kalanu.” A harsh male voice responded from inside. “Go away and don’t come back!”
“I don’t have a son by that name!”
Kal dropped his chin to his chest and stared at the ground. He briefly considered pleading with his father, but decided otherwise. It wouldn’t make a difference. As Kal stepped away from the house, he heard his mother arguing with his father, but to no avail. “I should have known better,” he thought. “Father won’t forgive me, ever. I could have spared myself, and mother, the pain of returning.” He wiped a lone tear from his face.
Kal made his way back towards the docks. For a while, he considered staying at the Harbor Inn, but then he remembered that just about every sailor who didn’t have family in town stayed there. Not wanting to socialize with rowdy seamen and answer their questions or get involved with one of the barmaids for the night, he decided to seek out the Broken Barge, one of the better taverns in Armand and further away from the docks.
It was close to nightfall when Kal opened the door of the tavern and entered. The room was filled with people. He was searching for a place to sit down when he noticed a man alone at a table. The man was dressed in traveling clothing: brown pants, white tunic, and a sleeveless, brown vest. His brown hair was shoulder-long, with bangs that covered his eyebrows, but didn’t hide his blue eyes. As Kal came closer, he noticed the man wore the pendant of a bard. Kal swallowed hard and tightened the grip on the bag he was holding. He closed his eyes for a moment and thought of Simona.
“Sit down and join me,” the man said and pointed at one of the empty chairs. “My name is Tray.”
“Thank you,” Kal replied and sat down. “I am Kal.”
“You look like you have a story to tell, Kal,” Tray said and gestured the barmaid to bring a tankard of ale.
“Why do you say that?” Kal looked directly at the bard.
“Everyone has a story to tell. I’m traveling to collect these stories so they won’t be forgotten. Many of the men here have shared their adventures already. I also see you carry a bag containing a lyre, yet you are no bard, nor do your hands know how to play the instrument. Straight?”
Kal looked at his hands as if he hadn’t seen them before. The ropes on the ship had left their mark, as had the knife he’d been using to gut fish. His hands still carried the smell of salted fish. He nodded.
“Would you care to share your story?” Tray pressed on.
Kal thought, “What do I have to lose?” He reached for the tankard of ale the barmaid had placed in front of him, took several sips, and continued his thoughts. “Father still harbors his grudge, which means I probably won’t be able to hire on next sennight. By then the captain will have heard all about me and won’t have anything to do with me. My father will make sure no one will give me work here.”
“I will share my story. It is not just my story; so many others are part of it. I will need time to tell.”
“Take your time,” Tray encouraged him and then announced with a loud voice, “This young man here is willing to share his story.”
Within a mene the noise in the room quieted and everyone looked at Kal. He picked up his tankard and drank more of his ale, then took a deep breath and began to speak.
“I am Kalanu. I have a story to tell. I’m no bard, but I will do my best. My last name? It’s not important, not anymore. Not since my father disowned me and threw me out of his house. That was a decade ago. I haven’t seen my family since.
“My hometown is Armand, this beautiful port right here by the Valenfaer Ocean, where the Grenweir River finds the sea. My father was, and probably still is, a fisherman, captain of the Bountiful Catch. I was his only son and so he took me to sea with him from the moment I was old enough to hold a knife and gut fish. I thought I was destined to follow my father’s footsteps and I made every effort to please him, but it was never good enough. I wasn’t the best in mending the nets, and I wasn’t the fastest in climbing to the lookout; in fact, I wasn’t best in anything, and I couldn’t win any competition. Father saw this as a failure and always let me know I had to do better.
“My father had one obsession, which was to find and kill a beast he called Misting Blinder. The way he described it, the beast was the length of ten fishing boats and blue in color. With one wave of its tail, it could sink a ship, and when it opened its mouth, it could swallow the entire catch contained in the largest net. The beast was able to spray water in a way that it would blind the people on a ship long enough for the creature to vanish into the depths of the ocean. Father claimed that he had lost his catch more than once to this beast of the sea. Neither I nor the crew could confirm his story. We hadn’t seen the beast.
“Inwardly, I laughed when father told the story of how he had first laid eyes upon the beast, and so did just about every sailor in town. No one else had ever seen such a creature. But things changed when a crew of eight entered the tavern my father was in and told a similar story. He organized a hunting party of three ships to search for the beast and take it down. I was in my sixteenth year and tried to persuade my father not to go. ‘If the beast is truly as dangerous as you describe,’ I argued, ‘then we should run from it.’ Father called me a coward. I didn’t want to go, but father forced me.
