22629 YD (1304 CE) Heartwing, Cydrithenna
I gazed up at Corian Scaleborn from the soft, green grass. The sun formed a halo around her long, black-brown locs and glistened in the sweat beads on her skin. She smiled at me. I smiled back. Her necklace, bearing the symbol of her house, dangled off her neck. She reached out her hand. I reached back for her with one hand and for my sword with the other. She’d disarmed me during our sparring match. I gripped her palm, then grabbed the sword, only to find its blade pinned to the ground by a boot.
Varin. His jaw and brows took after my father more and more every day. My father was mostly gray now with many hard lines in his face, but the resemblance remained.
“You let her win?” He pressed his foot down harder when I tugged.
“He did not!” she protested, but he scowled at her. Even at our age, she knew that one day, he would have the power to make her the first female general of the Drakon military.
“Yes, you did,” Varin said to me. In his eyes, all other sexes and genders could not speak for themselves. Even our father didn’t believe that, at least not privately. “You’re supposed to beat them.”
“She bested me,” I said. I’d failed to calculate her next move, and when I responded, she got me. “And she would best you too.” I gave the hilt another tug, and he gave his foot another few pounds, shoving my sword down hard enough to crush my fingers between the ground and hilt. I let out a puff of air, but I didn’t give him much else.
“Varin,” said Eleric Foundry. He’d started to grow his hair longer but kept it tied back neatly and showed no hair on his face. “It’s as your brother says.”
“Feh,” spat Varin in Eleric’s direction. “You don’t know him like I do, but maybe that’s why you keep defending him, hmm?” A malevolent grin tugged one side of Varin’s face, and Eleric’s own charm faded while his skin paled. “Want me to beat him down for you so that you can take a shot? Maybe you want a little more?”
Eleric grimaced. “No, no, of course I wouldn’t want that—”
“Then shut up and tell me the truth. He let her win, didn’t he?”
Eleric looked at me, and I looked back at him through the grass.
“Come on, Eleric,” I said, “just tell the boy what he wants to hear so he can finish tormenting me.”
Eleric shook his head and stared at the ground before a passing group of noble girls caught his attention. “I need to talk to them. Excuse me.”
“What a disgrace,” Varin said to me. “I’ll have to beat that habit out of him if he wants to be one of my senators.” He stepped off and flicked the sword at me with his toe. “Get up.” He drew his sword.
I took my sword and stood. “Typically, one challenges the victor of the prior match. Or are you too frightened to face her?”
“This isn’t a challenge, brother,” said Varin. “This is a lesson!”
He charged at me, his sword a poised battering ram at my chest. I swept his sword aside then thrust my palms at him, pushing a gale against his body. He dropped his sword and flew back several feet before tumbling in the grass of the training yard.
Telekinesis. Terribly underdeveloped, but I’d only ventured into this realm of magick recently, and only because I liked the idea of pushing Varin away with a strength he couldn’t see or overpower.
I approached him and offered my hand. He spat on my boots.
“You cheated with magick again,” he said.
“You tried to kill me.”
“I wouldn’t have killed you.”
“Aiming a sword at the center of someone’s body is a move meant to kill.”
He swung out at my ankles and pulled me down, then wrestled me until I lay beneath him. He whaled on my face. My blood painted my brother’s knuckles red.
“Varin, please stop!” Corian said.
“Use…your…sword,” I pleaded.
She hesitated, and Varin got in another hit.
A shadow cast over Varin. Jemier. He’d recently shaved his budding beard but could not hide the other ways his body had transformed. I blinked through the blood and tears in my eyes as Jemier pulled Varin aside and threw him back to the ground. Jemier kept his foot on Varin’s chest while two sets of arms belonging to unseen people helped me up.
“He cheated, Jemier!” Varin cried.
“You were beating him to death! Your father will ask what happened to him. Do you want to disappoint him?”
“I have to teach him a lesson!”
“Then ask your father to teach it!”
Varin launched Jemier off him, then scrambled away in a huff. “I’ll have to beat that insubordination out of you too!” he shouted.
“Try it,” Jemier said beneath his breath. Varin had marched too far to have heard it.
Jemier took me from the strangers, who turned out to be Renny and Eleric, then removed his shirt and offered it to me as a towel.
“Look out, ladies!” Eleric teased.
When I removed enough liquid and grass from my eyes, I saw what Jemier’s friends poked fun of him for. The outline of our standard training armor had been burned pink into his peach skin.
Giggling, Eleric and Renny patted me on the back.
“Are you okay now?” asked Eleric.
“He got you pretty good this time,” said Renny.
“I’m fine,” I said.
“Don’t worry about Varin,” said Renny. “That’s what brothers do.”
