Constantine returned from the side of the house, pulling his cap down over his eyes. He looked at Helena again and hesitated. Alcandor saw the glance and nudged his friend. ‘C’mon, you old woman.’
Constantine put his hunting kit down on the rough cobbled path and embraced his sister. She kissed his cheek and pushed him away. ‘Shoot me the fattest rabbit you can find,’ she said, and turned away from them towards the kitchen garden.
Constantine and Alcandor left, turning at the end of the lane to wave to Helena. She didn’t see them as she was bent over by the kitchen garden, inhaling the fragrance of fresh thyme. They walked towards the woods in the distance, beyond the olive groves, with the sun just over their shoulders.
Constantine was ill at ease during the hunt and not thrilled by the success of the catch. His conscience pricked him for leaving Helena, but every time he doubted, his ego challenged him and told him to be a man. He was able to silence his conscience for a while and caught a few more rabbits, but as the sun began to disappear behind the mountains he was anxious to go home.
‘Let’s go, Alcandor. We’ve got more than enough for both of us, and for the neighbours.’
Alcandor didn’t press his luck by trying to make Constantine stay. He didn’t want to spoil what would probably be their last hunt together for a long time.
As they approached their village with the lengthening evening shadows racing ahead of them, they passed some of their friends sitting on boulders by the side of the road, smoking their pipes and talking. They invited Alcandor and Constantine to join them, but Constantine politely refused and kept on walking. The men were discussing a group of three strangers who had passed through the village a short while ago—soldiers, they said.
Constantine increased his pace. Alcandor lifted his cap in greeting and hesitated. He wanted to stop and hear more, but he sensed the urgency driving Constantine ahead of him, and followed on after his friend.
Constantine knew something was wrong, even before he arrived at the house.