“Everything will be fine, Pera!”
Pera looked at his brother skeptically, who was currently standing on the railing of their family’s grain barge. Pera had just expressed his distrust of the old barge, to which his brother decided to make a show of just how trustworthy the “old girl” was.
“See? Sturdy as an oak, this ship! She’s been sailing longer than we’ve been alive, you should trust her a little more!”
“Daryl, that doesn’t make me feel better.”
“Oh really? Then watch this!”
Daryl let out a boisterous laugh as he did a cartwheel along the railing. Pera tried not to smile at his brother’s antics and focused once again on the water ahead.
“Get down from there, Ma would kill me if I lost you in the river!”
More laughter, louder this time. Pera rolled his eyes and chuckled. If anything, his worry about Daryl was now more pressing than his worry about the ship, so his brother was at least somewhat successful in reassuring him.
Pera heard footsteps come up behind him, and a familiar hand tousled his hair.
“Such a worrywart, you are!”
“Well someone has to be! Between you, Irene, and Phoenix, I have to worry enough for all four of us.”
Daryl chuckled, and leaned up against the wheel that Pera was currently manning.
“I resent that! Phoenix and I, maybe, but little Irene?”
“Yes, Irene. Remind me, who was the one who orchestrated the “chicken rebellion” in Barrett Farm?”
Daryl laughed fondly at the memory. “If I remember correctly, that was all mine and Phoenix's doing!”
“That’s exactly what Irene wanted you to think.”
“... You make a fair point, brother. But hm… Why did we start that uprising in the first place? Let’s see, let’s see…” Daryl tapped his chin in mock contemplation, though they both knew what was coming.
“Oh yes! I remember!”
“If I remember correctly, and I think I do, a certain young boy was absolutely inconsolable when he saw the “cute chickens next door” get killed for dinner! So what were us loving siblings supposed to do in the face of such injustice?”
Pera flushed in embarrassment. “Hey, don’t pin this on me! You guys just wanted to mess with Mr. Barrett because he kept calling Phoenix a “handsome young man”.”
“Perhaps that was also a factor. And you know what? The old shit had it coming.”
Pera didn’t have to see his brother’s face to know it had darkened. Daryl had always been protective of his younger siblings, especially after Phoenix told them that they weren’t a boy or a girl. Daryl would always get mad when they were misgendered, and Pera always shared in the sentiment.
“Well… At least Barrett doesn’t call Phoenix ‘little man’ anymore. Now they’re a ‘little shit’.”
Daryl laughed, and Pera relaxed a little.
The two watched the water rush by them, and stood in companionable silence. The sun crested over the hills, turning the water a beautiful shade of orange.
After a minute or two of watching the river, Daryl broke the silence.
Pera rolled his eyes at the nickname, but kept from speaking out. He knew this tone of voice, and it meant Daryl was thinking too hard about something.
“Yes?” Pera asked, not letting any annoyance show. Whatever this was, Pera would be supportive.
“Have you ever thought about leaving the farm?”
Ah, so that’s what this was about. Pera mulled over his answer quietly, taking the time to make sure he said this correctly. Daryl was almost as sensitive as he was, sometimes, and Pera knew his opinion mattered to his older brother.
“Well… We’ve all thought about it. I haven’t made any decisions yet, but I like the idea of staying home. I’d also understand if… Well, if someone else didn’t want to stay forever.”
Daryl beamed at him, and Pera couldn’t help but smile back. His brother really was an open book.
“You’d understand, right? And the others would too? I don’t know, Pera, there’s just so much beyond Hogsfeet, beyond- Beyond Wessle! I bet there’s all sorts of amazing sights, amazing people… I’d sure like to see it all, someday.”
Pera felt happy for his brother, he really did. He wanted him to see everything their world had to offer. But there would always be a part of Pera that would worry for his brother. A rather large part, in fact. Despite this, Pera knew deep down that Daryl was destined for greatness. If he was being honest, Irene and Phoenix were, too. With Irene’s brains, and Pheonix’s spirit, they’d take the world by storm. And Pera... Pera would be happy to take care of the farm and their parents, ready to mend any wounds when they eventually returned, and make sure his siblings always had a place to come home to.
“Well, you just make sure to write us letters while you’re out on your grand adventures.”
Daryl laughed at this, patting Pera on the back.
“You know I will, little brother.”
Silence overtook the pair again as they gazed upon the water ahead. Pera zoned out, as he was notorious for doing, and thought about their family's future as he watched the sunset.
Pera’s trance was broken not by sound, but silence. Daryl was never this quiet. Pera looked up at his brother worriedly, and didn't like what he saw. Daryl’s jaw was clenched, his hand tightened around the sword at his side, and looking towards the rear of the barge. Pera often forgot how tall and strong his brother was, due to his goofy and rather docile nature. But when he straightened up and took a defensive stance… Daryl was intimidating. Pera didn’t like it when he looked like that.
“Daryl…?” Pera asked, quietly, slowly looking behind him.
