An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

A Brother’s Aid Carvesh

The parlour of Gregor Corbit’s home was awash with unasked questions. The Mayor had very nearly stopped his pacing, and all eyes were fixed intently upon Carvesh. He could see the confusion reflected in their faces, and could almost hear the questions running through their minds. He expected they would be the very same questions that he had found himself asking his brother, all those years ago.

What are you doing here? he had asked. How did you get here? Has something happened back home? Were you exiled too? Carvesh had always known about his father’s death. He had heard that news long before the ship bearing him into exile had even approached the mouth of the Kharnine. Beyond that, however, he had remained so ignorant of what was happening in Relen’kar that his first assumption upon seeing Jayslen was that something terrible had happened.

Something terrible did happen, he reminded himself. He could still remember his first, frightened thoughts and the way they had seemed to chill his blood. He had braced himself for news of his mother’s death, of the Realm overthrown, of the Winged Throne violently usurped by some ambitious and upstart Lord. He had expected to hear that his brother had barely escaped with his life, and come here to hide in the relative obscurity of Neva.

There had been enough uprisings and rebellions throughout history to make such fears believable, but none of them had proven true. There had been no usurper, of course. His mother had still held the throne, even as she did today. Yes, tragedy had struck Jayslen, and struck him hard, but it was tragedy of a much more personal nature. He had not come to Mesinia as a prince fleeing from the wrath of his enemies, but as a tired and broken man, haunted by the death of the wife he had only just learned to love.

“So that’s where he went,” muttered Aurin Carwell.

“Excuse me?” said Quelana. “I’m not sure I follow, my Lord.”

“My apologies. I have a bad habit of thinking aloud. I’m not sure how much news reaches you here, but I’m sure you all remember when Princess Mayra died.”

“Of course,” responded the healer. “We were all saddened to hear of it. She was well loved.”

“And with good reason. I’ve never met a sweeter soul in my life. After the funeral, Jayslen all but vanished. From what I understand, he stalked about the palace for several weeks, speaking to nobody but that blind tutor of his. Then he disappeared altogether. That was about nine years ago. Though I can’t pinpoint it exactly, I would hazard a guess that his disappearance would have been right around the same time that Carvesh tells us that he and Anya were fleeing for their lives. Jayslen must have secretly crossed the Yeartide in search of his brother.”

There was nothing Carvesh could say. He was not prepared to betray Jayslen by revealing the truth that he had long ago deduced—a truth that his brother would surely deny. Jayseln had not crossed the Yeartide at all, at least not in the way that Aurin Carwell was thinking. Over the years, Carvesh had done some calculations of his own. He knew from experience that, even with clear skies and a strong wind, it would take a good ship no less than four weeks to make the crossing between Relen’kar and Mesinia. Carvesh believed that his brother had done it in a matter of a few days. He did not understand how Jayslen had covered so many thousands of miles in such a short time, but he was certain that that his brother had still been in Relen’kar only days before appearing in Neva.

The evidence had appeared nine months later.

“Whatever his reasons might have been for coming,” continued Carvesh after a moment, “Jayslen wasn’t the only one to find us. He’d been asking a lot of questions around Neva, questions that drew too much attention. He’d hardly been with us more than an hour when the Dragons arrived at our door. They were accompanied by associate of Tuen, who was able to identify us easily enough. That left them with little choice. The gendwen was still in effect and they were honour-bound to perform their duty. They arrested us and escorted us to the closest Holding, where Anya and I fully expected to remain until our eventual trial and probable execution.

“As it turned out, Jayslen had other plans. I suppose that after going to such lengths to find me, he wasn’t ready to just let them take me away again. He came after us.” Carvesh paused. All these years later, he could only remember the chaos of that night in disjointed fragments. “The Mesinians know little about the Flameborn, though they like to tell stories about the pale skinner sorcerers. Still, I’m not sure that all the knowledge in the world would have prepared them for Jayslen.

“He descended like a shadow. One moment, we were surrounded by a thick and heavy silence, broken only by the occasional moans of one of the other prisoners. Then, quite suddenly, the entire building started to shake. We heard shouting, which quickly turned to screaming. And then nothing. Sometime later, Jayslen appeared. From all the noise and commotion, I half-expected him to tear the thick, irons bars of our cells apart with his bear hands. Instead, he produced the a ring of keys, unlocked the doors and beckoned us to follow.

“I didn’t look at the bodies strewn throughout the Holding. I never knew if they were dead, or just unconscious. I didn’t want to know.”

