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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Yalera the Brave - Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Yalera!” Ronin called out for his daughter. As usual, she was running late for breakfast. Also as usual, Rohan blatantly stole a fat sausage off her plate.
I'm coming!” Yalera called out as she ran to the breakfast room. “Sorry I'm late!” She apologized breathlessly as she entered the room. A tug on her sleeve straightened her dress so that she looked perfect.
Ronin waited for her to get settled and eat a few bites before he broke the silence. “Yalera, I have something important to tell you.”
Yalera took a sip of tea to help clear out her mouth before responding. “Yes? What is it?”
Ronin inhaled a bit sadly. “Now that the planting has been finished and summer approaches, the King has summoned us to visit him in his palace. He wishes to discuss... your marriage...”
Yalera was in the middle of taking another sip of tea and nearly spit it out. After carefully swallowing her drink, she cleared her throat and tried to appear calm. “My marriage? Any idea who he has in mind?”
No,” Ronin replied succinctly. “However, as you well know, your mother is the King's only cousin and your sister is married to the Crown Prince. That makes you as close to being a Royal Princess as he is going to get, and he almost certainly has an influential Lord in mind.”
Or the heir to an influential Lord,” Yalera murmured, praying that she wasn't going to be married to an old man. The King's dead wife's brother – for example – was in his 50s and still single. If he wished to marry a young bride, the King would almost be obligated to give him her hand in marriage. It was a possibility she had hoped against for years.
Ronin nodded in agreement. “In any case, we have to pack up and get ready to leave here. Do you think you can be ready to go first thing tomorrow morning?”
Yalera groaned at the thought of getting up so early.
You can sleep in the carriage,” her father promised with an amused smile.
Are we bringing Yuna and Rune?” Yalera wondered, sipping her tea again.
Ronin stroked his short beard in thought for several long and quiet moments. Normally, they left the cats home when the went to the palace for a visit, but usually, their visits only lasted a week or two. If the King wanted to discuss possible suitors, their visit could well last several months – long enough for Yalera to turn 16 and get married.
Hmm... I think we probably should,” he finally decided. “I'll arrange to have a steady supply of food sent to us for them. Also, the King used to own a lion, whom I suspect was their father. He should be sympathetic to their need to hunt on occasion.”
Married...” Rohan murmured somberly. This event would utterly change his life as well. For the first time ever, he would be without half of his soul.
His father gave a tiny smile. “Don't be too worried yet. The King is notorious for being picky. He may well take years to decide on the right husband for Yalera.”
But what if he's already decided on someone?” Rohan asked, clearly dreading the possibility.
Then I shall be married,” Yalera stated as if this was no more important than the weather. As much as she was worried about who her husband might be, she had long ago accepted that the majority of girls got married shortly after their 16th birthday. When she was being completely honest with herself, the prospect excited her. As a close relative of the King – provided her husband was kind and handsome – she was guaranteed to have a beautiful wedding. It may even be as beautiful as her older sister Rolanna's had been!
A sad smile crossed her lips as she braced herself for the very worst. Even if she was married to an older man, it would not be all bad since she was almost certainly guaranteed to be left with wonderful children and a lot of money when he died. The ladies at court all took turns telling her all about the benefits of marriage to an older gentleman. Most of them felt surprisingly free. Whereas the brides with husbands closer to their own age often felt their husbands were demanding and unreasonable.
I can do this, Yalera assured herself. Even so, she wasn't going to lie, she wanted someone that she could grow to love. Someone who she could eventually have as deep a bond with as she did with her twin brother. She smiled at Rohan in a way she hoped conveyed her love to him.
Rohan responded by raising one eye brow in confusion. No matter how calm she was, he felt like his world was about to come crashing down upon him. Suddenly, that vague future that they had always thought was so far away seemed a whole lot closer.
Seeing his confusion, Yalera was tempted to use their uncanny mental twin connection, but decided against it. Rohan also felt that the time for them to read each other's minds just wasn't right. He forced a smile – a fairly convincing one – to his lips.
