Rhys sat by the window in his room and stared out into the courtyard, watching his men and the warband that had been led by his brother training and fighting together.
He was troubled. He wouldn’t admit that out loud to anyone else, but his actions were troubling him. When he tried to rest and close his eyes, all he saw was his little brother’s face. Rhodry, who curried favour with their mother and who warriors followed as easily as breathing. Rhys had spent so long needling and picking at the younger man…and now that he’d succeeded in exiling Rhodry, in casting him out as a silver dagger, he was filled with regret. And not only because of the way his mother had reacted.
Rhys had never been what one could call close to Rhodry. He couldn’t really understand why himself. It was a question he’d often asked, but never received a satisfactory answer. Every time he’d planned to try and foster a good relationship with Rhodry, his good intentions fled and he found himself picking fault with his younger brother. Then Rhodry would respond and it would become an argument. And up until now, that was how their relationship had carried on.
But now, everything had come to a head. And really, while Rhys still believed Rhodry needed to learn a lesson about respect and how to treat his older brother…he’d never truly expected to be put in the position of having to banish his little brother.
But what could he do now? Their mother wanted Rhys to recall him. To bring Rhodry back. As if that would fix everything. He knew that recalling his brother was what they all wanted. At the same time, he also knew it wouldn’t solve anything. The two of them would keep arguing and fighting with each other unless something changed between them.
And anything that changed needed to be their own decision; not forced by anyone else, whether his mother or Nevyn. Even if the old man was a master of dweomer.
If he thought about what the people around him wanted, his decision was obvious. Recall Rhodry. Make his little brother pay him some kind of restitution as a repayment of the banishment being lifted. And then they would continue to resent each other and even hate each other.
Did Rhys hate his brother? This was perhaps the first time he’d allowed himself to really sit down and think about that. The first time he was asking himself that question, rather than reacting badly to his mother asking the same question.
The response seemed to come from somewhere deep inside him, where he rarely looked. When he uncovered all of the layers deep inside, what lay underneath wasn’t hate. He held a deep sense of resentment towards his little brother…and now that he was stopping and thinking deeply enough, he was starting to see that even that was primarily on him, rather than his brother.
He'd made a mistake.
That thought was enough to make him flinch. He shied away from the thought, running from it like he was a child. As soon as he realised he was doing that, he forced himself to accept the thought. To face up to what he’d done. To consider that he’d spent the entirety of his little brother’s life resenting Rhodry for the fact that that he felt their mother preferred him and had chosen to support him.
Rhys knew that the blame didn’t lie entirely with himself, but he could also see where the fault lay with himself. And as he sat there, considering his actions and his past relationship with Rhodry, he settled on one question that seemed to come from deep within the recesses of his mind.
Do you want to leave things broken between you two?
And the answer was…no. He didn’t. He didn’t want a bad relationship with his little brother any longer. He could send guards to recall Rhodry, but his little brother would likely assume there was a nefarious purpose to seeing the men.
There was only one option left to him if he wanted to bring his little brother back: to go and retrieve Rhodry himself.
Now that that decision had been made, it was easy. Rhys stood up and walked towards the door of his room. Taking a deep breath, he pulled the door open.
Nevyn was standing just outside.
Rhys quickly recovered, eyeing the old man before giving a heavy sigh. “Did my mother send me to you?”
“No. Something told me you could use the advice of an old herbman.”
Rhys shook his head, unable to hold back the note of humour in his voice as he said, “Don’t play games with me. Even without everyone speaking out for dweomer, you’ve been visiting with my mother enough for me to see there’s more to you than just being a mere herbman.”
Nevyn nodded. “Even so, I think I can offer you some advice.”
“Is the advice that I should reach out to my little brother?” Rhys’ mouth twisted into a humourless smile as he continued, “Because I’ve come to that conclusion already myself.”
“Then you’ll need help to find him.”
Rhys looked at the older man for several long moments before he finally nodded. Nevyn’s voice was calm and held no hint of blame or censure. “Do you need anything from me to track him?” he asked, keeping his tone light and faintly curious; not allowing a hint of his worry about just what Nevyn planned to do to come through. He didn’t know enough about dweomer to know if the older man would need blood or hair from him to find his brother.
