Bryn sat by the fire and watched the flames lick the dry wood. He involuntary flinched when the fire set ember flying onto the floor by his feet with a crackling sound. Such a comforting and useful thing, yet a dangerous and malignant force that devoured everything in its path. Bryn touched his left brow where half of it was missing since the attack on Chillmark last spring. The fire had eaten a piece of him that night, and he had an odd feeling that the flames some how longed for more. The door opened and the twins entered covered in snow. Bryn shook the uneasy feeling and beckoned them over.
“Ennis, Camlin, come! Sit down.” The boys, so very like himself during that age, grinned and came over, water dripping from their curly dark hair. He knew them all to well. And now, when they were turning fourteen, he knew that he might loose them to the same reckless behavior that both had been his own blessing and curse. They always had had their mother close to them their entire life, and she had kept them in line like no other women had ever been able to. Nothing would have been able to hurt them, not even their own rash behavior. How could he explain to them how dangerous the next few years was going to be, and how important it was for them not to loose their heads to some sudden wild idea?
“Many times have I told you the story about my, and my brothers first battle,” he began looking from Ennis to Camlin, or was it from Camlin to Ennis? Some days even he was not sure.
“The battle of Carlion!”
“When you took the banner!”
Bryn smiled. It was quite astounding that they still hadn’t grown tired of the story, but he was thankful that he had captured their interest.
“We did,” he admitted, “but we also bled for it. They, Ceiwyn, Cadwellon and Edern, bled for my sake for it was my mad idea to go directly for the banner.”
“But it was successful,” said Ennis. Bryn was sure now that it was Ennis, he had that way of tensing his shoulders when he was excited. “You stood even though many of your comrades fell, and the battle was victorious.”
“It is true,” Bryn said. “It was a rash idea that worked. But this I where I want you to answer a question. Why was it victorious?”
“Skill,” shouted Ennis.
“Luck,” decided Camlin.
“Skill, luck,” acknowledged Bryn. “What else?”
Ennis stated counting: “Good gear, good commanders, good friends…”
“Yes,” interrupted Bryn, “good friends. And what, makes Ceiwyn, Cadwellon and Edern good friends pray?”
“They are honourable,” noted Ennis, “ and they are strong.”
“They are also honest,” thought Camlin aloud.
“And that, my boys, is why we took the banner, and also why we’ve managed to live through countless of other battles.” Bryn lay his hands on both of his sons shoulders. “It is because my friends have been honest enough to tell me when I am being reckless. They have told me not to act and when to follow my instincts as is the case with our battle of Carlion. That time they believed me, and followed me into madness. At other times… well if I hadn’t listened, I sure would not be sitting here today. It is important to surround yourself with good friends that can kick you, call you a bloody fool and then laugh and drink with you all the same.”
“If my friends kick me, I will kick them back,” muttered Camlin.
Bryn laughed. “And so did I, but” he added, “I still listened. Don’t forget to listen to your friends, even when your heads are burning with ideas, rage or desires. Your friends will keep you from falling into too much trouble, remember that my boys.”
That was all before all the winter’s misfortune struck the household. Bryn had been in the stable teaching his new squire how not to loose his horse in the middle of a battlefield, when it had begun. A crash inside the house had normally not alerted Bryn. He would assume that it was the twins arguing or fighting. Since the twins were sitting on the railing to one of the booths listening intently to what he was telling the new squire Bryn frowned and turned towards the noise. The boys gathering up behind him he walked through the courtyard and opened the door. Cælia was lying on the floor, white as the snow outside, clutching her swollen midriff whilst blood was trickling through her skirts. Going to her side Bryn shouted both for the boys to go and get the midwife and for the servants to aid him. The turmoil that followed lasted for days, and Bryn did not get much sleep worrying over Cælia’s weak condition. Eventually the fever dropped and the most critical period passed, but she was still bed bound for another three weeks.
Bryn thanked god for his mercy twice the following weeks, riding into Mere together with his chaplain visiting one of the churches there. He did not want to leave more often because of the unsure and shaky situation at home when Cælia was not able to steer up things. Looking back at it Bryn realises he should have shown his gratitude more vigorously.
Barely two and a half week after Cælia’s miscarriage the squire came to explain to Bryn that he could not find their armours or swords. After a bit of investigating they realised that the twins were missing too, and so puzzled the two incidents together.
Bryn took his horse and rode up the hill to get a better view over Hillfort to try and find the twins. On his way uphill he heard screaming and the shrill sound of metal hitting on metal. Changing directions Bryn soon came over a hillock and felt the world shift when he looked down over the battle. Two men were in close combat with the twins. Camlin was lying spread out on the ground, his armour removed while the stranger was getting back up on his horse. Ennis was backing steadily trying to fend of his attacker.
Bryn felt his vision grow dark as he gritted his teeth and drew his knife. Furious he urged his horse downhill into a maddening speed, shouting to get the attention of the cutthrots down in the valley. He steered his horse towards the man fighting Ennis and leaned down as the sword came swinging towards him. He hit the man in the shoulder and let himself fall out of the saddle. Time seemed to slow down as they fell together and Bryn recognised the foreign lord that he had met outside DuPlain two years ago when robbers had attacked their party. For a second their eyes met, then they hit the ground, Bryn’s weight landing on top of the man. Drawing the knife again, Bryn drove the knife into his opponent’s throat. The blood came pulsing, spraying on Bryn’s own arms and face.
The other man abashed by the reckless attack, met Bryn’s stare for no more than an instant before deciding that riding off was the sensible thing to do. Bryn tried to climb back into the saddle, but had strained his right leg falling out of it. Instead he called revenge upon the man:
“I will find you,” he called with a growling snarl that echoed between the hills, “and when I do, I will let all know what bravery you’ve performed here today, before I spill your guts and the ground and spit on them!”
Breathing heavily, he saw the man disappear behind snow and ice, and then he dropped the knife seeing to Camlin. He knew it when he saw it. The nasty gash in Camlin’s side did not look good, and with a grim look on his face he comforted the injured twin who was sobbing and begging his father for forgiveness. Ennis stood quiet, with a heavy look on his face while holding his left shoulder that also bled from the fight.
Camlin tossed and turned for a little more than a week before the gangrene took him. Ennis would not leave his brother’s side and did not seem to be able to sleep. Not even when Cælia was strong enough to sit with Camlin, would he rest and try to recover from his own injuries. The night when Camlin finally passed they were all gathered by his side. Emogen showed Camlin the first flower of the spring that she had found on the south side of the privy, and Coalan told Camlin a story of a bug that always sat upside down. Finally, the pain left Camlin and his blue eyes went blank.
The sorrow of Bryn and Cælia was immeasurable but to Ennis’ pain. The now alone twin was completely distraught, and it was heartbreaking to see him go around the house on his own trying as hard as he could not to show the tears that came rolling down his cheeks.
Bryn felt himself grow older that winter, like never before. The fall from the horse had made him less agile and his face was scarred by the sorrow in his heart. It made him both walk and look much older than the man who had “ridden the devil” the year before.