The Knell

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Chapter Eight: "As The Days Pass By" (part 1)

The first day that he isn’t forced – coerced, held down and suffocated until he opened his mouth where then that cursed tea was poured down his throat Rett makes sure to go outside.

No one understands. Not his sister, not any of the Barrens that he has found are boarding him and Kaethe; none of them understand the crushing need he has to go outside and breathe fresh air.

But most importantly, they don’t seem to get why he prefers relaxing to the rocking motion of the swinging couch suspended from the rafters.

His sister might figure it out if she thought about it for longer than a minute, but the others, never.

Times like these, Rett really misses his ship. He misses the swaying, the constant motion, the sea air and the excitement of life on the open waters.

Now he feels like a beached whale, trying to find his footing and struggling to breathe in a too open atmosphere. He groans, frustrated, tired, achy, a little irritated by everything that has happened, by all the things that are differing to how they once were.

The swinging stops for a moment, and the ropes sink just slightly as someone sits next to his hip. Rett opens his eyes when Kaethe reaches out to check the persistent fever that is all but gone and just clinging on by the soreness in his joints. She draws back when she sees him watching, glowering to mask the concern that she won’t allow anyone to see. Ever again. Not after the rebellion and the public execution and . . . and everything.

“The verdict?” he asks her, voice hoarse and throat raw even with all the tea he has been surviving off of for the past several days.

“Still warm,” she tells him. “Mister West says that the healer will be stopping by this afternoon to check how you’re doing.” Kaethe stares at him warily, waiting for the reaction that they both know is coming. “She’s just going to see how your side is healing, which it seems to be coming along nicely. Mischa wouldn’t be too worried.”

“It’s not Mischa ‘m worried about,” he grumbles.

“I know. But the healer is the best in Knoll. She knows what she’s doing,” she tries to convince. It falls fairly short.

“Yeah, she’s trying to put me in an early grave.”

Kaethe’s expression darkens at the same time that it closes off completely. She inches down to his knee, putting space between them – Rett knows why and he would have reached for her if he thought he had the energy to do so without rupturing his side. “No, that’s my job,” she says eerily, morbidly, the self-hatred so obvious that her voice is saturated in it. “I’m the one that nearly killed you. It’s my fault. Just like everything else.”

He sighs, extending his hand though it falls just short of touching her elbow. “Kae,” he tries past his aching throat. He doesn’t want to think about it either, but they need to. They need to accept and move on and not dwell because then it will destroy them from the inside out. “It’s not your fault.”

“YES IT IS!” she screeches, drawing the attention of Hale and Louk where they have been splitting and stacking wood in preparation of the incoming winter. She sees them looking, sees them pausing in their work to regard her and Rett with concern. Frowning down at her lap she repeats more quietly but no less venomous, “Yes it is.”

“No it’s not.”

The glare she gives him is as chilly as ice. “Yes it is, Garrett. It’s my fault and the sooner you accept that the sooner we can move on.”

He knows what she’s doing. He knows that she’s trying to push him away so that she can continue to hate herself in silence and not have to deal with his blame – though he doesn’t blame her; will never blame her – further down the road. He knows and he will not accept it.

To him, his little sister is an open book. He has always been able to read her, their personalities once so similar that they clashed, before things changed and their family slowly began to fall apart.

“If it’s your fault then it’s my fault, too,” he whispers fervently, needing her to accept that the guilt isn’t at all hers, isn’t at all theirs, but if she’s going to shoulder it then he’s going to be there to share the burden. “I should’ve been there, Kae, and I wasn’t. I was . . . I was the older brother and . . . it should’ve been me that went after Georgie for what he did.”

His sister jumps where she sits, almost falling off the swing but just managing to catch herself on his shin. She looks at him with startled eyes, like she just got caught, like she has just been seen and exposed, something that is not permissible in her – once his – line of work.

“I know what he did,” he says to her quietly, leaning up even though his side shrieks against the movement, taking her forearm and squeezing tight. “I know that he burned you, Kae. I know and I’m sorry. I was going . . . going to help him, but then the rebellions started and I was just trying to find you after that.”

You know?” she rasps, blinking harshly, refusing to look at him. Her arm shakes beneath his palm, whether from restrained tears or anger he can’t quite tell. “You know about . . . about . . . ?” She nods over her shoulder, to the burn that he hasn’t seen but knows stretches from shoulder blade to shoulder blade, a mark of what once was the crime for being caught a thief, back before Thress became what it is, a home of thieves. It’s an archaic, symbolic burn that holds little meaning aside from Georgie wishing to inflict pain and suffering and letting others know that it was his handiwork.

