Deuce, Chapter 16: Bitter, Better

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16
Bitter, Better

Aurelius slowed as he neared the edge of open territory. Several adults lounged along the edge of the creek that served as its boundary. Traditionally, one family member stood vigil, for no one could say when their young hunter might return. Will it be Father? Nay. A sixth son doesn’t warrant any such consideration.

He would have liked to be wrong, but a firm grasp on reality would serve him better in the long run. So Aurelius wasn’t overly bothered to find Flaygore loitering in the shade of a drooping pine. “Brother,” he said, announcing his return.

“That you, Aurelius?”

“Aye.”

“I’ve been here all night.” He stretched before slowly opening golden eyes. “What took you?”

Flaygore Harrow was two notches up the brotherly pecking order and the primary source of Aurelius’s hand-me-downs. As mother was fond of saying, the two of them were cut from the same jib. Lean and long of limb. In Aurelius’s opinion, Flaygore was his least obnoxious sibling—quiet, capable, and plain. He pitied his older brother because Mother had foisted her family name on him—she was a Flaygore—and because he had such atrocious fashion sense.

“What are you wearing?” exclaimed Aurelius.

His brother’s gaze dropped. “These? Oh. Mother insisted on new breeches for the festival tonight.”

“But you promised to let me choose!”

“You dawdled too long in open territory, so I had to pick.” Flaygore brushed at the heavy cloth. “What’s the problem? These don’t ride up, and they won’t show dirt.”

Aurelius dropped to one knee and grabbed a fistful of soil. “Because they’re the color of dirt!”

“Bad?”

“Abysmal!”

“Sorry, little brother. Next time.”

“That’s what you said the last time! And I’m sure to be stuck with your dingy castoffs,” Aurelius whined. “Who wears gray these days? That color went out with last spring’s tides!”

Flaygore shrugged. “That’s what Aunt Lissie said when she pitched them in her dye pot.”

Aurelius perked up. “Did she now? What color? Mind you anything’s better than ash and dirt.”

“I didn’t stick around to find out, but she had her trunks open.” His gaze strayed to the forgotten trophy tucked in Aurelius’s arm. “You’ll be a dandified for sure, but are breeches truly foremost in your mind?”

“Nay.” Taking a deep breath, Aurelius proffered his prize. “The hunt was good.”

“That’s putting it mildly.” Rolling to his feet, Flaygore accepted the kill. “Tree-cat?”

“Aye.”

“You couldn’t have gone for rabbits like a normal child?”

Aurelius’s chin lifted. “I will distinguish myself from the rabble.”

“A tree-cat,” Flaygore repeated, slowly shaking his head. “You’re going to be even more insufferable than usual.”

“Oh, aye.”

With a short bark of laughter, his brother moved to return the trophy, but didn’t release it. While both Harrows held the feline’s head between them, Flaygore raised his voice. “The hunt was indeed good. You are a tribute to our house. You are the pride of our clan. Your skills add to our strength. You will be recognized.”

Finally! Despite the threat of ugly breeches in his near future, Aurelius grinned. This hunt was better than good. I’ll finally be pierced. And if my luck holds, tonight I’ll dance with a huntress arrayed in persimmon and pearls.

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Author’s Note: This story is a prequel to C. J. Milbrandt’s Galleries of Stone trilogy and updates each Friday. The trilogy is now complete! Read all three books—Meadowsweet, Harrow, and Rakefang. Useful information about Pred culture can be found here. Deuce © Copyright 2015, C. J. Milbrandt, all rights reserved. If you want to receive an email whenever this story updates, subscribe to the blog. You can also watch for notifications on Twitter and “like” the series on Facebook. Galleries of Stone Trilogy

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