Home Front

Moltiarna, Alzair. Ligarkan District

Hardik was hard at work in his small apothecary shop just behind his home. The Zheta family, acquaintances through Hardik’s wife, had sent someone with a rather large order. He didn’t really know what the medicines were for, though the Zheta’s servant had been inclined to posit theories. Tilde, his wife, was a well-decorated Ligark warrior, as was Elin, the eldest daughter of the Zheta family. Hardik’s own medicines could very well be sent to the front to heal Alzair’s brave wounded soldiers. It filled him with pride.

The shop’s door opened and then shut, but Hardik was too preoccupied to hear his name being called out. Not until it was repeated in a tone sharper than a knife.

He knew that voice. It had been a year and a half since Tilde had been home, but he’d recognize it anywhere.

“I’m coming!” He shouted. Hardik hurriedly set his tools onto his worktable and strode onto the main part of the shop. There his wife stood, beautiful in her ruggedness, what with her travel clothes all rumpled and dusty. He didn’t quite know what to say, so he started with the obvious. “You’re home.”

“Indeed. I went into the house and found it empty. I’m not surprised to find you here, but where are the children?”

Tilde didn’t quite approve of his apothecary, fearing that it would take too much time away from him when his place was raising the next generation. She’d agreed to it, eventually, and tolerated his work because it offered some extra income, but every time Tilde found him in here, Hardik could see in her face that she wasn’t pleased. She didn’t really like the children in here helping him, either.

“Myzeki took them out for an afternoon stroll,” he told his wife.

Not knowing how long Tilde would be able to stay, and wanting to make the most of the time he did have with her, Hardik almost suggested that they take advantage of the empty house. But Tilde, crestfallen, turned her back to him and said, “That’s unfortunate. Our guest had been looking forward to meet Astra and Margaux.”

Astra was their eldest daughter, just shy of adulthood. Margaux was their youngest, at only five years of age. Their two sons, Finn and Loris, were the middle two, and were also shaping up to be fine additions to society, but Tilde was most proud of Astra’s accomplishments and most hopeful for Margaux’s. After all, with any luck, they’d both take after their mother and pick up arms to defend the kingdom. Finn and Loris would marry, and support their wives’ endeavors, but they would not hold a sword themselves. God almighty save them all if it ever the day came that the women were not there to defend them.

“Our guest?” Hardik said with a start. It dawned on him that he was about to hear the reason for his wife’s sudden arrival. He hurried after her.

Tilde noted that he was once again by her side, and began to speak. “The man’s name is Besdett of House Athselt and he is here under our Queen’s protection. He poisoned Princess Aliz of Garizal, and although he was caught, he managed to escape. I’ve been charged with keeping him safe during the journey.”

“He is here?” Hardik asked.

“Yes. Although if I would have known you had let the house fall into disrepair during my absence, I would not have brought him.”

Hardik blushed. “I’m sorry, Tilde. I had not known you were coming, and Nyoku has disappeared, so Myzeki and Osgarek have been hard-pressed to pick up his slack.”

“Nyoku has disappeared?”

The house had drawn near now and as Hardik gave his answer, Tilde strode the last few steps and opened the door. “Yes,” he told her. “Four nights ago, he left to purchase a few supplies for the house and didn’t return.”

“He probably ran off with our coin,” she remarked. “Well, consider him gone for good. We can’t be short-staffed when we have a guest in the house. You will go out today to find his replacement, and get the place clean before my return this evening.”

“Yes, dear. Shall I introduce myself to your guest before I go?”

Tilde shook her head. “You look a mess, Hardik, having been in your shop. No, I’ll tell him everyone is out so you have a chance to make a better first impression this evening.”

Hardik flinched a little at the harshness of her words. He hadn’t thought he looked so bad, but now that she mentioned it, he noticed small stains on his clothing and he noticed how ragged they looked.

“I’ll go find Nyoku’s replacement now, I suppose.” He paused in the hallway.

Tilde nodded to show she heard, but did not slow. She couldn’t keep her charge waiting. “We’ll have three extra people tonight,” she called over her shoulder. “Two other Ligarks are with me. Move the boys into the girls’ room, and make sure Osgarek provides a suitable dinner tonight.”

With that, she was gone, leaving Hardik broken-hearted that he should be so pleased to see his wife return, only for her to begin criticizing him immediately.


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