*** This was once 'Homecoming' but has taken a few changes and is now 'A Brother's Lament' and thus it will seem very familiar to readers of the chapter 'Homecoming'.***
After countless revisions and rewrites, I am finally starting to settle in on a plotline. It has been a long and bumpy road, and to any of my past readers I must apologize for all the jumbling. I have been working on a piece that is combining the "best of all worlds" from my previous writing. Original story focused to little on the protagonists past aside from the protagonist telling the reader what happened. Then I wanted to show the past, but it left me too little room for the present story, now that I am combining the back story of the past into the dialogue and plotline of the present I am gaining some progress.
To those who have read my past work, know that many things have changed. Again. Such as Killian now, for the first time ever, has a brother (thus the added 's' on Brookrow Bastards) who replaces the character of the mother as his only living family, and many other things.
As always, a preemptive thank you to readers and potential readers alike.
I: A Brother's Lament
I often dream of the first time I saw death. I had been only a child at the time. Days and months and years all passed me by as the sounds of the wind fall upon deaf ears. It took a single event to make me face my own mortality.
Cold and stoic, I took the steps down the hallway. To my front and rear lay darkness, only a single orb of light cast by the gas lamp on the wall lit my way. I had been here before, once each night for eight long years. I could hear the screams, as clear as they were that day; the shrill horror that accompanied the discovery of a malicious deed in the night.
I gazed upon the oaken door, knowing that on the other side lay the destination of this horrible torpor. I clenched my hands tighter as I made my way towards the agape door. I extended my arm and grasped the brass knob.
I took a breath. The door began to slowly open as the screams faded away. Aunt Elsa knelt by the side of my father and the pool of blood in which he lay. She looked upon my face, begging me to look away. No words came forth, only a faint ringing that grew louder as the moments passed. I looked down upon my father’s lifeless face, and I felt the inevitable pain and helplessness. I closed my eyes, and pleaded for escape from this hell.
Darkness greeted me as my eyes fluttered open. My limbs were shaking, and my shirt was drenched in a cold sweat. I attempted to regain control of my breathing as I stared into the black void above me, grateful only that the nightmare had ended.
That night had been imprinted in my mind forever. Even as I lay in my hammock aboard that merchant scooter, I could not help but be tormented. The sorrow had followed me across the sea to Arless, and now, eight years past, it had followed me back again to the city of my birth.
Sleep lost all of its appeal, and I sat up to get a better look around the room. Many of the hammocks were filled with slumbering men and women of the sea, but one in particular was vacant. I knew that I was not alone in this restless night, so I stood and searched for the one who shared my woe.
I threw on my coat, and drew it close about my body as I took the steps up to the deck of the ship. The cold ocean breeze prickled at my damp skin, and the smell of the fresh, salty air filled my nostrils with an invigorating arousal. The deck was mostly empty, with only the first mate manning the helm and another standing at the bow.
He took notice of me, and tipped his wide-brimmed cap. I returned a curt nod. There was no need to share words. I continued towards the fore of the ship, and stood by the side of my other. We watched in silence as the ship drifted over the waves further and further across the Western Sea.
The light of the moon shined through slits in the overcast, illuminating the expression he wore upon on his young yet world-weary face. The years had not been kind to either of us, but my elder brother had seen more tragedy than most by far.
“Eight years,” he said. The words fell from his lips. He turned his head to me, his face contorted. “That’s how much life we could purchase with the coin father left us. Eight years, and now we have nothing to our names but the clothes on our backs.”
I leaned across the bow, forearms folded on the railing. I glanced up at the waning moon peeking through the clouds as I thought on his words. “Loss is not an unfamiliar concept to orphans. There’s always a bright side to things, brother—now we have nothing left to lose.”
He gave a pitiful chuckle, and shook his head. “I think I’ll miss my nights in the Waterfront the most. What I wouldn’t give to sit on the docks, drink a cold beer, and watch the sun set after a long day’s work. Strange how we take such things for granted, huh?”
“Yeah,” I replied, cracking my back. “Frankly, I already miss my bed.”
“Oh gods, yes. I worked my fingers to the bone so we didn’t have to sleep on the ground any longer. Years on that damned stone floor have left a permanent kink in my back.”
