Two years ago
Too angry with the Maker and the Prophet and the whole damned lot of them to find any solace in prayer, Casidhe wept until no more tears would come. When he was done, he unbuckled the sword belt from his father’s lifeless body and fastened it around his own waist. The blades were his now, whether he deserved them or not.
This was no end for a man like Brandeouf, laid out on a dining room table, waiting for a hearse that should have arrived hours ago. It was no end for Luthais MacDaer, either – his corpse, still riddled with arrows, lay on the room’s other table – but Luthais was his best friend’s father, not his own.
The story of Brandeouf’s final hour wasn’t in the deep gash across his chest, but in the tiny cut on his arm, and the muddy green stain on the surrounding flesh. A poisoned blade, Casidhe thought. The bastards never would have taken him down otherwise.
Not that Casidhe had any idea who those bastards were. The many foes that Brandeouf had slain before he fell bore no identifying papers, and no one knew their faces – not the MacDaers, not the law, nobody. And no one got a good look at the archer who killed Luthais on the docks, either; the queer scarlet feathers which fletched the deadly arrows seemed like a clue, but they, too, were unfamiliar to everyone involved. Casidhe was sure of two things, though: the attack on Sim and himself earlier in the day was no mere mugging, and Luthais never would have died if Brandeouf had been there. That makes it your fault, he thought, but he pushed the idea to the side for now.
He planned to stick close to Sim in the MacDaer estate until the family’s agents came back with news of the attackers, or until they found Phelan. Sim was worried sick by his brother’s disappearance; they’d never really gotten along, but the MacDaers stood on the brink of extinction.
But what about the Fionnlaghs? With Brandeouf’s death, Casidhe was now the last of his family… He started to cry again. Sleepy and exhausted, he yearned to have a drink, but he’d promised to remain with his father until the undertakers arrived, and he needed to keep his wits about him until the danger had passed.
He sat alone in his thoughts until a crash rang in the hall. By the time he heard Sim crying out for help, Casidhe had already reached the parlor. He saw Sim standing behind a marble display stand, the vase it once held smashed to pieces on the tiled floor. Phelan stood on the other side of the stand – the side closer to Casidhe – with a bloody dagger in his hand. Blood streamed freely from a gash on Sim’s right arm.
“Casidhe! Thank the Maker! Phelan’s trying to kill me!”
“Stay out of it, Fionnlagh,” Phelan said.
Sim kept yelling: “He’s behind the whole thing, Cas! He had our fathers killed, and he tried to do the same to us!”
Sim tried to slip around the stand, but Phelan was too quick for him. “Do you really think he’s dumb enough to believe you, Sim? Your thugs tried to kill me, too, but I didn’t have a duelist to save me.”
Casidhe took a step toward them; when Phelan glanced over his shoulder, Sim made a break for it, circling the room so that Casidhe stood between him and his brother. Phelan tensed to pursue, but froze when Casidhe struck a defensive posture.
“Come on, Fionnlagh; think about it,” Phelan said to Casidhe. “I could never raise my hand against our father – against anybody. And Sim has the most to gain from all this. You can see that; I know you can.”
Pointing his sword at Phelan, Casidhe turned his head to face Sim and asked “Is this true?”
“Cas.” Sim raised his hands, palms up, right hand shaking. That wound might be worse than it looked. “You’ve known me for almost your whole life. I’ve never lied to you before.”
“Then tell me the truth now. Are you behind this? Did you… did you have our fathers murdered?!”
‘No,” he said quietly.
You’ll have to listen to your head, and your heart, and decide what’s right, Brandeouf said again in his mind. Casidhe turned back to Phelan’s incredulous face. “Let the law decide,” Casidhe said before Phelan could protest. “They’ll be here soon anyway.”
Phelan’s mouth drew to a straight white line, and the knife came up in his hand.
“Don’t,” Casidhe said. “You know you can’t win.”
But Phelan dashed across the room, lunging at Casidhe with the gracelessness of a man who only wore a blade for show. Easy enough to subdue him now, Casidhe thought. He dropped to one side and extended his right leg; Phelan tripped over it and fell flat on his stomach with a blood-curdling shriek. Casidhe dropped to Phelan’s side and rolled him over to see that the man had landed on his own dagger, pierced through the heart.
“No,” Casidhe breathed. “Oh, no.”
- – - – -
Sim did most of the talking when the watch arrived, allowing Casidhe to see the fathers off when the undertakers finally showed up. He slept through the day and most of the following night in the grip of illness, and much of what happened in the following weeks seemed like an ongoing fever dream. When evidence of Phelan’s plot came to light, Sim was cleared of any wrongdoing. His first act as head of the family business was to formally hire Casidhe as his bodyguard…