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Family Ties

An Excerpt

By Luke FosterPublished 3 years ago 11 min read
Family Ties
Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash

The sun was just about to set as he rode towards the settlement. It had been a long ride for both him and his horse and they both could do with the rest. He paused at the treeline and looked down on the 40 or so wooden cabins neatly arranged with a stream cutting across the the northern side of the clearing.

As it was approaching dusk the settlement was quiet, most people were already inside for the evening. He passed as small area of tilled soil that had recently been turned over showing that planting season was almost upon them.

That came as a shock, the last year had been so hectic that he had completely lost track of time. For a second he idly thought about the village he used to live in, his neighbours would be likely doing something similar with the planting land outside the village walls.

At the far western end of the settlement a light was still shining through the falling darkness and a regular clink echoed across the clearing. He steered his horse towards the source and it trotted over the soft turf.

The glowing, red orange light of the forge silhouetted a powerful figure, right arm swinging a hammer with a head the size of a mans fist, over and over to the crashing sound, as the metal on the anvil sang and gave way.

The rider sat atop his horse, watching the hypnotic rhythm for a moment before dismounting and leading his horse to a small section of fence. He wrapped the reins around the fence and took a set of brushes from his bag. He worked on the horse for a few minutes until he was satisfied that the sweat had been brushed away. He put the brushes away and took out a section of apple, feeding it to the horse stroking its ears.

The blacksmith had stopped working and was stood in front of his bench, his sizable arms crossed impassively across a barrel chest. He watched the rider take care of his horse and step towards him. He went out to meet him at the entrance to his forge, watched as a smile raised on the rider's lips and then decked him with a left cross.

The tall rider hit the ground hard, he sat up and rubbed his chin wryly. He grinned up at the large man who had just felled him.

"Good to see you too, brother." he chuckled.

"What in all the hells do you think you're doing?" his brother hissed at him. "My kids are inside. If you bring trouble down on this settlement, then the gods help you!"

"I understand, brother. I just need to rest and water the horse and I'll be on my way. Are you going to invite me in?"

"OK." his brother's voice softened, and he extended a hand down. "But that thing stays out here." he pointed to the sword slung across the rider's shoulders. "We don't have weapons in the house."

With that, he turned and walked into the house. The rider slung the sword off his back and placed it on the end of the workbench. As he walked through the side door of the house he noted how, although small, the room was well appointed, the furniture good quality and very well made. It was comfortable, and had a family feel to it. A fire was quietly smoldering in the hearth and two small boys were laid in front of it, playing with some small wooden toys. The boys jump to their feet as the man entered the room and ran across to him.

"Uncle Jothan!" the boys squealed as they hit the midsection of their uncle with hugs. He reached down and tousled the boys hair fondly.

"OK boys, it's time for bed. " the boys' mother gently guided them towards a bedroom.

Jothan shrugs off a buckskin jerkin and squats by the fire, reaching out his hands to warm them. His brother pours 2 glasses of a fruit juice from a jug by the kitchen area, hands one to Jothan and settles down into a chair opposite the fire. Jothan drinks deeply and sighs, sitting down himself and looking across at the man he grew up with.

"Been too long again, Lokan. When was the last time we saw each other?" he asked.

"Little over two years ago, I think. We were there when you won the company champions tourney. Little fella wasn't much more than a baby." his brother reminisced. "You were good, don't think you surrendered more than a handful of points in the entire tourney."

Jothan chuckled and took another deep sip of his drink. His eyes flashed of memories of simpler times.

"Wow, the tourneys. Almost forgot about them. I won the regimental tourney that year too. Think they gave me a medal or some such for it."

He leaned further back in his chair and looked fondly at his brother. More than 5 years had passed since his brother had left the king's service after completing his time. He looked more powerful than ever, shifting weights of metal had kept his strength, but Jothan could see the first signs of age creeping through. There were more flecks of grey among the beard, and though he tried to cover it, Jothan heard his knee pop as he sat down, and caught the spasm of pain pass his face.

Jothan didn't pity his brother. Age comes to us all, and he had his fair share of aches and pains as well. His shoulder stiffened in the colder months if he didn't exercise regularly, courtesy of a spear he took while on active duty on the southern line.

"Do you still have your medals?" he asked. Lokan opened his eyes and grunted as he stood. His hand rubbed his knee and he walked to a shelf on the wall. He pulled down a small chest and opened it. Inside he removed an ornate medal, brass but delicately decorated. The etching on the front was of a man stood, his arms aloft in triumph. He threw it to his brother and sat back down. Jothan pulled a similar medal from his pack, his showing two crossed swords.

"That's the only one I've got left." Lokan said. "I melted the others down and used them for decoration in some of my work. They sold well."

Lokan had won the regimental wrestling tourney for 5 straight years during his time in the army.

"I entered the wrestling tourney the year after you left the regiment." Jothan told his brother. "Figured there was no point whilst you were competing. I made the quarter finals, came up against the guy you beat in your last final. Guy threw me clear out of the ring."

Lokan chuckled and leaned back in his chair. "Ah yes, he was a beast. Taller than you, heavier than me. And a canny fighter too."

"So how did you beat him?"

"I punched him in the face. Most problems don't stick around after that."

Jothan let out a short bark of a laugh. "Tell me about it" he rubbed his chin. "Thought you cared for me?"

Lokan's eyes lit up as he smiled. "I do. That's why I hit you with the left."

A bruise was beginning to form on Jothan's chin, testament to the lack of pull in the strike. "I appreciate it."