I did not think that love should be shown in the form of beatings and wondered why such a ridiculous idea lived on in so many forms.
Corian glared at me as I received their consolations. She stomped toward me, interrupting their laughter, and put her face inches away from mine. “I obviously don’t need your help, so don’t ever do that again.”
She stormed away from us despite the calls from Jemier and Renny, the latter of whom broke away to chase after her, followed thereafter by Eleric.
“Aren’t you going to follow them?” I said of Jemier, who had found more blood on me and had taken his shirt back to help me remove it.
“I am taking you home to clean you up.”
“I don’t want to go back there.”
“Not your home. My home.”
“I don’t want to go there either. If my father finds out that the prince could not go to his own home to clean up…what would that say about the House of Felwing?”
“That it cannot take care of its own. Does it matter? It’s not as though I let them take you to the Houses of Foundry or Vivifyal.”
I chuckled to myself. Eleric was of a lesser nobility, his ancestors Gaian blacksmiths who’d served our earliest ancestors. Thus, they kept their namesake, instead of creating one anew, to honor that history. Renny was of the noblest family; Vivifyal was one of the Last Dragons, specifically the final dragon to die and make their kind extinct. Vivifyal gifted their essence to the Gaian line Renny descended from. House Wraithstone sat somewhere in the middle; noble but not so noble as to be ambitious, though there were two Wraithstone kings in our history. Karrdil would not see their treatment of me as a slight against our house, nor as some favor driven by ulterior motives.
“They do not take their future seriously,” I said as Jemier walked me to the barracks, a neutral place we had both silently decided would be where I cleaned up. “For that matter, neither do you.”
“There is no need to. It will be ages before any of us are senators.”
“Foundrys are not senators,” I said. “I doubt Varin will change that.”
“But they serve in other ways, and maybe Eleric will be one someday. He has the face for it.”
“It’s not about a face, Jemier. It’s about studying and skill. Practicing your diction.”
“‘Practicing your diction.’” He chuckled. “The only thing we need to practice is our swing.” He mimicked a sword swing, which made it more difficult for me to walk. “Anyway, Eleric could still be a senator. Corian wants to be a general, so her seat will be available. If not, then Eleric could be a general or something.”
“Someone from one of the other houses may petition Varin. Not one of us has a guaranteed seat.” The Daerlyvian Federation gave every faction five Senate seats, but left filling those seats up to the discretion of the faction. Jemier believed what most of the Drakons believed: the houses bearing senators would always bear senators, and no one would contest that. “If you paid any attention to your other studies, Jemier, you’d know that. Foundrys aren’t senators because they believe in tradition, but the other houses have given the Federation senators before.”
“Varin won’t bother with that. We’ll all serve beside him, and the one who doesn’t will command our armies.”
I let out a groan of disgust. Drakon law dictated that the king was automatically a senator, and that he and he alone appointed the other four, who, according to these same laws, had to be of noble birth. The subtext of this law, unwritten but sunken into our societal consciousness, was that nobility contained the purest Drakons, those genetically capable of shifting into dragon form. Embodiments of drakanthropy. Foundrys were the exception.
“What?” said Jemier. “I thought you wanted it that way.”
“I agree that Eleric should be a senator, and Corian a general. They will both provide a much-needed perspective to public discourse. I’m only saying that Varin probably won’t feel the same.”
“But you just said the thing about the other thing!”
“So did you!”
“I was just thinking about it.”
“I was also speculating, Jemier. But I was also reminding you that things are not so fantastical thanks to law, history, and my tragically horrendous brother.”
“You are so odd sometimes, Solin.”
We reached the barracks. I let Jemier tend to my wounds as he would not allow me to take care of them myself.
“Do you think Corian can do it?” he asked as he rubbed healing poultice on my last wound. The pungent menthol of the grainy balm made my nose crinkle and my stomach clench. I had no immunity to the smell of this stuff, even after hundreds of years of beatings, yet Jemier never complained.
“I think she will be more than capable, but the only way she will convince Varin is if she can convince my father.”
“If only you had been born first. Then you could be king.”
“Wishes do nothing.” I sighed. “Though sometimes I wish I could be as carefree as the rest of you.”
“You are. Your illusions have brought us many laughs.”
“Don’t remind me.”
“I don’t mean that.” He wiped the poultice aside and showed me a mirror wherein I saw no trace of what Varin had done to me, though the memory of the pain remained. “I just mean that you know how to have fun with the rest of us. You simply know how to turn your eyes forward, drathos.”
He embraced me, and I him, but I didn’t agree with him. I knew how to turn my eyes forward because that was all I could do. That was what survival forced me to do.