Flash Fiction: Succession (598 words)

Kashel understood exactly two things about the blanket-wrapped bundle of baby that his aunt carried into his house.

First, that that baby glowed brighter than the clear afternoon sunlight to her.

His aunt was bright enough herself, all blonde hair that glowed like kindling in the light, ready to catch fire at a passing breeze. Her green eyes were sharp, quick to shift to Kashel when he thought he was sneaking. Her mouth was always bent, ready to snap into a smile. The last time she’d come to visit, she’d been able to outrun him and lift him almost off his feet with one hand. It was hard to keep his eyes off her when she was in the room, just because she was exciting, just because she glowed.

But she walked in, cradling that thick, awkward bundle and couldn’t take her eyes off the slack weight inside it. She smiled, and made every smile she’d worn before look like a flat painter’s imitation. If for no other reason, he was not allowed to count that baby as a bad thing.

Second, that – somehow – those tiny arms that managed to smack that tiny face as if they didn’t realize they belonged to the same body, had managed to elbow him down another slot in the succession. His father had stopped talking to him as if he might actually command a fleet one day, had stopped talking as if he would live somewhere else, and own more than this one house and yard.

Worse, his father had stopped telling Kashel’s little brother that he might be lord of their solid stone house when he was older. And that tasted sour under his tongue.

Kashel stepped closer once his aunt had taken a seat and settled the baby against the crook of her elbow. Around the blankets, he could see a pink face with a small mouth that yawned wide and thin eyelids that squeezed shut. He looked, in that way that babies did, as if he was trying to roar, but hadn’t yet found his lungs and so made no noise. Kashel snickered a little.

“What’s his name?” Kashel asked.

“Terius,” his aunt said. She said both syllables slowly, as if she’d been waiting a long time to say them, as if she would take any excuse to repeat them. She looked up at Kashel and her smile stretched even wider. “But he won’t know it for a long time, so sometimes, I just call him whatever comes to mind.” She adjusted the blankets around his face. “Bear. Pup. Potato.”

“Lyneth,” Kashel’s mother said from her other side. She was shaking her head, almost rolling her eyes. “Don’t give him ideas. My boys will be calling him that for the rest of his life, if you’re not careful.”

His aunt only laughed.

Kashel’s uncle was watching him. Kashel could feel it, tickling between his shoulder blades, and he looked up, half-curious, half-annoyed.

His uncle looked back as if that didn’t surprise him.

“They’ll call him Lord Terius,” he said, and Kashel realized after a moment that his uncle wasn’t speaking to him. Still, he held his eye. “Because you raised them, and I know you would accept nothing less than proper respect for their lord.” Every word felt heavy. Then his uncle’s mouth twitched, and he blinked, quick. “In public. And you would accept nothing less than the good humor to call their cousin Lord Potato behind closed doors.”

“Ryden!” his mother said, but she was laughing, and Kashel stared at how easily she abandoned his title.

Then Kashel grinned.

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