The silence that reigns after my blunt reveal is suffocating but I don’t bother to fill in that stretch of quiet with pointless words. It wouldn’t make a difference. It wouldn’t change what happened and it certainly won’t help them come to grips with the truth.
A single tear slips down Uncle Chrome’s face, a rare sign of emotion from the Uncle who’s usually always happy. The mask slips over his face and the tear dries up as he straightens himself. Elaine on the other hand can’t control her tears as they stream down her cheeks in a never ending river. The sight causes a sharp pang to pierce my chest but I ignore it.
She rushes to Abel for a hug, squeezing tight as Uncle places his hand on my shoulder in a moment of solidarity.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there nephews.” The words he murmurs are low but loud enough for my brother to catch as well.
“Nothing you could have done, you’d have likely just found the same end that night.” My words are sharp but not intended to cut, just to the point.
“Even so. And my brother? Lucien?” I don’t say it, a simple shake of my head is answer enough. He sucks in a sharp breath and I know somehow that’s the moment he realizes that his only family now stands before him. We are all that’s left of our legacy and our family line. “Come inside. It seems we have much to discuss.”
We follow him wordlessly as Elaine continues to cling to Abel as her heart wrenching sobs pierce the darkening sky. We arrived just in time for night to fall and for the first time in a week we have walls that keep the elements out and a roof over our head.
I glance around at all the changes this town has made within the last month since I saw it. An arena is now standing tall and proud in the center of Craforian where a few lone males train. The faint sounds of weapons clanging together tells me that it isn’t wooden swords they are fighting with. Metal striking metal has a very distinct sound after all. Another long building sits on the far side of Craforian though I don’t know what purpose it serves. By the looks of it, it’s still under construction as there’s wooden panels and stacks of stones off to the side.
Uncle slips through the door of his cabin, a rather large building with spare rooms and an office if my memories serve me right. I don’t think the office was finished last month when Abel and I occupied two guest rooms for a few days while getting Elaine situated. I’d assume that this is where Uncle Chrome is leading us for our talk as I slip through the door behind Abel.
Sure enough, we head down the hall and into the office where I close the door behind me. I can’t risk this conversation being overheard and I have no clue who is staying in this cabin of our Uncle’s. He sits behind a heavy looking wooden desk while Elaine flops into one of the tall backed chairs opposite from Chrome. Abel glances back to me with a gesture to the last chair, but I decline it with a shake of my head.
Graceful as always, he sinks into the seat just as Chrome sighs heavily, looking worn. I lean against the door, arms crossed, dreading this conversation but knowing there’s no way around it. Both Chrome and Elaine deserve to know what happened since they were just as close to our parents as we were. For fucks sake, Chrome knew our mom longer than we did so I can’t fathom the pain he must be feeling .
“How…” Chrome clears his throat as his voice cracks. He glances at my brother and I with misty eyes. “How did it happen?”
So, before my brother has a chance to burden himself with this task, I tell them everything, starting with our daily training, up to when we touched down here. By the end of it, I feel like I’ve aged thirty years while Chrome looks like he did. The silence in the office is suffocating as I wait for Elaine and him to say something, anything.
“I wish the situation had been different, as I’m sure all of us did.” Chrome rubs his face with a heavy breath. “You did right by coming here nephews, especially now with the increased activity with the rogues.”
He stops there as if expecting us to know what he’s talking about and who these rogues are. He glances up at our silence where both my brother and I exchange a long look.
“You don’t know?” Chrome’s words have my eyes snapping back to his matching gold ones. “My sister never told you, did she?” He doesn’t wait for an answer, just continues on like he didn’t ask a question. “I can’t say I’m surprised, she coddled you boys, and Elaine. These rogues, as we call them, are a growing group of talnarins set on destroying the royal line and taking control. Or at least that’s what we assume they are after.
“All we know is that there’s a rise in rebellions in talnarin villages with no set pattern that we can see. Once the first rising occurred a few years back, I set out to Craforian to recruit soldiers to our cause. My sister insisted on handling the issue of these rogues herself but I forced her hand.” Chrome grimaces slightly at this.
“She couldn’t put herself at risk like I could and she’d have to leave your father and you two for an unseen amount of time until the issue was resolved. I wouldn’t let her set aside her life like that, so I went in her place.” He waves his hand around the office in a matter of fact way.
I couldn’t have been more grateful to my Uncle for insisting my mother stay with us. To imagine Abel and I growing up without her is unfathomable. But then a little voice whispers to me with malice. If she had left, she’d probably still be alive.
Pondering what if’s is pointless. We’re here now and there is no changing the past.
No matter how much I wish to.
My thoughts snap back to the conversation at hand as Chrome continues. “Since I left the family home, I’ve been here trying to train what I’m calling the Elites. They are a group of strong warriors whose duty is to protect the Queen.” He clears his throat and stares into my soul. “Now King.”
I blanch even though I’d known this would come up. How could it not? The matter of succession isn’t to be taken lightly. My fists clench beneath my crossed arms as I feel the heavy stares from them all. This isn’t a job I want but I know that there’s nothing I can do to change it. It’s my duty to our people. But I sure as shit don’t need a guard to do it and I say as much.
Chrome’s face hardens. “It’s not open for discussion, nephew. Your mother denied me this and I won’t allow you to do the same. I will not allow you to go unprotected like she was.”
His emphasis on the word not makes me grind my teeth but I concede to his point. I may not like it, but he only has my best interests in mind. With a grunt, I agree with a jerky nod. Satisfied, he speaks again. “Thank you, Malik. I’ll bring you to meet your Elite’s after we finish here. The–”
“That’s who killed them isn’t it?” Abel cuts in with a fierce twist to his lips. “These rogues?” I inhale sharply as Abel points out what I had so blatantly missed.
“It’s very likely but with no proof, I can’t say for certain one way or another.” Chrome’s words are tainted with frustration and I have no doubt not having the answers for his sister and brothers murder is agony to him, just as it is to me.
“It doesn’t matter.” I grit my teeth. “I’ll find who did it and make them pay.”
“Malik, don’t rush headfirst into revenge. Stay here, train and get stronger. Learn about our people and figure out what kind of leader you wish to be.” Uncle’s golden eyes plead with me to understand. “I am warning you nephews that if you head down that path, it won’t end well for either of you.”
I sigh heavily. “Fine, I’ll heed your warning. We’ll stay and train but I can’t stay cooped up in Craforian all the time. I won’t let myself get complacent again.”
“Then work for me until Abel is able to take over my position here. You were intended to study under me in a month, so we’ll just push up the timeline. I’ll teach you everything I know and send you Malik on some small jobs to help you get integrated with the systems I set in place here. In fact, I have a job now if you are ready for it.”
“I’m ready. What do you need me to do?”
Abel shakes his head and glares at me. “No. What do you need us to do?” I let a small smile twitch the corners of my lips. I should’ve known I wouldn’t be able to get rid of my brother that easily.
Everything we do … we do together.