"Let me tell you how it was," Esaul began. "How they tried to cure me of my freedom. How they wanted me to be blind because it's easy to rob a blind man."
Father and daughter sat around a crackling fire in the dark woods. Esaul found a flat outcrop on the western side of the mountain they climbed to shake the bounty hunters. Sera nearly lost her footing on the wet leaves, but her father raced through the pines in the pitch darkness like a jackal. The trek left her exhausted. The outcrop offered no overhead shelter, just slippery rock and teeming darkness falling over either side. Sitting on the mountain, Sera heard no birds nor insects and saw no colors. Apart from the bloom of light from the fire, they sat suspended in ink.
Sera kept stealing sideways looks at her father. Her father looked off into the distance as he recounted his daring escape from privilege.
"They told me what to eat, where to live, how to dress, and what to breathe." The older man poked at the two roasting ptarmigans on a spit above the fire. His obsidian knife chipped off a sliver of crispy skin and sighed heartily as he ate. "Wish there was someone to kill for some salt," he muttered.
Sera produced a tin of marsh salts from her pack. "Here," she said, tossing the tin over the fire.
"That grandmother of yours tried to turn me into some kind of palace eunuch." Esaul gestured at his daughter with the knife. "Magritte never liked me, and she knew how to get under my skin."
"Magritte doesn't like me, either," Sera admitted. "She turned all her attention to Henrik and Elig after they were born."
"Who the hell are Henrik and Elig?" Esaul pulled the two browned birds off the fire and pushed them off the spit. On a bed of fresh broad-leaves, he expertly sliced apart the steaming flesh and set aside the cooked organ meats. He busied with cutting the meat into bite-sized chunks and occasionally popped a few morsels in his mouth.
Sera's mouth watered, and she realized how hungry she was, but kept her composure and looked around their small camp instead. "They're mom and Alon's twin sons."
"Who the fuck is Alon?" Esaul stopped his task and looked at Sera.
"Mom's husband for the past 15 years. Didn't you know?" Aurélienne had encouraged her children to write to their wayward father about their lives. At first, Sera believed that it was an attempt to coax Esaul back home.
Armored men on dark, lathering steeds arrived every few months to gather a care package with the children's' letters and rode off to what Sera believed was his official garrison. After a few years of unrequited correspondence, her brothers and sisters stopped writing altogether. Sera continued and believed in the stories her mother told her of her lost warrior husband, that he was only a year away from coming home.
"How was I supposed to know if I've been fighting across the entire continent?" Esaul pinched up one broad leaf-laden with cooked meat and handed it to his daughter.
"Didn't you get our letters? The care packages? I wrote to you for years." Sera gratefully tucked into her ptarmigan, eating the protein and iron-rich organ meats first to boost her blood levels and alleviate fatigue. She forced herself to eat slowly, and sip from her canteen after a few bites to prevent stomach cramps. The fat birds dripped with oil and flavor. Sera finally felt she could relax.
"You mean the bounty hunters your mother sent after me? Same ones hunting now." Esaul ate with his knife, scraping the meat off the blade. "They came to drag me back to your mother, dead or alive."
Esaul recounted how he met a man on the highway between Sephiros and Adema. The man blocked the road with his horse and smiled calmly as he handed Esaul a sealed letter with Aurélienne's wax stamp of a curled badger.