Nevyn’s smile was amused and a little too knowing for Rhys’ tastes, but he didn’t make any comments. Instead, he merely said, “I don’t need anything from you. I already know where your brother is. But he might not be staying there past tomorrow’s dawn and it’s some distance away to ride.”
“Then we should leave now,” Rhys stated.
The sun had set long before Rhys and Nevyn reached the tavern where the older man claimed Rhodry was sheltering with Jill.
As he dismounted from his horse, Rhys allowed a stableboy to take the reins and gave the lad a few small coppers before he looked at the tavern itself.
It was small and homely and he could glimpse some patrons inside, nursing tankards of ale and eating bowls of some kind of stew. Compared to the fare Rhys had in his own home, it was very simple and basic. However, the sight of the food made him realise he hadn’t eaten since breaking his fast in the morning. His stomach seemed to realise the same thing, as it made a low grumbling noise.
“This might not be the sort of food you’re used to, but if you’re hungry, maybe we could have some stew and ale before you speak to Rhodry,” Nevyn suggested.
It was tempting. It would put off the conversation he needed to have with his brother, though. And the more he put it off, the harder it would be to take that first step. If he even hesitated, he would leave. Lose his nerve. And that would be the final step in ruining everything between him and his brother for good. Something told him that, if he gave up on this chance, he would never get another chance to make things right. “I’ll get something to eat after I make things right with my brother.”
Nevyn nodded and led the way into the tavern. Leaving Rhys just inside the doorway, he stepped over to the owner and began to talk to him.
No coins obviously changed hands, but within moments, Nevyn was walking back over to Rhys. “They’re still here. The owner let them rent a room at the top of the tavern. Follow me.” Without waiting for a response, he began walking up the stairs.
Rhys followed a bit more slowly, watching as Nevyn moved with the same kind of energy as a man half his age. Was it the dweomer that gave him so much energy? He didn’t ask, instead feeling himself grow tense and apprehensive as they reached the room his brother was renting.
Before Rhys could suggest they wait a bit, or come up with some other reason to avoid his brother, Nevyn was knocking on the door.
A split second later, the door was opened by Jill. She smiled brightly at Nevyn and then her eyes went past him and focused on Rhys. They widened and she took a step back, plucking her dagger from her belt and holding it trained on him. “Wasn’t banishing him enough? Now you’re here to do even worse to him?!”
“Jill….” Rhodry came up to stand beside his lover, eyes darting from Nevyn to Rhys and back again. “Nevyn wouldn’t have brought him if there was any danger.”
Some of the tension seeped from Rhys’ body and he nodded to his brother. “I would like to talk to you. If you are agreeable.”
“And perhaps, while Rhodry is talking to his brother, we might be able to talk,” Nevyn said to Jill, a hopeful note in his voice.
Jill glanced at Rhodry, who nodded to her. “Go on,” he murmured. “If I need you, I’ll call loud enough that you’ll be certain to hear me.” His grin was reassuring, for all it carried a hint of wildness.
Nevyn offered his arm to Jill, who took it and the two of them walked past Rhys and down the steps, to the main room of the tavern.
“May I come in?” Rhys focused his gaze on Rhodry.
Rhodry looked searchingly into his eyes; studied his face and his body language before he finally nodded and stepped back from the door.
Rhys stepped into the room, letting the door close behind him. He took a deep breath and said the words. “I’m sorry. I want you to come back home.” He made eye contact with Rhodry, making sure his little brother could see his sincerity.
Rhodry’s mouth opened and then closed again. After a brief moment, he spoke warily. “What are you apologising for?”
“Everything. Every wrong I’ve ever done you,” Rhys said honestly. “After I banished you, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the past and our relationship. I made a lot of mistakes when it came to dealing with you. There isn’t any way to change the past, but if you accept my apology, I would like to move forward with you. Have a true relationship as brothers.”
