A short story about Rhett and his older brother that wouldn’t leave my mind alone until I wrote it out. Enjoy!
TW: Fighting, swords, typical 1700’s combat, guns, injury, combat thoughts and experiences
15 years ago…
Maverick Ian Locklan listened to the soft thump of his boots along the plush navy blue hallway rug leading to his kid brother’s room. He’d observed him fleeing from their mum Lucinda, wooden practice swords abandoned haphazardly in the grass and what could only be the reflection of tears staining his cheeks, caught in the afternoon summer sunlight. Maverick had tried to warn their moms that Rhett wasn’t ready to pick up swordplay yet, and honestly he didn’t know if his brother ever would be ready for it. After all, Rhett had never really taken an interest in play fighting when they were younger, and his penchant for crying at the slightest of insults or bruises certainly didn’t bode well for any sort of naval lifestyle their parents had planned for him. They obviously hadn’t given Maverick’s warning much thought, which wasn’t wholly surprising, but it was disappointing. He’d recently gotten the impression that despite being nearly sixteen, his moms and dad still weren’t taking him seriously, unless it was for the sake of heaping more responsibilities onto his shoulders.
Honestly, he was a little pissed off with Rhett, too, not because he’d clearly run away from sword training again, but because he’d been shirking responsibilities and challenges with almost no consequences for most of his life. Where Maverick would have been scolded by all three of their parents, Rhett merely received a slap on the wrist and a disappointed sigh or two. The expectations for him were always different, and when his little brother couldn’t shoulder the burden of something that needed to be done, it inevitably always landed on Maverick’s shoulders. It wasn’t fair. It had never been fair, and yet for some daft reason Maverick continued to cover for Rhett whenever he messed up or did something unwise– Just like he was doing now.
The sturdy oak bedroom door was shut tight, and even though he knew he would get no initial response, he tapped his knuckles lightly on the worn wood thrice, as more of an announcement than anything else. He took care not to knock too loudly, worried he might startle his brother or have his presence perceived as the threat of their mum coming to fetch Rhett once more to finish his practicing.
“Rhett, I know you’re in there,” he called out after a suspiciously long silence that was more incriminating by the second. He wondered if Rhett was holding his breath, listening to the door to see if he would give up and leave– highly unlikely. There was a brief, quiet shuffling from beyond the wooden barrier, and Maverick felt his eyes roll towards the ceiling at the dramatics of his little brother.
“…I’m not going back out there,” came the soft and slightly strained reply, muffled by distance and walls. As much as his waterlogged voice dug uncomfortably into Maverick’s chest, he steeled his nerves and grit his teeth against giving into it. He wasn’t nearly as talented as Rhett at being adorable or tugging on the heartstrings of everyone around him to get what he wanted, but he was getting better at not letting Rhett’s tears sway his rational decision making. Maverick was absolutely not about to have this conversation muted through a closed door and he wasn’t going to continually let Rhett get away with running and hiding from things just because they were difficult. He’d have to stand on his own two feet at some point, and Maverick wouldn’t be doing him any favors by being too soft on him. Guilt at all the times Maverick knowingly took on blame that wasn’t his to hold surged uncomfortably sharp in his ribcage and writhed like a snake. Whether it was envy or regret he didn’t care to find out, so he shoved it down instead.
“Can I come in?” There was no sense in promising that he wouldn’t have to go back out to train again with Mum, so why even give him false hope? Maverick waited impatiently for a response and had nearly made up his mind to abandon this fruitless task when Rhett finally spoke–
“It’s unlocked,” the small boy called miserably.
He tried the handle, and sure enough, it turned. The door swung open slowly to reveal red rimmed eyes, messy tangled blonde hair, and grass-stained knees, all curled tightly around a well-loved pillow on the floor. The entirety of his little brother was tucked into the corner between the wall and his bed, taking up as minuscule an amount of space as possible. A sympathetic sigh built itself up in Maverick’s chest, but he chased it back with the patience that three additional years of life afforded him. Instead, he closed the door softly behind him and settled on the floor nearby, back to the hand-me-down bed frame that had once been his.
“So, I take it that it didn’t go well out there,” Maverick stated as gently as he could. The way Rhett quickly hid his face in the pillow was already more than enough of an answer. His blonde hair spilled out across the white fabric in a distressed haphazard halo.
“It never goes well, and it’s never going to go well. I’m awful at swords and I always will be; they’re heavy and I can barely even hold onto the practice ones. How am I ever going to lift a real one? I hate sword fighting! It’s stupid and I don’t want to do it-!” The torrent of words was interrupted by a hitched sob as Rhett curled impossibly tighter into himself. Maverick was positive that at twelve, no, even at ten years old, he’d never been this dramatic about anything, and especially not about combat training. He’d always enjoyed fighting, the rush of adrenaline that made him feel alive and the triumph of getting stronger and faster with each new technique learned. Rhett on the other hand was struggling with just the basics, lacking the confidence to swing properly. He was always so much softer, nicer, and so quick to bruise from words and fists alike.
