Reigan hurried home on horseback. He was only half way through his week-long assignment at the airfield when he received the queen’s summons. To his family’s knowledge, he wasn’t due home for a few more days. He rode up to the path that lead to his house and allowed himself a moment to take in the sight. The house was no more than forty yards from where he was, but it seemed farther away to him. Or perhaps it was he that felt farther away. Between all the years of coming and going and knowing that he had to leave again it made him feel more like a traveler staying at an Inn than a man returning to his home.
He dismounted and lead the horse up the path. As he got closer to the house the sounds of battle grew louder and louder. The sounds of clashing and striking along with the wails of death filled his ears. Reigan smiled and opened the door. His six-year-old son and four-year-old daughter where caught in the middle of a duel. They had been fighting each other with their training swords. The children looked up to find their father standing in the doorway. They shouted for joy and ran to him. Seeing his children again reminded Reigan that this was indeed his home.
“Dad! We missed you!” said his son, Brand.
“Yeah! Brand has been training me with the sword!” Added his daughter, Signy.
Reigan laughed. The rest of the world seemed to fade when his children were in his arms.
“I can see that! I’m glad to know that our home is well protected. How have you been?”
“Good.” They said in unison.
“I’m glad to hear it. Where’s your mom?”
“She’s out back.” Said Brand.
“Alright you rascals, let me go say hi to your mom. We’ll talk more in a bit.”
He gave his children a kiss and left them to continue their duel. Being a knight had its perks in Hardhelm. Reigan’s family owned more property than most in Vokes. They lived just far enough away from the crowded city to be able to enjoy more of the region’s natural beauty.
Ayla was outside working in the garden. She was too busy to notice Reigan approaching. He didn’t mind not being seen. He enjoyed watching her for the moment. There was something soothing about the way she worked. She put her heart into everything that she did and he noticed it. He always felt grateful for having a woman like her in his life.
“Hey you.” He said.
She turned around at the sound of his voice. “Hey! You’re home early.”
“Just a little.”
She got up from her work and gave him a hug.
“It’s nice to see you. We missed you like always.”
“I missed you too.” He hesitated for a moment and she caught it.
“I have some news and you’re not going to like it.”
“Why? What’s going on?”
“I was summoned by the queen this morning and she gave me a new assignment.”
“Oh? What happened? What did she say?”
“She told me that Squadron II is in need of a new lieutenant and that they could use my help. I have been promoted and assigned to lead the squadron.”
“But Squadron II is based in Rykhild, isn’t it?”
“So, the queen wants you to leave Hardhelm and fight for another kingdom? That’s ridiculous! You are not leaving us to fight someone else’s battle!”
“Ayla, I understand. I thought the same thing as you, but I’m not leaving to fight someone else’s battle. We all have a common enemy and defeating that enemy at Rykhild could spare Vokes from ever seeing this war. It means that we wouldn’t have to worry about the safety of our children and our home.”
“I understand. I really do.” Ayla took his hands. “But with you being stationed here we get to see you every so often, and with you going to Rykhild we might not see you again until this whole thing is over.”
“I know. I don’t like it either, but I have to go. I’m going to help them win this war and when I’m done, I’ll be home.”
Ayla pulled him close and wrapped her arms around him. She didn’t want to let him go.
“How long until you have to leave? Please tell me that you’ll stay the night.”
“I leave in the morning. Until then, I’m yours.”
He gave her a kiss on the cheek and she smiled.
“Well, you better go and tell the children.” She said as her smile faded. “It’s only fair that they know what’s happening.”
“Give me some time to tell them. Please. I want to see their smiling faces a little longer. I’ll let them know after dinner.”
She nodded her head in response.
That evening Reigan and Ayla cooked dinner together as their children played by the fireplace. Little wooden planes and dragons covered the floor. The children never knew a time without war, but they were fortunate enough to have never seen it in person. To them it was all just stories. After dinner, they all sat with full bellies by the fireplace as Reigan and his children played with the toys on the floor.
“You know, before there were airplanes, I was a soldier. Back then it took a lot more men to bring down a drake, let alone a dragon.”
“Hey dad, look at this.” His son said holding another toy. “What is this used for?”
