“NO!” Belda ran to Pitney’s side. Her scream sent the surrounding wild life skattering. Birds, small creatures cowering in trees and holes in the ground took flight from all around them. While the rest of the living creatures fled far from them, vex came in all their numbers, wings expanded, teeth bared.
With her defenses down, Edward took the time to find what he had missed before as he watched the line of vex protect her. He could not grab Belda, as was his first instinct, for fear of retaliation from her mass of protectors. None had faltered when he had stepped towards them, but further down the line, an unmistakeable scar on the face of one gave him a glimmer of hope.
He concentrated on Narbe, evoking his gift. When he caught her eye, the vex snorted her submission, clawing the ground.
Edward looked at Ottelo. Sweat dripped off his face, his eyebrows still frowning in concentration, a curl stuck to his wet forehead. Ottelo had done it. The rocks he had spent hours making interact with the physical world…it was worth it to save Pitney’s life. Edward nodded his relief to his friend and gave a half smile.
Belda did not see the stone that was between the sword and Pitney’s body. Nor did she see that Edward’s sword had broken against it. Pitney would be bruised, but was most certainly not dead.
When he did not respond to her crazed slapping of his face to awaken him from the dead, she stood to face the man that would dare take her son. “You.” She stumbled towards him in a manic state, arms extended, fingers gnarled like roots on trees. Edward and Ottelo exchanged a look of confusion before they both turned to Pitney, still lifeless, but definitely breathing. In a split second, Edward was dodging her grasp as Ottelo crooked his arms around hers, wrapping them behind her back. She kicked at him, trying to fight him off, enraged.
“How could you?” She screamed as she bucked her body.
“Edward…” Ottelo warned, struggling to hold her. Vex closed in on them, shrieking and flapping their massive wings, creating a small dust storm with their wind.
“I will kill you for this!” Belda screamed into the chaos to Edward. But Edward was focused on Narbe. She was not a grand, but it was the best he could do. If he could just get one under control, maybe he could get the others, as well. He concentrated on her moving forward faster than the others.
“I won’t be able to hold her for much longer.” Belda cursed and spit vial words.
“I just need a minute, Ottelo.”
“I know…I just…you are starting to fade, Edward. The mist is coming back.” Ottelo tightened his grip on Belda as she continued to hurl curses and snarls to both he and Edward.
Edward flitted his eyes from Narbe to where he knew Ottelo stood. Mist was overtaking him.
“Belda must be releasing her vision. What madness is this? Edward?” Ottelo’s voice began to sound muffled.
“A moment, my friend. It is all I require. If you get lost…I will find you. Just hold her.”
He screamed to Narbe over the hissing of her fellow vex. “Come to me!” The others were coming up close now, closing their circle. He made out Pitney’s body lying on the ground through the dust and forest floor debris flying through the air. Narbe stepped out from the other vex and flapped her wings, no longer in protest, but in understanding to Edward. The other vex faltered when she let out a piercing howl.
“Stay back.” Edward directed this, not to Narbe, but to all of the vex…the smaller ones stopped dead in their tracks. The two red grand vex paused. Edward did not think it was because of him, but because they were confused by what the others were doing. The black vex did not falter.
“He’s going to kill you unless you let me go,” Belda shouted, her voice still breaking through loud and clear. “He won’t let you take me.”
Soon, the other vex with the elongated neck and quick-lashing tongue was also pushing through the smaller ones, disregarding their hesitation.
“Stop!” Edward yelled out again. He was rewarded with more hesitation from all but the black grand. “Protect us,” he said to Narbe. He kept his eye on the grands, his foresight working without fail. From the corner of his eye, he could see Narbe was closer than the rest. A twitch of the black grand told him that he did not have much time. He could feel himself start to panic and reached for his sword when Yavin’s instruction stopped him…breathe…it is your second nature…your gift is your greatest weapon…trust it. He took a deep breath and moved his anxious stare off the black grand and closed his eyes. He could feel something push. The mist. It was being pushed back and his foresight was opening up wider than it had ever before. The grass was green, the trees were living. Ottelo and Belda were once again within his sight. Belda’s jaw dropped, her struggles against Ottelo ceasing for a moment as she took in what was around her. Ottelo, relieved to see again, shoved her forward, closer to where Pitney still lay, now surrounded by small yellow flowers. His head rested against a mound of green moss.
“We need a distraction.”
“I am previously occupied at the moment, Edward.” Belda had started kicking again. The black grand shifted his gaze to where she was and began to tread heavily towards her.
“You have got to try!” Narbe had met up with Edward. They stood back to back. Edward’s commands were keeping the vex that circled on his side from getting too close. Narbe’s tail swung back and forth as she fended off some of the smaller vex who had made their way too close to her charge.
