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Two Brothers

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Artoirel looked on as Haurchefant stood, eyes downcast.

Artoirel had been looking at a music box at a goldsmith's stall, showing it to Nurse while mother tried on a wristlet, and he'd heard the cheering of other children from the mammet show--which he was far too old for. Definitely. He was six. And a half.

Which is why he hadn't seen Haurchefant and Emmanellain head in that direction, until the familiar sound of Emmanellain's cries cut through the crowd, which had parted in front of Mother's long strides to reveal Haurchefant helping a sobbing, bloody-mouthed Emmanellain back to his unsteady feet.

"Look at me, child." Mother always called Haurchefant that, always said it that way. "Explain yourself."

"Ma'am, did you see the—did you see," Haurchefant looked up at her as commanded and said, in a rush so that his words struggled to keep pace with his thoughts, "there's a mammet show there, hear the music? There's a clockwork dragon and a, a, a knight, and then they fight--"

"Enough," Mother’s voice was icy cold, and Haurchefant's mouth closed, widened, got tight. "Take him back," she snapped at Firmien, who nodded once. His face was almost always quite serious, but it never got hard or angry like Mother's did.

Firmien held out a hand, and Haurchefant went to him, his grimace getting worse, and he started to cry.

Emmanellain had been slowly calming in Nurse's arms, his skinned palms being gently cleaned with her handkerchief, the bloody lip still fresh evidence of the tumble he'd taken.

He looked round as Haurchefant and Firmien walked away, and huffed in panicked indignation, round face going red with his distress. He shoved at Nurse's arms and screamed. "HAAAAAUSHFAAAUNT!!!!"

Artoirel winced.

Haurchefant looked over his shoulder, and tried to run back, coming up short as Firmien did not let go of his hand.

"No! He's calling me! NO! LET ME GO!!" Haurchefant's voice rose in volume nearly as high as Emmanellain's. He set his feet and would not follow. Firmien leaned down to speak to him but Haurchefant did not calm, so at last Firmien lifted him bodily, and Artoirel watched him struggle for a moment before clinging and burying his face in the manservant's collar, shoulders heaving.

Emmanellain howled.

Swallowing, his chest tight, Artoirel looked at the music box in his hands.

"Em, look here, look!" he said, lifting it. "Look, there's music here too." He lifted the lid. A sparkling lady turned on a little spring, and a twinkly, bright tune started to play.

Emmanellain hiccupped and stared, distracted from his fury, and Nurse knelt down so he could watch the twirling figure while she delicately cleaned his split lip.

"Well now," Mother turned back from watching Firmien carry Haurchefant away. "That's sorted." She stroked Emmanellain's hair gently, then Artoirel's, then touched a finger to the loose curl that always hung by her own face, black, like theirs and Father's. She smiled at them, carefully took Emmanellain’s hand. "Shall we go see the mammets, darling?"

*

Artoirel placed the music box on his dresser, next to the others. Maybe this was the better spot, in the middle. He had three now, and they were his most favourite things of all.

The shiny paper this one had been wrapped in was strewn on the floor, and Emmanellain was tearing it happily into smaller pieces. "Wanna music 'gain!" he demanded, and Artoirel rocked on his toes a little bit as he obliged, bringing it down. As he did, he frowned slightly. Maybe it should go on the right instead… "Music 'gaaaaain!" Emmanellain whined, and Artoirel came to sit by him, opening it up.

"Don't touch or I'll put it back," Artoirel warned him, then flicked at his hand when it inevitably reached for the dancing girl. Unfazed, Emmanellain smiled and nodded his head in time with the little tune's rhythm. He was already ignoring the scrapes on his palms and his cut lip from earlier, playing and eating like usual.

Artoirel wound the music box back up four times for him, and during the fourth they heard a low snore come from Nurse's chair. That was a familiar sound. She napped most afternoons, especially if she'd been carrying Emmanellain around a lot.

"She seeping," Emmanellain said in a noisy whisper.

Sometimes, Haurchefant would play in here with them, on days that Firmien wasn't taking him on errands. But today Mother was mad at him again. Artoirel knew that now he was shut up in his own room, the small one beside Firmien's at the end of the wing.

He was supposed to stay in there until tomorrow, and they weren't allowed to let him out, either. Artoirel had done that once, before Emmanellain could walk, bored by himself and not understanding the rule, and Mother's face when she'd come to the nursery and found the two of them had frightened him. He'd never done that again.

But Nurse was asleep, Mother was in the drawing room with some other grown-up visitors, Father was away at Dragonhead.

And Haurchefant was alone.

Artoirel stood up and put the new music box carefully back on his dresser. "Em, let's go," he said, holding out his hand. Emmanellain scrambled up and grabbed at him.

"Go see Haushfaunt!" he said. It wasn't the first time they'd gone during Nurse's nap to see him when he'd been punished.

"Hush!" Artoirel told him and carefully looked into the hall. No one was about, nor did anyone happen along as they went down the hall. Emmanellain was even properly quiet, until they got near the familiar door, and then he ran and grabbed at the handle.

It was locked, so it didn't open until Artoirel turned the latch.

Emmanellain rushed inside as soon as the gap was wide enough, squealing. Artoirel head the gasp, and "oof!" and then the happy "You came!!" even before he'd opened it for himself.

"You came!" Haurchefant said again, returning Emmanellain's hug, grabbing tight and swinging him around.

"We went to see the mammet show," Artoirel told Haurchefant, hanging back by the door at first. Haurchefant's face fell. "I can tell you the story," he added.

Haurchefant beamed at him and rushed to sit on his bed, helping Emmanellain climb after him.

There was a stool for the little desk by the wall, so Artoirel dragged it nearer and sat.

Emmanellain quickly rolled himself in the old grey blanket folded on top of the worn bedcover, then climbed onto Haurchefant's lap. The family crest embroidered on the corner peeked out among the folds.

Father had said this was a "standard-issue squire's field blanket" and he'd given each of them one to have.

All too soon there were footsteps in the hall.

Haurchefant froze and covered his mouth. Artoirel stared and waited. Emmanellain had fallen asleep across Haurchefant's legs.

The door opened--and Firmien peered in at them. Artoirel sighed with relief. "Young master," the manservant greeted mildly. "I shall return to inform you when it's time to go."

"He's telling me a story," Haurchefant told Firmien, wiggling just a little, not enough to wake Emmanellain. Firmien smiled a little bit, then gave Artoirel a nod, and left, closing the door quietly.

Haurchefant settled, held on to Emmanellain as best he could to stop him sliding off, and Artoirel carried on, trying to give the best account he could of the knight who'd gone on a great adventure.