Reigan took the toy in his hand. It was a block with two axels and four wheels. Reigan had seen this thing in real life while training in Rykhild.
“Where did you get this?”
“I bought it at the market. All the kids wanted one. Do you know what it is?”
“I do.” Said Reigan. “It’s a car. It’s like a carriage but driven by a moter.”
“Oh! So it’s a small train? But where are the tracks?” And why haven’t we seen one in Vokes?”
Reigan thought about it for a moment. The queen’s words began to resonate inside of him. Why don’t we have cars when they seemed commonplace in Rykhild? And why can’t we make our own trains and airplanes? The thought began to bother him.
“It’s not a train and it doesn’t use tracks. It can drive almost anywhere, like a horse. And, I’m sure you’ll see one in Vokes soon enough.” He gave his son a wink.
It was time to break the news that he was leaving, even though he didn’t want to. Telling his children would only make the pain of leaving even more real, but he knew that there was no escaping it.
“Brand, Signy, there’s something that I have to tell you.”
“What is it dad?” Said Brand.
Signy looked at him questioningly as well.
“Well, you know how there are no drakes flying near us and how I have to fly out waaaay far away to fight them?”
“Yes.” They both responded.
“Well, I’m being stationed in Rykhild where the fighting is happening, so I can help stop the bad guys even faster.”
“Oh.” Said Brand. “Are we coming too?”
“No. You guys are staying here with your mother. It’s too dangerous over there. Plus, I’ll come home as soon as the fighting is done.”
“How long will you be gone for, daddy?” Said Signy. Her eyes were beginning to well up with tears. “I’m going to miss you!”
“I’m going to miss you too dad!” Cried Brand.
Reigan pulled his children in close and rubbed their backs. He was fighting off his own tears.
“I know babies. I know. I’m going to miss you too. But it won’t be forever. Alright? I’ll be home soon enough. You guys must be good helpers for mama and do your best in school, alright?”
“Alright daddy.” They said together as they wiped the tears from their cheeks.
Ayla and Reigan put the children to bed. Reigan gave them both a kiss and they drifted off to sleep. He knew that he would have to leave before they woke up in the morning, so he lingered in their room a little longer just to soak it in. Afterwards he met Ayla in their bedroom. She was packing Reigan’s bags.
“Already trying to get rid of me?”
“Don’t joke. You know that I don’t want you to leave.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
He came up behind her and kissed her neck. She smiled.
“You better help me pack. Otherwise you’ll wait until last minute and miss your train.”
“Would that be such a bad thing?”
“No.” She laughed and added, “Isn’t Avian the lieutenant for squadron I?”
“Did you have to bring him up? Yes, he is.”
“I just remember you two not getting along so well. I don’t want you going over there and making enemies with our allies.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be nice. After all, it’s not like we’re at the academy anymore.”
Ayla knew her husband well. He was a sucker for competition.
“I’m sure, my love.” She said sarcastically.
They finished packing and got ready for bed. Ayla had been fighting a thought all evening, but it surfaced once again and she could no longer contain it.
“Will they treat you with the same care as they treat their own? What if the worst happens and you die over there?”
“Listen. If I die over there, they’ll bring my body back here. We’ll have a proper ceremony. But here’s the thing Ayla, I’m not going to die over there. I’ll be alright.”
She wanted to believe him. She had believed him all the years they had been together. Before being selected for pilot training, Reigan was already a knight in the army. Even early on in their relationship he was going out to battle the enemy. Why does this time feel so different? She thought.
“You know that I’ll worry about you guys as well.” He said. “If the dragon attacks the city, you know where to take the children.”
“I know, Reigan. Don’t spend your time worrying about us. Focus on your task, so you can finish up and come home.”
“Of course. I know that you are strong woman and that you can take care of things here. That’s one of the things I love about you.”
“One of the things? What are the other things?” She teased.
“Well, let me show you.” He said leaning over to kiss her.
The night was bittersweet as they lay awake in bed. Their love for each other kept them in a close embrace. They refused sleep for as long as they could because deep down they knew that it could be their last night together. Reigan made a promise to himself that no matter where he was at in the world he was going to keep his family safe because above all else, they are what he was fighting for.