“We had searched for over a fortnight and were nearly out of fresh water when a creature surfaced next to our ship. It was the largest creature I’d ever seen. Its eyes were tiny, only about the size of a curled up cat, compared to the rest of the body; its mouth ran the entire length of our ship. I stared at the creature and it stared back at me. Then it sprayed water from the top of its head and I was soaking wet, so was every other man standing nearby. It got their attention. Suddenly, there was a lot of running and yelling. Everyone but me got busy readying the large harpoon they had put on the ship for exactly that moment. The other two ships turned and soon we had the beast encircled. To me it looked like the creature was watching us with amusement. It opened its mouth and that’s when I noticed that the beast had no teeth. Instead it had something hairlike hanging from the roof of its mouth. It looked like it was laughing at me! It was then that I realized this was no dangerous beast.
“I ran to my father and tried to stop him from pulling the trigger on the ballista and prevent him from launching the harpoon, but it was too late. Almost simultaneously, all three ships sent their harpoons into the creature’s back. As if to punish me, the creature shot me a painful look, bucked like a horse that is throwing its rider, and dove under, its back bleeding.
“When I saw the pain the beast was in, I took a knife and cut the line attached to the harpoon so it dropped into the sea. In retrospect, my reaction had probably been our salvation, because the creature took the other two ships with it, and all but a few hands were lost. My father, however, didn’t see it as our saving, but as the reason for our failure. He argued that if our ship had been attached as well, the beast wouldn’t have been able to pull the ships under. In his opinion, I had failed him again, and so he disowned me, threw me out of the house, and ran me out of town.
“I had no idea what to do next. I wouldn’t be able to set foot in my hometown for a long time; my father made sure of that. It hurt, not to be able to say good-bye to my sisters. I miss them, especially Keana. We were close …” Kal’s voice trailed off and for a moment was silent. Wiping his nose on his sleeve, he continued.
“I decided to go to Magnus. At first I followed the river, hoping that further up I’d find work, but it seemed that my father’s influence was greater than I had thought possible. I gave up and turned my back on the river. I would have loved to travel by boat, but none of the sailors or fishermen would give me passage in exchange for work. So I walked, living off the land. I nearly starved before I found wild berries and nuts at the edge of the forest. I didn’t know how to set traps for animals, start a fire, or cook; that was women’s work, at least in my father’s eyes, and so I hadn’t learned the skills my sisters had. Eventually, I crossed paths with a traveling monk who taught me to set traps, skin an animal, cook, and, most importantly, how to make a fire without setting the forest aflame.
“I arrived in Magnus about a year after my departure from Armand. I had learned to steal what I needed and made use of that in the city until I found work with a smith named Nai. He told me I was too skinny to work the hammer and anvil just yet, and so I spent two years tending to the fire and polishing the swords, knives, and other tools he made.
“Many of Nai’s customers were bards. I admired these people and loved to listen to the stories they told and the songs they sang. Whenever time permitted, I went to the marketplace, where I was sure I could find a performing bard. It was on one of these outings that I saw her, a beautiful black-haired girl, a student at the College of Bards. She was at the place of punishment, with a whole group of students, witnessing the hanging of a woman who had been accused of killing her own child. Instead of watching the execution as I had intended, I watched the girl. She seemed appalled and broke into tears after the deed was done. It wasn’t for another two years that I would come to find out who the girl was.
“In the meantime, I continued to be Nai’s apprentice. I had no talent, and I knew it. I could barely fit a horse with new shoes. Why Nai kept me, I never found out. Nai had a wonderful wife and they loved each other. When she became pregnant after long years of being childless, Nai was beside himself with joy and wished for a son. What he got was a daughter, but not for long. Nai’s wife died in childbirth, and a sennight later the baby followed. Grief-stricken, Nai neglected his duties and took to drinking.
“I tried to keep the smithy up, but without Nai’s help there was little I could do, and soon there were no more customers. Nai didn’t seem to care, so I packed my bags. I waited for Nai’s return from his latest drinking binge to tell him I was leaving, but he had a surprise for me. Not only did he return sober from the tavern, he also brought a black-haired young woman with him. Her lips were painted blue to match her eyes and she wore the insignia of a bard. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was the girl from the market: the one I hadn’t been able to forget since I had first laid eyes upon her two years earlier.
“Nai introduced her as Simona Molag and informed me that she’d be traveling to Dargon and he intended to accompany her. He invited me to travel with them. There was no doubt in my mind that I’d be joining them, and I asked for our departure time.
“Simona answered that question. Her voice left a melody in my mind. I barely slept that night. My mind was thinking of ways to make her mine. Simona kept her distance though, and slowly our threesome turned into heartfelt friendship. I found out soon enough that Simona was on a mission. She had been separated from her mother and twin sister, Megan, when she was only six years old and was searching for them. Our journey was filled with obstacles. Every time Simona thought she would get some information about the whereabouts of her mother and sister, she was disappointed.
