The room was quiet as Callix entered. His father, Zacarias sat, leaning against one heavy arm of his chair. His hand covered his gray beard and he watched the floor like there was something serious being written in the stone. Callix’s brother, Tiernan stood, one shoulder against the wall, curly brown hair roughed from running his fingers through it. He held his hands in his pockets now, and watched the door. He straightened up when Callix arrived and looked to Zacarias.
“Is everyone home?” Zacarias asked without looking up.
Callix nodded slowly. “Eoin was the last.”
“And our supplies?”
Callix settled over his feet, crossing his arms. “We have food and water for six months. The armory is stocked. We’ve bought and stockpiled as many necessities as we could. The merchants have sent their agreement: they’ll keep bring us supplies after this as long as we can keep the roads clear.”
Zacarias met his eyes then, on an exhale, like it took effort to tear his attention from the floor. “And you’ve picked your man?”
Callix hesitated. Then he nodded. “He’s good. He’ll be able to deliver the letter and get back to us in one piece.”
“And let me guess…” Zacarias said. His mouth tilted into a smile. “He’s waiting in the stables as we speak.”
“Yes,” Callix said, voice low.
“Send him,” Tiernan said. Callix turned to him sharply. His brother shrugged. “It won’t do anything to wait.”
“Are we sure…” Callix began carefully.
Tiernan slammed his hand against the wall. “We made our decision!” he snapped. “How many more times are we going to sit on the same argument? Callix! You know we have to do this!”
Zacarias watched his second son for a long moment, then tossed a look at Callix. There wasn’t any more meaning to the glance than a careless shrug. Just a simple, you opened this sack of mud…
“We’re about to send a letter to the King, declaring ourselves a free city,” Callix said, making sure each syllable dropped with all the weight he intended. He looked Tiernan in the eye and refused to look away. “Everything we’ve done before this – all the laws we’ve ignored, the people we’ve given asylum, the orders we’ve flouted, all our infidelities – can be erased. They can be overlooked or forgiven if we’re smart, and we are. This–” He stopped, swallowed, took a breath. “No King could forgive this.”
“Good, because we won’t be asking for his forgiveness,” Tiernan returned. “Never again.”
“Think,” Callix commanded, sharp enough to freeze Tiernan where he stood. “Just think. Argue with me one more time and convince me that I should ask a man to risk his life just to deliver this message. Convince me to risk a whole city to keep to it.” When he stopped, the whole room creaked with silence.
Tiernan blinked. First he looked at Zacarias, then he looked at the floor. One heavy step after another, he crossed the room, heading for the door. He stopped just in front of Callix, looked down, then sideways at him.
“I wish you would stop pretending you hadn’t already decided, months ago, exactly what you would do,” Tiernan whispered. “You made your decision the first time you saw people stumbling through the city gates, begging for safety. I saw the look on your face, like you’d never seen something that wrong in your life, and it disgusted you. I grew up beside you, and you think I don’t know what that look means? You think I don’t know that you’d tear every star out of heaven to scorch the earth before you’d let it pass you without giving it a fight? We can’t keep taking in refugees and ignoring orders to hand them back. That’s not enough to keep them safe.”
Callix turned toward him, silent.
“Truth is,” Tiernan said. Pausing, he almost laughed and gave Callix a low smile. “I don’t have to convince you of anything. I can walk out this door and never doubt for a moment that you’re going to send your man. And then we’re going to fight, brother.”
Callix didn’t believe him until he took the next step forward, and the next and the next and passed right through the door. Callix turned to watch Tiernan go, stunned.
“Send it,” Zacarias said behind him. “Before one of your other brothers shows up to tell you who you are.”