15. JustinMature

Justin had not hesitated or frozen with fear – he had learnt very quickly that everything was about reactions in combat. It was about how you responded; act quickly and your opponent would not have time to work out your next move.

He jerked himself backwards, away from the needle-like tip of Jonah’s dagger, drawing his sword in one fluid motion. Jonah was upon him in seconds, frothing at the mouth and lashing out like a savage, not even using the dagger, instead beating at Justin with his fists and knees.

Justin threw a soft blow at his elder brother out of defence and it cut Jonah deeply in the arm. He howled at the pain like a wolf and fell backwards, all his violence dissolving into an innocent, child-like fear. Justin clambered to his feet, leaning on the bedpost, sweating and throbbing with pain from Jonah’s pounding blows.

Jonah, meanwhile, cowered in the corner like a mouse. He was shaking; perspiration falling down his face like a stream, mixed in with salty, sticky tears.

“Brother,” said Justin cautiously, not daring to step forwards or sheath his weapon. His mind was blank – what was he supposed to do? This was not meant to happen.

A distinct sense of dread began to clutch at Justin as he looked upon the emaciated figure of his older brother. This person had been the epitome of strength, leadership and military prowess. He had been reduced to ruins.

And who was first in line to take his place?

It could be Cadence, but it was unlikely. It was a well known fact that Justin was second in line to the throne after his brother. Although he shied away from ambition and authority, he was a skilled bowman and had a logical and intelligent head. In short, he was a suitable heir, regardless of his personal feelings towards the matter.

Jonah began shrieking, pointing out of the window and edging away from it, filled with a sudden overwhelming insanity.

“WHAT IS IT, YOU FOOL?!” bellowed Justin, waving his sword at the window, his head filling with the panic of potential responsibility and utter confusion at his brother’s actions.

This only caused Jonah to scream louder, thrashing around on the floor in fits. Behind them, the door to the chambers burst open and three guards ran in with their weapons drawn.

“What is…” one of the guards began, but stopping his sentence in shock when he saw the scene before him: a once hardy and commanding man had been reduced to a rabid and raging wreck. Smeared in blood, and now piss and shit, he lashed out in a demented and frenzied state.

Justin staggered backwards, clutching his sword with both hands.

“I have lost him,” he said meekly, his eyes set on his brother despite the horror of the sight.

“The physician… should he-“

“-Yes,” said Justin, choking on his thick and chaotic emotions, “Summon him.”

More guards clustered at the doorway, watching with consternated faces. Whispers and looks were exchanged between them, and Justin knew the damage had been done. Jonah would not rule in Flava in place of their late father.

What they saw before them could simply be described as a broken man. This was not uncommon; in a cruel world, insanity often sank its claws into the vulnerable. But once a man had fractured, he could not be made whole again. And a man in pieces was not fit to rule a kingdom: a kingdom was said to resemble its ruler; if the lord was damaged and divided, then the lands would be too.

They would almost certainly look to Justin for guidance and command.

As the guards gathered in a wide circle around a deranged and maniacal creature, each with silent lips but resonant minds, Justin sheathed his sword and fled.

The End

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