Disclaimer: I thought up this story and it's characters. Please don't steal it. My sister will get very angry and throw things at you.
Warning: This story will contain romance between two men, violence and swearing (just to cover my bases)
Note: Yay! My first story! It was supposed to be a one-shot, then it turned into maybe four chapters. Now it'll probably be ten or so. Don't quote me on that though. I should be updating at least monthly. So enjoy!
I've never much cared for being the middle child. I wish my parents could have had one or two more children, so I could be 'the second son' instead of 'the one born in-between.' Although, I suppose I could say I wish there were only two of us so I could be the youngest. However, then my life would go from having as little fun as I am allowed, to having no fun whatsoever. I love my younger sister dearly and have bravely endured the status of the middle with her humor and perspective making things interesting.
I could also say that I would like to be the oldest, but this is also untrue. I'm just not cut out for the responsibility. The advantage of doing everything first, when it's exciting and new, is nothing compared to doing everything first, when it disappoints the family. I would also dislike being the person people look to as an example of what not to do, as my elder brother did quite well as a young man. But he has grown out of that by now. He has a wife, a house and a baby on the way; even has a respectable career working alongside our father as a blacksmith. But alas, now our parents look to me as if to say 'and when exactly do you intend to do something with your life that is of value?'.
Such is the life of the middle child of three. Old enough to know better, but young enough to be patronized and underestimated. Getting away with nothing as well as having little recognition for anything worthwhile my brother has already achieved. Which is almost everything my parents approve of.
It does not help matters that I am an awkward sort. Apparently, as a man, I should want to fight, be loud, and eat massive quantities. I, however, don't care for violence. This is not to say I can't fight. I would usually win, and that's without the magic. I just prefer a less violent route to solving the world's problems. I enjoy my peace and quiet. Instead of yelling for my favorite knight in the joust or hollering after a girl I fancy, I'd rather be in the library with a book or some intellectual conversation. I do not eat more than I need. Plain and simple. Our city could do with a bit of moderation in the food department if you ask me. But just because I am not some great, hulking mass of 'muscle' I must be malnourished and weak.
Which brings me to my current situation. Being fussed over again by the woman who runs the bakery about being too skinny.
"Look at yourself boy! How do you expect to catch a girl's attention when you look like you could be blown away in the next wind storm? Now if I were your mother, I'd march you right down to the barracks and sign you up to become a page! That and make sure you eat twice as much as you do now. I happen to know that you eat like a bird."
I restrain myself from saying that birds actually eat much more than other animals, given their size. Most people mistake my informative nature for sarcasm, and I'd rather not get the lecture.
"Yes ma'am. I'll tell her, ma'am."
"You do that. You should also start praying to Corydon. Ask him to give you more skill in battle instead of this magic nonsense you've taken to."
Ah yes. Corydon being the god of battle, it is fitting for a young man to use him as a patron god. Being a mage is woman's work somehow. Probably due to the fact that the god of magic is a goddess. I don't see what that has to do with anything. My sister Katerina has psychic abilities, but she is a girl, so she is congratulated for it. She also, however, is quite skilled with the sword. Which I am told is a man's tool. Not that she goes about flaunting it. She watches the knights train but most assume she's just a blushing female, too shy to let her affections be known to the knight she admires. In reality she is watching techniques to try out in private later. As I used to do with my magic. But I grew tired of the secret, and look what happened. She's out practicing her combat skills and I'm here doing her job, and getting nagged at by a woman I shouldn't even know.
Then, as if I had summoned her myself, Katerina strolls in and saves the day.
"My dear Mrs. Reid, if you would kindly cease your admonishing, my dear brother and I must get back home to assist our mother with supper. That is, of course, why he was sent here in the first place."
The baker looked slightly embarrassed by this.
"Oh yes! Your order! I'll get that to you right away."
She left us to wait. I glared at my sister, but said nothing, not wanting to be overheard. Kat just smiled at me as if to say 'You're welcome.' As if it weren't her fault to begin with.
"Sorry to keep you waiting!" The baker called while scurrying from the back room, arms full with a basket of various baked goods.
I began to open my mouth, to say that she was the one who started nagging me and thus made us wait even longer, but Kat cut me off.
"That's quite alright, Mrs. Reid. You have saved us hours with the bread alone so a moment is trivial in comparison." Just then another customer came in. "You're a busy woman so we'll just be going now. Thank you!"
"Not a problem Katerina! Vincent, you remember what I told you! And be sure to tell your mother!"