“It took us almost a year to travel from Magnus to Dargon. Simona was close to giving up hope of ever finding her family when we spent the night at Spirit’s Haven, an inn in Dargon. May, the owner of this inn, was able to tell Simona that her sister Megan was on her way to Hawksbridge. She had lived at Spirit’s Haven for several months with her injured husband, Raphael. After a fight with her husband, Megan had left with May’s daughter to visit relatives.
“We continued our travels, this time knowing which direction to go. Simona had been happy and we made good time despite the onset of winter. We were somewhere in the Darst Range when we lost our way and arrived at a tower in the middle of the forest. The place looked like a battlefield. An old man and a young boy were dead. A cat sat on the old man’s chest; it seemed to cry. A bit further lay another man with a wolf at his side. Sitting close by, with her back leaning against the tower, was a red-haired woman, barely breathing. Simona ran to the woman’s side and cradled her in her arms, sobbing. She had found her sister. In the last few menes of her life, Megan told her twin where she could find their mother.
“Heartbroken, Simona cremated her sister as well as her sister’s husband and the other two dead people there. Neither Nai nor I were able to ease her pain. We continued our journey to Hawksbridge, where Simona’s mother was supposed to live. For once we were lucky. When we arrived in town, the local midwife Elena showed us the way, and we had no problems finding Anna. Nai and I watched from afar as Simona met her mother after nearly sixteen years.
“We spent the winter and spring in Hawksbridge, and Nai showed quite some interest in Anna. Simona and I took to the woods on occasion; however, most of the time, Simona set off alone. She carried with her a bag of scrolls on which she documented her knowledge of a curse affecting her family. Nai and I spent time fixing up Anna’s house and chopping firewood. My skills as a hunter hadn’t really improved in all the years, so Nai set the traps. I was happy, thinking I could live in a town like Hawksbridge and settle down, maybe have a family. I was still hoping that Simona would be mine one day, and with Nai showing so much interest in Anna, that hope grew stronger each day. I — we should have never left Hawksbridge. I should have stopped her!”
Kal picked up his tankard of ale and emptied it halfway. His hand reached for the belt in his bag and he pulled it out for everyone to see. He stared at it for a moment and then placed it on the table in front of him.
“Keep talking, I want to hear what happened next,” someone in the audience said.
“Straight, continue on!”
Kal took another sip of his ale and placed the tankard back on the table next to the belt. His fingers stroked over the fine leather of the belt before he rested them on the buckle. His voice quivered slightly as he resumed his story.
“Simona insisted we take a trip to Northern Hope. She came back from one of her solitary trips into the woods determined to leave her mother’s house. She wanted to find a mage to lift her family’s curse. Simona convinced Nai to stay behind with her mother and help her with the harvest. She had wanted to be back before winter. And so we set out to Northern Hope. For the first time since our arrival in Hawksbridge, Simona donned the garments that identified her as a bard.
“I was thrilled. I got to spend several months with Simona, away from prying eyes and awkward questions. I took my chances and succeeded. Finally, the girl of my hopes and dreams was mine. In my mind I planned ahead, planned for the time we’d be back in Hawksbridge. Nothing would ever come between her and me. The trip to Northern Hope took a sennight longer than anticipated; the closer we got to our destination, the more accidents we experienced. We lost half of our food supply, Simona slipped and slid halfway down the mountain, and I injured my ankle, which slowed us down, but we still reached the town. Simona had explained that she needed to find a powerful mage to help her lift the family curse.
“Anyway, once we arrived in town, Simona found the mage Anarr. I wasn’t too impressed with him. He was conceited, arrogant, and certainly wasn’t able to help Simona. When we approached him for assistance, he yelled at Simona. He brushed her off in a manner that would have forced me to duel had I any skill with the sword. All I could do then was stand back in frustration. Simona didn’t give up and managed to actually talk to him and he told her he’d try to help her after the town festival. Anarr had been able to lift the curse from Northern Hope and the people celebrated. Simona gave a wonderful performance at the festival. At the inn where Anarr was staying he took Simona to his room and tried to lift the curse, but he failed. So he asked her to accompany him to Kenna with his hired hand Edmond. I wouldn’t have stayed behind, even if he’d tried to keep me away.
