Chapter Ten: "When The Levee Breaks"
The atmosphere is heavily charged when Kaethe makes her departure. Everything is tense. Everyone is silent. No one knows what to say or what to do to fix things. No one knows if it even can be fixed.
Rett sure has no idea. He never has. He always just hoped that his little sister just needed some more time to sort things out; to figure things out in her head so that she could start moving on. Sure, he knows it could never be easy. He knows that it would be much harder for her, since Liam died to save her. But he still just assumed . . . and that’s where the issue lay.
And though he knows his sister in many respects even after the years lost between them, there are also things he has no clue about. This, apparently, is one of them. And though he tried to fix things, to mend things the only way he really even knows how, it was the possibly wrong thing to do.
He wonders about this now.
But he is at a complete loss for how else he could do it.
“So . . .” Mister West starts. “I believe someone should go after her.”
Rett makes to do so. This is his mess, his problem. His baby sister.
“Not you,” Mister West interjects just as his hand is closing around the jacket that he has claimed for his own.
“What?” he demands. Of course it should be him. What could the other three possibly do that he, as her brother, could not?
“You need to explain just what is going on,” Hale and Louk’s uncle continues. “I’ve let it go on for long enough, but you need to get this out into the open. And . . . I don’t believe your sister will respond well to your presence right now,” the older man adds quietly.
He opens his mouth to argue, but the truth in that one statement silences him.
“Now everyone sit down. We have plenty to talk about over breakfast.” Mister West beckons them all to the table where he sets out a plate of pancakes and a jar of syrup. He pours them all mugs of coffee, makes them all take their helpings and start in on the food before he interrupts the lull. “So what happened? What brought you and your sister to our Ranges?”
Rett drops his fork and pushes away his plate, no longer holding an appetite. “It’s like she said before. She attracted the attention of someone she shouldn’t have, someone with power. And when she refused him he did not take the rejection well. Not at all.” He feels a pulsing in his skull that accompanies a tightening in his chest. The story is a harsh one to think on, even during the abridged version Kaethe gave all those weeks ago. It’s made even worse considering what day it is, which is why his sister was in such a foul mood.
“As she said,” Mister West agrees.
“He branded her a thief just because he could and he wanted to prove that he could.”
Hale opens his mouth, floundering in surprise.
Rett spares him only a shrug. “I might have walked away from my family but I was never ignorant to them. Kae seems to think so, but I knew.”
“She thinks that you don’t,” Hale supplies.
He shakes his head. “She thought I didn’t. We talked a little while ago. I . . . I thought that would be enough back then, but it’s obviously not. She . . . This isn’t my sister,” he tells them, looking at each in turn, trying to get them to believe him, unsure whether they do or not. “She’s not this angry all the time. She never was. Once upon a time . . . well, Kae used to be a lot like me. Before I left we were close. But then I did and she and . . . and Liam . . .” He can’t finish, dropping his misting eyes to his hands.
“Liam was your brother,” Uncle West says softly.
“. . . Yeah. My younger, her older. We were the Three Thieves. Always got into trouble, always got out of it. We were terrors in Thress.”
“I believe it!” Louk crows, throwing up his hand.
Rett chuckles to himself, shoving the younger boy in the shoulder. “You would. Anyway, when I left it was just the two of them. They were close. Best friends. They did everything together, and when Kae was branded Liam found out within a couple of hours. He sent for me, but I wasn’t in Thress until the morning that my sister and I ran. He went to confront Georgie by himself, and that man did not take well to being threatened. He had Liam arrested and within the week he was sentenced to death for attempted murder.” He sees the looks that Hale is trading with his uncle and he is quick to defend his brother. “Look, I don’t know if Liam actually tried to kill Georgie, but I doubt it. He was smarter than that. If he really wanted to kill him then no one ever would have found out. They just wanted him to try and get at Kae, which he wouldn’t allow.
“The day before his execution there was apparently a riot. Kae tried to rescue him, tried to end the Nobles, I guess. She says she didn’t start the uprising, but she did. Not intentionally, but . . . even though she’s stolen from everyone in Thress at one point or another she was always well liked, respected. We’re thieves, sir, but thieves stick together, and the Nobles have been oppressing us for years. That’s why I left.
