Unilus woke, got some berries and dried meat out of his pack, and walked over to Dragatu. The noise interrupted the deep reflection and stopped Dragatu’s thoughts. With this sudden awakening Dragatu realised how tired he was.
Unilus sat down and handed him some meat and berries. There was silence between them, which wasn’t unusual as most conversation occurred when Phoenon was involved. However Unilus eventual broke the silence,
“At least we found the water. One day it might supply the nation with the water we need. I imagine a great aqueduct and channel system could transport it across the desert.”
Dragatu wanted to shout at him. It was not worth the loss they had suffered. Unilus had his priorities all wrong, he thought to himself. But he didn’t have the energy to argue and knew it was just Unilus’ way of seeing the logic in a situation without accounting for emotion. It was just his way of trying to be optimistic, but it just annoyed Dragatu. It also made Dragatu feel even more tired and he used it as the excuse to get away from this topic of conversation and away from his brother.
“Can you keep watch?”
“Thanks. Wake me after the sun has been down for a couple of hours and then we will start the journey back.”
Unilus nodded and Dragatu grabbed his pack, walked about five metres away from Unilus, and lay down falling asleep quickly because he was so drained.
His dreams repeated the tragic event of the previous night and he was thankful when he realised the repeating of his name in the dream was Unilus waking him. He woke up quickly with this realization and breathed deeply, grateful for a different surrounding than the forest his mind had decided to trap him in.
He saw that Phoenon was awake and sitting where he had when he had kept watch and reflected. Unilus was standing by his pack lifting it up on to his back.
“Thanks,” Dragatu mumbled. His muscles ached slightly from all the running but his mind was aching more from the disbelief that this adventure had turned into a living nightmare.
He then picked up his pack and watched as Phoenon followed him and Unilus in this. They were ready to start the long journey back.
Little was said as they walked, just the odd consoling words from Dragatu and Unilus to Phoenon. Dragatu took the lead setting the pace. He was trying to move as quickly as possible to get home faster but had to keep considering Phoenon’s lack of fitness. He forced himself to slow down when he heard Phoenon breathing heavily and they only stopped when it was a necessity. On the long journey they each found their own ways to keep their minds occupied and tried to ignore the seemingly never ending landscape of sand around them.
Dragatu’s mind continued with where he had left off only half a day before. He thought about how they had rested at that same place with their father and then climbed the hills, stopping on the top to view the valley before them. Beyond that they could see all the hills and valleys and finally the snow topped mountains in the distance were only noticeable because it was a clear day. They had been stunned by the sight and it had been a happy moment for them all. They had bonded and felt closer to one another because of the rarity and uniqueness of this experience
Then they had walked east descending the hill and entering the forests keeping their eyes peeled for any large lakes and wild beasts.
Dragatu was mainly listening and looking for wild beasts to track and hunt for food and sport. They had managed to kill a few bores and one pretty big bear. However their father had been strict and told them not to hunt anything unless he said it was okay and a few times he told them to stay still and hide to allow bigger animals to pass because they were too dangerous.
Five days past in the valley and they finally came to the north hills and they saw a few lions that they knew sometimes ventured across the desert and attacked farmers live stock.
It was just such a wondrous adventure up to that point. They were all excited about how they would have so many stories to tell their friends when they got back home.
However no water had been found at this time and they circled back a long the west side hoping to find some there. Then after still finding nothing they were a days walk from the exit and going home, when they had heard the first howl of that giant wolf.
“That sounds close?” Their father had said.
“Do you think it’s a pack of wolves?” Dragatu had asked.
“I don’t hear any reply to the first howl so it must be one wolf, which is strange. I’m also worried because we haven’t seen any other animals recently and no birds singing either.” He stopped to think. Then continued shaking his head, “It’s probably just a wolf that has been kicked out the pack and having to make it alone. It won’t be any trouble for us.”
They continued walking and then the howl was very close and it was louder than any wolf howl they had ever heard.
“That’s unusual,” their father had said, “Maybe we should pick up the pace boys,” He took his bow from off his shoulder and drew and arrow, “and keep yourselves alert and tell me if you see a wolf.”
They walked for another minute in silence then suddenly there was a flash off white that contrasted against the black of night and they all stopped with the confusion as to what it could be that they had seen.
“Stay behind me.” Their father said keeping a mono tone voice so he did not show the level of his fear and concern.