Ronin watched the two of them try to put on a brave face for each other and felt his heart constrict painfully. If he could defy the King, he would simply keep his daughter here where she was happy. But not even the husband of the King's cousin – the father of the future queen! – could get away with defying the King. Thankfully, he did have some say in the matter, and as such, he would do everything in his power to make sure that his daughter was not married off to some old Lord more interested in a trophy than a wife!

***

One of the nice things about being somewhat closely related to the King was that they were allowed to used the King's private entrance to the palace. This meant that their arrival was hidden from curious onlookers. It could never be a complete secret – of course, there was too much gossip for that – but it would give them time to visit with their mother and settle in before anyone demanded their attention. It also meant that they could bring their pet smilodons to their family apartment without scaring anyone.
Ronin watched his children comfort and reassure their huge cats for at least a half an hour before agreeing that it was time to send word to their mother that they had arrived. Three sharp tugs on the bell-pull alerted the staff that they needed a page. Barely two minutes later, a boy of 10 or 11 knocked at their door and was asked to deliver a message to the Lady Yalena. He agreed with a cheerful smile and ran off to do his job.
The pages were the younger of the sons sent by the Lords of the Kingdom to serve the King. Once upon a time ago, their older brother Yemry had been a page just like that boy. Now, he was 23 years old and a well respected Officer in the King's service. One day soon, he would take a bride and move into their family apartment in the palace, but for now, he was housed in the barracks with the other Officers.
The door burst open unexpectedly, causing a loud bang that upset Rune and Yuna.
I'm so happy you're here!” Lady Yalena greeted her husband and children enthusiastically, giving them all a tight hug and a kiss. She held her twins in her arms for an extra moment before releasing them. “I was with Rolanna and the Queen and her Ladies when the news of your arrival reached me, and she has requested your presence as soon as possible!”
The Lady cast a politely patient smile at the smilodons. “But you two are to stay here!”
The cats groaned as if saying: “Yeah yeah,” and then flopped onto their sides so they could take a nap.
One might think that as soon as possible meant they were supposed to drop everything and go, but in reality, it meant that they needed to hurry and change into suitably fashionable clothes. Lady Yalena kept their court wardrobe up to date even when they weren't there, so they had no worries about what to wear. Soon, the twins and their father were all ready to go.
When they arrived at the Queen's apartment, they had to wait a moment for the herald to announce them. Yalera suppressed a giggle and squeezed her brother's hand. Both thought: Imagine! Having to be introduced to our sister like this!
The herald got straight to the point, forgoing the flowery pleasantries that the Queen disliked but the King usually insisted on. “Lord Ronin and Lady Yalena and their children Rohan and Yalera.”
Rolanna looked positively radiant with happiness. She had been raised to be the bride of the Crown Prince, and now that she was, everyone treated her with the deference and respect due to the future Queen. This normally meant that she was calm and composed at all times, but she ruined this saintly image of herself by squealing as she leapt to her feet.
Daddy!” Rolanna cried as she flung herself into her father's arms. “I'm so happy to see you!” She kissed him on each cheek, and then kissed him on each cheek again for good measure. “And you two!” She threw an arm around each of the twins. “I missed you so much!”
Wow Ro!” Yalera exclaimed, holding her sister's hands a moment later. “You look... You're glowing!”
Rolanna squealed again. “I know! I just found out...” She took a deep breath and bounced in excitement a couple of times before settling down. “I'm with child!” The entire assembly gasped – except for the Queen and Lady Yalera, who already knew.
A baby!” Yalera exhaled reverently, hugging her sister again. “That's wonderful!” She stated honestly, a large part of herself wondering if she would soon be a mother too.
Congratulations,” Ronin murmured happily as he pulled his daughter into another hug.
Wow...” Rohan blurted out in mild shock. “That means there's going to be a little Prince or Princess running around all too soon.” In his mind, children were one of those inevitable things that would happen in his distant future. He tried not to think about it as it was hard enough thinking about how on earth he was going to manage running the family estate by himself if Yalera got married.
Lady Yalena put a hand on her husband's arm to gain his attention. “Why don't you and Rohan go visit Yemry in the barracks? We'll celebrate the joyous news later as a family.”