“But Kaethe is a thief. She could never be anything else. And the people followed her and the uprising happened and it failed. There was this woman. I don’t know her name. I didn’t even get a good look at her. But she’s a witch. I’ve never seen anyone like her. She killed so many, hurt so many. And then she broke my brother.” Rett’s hands are shaking. His whole body is shaking as his thoughts take him back to that moment. He hears the screams, remembers not knowing what is happening. Unsure of what is taking place but having this incessant need to find his family before it’s too late.
He was too late, though.
“Garrett,” Uncle West calls gently.
With a struggle he pulls himself together as well as he can, crossing his arms tightly over his chest, ignoring the tight pull it makes on his side. “She broke every bone in his body by only lifting a finger. I watched her snap his spine. She didn’t care. It was nothing to her. She killed him and didn’t even bat an eye.” Rett drags a hand down his face, hoping to push back the tears that are making his throat ache. It works about as well as he expected and he folds his arms once more. “She works for the Nobles because she kept asking where Kae was, but he wouldn’t tell. She threatened Thress against another rebellion. She broke Liam and his last breath was to tell as to run . . . So we did.”
“. . . I’m sorry.”
He shrugs because he does not know what else to do. “Today would be his birthday. He’d be turning nineteen. That’s why Kae can’t handle it anymore. He’d be a year older. And . . . and Liam hated snow.” Rett laughs but there is no humor in it or behind it or anywhere near it. “Liam hated the cold. He always joked about moving south, to someplace tropical. Never did get around to doing that . . .”
A hand appears on his shoulder and he blinks up at Mister West who has taken Louk’s vacated seat. “I am so very sorry for your loss.” The way the older man says it, well, Rett actually believes him. “What you and your sister have been through is horrible. Terrible. It should not have happened.”
Rett could not agree more. “I’m going to kill him,” he shares, for some reason needing the older man to know this. “I promised Kae that I would. I have to. He’s the reason that Liam . . . I should have been there,” Rett admits. “It should have been me. It would have been me if I hadn’t been off sailing the world. I wish it was me.” He snorts. “Kae probably wishes the same thing. She and Liam would have been better guests for you.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Uncle West disagrees. “While you and Louk are trying when together, you have also been good to him. A friend outside of his brother. As for your sister, I think Hale has been a help to her.”
He nods, having seen the same thing. “He’s kind of like Liam.”
Taking a shuddering breath he slaps his hands to his thighs and makes to stand. “Well, this has been fun. A real hoot. But I should go looking for my sister before she turns the entire mountain to ice. She’s been quite cool recently.”
“There’s no need. Louk went to find her. He will have better luck than you.”
He glances around to find that both Barrens have gone, their coats and boots missing from the rack by the door. “What about Hale?”
“He has the Course Run this morning. He’ll be gone until the afternoon unless he stays with his friends for a little while.”
“Oh. What is the Course Run?”
Mister West stands up and starts clearing up his dishes. “It’s an obstacle course used to train our people for military service. It’s not the most pleasant . . . it’s actually very grueling and ends with many puking in the bushes, but it teaches adversity and strength.”
He smirks tiredly at the description. “I don’t envy him.”
The older man nods and claps him once more on the shoulder. “I need to get to the city as well. Will you be alright by yourself?”
“Good. Louk will take care of your sister, or it will be the other way around.” He taps his chin, thoughtful. “I’m not sure which. My nephew did not seem too keen on going out after her.”
“Kae scares him, I think.”
“I thought as much, but he is the best tracker in all of Barrow. If she does not wish to be found then he will be the only one who can. So she is safe with him.”
“But is he safe with her?” he jokes mildly, not feeling the emotion behind it, instead very drained after recounting what he doesn’t want to ever think of. Ever again.
“That remains to be seen, I guess,” Uncle West answers as he shoves his feet into his boots and pulls on his coat. “You’re sure you’ll be alright?”
“Yeah,” he repeats with a forced smile.
“Alright. If you’re sure.” Mister West goes to the door, promises to be back by early evening at the latest, and then he’s walking away.
