Autumn – Chapter 11 – 04

                “Your brother?  I thought—”
                She smiled weakly.  “That it was just Teague and I?  It has been for a long time.”  One hand drifted down to cover the hand he rested on her knee.  “Seamus was older than both of us.  He was…I don’t want to say he was the responsible one, because that’s not quite how it was.  He spent a bit of time putting out the fires that Teague started, though, and tried to talk our father out of skinning him alive sometimes.”
                “Sounds like Teague was a handful,” Cameron said, the corner of his mouth quirking in a smile.  He didn’t seem quite like that to me, but I suppose people change in thousands of—Christ, am I actually starting to—yeah.  Trying to tell himself that they were crazy and that they couldn’t possibly be that old was stupid, especially in light of what had attacked him on the road before Neve brought him to the cottage.  Seeing is believing, and I’ve seen a couple too many things already.
                There was still a little part in the back of his brain that liked to scream that he was stuck in some sort of crazy nightmare, though.
                He didn’t really listen to it anymore.  If this was a nightmare and Neve wasn’t real, he wasn’t sure he wanted to wake up again.
                “He was, but we all were in our own ways.”  She squeezed his hand, glancing sidelong at him with a weak, fleeting smile.  “Seamus was just the one who set aside his youthful impetuousness when he felt it necessary, or my father demanded it.  Father was…a demanding man.”  She sighed softly, eyes turning back to the road before them.
                “Was,” Cameron said.  “How long ago did he…?”
                “Die?”  Neve closed her eyes briefly.  “He was killed during the war.  An assassin tore out his throat while he was out hunting.  It should not have been possible, but in those days the impossible was happening.  Much like today.”
                “Do you miss him?”
                Neve shook her head slowly. “No.  No, I don’t think that I do.  He was a hard man, my father.  No.”  She sighed.  “I miss Seamus, though.”
                Cameron heard the pain in her voice, could almost taste it in her words.  “Then he’s gone, too?”
                “Aye,” she whispered, voice almost lost in the sound of their horses’ hooves.  “The war—“  her voice broke.  Cameron squeezed her knee and she looked at him, her eyes bleak.
                “The war took him from us,” she said quietly.  “My father sent him south to marry another like us, but from a different…clan, I suppose you could say.  A different Otherworld from our own.  The woman was supposed to marry Teague—that had been the initial intent—but he’d fallen in love with someone else and she was pregnant with his child.  Seamus took his place.”  She stared at the horizon, velvet dark giving way to the bright of day in the west as the rising sun cast long shadows before them.  “I wonder sometimes if he was happy with her, but I don’t think they ever had the time to know.”
                Cameron wondered which of her brothers she meant for a brief moment but decided it was better not to ask.  “How did it happen?” he asked instead, voice as quiet as hers.  It was as if she was terrified that she might summon up ghosts if she spoke of these painful things too loudly.
                “I don’t know,” she said.  “Do you believe that?  I really don’t know.  A messenger came one day, already dying of wounds he sustained just reaching Teague.  The messenger told him that Seamus was dead, that the southron clan he’d married into was scattered, broken.  We would get no help from them in our war.  Then the man died before Teague could find out how, or why, or anything else.
                “We never even saw his body, never got to bury him in our way.  I think perhaps that’s the hardest part of it sometimes.  Losing Seamus nearly broke my father.  It certainly broke his grip on his temper.  After Seamus died, all I can really remember of my father were his rages and how we couldn’t stop them, couldn’t turn them aside.
                “It was good we were at war in those days already.”  Neve looked at Cameron.  “If we hadn’t been, he would have started one, as sure as the sunrise.”
                “Your brother sounds like he was very different from your father,” Cameron observed.
                “In many ways, we three were more like our mother, yes,” Neve said.  She closed her eyes briefly and then shook herself.  “Enough,” she breathed.  “Let me be happy to be on the road with you, Cameron.  I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
                His heart stutter-stepped and he swallowed hard.  “All right.”
                Her hand closed around his again and squeezed.  “I’ll race you to the next mile marker.”
                She let go of his hand, touched her heels to her mount’s flanks, and was off like a shot.
                “Hey!” he shouted, blinking.  Bloody hell!
                Her laughter echoed off the trees and back to him.  Cameron couldn’t help but grin as kicked his horse into a gallop and raced after her.
                There would be time enough to answer all of his questions later.

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