CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 24 ♦ Matters of the Heart
The explosion of greenery reminded Keelan of everything he wanted to remember; his feet sifting through the foliage during a warm autumn’s day, the sweetness of blooming flowers during spring, the chilling coldness of winter biting through his clothes, and the blistering heat of summer when they gathered water from the underground wells to pool on the surface.
Right now, he could feel the brewing chaos. While summer was at its end and autumn was setting in, the weather remained scorching. At the onset of fall, the trees would spread their seeds and their leaves would turn shades of gold and earth. He was seeing none of that when he should.
The uneasiness was like fire and his heart was set ablaze.
The academy was soon to resume its classes but with the imbalance at the sudden loss of the guardians of spirit, things were bound to get unpredictable. Nature would, no doubt, be in terrible mood swings. Perhaps the food would be sparse and famine was an inevitability. He was worried for how his people would fare to bear the consequences of the war which has long since begun its march.
“Livouda,” he heard his older brother’s call from the other side of his doors.
Keelan turned and looked away from the scenery through his window, sighing as he replied, “Come in.”
Eres cracked open a path for himself and pulled his large frame into Keelan’s room, a crease between his brows and a tight smile on his lips. The eleventh-ranker tried to flash his usual cheerful grin but all he managed was a twitch.
“You seem really troubled,” said Eres, the crease going from a troubled frown to a frown of concern.
“You really don’t appreciate something until it’s lost,” Keelan said. “I’ve been told that many times yet I didn’t know it until I went through it. We take our world for granted far too much.” He shook his head and dropped his gaze back to the scene through his window. “This really worries me, kavá.”
“Which does?” Eres inquired as he moved further into the room, the door closing behind him softly.
“Everything,” he replied, fingers raking through the strawberry blond locks on his head. They had grown quite long already. He planned on getting them cut but he didn’t have the desire to. “I’m worried about the ordeals our people will have to go through and the suffering they will have to endure. I’m worried about my friends, Valeriana in particular. I’m worried about the academy. I’m worried about the king.”
“This is the first time I’ve seen you so troubled,” Eres stated with a stiff smile. “If there is one thing I’ve learned from you, it’s to live in the moment and care about nothing—except food.”
“That principle has gone through our families for generation. How come you learned it from me?” Keelan replied with a chuckle.
“I always knew I took after our mother more.”
They shared a laugh.
Keelan breathed. “I don’t think it’s applicable that I live the rest of my days like I had before. I’m sure you know that very well,” he told his brother.
Eres nodded. “Yes. That, I do. I wanted you to continue being the way you are, however. You have always been the light of the family. I will not stand by it if you become as . . . melancholic as they say I am.”
“You are not melancholic.” Keelan threw an arm around his taller sibling’s shoulder and gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder blades. “Melancholic is the word people who doesn’t know you will describe you, but I assure you you know how to have fun better than I do.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere, livouda.”
“But it will make you happy,” he teased. “Whatever did you come here for, by the way?” Keelan asked.
“I wanted to ask if you wish to hunt with me. We haven’t gotten the chance to the last few weeks.”
His spirit was uplifted in a flash, a bright smile revealing his pearly whites. “What’s the game?”
They brought their favorite horses and their sharpened spears. While the sun was high, they rode into the forest and trotted under the dappling shadows of the tall trees. Branches were flailing at the gentle breeze, leaves gurgling chimes like a mantra. The birds tittered on their wide corners and coasted through the air at the sound of the thundering gallops that tore through the serenity of the forest.
When Eres said ‘hunting,’ he mostly meant riding. Hunting usually involved ‘searching’ for the prey. However, most of the time, they let chance decide whether or not they would happen upon what they were searching for.
“I think I hear the river,” said Keelan as they paused, straining to hear the sound of flowing water. His horse restlessly swung its tail, huffing and puffing at the work he was put through.
“Let’s take it slow?” Eres suggested as he steadied his ride with a tug on the reigns and a hand running up and down his companion’s long neck.
“Alright,” Keelan agreed.
They assumed a relaxed pace towards the river that veined through the forest of Dhavanaea, a place of childhood adventure and memories. Keelan held the place dear to his heart. It was one of the few sanctuaries he took when he felt troubled.
Eres and Keelan broke through the wall of trees and paused upon sighting the winding river. They jumped down their companions’ backs, giving them a few pets and caresses before leaving them to graze and gallop wherever they want. Their horses were one of the things they needn’t worry about. Being the loyal fellows they were, they only needed to be summoned to return.
“What a place,” Eres whispered.
“You always say that.” Keelan shook his head.
They sank on the pebbled banks, picked off a few rocks on the ground and casually threw them into the water. The sound of them tearing through the surface provided tranquility and calmness contrary to the turmoil in their hearts. Keelan knew Eres was troubled as well. As to what was troubling him, he had no clue. But seeing how things were going, he was bound to know soon.
