Ri confronts his the best friend he thought he knew.
|Word count: 1,000
Summary: Written for the week 5 May 4th-May 10th prompt(s): “Are you crazy?”
“I can’t believe it!” Ri exclaimed as we trudged across his daddy’s acreage from barn to rambling old farmhouse.
Ri kept having to stop and wait for me, or—more often—he’d come back to walk with me.
Little did he know I thought I was trudging to, at best, my own imprisonment. At worst . . . I didn’t even want to imagine.
Ri swung my hand excitedly, like a child. “Hot damn! Somebody from one of the Twelve Cities! Just like you were, huh?”
“Yeah,” I said, smiling limply in the face of his innocent anticipation. “Just like me.”
The floorboards creaked under foot as we stepped in from the heat of the day, to the marginally cooler kitchen. Phillip was drinking synthmilk straight from the container, and ignored Ri and I as we crossed the kitchen.
I kept dragging my feet and Ri kept shooting me confused looks. Finally, halfway down the hall, he stopped and whispered: “Is somethin’ up?”
“Let’s run away!” I whispered back, tugging on his hand. When he didn’t budge, I looked around. He was gaping.
“Are you crazy?”
I sighed. “Remember how, when we were little, we were gonna run off and join the Corps? I’ve been thinking, you know, that isn’t such a bad idea. . . .”
“We can hear you two hissin’ back ‘n’ forth like a couple of riled vipers,” Ri’s daddy called from the living room, his voice low like Ri’s, but unlike Ri’s—and quite unlike their last name—it wasn’t friendly. And why should it be? Someone from the damned Cities had taken time out of their precious Wars to come thousands of miles to see his son and his son’s . . . friend.
“C’mon, before the old man blows a gasket,” Ri murmured, leaning in to kiss me quick and teasing.
Ri was dragging me into his living room to see his father sitting on the couch and, sitting next to him, in full field dress, was—
“Theya Friar?” I exclaimed, the name falling from my lips as if I’d last said it yesterday. The past decade fell away from me as Theya stood smartly and bowed deferentially to me, pin-neat in her blue-and-green uniform and polished black boots. Her dark hair, shot through with grey and white, was gathered in a braid that hung down her back.
“My liege,” she said gravely, holding her bow as if waiting for something. Meanwhile, I could feel Ri’s surprised eyes on me.
“Uh,” I said, then, out of my childhood memories came a vivid one: my mother, in her Seat of Office while speaking to this woman, this . . . Commander of Hightower’s militia. I knew exactly what Theya was waiting for, and it sprang to my lips and out, unbidden. “Rise and report, Commander.”
Theya straightened up with a heavy sigh. Her face was grim and grief-torn.
“They are dead, my liege,” she said, her voice catching as a tear rolled down her cheek. That single tear rocked me more than anything I’d ever seen. People like Theya Friar never cry. At least not where others can bear witness. “All of them. Your lady mother, her brother, all her cousins and kin. Even your father has gone on to the Beyond. You are all that is left of the Tower Oligarchy. The City of Hightower waits with hope for your return.”
Ri’s hand dropped away from my own. “’Lex? What’s she talkin’ ‘bout?”
“Yeah—what the fuck?” came from the entryway behind Ri and me. But everyone ignored Phillip in favor of watching me, and I. . . .
I turned and barreled past Phillip, back down the hall and out the kitchen door.
I’d been lying in the loft of the barn, on my back on the quilt—which smelled of hay and still, faintly, of sex—right under the window. The heat had been such that I quickly grew sleepy and closed my eyes. When I opened them again, it was because someone touched my face.
I bolted up and Ri was pulling me into his arms, murmuring that it was alright, that it was just him. I was shaking and clammy, broken out in a cold sweat. I didn’t remember what I’d been dreaming but I knew it hadn’t been pleasant.
Ri held me till I stopped shaking, then sat back to look at me. The loft was dim and shadowed, meaning the sun was on the wester, and in this dearth of light, Ri looked eerily like his father, stern and dour.
“Is it true, then?” he asked softly, his dark eyes shining and unreadable. “What that City-soldier said?”
I nodded once, slowly. “Yes. All of it. Theya Friar never lies.”
Sighing, Ri looked up, running a hand over his close-cropped hair. “Who is she? Who’re you?”
His eyes, when he looked at me again were accusing and I couldn’t meet them for long.
“I . . . I’m just me, Ri . . . just Lex,” I said pleadingly, and Ri’s eyes hardened.
“But that ain’t it, is it? You’re more’n just Alex Stanton, ‘ccordin’ to her,” he said bitterly, and I winced . . . but nodded again. “So who are you?”
It took a little while, but I met Ri’s eyes squarely. “I am . . . Oliver Alexei Mihailovich Godineau Hightower . . . heir to the Seat of the City of Hightower . . . and Oligarch-presumptive of the First City of the East, as of . . . whenever the last of my family was executed or murdered or taken captive in the Wars,” I said, and between one blink and the next, tears were running down my face and I was sobbing.
After a few seconds that felt like eternities, Ri’s arms slowly came around me and he held me. He called me my ‘Lexei and sugar and darlin’ . . . all the pet names that’d so used to annoy me until they hadn’t, anymore.
And I . . . I just wept. For my mother and father, for my cousins and kin, for my long-lost but never forgotten Hightower.
But most of all, I wept for myself.