He watched in slight awe under the moon’s light, small buds bloomed to life exposing wispy petals the color of pearls. They washed over the old forest like an incoming tide flowing around ancient oaks and small saplings, turning each tree into their own island. Droplets of white flowers clung to the hardwoods, some catching hold of thick boughs, glistening against the dark bark. Leaning again one of those trees, he kept watching patiently, twisting a pair of tiny bottles hanging around his neck and holding the strap of a large pack slung over his shoulders, careful not to disturb the silence of the sacred night as he waited for the floral blanket to finish its proliferation before beginning his task.
His hands moved with care, holding the delicate stem still as his knife dug down to the root keeping it as whole as possible, then depositing the flower into a large jar of rare nectar and moving to the next. The process was not entirely unfamiliar but since these were only found every few year practice was difficult. It took the first couple hundred tries to regain technique, but gradually he fell into a pattern of leisure repetition. He harvested as the hours tick away stopping only to switch jars.
Clattering echoes of heavy hooves broke the natural tranquility just before morning, announcing their presence long before they arrived. The massive steeds thrashed their way through the narrow walking paths, crushing bushes and think plants, shoving past what they couldn’t destroy. The lead rider halted only a few pace away, hardened grey eyes hidden under a metal helm stared down from the mount. “Davrou son of Gidderak, why have you shunned you duties at the solstice?” The rider demanded an answer.
Davrou ignored the question, wrapping the last of the jars in a leather sleeve to shut out light from the sun that was threatening to rise. Tightening the cord securely over the lid before turning back to the rider. He swallowed hard at the sight of what these men did to their horses, fusing metals to flesh the hind legs of each were reinforced with hydraulics running through muscle a small apparatus latched against the animal’s chests pumping some amber colored concoction through their bodies, . Rebreeding was beginning to grow in popularity recently. “You’re as unbearably loud as ever, Falor.” He answered cheekily.
Falor and his men dismounted just as the first rays broke past the canopy showering them in light. His heavy blade sliding smoothly from its sheath, as the blanket of white wilted and withered as quickly as it bloomed. “I will have none of your mockery, today, you’re to return now.” He cammanded, stocking forward. The other two kept their distance but lifted their weapons to the ready one holding a large two barreled pistol the other a heavy mace in an arm warped in the same manner as his steed.
Davrou shook his head is exasperation letting his own sword slip free and using a piece of cloth to wipe a thick layer of oil off its edges. “And just as tedious, in your action-.” He retorted. Parrying a sudden thrust as the last word left his mouth. Falor grinned through his coarsely kept beard, tightening his grip on the worn leather. Throwing himself into the next series of blows. The greatsword swept down and across in quick succession aching for blood, anything it could sink its edge into. Davrou’s parries dwindled to quick dodges, the thin blade of his long sword unable to match the weight of the hits as Falor pressed in. Each slice came in at full swing, arcing high and low spinning from one to the next. Davrou’s returned in kind striking anywhere left vulnerable. He thrusted in from a low angle to Falor’s throat only to clash against metal and get pushed back. The two crushed the dying flowers under their souls continuing to storming through their remains. Davrou danced between trees, slipping out to slash before stepping behind another. Falor drew back to the defensive his foot work limited in the rough floor clutters in roots and rocks. “You know nothing of a warrior’s pride, hiding like a woman.” He called in aggravation. Davrou only answer was a condescending laugh as he chipped away and his composure. Feinting one direction or another showering Falor In small cuts during his confusion
“Fight!” Falor shouted
“As you wish” Davrou humored the more agile swordsman was ready to move in for the kill. Movement caught his eyes from the side. A glint of steel and the snap of twigs said he waited too long, the other two had circled wide from the start
“You are far too predictable, Brother.” Falor chuckled, slamming the flat of the sword against Davrou’s chest before he could recover from his naivety. Air escaped him in one large gasp leaving him desperate for a breathe, his body gasping involuntarily begging for the air to return even as his brother held the tip his blade biting into skin above His heart. His brother’s eyes stared down coldly, his face stoic, deciding his fate, “Yield?” he asked, his countenance shift back to a smirk
Davrou fought down a shiver, the eldest brother clawed and killed for every piece of status and respect he had ganged, He could almost feel the sword piercing through his chest, He couldn’t shake the feeling that it would have if he had anything worth taking. Ignoring the brief chill, Davrou grounded his teeth to help control his breathing, look past the weapon dangling over him at the arrogant smirk his brother wore.
“Fine, it’s your win you hypocritical oaf.” He conceded raising his hand. Falor took it helping him to his feet.