“That was a critical moment for us,” said Anya quietly “If we had stayed, there was at least a chance—however slim—that we might survive. My relation to Emperor Tozashai might have been enough to spare us, though we knew we could never go back to the life we had been planning before my father’s death. Leaving meant that we would never be able to return. It meant acting in clear defiance of the laws of my people. Together with the gendwen, it would seal our fates. Considered as traitors, we would have been shown no mercy.”

“And so, a few hours later, we were on a Relenian ship sailing for Highspire,”

“We had managed to gather a few belongings before we left,” said Carvesh, picking up the story again. “Everything else was left behind. After making port, we spent less than a day in the city itself. Dragons helps to police Highspire, so we knew that our names and descriptions would reach them eventually. We wanted to be sure that we were long gone by the time that happened. Which mean that the only real choice was to come back here.”

“Where life would be no less dangerous,” Aurin pointed out.

Carvesh shrugged. “At least here people wouldn’t be looking for us. No one had seen me for twelve years, and there was no reason for them to think they would. I wasn’t the only tall, blond-haired southerner in the Realm, and between Jayslen, Anya and myself, we figured that as long as we stayed tucked away in some remote, rural location… well at least we’d have a chance at carving out a life. Anya was… She was already…”

“I was carrying Jayne,” interjected his wife.

“We had a quick wedding when we landed in Alora, then Jayslen took his leave, promising to meet us again when we arrived at our destination.”

“Which would have been here, in Nevhen,” said Aurin.

“It’s almost as far from Relen’ayar as you can get, with no major holdings east of Sharenden. Hidden away in the shadow of the Stonewall, it seemed like the safest place for us to settle and raise our family. Until a few days ago, I still believed it was.

“Jayslen proved true to his word and met up with us along the road about ten miles east of here. He fashioned us with enough gold and silver falcons to buy a bit of land and even stayed long enough to start framing the house. He was quite good at it actually, though where he learned the trade of a carpenter, I have no idea. He had to leave again before the work was completed, but by then we’d already met  our neighbours, Hendrick and Connie—the Nine bless their souls—and they helped finish it up just in time for Jayne to be born.

“And we’ve been here ever since.”

“Right under my nose,” muttered Aurin again. “And you didn’t even have the courtesy to stop by for a visit.”

“I thought it might have been a little awkward,” Carvesh said with a wary grin. He desperately wanted to take the other man’s attempt at humour as sign of friendship, but was still too unsure about his intentions. “The exiled sons of dead kings aren’t known to make good house guests, you know.”

“No,” responded Aurin. His voice had gone quiet. All traces of humour had vanished from his face “I suppose not. And that strikes right at the heart of the matter doesn’t it? As much as your father was like a brother to me, he has been departed from us for many a year. Your mother rules now, and though we rarely see eye to eye these days, as my Queen, I remain sworn to her service. Whatever the circumstances that brought you back to the Realm—even with your brother’s involvement—you are still here in strict defiance of the law. Which begs the question: what am I going to do with you?”

“Whatever you must,” Carvesh responded. Anya’s fingers tightened around his own. “I knew what it meant to reveal myself. I understood the risk.”

“You’ve put a heavy weight on my shoulders.”

“I’m sorry, uncle. It was never my intention.”

“Wait,” said Jadoc,  “You’re not just going to arrest him are you? You can’t! I mean… That is to say…” Abruptly, the big farmhand was stumbling over his own words, as though suddenly aware of who he was addressing. “He’s our…”

“Your friend?” offered Aurin.

“Yes, my Lord,” responded Jadoc, casting his eyes to the floor. “And I don’t think any of us wanna see him hurt.”

“That’s very noble of you, good man. Nor do I, truth be told, but sometimes these things are beyond our control. I’ll have to think on this. In the meantime, I’m afraid I’ll need to keep you under watch, Carvesh. You’ll have the freedom to walk the town, but you are not to stray beyond its borders until I’ve made my decision.

”And as for the rest of you,”  continued Aurin, “everything spoken in this room tonight is to remain unspoken. We’re faced with enough troubles right now. If this were to get out…”

Whatever Aurin Carwell was about to say next, it was lost when the door to the parlour flew open. A short, puffy-eyed woman came stumbling into the room. Sobbing hysterically, she nearly knocked Gregor from his feet. Carvesh recognized her as Hendrick’s sister, Chara.

“Whatever’s the matter?” asked the Mayor, placing his hands on the shaking woman’s shoulders. His voice, though firm, was tempered with compassion and a genuine concern.

“It’s Dane,” cried Chara. “He…he’s gone!”

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