My brother’s inheritance
Darkness fell as I climbed down from my hiding place. The image of the blade passing through my father’s body was still flashing over my eyes when I looked at the place he had been murdered. Our neighbors had removed the body. I had been too scared to come out of my hiding place to mourn over my father before they took him away. Now, only his blood stains on the floor were left in my sight. But I remembered… I turned away and shuddered. His final words, before he shoved me up into the roof’s rafters, echoed in my memory. “Bring the Stone to Malcolm…and don’t let Roderick find you!”
I took the secret stash of money out from under a mat in my home and then snuck out the back door. The cool night air descended upon my shoulders. I shivered and pulled my cloak closer around my body. The bag of coins at my waist jingled as I made my way through the dark forest path.
Roderick had left my home directly after he’d stabbed my father and couldn’t find the Stone on him or in the house. My father had given it to me when he saw Roderick approach and hid me up in the rafters of our home. From there I watched my own father murdered. I hoped Roderick wouldn’t discover that his hated younger brother had a daughter as well as a son until I got well away.
Roderick… what kind of cruelty possessed such a man to murder his own brother? Ever since the day my grandfather died, my uncle had threatened to kill my father, Peter Anthony, because Peter had been the favorite and was left the rich estate of the Anthony’s. The estate usually went to the eldest son and Peter Anthony was not only the youngest, but he was also adopted. The stone at my heart had been passed down from father to the eldest son for generations. Whoever got the stone from his father got the castle. There were rumors the castle had hidden rooms where riches were stored for hard times. Anyone who owned this estate and the land around it was rich for their entire lifetime and that of their children for three generations at least. That was the rumor. My father had been given it. And Roderick was furious. He vowed publically to kill my father before he could claim it. Peter Anthony had a young wife and son so, in fear for their lives, they fled to Norway from his brother before he had a chance to bring his plans to fruition. It was at the reading of the will when he first swore revenge on my father. Anything Roderick swore to do, he did. He was never a man to go back on his word. And, apart from his reputation of living an extremely unrestrained lifestyle he was also known for being a very good swordsman. It was said no one could best him but his teacher. Chills shot through my body as I thought about these things. My feet were tiring.
My father had kept the stone and hid it under his clothes for years while my brother Malcolm and I grew up. It wasn’t until my father saw Roderick that he uncovered it to give it to me. I knew I was in grave danger for carrying this greatly coveted jewel. Roderick would stop at nothing to get it. He had murdered his brother, why would he stop to consider his brother’s daughter and son. He would destroy anyone who had legal right before him to the castle he wanted so much. Was it hatred spurring him on, his promises to himself and others, his sense of fairness, or merely his desire for more wealth? Whatever it was I didn’t like it. I clutched the Anthony Stone close against my heart. It was on a chain around my neck dangling down in my dress. No one was to see it and my father had given it to me to hide it. Hide it until I found my brother.
My brother, Malcolm, was never one for responsibility. Ever since my mother died of sickness my family had gone into mourning. But Malcolm dealt with grief differently. After two months of grieving, one night, he disappeared. Leaving only the name of a ship he had left on, in a note, and the words ‘Goodbye Forever’. He was only fourteen at the time. I closed my eyes for a moment to remember what he looked like. His tender blue eyes flitted through my memory. Blond hair, always closely cut as my mother liked it. And a crooked smile. How I missed him! That was nearly eight years ago. His image had almost erased from my mind. But I’d be sure to recognize him when I saw him again. The Anthony Stone would be his then and the entire castle too. We would be rich together with fine clothes, elegant food, servants, and beautiful things. How I longed for that perfect life.
But that dream was far away. Now I was an orphan with the arduous task of seeking out my wayward, impossible to tie down brother, and keeping away a rich and powerful enemy.
My hair caught on a branch as I passed by it. “Ow!” I cried and pulled my hair away. I soon found its yellow strands strewn all over my face. I sighed. ’I’ll never be able to do this.’
I continued along the silent forest path. If I continued on that path it would eventually take me to a city next to the main harbor in the area. The town would have records of the ship my brother had left on. Its destination, when it left and when it was predicted to arrive at its designated port. I merely needed to follow my brother’s tracks to find him.
