The world was rife with irritation and anger. Phillip slumped in the window-seat of their living room and tried to avoid his brothers’ pairs of eyes.
Rion blazoned in dark red, standing as a military statue; he would not yet risk lunging or parrying as Stuart and Benjamin did across the antique rug. Their footsteps dug temporary ruts in the fuzz as the men clanged without rhythm. Steel in the corner of his eye made Phillip sick.
Even the presence of the idea of war drew blood into his throat now. One maiming action stood worst than any practise fighting.
The elder brothers finished, falling together into the chaise longue.
“They ought to loosen these garments. I can’t jab nearly enough into my left side – and they expect me to try that on a horse!”
“Indeed,” added a breathless Stuart. Many years running had taken his thrill of the war, and his breath, from under him. “I am thankful I do not have to.”
Tough rubbish. Phillip thanked his own fortune, his own self, for not having been born a year earlier, or for attempting higher education yet – he would not have been able to have enforced his pacifism, under the lie of age, otherwise.
Their rabid conversation faded in and out of his mind; stray words caught not Phillip’s attention, but his ear, and he brushed those strands away.
“Rion?” called Benjamin. Apparently, Rion had succumbed to the same fate of the inward figure in his standing place by the map of the two Continents.
“Benjamin?” he replied after a second call, curdling his words as they came.
“Shall we go? Briefing awaits.”
Rion rotated and faced his brother with an emotionless face. “Indeed it does. After you, Brother.”
They shuffled away, formulaic regularity. Stuart made his pensive spring in his step as he always did before being placed in command of a unit and away from his wife; Benjamin, lazy in his walk, rocked from heel to toe in boots he had not quite worn in.
But not Rion. Rion strode for his own soles alone, wrists swinging. Nobody marched anymore. Nobody but Rion Costello.
How the stride told an agonising story itself!
Phillip followed his strut with his eyes. In a heartbeat, Phillip pitied the enemy. Rion was taking no prisoners, regardless of camp protocol.
At least one hope arrived. Phillip closed his unread book with a shaky thump when he heard Benjamin’s words to their brother:
“It must be interesting to have someone you tutored fight alongside you in the same position, eh, Rion?”
His brother coughed a single, solitary note of relief. Only Phillip heard the discomfort behind the sound. “Yakinos is…interesting.”
“I hear he is good –”
“You have heard correctly.”
Phillip had to concur, even when Rion had slammed the oak door shut, displaying his ever-malevolent gloom. Something inside him changed when he entered Lysander’s company.
“It is up to you now, Lysander,” he whispered to the window. Somewhere, that odd man was going to calm Rion with a mixture of their own medicine. Thank goodness eyes never left every man during the briefing. No fiddling would be extorted in that room.
Hopefully, Lysander would rid Rion of his hate once and for all. Phillip swallowed. He closed his eyes and closed away the broken world beyond them.