Ronin nodded, gave his daughter an extra hug, and then tugged on Rohan in a silent command to follow. Once they left, the Ladies in waiting all started to chatter excitedly about the baby. Yalera sat quietly next to her mother and sister, smiling as she listened to all the planning and gossip. Inside, she felt completely alone and adrift without her twin by her side. She had nothing in common with any of the women here!
The hours passed slowly, then finally, the entire family was nestled inside their apartment. It was an extremely rare event for them to all be together like this, but the Prince had given both Rolanna and Yemry permission to spend some much needed time with their family. Rolanna had asked him to join her, but he was an intelligent and compassionate man who understood that they could not truly relax as a family if the Crown Prince was around.
Therefore, this evening was all about catching up and bonding. Dinner started out rather quietly since no one really knew where to start, but after each person awkwardly talked about their last couple of months, they suddenly relaxed. Of course, that may have a had a little to do with the glass of wine that was served with dinner.
So tell me,” Lady Yalena said, smiling at her twins. “How are things going at home? I'm sure that the animals have all given birth by now and the crops have been planted.” She was smart enough to know that something wasn't quite right. When the twins had described their last couple of months, they had almost avoided talking about the most important part.
Yalera and Rohan exchanged concerned glances. Both shrugged indecisively and looked to the floor. “Yeah, everything's fine.”
The Lady was well practiced at picking up on subtle cues, so she knew her children weren't telling her something important. She looked to her husband. “Ronin?”
It's alright,” Ronin murmured, encouraging the twins to talk. “You should tell your mother what happened. She might be able to comfort you. I certainly haven't!”
That's not true!” The twins cried out in unison. They were holding hands again, this time so tightly that their hands turned white.
What?” Their mother prompted in concern. “Tell me what?”
The twins looked at each other for a moment before Rohan nodded. “I'll tell it.” Yalera simply nodded in agreement. She didn't think she could trust herself to say any of it out loud without crying. She pressed her free hand to her mouth in the hopes that it would remind her to be strong.
Well,” Rohan began with a heavy sigh. “When we were out inspecting the land... We came across a raid on one of our farms. We...”
No!” Yemry burst out angrily. “I should have been there! How bad was it? Did we lose a lot of people? How many farms were destroyed?”
Rohan swallowed a couple of times before answering. “One farm, sort of. Yalera and I managed to fight them off and protect as many people as we could but still, 11 good people died that day.”
Yalera couldn't hold back her tears any longer. She buried her face in her twin's shoulder and sobbed. It hurt as bad today as it had the day it happened. In her mind, two little girls were screaming for her to save them, but no matter how much she wanted to, she couldn't.
Rohan stroked Yalera's hair with the hand that wasn't still gripping hers. “Before we killed them all, some of the raiders had time to brutally... violate...”
Lady Yalena was clutching her heart, both she and her older daughter Rolanna were white as ghosts. Yemry swore abruptly. “I wish I could kill them all again! How dare they hurt my baby sister!”
What?” Yalera asked in confusion. “They didn't hurt me.” She tried to wipe the tears from her eyes, but more simply replaced them. “There were two little girls! One was... six? The other couldn't have been more than eight!”
But we killed them, Yalera,” Rohan reminded her. “We avenged them all.”
I know that!” Yalera wailed miserably. “And part of me hopes that the men responsible for such atrocities were torn to shreds by Yuna! But the rest of me? I am horrified that I shot and killed human beings with my bow!”
Rohan nodded, bowing his head sadly. “At least you didn't feel the indescribable feeling of your sword severing a head from its body.”
Yalera took her brother's hands in hers. “How are we ever supposed to forget what we did?”
Yemry surprised them both by kneeling next to them and placing a hand on both of their shoulders. “I'll tell you what the King once told me. We had ridden out on a training mission – this was about two years ago – and we came across a large raid, just like you did. Without a second thought, we rode in to defend our people. We're trained to incapacitate our enemies as quickly as possible, which usually means knocking them unconscious or wounding them in a way that makes it difficult to keep fighting. Even so, deaths occur. I ended up killing a man, and I...”