Kat rushed us out, took the basket from me and sighed. "I'm glad that's done. Thanks for going for me Vince. Last time I had to go she kept pestering me about getting married. I don't even have a suitor, let alone anyone close to being marriage material. So what did she say to you anyway?"
"Oh the usual. I'm too skinny, too magical, and not intimidating enough. If I had a silver coin for how many times I heard one of those complaints, I'd be richer than the Marquis!" I groaned, suddenly feeling exhausted. "Remind me why I do these things for you again?"
"Because you love me and want to make me happy?" she said. The statement sounded more like a question but she grinned, looking quite satisfied with her reply.
"No… no that isn't it." I teased.
Her grin then transformed. Not into a pout. I've seen ladies pout when their suitors don't want to buy them something. No, this was a look of anguish that said no less than 'you have broken my heart and I shall die as a result.' What's worse is she knows I can't stand this face. She is wicked, my sister.
"Alright! I'm sorry! I am glad to lay my life and dignity down for you, my lady. Just stop with the face!"
This of course, captured the attention of nearly all in our vicinity. Most who looked up noticed it was us, however, and returned to their own affairs. They act as though we do this often! Kat had dissolved into a fit of laughter, nearly dropping the basket in efforts to stay upright.
"You know I appreciate you, right? I shall make it up to you. I'll tell mother and father about my training, that way your mage abilities will be old news."
Luckily by now we had reached the long dirt path that lead to our house. Our father liked his privacy so it would be a decent while back home. Given the hour, we would be unlikely to be overheard by potential customers of my father, so we could say what we liked without worry.
"Have you gone mad?! My magic is one thing; there are male mages and even wizards in this kingdom. But female warriors? The only women swordsmen… er, swordswomen I suppose, in the vicinity are Nahara's guards. They have to take a vow of chastity, Kat! Just like any other priest or priestess. Can you imagine what mother would say? Or the alternative is to leave not just Serraval, but the country of Evondine altogether! Go someplace like Khandir where the women fight and monsters run rampant."
I expected a glare, but was instead treated to a look of intrigue. She couldn't be thinking this was a good idea?!
"How narrow-minded of you, my scholarly brother. You act as though they send their pregnant and unfit women to arms. Not to mention the fact that the 'monsters' are simply griffins or rocs or perhaps a dragon or two." Her eyes shone at mentioning the dragons.
"You have destructive interests, Kat. You really think a dragon would just let you walk up to it and touch it? Knowing you, you would run up to it and pet it like some cat or something. I've read quite a bit on the subject and dragons do not like being touched by humans."
"Of course I wouldn't do that! The lords of the sky command respect. If you give it to them, they usually give it back."
"Lords of the sky indeed. You've been talking to that old bard again, haven't you? A dragon would likely think you a fool if you called it that to it's face. Besides, how many stories are there of dragons killing people and destroying villages? Too many to count."
"Most of which are fiction or truths stretched so thin all you see is falsehood. Dragons are far smarter than we humans. The only reason they would kill a person is if they were starved or threatened. They have their own territory for a reason. But no, knights have to wander in there all of the time to prove their manhood or some such foolishness. How would you like it if someone just barged into your house swinging a sword around, wanting to cut off your skin? And besides! You like griffins just as much as I like dragons!"
"Just because I happen to think griffins are interesting doesn't mean I have an obsession like you."
She glared at me, but changed the subject abruptly. "I do like your first idea though."
"What ide…oh no. Katerina Farrier you will not go to the temple of Nahara and become a guardian priestess! Then you really wouldn't find someone to marry."
"Not so. The traveling warrior priests and priestesses have a certain amount of training time in which, yes, they must be celibate. However once that training is over and they begin their active duty they may marry someone should they choose."
"You sound as though you done research…"
She looked at me innocently. "Vince, I'm not going to magically find someone suitable for marriage within the next few years. I've looked, trust me. Contrary to what mother would say, I do care about what a woman is 'supposed to do' despite disagreeing with some of them. And I will not lower my standards just so I can get married at the same time as the other girls. That would just lead to unhappiness and it would all be for naught."
Kat had a point. I honestly do think she could be a little more lenient when men are involved. I personally have been on the receiving end of one of her responsibility speeches a few times. They aren't enjoyable. My brother Philip has endured her tirades even more often. But I suppose none of the gentlemen around here seem mature enough to handle her. I tell her so.
"Or you, I suppose?"
