21: Twin Blades {flashback ends}Mature

Zolan avoided Gillireth for several days after the incident.  He did not want to bring back memories while the king was in such a delicate state.  The prince was told that the apothecaries could not do much for the king; he had lost a considerable amount of blood before the hemorrhaging subsided, and then a salve was applied to the large wound.  His face would never look the same, this much was certain.

Nearly a month later, Gillireth emerged from his room, having largely recovered from his wound's infection and the blood loss.  No one doubted that he had killed his wife in an act of self-defense, but it eluded everyone how such a small woman could do so much without a weapon.  Gillireth, over the course of his life, would only tell his most trusted military officers and advisors the secret of the Dechi for all the shame it brought him.

Living became a challenge in many respects for the king.  Eating and speaking caused him a great deal of pain and, in these first weeks, also caused the bleeding to recommence.  

He had certainly not spoken a word to Zolan.  He could not even meet his brother’s eyes, but he trusted the deed had been done, and that his secret was safe.

Zolan knew that the most healing salve for Jarrah’s guilt would be if he were allowed to remain a counsellor of the king, even if he would not call upon Fate to see the future.  The prince saw no better time to reintroduce the old man than when Gillireth was still occupied with his recovery.  Zolan fetched his steed and returned to the little village of Henenshire.

After tying up his horse, he was greeted once again at the cottage door by Aasta.

“Zolan!” she welcomed him with the usual smile.  “Do come in.  You won’t believe how much the little one has grown!  We all still call him Dechar, you know.”  She laughed.  Upon his entry into the den, Zolan was greeted excitedly by Dechar. “He remembers you, I see.  Hasn’t he grown?”

“Yes.  Quite.”  Zolan was made a little nervous by the fact that the pup looked nearly a third larger than he had been when he was dropped off.  “I truly can’t thank you enough.  We’re forever in your debt.”

Aasta laughed.  “Well, if you ever want to get me some of that fancy jewelry the nobles wear, I won’t object.”

Jarrah entered the room with his cane.  “Zolan.  How are you?  How is the king?”

“He is recovering from a wound he acquired… when the queen died.  I am well.  Would you come back with me, Jarrah?  I think there’s a chance of getting you back into the king’s counsel.  Gillireth is feeling weak now, so I don’t think he’ll muster the strength to object.  And once he gets used to your presence, I think he’ll realize that none of this is your fault.”

Jarrah had his doubts that Zolan’s plan would work, but he hated to be so dependent on these people who were poor themselves.  He agreed to go.

The men entered the castle and found Gillireth sitting upon his throne in full regalia.  When he noticed Jarrah, he stood up and shed his robes, walking toward them with a grimace on his damaged face.  Zolan had been wrong.

“Get… out.” Gillireth managed, pointing to Jarrah.

“Gillireth, really!” Zolan interjected.  “None of this is his fault.  Just let him stay.  He’s not done you any harm.”

“I said… out.”  His jaw started to bleed slightly.  

Zolan finally realized that loyalty to a broken king was foolhardy.  He had to stand up for what he knew was right.  “Brother, if you do not let Jarrah stay, then I’ll leave, too.”

Jarrah opened his mouth to object, only to receive an unwonted look of sternness from Zolan that silenced him.

“Guards!  Fetch us two swords.” Gillireth said.  Droplets of red began to run down his neck as he smiled sickly.

“What?  What’s gotten into you, brother?”

“You will never call me that again.  This is as much your fault as it is his!  We will settle this with a duel.  If you win, you get to leave alive.  If not, I will decide what becomes of you.”  He took one of the swords in his hand and the other was delivered to Zolan.

“No.  This is madness!  One of us could die!”

“I would not have it any other way.”  Gillireth lunged forward with his greatsword and attempted to strike Zolan, but his brother maneuvered quickly out of the way.  

“You’re still too weak, brother!  You can’t fight like this.  You’re bleeding already.  I beg of you, stop!”

Gillireth touched the tips of his fingers to his jaw and felt the scarlet juice running down.  He refused to show weakness in a moment like this.  He took another run at Zolan, and this time, the younger parried to block the attack.  This went on until, finally, Zolan pushed back after his parry, knocking the king to the floor.  He projected the end of his blade near the king’s bloodied throat.  

Gillireth gargled out a laugh and spat blood as he spoke.  “Go on.  Kill me.  Never mind, I know you won’t do it.  You’re too soft.  And since you haven’t got the fortitude, when you leave, take that entire filthy village with you.”  He paused to swallow, his wound having lost any progress of healing it had made in the last month.  “I had a soldier follow Jarrah to Henenshire the night he left.  I knew where he was the whole time.  I was just waiting for the right moment.  A moment like this.  To banish the entire village, burn it, and raze it.  If you know what’s good for those people, you’ll take them and their livestock with you.  And if I ever find you, I’ll kill you myself.”

Zolan’s disbelief was now mutilated into sheer fury.  “FINE!  We’ll be better off than we were under your rule, anyway!”  He watched as his brother lifted his arm, expecting to be helped to his feet by his subjugator.  Zolan instead slipped a ring from his brother’s hand.  It bore the emblem of Eirethstead upon it, twin golden lions facing each other over black.

“And one more thing,” Zolan said as he walked out of the castle doors for the last time.  “We’ll always be brothers, you and I, even if neither of us likes it.”


The End

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