Suddenly, the wind picked up. Blades of grass moved in circles until they fell flat against the ground, exposing rich soil beneath. Edward looked up in time to see a massive Grand Vex beat its wings, the span of which forced the other vex to hurriedly back up from their enclosing circle. It landed with an earthquake type thud, barely missing Pitney.
Edward quickly turned to Ottelo, hoping to see concentration on his face. Proof that it was his image, and not that they were certainly about to die. Again, Belda stopped squirming against him, taking in the immense creature with as much awe as Edward. The black grand did not make another step towards Belda. It shut its wings tight to its body and cowered just as the colossal creature within their sights let out a deafening screech. The only sound left was the beat of its wings, quickly expanding them and slowly drawing them back in. Vex stepped backward further with each move, wings draped close to their bodies, silent.
“Stay with me.” Narbe inched back towards her kind, but Edward still needed her. She stopped, but did not move closer to Edward. “Ottelo?” He asked, hoping to not hear a response. He knew a great amount of concentration would be needed to create a creature such as the one before them.
“I see it.”
Edward’s chest collapsed in despair.
“Hold on.” Ottelo, still white knuckling the arms of Belda, drug her a few feet away from the creature. It lowered its head, peering at Ottelo from one large, orange eye. It blinked, moving slowly along with the figures before it. It was then that Edward saw it, the reflection of Ottelo in the creature’s eyes, the attentiveness that was present within them. Like Edward, Ottelo had grown more strength with his skill, able to create something that massive while still being able to function.
“We need to get out of here, Ottelo. With Belda and Pitney,” Edward said under his breath, careful not to move from his place.
“I cannot carry both Belda and Pitney. The horses?” The horses had been steadfast in their place, even while being threatened by vex, right alongside them. Regal let out a neigh, hoofing the ground as Tuens moved his head up and down as if to confirm they were ready.
The gargantuan creature was still, only occasionally expanding its wings in warning to the others, as Edward lugged Pitney up to the saddle in front of him. Ottelo tied Belda’s wrists with a rope and wrapped a cloth around her head, muffling her. He pushed her up on his horse, keeping one eye on their so-called protector, but Belda managed to fling herself off the other side and land on the ground with a smack. Ottelo groaned and then smirked when he realized she had knocked herself unconscious.
“What of that one?” Ottelo asked. Narbe watched with curiosity, still not released from Edward’s commands.
“We need her. For one last thing.”
They sent the horses off at a gallop as Narbe flapped her wings in front of them, clearing the path of vex from their way. When they felt sure of their escape, Edward released his foresight and all of them, the grands, the commons, even Narbe, were lost to them in the white wall of mist.
They brought their horses to an easy trot, Tuens following close behind on a lead. “I should have asked Narbe to take me to Benjamin.”
“You were fighting for your life, Edward. You would do no good to Benjamin dead. There will be another opportunity.” Ottelo readjusted his arm around Belda who was still slumped over in front of him.
“But where do we go from here, then? I have lost my brother. I have almost killed a friend. I have warred with vex.”
“And you have escaped with your life, Prince.”
Edward sighed. “There will be a day when escaping will not be an option. Did you see how many she seemed to be in control of?” The last he whispered, not trusting her self-inflicted slumber.
“Yes, and still…she claimed to not be in control of them. Odd.”
“Her ability to create that tunnel where her sight and mine were opened to you and even the horses would speak otherwise. Her ability of Foresight in Shadow seems greater than my own. Not to mention how in the world she came to possess such gifting. She is not of royal blood.”
“No. Though it would seem Pitney is.” Ottelo glanced back at his body, still laying across Tuens. “When do you think he’ll awaken? It was quite the crushing blow you gave him.”
“Yes. I am sorry about that, if I frightened you. You were quick with both the rock and the vex, though. Your gifts have grown, to be sure. But to find that your best friend is actually your brother, while complicated, must have been somewhat of a pleasant surprise?”
“How pleasant can it be? Knowing that my claim to the throne could be threatened by my father’s actions. And what is worse, it would potentially put me at odds with my friend. Though he is like a brother to me, and now known to be blood, as well, there lies an endangerment to our relationship that was not present before. A friendly competition does not remain friendly when both parties have rights to the prize.”
“Yes, but surely your right is more so. Rarely does an illegitimate child claim the throne. I believe the last one to do so was our friends from the east, the King of Detar. And it had been ages before that. He, himself, has reigned now for many long years.”
“Yes. Tell me again what happened to the first heir?” Ottelo raised his eyebrow in Edward’s direction.
