Lynet was ashamed to admit that she woke up much closer to Beaumains than she had ever meant to get in her life, and even more ashamed to find that he had woken up first. She had thrown an arm over him in her sleep.
She pulled away from him, face uncomfortably hot. Wind howled softly high up in the trees around the clearing. The night air was cold against her skin, making the hair on her arms prickle, and only a few flames guttered in the campfire by now. Lynet wrapped her cloak around herself, not having the energy to try to build the fire back up.
“I’m sorry,” Beaumains said softly, getting up and walking a short distance away before sitting down again. He rubbed at his eyes. “I think I woke you up. I had a nightmare.”
Lynet nodded, only halfway taking the words in. “What about?” she asked. The question suddenly seemed much too personal for some reason.
Beaumains tilted his head as he looked at her, considering. “Did I ever tell you about my younger brother? The youngest of the lot,” he said, with a smile that almost looked bitter.
She looked to the side. Each new thing he revealed about his brothers was stranger than the last, and she suspected he took some pleasure in that fact, which annoyed her. “No,” she said finally. And I don’t want to hear about him, she wanted to say, but she was too tired to carry a confrontation through to the end, so what even was the point?
“I didn’t think I did, but I wouldn’t know. I never remember anything. I heard my uncle drowned him when the boy was a baby.” He stared at his hands, his eyebrows scrunched together.
“Your uncle did what?” Lynet said, her voice much too loud. She stared at him, wishing she could get up and leave to avoid what was going to be an emotional conversation, and aware that doing so would be crueler than even Lynet was willing to be.
A wild animal scratched around in the underbrush behind her, and Lynet couldn’t stop her shoulders from tensing up, something in the back of her mind screaming that someone had finally caught up to them to murder them. It was just a wild animal, and not a very big one, from the sound of it.
If she could do away with knights and chivalry and all those things that had put her into this position, she would in a heartbeat.
“Oh, my uncle killed my younger brother,” Beaumains said, horribly unfazed. She was really too tired to deal with this. “No one speaks of it, but it was certainly either my uncle or…well, the man who was something of a mentor to him. I never figured it out. It happened when I was very young, and I only ever heard people whisper of it after, and they stopped the whispers as well soon enough.” He shrugged, as though he were simply mildly disappointed about this.
“Well…” Lynet worked to find the right words. “I’m sorry?” she hedged.
“Don’t be. I barely remember the poor lad.” Beaumains poked at the dying fire with a stick in a failed attempt to revive it. The fire sputtered, but otherwise didn’t respond. He sighed, gave up, and threw the stick in.
Lynet screwed her face up as she stared at the embers. She tried to reconcile this new information with the other things he’d told her, and she found she couldn’t. “I thought you said your uncle was a good man!” she protested. “What on earth—”
“More than one thing can be true at once,” he said, looking up at her with those keen brown eyes of his. “He’s a good man to many, and a bad man to my dead brother. Assuming he even killed the boy.”
He reminded Lynet of her sister, with those nice words that fell apart as soon as you thought about them for more than a split second. Both of them said such horrible things, and Lynet didn’t think that either meant a word of what they said. At least, she hoped neither of them meant a word of what they said. It was all so unsettling.
Lynet wanted to grab him by the collar and shake him until he said something that made sense. “You can’t commit infanticide and still be a good person,” she said, slowly and forcefully.
Beaumains leaned back onto his elbows, staring up at the stars. “I suppose not,” he said. “But then, I don’t even know that he did it.”
“I would kill someone over my sister,” Lynet said, her fingernails digging into her palms until it hurt. “I wouldn’t be able to rest until I found out—”
“Well, you see, it’s a good thing you’re not me,” he said, with a lopsided grin. “Seems like more people will stay alive this way. I’d kill to not find out. Although I’d rather not kill at all,” he added in a bitter undertone.
Lynet thought of telling him that he wouldn’t have to kill anyone if he simply left saving her sister to a more capable man, but even she had to admit that it was the wrong time. “Why?” she asked. “Why would someone murder a child like that?” She couldn’t wrap her head around the mindless cruelty such an act would take, and she had spent the last year and a half attempting to wrap her head around various acts of mindless cruelty.
Beaumains hesitated for a while before answering. “I don’t know,” he said, with a grimace of a smile. “I never tried to find out.”
“I really don’t understand you.” Her voice came out flat. “I’m sorry for you, but I don’t understand you, and I hope I never will.”
Beaumains let out a laugh. “I hope you never do either,” he said soberly. “I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.” He shifted, rubbing at his forehead. “I never told anyone this story before for a reason,” he whispered, half to himself. “Please speak of this to no one. I don’t know at all if what I overheard was true, and sometimes I convince myself that I never heard it at all.”
Lynet lifted her chin. “I’m not stupid,” she told him. “I know when things should be kept secret. Stop worrying.”
He let out a laugh. “You aren’t half as bad as you pretend to be, you know,” he told her as he went to lie back down. “As foolish as it is, it is a relief to tell someone. So thank you.” He pulled the blanket over himself.
Her cheeks felt hot for some reason. “Shut up,” she snapped. “I despise you, and I want you to shut up.”
“If you wish,” he said, sounding like he was holding back laughter.
Lynet hesitated, before she decided that she was very cold. “Don’t you ever dare speak of this to anyone, either,” she said, as she lay down beside him, wrapping her arms around him for warmth.
“I wouldn’t dream of it, my lady,” he said sincerely, as he pulled a blanket around her.
They fell asleep that way, curled up into each other.