Very amusing. My sister seemed to believe that because I have little interest for the impossible females of this city, I must not like them at all. I disregard these little comments each time, due to their sheer absurdity.
Or so I tell myself.
No matter what the truth may be, she makes sure never to make such a comment around the family. The insinuation would ruin much of my life.
So we eventually make it back home, bickering for most of the trip. She promised to wait a month before making a decision on going to the temple. Which was for the better, I thought. Kat went to help our mother and sister-in-law with supper. I offered to help, but was quickly shooed away.
"You always say we men never help you women in the kitchen, but when I try you get angry."
"Yes, and that has nothing to do with the fact that you could burn water, now does it?" my mother says.
I huff at her. It wasn't my fault I don't get along with fire. We mages can't be adept at every element! So I made my way toward the study, trying to steer clear of my father and elder brother. No such luck.
"Hey Vinny, that you? Come help us in the shop would you?"
That name. I despise being called that name. The only person foolish enough to call me that was Philip: oldest son and favorite of the Farrier household.
"Philip, you know he's no good at this. Just ignore your brother, son. Why don't you go in the study and read or something?"
Wise and exalted father, right to the point. Of course, I was going there anyway. And yes, Philip knows I'm no good at working the bellows or forging. He does it on purpose. In the off chance I were to say yes, he would love to 'show me the proper way of doing things.' More like flaunting his own ability.
Here the not being compatible with fire problem surfaces again. Of what use is a blacksmith who isn't good with the flame? None, as many a malformed horseshoe can attest to.
So I went to the study and read until supper was announced. I entered the dining room and sat down amongst my family, only to be greeted with…unsavory conversation.
"So I told him no, reminded him he was betrothed and left. He should be thankful I didn't go to the family of his intended and tell them what happened!" Kat seemed to be in a state of annoyance.
"It's good you didn't." said mother. "His position gives him much power and it could have gotten back to you."
"But to commit such an atrocity against myself and Lady Dahlia is deplorable. She is such a fine woman, why couldn't he wait until they were married and then do… those sorts of things with her?"
"Did I miss something?" I asked.
"Well, some men don't think about those things when the need arises. All that really matters is availability." Philip stated, ignoring my question. His wife sent him a withering stare. She then turned to me.
"Our dear Katerina was propositioned by the Viscount!"
The Viscount was the grandson of the Marquis, the richest and most powerful noble in the region. The Viscount, or Walter, as was his proper name which no one used to his face, seemed to take that power straight to his head. Or rather… other parts of his anatomy.
"WHAT?! What did he do?"
Kat looked slightly embarrassed. "He said… things. And tried to, um…" She trailed off.
"He tried to grope me, okay?!"
I was quiet for a moment, taking in what she had said.
"Why didn't you tell me this earlier?! Why I'll go back into town right now and give that cretin a piece of my mind. Or a taste of the dirt, whichever suits."
I got up from my seat and started for the door, grabbing my staff as I went. Kat tried to protest but I ignored her. Mother grabbed my arm and I shrugged it off. I was almost out the door when my father spoke up.
"Vincent you will sit down. Now."
If there was one thing I would rather avoid, it's an argument with my father. I could probably do well in a physical fight. A verbal one however… this man knew just how to patronize a person. Arguing with him made me feel like a child.
Needless to say, I sat down. I grabbed the loaf of bread that I had suffered in getting and stabbed it in frustration. Followed, of course, by cutting into it like a proper gentleman and distributing it to my parents and siblings. I found out the hard way that wasting food in anger was not to be tolerated in this household. That was something children did when their tempers got the best of them. I was not considered grown up, however, as I was to remain quiet and let the adults handle this injustice.
"You will go to the Viscount tomorrow and beg his forgiveness. To reject a noble is to bring misfortune upon this household."
"Father? You have always said that for a woman, their purity is essential to find a good husband!"
"I will accept no argument on the issue. Nobility is a separate issue from the common men you associate with."
Translation: A woman who sleeps with a man before marriage is a whore, unless the man is noble. Kat did not like that answer. She furrowed her brow and her face grew red. Our mother opened her mouth to say something. I had hoped it would be in Katerina's defense, proof that our parents weren't total sellouts to the peerage, but she was interrupted by the ringing of a bell.
This bell was a siren of sorts. I remembered the several times I had heard it before and had come to hate it. Every time it rang it meant Kat had to leave with our mother or father to gather in the square. It meant a dragon had been sighted. For as long as this village stood, a virgin sacrifice had to be made to satiate the nearby dragon populace. If the sacrifice were missed, the city would be in ruin. Not that the sacrifice had ever been forgotten.