“Well for one, you’re going to get stronger as you get older. I used to think the practice swords were heavy, too, and nobody expects you to be great at it right away, Rhett.” He reached out to ruffle the unruly blonde curls that had been getting longer and lighter as the seasons shifted from spring to summer. A small hand suddenly darted out to smack his own away and Maverick felt the corners of his mouth lift into the threat of a smile.
“But Mum and Mom expect me to be better than I am. It doesn’t come naturally to me like it did you. You’re some kind of sword-swinging genius, and I can’t hardly remember which arm is the right or the left and I-I don’t want…” He trailed off noticeably, and Maverick leaned closer to try and discern what his little brother was mumbling.
“You don’t want to what?” he asked, gently prodding him in the side to goad him into speaking up or lashing out, whichever came first.
“Quit it!” It worked with ease; the brief spark of adorable vengeance in Rhett’s eyes was a perpetual source of amusement for his older brother. Maverick doubled down on his poking.
“I don’t want to join the navy! I don’t want to fight people; it sounds scary and dangerous!” Rhett smacked both of Maverick’s hands away harder than before, the pillow he’d been clutching discarded in his attempt at defending himself. The words were alarming, causing Maverick’s to freeze mid-jab, but they weren’t entirely unexpected, not with the way Rhett got quiet whenever their grandfather was brought up or how he started picking apart the food on his plate at supper when their moms would share battle stories or talk animatedly about technique and strategy. He’d noticed this growing tension in his little brother for some time now, building with the steadily amassing knowledge of what it meant to be a Locklan. Rhett had always gotten caught up worrying about things he had no control over, rather than just accepting them for what they were, overcomplicating the most straightforward of circumstances until he was visibly upset.
“Is that what this is about? Rhett, you don’t have to worry about that for at least six years.” Maverick laughed at the absurdity of being wrapped up in something that was so far away. He realized too late that he’d said something insensitive when Rhett shoved him as hard as he could and he spilled sideways onto the hardwood floor with a startled grunt.
“But I am worrying about it! What if I don’t get better by then? I’ll fail, and everyone will be mad at me.” His voice pitched with the beginnings of a wail as tears once more spilled freely down his flushed cheeks. Being concerned about failure so far off puzzled Maverick greatly but even he could understand the pressure of wanting to do well and be good at things that were expected of them by their parents. He’d just never had the luxury of having a full blown meltdown over it, at least not ones he could remember.
“You won’t fail,” Maverick grumbled as he pushed himself back up to sitting from where he’d sprawled on the floor, resisting the urge to kick Rhett over as payback for shoving him in the first place. He was already teary eyed, and Maverick knew Rhett would absolutely go crying to Dad if he upset him further. That was a long winded lecture he did not want to endure today. He knew better by now that their father was by far the softest on Rhett and possessed no armor to defend against his tears and sad eyes.
“How do you know that?” Rhett’s bottom lip quivered ever so slightly as he yanked the pillow back into his lap to hug it tightly.
“Because I won’t let you fail.” He could see the instant confusion, and pressed onwards before his naïve little brother could interrupt him yet again.
“Do you really think I would let our parents send you off to the Navy if you weren’t ready?” The sulky, inaudible response was said directly into the pillow, “I’ll help you get better at sword fighting. Besides, I’ll be going to the Navy first anyway, so I’ll be able to tell you what it’s like before you even step foot on a ship. You’re not going to be training by yourself; I’ll be there, and we both know I’m already good at sword fighting, so I’m sure I can give you some pointers. You’re not going to get better if you keep running away anytime something is a little bit hard or it hurts. I’ll help make sure you’re good at sword fighting, so I promise that you won’t fail.” He gave him a meaningful look and a gentle shove with his shoulder, unable to resist retaliating for earlier.
“You really promise?” Rhett sniffled, rubbing furiously at the corners of his already puffy eyes to try and dry the remaining tears.
“Would I lie to you?” Maverick asked with a raised eyebrow and the hint of a taunting smirk. Rhett glared up at him petulantly from over his closed fists.
“Yes! You do it all the time!” Rhett cried indignantly, no doubt referring to the most recent pranks Maverick had pulled on him when he’d been bored and in need of entertainment. Maverick smothered his snicker behind his own hand, especially when he noticed the pout of his brother’s bottom lip get increasingly more severe.
