This is a different look at a scene in The Rise of Aredor, told from two other characters’ POVs.
Tristan labored in the hot summer sun. His chains clinked as he hefted another stone onto the wall. His hands were free to work but his feet were bound together by a short chain that discouraged any thought of escape. His fellow prisoners worked alongside him in silence. There were fifteen of them, all brought together from different slave camps to build the tower at the mouth of the Masian estuary. Tristan could almost smell the sea and his heart ached to see it again.
Their overseers chatted together in their own tongue, occasionally glancing over the laborers and giving a crack of a whip to encourage the Aredorians to keep their heads down. Tristan scrubbed sweat and dust from his face. How long had it been now? Near three years? Another piece of his soul shattered with that realization. They had tried so hard to fight the Calorins and what did it get them? Countless Aredorians lay dead and the rest were no more than slaves.
He should be dead. He had led a force to retake this very piece of ground. And he had failed. Dunstan, one of his oldest friends, was the only reason he was alive. Dunstan had been mortally wounded in their last battle and forced Tristan to give him the lord’s belt. Tristan was alive because the Calorins killed Dunstan instead.
Trey would have refused. He would have proudly stood his ground and defied the Calorins to the last. He wished he knew what had happened to Trey. The familiar dull ache surfaced in his chest whenever he thought about his dead family. How had Trey died? Most likely furious that he had been killed. His little brother would have made them pay for the privilege of taking his life. Trey was a wraith, a silent doom to his enemies. That’s all that Tristan had left of his brother. A memory and a faint pride that Trey would never have allowed himself to become a slave.
A cry jerked him back to the present. One of the overseers had tripped Kieran, the young Braeton. The boy tried to get back up but the Calorin flicked his whip out. Kieran stubbornly tried not to cry out again, but Tristan saw blood trickling from his arm where the lash had broken skin.
The overseer raised his whip again and suddenly Tristan could take it no more. It infuriated him that they were made to bow before these intruders to their lands. He was a lord’s son, of a proud and ancient line that had long protected the coast. The Calorins picked on Kieran deliberately and Tristan would make them pay.
He jerked forward a step and caught the end of the lash around his arm as it descended on Kieran. The Calorin cried out sharply in surprise. Tristan pulled him forward and wrapped the whip around the man’s neck. The other Calorins rushed to the rescue of their comrade. Tristan shoved the man forward into them and drew the sword from the man’s belt at the same time.
The sword weighed heavy in his hand as he slashed at his first opponent. The Calorin danced away and Tristan stabbed at the man coming at him from the right. The surprised attacker fell away with a cut on his arm. The first Calorin advanced again and crossed blades with Tristan.
Captivity had slowed Tristan and the edge of his opponent’s sword caught him along the ribs. Meanwhile, the overseer had loosed the whip from his neck and regained his feet. He wrenched the scimitar from the wounded man and held it against Kieran’s throat.
“Stop!” he commanded in Rhyddan.
They paused and Tristan’s heart fell at the frightened look in Kieran’s eyes.
“Tristan,” another prisoner warned quietly.
Tristan threw down the sword. They’d take it out on him now, but he didn’t care. Maybe they’d kill him and put a merciful end to his life. The man he had first attacked snarled something in Calorin and jumped at Tristan. He was thrown to the ground and the Calorin rained blows down on him.
He barely saw Gavin helping Kieran up and holding him back. There was another shout and the barrage stopped. He was jerked to his feet and held for a moment as the Calorin hit him across the face with the whip handle. He fell awkwardly to his knees and the man’s kick sent him against the wall.
“Enough!” the overseer who’d demonstrated a shred of decency halted his companion.
“He must pay for attacking me!” the first man hissed.
“He has! We cannot afford to lose another slave. Take him to the dungeon and leave him for a few days without food or water,” the other ordered.
His comrades reluctantly obeyed and Tristan’s fellow Aredorians watched in stoic silence as he was dragged away.
