At last, the long-promised story in response to this challenge: Make me sympathize with a man who killed his own brother.

Some notes:

  • Weird fact: I drafted this in a document named, in good old fashioned Kat style “MMSWAMWKHOB”, an acronym of the challenge
  • This is my first story with a guy main character in 4 years, and that one was my first
  • I never write stories with guy main characters, because I have very little idea how a man’s brain works 😉
  • I attempted some basic revisions (spelling, incorrect words, etc.), but I’m pretty horrible at catching my own stuff so soon after it’s completed
  • Please just go with it and do your best to understand. If you need something clarified or have any questions, please feel free to comment
  • Because I can’t keep my grubby hand off of anything, even especially fairytales, so I’m exploring in this story more along the lines of “give me a believable reason for a man to kill his brother who is really important to him, destroying the one relationship that really matters”.
  • As for pronunciation, just give it your best. I can post a pronunciation guide later, if you’re interested. 😉

So, without further ado…

What Brothers Are For

Far on down the tunneling scope of history, my story has become a legend, a tale to teach others from the mistakes of their ancestors for those with wisdom enough to heed. Perhaps if I had listened to legends more when I was young my own story might not have become legend. I might have escaped much.

But we cannot change the past.

I tell you my story, my legend, that you might choose to learn from it, and avoid the traps into which my own feet stumbled, and find the true power we all can possess.

Prologue

The late sun slanted against the cliffs, gilding the view as I scrambled up the last feet to the top.

“There,” I panted. “I told you the view was worth the climb.”

My twin brother surveyed the landscape, too winded for a moment to speak. “Alright, Jorn, you were right this time,” he said at last. “And to think…”

“That our father’s once ruled all this land and beyond,” I finished for him. “Someday, I’m going to win it back, Jax. No matter what. When I’m king, I’ll bring the old kingdom back and reunite the lands as they once were. Then…”

Jax yawned and lay back on the scented grass. “Relax, bro. You need to appreciate the good things in life. Kingdoms aside, a warm bed is awfully nice, and there’s nothing quite like a good game of cockshies. Someday you’ll be wishing for a drink of good mead over one of your endless battles. Find the simple things in life.”

I looked down at him, unable to comprehend his strange ideals, and shook my head. “You don’t understand, Jax. The kingdom needs to be reconnected or all the lands will crumble in ruin. You won’t have your precious warm bed in twenty years if something isn’t done, and the Lord Regent isn’t going to act.” I struck a fierce heroic stance. “So we must, when the time comes, and we will. Or, I will.”

“Alright, Lord Warfare, you know where I’ll be when the time comes.” Jax stood and stretched, glancing at the setting sun.

I swung myself over the edge and began to descend. “Back in your cozy warm bed, playing cockshies and drinking mead, I take it,” I called back, half annoyed, half jibing.

Jax shook his head and grinned down at me. “No, Jorn, with the important things in life. I’ll be at your back with a sword in my hand.”

I twisted to meet his eyes. “I thought you didn’t like fighting.”

“No, Jorn, it’s not the fighting. I want you to come back. Alive. I’ll be there with you, of course.”

Section 1: The Price

The days when I would climb the Ancient Cliffs were drowned by years – years that hadn’t left me unchanged. The kingdom was in my hands now, but it was dying. How much could one man do in the eleventh hour of his kingdom? I was determined to do all I could, and the search led me to many strange and forgotten places.

I stepped out of the mist-wrapped folds of the Forsaken Woods and stared at the roaring waterfall that fell where a cottage was supposed to be. My shoulders sagged. Many long miles I’d come, through uncounted dangers, through wolves and bandits and snakes and thieves, only to find – a waterfall.

I thought of food and a rest, but what good would it do? It wasn’t here, my last hope. I rechecked the map, the map I had taken from the vault, from the casket no one had dared to open for more than a hundred years, from the casket that held, according to rumor and legend, the fate and doom of men. Well, I’d needed something like that, something desperate. So I dared.

