This story is by Eric and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Tee,” Reka said softly, “you know I love you, right?”
Argenteus stood over his sink, rinsing his arms and shoulders. His wife’s words stirred old memories. “I know, Reka,” He said. “I love you, too.” He walked over, drying himself with a towel. He dropped the towel and embraced her.
Her head rested on his shoulder. “The people,” she said, looking up into his eyes. “They will still love you, even if you don’t confront Aureus.”
“They will not have a choice if I don’t,” Argenteus said back. “Aureus isn’t… thinking right. I have to stop him. For the people.” He ran his hand through her hair. And then he walked to the door, opened it, stepped out, and shut it between them.
The air was crisp and wet. Leaves crunched under his feet. The sun didn’t come out this day. He walked through the trees thinking about those distant memories.
Red and orange leaves crunched and slid underneath their feet. Their steps were sure, naïve. Argenteus hopped on a fallen log. It was covered in moss. The fog made everything damp. He looked around with his hoary eyes.
He cupped his mouth and yelled, “You gotta keep up, Auri!” Argenteus jumped down from the log and kept running. His small hands wiped rain and sweat from his face.
Aureus stopped on the same log not long after. His deep amber eyes followed the path his brother made in his stomping brush. He saw browning leaves tossed up and around. He looked up at broken twigs. He was catching up. He kneeled on the log for a second and closed his eyes, inhaling a deep breath.
“I’m gonna beat you back!” Argenteus shouted. The last time he looked back, he could see the 11-year-old stepping up onto the same log. Seeing Aureus so close lit a fire in his bones. His pace sped up. His older brother had always beat him to their house, but Argenteus was much faster this time. Winning against him would taste so good. He jumped over a ditch.
Aureus jumped from the log and ran right. Argenteus would try to cross the creek. He didn’t know the brush was thicker in that direction. Aureus crossed the creek and ran up the side. Few trees blocked his path. He closed the gap between him and his seven-year-old brother in seconds.
On the other side of the ditch, Argenteus looked around again. He didn’t see Aureus before he made contact.
“Gotcha!” Aureus shouted. His smile warmed everything on the wet, autumn day. He stood above Argenteus triumphantly.
“Ahh!” Argenteus rolled over, frustrated. “How do you always catch up? Can’t you just let me win one time?”
Aureus laughed and sat on his brother’s back. Argenteus said something that was muffled by the leaves.
“Huh?” Aureus leaned down to hear.
“I said cheating isn’t fair,” Argenteus had turned his head to the side to look at his brother. Aureus laughed. “Don’t laugh,” Argenteus brow was woven with anger. “It’s true.”
“You know I love you, right, Tee?” Aureus asked, leaning close to Argenteus’ face.
“Yeah, yeah,” Argenteus snapped back, struggling to get up, “I know!”
Aureus pulled his brother up. He grabbed Argenteus’ head with both hands and stared into his young silvery eyes. “Don’t forget that! I will always love you!”
Argenteus felt the fire burning again, this time in his heart. Aureus wrapped his arm around his brother’s shoulders and they started walking.
Aureus stood at the head of dozens. “My friends,” he spoke loudly, “it won’t be very long until we put all of this behind us. It will be settled.” His voice boomed through the trees. The people stared at him with such hope, so much trust. It brought back memories. “Then you will go home and continue your lives.”
And then from the back, Argenteus shouted, “Aureus!” Trust was replaced with confusion and surprise. Eyes that once focused on his, focused now on his brother.
“Argenteus,” Aureus shouted back. “I don’t stand by ceremony with you. Come! Stand with me.”
“You know that’s not why I’m here.” Argenteus replied as he walked through the crowd.
Aureus watched him moving towards him. “Does it have to be here?”
“I’m stopping you now, Aureus.” They stood a few yards from one another. Aureus’ amber eyes locked onto his brother’s.
“Well,” Aureus said softly. The leaves crunched as Argenteus stepped forward. Aureus bent at the knees and moved toward his brother.
