My Brother

Clang! The staccato crash of steel on steel was only drowned out by the booming thunderclaps that punctuated the rapid volleys of blows. The epic struggle was lit by a few far-off torches and the lightning that arced across the sky. The two combatants fought with a ferocity unmatched by any of the other conflicts going on around them. The battle fell away from the two swordsmen who were locked in battle. One wore a brilliant suit of white plate, the other wore a dark breastplate surrounded by black leather. Soon all but a few of the other contests of swordsmanship had ended. The air was filled with the moans of the dying yet still the rhythmic ringing of the two's crossed swords chased across the landscape. Upon the breast of each was a symbol; that of a pure white circle. On each fighter, the symbol was tarnished with grime from the battle and dings from the weapons. Neither of the combatants thought about the past, neither thought to the future. Both were engaged in a life and death struggle to survive, to continue their existence, to prevail. Had it always been so?

***

That spoilt twin brother of mine! Always the first! Always the one groomed for succession. I cannot stand this much longer! It had been seventeen years since I had first set unfocused baby-eyes upon my similarly infantine brother. We had been born together those years ago, he the elder by mere seconds. Thus it was he who was ordained to be the successor of my father, not I. I would be relegated to govern over some minor duchy in the backwoods, eastern regions of the kingdom. I would be forced to oversee the operations of some peasants as they eked out a living from the miserable soil and occasionally rallying the militia to go and fend off border incursions. How dreadfully exciting. However, that time had not come to pass yet, and I have done my best to both put up with my arrogant little brother and the various attendants who orbit him in a somewhat nebulous cloud. Despite his special treatment, my brother does attend classes with me. A leader of a nation must most certainly have an education, mustn't he?

"Brother Gerick? Are you ready for your geography lesson?" he said in that infuriating treble of his. I was sure that he would never be able to lead our kingdom, would never be able to fill the shoes of our father. I respected our father, despite his poor choice of heir. He was a great man and had won much land for the kingdom, not through conquest but through strategy and diplomacy. The trade agreements that our father had helped to create have increased prosperity in our land beyond all previous measures. He helped forge a nation one could be proud of, one that could one day become the foremost in all of our land. That was, of course, if the leadership wasn't bungled by one young heir who happened to be my twin brother. Alas, but I had to attend to my lessons. How else would I know the land and thus the best places to put troops if I was to defend our farthest borders?

"I suppose that I am prepared, brother. I do not see why you are always so impatient. We will still be learning of the lakes and streams that cover the northeast part of our kingdom. Albeit important, I cannot understand your fascination." I reply. Perhaps I put a grain too much sarcasm in my inflection, but he probably didn't notice anyway.

"Well, Gerick, I suppose that I am just anxious to get into our daily sparring. I rather enjoy the chance to practice. I hope that I will one day be fast enough to 'beat you about the face and neck' with my practice sword as our history instructor so often threatens." This was one outcome which was highly unlikely, as I was much more dexterous with the sword. If the reason my brother was excited about our geography lesson was that he wanted to get that very lesson done that much sooner as to get to practice that much more quickly, then I suppose I can agree with him. I rather enjoyed our arms class how to make the right cuts, when to riposte, when to duck to save your head and when to jump. I hope that I will never have to use those martial skills. I hope that this golden peace-time continues throughout my brother's reign, even though I might not necessarily agree with that very reign. Oh, well. Enough pondering about the future. Off to learn about lakes and streams.

***

Gerick... I know he's upset that he's not going to be the next king. It wasn't my fault that I was born first. Maybe if I was born second Mother would still be alive. She died when I was, or I should say, when Gerick and I were born. I think I would've liked to know her. Whenever my father thinks about the late Queen he gets a faraway look in his eyes and a slight smile curls the edges of his usually-stern lips. The portraits of her that hang in the halls depict her as a noble lady all bedecked in the garb of her office. There is something in the set of her eyes and her smile as she gazes from the canvas that makes me think that she would have been a good person to know, a good person to have as a mother growing up. I think I miss her some nights. How Gerick can remain so calm about it, how he doesn't seem to need a mother, how he can live, despite his knowing that he will be relegated to some backwater township with very little chance of progression I cannot comprehend. He reminds me of my father in his calm and his ability to cope with what's going on levelly.