Twice disappointed. I shoved the map back into the pouch at my belt. I remembered when I first found the map. Ha! I’d hoped for some deadly pivotal weapon, something that might help in the war, turn the tide and save my kingdom. A map. A map was all that was there, to some location no one had ever heard of, to see a man that didn’t exist, in a forest that nobody lived in. And now there was no cottage. It was plain as day on the map at the end destination – a little house or hut or structure mark of some sort, representing the abode of this man, this Lord Warlock.

I turned to go. I had failed. The kingdom would never be restored, but would fall. Even now it was tottering on the brink. Perhaps in my absence it had already been swept away before the Azaeli warriors, and destroyed, engulfed by their ravaging unquenchable hunger.

Before I had taken a step, I felt something like an invisible knife stab me in the stomach. I gasped for breath, turning, seeking my attacker. There was nothing, no one in sight. But like a hook set in my gut, I was being reeled in, like a fish on a line. Fighting, one reluctant step at a time, I was dragged unstoppably towards the waterfall. Struggling to breathe, I drew my sword, but who could I strike? I had no opponent but this hook and line. The spray of the waterfall drenched me. At any moment I knew I would be drawn in, beaten down by the strength of the cascade, and drowned. I was staring death in the eyes. He had finally found me.

But the pull drew me beside the water. Then, as if someone had shoved me from behind, I stumbled into an open space at the back of the falls. My ears throbbed, deafened by the roaring behind me. The hook released me and gasping in precious breaths of air I clutched at the cave wall for support. The noise of the waterfall was shut off as if by a tap.

“You are taller than your father, though your prudence has yet to be measured. I offer ample opportunity. Come, young king, let us make a bargain.”

“Who are you? How do you know me or my father?” I asked, searching vainly in the blackness to see the speaker.

A cackle rolled out from deeper in, and a man shuffled forward into the dim half-light that came from the entrance. He was old, bearded and gray, swathed in black robes. He hunched a little over a knobbed hawthorn staff as he shuffled forward.

“Your father came here long ago, but he refused my offer. I was ready to hand him the world, but he declared my price too great and left – a proud man of a dead kingdom. You look just like him, which would be enough for anyone, apart from me. But I, I am Lord Warlock. I know all. I see all. Nothing is hidden from my eyes nor sheltered from my hand should I choose to see or take. I hold power unmatched in all the world. A power I could grant to you. Tell me, young Jorn, why did you come?”

“I came because I sought your help.” I said.

“You would have come even had your need been less. You were called. Summoned. You had little choice.” He lowered himself stiffly onto a stool and gestured me to another opposite him.

“I was not called by any man or power. My choices are my own.” I said sternly, taking a seat.

“So you say in your ignorance. You cannot shift the wheels of fate, nor change the course of the future, of doom. Few can refuse the Call when it comes. You cannot. For you came. And here we are. What do you seek?”

“I seek a means to fight the world, to change the tides of fate, to save my kingdom and restore its former glory. I seek a power to defeat the undefeatable, stop the unstoppable and destroy the indestructible. I seek a power that does not exist in this world.”

“Oh, but it does,” Lord Warlock said eerily. “I hold the keys of Death and… But it does not matter to you. You seek power. I can grant it. But it’ll cost you. And I would know why you seek this power, and what you mean to do with it.”

“My kingdom – ” I began, but he cracked his staff on the ground, silencing me.

“Words, words!” he spat. “Useless mortal speech. Men can lie, but those who can look into the mind and read the thoughts shall not be deceived. We will journey within you. And then…” He made a hissing sound like a laugh.

He brought his staff directly between us and slid his hands down it to the middle, muttering something I couldn’t catch. When I looked I saw that the top of the staff had become a snake, a live snake! I recoiled a little, but the snake moved in slow circles, round and round, never threatening, never striking. Slowly on it wove its circular dance, carving dull green arcs and figure eights in my skull. My eyes were unable to track it, but glazed, seeing it apart from time, in past, present, and future all at once. For one dizzy, sickened moment, I knew with perfect clarity what was happening. I was being hypnotized, entranced, but I couldn’t break my gaze away. Somewhere far away, a man was chanting strange words.

The snake was gone. Everything was black. A voice, or read it an insidious thought? spoke.

“You hold the power of the world, yes?”

“Yes,” I repeated numbly, not knowing whether I actually spoke or whether the thought remained in my head. The voice seemed to hear it.

