Two days after the smuggler visited my shop, I caught sight of a man walking the Dice Road. Heavy rippling clouds the same color as the newcomer’s sea green military fatigues smothered the afternoon sun. His brisk strides appeared determined and with purpose, yet strangely his approach was slow and methodical. It took time, but he eventually passed under the waterfall and found my tea shop hidden in its shallow cave. He hesitated upon seeing my establishment, but then crossed my threshold and took a seat at the tea bar
I put on a pot to heat the water and noticed the soldier continuously looking over his shoulder and down the path he came from. His young face bore heavy lines of inner conflict; as if he left something undone and he wanted to go back.
The churning clouds beyond the mouth of my cave matched the flex of cyan in the soldier’s troubled eyes. I chose chamomile, poured the water, and left the tea to steep. “You keep looking back the way you came. What regrets lay back along that path?”
The soldier looked down at his large rough hands at took a deep breath; he answered, “The last words I spoke to my father.”
I checked the tea, but it wasn’t ready yet. “My last visitor regretted some things. Did you know her?”
I found my Deck of Secrets and began to shuffle.
The soldier’s troubled eyes continued wandering towards the east as he spoke. “Yes, I knew her. She was a smuggler, but she never moved people. She hated the Pirates working that wicked trade and would tip us off if she heard anything about their operations. Actually, I think her helping us got found out. She let us follow her ship to a dock and moored it next to some trafficker’s cargo ship. We ended that.”
When speaking those last few words, the man’s voice took on the resonance of stone and his eyes stopped darting back towards the dice trail.
He continued a moment later, “As we freed the children, which were mostly little girls, from the shipping containers, I spotted her staring at us. At the kids, actually. She’s just stood there, white as a, um, a sheet.”
I remember him hesitating with a wide-eyed, awkward expression on his face. At the time, I found it odd, and I didn’t understand. His words quickly found their pacing, however, and I thought little more of it that day. “She just stared at them. I could tell it really bothered her, but I think that’s when she got made. I’m sure I’m not the only one that noticed.”
I placed my Deck of Secrets on the polished bar top and asked the soldier to pull one. He turned it over and revealed the image of a field filled with tall soft green grass that abruptly ends at the edge of a forest. In the foreground, tracks of an unseen animal draw a line in the meadow leading to the trees. Above the pointed tips of the sugar pines, a silver moon illuminated the wilderness below.
I say to him, “You’ve drawn The Hunt Card. You follow the tracks alone and at night. Only the moon aids you in your endeavors.”
The soldier stares at the card as if it would escape his grasp the moment his eyes drifted away. I pour his cup of tea. As he drinks; I ask, “what are you proud of?”
The big man’s shoulders relax a little and a small, melancholy smile lifts his heavy features. “I was always a good hunter. My father taught my brother and me. He also taught us the value of life. He said that life was the greatest treasure in the world. More valuable than gold or precious gemstones. Hunters provide this treasure for their families and neighbors, but they must take it first. Therefore, the animals we hunt are also more precious than gold and gemstones, and we should respect and honor them as such.
“In the military, I learned that sometimes you must defend that treasure. You must hunt the predators circling and stocking the things that are precious. Sometimes you must protect the lives of the little children stolen away by a pack of big bad wolves.
“I’m proud that I was a good hunter, an honorable hunter. I never forgot to cherish life. I think my father will understand that. He might even be proud of that.”
The soldier finished his tea, then stood and prepared to leave. Before crossing the threshold, however, the tall man in forest green fatigues remembered he still held the Hunt Card.
I shook my head when he attempted to give it back to me. “No, that’s yours. Take it with you on your journey and remember your purpose, hunter.”