I don't really think I am up to the task of leading the kingdom. I can't see myself being the one to lead all these people, making the kinds of decisions that decide the fate of our nation. It's daunting. Yet, I can see my brother doing it. I can see my brother wearing the crown, wearing that thoughtful and wise expression as he calculates what will be the best for the kingdom. I look up to him. I hope that one day I can be like my brother Gerick. I don't think I can do it now.

***

I don't know what to do! It's been over six months since Gerick left, and I have had no one to talk to about matters of the state. Before, I was advised by my father. But now he's dead! I've only come to the age of eighteen a few months ago. Father died. The king died. I don't know. I'm not ready for you to die, Father! I can't take up your mantle. I can't take the crown yet! I'm not ready! Gerick's off in the east touring, preparing to take the title of Protector of the Eastern Lands. The new territory that father gained needs to be protected. I need advice from my brother, though! I need to talk to someone I can trust. I've been harassed about policy by a number of people, and the only people who I can turn to are a group of advisors and minor noblemen who I don't ever remember being in my father's court. They seem to have my best intentions in mind when they give suggestions, but I just don't know if they are trustworthy. I need to know what to do...

***

I recently returned to the castle for the entombment of my sire, the late king. I regret that the man had to pass into the next life. He was a good leader, and a good man. I will miss him. I will do my best to honor his memory, but I cannot be bogged down with grieving. The kingdom cannot wait. If there is any time when the kingdom needs a strong leader, it is know. The land is entering a new age, and it is up to my brother to determine if it will be a good one or not.

Before I came back, I was fitted for my new armor at Ershelm Keep by the blacksmith there. I decided to go with the lighter leather instead of a full suit of plate mail. I think that I will be better served in the various forays into the forests in my new duchy. Ershelm is to be my base of operations, where I will coordinate the militias and deal with any matters of law that arise in the east lands. The rest of my equipment will have to wait, however. The funeral of my father will occur in mid afternoon. It took a tenday to ride in, and I just arrived last night. I have not gotten a chance to speak with my brother. I think that he will need some guidance for the days ahead.

I travel through the halls of the castle, and everything appears a little smaller. I know it has only been a year since I left the castle for my new position, but it feels as though much has changed. Perhaps it is I who have changed.

I pull a servant aside as she walked down the corridor and ask her where I can find my twin. She tells me that I can find him in the antechamber adjoining the throne room. I walk to the room and find my brother surrounded by a crowd of sycophantic minor barons and attendants. Upon seeing me, my brother, the prince-to-be-king, orders all those present save for myself out of the room. I say, "How are you, Prince?"

Flustered, my brother responds, "I must say I have been better. How come it took you so long to get here?"

Obviously those geography lessons were never quite mastered by my brother. "It took some time to get the message out to Ershelm. As soon as I received the unfortunate news I mounted up and rode in with as much speed as I could muster. How are you taking our late father's passing?"

A panicked look slowly creeps into his eyes. I start to worry that he's losing his composure when he responds, "As well as can be expected. I'd rather not be thrust into this position as quickly as I have been, but we all must play our part in the functioning of this kingdom that Father built." He seems to have regained his calm. He might just be able to become a king. However, that is yet to be seen.