Dragatu and Unilus drew their hunting knives in a swift motion and Phoenon stumbled with his. There was another howl and it was about thirty metres in front of them, yet the darkness still rapped the unknown animal that howled like a wolf but was louder, faster and white like no wolf they had ever seen.
Then there was a snarling and out of the darkness crept the biggest wolf they had ever seen. It was the size of a horse and had a look of pure aggression. It continued to walk slowly forward, confused by these four new things in front of it that smelt so different from anything it had encountered.
After the surprise of seeing such a beast and accepting that such a thing existed their father responded as quickly as he could. He drew his bow and the arrow whistled as he released it. The wolf saw it and moved with great speed. The arrow hit the wolf in its left hind leg but sliced through the flesh and was not on target enough to stick into the muscle.
The wolf snarled louder and circled back the way it had come and Dragatu and Unilus stayed on their father’s right side and Phoenon was behind them shaking with fear but trying so hard to be brave like his brothers and father.
Another arrow had been drawn and the wolf began to advance at a phenomenal rate. Again the arrow whistled through the air and Dragatu stood ready to challenge the beast, the adrenaline pumping through his veins. The arrow was on target but the wolf moved swift and the arrow missed and stuck into a tree. The wolf reached them and just as it was about to reach Dragatu his father acted quickly. He had thrown the bow aside and the arrow he had drawn was in his had and he threw himself at the wolf and stabbed at its head.
The wolf had just noticed the attack a split second before he was going to bite at Dragatu and it whipped its head fast to try and knock their father over. However as it did the arrow sliced down the face of the wolf cutting deep over its eye and jaw. The momentum of the wolf’s sharp turn of its head still managed to knock their father off his feet and he landed right next to his bow.
The wolf then turned back towards Dragatu, Unilus and Phoenon and just as it was about to make its attack on Dragatu for a second time, an arrow hit the wolf right above the tail and it yelped with pain, then howled with frustration and anger. It turned to see where the pain had come from and then cautiously moved forward towards the culprit who had caused that pain.
“Protect your brothers Dragatu! Get them home! And remember your promises!” Then their father turned and sprinted away from them as fast as he could drawing the second last arrow and turning as he ran firing it. It hit the wolf again but this one only sliced the flesh like the first and it did not bury itself in the wolf.
Dragatu could only watch as his father and the wolf disappeared. He wanted to follow him and help his dad, but the last words had stopped him. He had to protect his brothers now. His father needed him to do that and that is what had to be done
These memories were repeated over and over again as they walked through the sand by night, and slept by day. Dragatu tortured himself wondering if he could have done more to help his father. He played a thousand different scenarios in his mind and most of them were fictitious, concluding in him killing the wolf and saving his father. Deep down he knew that would never have happened and he had to try and accept that there was nothing more he could have done. It was better he and his brothers survived.
He told himself his father was even more of a hero because he had sacrificed himself for them. However all this did not help the pain and emptiness he felt from such a great loss.
On top of all this there was the consolation prize from this horror. He often sarcastically repeated in his mind the words Unilus had spoken, “At least we found the water.” It angered him and he knew he would trade finding the water for getting his father back with out a second thought. All he wanted was his father back, but as the days past he was starting to come to terms that he never would.
His saving thought in all of the pain and chaos was not the water, it was that he was going to keep his promises and he decided he was going to keep his journal. He promised himself he was going to protect his brothers and this was the only way he could think of to honour his father. He wasn’t going to let him down in this.
Finally the sand turned once again to mud and then grass and this brought them all back to reality. They had become fixed in the seemingly never ending routine of walking, resting, eating, sleeping, sleeping, eating, resting, walking and now there was something that was different and it became like an awakening for them.
It was the early hours of the morning when they reached the first farm house and a farmer was just out getting ready for the days work when he saw them.
What a sight it was to see. The three of them looked so beaten, broken and scorched. The farmer ran inside and got his wife and they took the three boys inside and after a lot of water and food managed to get parts of the tale from them. Once they had heard the main parts of the story they pitied the boys with all the compassion they had in their hearts.
“You boys have been through the worst.” The farmer said. “We must get you to your mother.”
“They are in no state to be walking through the nation, just look a them. They look like they would faint before they got past the fields.” His wife said chastising him.
