Chapter 39 - Kell
Kell’s head was throbbing and he didn’t want to open his eyes. He knew what had happened to him, he just didn’t want to believe it. The blow had come quickly, and there was a warning from the air element, but he hadn’t acted fast enough. In all honesty, he’d been too stunned. He never would have imagined the betrayal and deep hurt he felt.
With no other recourse, Kell opened his eyes and found he was lying on his side. His head spun for a minute, and it took a bit to focus on what he was seeing, but when he did, he automatically tried to push his body back. It worked, but he only moved about a foot before his head protested. The blow must have been a good one, because the pain he felt was paralyzingly.
But the view in front of him worried him. With his head so bad, he couldn’t focus, and that meant he couldn’t call on his powers. All he could do now was stare over the edge of the cavern he was perched on. It appeared to be a hole in the middle of the forest. Kell thought he knew every inch of his Kindgom, he made it his mission to do so, but he didn’t know this particular spot. It was infuriating.
“I see you’re awake,” came a voice from behind him.
Kell shut his eyes and gritted his teeth. The voice was far too familiar, and again he felt a deep betrayal. He counted to ten, then opened his eyes once more and tried to tilt his head, but the pain was too intense.
“Please, don’t move on my account. I’ll step closer so you can see me better.”
Then Kell heard the slight crunch of dried leaves, as the man circled him to stand near his feet. All Kell had to do now was tilt his head a bit, and the man’s legs came into view. Legs that were encased in the most luxurious suede money could buy, and expensive black boots that rose to his knees. When the man crouched, all Kell’s worst fears came to light.
“Surprised?” his father chuckled.
Kell could only glare. What he wouldn’t give to run him through with his sword. He reached for it, but the sheath was empty.
“I’ve known you all your life. Do you really think I’d risk leaving you your sword?” his father snorted. “I’m not a fool.”
Kell’s mind reeled. He would never have considered his father to be the one behind all the attacks. The thought of it physically pained him. The man was his blood. He had raised him and been there through all his trials.
“I don’t understand,” Kell rasped in confusion.
“You wouldn’t, and that’s the thing, no one would. It’s brilliant,” his father chuckled.
He was finding this whole situation amusing, which angered Kell more. His shock was dwindling and a rage was setting in.
“You need to explain yourself,” Kell growled painfully. “You’re King, what more could you possibly gain by my death?”
His father smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. There was a bitterness in him that Kell was only now seeing.
“I had a brother,” his father announced sadly, surprising Kell. “We were close. As close as you and Thane. The two of you are so much like us. It’s remarkable.”
“I have an uncle?” Kell questioned. It was an uncle he never knew existed, and he could only wonder why they had never met. Surely he’d want to know his nephews.
“He was slightly older than me, and he could have been your twin. He looked like you, he acted like you, and he had the same drive as you. I on the other hand was just like Thane. Where Kelton was only interested in warring and fighting, I was interested in books. Kelton was to be King, and I was meant to be his advisor. He would ride throughout the lands, keeping the peace and cutting down anyone that threatened him. I would sit in the castle, keeping the books and settling simple disputes.”
His father took a couple deep breaths and stared into the crevice far below. Kell understood he was lost in his memories and kept quiet. He wanted to hear it all, and he understood if he interrupted, his father may never finish his tale.
“Kelton didn’t want to be King. He had no desire to rule. He was happy sleeping under the stars, drinking with his men, and battling. He was a savage,” his father hissed. “But I loved him, regardless.”
“When we became old enough to marry, I sought a suitable wife. I found her in Aster. She was a distant cousin to the King of Larkinge. I asked for her hand and moved her into the castle as wedding preparations began. She was quiet and submissive, a perfect combination,” his father explained with a smile. Then it vanished, and a frown appeared.
“Kelton returned. He was happy for me and wanted to be home for the wedding. I was thrilled, elated he would be a part of my celebrations. Then he met Aster, and everything changed. Over the final weeks before we were to be wed, both my brother and Aster changed. They became distant with me, and when I saw them, they were both distracted and quiet. It was unsettling,” his father huffed.
