aiver sat on the river bank watching Yisa tie a worm onto a fishhook. He shook his head at her. “We’ll never catch anything if you keep feeding the fish for free, dear sister.”
She turned to him, her cheeks reddening. “I’m sorry. I just can’t bear to impale it.”
He took the rod from her and began putting the worm on properly. “No one could ever accuse you of not having a gentle heart. But how is drowning the worm any better than putting a hook through it? It seems like the latter would be a more merciful fate.”
Yisa laid her head on her brother’s shoulder. She tilted her head up, feigning a pout. “You mean the little guy doesn’t know how to swim?”
Taiver’s head fell back and his shoulders shook with laughter, which jostled Yisa off him. He handed her the rod back and for a while they were silent, listening to the sound of the river flowing, the small creatures of the woods chirping and scurrying about, until Taiver finally broke the silence. “Yisa?”
“Mother asked me to speak with you.”
Yisa pulled her long auburn hair over one shoulder and sighed. “What have I done to displease mother now?”
Taiver watched the movement and knew what was to come, she’d start braiding, whenever she was upset or unhappy she worked with her hands. That habit was probably what made her such a magnificent weaver, everyone in town already went to her for the best cloth. Any man she picked would be lucky to have a wife so talented. “It’s not what you’ve done, it’s what you’re not doing. Mother is afraid you’ll become a spinster.”
“I’m only nineteen!” Yisa exclaimed.
“I know. That’s what I said. But mother pointed out that all the other girls your age started courting two years ago, and pretty soon the Brandson girls will be looking for men and at that point there may not be a single man left in town, at least not one you’d want to marry.” Mr. Brandson was a farmer with five daughters. He was highly motivated to marry them off as soon as possible.
Yisa took the strands of hair and braided them deftly, when she reached the end she took it down and began again. “Well if I haven’t met anyone I like, what am I supposed to do?”
Taiver shrugged. “You haven’t really given anyone a chance, what about Teddy?”
“The butcher’s son? He’s fat and he smells funny.”
“But he’s a really nice guy, and he has a good sense of humor.”
Yisa looked at him incredulously.
“Okay, how about the blacksmith. He’s perfectly fit, though I’ve never stopped to check his smell.”
“He’s in his thirties.”
“Which is old.”
“Some would call it established.”
“Well I call it old.”
Taiver laughed. “I give up. I’ll inform mother of your plans never to leave the nest.”
Yisa made a face. “When you put it like that it makes me want to propose to the next man that greets me. Now that I think of it, you’re three minutes older than me, why isn’t mother jamming prospective wives down your throat?”
“Eh, it’s different for men. Plus in a few years I’ll have a bunch of pretty Brandson girls to choose from.”
Yisa slapped his arm and stood up. “Fine, I’ve heard your arguments. Can we go back to the villiage now or do I have to keep pretending that I enjoy fishing.”
Taiver followed her cue and began to gather their things. “Yes, let’s head home. We can tell mother all about your new courtship to...”
“Oh shoosh, you.”
“Osushu? I don’t think I’ve met him. Don’t tell me you are marrying someone from the city, mother would never forgive you.”
When they reached the center of the village they immediately stopped in their tracks. There were two men on horseback, noblemen. The man sitting on the lead horse had short golden hair and tan skin. He wore black leathers that blended in with the jet black stallion on which he was perched. The other noble had a strong build and raven color hair with strands of silver at his temple. He smiled lecherously at the maidens of the village as they stood on exhibit. Not far off stood a band of soldiers, well-armed and ready for any trouble.
Taiver knew instantly who was on the black horse. It was Lord Aric Bannister, he was one of the three lords that controlled all of Talencia. Lord Aric had complete dominion over all the lands west of the great city of Kes to the mountains of Kashar, and from the way every unmarried girl stood before his horse staring at their feet while their parents stood nearby wringing their hands, he had come for tribute. He turned and saw Yisa, without hesitation he pointed and said, “I’ll take that one.”
Taiver saw the guards coming towards Yisa and jumped in front of her. “No wait!”
Aric held up his hand and his guards stopped. He looked at Taiver waiting for him to speak. Taiver couldn’t believe the lord actually waited, he had nothing resembling a plan. He turned to Yisa, on her face was a combination of terror and pain unlike anything he’d ever seen. Without even thinking he blurted out, “Take me instead!”
Now all eyes in the village were on him, he scanned the group, his mother was not there. She often went to neighboring villages to look after the sick. She’d come home to find him gone, he wouldn’t even get to say goodbye.
Aric laughed with surprise, then speaking to him as if he were an idiot he asked, “You do know for what reason I’m taking her, correct?”
Taiver immediately got the mental image of his sister sobbing as she was being violated by noblemen and passed to soldiers when they were finished with her. The thought enraged him. “I have a relatively good idea, yes.”
“And you want to take her place?” Aric was still speaking slowly, not sure if Taiver fully understood what he was asking.
“No, I don’t want to be taken. But if it’s between me and her, I’d rather you take me. I’m her brother. I’m meant to protect her.”
Aric turned to his companion. Taiver would later learn the dark haired man was Raymor Greenshire, Baron of the Crescent Moon. He and several other noblemen each managed parts of Lord Aric’s province, and more importantly they were good friends. Raymor appraised Taiver then said, “You said you were in the mood for sweet, asking for enslavement to spare his sister is certainly sweet.”
Aric seemed to still be considering it, so Raymor added, “And you said you were looking for something different,” pointing towards Taiver, “He’s definitely different from your usual.”
Aric considered their advice for a moment and then nodded. “Okay, you get your wish. I’ll take you instead of your sister.”
Taiver quickly hugged his sister goodbye and whispered in her ear, “Never forget I love you, and tell mother I love her too.” He gave a silent prayer to the gods that this not be the last time he’d see her. Then he turned to Aric who pulled him onto the back of his horse. He sat behind him on the saddle as they turned to ride out of the town. He waved to everyone, and then buried his face against Aric’s back. He didn’t want his people to see him cry.
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Kayci Morgan has had a passion for romance and fantasy for as long as she can remember. She lives in Chicago with her family. In her cozy apartment, she spends endless nights tapping away at her keyboard and playing computer games unheard of by normal people. Her English Literature degree serves as a superb coaster for her 20oz mug of coffee. Follow her sleep deprived ramblings at her website: http://www.kaycimorgan.com