“I could always count on Kenwit. You, however…”
Javan clenched his jaw as he walked away from his father. He kept his gaze on the ground until he reached his chamber. Only after the wooden doors closed and the window shuttered did he slump against the wall, his shoulders sagging. He closed his eyes against the sting of salt and told himself, yet again, that his father’s opinion did not matter.
But it did matter. And the knowledge that his father thought him less of a man, of a son, hit him with the force of a blow and he slid down the wall to the floor. Javan drew his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them and drawing in great gulps of air against the searing pain of his father’s disapproval.
Return to the city and retake it; so simple for Haldric to command. An impossible task, one that would only result in the needless loss of good men. Javan was no coward, he would willingly sacrifice his life in a fight to protect the people of Carthmoore; but to go back to the Dust Plains and fight The Enemy with a weakened legion was nothing short of insanity.
His father was insane. Lust for the crown of Carthmoore and too many hours staring into a wine goblet had twisted Haldric’s psyche, had changed him from a competent Steward to a paranoid, angry shell of a man.
If his elder brother Kenwit had been the one to lose the fortress at the edge of the Dust Plains, would Haldric have made him attempt to retake it?
He did not know. He was not even sure if Kenwit would have allowed the stronghold to be overrun by the enemy soldiers, like he had. His older brother had been an accomplished swordsman, an excellent strategist. Perhaps if Kenwit had been in charge, the Dust Plains fortress would not be in The Enemy’s grasp.
Anger smoldered within him. If Haldric had not charged Kenwit with yet another impossible task, the taking of the city of Mirish, in the borderlands of Duris, his brother would be here now, fighting side by side with him. Instead, Kenwit was dead, his body left to rot on a battlefield in a foreign land.
He let his head drop to his knees. He was alone. Kenwit had always been the one to deflect their father’s wrath from Javan. Kenwit had been the one who had encouraged the younger man, the one who had been his most ardent supporter. Kenwit’s quick smile and heavy arm slung around his shoulders could always bring Javan back from the dark places to which Haldric drove him. Although Kenwit’s path had been chosen for him, he had never left his younger brother behind. As the eldest, Kenwit had carried a heavy burden. The normal responsibilities of being heir to the Stewardship were nothing compared to their father’s expectations. And Haldric’s expectations of Kenwit were overshadowed only by his disappointment in Javan.
Javan could never hope to earn a pittance of the affection in which Haldric regarded Kenwit.
A knock at the door brought him to his feet. He scrubbed at his face and said, “Enter.”
“Captain Javan, the men are awaiting your orders.”
He straightened his tunic and said, “Tell them to prepare for battle. We have been ordered to return to the fortress.” The incredulous look on the young man’s face only drove home the fact that they were all going to die this day. Javan lifted his chin. “We have been commanded to seize that which was once ours. Go.”
When he was alone once more, Javan closed his eyes. The enormity of this task tightened around his chest like a band of iron. He was afraid, but not of death. He was afraid of confirming his father’s belief, that he was less of a soldier than his brother had been. For a moment, he wished that his father had asked him to go to Mirish instead of Kenwit.
It did not matter. Even in death, Kenwit still received their father’s accolades, and without Kenwit’s intervention, Haldric’s dissatisfaction with his second son would only grow. Bereft of his brother’s light and love, Javan’s life would degenerate until there was nothing left of his soul.
He would go to the Dust Plains as his father had decreed. He would die in the service of his country.
And he would see Kenwit again.