Rett waits a moment, steadying his breathing which is becoming more hitched with each passing second. He fights back the swell of emotion, tries to stamp it down and rein back control of himself, but everything is too fresh. It’s all been scoured into his memory like the brand on his sister’s spine, harsh and angry, a mark that will only fade slightly over time.
But it’s only been little over a month and the memories are as clear as though it happened only an hour ago. He can smell the fear in the air, feel the chill in the raised hair on his arms. He can practically taste it even with the distance that has been placed between him and that morning that ruined everything.
He can still hear Liam’s screams as his bones were broken. He can still hear Kae screaming along with him as she tried to break free of Rett’s arms to get to Liam. He hears it, has always heard it, during the day and at night. It’s a sound he’ll never forget, just as he suspects the same for his sister. This is something neither of them will ever be free of. It will be a heavy cloud following them wherever they go.
Dropping his head into his hands Rett squeezes his eyes closed, trying to push back the tears. He manages it for only one minute more, and then his chest wrenches and he can’t hold it in anymore.
Alone, Rett finally allows himself to fall apart.
There is no one he needs to hide from; no one he needs to convince the opposite; no one he needs to take care of. It is just himself and he can’t help it as he cries for the family that he lost – that he helped to tear apart.
"I'm sorry . . ."
Locating Kaethe’s trail is easier than hitting a target with his bow. She’s angry, leaving a wide path for him to follow. Not even bothering to cover up her tracks in the snow, Louk sees the direction she’s run off in within a minute of leaving home. It takes a little more time to catch up with her, but that’s only because of the head start she has gotten while he was listening to Rett’s tale of woe.
That and, well, he really doesn’t want to catch up with her.
The past week she has been growing progressively more volatile, snapping and glaring until he feels like his blood will run cold. She wasn’t pleasant to be around, and even though he now understands just why, that does not mean he wants to be alone with her. Around her. Within forty feet of her. She’s scary on a good day, and today is most definitely not a good day so she’s downright terrifying.
Louk would rather go down to Knoll and face Reuben and his pack of rats than be stuck with her on the mountainside.
. . . Okay, maybe that’s stretching things, but the idea is still the same. He does not want to find her, but that is exactly what he needs to do.
He finds her a mile away from the house, kicking throwing the thin covering of snow, growling at everything that moves. She screams into the air, a heart-wrenching sound that is made all the worse because he now knows the story behind it. Coming to a halt at the edge of the clearing the Eive girl is now standing in the center of, Louk weighs his options of turning around – pretending he was unable to find her – or fulfilling the horrible job his uncle threw in his face.
In the end, Kaethe makes the decision for him, spinning around and screaming at him instead of nothing.
“WHAT are you DOING?”
Louk takes a single step back, stuttering over his response, glancing behind him to see that he has a clear path if he really needs to flee. And he really does. She’s going to eat him alive. It will not be pretty, which could actually be funny because Kaethe is probably the prettiest girl he has ever seen. In all the cities of Barrow. In the few times he’s managed to convince his uncle to bring him to Osva for trade negotiations. Kaethe is beautiful. A beautiful disaster just waiting to happen with the right motivation.
She has it now, too.
“Uh . . .”
“Did you follow me?” she growls, storming over to him.
“Yes?” he offers, unsure if he should be truthful or silent.
He takes another step back, holding up his hands to keep her away. “Uncle Den sent me to?”
That seems to take some of the life out of her as she visibly flinches. She folds into herself, looking like the timid girl that he met all those weeks ago instead of the crazy harpy that she’s turned into. Neither of them are normal, he knows now, but he would prefer the shy, quiet girl over the one that’s going to rip his heart out with her teeth anytime.
“He was worried about you,” he continues.
Kaethe shrinks away from him, walking back into the clearing.
“Your brother was going to come, but . . . my uncle didn’t think you’d want that.”
“So he sent you instead?” she retorts with bite.
This time he flinches back, shoving his hands into his coat. He drops his chin to his chest, staring at the ground. He doesn’t like it when people snap at him. It’s too similar to Reuben who picks on him for anything and everything and, while he knows Kaethe likes him the least out of his whole family, he at least expected her to be cordially friendly.