Kat leapt up from her unfinished plate and grabbed her riding cloak. Our father was already waiting impatiently door in his riding things. I made to speak, wanting to accompany them and assure Kat that surely she would not be chosen, but a look from our father told me this would not be so. I tried to look at Kat in a way that was reassuring. She just returned my gaze with one of fear. She always had the same look when she had to leave for the meetings. Always the pessimist. And she was always proven wrong of her doubts as someone else was chosen.
So she and our father set off, as the rest of us continued our dinner. I ate mine as fast as I could manage and sprinted through the house and up onto the roof. From there I watched them leave until I could no longer see them. As I came down my brother met me in the hallway.
"She'll be fine Vince. She always is. Besides, she could take out any dragon that would think about eating her." A roundabout way of bragging, as Philip was the one to teach her swordplay.
"Or charm her way out of it. You know how she is with the dragon topic, imagine how she would be staring at the real thing."
He pictured it and began laughing. His words got their intended result and I began to feel better. Surely she would be alright as always.
I spent the evening in the study, reading up on certain combination elemental magic and spells. Every so often I would look up and wonder where they were. But I would shake off any bad thoughts as soon as they came. It always felt longer when I had to wait for them. Amanda and our mother seemed to have similar sentiment, as I heard them pacing around the common room or tidying up random things. All went quiet for a moment until, "THEY'RE BACK!"
I put down my books and met Amanda, Mother and Philip, who had obviously been in the workroom. Perhaps with the same idea I had of passing the time quickly by distraction. We waited eagerly for them to come into the house. It was taking a life time, even for the ever-patient Amanda. So much so that as they came up to the door, she wrenched the door open, only to be met by the elder of the temple of Nahara looking solemn.
"Be gentle with her, dears. She seems to be in shock at the moment. Hasn't quite sunk in yet."
No. This was not happening. I looked past the elder and at my sister, who was pale and being supported by our father. Our mother began heatedly bargaining with the elder.
"Why her?! Why can't it be some other girl?!" She went on and on with her tirade, bursting into tears only to enrage herself further.
The elder only apologized. "I am sorry."
"Why are you sorry?" Katerina spoke. "If it weren't me, then it would just be some other girl. Another girl with another family to leave behind. I am no more special than any who have been chosen before me."
She still looked off. Like all of this wasn't actually happening to her. Sort of how she got when she would have a premonition. Detached from the present. The temple elder just looked surprised.
"It's a shame that you are the chosen sacrifice. You would have made a fine guardian of Nahara. I will see you all again at dawn, when I come to prepare Katerina."
She turned to leave. But not before giving me a pointed look for a few moments. I heard in my head "You know why this happened." When she finally left the house my mind started racing.
This was no mere coincidence, that I was sure of. Kat rejects a noble and suddenly she is to be sacrificed? But there was no proof. Not to mention that there was no way to find out if a similar situation had happened to another maiden. Saying anything now would likely get me severely punished, if not imprisoned.
"Why don't you just go out and find some boy, that way you are no longer an eligible maiden?" Philip asked.
At this question both my mother and sister-in-law looked scandalized at the sheer idea of such a thing. Kat looked like she could murder our brother.
"Because, my dear and honored elder brother," she spoke, her words laced with the rage she barely contained. "They allow me to come back here in the first place, because they are certain. Certain that if we tried to trick them, they would know. Do you remember Clara, from Edenbrooke? No, of course you don't. Well, a couple years back, about the time you were running about trying to win the affections of our dear Amanda here," she gestured at our sister-in-law. "Clara was to be the next maiden to be sacrificed. She had the same notion that you had, as well as a man courting her to carry it out. It can be assumed that they did, as the next morning instead of being taken to the clearing, she and her beloved were imprisoned."
Philip had finally regained some of the color in his face. As soon as Kat directed her anger at someone, she was quite… intimidating. She seemed to have forgotten her anger while telling her story. This was not the case.
"I should hope that you would know me better than this anyhow. I sincerely pray that your indecorous suggestion was just a desperate attempt to find some way to keep me alive. That in your grief of the situation, you lost your senses, because anyone here should know that I would rather die than to lose my dignity. I would rather perish in the hands of some foul beast, than to cheapen myself by sleeping with someone I do not love and have not married. Given that you are my brother, I trust you knew this already."