A light shone in the distance through the trees. Unknowingly, my feet sped up. Soon dawn would approach and I would like to be at my destination by then.
The sea glistened in the moonlight. The gentle firelight of the torches along the street lengthened until their reflections reached the glimmering sea. For the first time since my father’s death I felt alive. The dull expression in my father’s eyes when life went out of him seemed to have dulled my own heart. Now I finally felt some semblance of emotion. Nearly happiness, but not quite. My only hope of happiness would be in my brother’s arms. Until then, only sorrow would I allow stealing into my heart, ever so closely protected.
My feet slowed because I longed to savor that moment. Before the dark hollowness settled in again. Everything was silent. Tears began to well up in my eyes. I hadn’t had a chance to cry for my father. But the silence of the night and the still, silvery gleam of the mountains beyond created emotion in me once again and I knelt down and wept on the cold, hard earth.
Oh that I were a man and could challenge Roderick! Oh that if I were a man I would have the skill to defeat him. But I was not a man and neither did my skill match my enemy’s. Therefore I had only to content myself with the task my father commanded me to do at his last words. It was what I wanted to do. At least that was what I thought. Perhaps it was only the promise of jewels and finery that appealed to me. I was no surer of myself than I was of where my brother was. I closed my eyes and tried hard to remember what he was like...
Clever, he was always showing me how to put something together or take it apart. He was wonderful at building forts out of old tree branches and such-like. He had strong arms, none of his friends would ever even think of picking a fight with him. He was skinny though, and Mother didn’t like it. He loved Mother, I remembered that about him. Sometimes he and Father would fight or I’d fight with him. But he never fought with Mother. Perhaps her death had hurt him the most of us all. There used to be a song. A song she would sing to each of us. I didn’t have the heart or the strength to sing it now. I had a task to do. I had no time to mourn for her too. Sunlight crept over the frozen ground on which I was kneeling. I wiped my eyes and continued on my way.
A large ship was sitting peacefully in the harbor. I longed to be as peaceful as the ship. Sails down, gently rocking to the soft ripples the quiet breeze sent its way. I pulled my hood over my wavy blond hair in case Roderick was waiting for me in the town.
I made my way to the dock and met an old man who was loading supplies into a small dory to bring to the ship.
“Excuse me, do you know where they keep the records of the ship’s departures and destinations in this town,” I asked as politely as I knew how. In all truth I found the old man revolting. The odd way he cocked his head and looked at me through his vast bushy gray eyebrows made me uncomfortable. But he was old, and old men are supposed to know things, particularly regarding history.
“Aw, no Miss. I’m just an old sailor,” he mumbled and continued on his work.
A younger man beside him, who was no better looking, sent me a crooked smile through his overgrown facial hair. My ease was not increased in the slightest. “They would be kept in the back of the library just down the street.” He pointed behind me down the street where the early morning sunrays were hitting. I curtsied and quickly turned my back to them. I had no desire to talk with those two men. They were altogether too old or ugly or both for my comfortability. I missed my father.
The library wasn’t especially large, but the books were plenteous enough. My search for the records took me nearly two hours. Books and papers were stacked up together in the most unorganized manner. I had to check every crevice before I could be sure I had searched well.
The records were hidden under a large stack of books in the dimmest corner of the place. A tinge of excitement swept over me as I glanced at the worn dusty pages. Over a hundred years of ships’ departures and cargo were in there. When they came, where they were going, when they would be back; everything was recorded in detail in those pages.
If I thought finding the records was difficult, finding the elusive ship Malcolm left on was twice as hard. The sun had reached the center of the sky, beaming through the only window in the book haunt, by the time I stumbled upon the words. ‘The Trustworthy; bound for Spain. Bearing skins, wool, and lumber. Captain: Joshua Wilkin.’
“I must go to Spain,” I whispered, my voice echoing through the silent bookcases and unknown pages of the library. I began to feel uncomfortable and out of place in such an ancient room filled with ancient words and ancient dust. My mind was diverted to the page again when it occurred to me what a long trip I was intending on taking. Spain was a long way from Norway. It was then when I realized that I had secretly hoped Malcolm had merely moved to Denmark or Sweden. I sighed and closed the records.