“Edmond seemed more concerned with a statue he was transporting and the mule he was guiding than anything else. During our first days of travel, Anarr spent all of his time with Simona, talking to her. He brushed me off every time I tried to come closer. One of the nights, he took Simona into the forest for another attempt to lift the curse. I tried to follow, but Edmond held me back. I gave in, knowing that if I ruined it for Simona, she might not forgive me. Nonetheless I felt angry, frustrated, and most of all jealous. How would I know if Anarr only had honorable intentions with my beloved? I didn’t trust that mage, but she needed his help. I prayed to Stevene that he would be successful this time, but when I saw the two of them emerge from the forest, I knew he had fa iled again. Worse, he looked all sweaty and frustrated and was walking stiffly. I feared the worst and Simona wouldn’t answer me. I tried to comfort her that night, but she wouldn’t let me. When I touched her face, it was all wet. Hot anger rose in me.
“The following evening we arrived in Kenna. Anarr again only had a snide remark for me and I was about to take him on, but Simona stopped me. I think Anarr was trying to leave me behind, but Simona insisted I come along. We left the next morning for Dargon. Anarr had booked passage on a river barge for all of us. We boarded and seated ourselves at the front of the boat. It was my first time back on a boat since my father had thrown me out.
“Anarr again spent a lot of time with Simona and I spent my time with the crew. It helped; I wasn’t feeling quite as useless and jealous, and I got to watch over her. Anarr tried for a third time to lift the curse, but failed again. I was glad to see him leave the barge the next day, but at the same time it hurt to see my beloved suffer. Once Anarr had left, all sorts of mishaps befell our traveling companions on the barge. I’ll spare you the details. The day we arrived in Dargon, the barge hit the causeway and broke in half. The causeway itself collapsed. So many people died that day or were injured. Simona found out it had to do with the curse Anarr had lifted off Northern Hope and the statue Edmond had brought with him to Dargon. It had to be warded in order to be safe and somehow the warding was gone.
“Dargon got its share of misfortune over the course of the next couple of days. Anarr was nowhere in sight to lift the curse again. Simona and I figured out where the statue was and decided to remove it from Dargon to prevent further accidents and mishaps. We succeeded in obtaining the statue as well as a sailboat and took off. I don’t remember how long we were at sea when we got into a storm. The wind kept pushing us further away from Dargon and I worried that our food supply would run out before we could reach land again. The storm got worse and I was thinking it would be a good time to get rid of the statue and told Simona. She said we needed to get even further away, but I felt we were far enough away so Dargon would be safe from the statue’s curse. It was then that a huge wave washed over the boat and < a href=”/bin/gl.pl?2607″>Simona and the statue fell overboard.”
Kal swallowed hard as he remembered his futile attempts to find Simona and pull her back on board. It was as if the sea had mocked him by showing him her face repeatedly, yet keeping her out of his reach. He reached for his tankard and emptied it.
“How did you survive?” a voice from the audience asked. Kal looked up, but couldn’t identify the speaker.
“I don’t know how long I drifted. The mast had broken and without sail and oars I had no hope of making it back ashore. A fishing boat found me and its crew were kind enough to take me onboard. After I had somewhat recovered, I joined the crew until we arrived back here. I debarked and went to my father’s house, but found that even after a decade, he still denies my existence.”
“What will you do next?”
“I’m not sure,” Kal replied. “I had hoped to hire on the ship that found me, but I have doubts that the crew will still want me, once everyone knows my story. My father’s influence in this town may still be as strong as it was a decade ago. There is also the matter of my friends in Hawksbridge. They deserve to know what happened to Simona.”
“Why don’t you stay with us?” A blonde woman in a green dress stepped forward and Kal’s eyes went wide.
“Keana? Is it really you?”
“At least you still recognize your sister,” Keana grinned and embraced her brother. “Just know that not everyone here thinks like father, and many men owe their lives to you. When you cut that rope you freed the ship and the people on board were able to come back home. My husband Jeffrey here owns the inn; his father is one of those men who survived that hunt for the beast. You can stay with us as long as you like! I know mother will be delighted and maybe in time father will, too.”
Kal smiled and let go of his sister’s embrace. Tears of joy ran down his face, but he barely noticed them. He turned to Tray.
“Might I ask you to write a letter for me? I’d like to let Nai and Anna know what happened.”
“I’ll do better,” Tray replied. “I will travel to Hawksbridge and bring them the message myself. Do you know if Simona kept records? This curse you mentioned interests me. I’d like to find out more about it.”
“She had a bag of scrolls which she left with her mother. All her other belongings are in this bag: her lyre and flute and a few other items. Will you return them to her mother?”
“Thank you, Tray,” Kal said, and as an afterthought he added. “You may also want to look for Anarr. He may have some answers for you. He talked for a long time with Simona. He was headed for Dargon to meet Simona and me, but never showed up.”
Kal placed the belt carefully back in the bag, tied it, and handed it to Tray. As Tray took the bag with Simona’s belongings, Kal felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. He turned to look into his sister’s smiling face and thought, “Not all is lost; maybe I can rebuild my life here.”