Chapter 8: Departure
Violet turned away from her window to survey the small room once more before she left. There was the old familiar patchwork quilt, neatly draped over her single bed, its colors faded but still cheerful. On top of the quilt sat Dolly, the much-loved and tattered rag doll she had played with as a child and hadn't the heart to throw away. Impulsively Violet reached out and gathered up the little doll into a hug for a moment, then, feeling rather foolish, quickly set it back down. She glanced towards the room's open door, but no one was in the hall.
Violet trailed her slender fingers along the edge of her nightstand, the smooth feel of the wood somehow comforting. The little table was graced with a vase of late-blooming wildflowers she had collected that morning. Vi closed her eyes briefly and inhaled the sweet scent. A wooden clothing chest stood at the foot of the bed, empty now. All of her clothes were packed. The only other furnishings the room contained were a small dressing table and chair, and a washstand with pitcher and bowl. Violet walked around silently touching everything, saying goodbye. She wondered if she would ever return to this room, to this house, again. Suddenly there was a lump in her throat. A quiet footstep behind her made her jump, startling her out of her reverie. Zaknafein stood in the doorway, his pack in hand and a quizzical expression on his face.
"Vi." He met her blue eyes briefly, then looked away, somehow feeling as though he were intruding.
"Zak..." They still hadn't ever spoken of what happened that day at the stream, and now it hung between them as a tangible awkwardness, defeating the easy camaraderie they usually enjoyed. That had to end, Violet thought. She would not lose that, just as she refused to lose her love of the woods for the sake of fear.
Zak turned on his heel, as if to go, and slipped his backpack on, but Violet suddenly called out, "Zaknafein, wait!"
He turned back, a question in his eyes. She did not speak, but took a step forward and slipped her arms around him in a hug. He hesitated, then returned the gesture for a brief moment before stepping back.
"I want you to know I only–"
"I never really thanked–"
They had both spoken at once, and both stopped abruptly. Violet smiled encouragingly at her brother, waiting for him to continue.
Zak cleared his throat and shouldered past her suddenly to look out the open window, his hands tightly gripping the sill. He spoke in a rush before he changed his mind. "I want you to know I only think of you as my little sister, and that hasn't changed. I'm sorry I saw you–"
"Zak! You don't have to apologize to me!" Violet was incredulous. "What I was trying to say was, I'm so glad you were there, and thank you – thank you for saving me. I'm sorry I didn't say it sooner...it was just...a lot of things to think about."
"I know." He turned back from the window and smiled at her, then took a step forward and caught her in a fierce hug. "I'll miss you, Vi."
"You too, Zak." She returned the hug just as tightly. His shirt had a pleasant wood-smoke smell, like father's.
"The Snowflake Mountains, eh?" Zak released her and adjusted his pack more comfortably on his shoulders.
"Mm-hmm." Violet picked up her own pack from beside the bed and slipped it on. "Kel'nar says Danica is the best hand-to-hand fighter he knows, and when we wrote her she said she'd be delighted to train me."
"You don't have to join her religion or anything?"
Violet smiled. "I'm glad we're all going together, to bring me there."
"So am I."
They were both silent for a long moment, and Violet felt the moisture building up in her eyes again. She turned suddenly and smoothed an imaginary wrinkle from the bedspread.
"Hey..." Zak fought to keep his voice steady and somehow managed. "Mum and Kel'nar are already waiting...race you outside!"
"What?" Violet's head snapped up, and the tears in her eyes were replaced with a sudden competitive gleam.
Zak grinned. She never could resist a challenge. "I said, 'race you outside'!"
"Mark...set...GO!" He bolted for the door and was too busy gloating over the fact that he was ahead of his sister to notice that she wasn't behind him.
As soon as the word "go" was off of Zak's tongue, Violet was moving, not towards the door, but towards the window. Her room was upstairs, but a sturdy oak tree conveniently grew right outside, within easy reach. She leapt into the tree, heedless of splinters, and scrabbled down recklessly, her hands and feet finding the branches more by luck than anything else. Even as she descended, a memory flashed through her mind of climbing down this tree as a child...
It was a warm summer's evening and nine-year-old Violet had been put to bed far too early, by her estimation. How could she possibly sleep when it was still so light out, and the birds were chirping in the meadow? All at once she threw back her covers, tip-toed barefoot to her open window, climbed up onto the ledge, and into the oak tree. She crept down ever so quietly, heart pounding in her ears all the while, then dropped lightly to the ground, undetected. She took one glance back at the house, then scampered off to the meadow to play.
It was only a few minutes later, however, when Mum took a casual glance out of the kitchen window, saw Violet, and shortly thereafter marched her back to bed.
The next night Violet thought to try the same thing, only this time she'd make sure she couldn't be seen from the house at all. Violet waited about ten minutes after being tucked in, for good measure, then slipped to the window and swung one leg over the sill. She reached out for a tree branch and was so startled by a low growl that she nearly lost her balance and fell all the way to the ground. She was eye to eye with a six hundred pound black panther.
"Guenhwyvar!" Violet hissed, "what are you doing here?"
The cat growled again, louder this time, and suddenly a warning voice came from downstairs – "Back to bed, Violet."
She sat on the window ledge for a moment in stunned silence. He'd set the cat to watch her! Violet shook her head slowly, giving Guenhwyvar a look that clearly indicated she felt betrayed, and the magical panther had the audacity to look smug as she growled a third time.
"Violet...do I need to come up there?"
Violet smiled at the recollection as she dropped the last ten feet to the ground.
"—said he'd keep an eye on the place unti—Violet!" Cattie-brie jumped back.
The seventeen-year-old landed in a roll, narrowly missing both of her parents who had been standing in the front yard talking. "I win!"
Drizzt's mouth twitched.
The door burst open mere moments later and a triumphant-looking Zaknafein emerged, panting for breath. His expression quickly turned incredulous, however, when he noticed his little sister already standing there, picking bits of twigs and leaves out of her stark white hair. "You cheated!"
"Did not! You never said we had to use the stairs!"
"Well..." he couldn't think of a retort offhand, so he settled for "I'll get you!"
"I'd like to see you try!"
Zak growled menacingly and lunged towards her, and Violet shrieked and began a mad dash down the road, laughing all the way.
Drizzt raised his eyebrows and shouldered his pack. "Guess we're ready to go then."
"Aye, I'm guessin' so!" Cattie-brie smiled wryly. "How old are they now?" She slipped her hand into Drizzt's and they turned and followed their children down the road.
Nobody looked back.
Kel'nar = dad
A/N: Now complete. All reviews welcome.