Brothers and Sisters
April 2nd, 2024
As the unlikely pair made their way up the mountainside, Rey Forester began to pester Rosa with a veritable storm of irritating questions which she was either forced to endure or give up on the potential glory of stamping out a nest of manticores. Rey, at least, seemed to have a good idea of where they were going, walking ahead as some sense of hers led them further up the mountain slopes.
“So where’d you come from?” Rey asked, glancing back at her.
“Rome.” Rosa had decided to take the laconic approach, as silence had only made it that much worse.
“I meant before that,” Rey said “You don’t look or sound Roman.”
“Greece is a big place,” Rey smiled “From your accent…Laconia?”
“Ya.” Rosa nodded “Sparta.”
Rey grinned “I have an ear for languages. I’ve heard many different tongues in my time, though it seems to matter less these days.”
“What do you mean?” Rosa asked with a flat monotone, not betraying the least bit of sincere curiosity.
“Haven’t you noticed everyone seems to be speaking the same language?” I imagine you don’t natively speak Italian, do you? Ever wonder why so many people in Rome spoke Greek?”
“…never much considered it.” This time she was being honest, she truly hadn’t.
“I just find it interesting,” Rey said. “But enough about me, what brought you to Rome?”
“It’s where the action is,” Rosa shrugged “I came to fight.”
“Fight monsters? Fight for Rome?”
“No, not really.” Rosa shrugged.
“How odd, you seemed to be doing both. It’s for glory then?”
“More gladiator than legionnaire.” Rey grinned a toothy smile at her. “A shame.”
“What’s a shame about it?” Rosa asked “So I don’t want to dress up like an idiot and go play soldier with the Romans, what does it matter to you?”
“Oh it doesn’t matter to me at all, but it says quite a bit about you.”
“You seem to be trying to read me pretty hard,” Rosa said “Can’t say I appreciate it at all.”
“I think you’re an interesting person,” Rey said “The champion of Ares, after all.”
Rosa took a few steps forward to catch up to Rey “How did you know that?” She snapped at her.
“Oh, it’s fairly obvious.” Rey said. “A Spartan girl wearing armor of bronze and red, dressed from head to toe in the Spartan Lambda. You’re certainly no Champion of Athena.”
Rosa’s brow furrowed. “I don’t like being dragged along.”
“Then by all means lead the way,” Rey said “Though on this path it’s about two days to the manticore nest if you have the trail, but with you I’d call it closer to five.”
“And I’m supposed to believe you can track something that’s two days away?” Rosa scoffed.
“You’re free to believe whatever you like,” Rey said “But you’re the one following me, remember?”
Rosa scowled but kept her pace a few steps behind Rey. Her mind working as she watched the stranger pick easily through the untamed mountain scrub and underbrush.
“You met me on purpose.” Rosa finally said after a period of blessed silence.
Rey did not stop or turn around. “What makes you say that?”
“The odds,” Rosa said “What were the odds of you showing up right then and there?”
“Maybe you’re just lucky?” Rey offered.
“No one’s that lucky,” Rosa said “Especially not me.”
“You don’t seem to have a very high opinion of yourself.” Rey said, not slowing down.
“How about you shut the hell up for once?” Rosa snapped back.
“You started the conversation this time,” Rosa could almost hear Rey’s grin.
“Well I don’t need all this second-guessing from some woodland nutcase,” Rosa said “So how about we both keep quiet?”
“That sounds rather dull,” Rey said “We could sing as we walk, that always brightens the mood.”
“Bite me.” Rosa snarled.
The pair continued through periods of sniping and silence until night began to fall. Rosa was content to sleep on the ground with her head on the small pack of what few supplies she needed. Rey seemed to be roughing it even more so, carrying nothing with her and venturing off with her sword into the wilderness before returning an hour later with an entire slaughtered deer.
“Dinner!” She grinned before throwing it on the ground.
“Ugh jeez, don’t just butcher it here.” Rosa stood up from where she had been dozing. “Go do it in the woods! Who knows what the hell the smell of all that blood will attract?”
“Fiiiine,” Rey complained “I’ll take it back and prep it there. Not used to this kinda thing, honestly…”
“Here I’ll help.” Rosa said, helping her heft the heavy deer and carry it back into the wilderness. “If you’re not used to this kind of thing then why do you have so few supplies?”
The question hung in the air, and Rey simply shrugged it off. “Why are you helping me all of a sudden?”
“Because I don’t like being attacked by wolves in the dead of night because you were stupid.”
“Heh, wolves? I wouldn’t worry. They won’t be on our scent.”
“Glad you’re so confident.” Rosa said “but if your tracking is as good as your foraging we’ll wind up in Spain before we find these manticores.”
“Oh don’t worry, we’ll find them.” Rey smiled.
Together they butchered the deer quickly and efficiently. Rosa was the defter hand with a knife, Rey seeming almost clumsy with hers. Rosa still couldn’t understand it, she had seemed so confident on the trail.
Bringing their prize back to camp, Rosa began cooking it as Rey watched it hungrily, sitting across their small firepit from her.
“You know, I think you’re a good person, Rosa.”
“Uh huh.” Rosa said, bored as she made sure to turn the meat as it cooked.
“I do, deep down at least. If you were truly callous you wouldn’t have even thought of helping me.”
“…” The silence had grown heavier.
“In fact I think you’re a very interesting person, Rosa. Certainly not the person you present yourself as.”
