Chapter 4

The bright morning rays of the sun awakened Maru. He got up from his bed and went through the already opened door of the hut. He saw Uwyn was cooking rice for their breakfast. Maru went towards the back of the hut to get vegetables from their small garden. They must harvest only little portions from the vegetables in order to save it for longer consumption. The soup from the few vegetables would have to do for their nutritional needs. The morning chores were quickly done and the family had their breakfast. Uwyn was the one feeding their mother, Olivia.

"What happened yesterday, Maru? Why were you back so late?" Olivia asked her son during the meal.

"The guards saw me, mom. I had to hide for a while to avoid their search." Maru replied to his mother.

"Be careful next time, okay? I can't lose you, Maru. You and Uwyn are all I have left." Olivia said emotionally towards her son.

"I'll never leave you, mom. Don't worry, I'll watch out for those guards later." Maru assured his mother.

"Just be safe, Maru." Olivia said to her son.

"I will, mom." Maru replied to his mother. The three continued their breakfast in silence. They were not in good condition. Their mother was sick and his sister, Uwyn, was so thin because of the lack of food. Maru was even thinner than Uwyn was. They prioritized feeding their mother for her to get well as soon as possible. Taking care of the sick was not a simple job. Especially if only kids are doing the job and with a glaring lack of resources.

"Do you know why dad left, brother?" Uwyn asked in a soft voice. They were now outside as Maru was once again going to beg for food in the city. Or at least that was what he told his family.

"I don't know, Uwyn. Mother won't talk about it. I heard in the city that men leave their wives because they found someone more beautiful." Maru answered innocently.

"But mom is the most beautiful mom there is! There has to be some other reason for dad to leave us." Uwyn argued with Maru's words.

"I know, Uwyn. Mom is the most beautiful wife a man could hope for. Let's just believe that father died and he wanted to come back to us but he couldn't. It would be a more comfortable thought for us, wouldn't you say Uwyn?" Maru said glibly towards his sister.

"Yes! I think that's why he did not come back after all these years, brother. But… Sometimes I wish I'd see dad again. Do you still remember his face, Maru?" Uwyn asked softly. She also uncharacteristically said his brother's name. It was a clear sign of how troubled she was. This was very important for Uwyn.

"No, Uwyn. I can't remember dad's face anymore. I don't think I've ever seen him. We were still babies back then." Maru replied to his sister. He wanted to add that they were still babies now but that would hold no significance to them. They can't change what they were right now. What was best was only to survive through this and hope for a better tomorrow.

"Take care of mom, Uwyn. If I could stop by the Scavenger's Haven later, I'll buy your favorite sweet candies, okay?" Maru said after Uwyn hadn't responded anymore. She was deep in thought.

"Okay, brother." Uwyn replied softly. She was still not her usual self. The topic earlier clearly bothered her.

"Don't worry, Uwyn. If we grow up and dad is still alive, I'm surely going to find him for you. And if I do, we'll see him together, okay? After that, we would hire a painter to draw us. You, me and dad. If mom agrees to come, it will be a complete family painting. That way, even if father leaves us again, you will remember his face forever. So cheer up now." Maru tried his best to uplift Uwyn's spirit. He couldn't bear to see his sister sad. It broke his heart to see her this way. His irresponsible father still continued to give them pain after he was long gone. Maru hated his father.

"You promise, brother?!" Uwyn said excitedly. Her eyes sparkled as she pictured the image drawn by her brother.

"I promise, Uwyn!" Maru tried adding more volume to his voice to be as convincing as he can be. He was also hurting deep inside. How could he lie to his sister this way? But he had to. He will bear everything for Uwyn and for his mother, Maru vowed.

"Good. Don't you dare break this promise like you did yesterday! And don't forget to buy me sweet candies! Take care, brother!" Uwyn was back to her usual lively self. She smiled at Maru hoping for what was to come later. She loved eating those expensive sweet candies.

"I know, Uwyn. I'm going now." Maru said in goodbye to his sister and he started to walk. They had no neighbors near them because his mother said that having people near you in these lands was more dangerous than not. Desperation would lead even a good sane man to do unspeakable evil in these parts. That was why their mother had chosen a location away from people. They were alone but they were together and alive. It was all that mattered to Maru. He did not go far. He took shelter under a lone willow acacia tree after only ten minutes of walking.

They were in open land. There was a forest nearby but his mom told them not to go there. There were beasts and the occasional magical beasts that roamed the edges of the forest. Oftentimes, Maru wondered what magic beasts are like. Were the tales true that they were fierce and would eat anything they laid their eyes on, even humans?

"Magical beasts. Why am I thinking of such things when I should find ways on getting money or food? Hopefully both if I'm lucky. Hmmm." Maru thought under the willow acacia.

"Are you there, madame?" Maru asked after he could think of no solution for his problem. He knew he could not go back to the city today. If he got caught again, who knows how that would end for him. He almost died once already, it would be stupid to tempt fate again. Or at least until he found out who this mysterious lady voice was. It was time to get answers, Maru decided.

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