A Monster's Reward | Verso.ink
Prompt Challenger

A Monster's Reward

By Genevieve Ann Atwater

Upvotes
2
Reading time
14
View count
56

Seventeen years of war. King Albrecht set the battle report aside, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He was… so tired of all of this. The bloodshed, the trampled fields and food shortages, the monsters his brother had bred with his sorcery ravaging the land. There was nothing he could do, of course, but keep fighting. Surrender was impossible, unless he was prepared to watch his people burn for his mistakes.

All my fault. The accusing voice, echoing in the back of his skull, was as common as the war reports these days. If only he’d tried harder, listened instead of assuming he was in the right, his little brother might still be here, by his side, ruling a peaceful kingdom.

Albrecht let out a sigh and pushed his seat back. The heavy wood scraped against the floor, catching on a dent halfway back and refusing to continue until the king shoved it so hard it nearly fell over backwards. He caught it as he moved out from his desk, rubbing his temples now. He used to be so energetic and eager, but lately he seemed to feel nothing but aches and pains. His wife would have known how to help him with such things, but she was dead now-- dead like many other innocents lost in the crossfire of his stupid, family fight. True, others lived on. Bright knights, eager young ladies, sorcerers and weavers, wives and children. They were why he kept fighting, even as all his first purpose drained away. He’d thought he could teach his brother respect and honor by beating the rebellion out of him. Now he only hoped to save his people from the revenge that came of his cruelty.

He pushed the door open and signaled to a page, who waited outside the door. “I need a drink.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” the boy said, bowing and taking off to fetch it. The king returned to his seat, slumping against the hard wood with a groan.

The shadows moved, and Albrecht looked up. He jerked to his feet, flinching involuntarily as his chair fell backwards with a crash. He reached for a weapon-- why didn’t he have his swords with him?

He hadn’t expected to find an enemy in his study, that was why. No enemy should have been able to come so far-- but his brother had always been able to get in where he shouldn’t have.

“Albrecht,” his brother said from the shadows. He pulled his black hood down, revealing the same thin, pale face Albrecht had always known.

“What do you want?” the king demanded, taking his knife-- not much, but at least he kept that on him-- from his belt. His brother could destroy him without a better weapon. This would only let him fool himself into feeling safer. Great God, why was his brother here? The boy had sworn to destroy everything Albrecht protected, but he had never made any attempt to destroy the king himself. He wanted him to watch his kingdom burn, didn’t he? Then why come here?

The man before him hesitated, blinking rapidly. Albrecht squinted at him, his mind catching up with his eyes, and realized his brother’s face was pink from recent tears.

“Albrecht. I… I need your help,” his brother said softly.

The king fell back towards his chair, but stumbled as he found it still tipped over. “You… what? What kind of trick is this, Emil?”

“No trick.” His brother unfastened his cloak and dropped it, raising his hands to show he was unarmed. A grimace was tight across his face, but he did not look dishonest. His hands trembled slightly as he lowered them. “I… I am alone,” he said. “I need you.”

Of all the things that might happen, this was not one Albecht could have prepared for. He slowly righted his chair and sat down. He needed to think. To be in control. “What happened?” he asked, his voice calm. How did he make it so calm? He felt almost as if he was watching himself from the outside as he settled his iron gaze firmly on his brother’s uncomfortable face.

“I… I have been betrayed,” Emil said. His fingers twitched at his sides and his gaze flickered around the room, unable to settle on anything long. “It’s a long story, Albecht. I fled my lands; the ghul go on without me. They will kill me if I return.”

Albrecht snorted. “A suiting fate, killed at the hands of your own creations,” he murmured, and his brother flinched. “What do you want from me then? The war ends without your vengeance fueling it, does it not?” He stopped, hearing his own words, and looked up sharply. “Ends… yes, there’s no reason for your fiends to keep fighting us.”

“They won’t stop,” Emil said miserably, his gaze finally finding rest on the floor. “It’s hard to explain, Albrecht. They live for this fight. It is all they know, and all they care about.”

The king closed his eyes, nodding. From the reports, he could believe that of the monsters. Besides, his brother was a violent fool, but he’d never been much of a liar. “Get out,” he muttered.

“Brother--”

“I have no reason to help you in any way,” Albrecht snapped. “If you can’t even put a stop to the bloodshed you started.”

