The first time I heard Marta Keen’s song “Homeward Bound,” a defense contractor had made a video of US service men and women about those who were out and would come home again and used that as the background music. This was 2003 or so. Ever since then, the song always takes my breath a little. I’ve used it as inspiration for several scenes. It is not the only song that makes me wonder about people who are away and turning toward home, or looking for home.
I was working on the story, or perhaps “extended scene” “Haven of Rest,” about Martha, the widowed herb-wife, and the Hunter who calls himself Jude. Why I even started the piece, I have no idea, but I had a recording by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the baritone Bryn Terfel that includes “Homeward Bound.” It may be my favorite version of that song, although their pure choral version is also very good. That song also inspired a scene in one of the Cat books, where Rada assures Joschka that she will always try to return to him. She can’t promise that she will come home, they both know that. But she will try.
The theme of the ones who go out and the ones who wait runs through most of my stories, I think because it has been true for so much of human life. Men hunted, or went out and traded, or went to war, or explored. Women stayed at home, tended the home place, managed the business and household, raised children, and waited. It’s a theme that appears in music as far back as ballads go. “Shenandoah” is probably the first one that I learned, the capstan shanty. It has been arranged by almost everyone, it seems, which suggests that it speaks to a lot of people. Gregorian’s setting of the Dire Straits song “Brothers in Arms” kicked off detail in a scene in an earlier Cat novel, since what came to mind didn’t really work for Rada or her associates, but needed to go into a story. It also finds a place in the fragment “Donald McGillivray,” which may or may not ever become a full-fledged story.
When I was younger, I tended to wander a fair amount. Which collided hard with my need to nest, to have a place to come back to. In the fall, when the weather changes, I get that itch again, the urge to roam, to head west to see what’s over the horizon. Stan Rogers’ “The Giant” hints that perhaps it’s in my blood, one of those things that never quite leaves those of us with proto-Indo-European in our veins. But I also heartily agree with the lyrics of Stephen Paulus’ “The Road Home.” Away and back, away and back, wandering and finding my own place and way, but still thinking of what I left, perhaps wondering where I went astray (if I did), it’s a pattern found in stories back to The Odyssey and earlier.
Young men go out, viking, or raiding, or exploring, getting it out of their systems and returning to be stable men of the community. Some older men go out as well, called by “Something lost beyond the ranges/ Something lost and waiting, Go!” as Kipling put it. Or called to protect what remains at home.
The lone Hunter isn’t Arthur 2.0, or André. Jude is more bookish, not quite a nerd but bordering on it for clan versions of bookish. He’s pretty well balanced emotionally, for someone who intended to die—perhaps—and failed. Arthur fought with every atom of his being to live, if only to spite those who wanted him dead. Jude likes baking, and does it very well. But Jude is in exile, not entirely self imposed, and has his own challenges. He’s alone, and that could well be his death.
Until he risks his life—perhaps—to warn Arthur about a nosferitau . . . And sets one foot on what might be the long road home.