“I think I’ll even miss the floor.”
My brother took a slow draw of breath as the mirth was quick to dissipate. While the laughter helped to ease our pain, the memories only helped to kindle the fire of our anguish.
“I'll miss Elsa most of all,” I whispered.
“Can we not talk about her?” he replied sharply.
“Aiden,” I said softly as to not upset his easily unbridled temper, “I loved her as much as you. She sacrificed much for us, and was not even bound by blood to do it. It would be shameful of us to forget her.”
“I’ll never forget her, or what she did for us.” He fell silent, and went back to watching the sea. I gave a sigh that matched the teetering of the ship, and I glanced down at the ocean below, watching the water stir up a white foam against the boat’s hull as we carved our way across its surface.
“We had friends in Arless,” my brother muttered. “We had a life in Arless. All I have of this place are bad memories. I’m beginning to wonder if we should have ever returned.”
“Before Arless, we had a life in Irianna. We had a father who loved us, and we still don’t know why he died. We have no other family and we have nowhere else to go; we might as well find some answers.”
“I want to know the truth as much as you do, but this is no small task ahead of us, little brother. This city is all but foreign to the both of us, and the only thing we have to go on is the name of a gods-be-damned tavern, and we don’t even know where it is.”
“We can ask for directions. If Elsa believed that giving her last breath to tell us about Brookrow Tavern would aid us in our search, then we will find it. What are you worried about?”
“I do not worry for me,” he replied, the stress marring his face. “I worry for you. You are my baby brother, the last of my kin. I can’t let you—”
I grabbed hold of his arm, turning him to look me in the eye. “You aren’t letting me do anything, Aiden. There’s no turning back. We are in this together, as brothers. We will find our father’s killer, and we will bring him to justice.”
“I have heard stories of the law in Irianna. I doubt we will get much help.”
“I had simpler answer,” I replied, referring to the knife I had stuffed into my belt and tucked underneath my shirt to keep out of sight.
“That’s why I worry about bringing you. We can’t be stirring up trouble in a city built by it. We need to stay low and quiet. Irianna is a dangerous place. Promise me you’ll be careful. I can’t have you causing the same problems you did in Arless.”
I laughed his request off at first, but his adamant expression told him he demanded an answer. “I promise,” I said. “I won’t let you down.”
Aiden accepted my answer, but he knew as I did that it was a promise that I could not keep. Considering past events, it would not be long before problems arose. I had no more control over these things than he. All I hoped was that we could get our revenge. There was no turning back; only facing what may come next.
I ran my finger along the inward curve of the blunt edge of the six inch knife. I tested the weight in my hand, adjusting and readjusting my grip. I glanced at the simple blade; the last material remnant I had of those days. I thought on the words my father had said the day he bestowed the knife to me. Like the blade itself, I kept his words close.
The first time I held the knife in my hands, I had been afraid of it. My father, though he had a smile on his face, could not have carried a more serious tone as he took a knee by my side. “When I came to be your age,” he told me, “my father gave me a blade as his father had before him. If you are to uphold this tradition, you must be one with your blade and carry it with honor. If you cannot use it, you only risk harm to yourself and the ones you care for.” The last fond memory I have of him was meeting his gaze as he warned me, “You are a man now, my son.”
My eyes closed as I released the air in my lungs and the blade in my hand. I listened for the telltale thud before opening my eyes. I felt the mirth distort my somber expression as I saw the speared apple lying on the deck.
“I don’t fuckin’ believe it,” cried one of the watching sailors.
The following commotion was mingled with further disbelief and rancorous cheering. I picked the blade up from the ground, and plucked off the apple attached to its point. I took a bite. Victory tasted sweet.
Aiden shrugged off the loss. “Never been very fond of throwing knives,” he admitted. “I prefer being up close and personal.” He held both hands out at the ready. I chuckled and humored him with another contest of skill. I held my blade as he did, reverse grip with the edge facing inward, and got low and steady.
“This should be interesting,” I said. “Don’t go easy on me now.”
From the day he had gotten his blade, my brother had practiced wielding his knife meticulously. In time, I joined him. My brother had been taught to handle his knife by our father, but I had not had the privilege before he passed. My brother had taken it upon himself to teach me in his stead.