There was a long pause. Albrecht glanced up to see his brother still standing there, looking back at him.

“I have nowhere to go,” Emil whispered.

“I’ll have you executed if you stay.”

He bowed his head. “I have nowhere to go,” he repeated. Albrecht glared at him, trying to summon up the anger he’d once felt towards his brother. But he was too tired.

“Sit down,” he said. “Tell me what happened.”

Emil looked up at him, surprised, and glanced around for a chair. Albrecht watched as he stumbled to a seat and sat down, gripping the wood beneath him as if he might slip off of it at a moment’s notice. Then he looked up, swallowing nervously. “I… It’s… it’s complicated, Albrecht,” he said.

“If you want help,” Albrecht growled. “You’re going to explain.”

For a moment his brother’s look was a glare. This was growing close to their last argument-- the one that started all of this. But Emil took a breath and looked away, nodding. “All right. I… Albrecht, I had a daughter.”

The king started. This was not what he was expecting. A tiny part of him whispered in excitement: a niece. He could almost laugh at himself. “A daughter?”

“I didn’t mean for it,” Emil said. “It was a mistake. But then her mother brought her to me and asked what ought to be done with her… she was… half ghul,” he noted, glancing up as if for approval. His brother only snorted, showing no emotion at this disgusting thought, so he went on. “I thought I should kill her, but I couldn’t,” he said. “She was so tiny, and… she was mine. My responsibility, my daughter. So I took her in, gave her mother a home in my fortress, and continued on. This was… four years ago.

“During those years I gave her everything I could think of. I made sure she never lacked for anything, and I spent more and more time with her. This whole war started to feel sour to me… I knew I wasn’t building anything for her future but ashes. But I was too prideful to stop. I just kept ignoring the fight to play with my baby. I was… I was almost happy again, for a while. Like when we were younger.”

“I don’t see why an obsession with an infant ought to drive you back to me,” Albrecht snapped. His brother looked up at him.

“My ghul hated her. They wanted my attention; I made them for my revenge, and they complained that I wasn’t giving that vengeance the thought it required.”

“You certainly got less organized,” Albrecht admitted. “I thought you were growing restless.”

Emil shifted, and then stood up. “Albrecht,” he said. “Albrecht, they killed her. They grew angry at my attention to her, and-- and her own mother… I found her there, painted in my baby’s blood, smiling. She said, ‘Now we can fight again, Master.’”

Albrecht was cold. His mouth dry. He didn’t care about the half-monster child, he told himself, but the picture his brother painted was like ice in his heart.

“I couldn’t stay then,” Emil explained. “I had to go… I made monsters, Albrecht. I knew they were, but I… I thought they were mine. That I could control them. I can’t.” He collapsed back into his chair, slumped with pain. “They’ll kill me if they catch me, now. They’ll see me as a traitor for leaving them. I am. I betrayed everyone, I know, I’m sorry, I… I couldn’t think of anywhere else I could go.”

Fool. He’d always been a fool. Albrecht shook his head, trying to dislodge the chill emotion in his chest, and stood up. His brother shied back slightly, but did not move to flee.

“You are a murderer,” Albrecht said. “You’ve created these monsters with the intent to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and you’ve slain thousands at least. All of that blood is on your head, as surely as your daughter’s is.”

He trembled, shrinking in on himself. “I- I know,” he managed.

“And yet you still expect me to give you aid? After everything you’ve said and done?”

“... I don’t know,” Emil said. “You were better than me, Albrecht. If anyone… you might. I’m your brother…” He bit his lip, hearing the emptiness of his own words. As if being brothers had kept them from fighting all these years. Kept them from killing and pillaging and murdering to punish each other.

Albrecht studied him for a long moment before letting out a sigh. That image, now lodged in his mind, of the smiling creature his brother had fled from, dripping in the blood of her own child, was too much to dismiss. “Yes,” he said. “We are brothers. But I cannot welcome you here as my family, Emil, not after what you’ve done. You will stay as a prisoner. I will keep you from your bastard monsters.”

Emil cringed. “They won’t let you,” he murmured.

“Your beasts can’t get in here.”

I mean your people,” he clarified grimly. “I’ve hurt them too much. If they know I’m here, you’ll have to kill me. I… I understand. I should die for all this. I’m sorry.”

