Fifteen years later…
Morteus crouched down and scrutinized the grassland that was teeming with wildlife. His trained eye caught movement in the hilly ground above.
“Anything?” His younger brother Darren asked from behind.
“Shh…” Morteus put a finger to his lips.
“Look over there. See the movement?” Morteus whispered. Darren nodded fervently, eyes twinkling with excitement.
“It could be a young, energetic fawn…” He stood up, considering. “Or it could be Master practicing sword-fighting.”
Darren nodded. “Seems likely,” said Darren, his tone serious.
“Let’s go,” Morteus leaped across the gently rippling brook and sprinted forward. A slight breeze stirred the air as Darren led the two horses forward. The first was called Brownie, because of the brown patches adorning its sleek figure. The latter, given to Morteus for his sixteenth birthday, was named Majesty.
“Majesty, no!” The reins slipped out of Darren’s hand as Majesty lurched forward. Majesty galloped past Morteus, who cursed and started running after her. He caught up and pulled on the reins.
“Bad girl!” He chastised and got on her, gesturing to Darren to get on his horse as well. Darren mounted the horse and the pair trotted forward towards the grassy hill.
Darren glanced up with admiration at his older brother. Morteus had a muscular physique, and was clad in majestic red and purple robes. His blue eyes sparkled in the sun, and his blond hair was in a ruffled disarray. It was strange, how Morteus looked so different from him. He flipped his own copper coloured hair. It didn’t matter, though. To Darren, Morteus was everything he ever wanted to be.
Morteus trotted forward, unaware of his brother’s gaze on him.
“Darren, tie your horse here,” Morteus pointed at a huge rock as he climbed down from his horse and tied it to the rock. “Whatever, or whoever it is will hear us.”
“Okay,” Darren clambered down from his horse and scrambled after Morteus. They crept up the slope and hid behind a few trees as they neared the thing that was causing the movement. Peeking over the trees, they saw two figures- a tall, majestic man swathed in gold robes, topped with a gold crown, glittering in the light, and another, slightly shorter man. The former had a long beard, and a wise and good-natured smile on his face. The face of the latter, however, was framed with an unpleasant frown.
“Father?” Morteus hauled Darren forward. King Periphral was standing next to a flat boulder, his robes fluttering in the breeze.
“… Cardiza… But it is… No need to be…” Snippets of conversation could be heard.
Morteus shot his brother a furtive look and Darren listened closer.
“Darius,” Darren whispered, his eyes widening in confusion.
Suspicion darted across Morteus’ face, then smoothed out immediately. Darius was his elder brother, and was always engrossed in military matters with his father.
Morteus bent down and went as close as possible without making any noise.
“If we place the army here, we might have a chance of winning over half of their enemy,” the voice came from beyond the trees, and Morteus recognized it to be Darius’ harsh tones.
“We could ambush them from atop the mountain. Then send in our troops to the castle, which would be weakened, as they would be fighting us at the Evanescent Valley. It’s not a bad idea,” King Periphral spoke with pride.
“Why don’t we just rush in and slaughter them?” Darius glanced out at the kingdom hidden beyond the horizon. “There’s a chance we will win,” he said, shading his eyes from the sun.
King Periphral frowned at his son’s recklessness. “Better safe then sorry. You underestimate our enemy,” he turned slightly, nearly spotting the pair of brothers.
Confusion flitted across Morteus’ face, and he ducked back, glancing questioningly at Darren. Darren shook his head, troubled.
“Enemy?” Morteus whispered to Darren. “We don’t have any enemies,” He felt a twinge of unease.
Darren shrugged, but his face was clouded with worry. Morteus turned back to spy on the two shadows standing out at the cliff, engrossed in conversation.
King Periphral was still frowning disapprovingly at Darius.
“I guess we should be careful,” Darius’ tone implied the opposite.
“But should we even attack Cardiza?” The king pondered. “Our kingdom is large enough.”
“Of course we should!” Darius was surprised and outraged. “No kingdom is too big.”