Aiden strafed clockwise, and I countered his movements. I pivoted my body out of the way of his first jab at my right side, bringing the back of my knife across his forearm. That was one point for me. He took a step back, chuckling to himself as he took his stance once more.
“You got lucky,” he said, his eyes trailing as I moved towards him. I feigned a swing at his abdomen, checked his knife arm with the back of my free hand, and cut left arm again.
“That’s two,” I announced, spinning the knife in my hand. “Not bad for a bit of luck.”
The crowd cheered us on. Whatever ill will they might have held for us seemed to dissipate the moment we began our spectacle. Aiden smirked and deftly flipped his blade over. While father had taught him both styles, my brother had always preferred the forward grip over the reverse. Now, it was I that was at a disadvantage.
I flexed my grip again, waiting for him to take the strike. It came as a straight thrust towards my chest, which I knocked upwards and to the right with my free arm. I took a swipe at him, which he blocked in turn. This continued twice more before we took a step away from one another with not hit on either side.
Aiden stepped in, attempted an arcing thrust at my chest. I shuffled back out of range of his strike, only to stumble and fall after a second and third. Arse first on the ground, I could do little but shake my head in disappointment. I muttered a few obscenities, ignoring the jeering from those betting on my brother’s victory. At this point the crowd was raving.
“Land ho!” The call muted the cacophonous crowd, turning all of our attentions to the fore of the ship. The captain gave the orders, and the seamen sprung to action. Those that had been resting were roused, and those without a task were given one. I had not the ear for nautical tongue, so I merely watched in amusement as they scattered to and fro.
My brother helped me to my feet, and together we went to catch our first glimpse of the city in years. The midday sun hung high in the sky over the great city of Irianna, and I put a hand over my eyes to better see.
Onwards into the horizon it stretched; a labyrinth of brick and cobblestone. While many stone towers scattered across the city were taller than many of the buildings, a single clock tower stood in the center, overlooking the entirety of the city. Countless streets and alleyways filled with innumerable more people. One of them, somewhere in the city of sin, was the one who murdered my father. I could not shake the thought from the fore of my mind as we drew nearer to the city.
Aiden, it seemed, could not dwell on it either. He turned away from the railing, and went to gather his things from where he had left them. I watched as he organized his satchel, knowing we had the same thing on our minds. I wiped the sweat that had built upon my brow, and took one more glance at the city in the distance.
“You have your belongings together?” he asked.
I bent over my satchel, unfastening it and peering inside. I rummaged through its contents, and realized that I was lacking an item close to my heart. I slipped the satchel over my shoulders, and said, “I left something on my hammock. Think I’ll pop down there for a bit, get some peace and quiet while I can.”
“I’ll call for you when we draw near,” he replied.
I headed below deck to the crew quarters where I found quiet solitude. I shook my head in a vain effort to clear my mind, but I could not shake the empty feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I found my book where I had left it the night before. I picked it up, brushing dust from the spine of the book; Pierce Alexander’s Collection of Faerie Tales. I flipped it open to the where I had left off, and uncurled the folded corner of the page I had used to mark my place. I sat down upon the hammock to continue my journey through the world within the yellowed pages and fading ink.
While the knife I carried was the memento I had of my father, this book was the one item that would always remind me of my Aunt Elsa, the ever-giving and charitable woman who took us in as her own flesh and blood. It had been her that had taught me to read, with the very book I held in my hands. I chose to bring it, not out of necessity but out of respect to her dying wishes.
“Never stop reading,” she had told me on her deathbed, “never let that wonderful light of your imagination go out.”
My brother never had the patience or time to learn, and had I been old enough to work by my brother’s side, I would never have learned myself. There were times that I felt guilty that I was able to slip away from the troubles of my world to experience the wonders of another, while my brother had learned to accept his fate in a world that had no place for him.
The words on the page became a blur to me, and I too found myself forced back to reality. My mind dwelt on the city and the evil it concealed within its streets. I closed the book and laid down, gazing mindlessly at the ceiling as I waited for our arrival.
“Come what may,” I whispered.
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