“I’m sorry,” she murmurs a moment later, her voice soft, losing the hard edge that could cut better than the knife she happened to take from the breakfast table. “I . . . I’m angry and I shouldn’t take it out on you. You’re just trying to help.”
He shrugs, hanging back, remaining quiet.
“I just . . . Rett told you everything, didn’t he?”
Louk nods hesitantly, unsure how she’ll react to that bit of information.
She sighs, running a hand through her hair. “I should have told you all of it sooner, huh?”
“No. It wasn’t for us to know in the beginning,” he tells her softly. All those gritty little details that Rett just shared, everything that connects Kaethe to the horrors in Thress, none of that was for complete strangers to know. They didn’t need to know about back then, and they didn’t really need to know now. It was all too harsh, too gruesome, too close to Kaethe and her brother. He understands why they didn’t say anything. He understands that they couldn’t, because to talk about it would make it real, and to make it real would mean that there was nothing they could ever do to change it. “I’d say I’m glad I know everything now,” he continues carefully, hoping he’s not overstepping anything and doesn’t set her off, “but . . . what happened to you and Rett and your brother is just sickening.”
Her eyes flash and Louk thinks he’s about to die.
“I’m sorry,” he adds quickly.
Kaethe’s gaze darkens, eyes narrowing to thin slits.
“I’m sorry about what happened. It’s not fair. Or right. I’m sorry that you lost your brother.” He won’t allow himself to say Liam’s name aloud. He doesn’t feel like he’s earned that right. If their roles were reversed and it was Hale that died for him . . . he wouldn’t want anyone else saying it. “I’m sorry that you were run out of your home.”
“You’re sorry?” The way she asks it gives Louk the impression that it’s not a question. It’s a dare. She’s daring him to keep going and not get himself killed because he’s saying things that he shouldn’t. She’s daring him in a way that makes it a threat that he knows he should heed.
He nods anyways.
“Why are you sorry?” she demands through gritted teeth.
“For everything,” he says simply. “For what the Nobles did to you.”
“You know nothing of what I went through. You know nothing of what I have to deal with every single day.”
“I understand—” he tries, only to have her back on him in the blink of an eye, shoving him hard and sending him into the snow.
“You understand NOTHING!” she tells him in a voice that sends a shiver down his spine – and it has nothing to do with the cold. “Nothing. Do you hear me? You know nothing about how I’m feeling. How could you? How could you possibly understand feeling like you’re alive because someone else is dead? I feel like a murderer, Louk, because my brother died so that I could get away and live. He died because of my stupid mistake. He died because me. Now how could you possibly understand that?”
Slowly, carefully, he gets back to his feet. He makes to brush the snow off himself as he says, “I do, Kaethe.”
She growls low in her throat and storms away from him.
“I do,” he presses. “I do.”
“How could you?”
“My mam died because of me,” he offers.
This gets her attention and she faces him once more, her eyes still dark but with an underlying curiosity. “What?”
“My mam. She died the day I was born,” he says nonchalantly, the story not one that really bothers him much. He never knew her. He still doesn’t know her because talking about her is too difficult for his uncle and Hale. When he was little he used to ask; wanted to have stories like everyone else his age. But he learned quickly not to. It sent his brother into a silent rage, his uncle into quiet sadness. He hadn’t asked about her for years. “She was sick and I came early. Two months early I’ve been told. She didn’t live long after having me.”
Kaethe shakes her head. “That’s not the same thing.”
“No, it’s not,” he agrees. “We’re different. You have a brother that doesn’t blame you, that wants to help you and is there for you in the only way he knows how.”
“Rett is annoying.”
“Yeah, but he cares enough to annoy you into forgetting, at least for a little while.”
That stops any retort the Eive might have.
“I never knew her,” he goes on to say. “The only thing I knew about her was that I killed her.”
“No you didn’t,” Kaethe mumbles.
He shrugs. “Not intentionally. My da . . . he lost it a little when she died. He couldn’t look at me. He could never be around me . . . He died when I was four.”