“What troubles you, brother?” Keelan inquired, shooting a casual glance at Eres with his forest-green eyes. Eyes of similar color gazed back at him before a small smile lifted the corners of the future high lord’s lips.
“This place reminds me of her,” Eres began.
Keelan caught on right away.
Eres gave no answer to confirm his thoughts. Instead, he shot him a glance filled with a fraternity of emotions.
“I don’t need to be told twice—in fact, I don’t need to be told at all,” Keelan stated.
“It seems our family’s core weakness is truly at the heart.” Eres threw another pebble into the water and they watched as it jumped on the surface thrice before sinking deep with a satisfying plop. “And I have thought like you once before I came upon this winding river.”
“What changed?” the eleventh-ranker asked.
“A lot of things.”
“Whatever it is, I think our hearts aren’t truly a weakness,” Keelan said to Eres. “In some cases, that may be true, but I believe that it is the heart that has truly brought us to where we are today. I have never seen something so selfless and selfish at the same time. It confuses me sometimes but I don’t think it’s meant to be understood. It will depend on the person if he turns it to a strength.”
“So selfless and selfish?” Eres chuckled. “I have never seen something make so much sense yet be so confusing at the same time.”
“That’s the heart for you,” Keelan replied. “So what is it really, kavá? You’re going about it a really roundabout way.”
“Keelan,” Eres began. “I love her far too much.”
Keelan sighed. “I know. But you can’t be with her. Father won’t protest but I’m pretty sure it’ll be more complicated on her side of the family. You both know you’re the future titleholders. While marrying into the other noble families are definitely a good go, marriage between two leaders will be really chaotic. You’re managing continents, not cities. You will have to choose.”
“Trying to say we can make it work will probably end very badly,” Eres muttered.
“You can’t have the best of both worlds. We’ve been there and done that. History has spoken. If you’re confident you’ll be the first ones to break the record, feel free to do so.” Keelan stood and skipped another rock on the water. It jumped on the surface four times before settling into the bed. He dusted his fingers and threw his head back to watch the light and loose clouds.
“You’ve made up your mind?” The eleventh-ranker threw an inquiring gaze at his brother. The pebbles crunched under his feet as he took a step forward, Eres’ eyes on him. The fresh air filled his lungs, his thumbs comfortably tucked into the waistband of his pants. “Are you going with it wholeheartedly?”
“Wholehearted?” Eres echoed with a mocking laugh. “I’ve never felt it so split. Whichever path I go with, I’m quite sure I will leave the other piece where it belongs.”
Keelan was silent. He could feel his own heart breaking.
“And another unfortunate news is that it didn’t break even,” he whispered. “And common sense tells me to go with the bigger piece, because then I can hope that it’ll be easier to fix. But that would be a foolish thought.”
“This probably isn’t the right time to tell you to go with what your heart tells you,” Keelan joked dryly.
Eres threw him a rock and he casually caught it before it hit him. They laughed.
“I know how hard it is for you already, I won’t make it even harder,” Keelan said. “I know what you want, kavá. You want to be with her. No talk with ruling a continent and duties will get you out of something you’ve fallen in too deep with.”
“I’ll probably be the most selfish brother there is. Probably the most selfish person, too.” Eres scoffed sardonically, probably at himself. “I didn’t want to put you through this because I know how much you look forward to living your days without having to mind so much the problems that comes with a title. I feel like I’m extinguishing a fire.”
“You’re not, kavá. You’ve been doing everything you can for the people around you. You deserve to make your own decisions.”
“And how will it affect you? How will it affect father and the rest? I cannot bear that, Keelan,” Eres argued.
“But you’ll regret it if you don’t see this through. I’m not saying I want it but I’m saying I’ll do it for you. I may not be able to fill your shoes but I’ll make sure I can at least be good enough not to have everything fall apart. I just can’t . . . imagine myself standing in your place.”
Eres did not move from his seat but Keelan could feel his sadness and guilt riding off of him like waves. The troubled frown and the leaking tears were enough of an indication for his emotions’ intensity that even Keelan could not hold himself back from feeling emotional.
Eres stood. “If you’re not the best brother in this entire world, I do not know what else to call you.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere, kavá.” Keelan gave him a teasing smile before they pulled each other in for an embrace. For a few moments, they basked in the feeling of stability and firmness from each other’s arms.
“But it will make me happy.”
They broke off. Eres’ hand came to rest on his brother’s shoulder. The weight of it was heavy and clung tight.
“If you’re the lord of Denovegasia, I’m quite sure this world will not fall apart very soon.”
Keelan felt his knees quake. “I’m not sure how to do this. I don’t think I’m ready to take up that title—what more the title of taking up that title,” he said, a slight pout on his lips as he scratched his head.
Happiness and sadness warred in Eres’ eyes. “With that kind of heart, I assure you you’re already the best person for the job.”