“You’re getting that annoying habit of talking too much again.” Rosa snarled.
“I just want to know what it is that made you…well, you.” Rey said “I like people, and I want to know what makes you tick.”
“First thing to know is that I like kicking in the teeth of people who try to learn how I ‘tick’,” Rosa said “Second thing is shut the hell up.”
“Now, now, the night is young and we’ve little else to talk about.” That awful smile was still on Rey’s face.
“I’m not some case study to pick apart,” Rosa snapped at her “So keep your nose out of my business.”
“It’s why I’m asking, but if you give me nothing, I’ll have to make an educated guess.”
“Well I’m not talking.” Rosa said with an air of finality.
“Fine,” Rey said, taking a piece of still-rare meat from where it was on the fire, foregoing any semblance of manners as she dug her teeth into the moist reddish flesh.
“I think…hrmph….that you…mmrph…were a good person at one point.” She made no effort to chew with her mouth closed or refrain from speaking as she swallowed. “But something happened.”
“And what leads you to that riveting conclusion?” Rosa asked sarcastically.
“You’re the type. I’ve seen more than a few,” Rey nodded before her teeth once more tore into the deer shank.
“I doubt you’ve ever seen anyone like me,” Rosa said “And I’m getting pretty sick of your presumptions.”
“It’s because I can almost smell it on you,” Rey lowered her hunk of meet, stripped almost to the bone, as her eyes met Rosa’s. She had never lowered the hood, much of her face still cast in darkness, but Rosa could clearly see her bright eyes.
“It’s like an open wound, all that anger pouring out on everyone you meet.”
“I’m not always angry,” Rosa said “You’re just really goddamn annoying.”
“Then tell me one person,” Rey said “In the last two months who hasn’t either pissed you off or been alienated by your arrogance and rage.”
“…” Rosa was caught, half not wanting to answer out of principle, the other because she could legitimately think of no one that fit those criteria.
“It’s because that’s how you’ve been coping,” Rey said “Some people mourn, lots of people in fact. Others tuck it away and store it deep down where they never have to face it, but you…you never hear about the people like you, the people who put all that sorrow and frustration into wrath.
“You,” Rosa’s voice had lowered, it was cold now, but filled with more malice than she had summoned in months “Should shut the hell up about things you know nothing about.”
“I know a lot more than you think,” Rey said “I’ve met many more people in my lifetime than you have, and I’ve heard more stories than you’ll ever hear.”
“Well you can keep all of them to yourself.” Rosa said.
“I could, but I won’t” Rey said “Because I’ve seen this kind of wrath and guilt destroy people I thought invincible because it tore them down from the inside out. And I know somewhere in you there is still a good person, so I will not stand by while it happens to you.”
“And just what the hell do you know about me?!” Rosa shouted at her.
“Very little,” Rey said “too little, I admit. But I’m not doing this because of what I know about you, Rosa. I’m doing this because of what I believe you can become.”
“And what exactly is that?” Rosa asked.
“Something great,” Rey said “Some of the greatest moments of history have been built upon the foundation of regret.”
“Name one!” Rosa spat.
“Rome.” Rey said simply “The Eternal City was built upon the grave of one man by the hands of another who had killed him.”
Rosa stayed quiet, leaving that as Rey’s cue to continue.
“The city of Rome, from its very first stone, was destined to be built by two men, two brothers: Romulus and Remus. They were twins of royal and divine birth yet abandoned by their kingdom, left to die amidst the beasts and monsters that ruled the land in those days, or simply to be killed by starvation and exposure.”
“…” Rosa had fallen into a deep silence now, staring into the fire as memories washed over her.
“These two princes were mere babes at the time, unable to fend for themselves in a world that had so cruelly abandoned them. A wolf came at the sound of their crying, but rather than feasting on the boys as any wolf would have done, the she-wolf took them as hers, suckling and raising them until they were found by a merciful human shepherd and his wife. They were raised as shepherds through their youth, but when they discovered the truth of their heritage, the brothers decided to found a great city of their own, upon which they could build a future for themselves and their ideals.”
Rey took a moment to tear at another piece of deer meat. Rosa was ignoring hers, even as her stomach growled for food.
“But the Princes could not decide upon which of the seven grand hills they had found to build their city. Romulus desired the palatine Hill while Remus preferred the Aventine. They fought and they quarreled and Romulus built a wall of stones around his hill. Remus mocked and belittled his wall, and in a final insult he leapt over it with little effort. In his rage and fury Romulus killed his brother. It was only after the deed was done that the full weight of Romulus’ crime and the burden of his actions fell upon him. Romulus mourned and buried his brother, but he did not let his actions stop his city form being built. Romulus built Rome upon the tomb of his brother, where it stands today and where it will stand for all time.”
Rosa was silent for a while before she spoke again, much of the anger having left her throat.
“What a stupid reason to kill your brother.” She said, as if speaking to the fire. “They could have built their city together.”
“Be it pride or desperation we are all prone to great foolishness,” Rey said “The point of the story is to remember that great things can be built upon regret, but not if it consumes you.”
“I’m not Romulus, I’m Rosa” she said “And there’s nothing I can make but war.”
“You have your wrath and your anger,” Rey said “all that strength behind the tip of a spear. I think you can do many great things, Rosa. You simply need the discipline to hold that anger in check, and a heart at which to point it.”
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The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=47&sl=162