Trey worked in silence. The forest growth had lessened the heat of summer. The whetstone rasped rhythmically against his longsword, a cadence of future death. It helped him think. Corin had said that they could free all the men working the tower. Trey wanted to believe him, but it seemed an almost impossible task. He had to believe him.
If they could free men, then maybe they could begin to fight the Calorins. That was all Trey wanted; to make the Calorins pay for everything they had taken from him. He’d lost his home, his father, and his brother. His brother. He’d tried to reconcile himself to that loss. He, Liam, and Martin had bonded together as a new family out of necessity, but they couldn’t fill the void inside Trey.
His mother often said that he and Tristan had a stronger bond than many brothers had. They knew each other’s thoughts and actions before the other did. They were unstoppable in battle. But more than that, Trey looked up to his big brother. Tristan looked out for him.
It had been Tristan that had found him on the cliffs after their mother died to sit with him in silence as the waves thundered below. It was Tristan that held him back when he screamed in rage as they watched their father cut down by the Calorins like a criminal. It was for Tristan that he maintained the air of false bravado as they bid farewell to each other on the last day they would see one another. Tristan was the one to temper his fury. He was fire and Tristan was ice.
He’d felt so lost in the days after Tristan had left to retake the Estuary. And when the bedraggled rider staggered in with news that the army was lost, Trey had sworn vengeance. He knew that once the Calorins saw the golden belt of a lord they would show no mercy. Tristan would have met death honorably and that comforted Trey.
He felt a nudge.
“You’re not going to have a sword if you keep that up.” Martin stood over him.
Trey put down the whetstone and wiped the blade. He sheathed the weapon without a word and stood. Martin rested a hand on his shoulder for a moment.
“Maybe there’s a chance he survived,” he said softly.
“There wouldn’t be any reason for him to be spared,” Trey returned, and buckled the sword across his back. A few feet away, Corin was doing the same. “You think this will work?” Trey asked Martin.
His friend looked over at Corin. “If he wants it to, then it will.”
“Always a believer.” Trey half-smiled.
Martin grinned. “Somebody has to, what with you having a face that promises rain.”
Trey shoved him and Martin retreated with a laugh. Trey’s smile died. It was all very well for Martin, but he didn’t have a brother that had promised never to leave him.
Tristan sat in darkness and pain. He didn’t know how long it had been since they brought him here. No light entered the prison and he wasn’t given any food. There was no way to mark time. He wished they had just killed him. He barely heard footsteps approaching and blinked in the flare of torchlight. But it was no sneering Calorin that stood before him. A dark, hooded figure held the light in one hand and keys in the other.
“Who are you?” Tristan asked. Not that he really cared.
“A friend of your brother.”
Tristan’s head jerked up and something stirred inside of him. He realized it was hope.
“Trey? Where is he?” he demanded. It could just be some cruel trick. Keys rattled and the door swung open. His manacles were unlocked and he was helped to his feet.
“Once we’re out of here, I’ll take you to him,” his rescuer promised.
Tristan heard the commotion upstairs and heard the triumphant amusement in the man’s voice. His heart climbed a little higher. This man was freeing prisoners! That meant someone was fighting the Calorins. That thought gave him some extra strength he didn’t know he had to escape from the fort.
But once in the forest and on foot again, his body betrayed him. The cut on his side was a shallow one, but without treatment it had begun to turn an ugly red.
“We need to keep moving,” the man said as they paused again.
Tristan didn’t know if he could but he said it anyway. “I’ll try.”
Trey paced restlessly. A thousand wild thoughts rushed through his head. His brother could be alive! How? Could Corin get him out? Where were they? The time allotted by Corin had almost elapsed. He could not bear to wait a second longer and rode from the camp. He didn’t know where to start searching until a sound halted him. He’d been on enough hunts to know that the hounds were on the scent. He frantically spurred his horse towards the sound.
