The next morning the sun was bright; the fog clinging to the mountains and fields had moved on. The dew, which clung to the brush and plants, evaporated quickly from the harsh light.
Jonathan woke up. He cracked his neck, then got up; it took some careful maneuvering to slip out without waking up Aderes and Chester, but Oceton immediately snapped out of his dreams. The man shushed the squawking phoenix grumpily. He did a quick check of the cabin and found everything was still in place.
A few knickknacks had been added to the bookshelves, along with more softwoods for carving. The children were asleep, and the bed in Jonathan’s room was empty. Peter had already left.
Jonathan started on breakfast for himself, and the smell woke the others up. Chester, Tam, and Bas helped with cooking for everyone.
Jonathan, Chester and Aderes had eaten, packed some, and laced their boots up before they were questioned.
“Where are you going?” Cornelia asked. She kept on yawning, still unable to break out of being half-awake.
“We’re going to visit the Yulrs for a bit,” Jonathan explained. “If you burn down my house or trees, you have to pay me back.” He waited for the mumbles of agreement before he followed after his friends.
They rode down to the Village of Tesriff. The route itself wasn’t very worn except for the wheel ruts from Jonathan’s and Marcus’ wagons going down occasionally. Plants and brush covered over the path, and one could get lost if they didn’t know where certain turns were made. The trees above shielded them from the hot sun.
As they went along, Chester explained some more of his concerns and tried to figure out how to approach his family. He was encouraged by his friends’ responses, and pressed on.
Once they reached the streets of the village, Jonathan greeted back some of the people walking or riding alongside them. He had been gone for a while, but they remembered the area’s only professional supplier of wood.
Oceton flew off into the fields. He liked to eat the small furry creatures that lived in the fields here; they were similar to mice, if mice had fur that was wiry and ears that were pointed.
Chester pulled out the pair of tinted glasses Aderes had bought back in Lembroke. It made his eye color a bit hard to tell, which is why he wore them out in public.
They tied their horses outside of the Yulr’s home. It was less modest than it had been a few years ago, as the couple used the house to promote their new carpentry business. Beans, long stringy vegetables, and herbs were hanging on the side of the porch from the rafters.
Chester hesitated a few times, his fist almost brushing against the door. After he looked back at his two friends, he knocked on the door.
His father opened it, and gaped in disbelief. Zachariah was caught between shock and sheer happiness. For the first time in the old, cheerful man’s life, he wasn’t sure what to say. “I . . . ”
Chester attempted a smile. “You didn’t expect to see me, right?” He winced after, regretting making the joke to ease the tension.
Zachariah reached out, trembling slightly. “Chester, is that . . . are you-”
“It’s me.” Chester guided his father’s hand to his shoulder.
Zachariah wanted to know that this wasn’t a dream. He desperately grasped onto his son’s shoulder, and wept quietly.
“It’s me,” Chester repeated, not sure what else to say. He still had his glasses on, still hiding his eyes.
“You’re actually back.”
“I’m actually back.”
“You have no idea . . . how happy I am,” Zachariah said, with the solemn tone of a parent who had faced the sad fate of having a child pass before themself. There was bitterness, guilt, and self-hatred on his face now—he had blamed himself, after all—but the expression faded into pure relief.
Chester hugged his father. He was not crying, but he felt like he should be.
“Trista! Trista, our son is back!” Zachariah yelled, once he was done wiping the tears from his eyes. “Come on in,” he urged. “Your mother is going to want to see you.”
Chester was glad they wanted to see him, he just hoped they still would after he explained what he was now. “Okay,” he agreed and walked inside to find his mother.
Aderes and Jonathan waited outside. They bought some fermented juice and drank it on the porch. Aderes was smiling, satisfied, while Jonathan listened to the muffled sounds of the house. He was preparing himself for the worst.
The worst, fortunately, did not happen.
Trista, Chester’s mother, opened the door a few minutes after Chester went in. Her eyes were red, but the tears had already been wiped away. A large smile was on her face, exposing her crooked teeth. “Come in,” she said, gesturing them inwards. “Let’s have lunch.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Yulr,” Jonathan politely responded, following in after Aderes. He caught Chester’s eye and mouthed the question, ‘Ok?’ at him.
Chester nodded, despite his hands still shaking a bit from the adrenaline rush that had hit him. There were no tears coming from his eyes. He didn’t think he could cry, not anymore. However, if he were able to, it would be tears of relief.
The house was medium-sized, and the wooden parts seemed far more embellished than before. It seemed the two new carpenters had been using their expertise on their own home.
Zachariah patted Jonathan’s shoulder. “What have you been up to, been a while since I’ve seen you down in the village?”
“I’ve been on vacation,” Jonathan explained. He was not going to try to explain how he had been entangled in a neighboring kingdom’s political in-fighting.
“Zachariah, come over and take these,” Trista called over. She was standing by the small sink, taking out plates.
Chester traded a glance with his friends, and said, “Mom, we can help with lunch. It doesn’t have to-”
Trista was bustling with energy and shushed Chester. “We just found out you weren’t six feet underground, dearie. I’m making us a feast.” She pulled things from the cupboards and quickly chopped some vegetables as her husband set the table and grabbed a fifth chair. “Now, before we begin eatin’, who is this young lady?”
“I’m Aderes,” she said. She kept her tone polite, like she did when talking with friends and not subjects. Aderes was her as a friend, not a ruler.
The spread was modest. There was a large bowl of salad, and three loaves of fresh bread with homemade jams.
“Pass the rosenberry jam,” Chester immediately requested. He eagerly opened the jar and scooped out a generous portion onto a slice of bread. It had been far too long since he had last tasted his favorite food.
Zachariah folded his hands together, placing them on the table. “What we’re a bit unsure about is why exactly . . . Chester was brought back.”
“The mage we had killed before died at the same spot.” Aderes grabbed the rosenberry jam from Chester’s side of the table and moved it over so she could put some on her bread. “What we think happened, is that someone tried to resurrect her, but something went wrong and they got Chester instead.”
“We worked with a . . . local necromancer to put some precautions in place,” Jonathan said. He felt satisfied. Ciley should be gone forever, Chester was back, and the Yulrs were pleased their son was alive again. “Whoever that necromancy was, they won’t be able to bring back Chester’s killer.”
Some more details of the situation were explained with Aderes and Jonathan’s help. It wasn’t that Chester hadn’t been paying attention to what had been happening around him, it was that he still was holding onto that worry for some reason; the worry that his parents would abandon him still. His feelings of insecurity—paranoia and guilt—did ease a bit as he watched his parents and friends talk, keeping his mouth shut by eating jam and bread.
Trista and Zachariah also caught Chester and the other two up on the things that had happened in the village while he was gone. There had been births, marriages, and funerals. Elysius, their oldest son, had shown up again and was now returning every other year for Spring holidays.
After lunch was finished, Chester argued his way into being the person to clean, and then roped Aderes and Jonathan into helping.
The three split up once they were done as Chester decided to stay at home to reconnect with his parents. Jonathan and Aderes would have stayed longer, but they shouldn’t leave a dragon and five human teenagers alone too long, or the cabin would actually be lost to a fire. The bard sent his friends off with a quick, nigh rib breaking squeeze, and a promise that he would talk with them soon.