Chapter 14 - Alex (Part 1)

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"I don't care that it was fifteen  years ago." Lord Brandon's blank face was close to Father's. "You used me to get out of a sticky situation. If you hadn't messed up, I would have never known you once murdered my people for coin."

"Your people, Bran? They were never yours," Father said, his Jade Islandic accent shining through the final s.

"They were Greenlanders. I was their Prince."

"And I was a young man, in need of money, and the Gilded Foxes offered a job. One day I was scrubbing spilt Palm Tears off the deck, the next they put a sword in my hand. Yes, Greenlander soldiers died—a handful of commoners too. I told you from the start I was running from my past." Father shrugged. Nothing was ever his fault.

"A horrible family, a clingy woman you didn't want to marry, maybe some thievery or a master you accidentally killed. Not voluntary raids on my fellow countrymen." Lord Brandon snorted, air coming out of his cloak in a cold fume. "How many, Vanya? How many did you kill?"

"I didn't keep count."

"You keep track of how many times the baby kicks Elly's belly. How many?"

A silence that only swords could cut through fell between them. Alex jumped from tree to tree as she followed the two men walking deeper into the forest. Part of her was convinced this was a dream. The other clung to the faith that the Gods were allowing her a glimpse of the past, to get the answers she needed.

"How many, Vanya?" Lord Brandon repeated his question.

"Fourteen," Father said finally, not a hint of remorse in his voice. "Once I had hit that holy number, it was a sign to get out. The next day you walked into the tavern I was hiding in, like the Gods had led you to me."

"Who better to hide you than a Greenlander Prince?" Lord Brandon turned his head away. "I should have killed you."

"But you didn't."

"Because I didn't know, but now I do. I—" Lord Brandon was interrupted by a deep, lengthy roar that came from the small hilltop and chilled Alex to the core. 

Out of the winter fog rose a monster with sharp teeth and sharper claws. It reared, pounding its paws into the ground and shaking its enormous head from side to side.

The bear.

It had been real.

Could it be that King Thomas had lied, and that Father had not been murdered by Lord Brandon, but by an actual bear? That bear that came charging ahead with a mad frenzy, white foam drooling from its mouth.

With lightning speed, Father grabbed his bow and nocked an arrow onto it. Lord Brandon drew his sword and readied himself to strike. The two men looked at each other.

Alex held her breath as Father shot, the arrow flying in a perfect arc before piercing the creature's shoulder. The roar that followed was that of a God, mighty and thunderous. The animal was a hundred feet away from them. A hundred feet away from death.

"We have to get out of here!" Father shouted.

"It's a bear—We'll never outrun it, replied Lord Brandon.

"Then what do we do?"

Fifty feet. Thirty feet. Twenty...

"The only thing I can do. The thing I must do."

Lord Brandon turned his body and threw his weight against Father, pushing him into the bear's face. Father was but a doll compared to the humongous size of the beast. The animal clawed at her father, snapping and biting him. 

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