“Pumpkin spice soup, fresh baked bread- crunchy and flakey on the outside, warm and soft in the middle, butter melting, pooling into the crevices of the family insignia stamped on to every loaf. They sat around the waxed wood table as a tuxedoed waiter served them on cold, silver platters, light dancing across domed covers. The candles were dimmed in an attempt to gather minds to their one tethered commonality, to shadow watery eyes, pulsing jaws, and a fiercely competitive spirit. The eldest placed himself at the head off the table, where the king had once smiled gently, peacefully, at his five, strong willed children. Except Artie- Artie was the soft son, the easy going mediator. His heart sank into the pit of his stomach, clenching his appetite as the intruder’s hard eyes, same grey as their father’s, dove deep into him, searching for a break, a leak.
Though the nation held grievings today, the five knew this assembly was not about who had left them, but what he’d left behind. Cutlery clattered against bowls of rich, lamb stew, echoing through the grand hall, maroon carpeting covering dusty floorboards. The reverberating filled the fear of voicing anything, of deciding a future, uncertain no matter the conclusion. One faulty step and what, when they were children could have ended in a bickering, a blamed tear, could now conclude as war.
With a sudden sharp cackle, the third brother, Vixon, snorted, choking on his mouthful, eyes wet with salt and laughter, attracting glares, stifling his laughter with a hand over his mouth, struggling to gather it back. But as had often been the case, staying serious was not his strong suit, especially under pressure and giggles pushed themself to the surface, rolling back and forth in his elegant armchair, until the first brother slapped a meaty hand against the table, deep frown leaking into his temples, tightening his clenched teeth.
‘Silence!’ He bellowed, annoyance settling like dust into the crevices of his eyes as he looked over the people he once knew better than himself, could always trust to be predictable, true to their strong characters. His voice dropped, gentler. ‘You all know we have matters to discuss, and we might as well begin.’ He waved near the radio crew, who rolled a creaky old broadcasting panel and rusty mic into the room, pulling out a thick manila folder.
In their cottage homes, hideouts, and grand foyers, families gathered to listen to their previous leader’s wishes and will to be proclaimed, secret to all before then, even his airs. Radios sputtered to life as a distant voice introduced the siblings, and passed the microphone to Ferdinand- who presumed, as eldest, to be righteously crowned the next king. Though the rest feared it, they dreaded knowing that he was most likely right.
Miro, the second oldest, believed that as the most handsome, daring, striking of the family, outranking every other in popularity, and in knightly skills, he should be crowned King.
Vixon, bubbly, speaking in senseless gibberish, fun and goofy, with a mysteriously dark side, should be crowned, because he would not take the job as seriously and focus on the happiness of others, spreading joy and laughter.
Artie did not hold such a strong opinion, knowing that whatever his father wrote down must have had a lot of thought put into it, and be the right choice in the long term. He did not want to rule, he was content to curl up and read in a comfortable nook, watch as others were ridiculed and fanned over, stay out of the drama.
Talia, as the only daughter and youngest, had always been loved and fawned over by the mothers of the extended family, after her own had passed away in childbirth. Though only nineteen, she believed that her bravery, loyalty and fearlessness, believed to be their father’s favourite, after Artie of course, could win her the crown as first queen not through marriage.
As Ferdinand drew the paper from the folder, all watched, ears strained to hear his reaction, his words, his face paled, devouring the beginning lines before reading them out loud. He considered making it up, telling a different story, but the line between the truth and his fiction was too thin for comfort. Through trembling, thin lips, he read.
‘After much thought and consideration, many nights spent by candlelight, struggling to figure out the correct answer to this eventual question of reign, I have come to the conclusion that not all questions can be answered, but all have a solution. Though mine is not the traditional way, I have made my decision. Our land is vast, our riches, agriculture and opportunities are plentiful. Each of my children brings their unique values to the table, and I can not name one that is better or more worthy than the others. I know our strong willed legacy- any wrong decision, and it could mean feud. Which is why I declare my choice to devide our land into five equal parts, spreading out from this communal castle, center of peace and unity, land where congregations between sectors may be held.’
And he proceeded to explain the details of his solution, which ruler shall live where, and that’s how we ended up here, 100 years later.” Xavier closed the book, Quill crawling up onto his lap, green blue brown eyes looking up in wonder, full of bursting questions.
“But who’s land was this? Which sibling?” He asked, front teeth missing so that the ‘s’s sounding like ‘th’s, small socked feet curled onto the red and grey thick comforter where his twin brother, Clove, had fallen asleep during the traditional telling every June the 26th, day of the Seperation. For the most part, the family didn’t really celebrate any of the holidays, join in on the patriotic celebrations, but today, when Xavier had come across the old storybook his mother used to read to him, he had felt the urge to pull it out from the musty cardboard box in their forest cottage. The air smelt like cedar and pine. Fairy lights twinkled, roping through the ceiling boards as he answered.
“Artie’s.” Xavier smiled. “The other lands have grown into bustling cities- we are the only ones who live so simply. With forests, among creatures.” He looked over at Finn, Quill’s hedgehog who sniffed around a vase of purple, bubbly water.
“That’s odd.” Quill bit his top row of teeth over his bottom, frowning, dark freckles creasing into dimples as he thought.
“You know, my great great aunt’s cousin was married to Artie. I never met him though.” Xavier smiled fondly down at the six year old curled up in his lap.
“Whoa!” Quill smiled wide. “That’s so cool! It’s like we’re all related!” He exclaimed as Xavier put a gentle finger to his lips, trying to quiet him down so he wouldn’t wake his brother, nodding. The way Quill said ‘related’ really sounded more like ‘arrated’, Xavier smiled, picking him up, over his head, soft pj’s against his hands, pretending to let Quill fly, up and around, before placing him onto the top bunk, tucking the blankets up to his chin.
“‘Night.” He whispered over the ledge, flicking off the lights.
“‘Night.” Quill replied, snuggling into sleep, moon bathing the room, shading his brown mop of wavy hair.
Xavier sat back down on the couch, layden with pillows and hand knitted quilts and tosses. He stared down at the book he held, let his hand glide over the smooth cover. One day, maybe, Quill would know the whole story, their whole link to it. That separating was really not as easy as all that, that families had been torn apart, forced away from each other. That their own had staged an uprising, that they weren’t really supposed to live here at all, that their hideout, their small community was the only safe place left. Outside the forest, wars raged over jealousy and hate, skyscrapers licking steamy skies.
Still though, the forest was safe, and for Quill, for Clove, for all the others, for Finn, for Artie, it was a haven. As Quill hikes mountains, swims in crystal lakes among green, ripe trees, as Clove reads stories, fresh air streaming from the water, bites into a sugary, sour fruit. 12 years old already, in shorts and tank tops, willowy and tall.
17 years old, murmurs rising in the night, as the ‘saints’ come marching in. They know now. They know they are the descendants of fire breathing, rapid talking sorcerers, of truth bearing archers and brave uprisers.
“Pumpkin spice soup, fresh baked bread- crunchy and flakey on the outside, warm and soft in the middle, butter melting, pooling into the crevices of the family insignia stamped on to every loaf-” Quill reads as Xavier lies down, head in his lap, breath shaky, legacy draining into his ears, cold rushing through his chest. His bony hand takes that of each of his sons. In that cottage among a patch of forest, a few remaining, lingering trees, as twinkling fairy lights bathe the moon lit room, they are safe.