“As always, little brother. I’ve told you victory is all that matters.” Falor lectured. Returning the greatsword to its sheath. “And watch your surrounding for more than where to step” he added picking up Davrou’s weapon with some concern and handed it back slowly.
He accepted it with a grin. “Are you begin to fear your Witch Doctor brother, as well?”
Falor arched his brow. “Why would I fear someone who’s never bested me?” he asked smugly “Poisons and venoms are a different concern, however.” The elder brother pointed out, rubbing a pair of long shallow cuts along his bicep
Davrou shook his head. “Rest easy, it was Thorn Sap, no effect in small quantities.” Falor and his comrades laughed in good humor, but Davrou could see the tension stay in them, one gripping the handle or his war axe whenever Davrou glanced his way the other fixated on him looking for any excuse to attack. Falor may not see him as such but the other two did. It was the common view of him.
“Why are you here instead of leading your men and what was the nonsense about shunning my duties?” Davrou asked walking back to where he left the jars. Falor waved his men off and fell in step with his Brother. “Exactly as I said, Doren was a bore, following the rituals to the letter, giving his praise to the gods after every sentence. Believe me you were missed.”
Davrou cast him a skeptical look.
“Well you were missed by your brothers at least.” He admitted. Our little half-brother was scouring the crowd to find you and I thought starting a ruckus with someone insulting you as you did your priestly duties would have be entertaining” Davrou hid a scowl at the mention of their half-brother, made no remarks, All three were brothers by only their fathers blood, But Falor was always closer to Davrou even if he never questioned the clans, or the worthless chief’s decision. Probably because I never pose a threat, Davrou thought.
“Our father noticed your absence as well.” Falor continued
Davrou’s scowl flashed once more at the reference to their father “The mead and his sword are the only thing he seems to recognize as significant these days, I doubt he noticed much.”
His brother gave him a hard glare. “If you can’t respect him as our father, respect the Iron blood clan chief same goes for the apparent successor”
Davrou shifted at the mention of their younger brother again.
“Speaking of him, I heard you’ve distanced yourself from him these last few moons.” He pried but got no response. “Has the heir apparent suddenly fell out of the gods favor?” Falor asked feigning shock but his voice held an undertone of excitement.
“Hold your stupidity,” Davrou gave in as they reached the original area, grabbing a pair of jars, but Falor stopped him “Ogen! Fenir!take the containers to your mount and secure them properly” he ordered.
“For the insignificantly few that still care for the old ways, No , I’ve seen no signs of Thaelon’s falling out of favor, or any signs from the gods at all for that matter.” The young priest in training answered. His brother’s features dimmed momentarily as Davrou paused for a moment, careful of how to frame is next sentence, making sure the other two were out of earshot “I’ve just come to the understanding that not all those that desire to rule have the qualifications.” He stated quietly.
The comment left a long moment of silence, until Falor stopped in front of his Rebreed. The horse looked even more pitiable up close, It Eyes, seemed fixed in a translucent haze, the component boring through its limbs constantly ripping at the flesh. And more than anything else, the complete lack of movement. It was completely still as if it lacked any kind of soul without its rider. The creature was a walking corpse. Davrou had the Urge to take out his blade and put it out of its misery.
“He is the best of us, and the clan thinks he makes a great successor, we must respect those terms.” Falor’s words rung out like a speech he practiced a thousand times, Complete with self-righteous anger. The loyal hero would here none of it regardless if he believed it himself.
“Careful who you spill your nonsense to brother.” He warned
Davrou walked past the abominations, heading along the ravaged remains of the walking trail to the forest’s edge, the large black and brown Highlander nayed nervously at their approach, rightfully frightened by its tortured brethren.
“Easy Vera” he whispered soothingly patting her flank gently until she calmed.
“That’s why, rebreeds are so great, stronger faster, and under the riders complete control without and effort.” One of the lackeys noted to the other as they passed. Davrou held his tongue at the dimwit’s absurdity and waited for Falor to pass before mounting himself. Day crawled by unbearably slowly, constant conversations of how Fenir and Ogen, Falor’s men, found it so much easier so barely feed their steeds, how you can run them to death and they’d still be perfectly fine the next day even if they forgot to give them water. Followed by the constant complaint of having to keep pace with Vera or stopping to give the mare her rest, when they could have made it back to the village by night fall if they ran the entire day like they suggested. Falor, kept the peace moving back and for between them, exchange old stories and memories between brothers and pacifying his men then took long stretches to himself lost in thought.