“I’m sorry,” she says.
“For what? It happened a long time ago. I don’t really remember him. He was distant at best. At worst he was this man that lived with us and made blatantly sure that he never looked at me.” Louk never did figure out if his apathy towards his parents is a sign there is something wrong with him. He doesn’t think so – how can he miss people who were never there? “After our da died, Hale . . . he wasn’t the way he is now. He hated me. I never cared that my da hated me. I had Uncle Den instead. He was always there because my da never was. But Hale, he was my brother and he made sure to let me know that he hated me because I took both parents from him, and that’s what I couldn’t handle.”
He has her attention now he knows. He can see it in the ‘o’ her lips are making, the way her eyes are wide and unblinking.
“Things worked out in the end. Hale’s my best friend, but back then, when I was a little kid, being told I was the one responsible for my older brother being an orphan? It’s not something I would wish on anyone.”
“ . . . I’m so sorry, Louk.”
“I told you, you have nothing to be sorry for. But I DO understand what you’re going through. You think you’re to blame.”
“I am, though.”
“My mam died because of me, Kaethe.”
She shakes her head furiously. “No. For you, Louk,” she says firmly.
He smirks over to her. “Same with your brother.”
That seems to throw her for a loop and she has nothing else to say.
“He died for you, Kaethe. And it hurts. You wish he didn’t. But put yourself in his place. If it was you with your life on the line, and the only way to save it was to give up your brother. Would you do it?”
“I . . .”
“Survivor’s guilt,” he says simply. “It’ll take time, but you’ve got a brother that doesn’t blame you if you’ll just let yourself see that. In fact, he blames himself.”
“Why? He wasn’t there.”
“He thinks he should have been. He thinks you wish it had been him.”
The fight returns to her in an instant. “I don’t.”
“You need each other, Kaethe,” he explains to her. “So don’t push each other away. Don’t think that Rett is going to suddenly start blaming you because he doesn’t now and he won’t months from now. Don’t think that you have to do this all by yourself. You don’t. You have your brother. You . . . you even have Hale and Uncle Den. They care about you and Rett.”
She tilts her head to the side, considering. “What about you?”
“Do I have you to fall back on if I need to?”
“Umm . . . yeah,” he says finally. Louk actually think she didn’t want him to be. He always got the feeling that he was too annoying, too childish, too energetic for someone that always seemed so mature and self-sufficient. “Yeah. If you need it.”
She smiles softly, a smile that almost lights up the golden honey of her eyes. “Good. I . . . I like it here, Louk,” she admits to him, looking around at the snow crusted evergreens, the white sky. She throws her arms open wide, face lifted to the snow. “It’s quieter here than in Thress. Liam would hate it. He liked the noise. And the heat.”
“He hated snow, right?”
“Yeah.” Kaethe breathes deeply, once, twice, and then she’s walking calmly towards him. “I’m sorry. For the past week. For this morning. For you losing your parents. For being so horrible to you.”
“You weren’t that bad,” he tries to joke.
“I was, though. I just . . . I don’t know how to handle Liam not being around. We did everything together and now . . . my right’s too empty now.”
“You’ll move on.”
“I don’t think I want to if it means I’ll forget,” she shares.
Louk disagrees. “You won’t forget. You’ll never forget. Just one day it won’t hurt so much to think about him. Your memory might go a little hazy but he’s always going to be there.”
“. . . You’re pretty smart for a kid,” she tells him.
He glowers. “I’m not a kid. You’re only a year older than me.”
The smile is back, still subdued, still sad, but with that dull sparkle that lightens a corner of her eye. It’s a start. Louk knows that it’ll be a long while, but it’s a start to moving on, to letting go.
“We should get back,” he suggests.
Kaethe agrees and they set off, returning to the cabin as the snowfall turns just a little heavier. He hangs back as she goes to the door, telling her that he wants to stay out for a little while longer – he’s actually giving the two siblings a chance to talk. She must understand his motives because she smiles at him for the third time that hour.“Thank you, Louk,” she tells him, her voice faint on the wind. And then she steps inside, closing the door behind her while he sits on the steps and watches the snow coat the world in fresh white.