Yemry looked away, his face flushed from embarrassment. “I threw up! I couldn't believe that I had taken a life! The King saw me and empathized. He told me that had I not taken that life, he would have either taken mine or someone else's. He reminded me that before we arrived, many people had died at the hands of the raiders. He reminded me that the raiders would have robbed our people of the food we need to survive the winter. And then he said...”
Yemry took a deep breath and looked them each in the eyes for a moment. “You're not supposed to forget or stop being horrified that you've taken a human life. If you do, that makes you a monster! The best you can hope for is the peace that eventually comes with knowing you did the right thing. You defended our land and protected people who needed you...”
They were all silent for a long moment as his words sank in and made the twins feel just a little bit better. Then Yemry cleared his throat. “I'm sorry... Just exactly how many raiders did you kill? And how many people did you have fighting alongside you?”
Well...” Yalera answered because it gave her mind something to focus on. “There were... about 20 raiders in total, I think.”
I think so too, but it all happened so fast,” Rohan added, his brows drawn together in concentration.
We heard screams and didn't even think about it. We just grabbed our weapons, mounted our horses, and rode to the rescue. I shot two or three raiders before Rohan decapitated one,” Yalera recounted as best she could remember.
All I remember for certain is when the raiders banded together and there was 13 of them and only two of us,” Rohan murmured, his voice soft with remembered fear. “I thought for sure we were going to die, and then Rune came to my rescue.”
And... With Yuna's help, I killed several more men,” Yalera informed them. “She used her teeth and I used my bow.”
Rune and Yuna probably killed more men than we did,” Rohan admitted, sending a grateful smile at their beloved pets – who were still sleeping since they had nothing better to do.
Are you sure about that?” Yalera wondered. “I mean, it's a blur now, but at the time, I remember thinking that I shot at least a hundred men. I know that's silly, there weren't even that many men there! But...”
How many arrows were in your quiver?” Rohan asked curiously.
Uh, 12,” Yalera stated confidently. It was the number she usually carried with her.
And how many arrows did you shoot?” Rohan wondered.”
All of them,” Yalera answered.
Then you probably killed twelve men while Rune, Yuna, and I killed the rest,” Rohan stated as if there could never be any doubt in his mind.
You must be joking!” Yemry exclaimed, tempted to laugh at the joke. “Yalera kill a man with each arrow she shot?! No one's that good!”
Yalera is,” Rohan replied firmly. He was not bragging, simply expressing something he was certain was true.
Ronin sort of tilted his head to the side as he nodded in agreement. “I believe it. I've seen Yalera hunt. If she aims her bow at something, it dies.”
Really?” Yemry asked softly, his mind suddenly somewhere else completely.
Yes,” Ronin confirmed, relieved that his children had finally talked about what had happened that day. They hadn't been truly themselves ever since, and he was beginning to seriously worry. Hopefully now, they could move on and come to terms with what they had done.
Hmm... The King has organized a hunt in a couple of days,” Yemry muttered to himself.
He had been the one tasked with working with the Master of the Hunt to organize everything. This was one of several hunts that would hopefully provide the palace with enough meat to last the entire winter – if preserved properly. The Lords and Ladies who enjoyed hunting often thought of it as a simple game, a way to pass the time, but Yemry knew that it was vitally important. If his sister really was that good of a shot, then he needed her to come help him make sure they met their quota.
Father, why don't you and the twins join us in the hunt?” Yemry suggested with a warm and inviting smile.
Rolanna – glad to have something more cheery to talk about – clasped her hands together in anticipation. “Yes! You must! It can be like a family outing.”
Lady Yalena hastily added her opinion to the topic. “Just promise you won't bring the smilodons with! While I'm sure the King would adore them, they would frighten the Ladies of the court, and then the hunt would be ruined.”
Ronin took his wife's hand in his and smiled at her. “I think that Rune and Yuna will be fine staying here that day.
