Band of Brothers
The late afternoon sun slanted across the wheat fields of the Longacre farm. With the Feast of the Flood not more than a week passed, the rainy season was finally done with. The stalks of wheat shot up from the ground all around Kiernan Longacre. As he walked through the field, he let his hands play across the tops of the plants, smiling at how well they were all doing. Sometimes he almost thought he could hear them laugh.
Kiernan neared his destination, the bank of the River Running. From across the field he had thought he’d seen young Connor. The child had been ducking low as he’d run along, definitely trying not to be seen. Kiernan had followed at a distance, but now it was time to confront him. Father would be displeased if Connor had ignored the chickens to squeeze in a spot of fishing. Will, Kiernan silently cursed.
Kiernan didn’t try to approach quietly. He knew he was no forester, to be creeping up behind game. Instead he simply called out, “Connor!” The poor boy jumped and spun around guiltily. “What are you doing there?”
Connor ran over to his eldest brother. “Come see! Come see!”
His enthusiasm didn’t carry to Kiernan—what could a twelve-year-old be doing worth such a fuss?—but he amiably agreed to be led to the far side of the willows.
“What do you think?” Connor asked, his voice half-nervous, half-defiant.
A small plot spread before the brothers, stalks reaching eagerly towards the sun. Kiernan could see immediately that they were not wheat. He crouched down, balancing on the balls of his feet. He brushed his hand over the plants. One sprig caught his eye. Although most of these plants were quite healthy, this one was weaker, growing too close to its neighbor. Kiernan gently pulled it from the soil.
“I was going to thin them soon,” Connor said, sounding defensive.
Kiernan ignored the boy, concentrating on the plant. He bit off the tip of a leaf. “Where did you get this?” he asked levelly.
Connor let out a sigh. “I… I’m not going to tell you! If I’m gonna get in trouble, I’m not gonna take anyone along with me.”
That did catch Kiernan’s attention, and he turned to face his youngest brother. The boy was pouting. Kiernan shook his head slowly, and Connor let out a whoop. “They’re good! You like them!”
“Yes, they’re wonderful,” Kiernan agreed. If his face was that easy for Connor to read, there was no point trying to maintain the serious air their father would have. “And I really would like to know where you got the seed. This is rye, Connor. And this is a strong strain.” Connor’s grin grew even wider. “You’ve done great. Why all the secrecy?”
“I didn’t know if the seeds would grow. I found them on the ground near where one of the merchant caravans had stopped for a night, a few miles down the road.” Connor looked everywhere except at Kiernan and continued in a rush, “I know I’m not supposed to wander that far away, but Will showed me—“
“Ah. Will. Do you know how old Will is, Connor?”
“Will is seventeen.”
“And do you know what that means?”
“It means he gets to go far away, and I don’t.”
“Well, yes, but it also means you’re twelve.”
Connor looked up at Kiernan, confusion writ across his features. “Of course I’m twelve. I’m almost thirteen even.”
“Exactly. There comes a time when men,” his gesture included Connor with himself, “have to start taking responsibility for their actions and their lives in general. Next month, you’ll be old enough to apprentice. Have you thought much about that at all?”
Connor’s eyes widened.
Kiernan brushed the rye with his hand one more time and then got to his feet. “These plants are strong, Connor. And so are you. Father would be pleased if you would stay on the farm and apprentice to him.”
Kiernan went flying backward as Connor launched himself at him in a giant hug. “Oh, yes, please! Yes!” Laughing, the two brothers rolled on the ground, careful to avoid the patch of rye.
Suddenly, Kiernan caught his breath and went still. Connor scrambled up, nervously looking down at his brother. Kiernan’s face was screwed up in pain, and he stayed put. Through gritted teeth he ground out, “Connor, can you run down river? I’m sure—“
“River Rat first, and if they’re not there, the Red Lion. I’ll bring Will or Xavi back as fast as I can.” The young boy sprinted off. Kiernan forced open his eyes and focused on the willow branches nearby, letting their gentle motion take his mind off the spasms in his back.