“Mother will be furious if she finds out.”
Despite the ominous wording she deliberately chose, Nicole was following the fair-haired boy ahead of her with a bounce to her every step. Her silk dress had been ditched back in her room, in favor of the simple leathers she was allowed to wear for training purposes, and her long blonde hair was wrapped into a messy bun. It was quite frankly the most fun she had in days, even if she had no idea what in the Maker’s name Phillip was doing. All she knew was that he stole her away from some tedious needlework lesson, and now they were hiking through the woods.
She nearly fell on her ass when he stopped short and a low hanging branch came swinging towards her head. Cursing, she managed to duck under it, allowing it to just snag part of her bun on its trek by. He laughed, glancing over his shoulder to her. His eyes, the same blue as hers, twinkled. “If you’re not careful, she’s going to be more furious that you marred your lovely little face.”
She stuck her tongue out at him before rolling her eyes with a smile. “Oh, hush. You have it ever so much easier than me, and you know it.”
“I’m not so sure of that, sister dear.” He grabbed her by the arm, dragging her along with him as he continued on his path. Within a few minutes, they were in a secluded little grove, perhaps 20 minutes from their father’s estate.
Nicole’s eyes widened, just a bit, as she took in the sight. It had been nearly 10 years since she had been here, since her and Phillip plotted to run away. They were both tired of the constant and tedious lessons, and they stole away in the night, with packs completely unsuited for traveling great distances. To children, a bag full of ill-gained sweets from the kitchen was the best idea of trail rations. Their paltry attempt to make a campsite had long since grown over with grass, but there was still a small ring of stones that they had placed for the campfire they never managed to start.
It was here that the guards found them the next day, sleeping after they couldn’t decide where they were going. She wanted to head to Highever or Denerim in Ferelden; Phillip wanted to go to Starkhaven and then on to Orzammar. The only place they ended up going was to their respective rooms for a bath before getting quite the scolding from their parents.
“So, was this the big surprise, my darling brother?” She gestured to the grove. It was so much larger in her memory, and now, it seemed like a tiny little cove amidst the trees that no longer towered so high into the sky. “Were you nostalgic for what might have been?”
He leaned against a tree, holding his hands in front of him, as Nicole found a soft spot to sit on the ground. “Perhaps. Haven’t you ever wondered?”
“Oh, yes, all the time.” She leaned back against the ground, her hands sinking into the earth. It was soft, moist, slipping between her fingers. She grinned at her brother who looked far too serious as he watched her. “If you had but listened to me, we could have been living it up in Highever.”
He managed another smile, one that never quite found his eyes. “I somehow doubt we’d have been able to afford passage. Still, things could have been quite different.”
“Did you drag me all the way out here to be morose, Phillip?” It wasn’t like him to be so quiet, or serious. He was supposed to be her conspirator-in-arms to cause trouble in the house. One couldn’t be serious when placing small creatures into the eldest sister’s room unaware. “You’re almost making me wish I had stayed for that lesson.”
“Nicole…” Phillip left his perch against the tree, moving until he sat next to Nicole, one hand placed over hers. “I spoke with Father. About joining the Order.”
Her heart fell into her stomach, tears already burning at her eyes. They were both nearly adults, but this was just ridiculous. She sat up, pulling her hand away from his. “Well, I certainly hope Father saw the folly in that idea and told you no.”
“Actually, he agreed.” His jaw twitched, and for the first time, she noticed the faint stubble that covered it. It seemed so unnatural on his otherwise youthful face. They weren’t that old yet. She wasn’t going to be fourteen for another few months, and Phillip had barely turned fifteen.
“Mother will never allow it.” Nicole practically spat the words at Phillip as she got to her feet, brushing her hands on her leather breeches. For once, she knew that their common enemy most days would be her ally in this. Mother would be furious and forbid this foolishness. Everyone knew that Lady Trevelyan always got her way in the end. She’d never allow her only son to be taken away from the house so soon.
Phillip sighed and looked up at her, shaking his head. “Mother doesn’t get a say in the matter. Father already reached out to the Knight-Captain from the nearby Circle. The arrangements are all but done. I leave in the morning.”
“You can’t.” Her lower lip trembled. She didn’t care how much her mother would scold her for whining.
This wasn’t fair.
If he left, there would be no one else for her to talk to, or do anything with. It would all be over. It just couldn’t be over yet. “No, Phillip, you can’t. There’s got to be something here for you, yes?”
“Like what?” He raked a hand through his hair. “Aldric is Father’s heir. And there’s not much for the second born son to do around the estate.”
He sounded so tired, bitter. She bit her bottom lip, looking down at the practically spotless pair of leather boots on her feet. Her voice sounded so meek, like a little girl’s when she finally found the ability to speak. “So? I’m still here. You’d have me.”
She wanted to run away, by herself, so no one could find her. Instead she found herself picked up in a bear hug, as Phillip lifted her from the ground and held her tight. After a minute, he deposited her on the ground and looked her in the eyes. “Nicole, you’re my baby sister. And I love you dearly, but I can’t stay here forever. I need to do this. And besides, Deidre is still here yet.”
“Deidre hates me.” It was true. Deidre barely spoke to her, and she always looked disgusted by Nicole’s presence. Sure, the pranks didn’t help, but even when Nicole was good and nice, Deidre treated her with scorn.
“Nonsense.” Phillip ruffled her hair, a small smile on his lips. “I know it seems that way, but that’s only because Mother makes life difficult on Deidre as much as she does on you.”
“Yes, but at least Deidre can tell her off. It’s not really her mother after all.” Nicole looked back down to her feet, biting her lip again. She couldn’t believe Phillip was going to be leaving in the morning. And to go work with mages of all things. She heard horror stories about what the mages were like. What if they did something to hurt him? She looked back up at him. Maybe she could still talk him out of this notion. “We could still run away, you know? We could be halfway to Kirkwall before anyone noticed we were really gone.”
His voice cracked as his face fell. “Nicole, I… I can’t. I’ve given my word, and I have to do this.” She felt the tears start to roll down her cheeks, and she stubbornly wiped at them with the back of her hand. “But this doesn’t have to be goodbye. We can still write to one another. As often as we can.”
“Promise me, Phillip. Promise me that you’ll always find a way to write to me?”