Edward gave a little shrug. They both knew the story surrounding the original heir to Detar was filled with mystery. He had heard, among with tall tales of the Coills, many conspiracy theorists who longed to discredit the Assembly. They spread vicious rumors of treason over bowls of soup and loaves of bread in the taverns. The crown prince of Detar died shortly after his father and before his coronation could be held. The people of Detar were outraged and heartbroken over their loss. When an heir was proclaimed as his half brother, illegitimate, but still of royal blood, the people began to refute his claim to the throne. They cried murder of not just the crown prince, but of the king, claiming the Assembly was not keen to people who were unwilling to bend to their terms. The late King of Detar had often argued with Assembly ideas and notions, passing that spirit of rebellion on to his son. When riots began in the streets during the walk of remembrance for the recently passed ruler, the elder who oversaw Detar sought help from the Great King. The Great King sent his own private guard to investigate the goings on, but they returned with no evidence of foul play and with great regard towards the half brother, Brodee, who was to be crowned. Instead of proclaiming rights to the throne, the not yet crowned king offered to relinquish his claim, for the sake of Detar. Upon hearing this, the Great King sent his guards to control the chaos and when it was deemed safe enough, visited Detar. While there, he gave an impassioned speech reminding everyone of the great workings capable by all men, regardless of their previously held status, along with a promise to protect and serve the people of Detar as if they were of Mirias. The best way for him to do this, was to give his approval of Brodee as king. It was the Great King’s first public speech outside of his own kingdom that helped endear him to the people. Now, King Brodee was nearing the age where his own sons were apt to take over. He fathered two, legitimate heirs, as far as anyone knew. The eldest was ten years older than Edward and more than equipped for kingship, as far as the Great King was concerned.
“Those are just rumors, Ot. Surely you do not abide by the fanciful tales of the kingdom’s unsavory night life?”
“No, of course not. But it is peculiar. I suppose it goes without saying…though we have both been exposed to this…unsavory night life…neither of us would believe the other to have been a partaker in it?”
Edward let out a snort and muttered a brotherly insult, but then, for much more of the day they rode in silence.
The mist was still heavy all around them. A few times, Edward had let himself try to recreate that moment with the vex, when the forest was lush and green. He was still unsure if it was his gift, or the forest revealing itself that allowed him to see what he did, but it was one of the things he knew for sure he would ask Belda. Right after asking about ReAnne and Benjamin.
“That vex was a monstrosity, Ottelo. It did the job well.” They had camped for the night, pulling out bed rolls and fed the horses, keeping their lines close to them and well within reach. There had been no sign of the vex since they were swallowed up in the mist. Edward found himself thinking of Narbe often. She had seemed almost gentle. A vast difference from the angry vex he met in the tunnels.
“Yes, I was rather proud of him.” Ottelo swung Belda down from his horse. She had awoken, but had remained eerily silent for quite some hours. “In kind, your opening of her dark tunnel to bring me back in was inspiring.” He slapped Edward on the back for his good deed. Edward positioned Pitney up against a tree and checked the rise and fall of his chest.
“I am ready for him to be awake. I must know what became of him for that time he was away.”
“Yes, perhaps he can shed some light on finding Benjamin.”
“For now…” Edward looked over at Belda, wishing she had easily cooperated. She was sitting against a dead tree stump; broken and jagged from where it broke, creating almost a crown above her head. Edward shivered at the thought. If Benjamin were here, he could read her intentions towards them. The hole left in Edward’s life was gaping with his absence in a way Edward had never realized. He had traveled far, away from family, hidden under his cloak among other men of Mirias. Often reluctant to offer up his identify for fear of being treated differently. He managed to gain rapport among those alongside him. A sense of individuality he craved since he was young. Growing up around siblings while being mostly shut off from the common world, as royalty, came with a set of responsibilities he welcomed to leave with the promise of traveling the countryside. Not to mention the added weight of being the oldest. Now, he found having a brother was not so much a burden, but an honor. While he had grown to respect Ottelo and even Pitney, he was beginning to understand that only Benjamin knew secrets they had never held as ‘secret’ before. An instant idea or thought that was rendered out of their childhood, from their upbringing. Certain phrases and tones, misunderstood by others, but created a sense of solidarity among the two of them. Of the way their childhood shaped them both into men. And why they chose to respond to certain things the way they often did. Time spent together is the maker of families, whether blood or no. Upbringing is the maker of brothers. Not even Ottelo and Pitney could understand it fully, one always having been higher in rank and status than the other. And now Edward found he would give anything to feel the sense of belonging that came when he was with wise Benjamin. Or compassionate ReAnne. Or even mischievous Deet.
“Ottelo…is that…” Pitney’s voice was raspy and dry. Ottelo and Edward swung around to see Pitney trying to get up from the tree.