“Okay my wife. I was just thinking that these boys need their mother. I will send one of the workers to get her. They should be here soon.”
Dragatu just wanted to get home and get to his own bed but looked at Unilus and Phoenon and they were in no state to go on and he felt that even he would only just make it home before collapsing. While he looked at Phoenon he had contrasted the memories of him from before the ‘adventure’ and the difference was startling. He had nearly lost all his extra weight and Dragatu had never seen him look so unfed. However he knew in time Phoenon would probably regain his weight so he focused on what could be done now to help them.
“My brothers will need some sleep. Is it okay for them to use a bed or sofa to sleep on?”
“Of course dear. This way.” The farmer’s wife said.
Dragatu nodded to Unilus and Phoenon to follow.
“Are you not going to get some sleep?” Phoenon asked.
“I will wait until we are home and I will wake you when mum gets here.”
“Thank you,” Phoenon said and Dragatu could feel the extra emphasis to the words and it was an acknowledgement of all Dragatu had done and that he had got them home. Dragatu was content inside at the thought that he had got them home and thought to himself that he had kept his promise.
Dragatu then sat with his eyes shut because he wanted the farmer’s wife to sense that he was not in the mood for chatting. She had already got the basics of what had happened and he didn’t have the energy to give her every little detail that she appeared to want.
With his eyes shut he started to drift off and stopped himself several times but just as he was about to lose this battle his mum burst into the room.
“Where are they!?” She then saw Dragatu and she swallowed hard with the emotions of seeing her son so worn. “What has happened?” “Where is your father?”
Behind her stood the farmer and he spoke to Dragatu over her shoulder,
“I didn’t tell her. I thought it would be best if you told her.”
“Coward,” Dragatu thought and took a deep breath.
“He is dead.” He had become used to thinking this statement but saying it was still really hard and to see the expression on his mothers face almost made even him lose control of his ‘weakness’ and cry, but he held it in.
“How?” Was her weakly uttered response and Dragatu gave her the story and she wept for her loss and what her children had suffered. When he finished there was a silence that was only filled with the odd sniff from his mother as she cried. She then composed herself as much as she could.
“How are your brothers?”
“Not good. Unilus is Unilus and will deal with it in his own way but Phoenon needs you more than he ever has.” She nodded with understanding and stood asking the farmer where the bedroom was that they were sleeping in.
She entered the room the farmer had showed her and Dragatu stood in the door way.
“It is a shame to wake them. This must be the only solace they get.” Their mother whispered.
“Do not be so sure that their sleep is peaceful.” Dragatu said quite coldly remembering the frequent nightmares he had about that night.
She looked at him inquisitively, then realised his meaning and nodded once. She then woke Unilus and Phoenon. As Phoenon woke and saw her he threw himself into her arms and began to cry.
“It will be okay,” she said trying to console him. Unilus got up and sat on his bed. A few moment’s past.
“We should get home.” Dragatu said. This was mainly because he wanted to get home so he could finally sleep. The rest here had barley rejuvenated him and now that his brothers were under the protection of the nation and their mother he felt he could rest with some ease.
“Yes. You are right.” His mother said and let Phoenon out of her arms and walked over to Unilus. She looked him in the eyes then took his head in her hands and kissed him on the forehead. She then moved to Dragatu and hugged him whispering a quick, “thank you,” in his ear. It had so much love behind it but Dragatu barley comprehended its true worth and was just happy with some acknowledgement of all he had done and glad to see her again.
Their mother lead the way and they took some food and fresh water from the farm house. Their mother thanked the farmer and his wife almost too much and then they slowly made their way home.
Once again they didn’t talk much and the only conversation came from Phoenon as he tried to lift the mood, but even saying how they had found the water source and that father was a hero was not enough to console any of them. It was just too soon, but their mother humoured Phoenon and she knew what he was trying to do and loved him more for his compassion and efforts to try and help them all.
They arrived home and Unilus and Phoenon stayed with their mother for the company and feeling of security it brought. Dragatu however was spent and his mother saw it and when Unilus and Phoenon were out of ear shot said to him,
“You have done your father and me proud. Go rest now my son.”
He didn’t make any response but walked up the stairs to his bedroom and lay on the bed, not even pulling the covers over him, and he fell straight asleep. Yet once again his mind wasn’t able to rest and the wolf was their attacking them again.