Ward turned the crank lure over in his hand, inspecting the wooden surface. No visible irregularities were present, promising a rich polished sheen; the whorls and lines of the wood already stood out in clear detail. It was a minnow, sleek and shallow-diving and ready for hook and lip. It would be a fine lure. He would paint it a mottle of brown and green, with eyes of yellow to pierce the murky water, and as he pictured the final result in his mind he smiled in satisfaction. The flatfish of the lower straights couldn't resist the colour and gloss and Ward knew he would be eating well in days hence.
With careful hands he placed the lure in his woven basket, next to countless others crafted over many years. Large and small, plain and garnished, smooth and coarse; all had a purpose, though not necessarily the one originally intended. Older lures, no longer fit for use, served as a reminder to Ward of the long years of his life. In his eyes they represented important moments – chapters in his book. He could often recount memories of days long past by the lures he fashioned at the time. He looked at them fondly, hands caressing their many-coloured shells, lost in thought.
His mind wandered aimlessly, taking him back to his first lures crafted almost thirty years ago. Long summer days spent with his father on their old wooden boat, catching both their food and livelihood, plying the rivers from dawn until dusk.
He would call little Elias in the hour before dawn and together the two of them would work ceaselessly and silently until the soothing relief of nightfall. He lived alone with his father, a stern man who was defined by an unspoken grief. He seldom spoke, and Ward always felt that between them there was too much left unsaid in the years since his mother died. Evenings in the house were quiet and still, where Ward would prepare dinner and his father would stare into the flames of the fire and nurse his warm water until sleep came for him. He no longer slept in his bed.
Ward grew up on that boat, under the preoccupied eyes of his father, learning the ways of the world and its nuances through the observation of the fish and of nature. He grew up too fast and often missed the childhood he never had. Long days, short nights and a single task were all that he had; a lifetime of labour and quiet and the promise of an unnoticed death in many long years to come. His mother used to speak to him of great men and great things and as he grew older and more aware he often lay awake at night and cursed the existence into which he was born. He grew surly and resentful, but still he worked ceaselessly. His father did not notice.
He remembered the day a neighbour mentioned, in passing, of the recruiters staying at the inn at the center of town. Soldiers they were and led by a knight, gathering support for the endless wars of the west. His father grunted his indifference, but Ward could not put his mind at rest. He felt a sense of something building – and the thought of escaping his home gave him a sense rightness he could not explain.