Chapter 7. Brothers
The past is a foreign country: they do things different there.
--L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between
Storm thought at first that Keesha might curl up and go back to sleep while he told his story. The enormous telshee closed his eyes and hummed and didn’t seem to be paying attention, but Storm could tell by his breathing that he was awake. When Storm got to the part about Ariand’s chase, Keesha gave a little snort that might have been a laugh. For the first time, he interrupted.
“You told them your name was Vearil?”
“Yes,” said Storm with a smile. “I didn’t understand until later why it upset them. I guess they used to call Arcove lucky.”
Keesha grunted. “He won the war at the full of the hunter’s moon. Nearil. That’s why.”
“I didn’t know,” said Storm. “I guess I got pretty luck that time. Shaw saved me from Ariand, although I didn’t know to thank her.”
Keesha glanced at Shaw with a frown.
“He trapped himself in one of our tunnels,” said Shaw. “I heard about it. The least I could do was come and let him out.”
“The very least,” agreed Storm dryly. “I thought you were trying to kill me.”
Keesha opened his mouth, but Shaw spoke again. “I did speak to you about him, but you don’t listen lately, Keesha. Storm, keep talking.”
So, he did. He told them about Treace and Sharmel and Halvery. Keesha had his eyes open now. He laughed aloud when Storm got to the part about Halvery and the river. “I heard that Coden shortened Halvery’s tail for him the last time they fought,” said Keesha. “I do hope it’s a source of discomfort.”
When Storm got to the part about Roup and their strange conversation, Keesha grew very still. Storm could tell that he had the telshee’s full attention. “Roup is a very odd cat,” said Storm. “I don’t think he really wanted to kill me.”
“I’m sure he didn’t,” said Keesha. “But he’s ultimately Arcove’s creature, so don’t trust his mercy too far.”
Storm looked at Keesha curiously. “Why is Roup so different from the others? Do you know?”
Shaw snorted. “Oh, we know.” She glanced at Keesha. “Are you going to tell him?”
Keesha looked between them. Storm realized suddenly that Keesha had stopped humming. His eyes looked bright, alert…and angry. Keesha turned to Shaw, a low growl in this throat. “Do you think I don’t see what you’re doing?”
“I am seeking your council for a ferryshaft who badly needs it,” said Shaw calmly. “Storm’s enemies are our enemies.”
“You are trying to make me wake!” snarled Keesha, and his voice reverberated off the water of the Dreaming Sea. He rose up, bristling. “You could tell him all of this yourself! Tell him our histories back to the dawn of days! Tell him every secret you know and go start a war! Just leave me out of it!”
“It was your war!” shouted Shaw, matching his eight, long neck swaying. “This is your story, Syra-lay, not mine!”
Keesha dropped down a little. There was something sharp and brittle about his eyes. Pain, thought Storm. Grief.
“They were your friends,” said Shaw more quietly. Her voice grew pleading. “And you were my friend, and I miss you, Keesha.”
Keesha looked away. His main settled. There was a moment of silence, during which he seemed to compose himself. Finally, he raised his head and looked at Storm. “Roup was raised by ferryshaft.”
Storm blinked. “How—?”
“I will tell you the story as Coden told it to me,” said Keesha. “At that time, there were several herds, both north and south of Leeshwood. Ferryshaft controlled the creasia by killing cubs every spring. Adult creasia are difficult to deal with, as you well know. They killed ferryshaft at every opportunity, but they were neither numerous, nor organized, so the ferryshaft kept them in check. Creasia do not read or write. They do not often parlay with other species or form alliances. From a telshee’s point of view, they have barely learned to talk.
“Apparently, during one of these spring raids, a ferryshaft elder got the bright idea of learning more about the creasia by studying one of their cubs. So he spared one and brought it back. He chose the cub at random because it had an interesting color of fur.”
“Roup,” said Storm softly.
Keesha inclined his head. “One of the males had a mate who had recently foaled, and she was persuaded to nurse the cub along with her own foal…who also happened to have an unusual coat color.”
Storm’s mouth fell open. “Coden?”
“So…Roup and Coden were…?”
“Coden considered him a brother,” said Keesha. “They used to meet, even after the war, just to visit.”
Storm licked his lips. “Then how did…? Doesn’t that make Roup a…?”
“A traitor? Well, I suppose he had to decide who to betray. No easy choices there, and Roup wasn’t exactly well-treated by the ferryshaft. They wanted to see how he developed as compared to a ferryshaft foal. They didn’t really know much about creasia, and they were curious. They did all kinds of things to him. Making him run all day to see how long he’d last, throwing him off ledges to see if he’d survive the fall, forcing him to swim for great distances. Feeding him strange things.
“Coden was afraid they’d kill Roup eventually, and when they were both three years old, he helped Roup run away. They parted at the edge of the wood and promised to meet at the same spot in one year.
“Coden didn’t really think Roup would survive. Cats were known to kill cubs who were not their own, and Roup smelled and spoke like a ferryshaft. But they both thought it was the only chance Roup had. Coden was delighted when his ‘brother’ met him again a year later at the appointed spot. Roup had a black cub with him—a year younger. That was Arcove.”
Keesha’s voice took on a peculiar timbre when he said Arcove’s name. It made Storm bristle uncomfortably. He shook himself and tried to concentrate on the story. “That’s amazing! They knew each other? The three of them?”
“Oh, yes. That’s probably the best-kept secret in Leeshwood. Roup and Coden met secretly for years. Arcove joined them a few times, but I don’t think he and Coden ever got along.” Keesha thought for a moment. “I’ll give Arcove this much: he never used Coden’s friendship with Roup as a weapon. There were never any ambushes when Coden came to visit, and Arcove kept Roup’s secret from the other creasia, who would surely have killed him for it.
“Coden tried to keep Roup out of his dealings with Arcove as well. He made me promise once that I wouldn’t harm his ‘brother’ to get at Arcove. I’ve kept that promise so far…although there are times when I wonder whether Coden might still be alive if I hadn’t…or how much one is bound by promises made to the dead.”
Storm watched Keesha’s dark expression. “You really hate Arcove, don’t you?”
“I have good reasons,” murmured Keesha. “We have a blood debt, he and I. Someday, he will pay it.”
“Because he killed Coden?”
“Not just Coden,” said Keesha. “Let me tell you about the battle of Chelby Lake.”
This is a major reveal, and I’ve opted to give you the whole thing. In the original, Keesha tells Storm that Roup was raised by ferryshaft, but Keesha doesn’t know that Roup and Coden were “brothers.” Roup has kept that secret from everyone, including Arcove. It’s a big reveal near the end of the book.
In this version, because of the way I’ve rearranged things (particularly Storm’s finding the Shable earlier in the story), it didn’t make sense to hold back that detail. It also didn’t make sense to me that Roup wouldn’t have told Arcove…or that Coden wouldn’t have told Keesha.
In the original, the ferryshaft aren’t killing cubs specifically. They’re just killing creasia. One of them takes pity on a cub and brings it back. As Roup gets older, the ferryshaft herd becomes afraid of him, they start threatening to kill him, and that’s when Coden helps him get away. My revision introduces a lot more complexity to the situation. It also makes Roup’s conflicted attitude towards ferryshaft seem more reasonable. Yes, he was fond of some of them, but he was also pretty abused by some of them.
I also liked the irony of Coden and Arcove meeting under friendly circumstances as kids and Roup getting caught in the middle. It makes the rest a lot more poignant.