This is Issue #97 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
* * *
She wouldn’t get away with this. She wouldn’t get away from him. She would be punished.
She would be punished.
Kieron felt the horrors within the older man’s mind, the hatred; they spiraled around one another, starving serpents, hungry for any flesh at all. He tried to see if he could still them, could somehow take away some shred of his anger, defuse him so that his pure rage would not keep Kieron at its mercy.
In reaching out toward it, he fell into the man’s memories, into the endless furnace of his fury. He remembered his father, and the scourgings. He remembered his brother, who had left home in disgrace for being thrown out of the army after his deviance was discovered.
How he’d gone to his brother to plead with him. Come home. Beg forgiveness.
“You wouldn’t understand,” pled Preclaris. “Go home. Go home, Exosus. Go back to the life he built for you and revel in it. I cannot.”
“But why?” Exosus demanded, furious. “What wouldn’t I understand?”
“You’re too young. If father knew you were even here, talking to me, he would send his house guards to cut my throat. He would believe I’d tainted you,” Preclaris wept.
“Can’t you just… stop?”
“Stop acting on your bestial impulses,” Exosus said, sounding for all the world like his father.
Preclaris laughed bitterly. He wiped the tears from his eyes and said, “It is not quite possible to completely turn away from ones own self, Exie.” He rubbed Exosus on the top of the head, mussing his hair tenderly.
Exosus sighed, ducking out of the touch. “I’m not a child anymore, Clair! Father… explained many things to me. So what if you had… inclinations–”
“Do you even hear yourself?” Preclaris laughed. “Inclinations? Do you even know what you’re talking about? Do you even underst–”
“You allow other men to defile you,” Exosus said, redfaced and furious.
“Defile? You sound just like fath–”
“Why won’t you just stop?” Exosus pled.
“I’m telling you, Exie, you can’t just–”
“Well I have!” Exosus blurted. “I have!”
“You have… what?” Preclaris whispered, his eyes widening.
“I don’t give in to those… those foul desires,” Exosus said, waving a hand dismissively at the very idea of them. “I used to want to, but now I don’t. You just… you just choose not to.”
“Exosus,” Preclaris sighed. “Are you telling me–”
“I do not wish for a woman, but I will,” Exosus said, stubbornly. “It is my duty to keep the line strong. It is my duty to give sons to the house. It is my duty to do as I am bid, as it was yours, and it is hard, Clair, but I do it, so why don’t you?”
Preclaris said quietly, “I tried. I kept it secret. I lived the lie I was bid to–”
“Until you could no longer help yourself!”
“Well I pray to all the gods you are able to help yourself for the whole of your life!” Preclaris shouted, curling his own hands into fists. “I pray you bury your needs so deeply you cannot recognize them!” he shouted at his younger brother. His voice softened as he sadly said, “Better that than know what you are missing. It was like living without light, frater.”
Exosus’s heart had already hardened; he bore the scars, the evidence of his father’s rage. He did not soften with his brother’s tone. “Well I pray you forgive yourself, because father never will.”
Preclaris’s tone was flat, as he answered back. “I do not need his forgiveness.”
“What of mine?” Exosus’s voice was sharp, demanding.
Preclaris was taken aback, almost sputtering as he found his voice. “Yours?
“You left me,” Exosus said, bitterly. “You left me alone, to face him, to learn of this disgusting flaw on my own.”
“You are not flawed,” Preclaris sighed.
“That’s right! Because I do not give in to my base desires. I do not allow the animal within me to rule what I know to be true.”
“What is true, then, brother?”
There was only silence, in response.
“Frater? What is true?” Preclaris murmured, turning to look at him, wanting to understand.
Exosus stepped close, and his voice was low, inviting his brother to draw in even closer. “In order for the stock to remain strong,” he said quietly, “Sometimes, the herd must be culled.”
* * *
Exosus the elder sat in his study with a bottle of aetheris, and an old text on “Where’ve you been?”
Exosus closed the door on the study, and then turned to face his father, lifting his chin.
“I said, where have you been, boy?”
“I went out to… clean up a mess,” Exosus said, setting a signet ring on his father’s desk, along with a bloodied knife.
Exosus the elder looked at the knife, and looked at his son in thought. Finally, he poured him a glass of aetheris and said, “It is good to know all the discipline you’ve required has molded you into the right shape. I am proud of you, my only son.”
For a long time, Exosus the younger stared at the banner on the wall — the banner his father hung in his own study. Occasionally, his mother looked at it, and wore a strange, sad sort of smile. He asked his father, once, why his mother would be sad and Exosus the elder merely answered “She did not realize — the brighter the light, the taller the mountain, the darker the shadow.”
“Vivat Tenebrae,” Exosus the younger said quietly, nodding to the banner on the wall. He took the glass and drained it without flinching, his lips curled into a brief sneer as he swallowed the burning liquor. His eyes stung, but he nodded at his father, acting as he imagined he was supposed to.
He thought of Preclaris, but only as much as a man thinking of a small puddle he had stepped over, on the walk to someplace important — which is to say — not very much at all. It was all dispassionate, all a means to an end, and that end was Father’s approval, or power — it didn’t matter which.
“And here for so long, I had thought you might never understand where you came from,” Exosus the elder said, looking pleased. “Vivat Tenebrae.”
* * *