“Is it so?” King Periphral’s eyes glazed over. “Perhaps you’re right. We’ll set out next week,” He began rolling up the map set out on a flat piece of rock.
Morteus was horrified. Before Darren could stop him, he jumped into sight and began shouting. “What- what is all this? What do you mean-” His eyes burned ferociously, his glare darting to and fro between his older brother and his father.
“Morteus?” Bewilderment flashed across the king’s face.
“How… How could you attack Cardiza? They… They’re our friends!” Rage bubbled up in Morteus’ lungs, rendering him incapable of speech. His thoughts jumped to his friends in Cardiza, whom frequently visited the castle.
“It’s none of your business,” Darius said, not looking at him.
Darren’s head whipped back and forth between Morteus and the bottom of the hill, indecision etched into his face. Then his expression turned hard and his face was set. He squared his shoulders and walked out, staring directly at his father. “What Morteus said was right. What you’re planning to do is wrong.”
“Darren-” King Periphral looked shocked. His expression became stern. “This is not of your concern. Both of you are still too young to understand. Do not meddle with these military affairs,” his voice became severe as he reprimanded them. “And it is highly disrespectful of you to be spying on us. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Darius glanced condescendingly at his younger brothers, and muttered something that sounded highly like “childish nuisances”.
Darren took a step forward. “But-”
“Yes, father,” Morteus bowed his head, cutting through Darren’s words. He kicked Darren in the shin and Darren bowed his head as well.
“Forgive us, father,” Darren apologized. Darius smirked.
“You’re forgiven. Now, it would be wise for you to return to the castle before you children get into a mess again,” The king’s voice was stern, but his eyes softened.
“It’s okay, father. I know you’re busy,” Morteus replied in a nonchalant tone, but inside, he resented the fact. You’re busy planning attacks on innocent people.
King Periphral sighed, as if he had read Morteus’ mind. “You may go now.”
Darren tugged on his brother’s arm and they backed off. As soon as they were out of sight, they started racing each other to the horses. Morteus bestrode his horse with easy grace and bolted forwards towards the castle. Darren straddled the horse with a little difficulty and tore after him.
“Wait for me, bro!” Darren raised a hand, and Morteus slowed to a halt.
“Hey, Mor-” Darren faltered when Morteus whirled around, quivering with rage.
“Did you see how father dismissed us like that? And Darius… Darius-” Morteus’ voice trembled with fury. “The look he gave us- it was as if we were kids! What I said was right, wasn’t it?” He pulled on his reins, and his horse reared up. Morteus tugged the reins to one side, and the horse turned, galloping at high-speed towards the castle grounds.
“Morteus!” Darren raced after him. He spewed crude words of profanity and increased speed.
As they neared the castle, Morteus’ breath slowed and he jumped off the horse before it even slowed to a stop. Darren trotted towards the stable and leapt off his horse before throwing both horses a handful of hay and an apple.
Morteus stood, looking out into the grassland. Tears sprung to his eyes at the sight. It was theirs- and it was beautiful. Morteus thoughts strayed to the subject of Cardiza. Couldn’t they- they feel the same way about their land? And now father- father was threatening to conquer what was rightfully the king of Cardiza’s. He thought of the elk he had spared earlier on. It was the same- why should harm others while they do them no harm?
Morteus ran up to the castle and rushed up the stairs, pushing past the dozens of housekeepers preparing for yet another banquet. He dashed through the long corridor, aware that Darren was following close behind. He flung the door of his room open and threw himself onto his bed, sobbing.
Darren sat down on his own bed and crossed his arms, unsure of what to do.
“Morteus?” He asked tentatively after a moment’s consideration.
“The people of Cardiza- they don’t deserve it,” Morteus replied, his voice muffled by the pillow.
“I know. But there’s nothing we can do about it, right?” Darren said. “We won’t change anything by sitting here and crying either,” he added quietly.
“You’re right,” Morteus sat up and wiped away his tears. “There’s no point in crying.”
Darren nodded. “We can’t change anything.”
“Correction,” Morteus said. “We can’t change anything sitting here.”