Sun glared in my eyes when I stepped out the door. My head ached from the light for I had been in a dark room for hours. I blinked a few times to get used to the light and rubbed my eyes to make them stop hurting. My first task would be to find a ship bound for Spain, or at least somewhere near there. I wasn’t sure what to do after that but Spain was a start. Stepping into the street I breathed deeply trying to get up the courage I needed to do what I had to do. I had never had much courage, especially for new things. The thought of new lands frightened me. I had always lived in the same place all my life. I lowered my eyes to the chain of the Anthony Stone lying at my heart. The remembrance of my promise to my father echoed inside me. I could not fail my father already. I had barely begun. Besides, Roderick would learn quickly his younger brother had a daughter and would be on my trail. I had to get the advantage over him.
“Spain it is,” I whispered as I made my way to the ship docks. The ship I had seen the previous night was still sitting in the waves of the harbor. Hopefully it would take on passengers. Wherever it was going, my first endeavor should be to get out of Norway.
Disappointment filled my being when I noticed those two ugly men still working at the docks. “Oh well,” I sighed. “Some things just can’t be helped.”
The old sailor with the huge eyebrows directed me in his mumbling muttering way to the captain who was on land bargaining for supplies for his journey. I walked toward him filled with purpose to complete my first difficult task. I knew it wasn’t exactly the easiest thing to just hitch a ride on a cargo ship in the middle of its journey. Why ever should a captain pick up a strange girl he’s never met before when the ship didn’t take passengers?
Of course the captain was old, I should’ve known it. Perhaps I had harbored a concealed wish that he’d be a dashing young man of the sea with a pearly white smile and deep blue eyes. No, he was aged and gray. That meant I couldn’t convince him to let me on merely using my feminine charms, which of course, I knew quite well I had. His gray beard came down nearly six inches entirely hiding his neck. I’m sure his neck wasn’t much to look at but it was bound to be better than a messy gray beard. I wondered what he’d do if he got food caught in it or spilt some sort of liquid into the deep depths of its stringy mane. Shuddering I tried not to think of that.
As I approached him I resisted the urge to cough, for protruding out of his mouth hung a pipe. This he smoked incessantly. I began to feel this would be even harder than I thought.
“Sir, are you the captain of that beautiful ship in the harbor?” I asked, smiling sweetly.
The captain appeared startled when I spoke to him. “That I am, Miss. How may I be of service to you?”
I didn’t bother to smile at his courtesy but immediately launched into an eloquent lie which I had practiced on my way to find him. “It is urgent I leave on the Jeanette Marie! My father is dying in Whales and yours is the only ship bound for Whales this month. I must reach Whales…” I worked up some tears. “Before he… he dies.”
The captain was taken aback by my passionate speech. He glanced at me, up and down. From my light blue-green eyes to my muddy brown shoes. His beady black eyes seemed to take in all the information he saw. ‘Why would this pretty young girl want to be on my ship?’ I could almost hear him thinking. “Do you have any other relations, girl?” He asked in a hoarse, guttural voice, he probably talked that way because he smoked too much.
“Only my grandparents who are too frail to take the trip,” I replied thinking as fast as I could. “I was visiting them for a year when the news reached me that my father is…” I paused to add to the dramatic effect, “dying.”
I never knew what a fine liar I was until that moment. I withdrew my eyes from his in case he would guess the truth, and focused on my purse at my waist. The money I had taken from my family’s hidden stash. “I can pay for my fare sir. I will be no trouble at all.”
I could tell the man was thinking. Obviously the thought of extra profit appealed to him very much and pity wouldn’t deny a pleading child her father. My lie was complete. Who could ever deny my request?
“The fare is not measly…” the captain began with a greedy look in his eye.
“I can afford it.”
“Alright…” he blew a gust of smoke in my eyes. “We leave tomorrow.”
I smiled. “Thank you.” I said as I shook his greasy hand in agreement.