They careened onto a forest path and Trey reined up when he saw the two figures. He slid from the horse and reached out to his brother. He half expected Tristan to vanish before his eyes like some evil nightmare but he was real enough as he fell into Trey’s arms. Trey held him for a moment, but there was no response from Tristan.
They fled at Corin’s urging even though every sense screamed at Trey to stay and help him fight. Tristan had no strength left and Trey was practically carrying him. Liam dropped everything and ran to help Trey as they stumbled into camp.
“Sit him down here.” Liam guided them to the fire. “Go!” He guessed what had happened from Trey’s face.
Trey needed no other urging and sprinted away again. He thought he would find Corin wounded or captured by the Calorins instead of calmly standing on the path as the few survivors fled. They wordlessly returned and Trey paused at the entrance to camp.
Tristan sat by the fire as Liam tended a wound on his side. Trey stared at him for a long moment, almost frightened to think that the gaunt and bent man was his brother.
“Go talk to him,” Corin urged. “It’s what he needs.”
Trey went to stand in front of him. Tristan didn’t even raise his head.
“Tris?” He knelt.
“He said you were alive. I didn’t know if I could believe it,” Tristan spoke.
Trey clasped his hand tightly and Tristan finally looked at him. Tears were rolling down his brother’s face.
“I thought you were dead, Trey. I thought…”
Trey pulled him close and Tristan leaned wearily against him.
“I’m here. It’s all right, brother. I’m here,” he said.
Tristan sat a little straighter. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Trey returned. “I didn’t think there was any reason for you to be alive. We always said we’d go down fighting.”
“But we’re still here.”
“I guess we’re not done yet.”
Tristan looked over at Corin. “No, we’re not.”
Trey sat on the ground beside his brother.
“You recognize him?” he asked curiously. Tristan glanced over at Corin again.
“I thought I did, but the man I thought he might be died as a boy.”
“And if I were to tell you that he didn’t die?” Trey grinned at the look of disbelief that came over Tristan’s face.
“It’s not possible!” he exclaimed.
Trey waved and Corin came slowly over. He crouched in front of the brothers.
“How are you feeling?” he asked Tristan.
“I don’t know considering that Trey just told me I’m looking at a ghost who went and grew up,” Tristan shook his head slightly in the wonder of it all and Corin chuckled.
“It’s good to see you again, Tristan.” He extended his hand.
“Likewise, Corin.” Tristan clasped it firmly with a smile.
It felt good to smile again. He couldn’t quite wrap his head around the past few hours. He’d gotten his brother back and found a long lost friend. Corin wore Calorin clothes and Tristan saw a scimitar at his waist. He seemed completely comfortable with it.
“Calorin?” Tristan asked.
Corin nodded and his blue eyes hardened. The way his shoulders tensed told Tristan that he didn’t need to ask any more questions.
“You found your family?” he asked quietly.
“No.” Corin spoke the word as if it was painful and Tristan knew how much it hurt.
“I wish I knew…”
“It’s all right,” Corin reassured him. “You need to rest. We won’t be staying here long.” He rose and left them.
“What happened?” Tristan watched him go.
“Nothing good,” Trey said. “But you should see him fight, Tris. It’s…” Trey shrugged.
Tristan smiled at the admiration and hope in his brother’s voice.
“You think he can do it?” Tristan asked.
“After today, I have no doubt.”
“Well then, I guess I’ll need to find myself a sword. Because if little Trey has found himself a battle then he’ll most likely need my help sooner rather than later.”
Trey shoved him with a grin and Tristan reached up and tousled his hair. Trey swatted his hand and stood.
“You hungry?” he asked.
“You have no idea!”
Tristan sat back and watched the camp. Martin entered camp with a deer carcass and Kieran in tow. The young Braeton saw him and nearly fell over in relief. Tristan gave him a nod. The men who had only a few short hours ago been slaves, now sat straighter and looked more alert than they had in years. Like they had some pride left. The sight stirred the same pride in Tristan. He had his brother again. He had hope again.