“I think you might wish to remain where you are, Pit.” Ottelo ran to help him. “But it is quite fantastic to hear your voice again. Listen,” he said more quietly. From where Edward was setting up a small fire, he could make out small word phrases confirming that Ottelo was telling him about what happened with the vex and Belda. When their conversation was finished, Edward expected Pitney to be shocked, but somewhat elated at his good fortune, but he was melancholy and unusually quiet. They ate in silence, except for the occasional grunt from Belda.
“Should we not feed her, as well?” Pitney asked. The fire was dying out and the night chill was beginning to set in. “She will be cold without a proper blanket, at the very least.”
Edward used the rope to find Regal and spoke loudly through the evening fog. “I have something for her, yes. I am just unsure of what will happen when she is free to speak.” He walked back in with some dried fruit and a small bag of salted pork. It was a far cry from the small rabbit Ottelo had caught and cooked for their meal, but it was something.
“So, we are treating her as a captive then? A spoil of war?” Even without the small fire lighting up the scowl on his face, the displeasure was perceptible in his tone.
“Pitney, she is not safe for us. Even without Benjamin here, it was obvious she meant us harm.”
At Edward’s words, Belda let out a grunt and shook her head back and forth in protest. Ottelo and Edward turned to see what the fuss was, but Pitney kept his stare on Edward.
“More so than a supposed friend holding his sword over you to deal a striking blow?”
Edward sighed deeply. “It was a scare tactic, Pitney.”
“But Ottelo said you seemed intent on dealing it, whether or not he understood his part to play. Tell me, am I to believe you over him?”
To this, Edward had no rebuttal. How could he ask Pitney to believe him over his own brother? Even to Edward’s own mind, he was unsure if he could have deflected the blow. If Ottelo had not put the stone there, Pitney may very well be dead. This thought struck to the heart of fear within Edward. He could not do what was right without harming someone else. Taking on Foresight in Shadow was what he knew in his heart to be right, and yet it meant hurting Lady Kaelah. Forcing Belda to speak of what she knew was right to save his sister, but it had hurt his relationship with Pitney. Perhaps forever. His father had said as much. When he meets with the people to hear their grievances, one will be satisfied with your decision while the other may wish to spit in your eye. You cannot please everyone, he told Edward, you can only do what you believe to be right. That line was often not as black and white as Edward wished it to be and he found himself more often than usual wishing he were a simple peasant, working a field and yielding crops instead of a future king, working the people and yielding enemies as well as allies.
“If it meant saving my sister, Pitney, I am afraid I cannot apologize for my actions. I can only ask you to put yourself in my situation. Would you have ReAnne die?”
With this, Pitney dropped his head.
“Will you help me…with your mother?” Edward asked.
He did not answer, but walked over to Belda. “I suppose now is as good a time as any, Prince Edward?”
Edward shot a worried look over to Ottelo who did nothing to diminish his fears. He looked just as troubled.
“I will assist in any way I can.” And then he gave Edward a little shake of his head and went about rolling out blankets and snuffing the fire.
Pitney and Edward knelt in front of Belda.
“You cannot scream. Do you understand?” Pitney put one hand on the strip of fabric covering her mouth and waited for her eyes to tell him she was calm.
“Wait, Pit. She said she wasn’t in control of the vex, but what if she can call to them?”
Pitney sighed impatiently. “Then I suppose you’ll just hold a sword over my heart again to frighten them off.”
Pitney ripped the muzzle off his mother’s face. Edward was fully prepared to speak to her as if she were just another prisoner but with her full face exposed, he was taken aback by what he was seeing. It was as if he was looking at an only slightly distorted picture of Pitney.
“Mother,” he whispered.
Belda did not scream. She did not struggle or fight. She gazed into her son’s eyes, not willing to move them from his face. As if he would disappear if she dared look away.
“No wonder King Lothair did not have concern over you being found out. You do not look anything like him, Pitney. You are the spitting image of your mother.”
Pitney turned in his direction and anxiety welled up within Edward. He stammered over his words. “Ot-Ottelo did tell you, did he not? I’m sorry, I assumed-“
“I know about my father.” Pitney’s voice was cold, but Edward still breathed a small sigh of relief. “It is just new to me and still…shocking…” he said, his voice losing some of its previous edge. “What do you want to know first, Edward?”
Edward masked a small smile when Pitney dropped the previously used ‘Prince’ from his name. “I think the absolute first thing I need to know is what gifts she possesses. I can only assume Foresight in Shadow, though she seems to say otherwise.”
“Fine.” Pitney rested a hand on Belda’s shoulder. “Mother, what gifts do you possess?”