Yalena smiled at her husband in relief. “Good! You know, even though it has been many years since his lion died, the King still maintains the area where he could run around and do his business. I know the King won't mind if the girls used it.” As much as she was still afraid of smilodons in general, having seen these ones as tiny babies made her slightly affectionate towards them.
Then the thought that the 10 feet long cats had helped to kill a band of raiders crossed her mind, making her shudder. She pulled her gorgeously lacy shall closer to ward off a foreboding chill, and pushed the unpleasant thought to the back of her mind. They were only protecting my children... they won't hurt us...
Ronin and Yalena smiled at each other suggestively. They may not have been a love match, but they did love each other. Each time they reunited, they had fun talking and dancing. They always had been best friends, and after more than twenty years of marriage, this fact had not changed.
All four of their children rolled their eyes and shook their heads. With a chuckle, Rolanna made an excellent suggestion. “Why don't you two go... talk... in your bedroom. Get reacquainted! We'll be fine out here.” She then smiled at her siblings. “Anyone up for a game of cards?”
Great idea!” Yemry agreed with a grin. “I can win back the money I lost to you last month!”
Oh you think so?!” Rolanna challenged with a laugh. “I must confess, I am quite a little shark when it comes to cards!”
I know,” Yemry admitted with a wry grin. “But don't count me out just yet. I still have a few tricks up my sleeves.”
Yalera gave her parents each a quick kiss on the cheek before wandering over to the massive desk to search for a pack of cards. Her parents passed kisses out to everyone else before retiring to their room. By the time she found the cards, she felt lighter in spirit than she had in a while.

***

Considering that the King had summoned them all the way to the palace, he was in no hurry to actually meet with them. It was more important to him that they follow court etiquette and mingle for a few days with the other Lords and Ladies. He believed that the entire Kingdom prospered when the nobility gathered together each summer to get reacquainted and have fun.
Therefore, the day of the hunt arrived before Yalera knew anything more on the subject of her husband-to-be. Thankfully, the hunt did not start until after breakfast – which was never served before eight am since the King himself liked to sleep in. This meant that Yalera felt wide awake and refreshed as the nobility gathered in preparation for departure.
Yemry!” A young man hissed in an urgent whisper. “You have to help me!”
Yemry was standing near his family both as an unofficial guard for his sister – the Crown Princess and her husband, the Crown Prince – but also because he wanted to keep a sharp eye on Yalera to see if she really was as good as they said she was. More than a little distracted, he turned to face the owner of the slightly panicked voice and smiled when he realized that it was his best friend.
Baethan!” Yemry greeted joyfully. “What do you need?”
As you know, I'm in deep trouble with the King,” Baethan stated in a low voice to keep the King from overhearing him. Yalera glanced over at him curiously, wondering what he had done to offend the King. “If I don't do something impressive soon, I'm likely to be sent home. If that happens, my father will kill me! You've got to help me! Just let me be the first to know when a big deer or elk is spotted so that I can have a chance to take it down and impress the King.”
Yemry hemmed and hawed for about half a minute just to see his friend sweat nervously and hop from foot to foot.
Come on Yemry, please!”
Alright Bae! I'll try to help you out, but I make no promises. I can only do so much,” Yemry informed him with feigned solemnness.
I know, just do what you can,” Baethan replied with a grateful smile. Then he leaned in closer and whispered. “Who knows, maybe I'll even impress your sister.” He sighed as if thinking about an angel in heaven. “She's so beautiful, it's a real shame that she's married to the Prince!”
Yemry was used to just about every man wishing that his sister Rolanna was available to woo, so he simply shook his head in amusement. Slinging an arm around Baethan, he looked around to make sure that Rolanna and her husband were paying attention to something else. They were, but Yalera was still watching Yemry and his friend curiously. Yemry cast her a quick wink.
Baethan, I know you are hopelessly in love with Rolanna, but she's a Princess and carrying the future Heir to the Throne. You need to get over her!” Yemry advised in a whisper so he didn't attract attention.
Baethan sighed so morosely that Yalera almost laughed. “I know,” he admitted with another sigh. “But I can't help it! She's so wonderful and perfect and... wonderful!”