“Now what will you do with this power?”

There it was – an image in my head of all I hoped and planned. I groped out words to explain it. “The Azaeli warriors crossed the sea. They attack us. Galdor my kingdom is lost. They have weapons; mysterious, strange weapons we’ve never seen or dreamed off and can’t fight. That make explosions that kill and wound hundreds at once. We are doomed.”

“For what will you use your power?” the voice persisted.

“I can beat them back. I can destroy them. My power will save the kingdom. I will reunite the lands and make Galdor stronger than it ever was before. I will give us power, make us weapons, build us fortifications, unlike any others ever seen in the world. I will make it so that Galdor need never fear for itself again. I will be the greatest king in all history.”

“What of the future, when all these plans are completed?”

For the first time, I faltered, never before really pondering this possibly. “I will use my power as I see fit,” I answered at last.

“You have done well. When your work is finished, you will return here to me.”

In my mind in that moment, I had no inclination to do anything but what the voice ordered me to do. It had told me, so I would. “I will return here to you,” I repeated. And I knew I would, willing or no.

“I will give you the power you seek, but it comes with a price. Are you willing to pay?”

“Name you’re price. I swore I’d do this at any cost. I’m ready.”

“Yes! The Masters are pleased. I will give them the price they demand. I hold the cards at last!” The sadistic triumph burned into my mind, though I was scarcely aware of it and did not remember his words until later.

A throbbing like the worst headache pulsed in my head. “You will learn a word of power when you have paid the price. You will know the price when I guide you. I will teach you the Deplorable Word.”

No effort later could recall to me the dark fog of horror that I swam in. Suffocating darkness pressed in around me, and whether I was awake or asleep, moving out still, hot or cold, fighting or dying, I didn’t know. I was in a swirling mist of red and darkness.

Years later, or a moment, I couldn’t tell, a voice reached me in the void, echoing as if from far away. Jax.

“Jorn, what’s wrong? Where were you? You didn’t tell me you were going anywhere, the town’s been losing its head with you gone and the Azaeli on our porch. What happened?”

I heard, but I could not answer. A blind convulsion took hold of me. Invisible attackers clawed at me in the darkness. I struggled to fight back to beat them off, but I had no arms to swing, no legs to kick. Spasms shook me, though I felt no body moving are jerking around.

Flames scarred my mind – a flaming word burning into it, smoldering on my tongue. A Word of Power. The Deplorable Word.

Slowly my vision cleared. The sickness and convulsions had ebbed. I was on my hands and knees in the courtyard of my castle. I felt shaky, and my body didn’t want to cooperate. I tried to stand. My eyes were caught by something on the ground near me.

I’ll never forget that moment. The moment I would give anything to never have happened. The sight that will forever haunt me. The sight the burned into my mind clearer and more painfully than the Deplorable Word.

My brother. Up until that moment I hadn’t realized, hadn’t let myself realize, hadn’t even bothered to let myself realize… But I knew he was the one person I cared more about than anything else in the world. He lay so still. In that burning moment, I knew.

The price was too high.

I scrambled over to Jax’s limp body, knowing what I would find but needing to try. My frantic fingers could find no pulse of life. No breath stirred his lips. No wound could I find to take from him what was most precious. But still I knew. He was gone. Somehow, too, I knew it was my fault.

It was all me. I had sought Lord Warlock. I had sworn to pay any price. I had given myself to him to claim the price he chose. My brother’s life was on my head. There had to be a way to bring him back! To reverse the wheels of time, to remake my decisions, to turn this moment into nothing more than a horrific nightmare. Crouched beside his body, his cold empty body, my heart screamed. Don’t let this be! Let me have another chance! Let my life be the price; I deserve it. Don’t let this be!

I threw myself against the walls of unchanging reality. I strove to alter the unwavering truth of the now. I struggled in vain to make the past be different, to take my knowledge now back to my rash self before this. To change the future. This can’t be my future. I can’t live with this. I can’t live without him.

Sage Danh. The name sprang into my mind like lightning in a storm – a compass needle to a lost man. In the blur of my grief and guilt it was a command, and I obeyed without thinking.