***

"It seems as though you are settling into the life of Protector quite easily." I say. It seems as though my brother Gerick has been settling into that life a little too easily. Even though he just recently took the title, Gerick has been making massive changes and conducting troop movements. From some of the reports that I've heard from those who govern the lands surrounding the new Protectorate, my brother Gerick has been making plans to unify the defensive forces in his land. That alone wouldn't mean much it is part of the description of his position however, reports also indicate that Brother Gerick has also been making agreements with neighboring duchies to increase trade, evading some of the kingdom's taxes, and stockpiling munitions. Hopefully these reports are wrong, but I'd hate to think that my darling brother has been up to anything against the best interests of the kingdom. When I become crowned after Father's funeral I'll not make any moves, but if my advisors' suspicions are confirmed that Gerick might be plotting to take over the rest of the kingdom I'll have no choice but to rally the kingdom's forces and subdue his efforts. I hope it doesn't come to that. I'm not too sure about the advisors, but with Father gone, I've no one else to give suggestions about ruling. I ask of my brother, "Have you encountered any problems yet? Do you need any help in terms of weapons or troops?"

My brother looks at me thoughtfully for a moment, as if he is considering what motives I might have for asking such a question. I find this pause somewhat suspicious. He replies, "No, my dear brother, but I would like to thank you for your offer. Perhaps at a later date I will need such assistance, but for now the borders are fairly calm and I've not suffered any raids. If I do fall into a situation where I need your help, I will no doubt contact you." We hear a gong booming in from the courtyard. The funeral is to begin. With a nod to my brother, I lead the way out to the gray sky and the chilly wind. The brisk winds make the flag bearing the crest of my father ripple and snap on its flag at the pinnacle of one of the castle's spires. The emblem was one of a continuous, unbroken circle of white. We began the ceremony at mid afternoon that day, the proceedings eventually finding my father's embalmed body placed in a sarcophagus in the family crypt.

***

"What is he doing?!" I shouted at my right hand, Commander Erasmus. It had been two months since my brother's coronation. My scouts had reported large troop movements. That was their job, but there was one thing in particular that I found peculiar. The troops were moving on the wrong side of the border. They were coming from the castle, my brother's castle, and they were marching on Ershelm Keep. There was not a simple honor guard, but a whole army on its way! What could my crowned brother be thinking?

"I do not know, Protector. It does appear as though your brother is preparing to subjugate your garrison here at Ershelm, though. Perhaps he believes that you are attempting to betray him?" Erasmus replied. I know that my brother is worried about threats to the kingdom, but he should know that I would never do anything to endanger what our father worked so hard to build.

"I have no such thing in mind. The only reason that we have such a troop concentration here is that I ordered the men to take a few days rest before they moved out again. I suppose the only thing we can do is wait. If we send the men out now, it will appear to him as though we are trying to hide something. If we sally forth to tell him to go home, that there is nothing to fear, he might think that we are attacking! I believe the best course of action is to wait. If we sit and do nothing, my brother might realize exactly what is going on." I said.

Several days past and my scouts kept reporting more of the same; multiple contingents of the Royal Army were marching towards Ershelm, appearing intent on storming the keep. Having nothing else to do, I planned in my head what I would do in the grim eventuality that I might have to fight my brother. The next day, I had to decide what to do.

Resplendent in his burnished plate armor, my brother stepped in front of his army and shouted up to me. I was standing atop the battlements of Ershelm Keep, fearing that if I went down there, his archers would pick me off. The words that my brother conveyed that fateful day, the words that changed the course of my life: "Brother. You have been found guilty of treason against the state. You have been found to be guilty of conspiring to bring down the glorious kingdom your father helped to create. As King of this realm, I am here to put a stop to your evil ways. Prepare to die."

***

It was the final day of the assault. The battle had raged for four days. As this last, desperate battle was fought, a furious lightning storm sprung out of the ocean east of Ershelm Keep. It was possible to see two men fighting, one in brilliant plate and the other in darker leather with a steel breastplate finishing the suit, in the intermittent flashes of lighting that arced across the sky. Between thunderclaps, the ring of steel-on-steel could be heard. It was just after one of those lightning flashes that one of the two men thrust his sword and was about to bury it deep in the chest of the other, possibly finding a chink in the armor. Then the lightning flash stopped, and all that could be heard was the sudden rush of thunder, then there was only darkness. That was the day that the fate of the kingdom was forever sealed.