It is this arrogance that will get him killed one day, just as soon as Rett gets close enough to break every single bone in the Noble’s body, just as it was done to . . . to . . .

“Yeah,” he admits gently, unable to finish the thoughts swirling like a hurricane in his head.

Kaethe laughs, a terrifyingly distraught sound that holds no humor and only hurt. “And here I was trying to keep it from you. But you knew all along. Why did you never ask about it? In all the time we’d been running why did you never ask?”

She sounds upset, angry with him for not showing worry over her wellbeing. But that’s not it. His sister has never been good at showing emotion, often morphing one into meaning something different. Anger can be fear, can be annoyance, can be anything. All it takes is a willingness to look and learn about the other subtleties that she can’t mask. Like the bouncing of her leg and the shifting of her eyes that tells him she is confused, a little hurt, but not because she thinks he was neglecting her. She just doesn’t like what she can’t conform into understandable boxes. She doesn’t like uncertainties, randomness, because those things, those qualities can spell out danger and death and failure for a thief.

“You wouldn’t have talked about it, Kae,” he explains. “You would have yelled at me and screamed at me, maybe even stormed off on your own, and right then we couldn’t be fighting. You know we couldn’t be.”

“So we can fight now?” she snaps.

He heaves a breath. “No. We can’t. We shouldn’t. But I know, Kaethe. I know what he did and I promise you that the next time I see him I will kill him. For you. For Thress.”

“For . . . for Liam?” she wonders with a childlike hesitance, a tearful sadness to her voice.

“Yeah. For him, too,” he agrees just as sadly, the name that he has found himself unable to think let alone voice tightening in his chest, a pressure that he knows nothing but time could ever have the hope of alleviating. “Especially for him. Georgie won’t get away with what he’s done. I won’t let him. I promise you that, Kae.”

She nods, pulling at the hem of the oversized sweater she is curled inside.

Rett grins tiredly at the sight. “You remember when you used to wear those huge hand-me-downs?” he asks.

“. . . Yeah,” she agrees. “Everyone used to laugh at me because I was always tripping on your pants. I think that’s why I tripped when I broke your finger. Not because of a rock, but because you were so big compared to little ol’ me. You were always so hefty,” Kaethe jokes.

He pulls a face but there is nothing behind it. He was never chunky growing up. Neither was she. Trim, lithe, quick and nimble were words used to describe them when they were younger. But whereas he was tall and thin, she was downright small. Their family used to tease about her only being a late bloomer and that one day she would shoot up, towering over the rest of them. That never happened. Kaethe barely made it to five feet, staying as small as ever while he filled out to a nice, average height – nowhere near Hale or his uncle’s height, but closer to Louk who is supposedly on the shorter side for a Barren at five-ten.

“You’re just sore,” he grumbles, leaning back on the swing, resting comfortably against the pillow that had been brought out when he insisted on moving from inside.

“. . . How’s your side feeling?”

Meh,” he answers dismissively, closing his eyes and breathing deeply of the late morning chill. It hurts his bruised ribs and strains his cracked ones, but the air is clear and crisp, not stifling and dank like it was in the bedroom. The pain is something he can deal with because the walls aren’t crushing in around him anymore.

Rett doesn’t like this sudden onset of claustrophobia. It’s becoming more than the mild irritant that he has been as for his entire existence – okay, maybe just a tad more than mild.

“You’re not hiding anything from me, are you?” his sister pushes.

Cracking only one eye open he looks her over, finding that Kaethe is biting into her bottom lip. Nervous. Wary. Needing to hear the answer but worried about just what it is; whether it’s an answer that she actually wants to hear.

“‘course I am,” he says, relaxing once more, closing his eyes, curling further into the jacket that he knows to be Hale’s with how it hangs off of him. “We’re Levitts, Sis. Hiding’s what we do. But . . . but not about that. ‘m good. Will be better in a little while. Don’t worry ‘bout me,” he tells her lethargically, words slurring together.

His sister scoffs, getting up and sending the swing to a more pronounced rocking. “I wasn’t worried about you,” she denies even though they both know she’s lying. And badly. “I’m just putting on a show for the Barrens so they’ll let me stay.”

His lips tilt in a smile and he huffs out a laugh, fighting the pull of sleep – haven’t I slept enough already? “Whatever . . . you . . . say . . .”
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