People should not return from the dead. Brend firmly believed this. It disrupted the normal order of things, the way the invisible wounds of the heart scabbed over and finally turned into scars. It might not be healing, but you had finally learned to live with it. Therefore, people whom you had buried in your heart were not welcome to resurrect.
When Brend awoke that morning, he did not expect this to be a day when ghosts would surface. He had fallen into a predictable routine that gave him meaning and purpose. He woke just after dawn and crept quietly out of bed. He didn’t fear waking Valden, who would sleep several more hours. Brend dressed with care and attention, making sure his tailored clothes looked immaculate. He combed his light blonde hair until every strand lay perfectly.
He no longer fetched Valden’s breakfast. That was the work of a slave, and he was no longer a slave. No one knew what he was, except untouchable. Valden, the King, had declared him so. Therefore, he discarded the tasks he loathed and appropriated the ones he desired. And Valden allowed it. Descending to the kitchen to bring up meals had been the first eliminated. Brend hated returning to the dark room that smelled of raw meat, where the head cook who remembered him as a toddler still scowled at him, finding him lacking. He remembered those years with a dull ache. He had learned to stay out of the way early, playing in the corner with whatever unwanted items he could find, while his mother soundlessly and pathetically did her work.
She had been a specter even before her death.
Instead, Brend rang for a servant to prepare breakfast for both of them, ignoring the look of resentment as he, an obvious inferior, was telling a native born what to do. He chose Valden’s clothing for him, laying it out for the ready. When he left the king’s quarters, he marched deliberately, gracefully, to meet with the head of staff. Brend gave the orders of what would take priority that day.
It had been difficult for them all to accept Brend’s authority. Slaves were ordered about, they were to be silent, they were mostly invisible. They were not meant to rise to be the king’s right-hand man.
Brend saw their hatred. Saw the curl of their lip as they recited, “yes, sir”. He saw their sneers when he passed, hearing the gossip in whispers behind his back. They thought they knew him, thought they understood what he was to Valden.
But they had no idea.
They had no idea how Brend had nursed Valden back to life not once, but twice. How they had become not friends, not brothers, but something more like twins. They even shared dreams and feelings. How could he explain this to anyone? They had crude assumptions. They were wrong.
Valden stirred in bed, inhaling sharply and then groaning as if remembering at once all the tragic details of his life. His black hair fell around his neck and he opened one steel gray eye in irritation, judging the world for forcing him to be awake.
“Good morning,” Brend said firmly. “Breakfast is on the way. Clothes are ready. There are appeals to the throne in an hour and then your council meeting is after lunch.”
Valden groaned even louder. “You go for me.”
“I hardly think they would find me an adequate substitute for their king.” Brend stood tall beside the bed, his hands casually clasped behind his back. He had observed Commander Belin, the leader of the city’s army, standing that way, and had adopted the powerful stance.
“They wouldn’t even notice,” Valden argued, coming up to one elbow. “They make nearly all the decisions. I am there merely as a formality.”
“Then they would most certainly notice,” Brend said with a smirk. “I am hard pressed to keep my mouth shut.”
Valden barked a laugh and mustered the energy to pull himself out of bed. Brend instantly felt better as well, as if the mild surge of joy his master felt transferred directly back to him. His empathy had grown in the last three years, so much so that when Valden was in the depths of despair, Brend had to mentally create a shield around himself in order to remain functional.
Valden dressed himself, allowing Brend to brush his hair and pull it back. They worked in a soundless pantomime, a routine of comfort slowly created in the last few years.
“When will I have time to see Benon?” Valden asked, referring to the magician who had counseled him in the last few years.
“There should be time before the appeals,” Brend replied. “Are you still trying to find her?” he asked curiously.
Valden’s face grew stony in the mirror as he adjusted his shirt. He looked regal in his fine clothes, but he refused to look perfectly intact. Today he left one button undone, just to remind everyone that he didn’t care, that his position was a burden.
“I know she is out there. I felt her. At least it gives me a reason to keep going.”
Brend nodded dutifully. It had been his idea, hadn’t it? To work with the magician to find Galendra. Later he was unsure why he had suggested it. Perhaps to give Valden some hope, something to focus on besides his crushing guilt over being the cause of Crispin’s death. But Brend hated Benon, the frail old man who shuffled about the hallways of the castle as if marking them as his own, draped in oversized robes of velvet, a sharp contrast to his emaciated figure.
There was something about Benon that make Brend very suspicious. If he had not awoken Valden’s incredible talent for magic with great success, Brend might have pegged him for a charlatan. But he wasn’t a charlatan. He was something else.
Hours later, Brend sat in the shade on a balcony facing the north, out of the sun that so easily burned his light skin. He was stealing an hour or two to read, this time about the history of weaponry. A foreign thought entered his mind, an unwanted feeling, a memory of her teaching him how to read. The pride in her eyes, her exuberant encouragement, her eagerness to see him excel. She had opened this door for him. She had revealed the possibilities of a new world, a new future.
Only to have burned it to the ground.
Angrily, he looked up from his book to clear his thoughts. But his eyes fell on movement over the plains. These were no deer moving steadily through the tall grasses.
He stood, his heart hammering. In terror he wondered if he had summoned her that very moment with his thoughts. Indeed, he must have, for there she was, nearing the castle.
No. People should most certainly not rise from the dead.