Smooth...” Yemry muttered dryly as he rolled his eyes.
By this point, even Rohan was shaking from the effort to not laugh. He needlessly straightened Yalera's quiver so that he could hide the huge grin on his face. Yalera patted her twin on the hand as she too had to fight to keep a straight face. An amused snort escaped her, but Rohan helped her cover the reasoning by tickling her cheek. Yalera poked him on the nose in return, and they both devolved into quiet giggles.
Baethan looked over at them and made his voice sound slightly higher, as if he was talking to a child. “Aww, don't you two country bumpkins look just lovey dovey?!” He teased them, miming a heart thumping against his chest. “Are you planning to get married anytime soon?”
Um Bae?” Yemry said, trying to get his friend's attention.
Baethan tapped Yemry on the chest. “This young man doesn't look old enough to get married yet, but I bet that won't stop him from sweet-talking her into his bed.”
Bae!” Yemry snapped with a frown.
Baethan sighed impatiently. “What's wrong, you know I'm only joking!” As an incorrigible practical joker, this was likely the truth. Even so, Yemry shook his head.
Not good, Bae. That's my younger brother and sister you're being crude to,” Yemry informed him sternly.
Really?” Baethan asked, having the grace to look apologetic even as he was interested by this news. “I didn't know that you had other siblings. I thought it was just you and Rolanna.”
Yalera – who hadn't been offended by the tacky innuendo – laughed lightly. “That's because we are usually too busy running Northinshire to come to court. Consider this a rare and special occasion.”
Rohan frowned at his sister. “Don't waste your time talking to him! You heard him, he considers us 'bumpkins...'”
Just because he's rude doesn't mean I have to be,” Yalera said defensively.
Hrmph!” Rohan snorted derisively. “I should feed him to Rune and Yuna!”
Yemry laughed heartily at that, thumping Baethan on the back. “I'd watch my back if I were you, and maybe consider staying away from my brother. He seems to have taken a dislike to you!”
I'm sorry!” Baethan apologized to them all, but mostly to Yemry. “But you know how my mouth is!”
Yemry patted him on the back again just as a loud whistle signaled that it was time for everyone to mount up and ride out. “Oh! Time to go! Keep an eye on me, I'll send you a tip if I can.
Baethan nodded and then rushed off to get on his horse. Yalera watched him run away as she carefully seated herself atop her horse, curling her leg around the saddle horn to make side saddle riding a bit more comfortable. The thought that someone was nearly love sick over her older sister made her chuckle softly – a grin stretching her lips.
Rohan caught her look and mistook it for romantic interest. He narrowed his eyes and growled at her. “Don't get too interested in him. Remember? You have an arranged marriage to an influential Lord ahead of you!”
Yalera laughed loudly, not bothering to respond to his reminder. A minute later, the King led the party into the woods as Yemry and a couple others listened for signals from the Hunt Master and his men.
A couple of hours passed with the majority of the party chattering away merrily. Not many of them cared about hunting, simply along so they could spend time with the King and each other. A few went off in response to signals from the Huntsmen – Yemry and his friend Baethan left and returned a couple of times, but so far, no one had caught much. Nothing big anyway.
Yalera wasn't one for gossiping, so she kept her eyes and ears open and shot anything that was fit to grace the King's table. So far, this was a handful of fat pheasants and a pair of plump rabbits. As they neared a lake, a rafter of humongous wild turkeys ran amok, causing a loud clamor. Yalera quickly shot as many as she could before they half ran half flew into the woods.
My dear girl!” The King exclaimed happily. “You have just fed an entire banquet!” He gestured for her to come closer. “Allow me to give you a reward!”
Yalera dismounted and delicately rushed to where the King was standing. He had gestured to his attendants that they would stop here for a picnic, so most everyone was dealing with the logistics of where to put their horse while they lunched. Hastily, everyone cleared a path for the girl who had been beckoned to the King's side.
Yes, uh... uncle,” Yalera answered hesitantly. She was technically his cousin, but he had long ago insisted that she, Rohan, and Yemry call him uncle – as Rolanna had before she married the Prince and started calling the King “Dear Father.”