Albrecht scowled. “Shut up, Emil.” He was right. Albrecht had a tendency to think he was all powerful, but his brother was smarter than he was, despite his idiotic behavior. The people would burn the castle down to kill the man who had destroyed them for almost two decades now. “Do you know a better way?” The king demanded. “I can’t hide you here: everyone knows what my damned little brother looks like! The entire continent knows your face-- it’s been used as if the preachers could show us Satan through it, to scare us back to heaven.”

Emil kicked at the ground. He opened his mouth, then closed it, chewing his bottom lip. Albrecht raised an eyebrow. He knew that look.

“You do know another way,” he accused.

“You won’t like it,” Emil said. “It’s… not very…” He hesitated. “Safe. On your part. You’ll want to watch me. Trusting me would be stupid, I know that.”

Albrecht rolled his eyes. “Just tell me, Emil. I can decide for myself if you’re lying to me.”

There was another pause, and Emil slowly looked down at his hands. “I can disguise myself,” he said. “With sorcery. I can stay as a servant. No one will question one more,” he murmured. “I can work. And I’ll be here; I can help you in return. I know how they think, still. I could show you how they are likely to respond, what they’re likely to do…” He grimaced. “It would mean letting me run free through your castle, without suspicion from those around me.”

“And that’s what you want?” The king asked. “If you can disguise yourself, I may as well imprison you like that.” But now that he said it, his soldiers would want to know who the prisoner was. Neither brother had ever liked lying much-- finding an excuse would be a pain, and if anyone grew curious enough it could be disproven. He didn’t want to bicker with his knights or nobles. And if Emil was found, they would make certain his death was long and cruel, despite anything his elder brother protested.

“I… I’d like to help,” Emil admitted. “I know I caused this. I want to help it stop. But I can’t fight them all on my own.” He looked up. “Please, Albrecht. I swear, I’ll never use my power again, I’ll scrub floors and empty chamber pots for you, just let me stay and help you. I can’t…” He trailed off, gripping at his hair. “It’s like she’s still there, looking up at me, Brother. ‘Now we can fight again’. I just want it all to stop. I want to make it stop, Albrecht.”

The king let out a long breath. There were a million reasons to say no to a request like that. How could he really trust his brother, after everything? Trust him not to change his mind and return to his old ways? To keep his vow and hold back the magic he’d spent so long wielding as his greatest asset in every situation? Would his ambitious little brother really be content to serve with the low and whisper words of advice that would never be heard or acknowledged by anyone but a brother he’d despised for so long?

More importantly, could Albrecht let his little brother die a tortured death for a crime he himself had pushed the boy towards?

The king sat down. “We’ll do it,” he said, and Emil stared at him with an expression too pained to be entirely hopeful. “But listen,” Albrecht pressed. “If you step out of line, even for a good cause, even for a moment; if you break your vow to me, or disobey, or forget what you’ve done… I’ll let my people have their way with you, and I’ll do it without hesitation.”

Liar
, His mind scowled.

“Yes,” Emil said. “I understand. I… thank you.”

“I’m not forgiving you,” Albrecht informed him coldly. “This is probably a mistake, Emil. I know that. I’m giving you one chance because you’re my family, and because you came to me.” He raised a finger to make his point, and Emil shrunk from it. But his expression remained just a little hopeful as he looked up at his brother.

“I won’t make it a mistake, this time,” he promised.

The page returned with Abrecht’s drink, and the king sent him to take the new servant who’d gotten lost back to their quarters. Emil clutched a letter in his hand, accepting him as a servant under a different name. A different face. He glanced back at his brother as he left the room, and Albrecht met his gaze with an iron glare.

Don’t mess up, Emil. Don’t make me kill you after I let you stay.

It was my fault, what happened to you. And as much as Albrecht wanted to be strong, a perfect ruler, he wanted more to undo that mistake. Even at the risk of everything. God watch you, Emil, he prayed as he returned to his seat.

Please let me spare you.

Other entries by Genevieve Ann Atwater

Login or register to vote
Photo of Genevieve Ann Atwater

About Genevieve Ann Atwater

Genevieve is an aspiring author who has been dabbling in the arts of storytelling and writing for almost as long as she remembers. She writes mostly in the fantasy genre, and is working towards publishing a romance novel (hopefully within the next year).

Connect with Genevieve Ann