Bonds of Blood – chapter four

4

There was the sound of someone hitting the door severely.

Reena, embroidering a handkerchief by candlelight, lifted her face in suspicion.

A calm darkness stretched on outside her window.

The night was growing late.

Before long, it would be time to go to bed. She was only awake now because she had decided to stay up until this embroidery was finished.

She had changed into a thin night dress and slipped a fur gown on over it.

She was enthusiastic and absorbed in her work, but the outdoor chill had stolen into the room, and she shook unconsciously.

(Maybe, my brother……)

She held on to thin hope for an instant, but her brother Nashere wouldn’t come to sit with her in the small hours like this. No, even if it was the middle of the day, there would be no visits from her brother.

Scholarship and military training, that was how he spent nearly every day lately. He passed his time as if he’d forgotten about little sisters entirely.

And so, she threw herself into her amusements as if she had a hole in her heart, as if she could bury that hole. Even this embroidery was one of those amusements.

She’d learnt it from one of the lady’s maids, and she’d become rather good at it lately. Her work had even gotten to the point where she wasn’t embarrassed to show it to other people.

Her time spent absorbed in it was good time. But the loss grew larger and larger when it suddenly came back to her.

“Who is it?” she asked, coming up to the door.

“It’s me.”

“Father!” Reena said, surprised.

She couldn’t remember even one visit from her father in the small hours like this.

She’d probably done something to anger him. She tried to think of what, with her hand to her chest, but she didn’t have any idea.

“If you’re awake, can I come in?” His voice sounded unusually gentle.

This was the first time she’d heard her father’s voice like that. She wondered if that wasn’t a result of his being terribly angry.

Her hand shaking, she gripped the doorknob.

She pulled open the door just a little, and peeked out from the tiny opening at her father’s expression, as he stood in the hallway.

Brook looked like he was worried about something, but she didn’t sense any anger.

Relieved, Reena opened the door all the way.

Her father held two slender jars and two silver wineglasses in his hands.

“Please come in,” Reena invited her father, plastering an impossible smile on her face. With a silent nod, Brook stepped into the room.

In the corner was a small round table, with three-legged chairs set around it. Brook headed straight for one of them and took a seat. He casually placed the wineglasses and jars on the table.

Reena took a seat facing her father. “What on earth is going on?”

Her father’s bearing was completely different from his usual. He’d always been strict, with a difficult to approach air. But now, he looked somehow weak.

A deep agony was cut into his expression, and he wasn’t trying to hide it. Exposing weakness to others was something he’d never done before.

He had always been severe towards Reena. Even as much as he loved her older brother Nashere, he didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve.

That was only natural, she thought.

Nashere was the Prince of the Sun. He was noble, strong, wise, and also beautiful. Compared to her brother, she, the Princess of the Moon, was swallowed up by his light, as if she wasn’t even there.

“A secret envoy from Vennon came today……” Brook said slowly, pouring transparent liquid into one of the glasses. Then he filled the other with a wine of scarlet color, and handed it to Reena.

“A secret envoy?” Reena knew almost nothing about politics.

She had a simple notion that a secret envoy was somehow different from a normal envoy.

“That’s right. This secret envoy threatened a marriage between you and Vennon’s third prince. If I refuse, we’re to resign ourselves to the use of military force……”

“I won’t do it!” Reena shouted, without waiting for her father to stop speaking. “I cannot like that man. Whenever he looks at me, he looks like he’s sizing up a prostitute. If he opens his mouth, it’s only for money or food. As far as he’s concerned, I’m just an amusement for his bed, and the only women he likes are those that come with huge dowries. If I’m to be married to someone like that, I’d rather die.”

Brook looked with pity on his daughter’s situation. She was refusing with her whole person.

(You’d rather die… …would you?)

Brook gazed at his daughter’s face, knowing that her words came from beliefs typical of young girls. In that sense, her thoughts were pure, and things couldn’t but proceed according to her words.

“……If I refuse, Vennon will attack our country. Skard will be helpless.”

“If they do attack, all the better. My brother and Captain Beld are both here. We won’t be defeated by the likes of Vennon. And there’s the Dwarf tribe, they’ll come to our aid. And there’s the Highlands army, surely they’ll dispatch some reinforcements.”

Her tone was becoming desperate, but looking at her, Brook couldn’t help thinking that maybe they should try fighting. But, he thought, going to war without a chance of winning it was the action of a fool.

Even if he did somehow choke out his wiser thoughts, if he did somehow summon up the recklessness, it wouldn’t make enough of a military difference to gain him a victory. If reinforcements from the Dwarf tribe came, they might be able to repulse Vennon’s army, perhaps once. But as far as Skard was concerned, they highway through Vennon’s territory was their only doorway, you might even call it their lifeline.

If Vennon blockaded that highway, Skard would be unable to carry out any trade. Their only resource would be cut off. And if their income disappeared, they’d soon reach the end of the treasure they’d saved up. When next Vennon invaded they’d be powerless to protect whatever of their kingdom remained.

He could try to explain such prospects, but Reena probably wouldn’t understand. The real reason she refused to marry the prince of Vennon had little to do with his personality.

Brook know how much she loved her brother. That love remained a quiet reverence at this point.

But, when she became an adult, those thoughts would change. But because a blood connection existed between them, it would become a forbidden love.