Yalera, my dear,” the King addressed her kindly, taking her hands into his. “What would you like as your reward?”
Yalera bit her lip and looked to the ground to cover a blush, then took a deep breath and decided to be bold... to a point. She leaned closer so that she could whisper into his ear. “I'd love nothing more than to be allowed to chose my future husband... someday...”
The King roared with laughter. He smiled at her daring even as he mentally sighed in relief that she hadn't forced him to respond to that statement after his entire court had heard it. “Is that so?! Well, I certainly cannot give you that! However, I will arrange for you and your father to meet with me tonight so that we can discuss certain things. Perhaps that will put your mind at ease.”
Yes Majesty,” Yalera murmured with a dutiful curtsey.
In the meantime...” the King snapped his fingers a couple of times, beckoning a servant over to him. The servant rushed forward and held out a box. The King dug through the box for a moment before selecting an item. “This is a badge that I only bestow on those that have genuinely impressed me. It's a rare and great honor, but I believe that you deserve it.” He pinned a solid gold broach shaped like a crown on her dress near her shoulder, and then gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “If only more of my citizens could hunt like you.”
Yalera flapped her hand airily at him. “That's nothing! Just wait until we find a boar or a bear!”
She and the King both laughed raucously at that. The King assumed that she was joking, and Yalera knew it, which was funny to her. She looked over to her twin, who was also laughing merrily. He knew that she was serious!
As Yalera made her way back to Rohan's side, she noticed Baethan glaring at her. For the tiniest second, she felt bad, almost guilty. He had told her brother Yemry that he needed to impress the King, and yet, it was she who now bore his gift.
Most of the party joined the picnic, but a few of the more serious hunters took advantage of the fact that there were now less people to scare away prey. Yalera and Rohan silently agreed to continue hunting since their parents and sister were all occupied anyway. Besides, the way Yemry was fretting clearly indicated that the hunt was not as successful as he needed it to be.
Baethan followed Yemry, knowing that his best chance to shoot something impressive would be now. Hopefully before someone beat him to it! He muttered to himself just loud enough for Yemry to hear him muttering.
What was that?” Yemry asked.
Baethan sighed, now that they were away from prying ears and he could talk openly. “After my last prank, I'm almost certainly going to be dismissed from the King's service. I need a miracle!”
Good luck!” Yalera called out to him as she and her twin decided to ride away from Yemry and his friend.
I'll need it,” Baethan muttered darkly to himself.
The twins rode in comfortable silence for about a half an hour before silently agreeing that they were probably far enough away from everyone else to hunt without any noise or smells to alert their prey. They started listening to the sounds of nature, relying on an almost sixth sense to tell them what was nearby.
Do you hear that? Yalera mouthed soundlessly, sending the question to him mentally as well. Rohan nodded, silently pointing in the direction he figured the sound came from. It was frequent rustling and occasional twig snapping. Unless a fellow hunter was trying to scare prey out of some bushes, there was a big animal close by. The twins slowly urged their horses to sneak up on it.
You wanted a boar, Rohan thought sarcastically at his sister when they saw what was making all the noise.
Yalera didn't even bother to respond as she was too busy aiming an arrow at the large beast. It was plenty big enough to feed the entire palace! Judging by the thick layer of fat on its back, this boar must be a male in his prime, which was a dangerous beast to tangle with.
Yalera waited until she had the perfect shot. She would rather let the boar get away than shoot it someplace that would only make it mad at her. Her ideal spot would of course be the heart, but boars didn't exactly make it easy to target their hearts. Instead, she whistled sharply to catch its attention. The moment it turned to look at her, she shot an arrow through each of its eyes. They lodged in the boar's brain, making him fall dead with a few violent jerks of its legs.
Good shot!” Rohan praised her excitedly just before he blew on a horn to signal a kill.
Thanks!” Yalera accepted the praise with a grin. A couple of blasts from a nearby horn let them know that Yemry was on his way. He then trumpeted the code that asked what kind of animal, to which Rohan blew on the horn in a rapid way that let everyone know they had a boar.
