Excerpt: Whatever Else

Illusionists3 (resized) (2)“Who is this man you married?” my brother asked, folding his arms over his broad chest. “I know he’s not Arras Arnacassan.”

I leaned out and glanced about the great hall, abandoned at that late hour. Seyvas and I sat alone within the inglenook that held in the heat of the large stone hearth, hidden from the eyes of any servant who might pass.

His sudden claim baffled me. Arras had been my husband nearly four years. Three years older than my nineteen, Seyvas was of an age with him; even through the worst of our peoples’ squabbling, he and Arras had remained friends. Since our wedding, though, Seyvas hadn’t come to the manor at all. Not until now.

I turned back to him and whispered, “What are you talking about? You’ve known Arras all your life.”

“Arras is dead,” my brother answered in a flat voice, his eyes gone bleak

I stared at him, mouth agape.

He grabbed my arm. “I killed Arras—five days before your wedding.”

He has run mad. Jumping to my feet, I dragged at my arm to get away, but he rose and held me there.

“We were out watching the flocks. We were drinking. I made some comment about his father and he hit me.” My brother punctuated his words by shaking me. “I never meant it, Maia, I swear. I was drunk. I stabbed him before I realized what I’d done.”

“You are insane,” I cried. “Let me go.”

“Let her go,” Arras said from the edge of the inglenook, his voice soft.

The glow of the fire cast a golden light across my husband’s handsome face. Seeing him there, my brother released me. I ran to Arras’ side. He drew me behind him, and I buried my face against his shoulder. My brother was half a head taller and two stone heavier, but I had no doubt Arras could protect me from him. For all his leanness, I knew Arras was strong.

Seyvas raked a hand through his hair, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. “You are an imposter. I saw the real Arras die.”

“Seyvas,” my husband said, his tone the one he reserved for soothing our daughters. “I remember that night. You were drunk. How much can you truly recall?”

I studied my brother’s face in the flickering light. He seemed confused for a moment, but then rallied. “I saw Arras die,” he said in a firmer voice. “I put my knife in his heart. I remember my horror when I realized I had killed my friend.”

“You did not stab me through the heart, Seyvas,” my husband said, “but the shoulder.”

“No. I will not listen to you.” My brother looked to me, but I turned away. “I did not leave Arras even as his body cooled, Maia,” he insisted. “Not until morning. He stared up at the heavens the whole while. He was dead!”

Arras placed a hand on his shoulder. “After you left me, one of the shepherds found me. He brought me back here. You spoke to me the very next night, remember?”

I had vague memories of that evening, only a few nights before our wedding. The household had gathered for a feast to celebrate both the upcoming wedding and the treaty it sealed between our peoples—the Arnacassan and the Mornacassan. Arras had taken Seyvas aside, and I remember seeing them speak near the doors of the great hall. My brother wept as if in relief. That made sense if he feared he’d killed his friend.

“I was confused,” Seyvas said. “I didn’t understand what happened, but I do now. You are not Arras.”

My hands were clenched in the back of Arras’ linen shirt. He tugged loose the laces at his neck and drew the shirt open, displaying a long, jagged scar across his left shoulder. He took Seyvas’ hand and laid it against his ruined flesh. “My shoulder,” Arras said again. “Not my heart.”

I stood silent beside Arras and somehow managed to keep my face from revealing my inner qualms.

I had never seen that scar before.