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A Story in Three Acts
(Sons of Tryas, II)
Ruark, Lord Heir fourth in line for the throne, and once first in line, came so close. Still, he missed it entirely. His brother reigned, and dreamed, and Ruark himself wandered, burning his restlessness on distant, wild planets.
Then the premier of the Assembly found him, with an offer to give him everything he ever wanted, at only a small cost to his soul.
In Summer Leaves, Shannon McDermott continues the story of the sons of Tryas, begun in Beauty of the Lilies.
An Excerpt of
‘Behold the summer leaves are green!’ – G. K. Chesterton
There were five of us there that day. It was like so many days we had all lived, except for one moment. In that moment death nearly became the sixth to ride the plains. Till then I had never really believed in death. And it’s strange to recount, but it wasn’t until I first believed in death that I began earnestly to believe in life.
We were riding stallions, the fastest bred. It was a strange amusement to many, but our spirits soared with it. The stallions were fierce and eager, and there was a similarity between masters and beasts—both young and strong, given the finest and raised to be the finest. The wildness in the beasts was intended; the wildness in the masters was not.
We rode the high plains of Yavah, where the grassy meadows are split open by cliffs a mile tall. We found a large fissure, more than large enough to swallow a horse and rider. Three of my friends galloped headlong toward it and swerved at the last moment. My fourth friend and I watched.
I watched them, but I kept looking at him. His face was against the blue sky, his brown hair lit by the sun. His lips were drawn into a cheerless line, as if he did not like the vista the plains offered him.
I thought I knew what weighed on him. The burden we all carried was what had drawn us together. Most of us were brothers of great men, all of us were sons. We lived with an obscure anger.
Except him. His anger was sharp and vital, feeding off the loss of something he had never had. He was the son of an emperor, and what he had lost was a kingdom. Ruark, Lord Heir of the Empire, and close enough to be tantalized. There was much speculation once that the eccentricities and distraction of his brother would hand the throne to him. The talk damaged both brothers in the end. Any astute observer could tell what it did to Jediah; perhaps only a friend could tell what it did to Ruark.
Ruark leaned in abruptly, scattering my thoughts. He gestured to the others, saying, “They’re flirting with death.”
It was our favorite pastime, and tension swept through me at the idea that he was suddenly having qualms.
Ruark straightened, gathering the reins into a tight hold. “They aren’t serious. But I—I will court death.”
I opened my mouth, but he shot away from me. The others saw him tearing over the grass, and they reined in their horses to watch. He was always our chief.
Ruark flew across the plain, at the chasm opening its rocky mouth. He didn’t swerve, he passed the point of swerving, driving the horse toward the edge at all its speed.
My heart jolted so hard it stung my chest. Then I understood what he was doing, and my panic ebbed and surged again like the tide.
The stallion thundered to the precipice and then into a mighty leap. And though I had seen all the wealth and power of the Empire in glittering display, I never saw anything as glorious as that. For one moment horse and rider hung between the sky and the abyss, intensely alive, recklessly strong.
They made the jump. As soon as its hooves touched the ground, the horse raced on. My friends cheered, but I didn’t utter a sound. I couldn’t. Fear clenched my throat.
Ruark turned the horse and came galloping back. I watched with a detached horror, like hearing the inevitable end of a tragic story. Ruark reached the cliff’s edge, his horse leaped, and my fear nearly choked me.
The stallion came down barely on our side. At its impact rocks crumbled into the canyon, and its right hind leg plunged into air. The other hind leg slid after the first, and the whole horse slid with it. And I was as sure that Ruark was dead as I was sure that I was alive. A picture sliced across my vision; I saw myself explaining Ruark’s death to his brother.
The stallion scrabbled wildly, gripping solid ground. It pulled back onto the plain, and Ruark cantered to us.
We made a game of coming into death’s reach, but that was the first time he had ever grabbed at us. It rattled us, but no one would say a word. The rest of the day I pretended; that night I didn’t sleep. I thought of Ruark coming within a hair of falling to his death; I thought of myself standing before Jediah. What would I have said? Your brother died a fool, and I live as one? Did Ruark nearly die to prove he was better than the nine feet of empty air that told him to turn back?
It started new thoughts in my mind. I wondered why we were more interested in risking our gilded lives than living them. What did we lack, and what did we find in death’s proximity?
I went back to Telnaria, to the home that had functioned as a stop between destinations for so many years. I went for quietness and solitude, because I needed urgently to think about life, to understand what strange deprivation was shaping—misshaping—mine. Ruark followed not long after, but his reasons were different. It was the storm brewing in Telnaria that summoned him.
– Memories, by Jaden Amitai
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