“I remained silent, hoping whatever was bothering them would sort itself out. But two days before the wedding I walked into my sitting room to find Aster sobbing. I questioned her, but she refused to tell me what was wrong. In desperation I sought out Kelton. He was pacing in the stables. As soon as he saw me he stopped, and he looked at me with such grief, it brought me to my knees.” His father stopped then and looked to the sky. It was several moments before he continued.
“He told me he had fallen in love with my bride, and she with him. My brother, a fierce warrior, a man that only had time for his men and his goddamned horse, was in love with the girl I was to wed.” His father surged to his feet and his whole body trembled with fury.
“A brother I loved. A brother I trusted. He asked me to set her free so he could marry her instead. He claimed our love wasn’t as strong as what they had.” His father growled then and shoved his hands through his hair, gripping it tightly and pulling.
“I knew he spoke the truth. Aster never looked at me the way she looked at him when she thought I wasn’t looking. I’d known since his return what was happening. You think a man doesn’t know when his bride to be suddenly dislikes his touch. You think a man doesn’t know when his brother looks at him with guilt. I knew long before they ever did. The first time I introduced them I could see a connection. They couldn’t look away from each other, it was as clear as day.”
His father seemed to deflate then, and all the anger left him. He dropped to his knees and stared into the crater once more.
“When we were boys, we used to play together. We’d run for hours in the woods and only come home when it got too dark to see. We were inseparable. It was long before he ever wanted to fight, and long before I ever took to the books. We were so young,” his father sighed.
“We found this crater one day. And after searching for quite some time, found a slight incline that would allow us to climb in and out at will. We spend a lot of time in the crater. No one could find us. It was the perfect place to get away, and it was our secret.”
“A deer fell into it once. He was running from a predator. We never saw what. He came to the edge, but was running too fast to stop. He fell, and we heard the sound his body made as it hit the hardened dirt below. It was a sickening sound. It was as if all his bones broke at once. We climbed down and looked. We were young and curious, no one could fault us. Surprisingly, the deer was alive. It wouldn’t be for long, but it held on for a good couple hours. We stayed until it passed.”
“Our bond changed that day. We still remained close, but the deers death affected both of us differently. We never talked about that day afterwards. When Kelton told me he wanted my bride for his own, I remembered that deer. I asked him to take a walk with me. He agreed. We walked to the top of the crater and stopped. I asked him if he remembered that deer, and he told me he did. I pushed him. His look of surprise as he fell made me a great sense of relief.”
His father stood then, and the smile remained as he glanced around the top of the crater.
“I think if I would have said more, he would have caught on to what I was doing. He lived for four hours. I climbed down and sat by his side. When he died, I dusted myself off and went back to my bride to be. I told her I had spoken to Kelton and he had admitted his betrayal. I explained he was beside himself with remorse, and couldn’t live with what he had done. I further told her he had gone off in a grief filled rage and I feared for his life.”
“The warriors gathered, and they searched for Kelton for days, with no luck. The wedding eventually went on as planned, without him. It was later assumed he’d killed himself, as no one ever saw him again. I thought all was set right once more until my new bride broke the news to me she was pregnant with his child.”
His father looked at him then, and the rage was back. He was looking at him like he was the devil himself.
“I raised that child as my own, and no one knew any different. But I never forgot. It was hard to when Aster named you after your father. I promised myself that one day I would see you lying at the bottom of this crater just like your father. Just like that deer. Today is the day I can finally make that happen.”
Just like with the blow to the head, Kell had no time to react. The man he had always thought was his father, moved to his side and pressed his booted foot to his ribs. Then he pushed, and Kell slid from the edge. As he fell he didn’t think about all his father had revealed, he thought about his own beautiful bride. Just like Aster had with his father, she’d never learn the truth about what happened to him. He could only pray that she was strong enough to live without him.