It was evening. The sun sank behind the trees of Braedoch Forest, throwing the leafy depths into shadow. It was early spring and the forest was still newborn; winter's chill could yet be felt in the air at night.
On the eastern edge of the forest, the eight children of Isaak Romany were gathering together. Their home was a small house of stone, composed of three circular chambers. In the central chamber a fire burned slowly, varying light dancing on the face of a tall man in a dark cloak. He waited for the eight to gather. His face seemed set in granite, as always; no hint of emotion, no whisper of affection for the children he had raised. He, Maeron Duard, was their guardian, nothing more. They did not care for him either. Though they had grown up in the house, they often chose to stay apart from it: they wandered the forest, worked in the woodshop, and climbed the small mountains that overlooked their home in the north. They were not like others. Their life had been one of isolation. They knew weaponry and woodcraft, but little of humanity. They cared for each other and yet spent on their way. If there was any sibling I did not want near Duard without me it was my youngest sister. She would be able to handle herself fine, but I didn’t want her to have too.
Duard stood at one end of the shadowed room glowering at my siblings. His head turned towards me as I paused in the door to take in the scene and I met his fierce gaze with any ice one of my own. Only one question ran through my mind. What did this man have in store for us this time? He shifted his gaze and I saw it brush Arnan, who had sunken far back into the deepest shadows.
Arnan was our troublemaker. Taerith and I were forever bailing him out of from one mischievous scheme or another. He had been avoiding me for days now. That usually meant he had done something he wasn’t sure he wanted to tell me. Eventually, I usually found out but as my gaze swept back to Duard I wondered briefly if Arnan had some type of clue why we had been called together. The thought was not a pleasant one, but with Arnan it was possible.
I pondered that likelihood as I planted myself firmly next to Taerith and between Duard and our siblings. I waited silently as Wren and then Aquilla entered, both looking anxious. Zoe was the only one left now and I wondered where our youngest sister had managed to disappear too. It was only a few more seconds before she entered. I was relieved to see her, but I kept my eyes directed at Duard. Any sign of weakness or caring in front of him was met with pain and I had had quite enough of that. I felt rather than saw Zoe take her place next to Sam and as soon as she did, Duard started to speak.
“You wonder why I have sent for you. I will not keep you waiting. The time has come for you to go. Braedoch is no longer home to you, nor are you any longer a family,” Duard spoke in a matter-of-fact voice.
No longer a family? What? Where did he get off saying that?
“You will each depart alone. You will have nothing more to do with each other from this day forward. You are not to communicate, and are absolutely not to see each other. If you do, terrible consequences will follow-I am warning you now,” an ominous threatening voice this time, one that was all too familiar to us all.
Not talk to any of them ever? How could I protect them if we weren't together? We had never been out on our own before. How would they survive? What about Zoe and Sam the youngest two?
"Make whatever preparations are necessary. You leave in three days,” the words were so final and without any emotion.
Three days? You couldn’t prepare for a journey like this in three days. My mind stalled. He wants us to say goodbye in three days?
The bewildering implications were racing through my mind when Taerith spoke quietly from my side, “You are banishing us?”
Duard’s eyes turned steely and hard, “Do you question me?”
Why did he ask stupid questions? He could see our faces! We were all questioning! I was about to tell him just that when Taerith answered in a whisper, “No.”
No. No, we didn’t question him. Not out loud, we had learned very early on to never question him. And why would we start now as this man destroyed our family? Still, it took every ounce of my control not to jump Duard and ram his words back down his throat. How could he think he would get away with this? Taerith’s final whispered word of no, was what I expected of my brother, but it did not make the answer any easier, especially when we all knew the truth. Each of us were questioning him, maybe not out loud, but each was screaming the questions in our heads. Yet not one of us would have the courage to stand up to him. The continuing cycle almost made me physically sick. I had to break it somehow.
But like my siblings, I didn't move, I could only stand my own ground as Duard stared Tearith and I down, daring us to open our mouths again. Even the first sign of movement from behind us, didn't break our concentration. It was Arnan. He walked swiftly to the door and then out without interacting with anyone, even Wren. That was all the confirmation I needed. Arnan had known what the meeting was about and he had said nothing. Had Tearith noticed? If he had, he wasn't thinking about it now. His eyes were shuttered, but not enough to hid the turmoil in them. He was thinking about Daurd's statement and the man who still dared us to move first. He would not relent in his position until we did.
Behind us, Wren went to the door and watched Arnan leave. It would be hard on her not to say goodbye. If Arnan had known earlier about the meeting, he was already packed and taking off, not even a word for his closest sister, let alone the rest of the family. Taerith moved, breaking the cycle. He didn’t look at me as he followed Arnan out, brushing past Wren on the way. Duard gave a look that told me we were finished and then turned and exited to his own chamber. I had been dismissed yet again.