“We will not win a war with Vennon. Of that much I am certain. But I don’t want to force you into a marriage that you don’t want. Besides, if the prince of Vennon does end up with you, the Vennon king probably plans to assassinate Nashere and me. If we were no longer in the way, the succession would pass to Prince Alondo, as the son-in-law.”

At Brook’s words, Reena’s face drained.

“My brother, and father……”

“That’s what we call politics. Vennon would have Skard in the palm of their hand, without sacrificing even one of their people. It seems one of our knights is already in communication with Vennon. The envoy knew exactly what we had in our national treasury. Skard’s financial power must be charming for Vennon’s king; he hopes to conquer Moss. Once he makes everything his own, he intends to begin a full-scale war.”

“That’s……” At a loss for words, Reena covered her mouth with her hand.

She wasn’t particularly sad, but a tear trickled down her cheek nonetheless.

“But if that’s how it is, shouldn’t we fight even harder? Even if we did get married with your blessings, if we got together just so they could assassinate you and Nashere, I couldn’t stand it. If I end up as just a tool for this kind of ugly politics……”

“You’d end your life……?” Brook asked quietly.

“Last year, when Nashere saved my life, I made a vow. If it would save him, I would gladly throw down my life……” Of course her voice shook as she spoke, but there was nothing false about her determination.

She truly had made such a vow.

It had occurred the year before, when Princess Elanta of Harkenne had visited Skard. She had called herself an envoy, but her goal was to meet Nashere.

Princess Elanta had treated him like a hired hand, and Reena, unable to let it pass unnoticed, had jumped from her seat at the banquet and took a horse into the Forest of Night. There, she’d been attacked by a starving wolf.

The one who had saved her from this dangerous situation was her older brother, Nashere. He stood unarmed against the wolf, and had been wonderful. He had slayed the beast, although he ended up with wounds all over his body.

The wounds festered, and her brother had wandered between life and death for three days. If her brother had lost his life, her father would never have forgiven her.

But more than that, Reena had not intended to keep on living in such an event. She would have followed after her brother and ended her own life. He had carried Reena the entire way back to the royal castle, despite his wounds. She had lied about a twisted ankle.

Princess Elanta had apparently had her feelings hurt, and the next day, she departed Skard. And then, after she got back to her own country, she lied to her father, Harkenne’s king, that Nashere had acted violently. Harkenne sent out a troop of knights straight away, and started a petty war with Vennon, Skard’s protector country.

The responsibility for this series of events was her own, Reena knew in her heart.

But the mysterious thing was that her always severe father hadn’t scolded her, not even one word about the matter. Nashere was the same. It might have been easier to be scolded. She came to believe that they didn’t say anything to her about it because she was being abandoned.

She wanted to make up for her crime.

She would do anything, if it would make her brother happy. Conversely, she had no intention of doing anything that wasn’t for her brother’s sake.

“Maybe I’m just too impatient. I wanted to prepare a suitable stage for his abilities, before he became an adult and despaired of this tiny country……” Brook said, covering his eyes with one hand.

Is he crying? Reena thought, surprised and staring at her father.

He looked dreadfully small.

When she noticed that, she stood up and embraced her father, standing behind him and putting her arms around his shoulders.

Even to her, her actions were a mystery, but she felt surprisingly close to the father she’d only been afraid of until now. His warmth spread through her arms and chest, and she felt content.

“……Do you remember? The young man arrested for killing his father three years ago?”

Reena released her father and sat down again in the seat next to him. Confused by the sudden change in conversation, she hastily nodded. “I remember. There were desperate pleas to have mercy on him. his father was a terribly violent person, and if he’d been left to his own devices, he might have killed the mother, or the younger sister. The villagers from his town, every single one of them, begged for his life. That’s why even I……”

“That’s right. Fratricide is a crime that cannot be allowed, but there are in this world fathers who should be killed. In these sort of situations, like when a child has a hand in a crime, the people of the world choose not to blame anyone. Rather, they almost admire them.”

“Your judgment in the matter was excellent, father. You ordered him executed as a criminal, but the punishment was never carried out. And then at Nashere’s investiture as crown prince, you pardoned the young man and released him. The people of Skard should have been greatly impressed at your methods, father.”

Brook had no reason to sympathize with the young man. He had handed down the judgment in that way out of consideration for public sentiment. It was the best way of gaining popularity.

And the effect was more than Brook had anticipated. The minstrels composed poems about The Youth and The Wise King, and such an abundance of goods came in as congratulations for Nashere’s investiture that even Brook was surprised.

“For Skard, for Nashere, I to intend to throw down my life,” Brook said, looking face on at Reena.

Reena accepted his words so unaffectedly that it surprised him. She even smiled at him.

He had thought she would always be young, but before he knew it, his daughter had become an adult. She had a passion in her eyes that couldn’t be contained in her heart.

They were the eyes of a girl in love.

Brook remembered Reena’s mother, Natasha. Her love had always been true love. She had loved all of those men she had welcomed into her.

Even her love for Brook had been the real thing. He didn’t intend to doubt that. Monopolizing her as his second queen had been a mistake. Natasha was not a woman who changed her way of life according to what position she held. Certainly, she had not been a wise woman, but wasn’t it a thin line between wise and clever anyway?

“For Nashere……” Brook muttered to himself.

And then, like it was some kind of password, Reena whispered back. “For my brother……”

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