Jothan started to study the room in more detail. There was love in this house, in its possessions, and in the very fabric of the building itself. His brother, despite his awesome size, fit here, in a way that he didn't in most rooms. He looked, if not happy, then contented.

"You look good, brother. Country life seems to be suiting you." he noted.

"Family life suits me. Those boys are my life, and my youth." he grinned as he noted. "Also I get to hit things with hammers all day. Always good for stress relief."

"Have you ever thought about it yourself? A family?"

"Ha! Me? Well, it's a fine thought, but first you'd have to find a woman crazy enough to have me. Plus, it's not exactly a good time right now."

Jothan drained the remainder of his drink and leaned forward, elbows resting on his long legs. His voice dropped to almost a whisper. "Do you still have it?"

Lokan flashed a warning glance to make sure that the tone stayed low. "I do. It's locked up in the forge." just for a second, a strange look passed over his face. "Hopefully it will stay in there for the rest of my life."

It was a sentiment that Jothan understood. He knew what it was like for your life to be mired in violence. It is a pre-disposition when you don't revel in death but have a talent for it. He wished he could share the sentiment but right now his talent for death was the only thing keeping him alive.

Lokan was concerned about his brother, but he didn't know how to broach the subject. His little brother, pride of the southern forces, regimental champion with the sword, was on the run. The heralds had been passing messages the last time he visited the town with his ironworks. There was a price on his head, for the crimes of treason and murder. He knew that it wasn't true, but his brother was in trouble, and he needed help.

"So are you going to tell me what happened?"

Jothan sighed, hard. "I got assigned to the Duke's guard. He's not a good guy. But then, I haven't met many nobles that are. But I got my head down and got on. Then he appointed a new Councillor. He was a monster. He used to hunt people in the woods with dogs. I had to put a stop to it."

His eyes were far away, living in the moment where his life changed. He knew what he had done was the right thing. But why was he the only one to do it, and why had his life been ruined when he did?

"The city was rife with fear. People didn't leave their homes unless they needed to. Or unless they were pulled in for questioning but the city guard. A lot of those didn't come back." He wasn't looking at his brother as he spoke, but at an unspecified point over his right shoulder. He wasn't certain that he would be able to make eye contact anyway. "I didn't know a lot of this was happening, I found out after I'd already dealt with the Councillor. But you could tell that the feeling of the city was off. The streets were quiet all the time. People wouldn't meet your eye when you passed them in the street."

"And you didn't know what was going on?" Lokan asked gently, but Jothan recoiled from his words. He felt the note of accusation, as it echoed his own conscience.

"I don't think I wanted to know. I was barracked on the Duke's compound with the rest of his personal guard, and we rarely left. I'd walk into the market district maybe once a month to stretch my legs. I wish I'd paid more attention. Lives could have been saved."

"But when you did know, you've certainly done something about it now."

Jothan let out a snort of air from his nose. "You could say that. You know that I couldn't let that slide, we weren't brought up like that. But I didn't think it would start all of this!"

Lokan picked his head up sharply, raising a finger to his lips. Jothan strained to listen, on the edge of his hearing he heard a group of voices, and movement somewhere in the settlement. Lokan levered himself out of his chair, slid over to the window and eased the shutter open a crack to peer out.

"Soldiers! They are pulling people out of their homes. You better be going."

Jothan headed to the side door and stepped into the forge, moving carefully to the front to check out the situation. There were 8 soldiers that he could see, some questioning people outside in the late evening night, others banging on doors. He could see 4 torches so not everyone had light, plus it didn't seem to offer too much distance. He moved back inside to see his brother gather up his pack and hand it out.

"If they catch you, you know what will happen. To you, and to us." Lokan warned.

"Ha, they haven't brought enough men for that." Jothan grabbed his pack. "I'll come back for the horse. Keep your head down and don't do anything stupid."

"Says the man accused of treason." was Lokan's reply. "Don't worry about us. As long as they don't find you in our house we should be fine."

They briefly shook hands and Jothan headed towards the open door to the forge.

"It really has been good to see you again, Lokan. Let's not leave it this long until next time."

And with a quick salute, he was gone. He grabbed his scabbard from off the work bench and headed out the back of the forge. Quickly, he surveyed the ground. There was a small stream running maybe 20 or so paces behind the forge, and after that it was maybe one hundred paces to the treeline. That was a lot of open ground to cover, plus, despite his brothers carefree tone, if someone recognised him as the former army wrestling champion and his brother, then it was likely both he and his family would be hauled in for questioning, if they could take him in alive.

No. That wasn't an option. He would have to draw them along, get them away from the settlement in the hope that they don't look too closely at the reason for him passing by this particular place.

Plan made, he looped the sword into his belt and headed south, running in a crouch, sticking to the darker areas close to the buildings. He could hear the sounds of people beginning to panic. He reached the bottom of the row and leaned out around the corner of the building. His initial count was correct, there were 8 soldiers and they had managed to empty most of the houses on that row. There were 6 of them currently in view, but he could hear the other two making noise as they tore up one of the houses. A soldier banged on the door of the house next to his brothers and he knew he would have to make his move now. Placing his hand on the hilt of his sword and walked out into the open.

He whistled to get the attention of the gathered soldiers and to cut through the noise of the gathered folk of the settlement.

"Gentlemen! I understand that you have been looking for me." He drew his sword and spread his arms wide as the three nearest soldiers approached him.


About the Creator

Luke Foster

Father. New husband. Wannabe writer.

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