The two ran at each other. Argenteus ducked and slammed his shoulders into Aureus’ waist. He lifted Aureus and threw him to the ground. Aureus wrapped his arms around Argenteus’ torso and pulled him over his head. Argenteus rolled over his brother and fell on his front. He was caught off guard but quick to roll over.
Aureus jumped at his brother but Argenteus got back on his feet and kicked Aureus in the back. Aureus fell to his knees and Argenteus connected a fist to his face. Aureus stepped back and spat, looking at his brother. Ever since he was 11 years old, Aureus knew Argenteus would be stronger than him.
Argenteus closed the gap between them with another punch, this time to Aureus’ stomach. The punch was powerful. Aureus grabbed his brother by the arm and head. Argenteus looked up into his brother’s eyes as Aureus swung a knee into his open rib cage. The blow knocked the wind from him and Aureus threw him on the ground. His back was turned to Argenteus as he struggled to stand again.
“You’re rushing again, Tee,” Aureus said between heavy breaths. “You’re always rushing.” Argenteus rushed at his brother with another kick, which Aureus caught. He brought his other foot up and kicked his heel against Aureus’ chest. Aureus dropped his brothers leg and Argenteus got back on his feet.
They circled each other, fists raised. Argenteus swung left. Aureus ducked and threw his shoulder into his brother’s gut. They fell together onto the ground. Argenteus threw his elbow into Aureus shoulder. Aureus rolled his brother into the dirt. Argenteus made to get up but Aureus fell on his back and locked his arm. He couldn’t move with breaking it.
“Gotcha,” Aureus said silently.
“Cheating isn’t fair, Auri,” Argenteus replied, panting into the dirt. “Do it. Quickly.” Aureus scowled and pulled on the arm. Some of the people around them jumped as the arm snapped and Argenteus screamed.
“There are no bars on this door, Tee.” Aureus was sitting across from Argenteus. “You can leave when you like.”
“Can I?” Argenteus said loudly. Aureus considered his brother’s eyes until the echoes faded. The pause lengthened into the hollow darkness of the room. Argenteus’ shoulder and arm were bundled in a sling.
“Like I said,” Aureus continued, “there are no bars. I would never keep you here without your choosing to. You and Reka may go as you please.”
Aureus leaned forward onto his knees, still holding Argenteus’ eyes. They sat there for a while. Aureus stood up and walked to the door. Argenteus’ eyes followed him.
“That’s it?” Argenteus said tersely.
Aureus stopped and turned enough to look at him. “What?”
“You’re done with this?” Argenteus’ brow was knotted in worry and confusion.
“What do you want from me?” Aureus asked.
“I want you to do whatever you’re going to do!” Argenteus said sharply. Aureus smiled. It warmed the cold room. He shook his head and walked back to his brother. He squatted down until his eyes were just lower than Argenteus’.
“Tee.” Aureus said calmly. “This is exactly what I wanted to do.” Argenteus’ face wound even more tightly with confusion. Aureus felt his anxiety and grabbed his brothers’ head with both hands. “I will not do anything to keep you from living how you want.”
He held Argenteus for a while longer before standing up again. The warmth of Aureus’ smile faded as he walked away again.
“Why?” Argenteus said, his voice had stilled.
“You know why, Tee.” Aureus answered. “I don’t need to tell you again.”
Argenteus stared blankly as his brother opened the door, stepped out, and shut the door behind him. He waited for a latch or deadbolt or chain or something to rattle across the door. But nothing did. It was silent. Water dripping in the darkness made Argenteus blink. He looked down with a blank face. He sat there for a while.
“You know I love you, right, Tee?”
Those young amber eyes flashed in Argenteus’ mind. His hand found itself over his heart. It burned. The tender ember had burned strong once before and it had always been Aureus who set it ablaze.
“Yeah, yeah, I know!”
“Don’t forget that! I will always love you!”
The words echoed in his head. His brow creased. Confidence displaced confusion and anxiety. He stood up, bracing his shoulder. Argenteus walked to the door, opened it, stepped out, and closed it firmly behind him.