|"She's younger than Tiberion," he said incredulously, looking up at his father. He was still much shorter than the man, even with his growth in the last few years allowing him to reach his full height. "It's not right."|
"You could use a mother," the older man insisted.
"I have a mother," the younger man shot back.
"You had a mother."
That made the young man's frown deepen into an undeniable scowl. "I've done just fine without one all this time. I don't need another. I'm a man now."
"I'm marrying her in three weeks. You will be present, along with your brother, and you will call her 'mother' whether you like it or not because you are my son, you must set an example for your brother, and this is my will as your father. I will hear no more arguments from you. You are dismissed."
|QUOTE ( Shortly afterward . . .)|
|"They'll catch us," the young lady giggled, pulling the blanket over herself up to her nose to muffle the sound.|
"They will not," he laughed back, pulling the blanket down and quickly kissing the girl's lips before she could protest. As she began to giggle again, squirming to get under the blanket completely, he asked with a broad smile, "And what if they did? We're doing nothing wrong."
The big blue eyes that peeked out from under the blanket suggested that the lady disagreed.
"What?" he scoffed.
"I'm the king's niece!" she pointed out in a muffled exclamation, burrowing into the blanket.
Rolling his eyes, he asked, "And I'm not. What does that matter?"
"Maryella!" a distant voice called.
He tried to jump out of the bed and into his pants, but the girl, Maryella, moved to push him out at the same time. The result was his landing on his bare ass on the wooden floor just in time for the door to swing open to reveal the form of her massive father. He didn't look very pleased. . .
|He was leaning up against the rail of the ship when the old man, Mavric, approached him. Opening his tired eyes, he squinted up at the man. "How much longer are we going to be on this smelly boat?"|
"Not much longer," the old man answered. Cutting to the chase as he often did, it seemed, he asked in return, "Why do you come alone, Brody?"
Brody sighed, pushing himself up with weak arms so he could grab a hold of the rickety railing he had come to know too well, he hauled himself to his feet. He didn't let go of the railing once he was up. His legs were still too weak and shaky to support him properly, and the rocking of the boat didn't make him feel particularly confident in his ability to maintain his balance.
"My family's dead," he answered quietly, shrugging.
"I doubt that," replied the old man, keeping his gaze out to the sea.
"You . . . doubt that?" Brody responded, knowing the man truly did doubt that. The reason was the only thing he was truly wondering about. What kind of man would think he would lie about such a thing? What kind of man would realize that he was the sort of young man who would lie about his family being dead?
After a moment, Mavric set his narrowed eyes on Brody and explained, "I think you're running away from something, and I think you shouldn't be . . . but it's too late now." He sighed. "I hope you're actually looking for something, and I hope you find it on Escova."
Brody just stared at the man, not at all confident that he knew what to make of that.
"If you're done vomiting all the food you haven't eaten overboard, you should try to sleep. You'll actually fall ill if you don't start taking care of yourself, boy."
With that, Mavric left. Brody followed his instructions as soon as he was certain his stomach was completely empty. It was his nineteenth birthday that day. He remembered as he set foot on the dock at Kyha for the first time.
|"So, where are you from?"|
"Castelle," the girl answered with a smile that suggested fond memories of the place, but Brody knew better than to believe her.
"Where are you really from?"
Her smile disappeared as she frowned slightly. "Castelle," she repeated. "Why would I lie?" she then asked, her smile reappearing with some hesitation as she adjusted her grip on the laundry in her hands.
Seeing that she was having some difficulty keeping all of the garments in-hand, Brody reached out and kept a few things from falling before pulling just enough to get her to let him take her burden. "I don't know, but you're too pretty to be from Castelle. I know Castellian women-- not nearly so lovely as you," he explained with a wink. As the girl moved to grab a pin that would allow her to hang the laundry, he held out the garments in his hand for her to take one by one. "Plus, you're doing laundry. A Castellian woman would probably still be refusing to do that after- How long have we been here?"
"Right. Four years . . . what with their upturned noses and screeching voices."
Interrupting a quick imitation of one such Castellian lady, the girl laughed, "Okay, so maybe I was lying. . . "
"Don't tell me if you don't want to, miss. Your business is your own, and I have no problem with that," Brody said casually, hanging up the remaining garments himself once he could do so without risking dropping anything onto the dust and sand. "Just don't assume I'm too dumb to realize when you're lying," he added with a smile to show that he wasn't offended. "I'm not just good-looking. I have a brain, too!"
|"Ugh. . . wouldn't a hug have been more appropriate?" Brody asked, still doubled over and grimacing in all his melodrama as the little girl seated on the crate before him scowled at him. "Little girls shouldn't kick their elders in the belly to say 'hello'."|
"I wasn't trying t' say hello, you idiot," the little girl pointed out, crossing her arms.
Straightening, Brody offered a crooked smile and said, "I missed you too, Princess Johara." All grumpy faces. Brody was wondering if she had become more stubborn since he had left for Landis. "Have you been a good girl since I've been gone? Anyone been picking on you?"
"Nobody's picked on me," she grumbled, still pouting and keeping her little arms crossed.
"But you've been good?" he chuckled.
She hesitated. "If I was all good, people'd pick on me. . ."
"Well, that's okay, I guess, but I'm back now, so you have to go back to being the nicest little girl in all of Escova. Got it?"
"Got it," she muttered, her tiny shoulders lowering a bit and her pout fading away.
"Can I get my hug now?" Brody asked quietly, crouching down a bit to get a better look at the girl's averted eyes.
Slowly she began to smile. As soon as she nodded, he swept her up in his arms and whipped her around in a tight hug. He hadn't seen her since he left in a hurry a year ago, and she had changed a lot in that time, it seemed, but her laugh still sounded the same. His little Johara was growing up quickly, now seven years old instead of six, but he had known her since she was born.
She was at least half of the reason why he had dared to return to Escova. . .
|"A man who knows truth yet lives a lie." White, unseeing eyes were fixed on a distant point. "So tell me, outlaw, what does that tell us about the nature of truth?"|