Several more horns bellowed out in the distance all around them, letting them know that a team of people were on their way to help out. A boar was a worthy kill! The King himself might come to reward the hunter that killed it.
Oh no!” Yalera groaned as the thought occurred to her. “I've already got a badge of honor, another one will just make people hate me!” She lightly pulled on her hair. “Or worse, make people think that the King favors me because we're related!”
Rohan laughed, pointing his finger at her teasingly. “Some people would kill for your problem!”
Yemry called out to get their attention and let them know that he had arrived. “Hey!”
Rohan waved, and then gestured towards the boar. A few moments passed, and then Yemry and Baethan stopped next to them. Yemry looked honestly impressed.
Wow...”
Yalera stuck her tongue out at her twin for a fraction of a second. “You should have seen Rohan! He shot that boar like it was meant to be! I swear the boar looked him straight in the eye and dared him to do it!”
Rohan gaped at her before gasping out: “Yalera!”
Yalera looked at him as if challenging him to contradict her.
Good job Rohan!” Yemry congratulated him with a pat on the back.
Yeah,” Baethan agreed somberly. “Listen, I know you don't like me, but I have a huge favor to ask of you... Will you please let me take credit for the kill?”
Rohan bristled angrily. “No I will not! I didn't –”
Oh Rohan!” Yalera chided, preventing him from blurting out that it was actually she who had shot it. “Don't be such a spoilsport!” She gave him a significant look. In her mind, she was practically chiding him: If you aren't going to claim the kill, you may as well let him claim it.
Rohan growled at her, his eyes narrowed as he mentally responded: But he doesn't deserve the credit! They glared at each other for a couple of seconds in a silent argument, and then Rohan sighed in defeat.
Fine... You can pretend like you killed it,” he permitted, shifting his glare to Baethan.
Thank you!” Baethan practically shouted in his enthusiasm. “You have no idea how much this means to me! I owe you.”
No you don't,” Rohan tried to tell him the truth, but Yalera prevented him.
He'll hold you to that! Now, maybe it would be better if we rode away before anyone else arrives,” Yalera suggested emphatically.
Rohan sighed again, and then agreed. “Yeah, we should look for something else so we don't return empty handed.”
Baethan reached out to grab hold of Yalera's arm as she rode by him. “Thanks bumpkin, I owe you too for convincing your brother to do me this favor. I'll buy a ribbon for your hair or something the next time I see you.”
Yalera simply shrugged, shook his hand off her arm, and joined her twin as he rode away.
The moment they were out of earshot, Yemry looked up from the boar to make sure he wouldn't be overheard. Then he grinned as he teased his friend. “So... you have a crush on my other sister now?”
Baethan scoffed as he rolled his eyes. “Please! Like anyone could ever hold a candle to Rolanna!”
Good! You just stay away from Yalera. Rohan's very protective of her, and you won't like it if he has to challenge you to a duel,” Yemry warned.
Hey!” Baethan protested indignantly. “I'm very good at duels! Remember?”
Yemry laughed to indicate that he fully remembered standing as Baethan's second on more than one occasion. Baethan hadn't lost a duel yet! Even so...
Don't get too cocky! If you ever have to duel my little brother, I'll probably be his second.”
Oh...” Baethan murmured as he thought about the implications. There's no way Yemry would allow any harm to come to his brother, and so Baethan would probably lose. “Right...”
With a short blast of a horn, others announced their arrival, and the whole conversation was dropped. Even working together, it was still quite some time before the boar was ready to be moved. Near the end, Yemry burst out laughing so hard that he had to hold his sides.
Baethan was not the only one to ask: “What's so funny?”
My brother wasn't carrying a bow, just his sword!” Yemry managed to say between roars of laughter. No one else understood the significance of this, not even Baethan, who suddenly wondered if his friend had lost his mind. But Yemry knew, this meant that Yalera was really the one to shoot the boar. He eventually calmed down, but couldn't wipe the secretive grin off his face for hours.

Go to Chapter 3 

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