It had been years since Erik had graced the steps of his childhood home in Norway. Even though the land was cloaked in darkness more often than not this time of year, he still adored it, the frigid air, the crispness of the snow underfoot. He shouldered his pack, ready to throw open the door, before orange light blinded him and a sturdy force collided with his strong chest.
He chuckled, reaching down to muss his younger sister’s mop of dark blond hair. She grinned up at him with round, pink cheeks and an array of perfect white teeth. When he’d left for the wars, she’d been a girl. Now, much his to consternation, she was a woman. Her smile faded as they were greeted by their father’s drunken yells. Erik, now a man, ignored him. He’d known of his father’s tendencies before he’d left. But after his mother’s death a year ago, his sister’s letters had become increasingly panicked. It was time he returned home and did his duty.
“Oh Anna,” he sighed, giving her a slight grin. “I’ve missed you.”
“What is Paris like?” she asked, wide blue eyes full of awe and wonder. Anna had never been granted the same opportunities as Erik, and he was quietly grateful for her womanhood. He’d seen much of what the world had to offer, and none of it was beautiful. People were cruel, selfish and despicable. He’d seen the worst sides of humanity and then some. But Anna had always been in love with the idea that was Paris, and Erik refused to take that dream away from her, especially now.
“You’ll have to see for yourself.”
It took her a moment to gather his words and understand his meaning.
“Really?” she said, hands fluttering to her plump lips. He chuckled.
“You barely say hello to me after two years away, Anna. I feel you’re more excited by a damn city than you are to see your own brother.”
She swatted at his arm, pressing her lips thin to suppress her smile. She loved her brother, had begged him time and again to come home and take her wherever he was going to next.
At just fifteen, Erik was sent away to Iceland with relatives, who then sent him to Edinburgh for school, which lead to his extended stay in London, before he visited home once, which then lead to his stint in the military. He’d somehow ended up in Paris when his mother died, and hadn’t had the heart to venture home since.
After Anna’s latest letter, detailing their father’s drunken, violent outbursts, he knew it was time to come and take her away. He was apprenticing as a blacksmith now, and working as a hired guard for the wealthy and privileged by night. He heard and saw things that made his toes curl in disgust, but he was nothing if not quiet and professional.
His clients admired and appraised him as though he were a show horse, for Erik was built like an ox, and as handsome as they came. The wives would send flirtatious winks his way more often than not, to which he’d turn a blind eye. Because oh, how he detested the elite. He had enough of their dirty secrets to keep them paying him for a hundred years, but he could never manage to stoop so low as to blackmail them.
“When do we leave?” she said, giddy with excitement. He smirked, glancing past her and into his ancestral home.
“In a fortnight, if the weather stays good enough. Shall we break the news to father?”
Anna’s face soured as she crossed her arms over her bosom. She was so like their mother it was frightening.
“I say we steal all his riches and run away tonight.”
“If only he had riches to steal,” Erik teased, shouldering his pack once more and mounting the steps.