“I promise, seriously. In return, you have to promise me that you’re going to try not to run away anymore, okay?” There was hesitation at first, skepticism in his little brother’s gaze, but slowly Rhett’s hand inched across the space, pinky finger extended between them in a silent offering of trust. Maverick extended his own finger, instantly amused by how small Rhett’s was in comparison. No wonder he couldn’t hold his swords properly; his hands were incredibly tiny still.
“I promise,” he murmured softly, one more sniffle catching in his chest at the end. Maverick squeezed back, careful not to crush his pinky too hard as he sometimes did just to make Rhett shriek in complaint.
The distant sound of their mum calling Rhett’s name filtered through the closed bedroom door and both of their chins lifted in the direction of it. Maverick glanced over, and seeing the immediately scrunched face Rhett made at, no doubt, being summoned back out to the yard, he caved once more. With a sigh, Maverick stood and straightened out his breeches and shirt, knowing full well that he was definitely being too nice.
“I can keep her busy for a few minutes. I know Dad just made mini tarts about a bell or two ago. They’re probably still cooling in the kitchen if you want one before you have to go back outside,” the baffled and wide-eyed look aimed up at him was well worth it, especially as it grew from a watery smile to a genuinely grateful one.
“Okay, thank you Mav.” Rhett scrambled to his feet, pillow discarded roughly onto the bed behind him. Maverick reached out to ruffle his hair one more time, a bit harder, and he used that same hand to push him towards the door.
“Hurry up, or you’ll get caught before I can stall for you.” He watched his kid brother slip out the door, grass stained knees and tears forgotten as he turned right down the hallway and headed straight for the kitchen. Maverick turned left, intent upon interrupting their mother’s search for a few minutes, determined to protect that wide-eyed innocent smile for a little while longer.
Port Katherine: 3rd of Fire 1722…
Rhett’s sword reverberated in his hand as it crashed against Tiyagan metal, parrying it away from his arm. With two quick slashes to the chest he watched the enemy soldier in front of him crumple to the dirt, the shock of seeing someone fall by his own blades long since dulled to nothing more than a sharp pinch of remorse, easily smothered in the heat of battle. When had he gotten so used to the heft of metal in his hands, the worn grips molded to his fingers like a home he’d never realized they’d made?
A loud shout of warning to his left drew him out of his head, and back to the reality of the devastating fray around him, one that they were inevitably going to lose. There were more Tiyagan soldiers marching down from the cabins, and his chest lurched in sudden, sickening realization. Rosie had been up there with Anna and Prudence, and there was no sign of any of them among the red uniforms. The sounds of gunfire, cannons, and steel screeching as it clashed filled his ears, the singed smell of fire on skin and gunpowder mixing together in his nose with kicked-up dust and sweat. His eyes swept the field, immediately finding the eerily translucent swish of pink skirts and blonde hair, incorporeal and currently safe. There wasn’t enough time to try to spot the flash of fire, or search out a soot smeared face framed by round glasses, before the impending sight of a sharp blade swinging directly towards his exposed flank forced him to move.
Rhett pivoted and brought both swords up, narrowly deflecting another harsh blow away from his side in the nick of time. Block, block, strike, miss. Block, block, parry, strike, the successful sensation of sword hitting flesh, so very different from wood hitting wood. His arms ached, his lungs burned from the exertion, and yet his mind wandered, thinking about different summer days long since past and a promise broken by circumstances neither of them ever had a hope of controlling.
“Have fun fighting Tiyagans,” Rhett said with a forced smile, the very thought of being on a war front twisting his stomach into knots.
“Oh, I will, don’t you worry. You just keep yourself out of trouble at University, alright? I’ll handle the front lines with Kithira’s finest naval women, so softhearted kids like you don’t have to” The ruthless, teasing words of his older brother burned across his cheeks in equal parts shame and embarrassment. He reached out to shove him, only to get an elbow in the side and an arm around his neck as he was wrestled into a loose, playful headlock.
A flash of bright light and chilled air stung his eyes right before a blast of ice erupted all around him, pelting both him and the soldier he had locked swords with. It cut cold and clean into his legs and with a cry of pain he collapsed on his back into the partially frozen dirt. A recently too-familiar red and blue uniform hovered over him, briefly blocking out the midday sun as his vision swam.
For the flash of a moment, it was Maverick standing over him, with a wooden sword drawn, mirth and mockery in his smile as he bested his younger brother yet again in a sparring match. The harsh sting of steel biting into his chest forced his mind back to the present. The illusion faded as he felt his consciousness slipping away from fatigue and injury alike, staring up at the face of a Tiyagan soldier who turned to the next opponent, leaving him to his impending unconsciousness.
How could they have possibly known that it would end up this way, all those years ago? The letter from Maverick in his pocket burned with scathing words that continued to haunt him, and memories that he could not forget, all from an older brother who still thought he was protecting him.