A muffled sound came from behind me and instinct told me it was Zoe. I turned to watch her flee the house, bewilderment and anger written all over her face. Sam watched his twin silently and then followed on her heels. I glanced at the three siblings still in the room. Aquila looked like she was still dazed and she didn’t focus on anyone’s face as she left. Wren stepped out the door to let her pass and then watched her carefully. Daelia and Ilara’s hold on each other had grown tighter. I wanted to tell them something, anything, but what could I say? They looked so distraught.
“We will survive. I don’t know how, but we will,” I finally offered.
Ilara looked up at me then, “We?”
Her voice was so full of pain. The two girls dropped hands and walked out the door separately. She was right, in three days, there would be no ‘we.’
I followed them to the door. Each of my siblings had walked off a different direction, each to their own place of comfort, except for Arnan. There was no doubt in my mind he had left already. I placed a hand on Wren’s shoulder and gave it a slight squeeze, then dropped my hand.
“He did what he thought was best, Wren.” With Arnan that wasn’t always true, but she knew that.
“He didn’t say a word to me,” she whispered.
“I know,” I answered. “Did he speak to you at all before the meeting?”
“Should he have?” She looked up at me, eyes sharp.
I shrugged my shoulders slightly, “Not necessarily.” It was Arnan’s decision to tell her of his treachery, not mine. “Three days. He has pushed beyond his limits this time.”
“Questioning out loud?”
I frowned, “Go, Wren.”
“You?” she asked quietly.
“I’ll be doing the same as you,” I answered. “Watching. Now, go.”
Wren looked at me with a piercing gaze, but each one of us had learned to hide our emotions quite effectively and I used the technique now. I wasn’t Arnan and Wren wouldn’t be able to read me like she could our brother. At last, she nodded shortly and headed out the door.
I turned slowly to look at the door to our guardian’s chamber. For years he had controlled our lives. If we questioned, we were punished. Most of us had only questioned once. But my family was being split all over the land and it had finally become time to question again. This time, I would not be dismissed.
I strode over the door and paused. Should I knock or just enter? Either would raise his wrath, but I was about to do that anyway. I would not let my family be destroyed so easily. I pushed the door hard. It swung opened with a bang.
Duard was seated at his desk with only a single candle on it for light. It was the first time I had ever seen his personal chamber. It was medium sized and housed only a simple bed, desk with chair, dresser, and a large wooden trunk, that had a lock on it about the same size as my fist. I swung my gaze back to Duard. He was facing me now, his steely eyes focused on me and black. What had I wanted to say again?
“Brave move, Boy,” Duard spoke.
I swallowed and raised my chin higher. “You can’t dismiss my family like that.”
“I already did. You leave in three days, be grateful I did not tell you to leave now.”
“Why? Why are you splitting us up? We have never done anything, but what you have asked of us!” My voice rose, as did my temper.
“Because I have the authority,” his voice was low and cold and I could feel the fury in it. “You, more than the others, know not to question me, Boy. Or do you need to be reminded?”
“I need no reminder, what I need is for you to leave my family alone,” I have no idea where the words came from, but they came fast and with all the hatred I felt inside.
Duard rose slowly to his feet, his eyes never leaving mine. “What family? “ He scoffed. “You have no family. You are alone in the world, no one cares about you, boy, no one ever has.”
“That is not true,” I growled, every fiber of my being denying his words.
“Isn’t it?” His eyes were so cruel. “Did you hear any protest when my issue was ordered? They had no reason to protest, no reason to care. None of you has any real worth. You lack everything of human value. Each one of you is weak and stupid and not worth my time. You can’t protect those pathetic forgotten things you call siblings. You never could, don’t try to start now. You’ve lost.”
My whole body shook with the force of my anger. My sword was out of my sheaf and in my hand before I realized I had moved. His dark eyes seemed to dare me to attack. I wanted to run him through his stone heart. If I ran him though, we’d be safe. We could stay together. It was all I could think, all I could process. And my feet moved forward as my hand came up.
“Stop!” The single word ran my hot blood cold and I froze. I had almost attacked our guardian! I was still in position to do it! Why? Why had I stopped?
“You fool,” his words were so low, they were barely audile. He stepped from his place to close the distance between them. “Lower the sword.” I did, hating myself for it every second. “You pathetic little ingrate. Your brother is not intelligent enough, nor you strong enough to take me down, but I can snap you with only a whisper.” His cruel eyes mocked me. “Go. And never look back.”
My hand shook as I replaced my sword, turned, and walked out his door, without looking back. I had been dismissed a failure.