Behind them was a small boat, quickly approaching their barge, but that was hardly suspicious. Boats sailed this river all the time. It took Pera a few seconds to see that a hook was attaching to their railing. It looked like someone might be trying to board.
“Daryl?” Pera repeated, panic working its way up his throat.
Daryl looked down at him, and let the dangerous air about him subside. With a quick lopsided smile and a wink, his brother was back to the gentle giant that Pera knew and loved.
“Just some bandits, probably! Ma’ll be pissed that we lost some grain, but it’ll be okay. Just stay calm, and if I tell you to run, run. Do what I tell you, I mean it.”
Pera was about to interject, say they should jump off the barge while they had the chance, tell Daryl to be careful. But Daryl cut him off before he could speak.
“Stay right there.”
Again, Pera had the chance to speak. And again, he was cut off before he could find the words. Seeing his apprehension, Daryl grinned at him.
“Everything will be fine, Pera!”
Then, Daryl walked towards the railing, sword sheathed.
Pera would later imagine a million things he could have said before Daryl walked towards that railing. He would think of a million different things he could have done.
But Pera didn’t. He watched as Daryl approached the railing with cheer, welcoming the bandits with open arms.
“Come aboard, and take as much grain as you want! We know times are tough these days, and us poor folk have to stick together! We have a surplus this season, so there’s no need for anyone to get-”
And then, Daryl froze. Pera didn’t understand why it looked like Daryl was choking- There was no one there- And then suddenly, there were people there, all around the barge, surrounding them, how did they get there?
But Pera would worry about them later, right now he needed to help Daryl, needed to get to his brother.
Pera watched as Daryl gained control of his sword, swung it at his attacker, but to no avail. As Pera began moving to try to help-
A sword was running Daryl through, the sword twisted, was wrenched out of Daryl’s torso, Daryl’s blood- blood spilling onto the deck. The fight was over in an instant, as quick as it had begun.
In that instant, time slowed. Seconds stretched to what seemed like hours. Life started to drain from Daryl’s bloodshot eyes. Daryl focused on Pera. His brother was trying to speak, but he couldn’t breathe, could only mouth one word before collapsing onto the deck of their family’s barge. His last word, unable to leave his lips, directed at Pera as Pera watched him die, unable to do anything.
He moved forward. If he could just get to Daryl- If he could just do anything-
A man stood between him and his brother, an older man dressed in gold, with long white hair. Holding a bloody sword.
Pera couldn’t see the man behind him, couldn’t see anything other than that man.
Sharp pain burst through Pera’s temple.
Pera could feel himself screaming.
The world went black.
When Pera woke up, everything was dark. He was lying on cold stone, and it smelled vaguely of blood, rum, and.... sugar? His head was swimming, and his wrists hurt like crazy. He slowly rose to his feet, using the table in front of him to brace himself. He blinked as his eyes got used to the darkness. Were they in Grainhill already? Maybe Daryl had carried him from the barge-
Pera cried out as memories rushed back to him in a flash. Water- Blood- A sword- Daryl.
Rushing forwards from the table, Pera searched the room for his brother. They brought him here alive, surely they would bring Daryl here too? Maybe he was on the bed- Under the table- In the corner-
He must be here, somewhere. He’d be here, and come up with a plan, and they’d go home together- Back to their family, and their stupid old barge. Daryl would smile the way he always did, and tease Pera for being so worried as he tousled his hair. He had to be here. He had to.
Daryl wouldn’t leave him here alone.
Pera tried to open the door, of course it was locked, and he slammed his fists on the door over and over, screaming his brother’s name. He pounded on the door until his fists were bruised and bloody, screamed until his voice was hoarse.
Then he heard footsteps.
Pera felt a spark of hope. Was that him? Did Daryl hear him? Was he coming to save him?
The door was thrust open, and light flooded into the room.
Pera looked up- and instead of his brother was a large man, almost two feet larger than the teenager. Pera summoned all of his courage and stood off against the stranger, trying to hide his shaking.
“Where’s my brother?”
The man seemed unphased by the smaller boy, and crossed his arms.
“Your brother’s dead kid. And you will be too if you don’t shut the fuck up.”
Pera saw red. Rage boiled through his veins as he charged at the stranger, he had to be lying, he had to be- Pera was knocked backwards by a punch to the side of his face, then thrown back to the other side of the room where he crumpled in a heap.
He heard laughter from the door as it slammed shut, the room falling into blackness once more.
Curled into himself, the small boy wept. He wept for hours, as wracking sobs turned to silent shaking. He wept for his brother, for his family, for the pain, fueled by the rage that boiled beneath his skin, coursing through his veins. Everything was hot, and burning, and it hurt so much. He was so angry he could hardly bear it.
His family didn’t know Daryl was dead. His family didn’t know Pera was alive. He wasn’t sure which one was worse, and he desperately wished it had been Daryl to survive instead of him. Daryl would know what to do, how to escape, how to smile through this unbearable pain. All Pera could do was collapse onto a dirty floor and sob until he ran out of tears. The worst part, however, was a voice that rang in his ears, constantly taunting him, no matter how hard he tried to block it out.
“Everything will be fine, Pera!”