A century passed once the sun dipped below the horizon and they decided to make camp by a clearing. Davrou was given first watch after tripping over himself bumping into Fenir, yet he felt himself wide awake when he switched with Ogen, He woke the man with a hard pat on the back and went over to the small fire, sitting on a flat stone, watching the flames as he ran through thoughts organizing them carefully.
“Too much thinking to sleep, Brother” Falor called quietly, sitting next to his brother.
Davrou glanced at him. “Something like that” he answered taking a swig from a large old flask.
“Why not share your thoughts? What concerns you about our half-brother?” Falor returned to their last topic. “It not wrong to feel cheated by losing favor to our younger.”
Davrou took another swig in response after the fifth he began.
“His naivety is a concern, He know nothing but the sheltered life the village choose for him. “ once his complaint began he could not stop. “He lacks discipline, and his inexperience and dependency make him as prone to manipulation as our father. Davrou went on listing his worries, drinking more and more, until he looked completely inebriated. “He opposes battle even when necessary”
Falor nodded continuously listening to his brother tirade. When Davrou’s words began to slip and he had difficulty holding himself straight Falor answered, without the pretense of a hero’s loyalty “I’ve had similar thoughts. He must have been considered for convenience, nothing more”
Davrou nodded his agreement. “I won’t care to take his place, or my own for that matter, but I’ve come to fear the idea of another worthless leader.’ His fist clenched at the thought. “I’ll do anything to make sure we don’t fall any further.” He promised quietly, the regular sight of his father in a drunken stupor, desperately looking for a bought or any other way to satiate his madness, was pitiable to see. Then he became nothing more than a figure head, as the elders took control, shunning most of new technologies, and using the clan as simple mercenaries.
“Then why not change it?” Falor asked cautiously.
Davrou laughed at the remark. “How, the influence of the gods?” he suggested” drunkenly. “Most of the clan has moved away from the gods, instead believing in the new strength like your little lapdog there” he explained gesturing to Fenir.
“Not all though.” Falor argued “I know of a couple elders who still hold the gods in high regards, and others who would support, my right to lay claim as the eldest.”
Davrou showed no signs of expression, listening carefully to his brother’s word.
“I plan to do just that…but if you truly desire what best for our people, help them.” Falor waited for the words to sink in, his mind weighing options.
“Helping our people tear each other apart would just destroy us faster. The winner will be heir to nothing.” Davrou reasoned with his brother.
“We don’t have to let it fall to chaos, Brother. If it does so be it. I will take back my rightful seat. The clan would fall under his lead either way.” He paused to read his brother one more. “Yet the Hunts with take place from Tomorrow on. And many have died in the confusion before.” The sentence hung thick in the air between them. Almost suffocating until Falor stood offering his arm keeping the other resting over his back on the hilt of the massive blade. With a long sigh Davrou traded grips with his brother. “I truly wish you weren’t so predictable” he muttered, pulling back.
“Take the bag of herbs” Falor called to Ogen, but the large man didn’t stir. As his eyes darted to the man’s bedroll, Davrou’s movement was a blur noticed only after the hunting knife thudded onto the floor coated in crimson. Falor stumbled back in disbelief. His grip s slipping away from the massive blade
“Why?” was the only word the escaped as he struggle to hold in his innards.
Davrou looked down at him without pity, the flask he was using still full.
“I told you already, Some People don’t have the qualifications of a Chief” He explained. The foul mixture of blood, feces and bile spilling out, was beginning to exude a rancid stench that stained the air. Davrou fought the urge to step away wanting to at least give Falor some measure of respect. He cried out for his men feebly, praying for salvation but neither responded. Davrou let him call out again before lazily tossing him a small tin ring set with a needle at its center. “You men won’t wake. Their throats with be slit long before they come to.” He sat back onto his make shift seat, far more comfortably. “Being naïve is a trait fixed by experience, brother, but killing and using you brothers, hungering for power even at the cost of everyone’s blood. Blinding yourself to this the entire time. Arrogance and Greed, brother, those I don’t believe can be fixed.” He finished to see Falor watching him lifelessly. He moved to the other two quickly, taking their lives and organizing the scene to fit the imaginary story we would tell. Davrou felt little remorse for his actions, as long as he kept his promise it didn’t matter. Thaelon never need know how worthless his brothers are.
“Rise and Shine Davrou, Captain says your free day’s over.” The Mercenaries voice rang followed by a barrage of knocks waking him from his past. Davrou was on the Asterius far away from his clan’s borders, Thaelon was killed anyway so he had no more promise, and He had nothing but time and anger. He couldn’t help laughing as he pulled himself out of bed, he was as obsessed as Falor was, and the gods didn’t need to send a dream for such a benign revelation.