Prompt : Introduce a sibling rivalry.
“I have three horses dead. Torn to shreds. Bits and pieces of bone and flesh scattered across a mile radius. There was more than one creature this time, milord,” the man stated, gazing up at my half-brother. The farmer’s voice echoed in the stone hall as I studied him; brawny shoulders and close-cropped, wheat hair coupled with a rich, bass timbre. I would’ve believed him unaffected by the nobility surrounding him if not for the nervous roll of his hips, switching pressure from one foot to the other in a subtle dance as if his feet were slowly being cooked over warm coals. He barely looked over the age of thirty, youth still carving his face with a sort of gentleness, but something about the ease with which he spoke tickled my awareness. Educated, this one, I mused, as he continued his testimony. “These weren’t saddle ponies. They were my best drafts. Built for a plow and log. Whatever took them down had to be…strong, fast, methodical.”
I leaned forward, feigning the need to stretch my neck, to catch Adrian’s reaction to the farmer’s news. My half-brother was situated at the top of the stairs, his lanky frame filling the walnut throne with sideways, lazy insolence. To my vexation, his attention was focused wholly on the crown in his hands as he spun it in slow circles atop his pointer finger. The gold band, shaped in twisting vines and thistles, flicked shatters of reflected light at the farmer’s feet as Adrian toyed with it.
He wasn’t paying a single bit of attention to the man.
“Those horses were my livelihood,” the farmer growled, the edge to his voice growing as razor sharp as the quick straightening of his backbone. Rising to his full height, he was of intimidating stature, at least a full foot taller than Adrian himself. “I only came to ask for assistance. I have three neighboring men willing to track and hunt but three is not enough. Not in the Moonglade.”
Sympathy stuck in my throat like thick pastry glaze as I studied the farmer’s face in the ensuing silence. I could feel the lash to his pride as a tangible thing in the room, much like a whip cracked taunt between us. Coming to Adrian could not have been easy for this man and I sat and watched his humility rewarded with blatant disinterest on my half-sibling’s part.
I could feel heat rising to my cheeks like liquid rage burning under the surface of my skin. As a woman, custom dictated I was not allowed to show any interest in the cases presented before the court, much less voice an opinion. Two years of observing from my perch, first under my father then Adrian, hadn’t lessened my hatred for the invisible shackles I had to put on at the door. Several of Adrian’s more compassionate underlings seated alongside me looked equally as discomfited but refused to speak out of basic fear, not regulation.
The silence was shattered by a brittle yawn, discharged from Adrian’s throat like an arrow into the charged space.
Standing, I kicked my chair back with such force it toppled to the floor with a lightning crack. The farmer’s face below me went scarlet with fury, then white with disgust in a matter of seconds before he turned to leave. As I made my way out of the hall parallel to him, hushed whispers and concerned eyes followed in my wake. A few brushes of fingers reached out, trying in their own desperate way to comfort me, but all I felt in the moment was revulsion at their cowardice.
Two armored guards exited the room alongside me, matching tight-lipped frowns marring their twin faces. They shadowed my hurried movements with anticipated formation, already predicting my motives as I fled the meeting.
“He exited the west wing, milady,” the guard to my left whispered, his voice low with gravel and haste. “Toward the stable.”
Picking up the heavy edges of my gown, I skipped down the smooth steps and fled westward. Neither guard missed stride as my quick walk transformed into a dead run to catch the man mounting a thick, black horse at the edge of the stables.
“Wait,” I cried, reaching a hand out to flag the farmer. “Please, wait.”
He turned curious eyes toward me over his shoulder, halting the creature chomping at the bit with a light tug of the reins. I could see the pits of residual irritation in the set of his mouth and rigid spine but I refused to be cowed by his intimidating height atop the restless beast.
“Stay,” I pleaded, reading out to gently stroke the beast’s neck. “Stay and I promise I will get you the help you need.”
Butterscotch eyebrows knitted deeply into the farmer’s forehead as he looked aside to my personal guards. They feigned disinterest, studying the casual day-to-day movement of people in the courtyard and watching the patrols atop the wall. Midnight blue crests lay buried deep in the curves of their chest plates, my own personal sigil replacing the ones Adrian had once branded them with.
“At the risk of sounding rude, Miss, who are you to offer such an oath?”
I smothered a smile and reached for the man’s hand instead. To my surprise, he took it.
“My name is Cedar.”
Both guards now wholly fixed their gazes upon the man still holding my hand within his and beat their fists three times against their polished armor.
“My god,” the farmer whispered, suddenly releasing me.
“It’s good to have a princess on your side,” I nodded. “Now. Climb down off that mount so we can discuss and solve your problem the correct way.”
© Pearl Bayou 2018