A small group sprawls across a modest cabin. A fire snaps in the stone fireplace. Heads are bent over work and tankards of this and that sit within easy reach. In one glance you can tell this collection of humanity is simple, earthy and well acquainted with their tasks. One mends with a needle and thread. One cleans the barrel of a gun. Another is lacing a pair of snowshoes.
Outside snow is falling and the wind blows, but inside it is comfortable and warm. As the moon rises and the work progresses at an easy pace snatches of a tune can be heard as someone hums over their progress. The man with the gun glances over his fellow collection of rebels and speaks his thoughts aloud.
"So how is it? Who has a girl back home?"
Ebony arches a dark eyebrow at him and returns to her snowshoes.
"Or a man. How 'bout it? Who's left someone behind?"
No one responds.
"Come on. Somebody's got to have someone to think about! What about you, leMarc? You're a good enough looking fellow! I'll bet you've left more than one to pine!"
leMarc absentmindedly swirled his flagon and took a drought. "None for me. Not this time around." He continued to swirl his brew as he stared into the fire."
"Ebony? What about you?"
Ebony paused over the lacings and contemplated the rough hewn floor. "I've a man back home. We're set to be married when I return."
"Well? Is he tall and handsome or short and fat? Does he have a glass eye? Tell us about him."
Ebony shifted in her seat to gain more light from the fire. "Well, he's tall I suppose. Beautiful dark eyes. He's strong from milling the wood. Not so handy with the women that most would notice him, but he's an honest man and a strong heart. He'll do me just fine coming home. What about you?"
Garrett changed tools and continued his work on the gunbarrel. "There's a girl for me. Pretty eyes. Long curly hair. Likes the finer things. And gentle. Everything the girl back home should be."
"You gonna marry her?"
His hands paused for a moment and he looked into the flames. Then he nodded slowly and met Ebony's eyes. "I think I just might when we get out of this mess."
Ebony nodded and returned to her snowshoes. leMarc slid his tankard to Port for a refill. Everyone knew Port didn't have a woman. His wife had died several years back and he'd been with the band ever since.
Conversation was absent for a long moment. Then Garrett glanced at the small girl opposite him. She was bent over a leather harness, mending a tear.
"You're awful quiet, Sparrow."
She flickered a glance at him, but didn't reply.
"Sparrow's always quiet," a voice drawled from the shadows. Only a boot and the piece of straw the speaker was chewing on was visible, but everyone recognized Shaw's voice.
"Come on, Sparrow. Who's waiting for you at home?" Garrett was coaxing and he knew it was a gamble. Sparrow rarely said anything about herself. As second in command she was well liked and well respected, but no one really knew her.
"Yeah, Sparrow. Tell us about who's at home," a young voice chimed in. His baby face seemed strangely out of place in this rebel crew of tested warriors, but everyone had to start somewhere and the numbers for the cause were getting lower every day. Sparrow looked at him, knowing he had nothing but a mother and sister to go back to, and felt his desire to share in the family of the band. It felt odd to have nothing to share on this point.
"There's no one," she said quietly. Garrett watched her carefully. Her hands looked fully concentrated on their work, but her mind was elsewhere.
"How could there be no one at home for you?" By the look on Bliss' baby face you'd think this was a crime against humanity. He had a lot of admiration for the older girl.
Sparrow sighed and glanced at him again. "Because there isn't."
"But surely there must've been sometime!" Hands around the room had slowed as each tried to watch little Sparrow without staring, afraid that outright curiosity would cause her to lapse into silence.
"There was. Once." Bliss edged toward her, obviously eager for a story. She dropped her head to her work again, but after a moment she told the following tale.
"There was a time once when I was the girl back home."
"No! Not you!" someone exclaimed. Several of the others shushed him.
"He was big and he was strong and when he was around everything was right with the world. There wasn't anything the two of us together couldn't handle. He made me laugh, held me when I cried and he made everything beautiful. We thought to get married someday and were even making plans. Then, one day, I got word that he was coming home, but not to marry me. He'd been gone for a full turn or so and now that he was coming home he wanted nothing to do with me."
Shaw shook his head and spat out his straw. Garrett paused again in cleaning his gun and several others turned to look anywhere but toward Sparrow.
"But what happened?" Bliss urged.
Sparrow looked at him sadly, "I don't know." Bliss looked genuinely confused and shocked at this revelation. "I heard later that I'd done something he thought as betrayal, but I never found out what or why."
The flickering shadows digested that news in the silence. Bliss jumped to her defense:
"But you would never do a thing like that! It must have all been a misunderstanding!"
The faintest of smiles twitched the corner of Sparrow's mouth.
"It is what it is, now and there's nothing can change it. My way is the lone way now and I've come to accept it. It's rare you find 2 champions in this world that will fight to the death by your side and absurd to think that both would love you."
Bliss' dismay touched Sparrow and she managed a small half smile. She reached out and squeezed his wrist. "It really isn't so terrible as that. This is my path and there's no shame in it for me."
Bliss aimed his whirling thoughts at the knotty pine floor and silence again covered the group. Only Sparrow continued in her work until her story no longer hung palpable in the air. Then Ebony returned to her snowshoes and Garret returned to his gun. leMarc let his chair drop back to all four legs with a bang, stood abruptly and went out, slamming the cabin door behind him with a jerk. When the air no longer vibrated the scene returned to its beginning: warm light from the fire, a small lazily industrious gathering, and flagons of this and that sometimes replenished by Port.
Outside the wind gusted, adding showers of ice to the snow already hung in the air. leMarc stood in the clearing, staring toward the stars, and silently cursed the bending minds of men.