Sage Danh, the old priest in the hills. The man I had never had patience for with his old-fashioned ideas and slow methodical thought. The man who had warned me against open war against the Azaeli. The man who had healed my father of his wound and the fever that would have stolen his mind. The one man who might be able to help me.

Quick booted footsteps rang on the stone. Two guards on their way to relieve the watch on the walls stopped short.

“What happened, my lord?” one asked in horror and fear, moving towards me.

“Get my horse,” I told him. “Now,” I added as he hesitated. They were gone. I still felt sick and dizzy, but I had to do this. If I could follow a dangerous map to a location men feared, I could do this. This was more important. A race with more at stake than any I had yet run. Where I saw no hope, maybe, just maybe, Sage Danh would find it.

Hooves clattered and a horse snorted. I stood, a little unsteadily, and hauled myself onto my chestnut Asher’s back. The guards lifted my brother’s body up to me at my word and waited, clearly uncertain what to do.

“Commander Orophin leads in my absence,” I told them. “The council will choose a new king if I don’t return.” I turned Asher’s head to the gate and pushed him into a canter, not looking back. I hadn’t the heart or the time to tell them that I wasn’t coming back.

How long had it been? A day? A few hours? Dark had gathered about me, blinding by eyes to my horse’s path and to my burden. I was caught somewhere between utter despair and desperate hardly daring hope. Asher stumbled, and I lurched in the saddle. A light glimmered ahead, very near, and I squinted to see.

“Who is there?” A not unfriendly voice called. A voice I knew.

“Sage Danh? It’s me – Jorn. I need your help.”

The light approached and I looked down into the wrinkled face of the old priest. “Come in, my son. A heavy tale of sorrow and darkness is upon you. Come in, and we will speak of it in the light.”

I stood in the warmth of Sage Danh’s cottage, watching the old priest’s every move. I had told him my story, everything, nothing hidden, even if anyone could hide something from his perceptive mind. He was now seeking an answer to my last question – was there any hope for Jax? He bent over my brother’s cold still body where it lay on a pallet on the floor. I held my breath, my weariness a mere ghost in the shadows.

Sage Danh straightened. “For cowards and servants of darkness, there is no hope for your brother.”

Despair thundered down on my soul like a millstone. “And I’m no better than a servant of darkness,” I said bitterly, the flaming word – the Deplorable Word – rising unbidden in my mind.

“No, not yet in service,” Sage Danh said. “You have come under its hand. All may stumble. All will do deeds belonging to the darkness. But not all serve it. There is still time for you to decide, but you must decide. You cannot simply ignore the darkness; you must choose the light.”

“How does that help me?” I asked helplessly, feeling every second slipping away, carrying my brother farther beyond recall.

“Only the light can shatter the darkness. Only life can drown death. Only love can conquer hatred. So I told your father when he came to me long ago. He started down the road you took – entered the vault, opened the casket, and sought the forbidden knowledge. But he learned what price was demanded – the lives of two sons, and himself, no doubt, a slave to the Man of Darkness, your Lord Warlock. He refused. His soul would have been stolen, had he not escaped. But he escaped wounded.”

Suddenly I understood. “And then, you saved him. You healed his wound and brought him back.”

“He had already chosen the light. The darkness cannot hold such a soul for long, no matter how hard it strives.”

“But if the power of the light is the opposite of darkness, what power does it have like the Deplorable Word?” I asked.

“None so evil,” Sage Danh said. “My son, if you would learn what strength the light will give you, there is only one way to find out. I cannot tell you. You must look inside yourself and make your choice. And then, to act.”

Like an ugly vision, the sickening darkness that had owned me from Lord Warlock’s cave to when I learned the Deplorable Word rolled into my mind. I couldn’t serve that. I couldn’t belong to that forever. And the alternative? To be like this old priest – who men laughed at and scorned but all turned to when things got beyond them and whose wisdom they secretly sought? Not the power I had dreamed of, but suddenly it was beautifully appealing, a jewel of freedom offered to me without price. I nodded.

Sage Danh stood and smiled. “You have chosen well, my son. You will find your own strength in the darkest places. Seek always to walk in the light and the darkness will give way before you. For those who dare great things and walk in the light, there is all the hope in this world and beyond for your brother.”

Part two coming soon!

~ Kat

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