Rhodry glanced down, looking at his own feet. After a brief hesitation, he spoke. “And what if I come back and I do something else you don’t like? Are things going to go back to the way they were? I’ll end up banished again? You can’t just change your mind about me, Rhys.”
Rhys took a step forward, closer to his little brother. “This isn’t a spur of the moment decision, Rhodry. I’ve made several mistakes in how I dealt with you before. I’m not going to make those same mistakes again.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” Rhodry said quietly. “What are you going to do if I do something else you don’t like? I’m not going to force myself to conform to your orders if the threat of banishment or even execution is going to hang over my head.”
“You won’t receive any punishment for disagreeing or doing something I don’t like unless it’s dangerous or outright disrespectful,” Rhys answered. “And if punishment is necessary, then it’ll be a spanking. Delivered in private. Across my knee.”
Rhodry’s eyes widened and then narrowed. “That’s it? You’d punish me as family? No more picking fights with me in public? No matter what I did?”
“No matter what,” Rhys confirmed. “I’m here because I’m serious about making our relationship right, Rhodry. I want us to be brothers.”
A thoughtful look came over Rhodry’s face. Finally, he nodded, as if coming to some kind of decision. “Show me.”
“Show you what?” Rhys frowned.
“Show me what you’ll do next time,” Rhodry answered. “I need to know you’re serious. Pretty words are all very well and good, but until I know exactly what to expect, I’ll always be wondering if coming home with you was the right decision. And it’ll prove that you’re willing to touch me,” he added, in a much lower voice.
Rhys considered the choice in front of him. If he said no, Rhodry might still choose to come back with him, but there was every possibility his little brother would act out until Rhys had no choice but to punish him. It made sense that Rhodry felt the need to know exactly what he had to expect; that he needed to have it proved to him that Rhys was serious about all of this.
Reaching out, Rhys took hold of his brother’s unresisting arm. He led the younger man towards the bed. The blankets were threadbare and patched, but seemed clean enough. He sat down and gently guided Rhodry across his lap, shuffling back enough to make sure his brother’s body was entirely supported.
When Rhys tugged Rhodry’s leggings down, he felt his brother tense up, but no protest was voiced. He rubbed low down on the younger man’s back for a moment or two, then moved his hand a bit lower down and brought it down in a firm slap that echoed through the room.
A slight pink handprint showed up on Rhodry’s cheek and he sucked in his breath sharply, releasing it when Rhys delivered a matching smack just below the first.
Rhys didn’t waste any time in covering his brother’s bottom with the firm smacks, covering every inch down to Rhodry’s thighs and then starting over from the top again. His brother began to squirm, letting out tiny whines and groans when Rhys’ hand landed on a spot that was particularly sensitive.
For the next couple of minutes, those were the only sounds in the room: Rhys swatting the bare bottom over his lap and Rhodry’s groans and whines in response.
Rhys began to swat a bit harder and a bit faster. As his brother began to writhe and squirm in response to the increased force, he began to speak. “I know you need me to prove that things will be different from now on, Rhodry. I failed you before. I promise I won’t from now on.”
Rhodry’s breath hitched as he said, “You always treated me badly compared to everyone else.”
Rhys winced at the words. He wrapped an arm around Rhodry’s waist, pulling the younger man closer and tighter against his chest. “I won’t anymore,” he promised. “I didn’t send anyone to retrieve you because I knew you needed to hear the truth from me. I want to bring you home with me. You and Jill, if she wants to come as well.”
“You want me?” Rhodry’s voice was very small and sounded very young.
“I want you,” Rhys responded. “I want you home with me, little brother.”
As if those words were what Rhodry had been waiting for, he slumped over Rhys’ lap and began audibly crying.
Carefully, Rhys replaced his brother’s britches and then helped Rhodry up and into a tight embrace, wrapping his arms around the younger man in a tight embrace; perhaps for the first time in his life.
Rhodry shuddered, took a deep breath and wrapped his arms around Rhys in an embrace that was just as strong.
They would return home soon, but for now, Rhys was content to hold onto his brother and hope that the affection could heal the wounds he’d left in Rhodry’s soul.