Kat had tears in her eyes. Whether in frustration at Philip or in fear or grief over her own predicament, I couldn't say. Sometimes I wonder about my sister. Some women are strangely protective of their 'virtue'. I suppose it's understandable given her nature. Foolish, but understandable. Although it was due to these principals that she was put in this predicament to begin with. I almost wish she were a harlot, then she would have just given the viscount what he wanted and this wouldn't have happened. But then again, she wouldn't be my sister if that were the case.
As far as I was concerned, I knew something had to be done. The consequences of tampering with a sacrificial maiden were harsh. However, I would not allow my only sister to die for something so ridiculous. I would save her. By any means necessary.
I ultimately decided to hunt through all of the books I had accumulated over the years for some idea of how to stop the impending problem. Even the fairytales that we had since we were small children either had the maiden die a tragic death, or had a handsome prince appear from nowhere and save the girl from certain doom. I had suggested this idea to my family, but Kat calmly pointed out that even if there were such a person around, the dragons would attack the city anyway.
She seemed quite calm about this whole ordeal. Our mother and sister-in-law were a mess, with the crying and whatnot. I believe I even saw my father shed a tear. Not that he would admit it. My sister normally chose to play the emotional female when it would help a situation or when she is alone; neither of which was the case this time. However, a few hours before sun-up she decided to finally allow the news of her 'inevitable death' affect her disposition.
It started off with her contributing less and less to any idea Philip or I suggested. Then it seemed anything we could say would only frustrate her further. She began pacing back and forth, playing with her hair. A habit she only showed when troubled. Then she finally erupted.
"What is the point?! I'm just going to die in a few hours anyway! Stop bothering with trying to find ways to save me! It won't work! Nothing will. I'm going to go to that clearing and you will never see me again. AND WHY IS THE SKY GETTING LIGHTER ALREADY?!" Kat yelled, gesturing at the window. "Why is it that every time something bad is going to happen, it arrives sooner than you want?"
She had stopped pacing, sat down and put her head in her hands. We were all looking at her now. Our mother looked as though she would fall over bawling again at any moment. Our father looked like he could use a stiff drink. Amanda, Philip and I were unsure of what to say to reassure our sister.
If one thing is to be said about me, it is that I utterly abhor people being upset. I have a desperate need to fix whatever is wrong so everything can go back to normal and everyone can be happy. I usually do this by making people laugh. Or saying strange things no one understands.
"That is because time is too much like energy. You'd be on a road with the sun shining and the birds singing at full power. But when the real work is to be done, you've already scaled the mountain, cut through the forest and haven't eaten in two days."
This statement caused everyone, Katerina included, to look up at me with a sort of 'what are you on about now' look. Kat gave me a watery smile.
"Since we obviously cannot think on your level, could you please enlighten us as to your meaning?"
"All I meant was, is that time is never on your side. When you need it, it isn't there. When you don't, you have all the time in the world."
"And of course you couldn't say that like a normal person. No… you have to carry on with your weird analogies. Honestly. How can people who don't know us think we're twins? I mean I'm so stable and responsible and you're… you."
She hadn't meant this in a derogatory way, and if she had I would not have paid any mind. I was more focused on the twin comment. It was true that many people had mistaken us for twins. Our personalities were somewhat different, but our hair and height were almost identical. This got me thinking. The elder would be back for Kat before long. She would then be dressed in a white shroud that covered her entire body. I looked over at my sister and considered her form. We were almost the exact same height. Thanks to her training she was a bit muscular for a girl, as well as I was considered 'scrawny' for a male. I had seen the few girls in the shroud before. If there had been men of their stature underneath, no one would have been the wiser.
Perhaps it was possible. I could pretend to be Kat and face the dragon myself. My staff could easily be hidden beneath the shroud so I could defeat a monster without much problem. The trouble with that plan was the elder. She would have to be persuaded somehow. Another problem was what we would do with Kat. She could not stay in the house, as people would be by afterwards to console our grieving parents. We would have to disguise her and get her out of the city, maybe even the province. But before any strategy could be planned I would have to clear it by my family. Oh joy.
Thank you for reading my first chapter. The next one is up too, so click on it if you wish to continue reading. The actual slash won't be happening for a little bit, but I'll try to keep you entertained until then. Brownie points if you can tell me what the name of this story is from. It's a quote from a movie.
A special thanks to KittyWoman12 for being my beta and making me get this thing done. Love you sisser!