It isn’t easy being brothers. Especially twins. Especially when your twin is far better than you in everything you wish you could be. But is he? Or is it all in your imagination? Such is the life of Zorastres Idola. One of my favorite fights in “Sea of Sands” is part of his reconciliation with his twin brother, Vlasis. It certainly fits for Throwdown Thursday. Enjoy!
Zorastres found Vlasis tending his horse in the captain’s stall and suddenly found himself losing his nerve. Before it was gone completely, he cleared his throat.
Startled, his twin spun around with a dagger drawn but seeing it was his brother, growled in irritation and sheathed the blade.
“Get out of here.”
“We need to talk.”
Turning his back on him, Vlasis returned to brushing his mount’s gleaming coat. “We’ve got nothing to talk about.”
“We’ve got everything to talk about, Vlas. There’s things that need to be said.”
Zorastres knew his brother well enough to realize he wasn’t going to convince him to make the first move. Stepping further into the stall, he took a determined breath.
“She loved you. Until the day she died and after her death, Caoimhe loved you.”
Slamming the curry brush down, Vlasis turned to his twin, glaring at him with the kind of cold anger Zorastres knew was usually followed by a fist. To his own surprise, he didn’t back down, even as his throat suddenly went dry.
“Even now she waits for you in Erebos.”
He could see the muscles working in Vlasis’ jaw. Cringing instinctively, he closed his eyes and waited for the swing. However, his twin only pushed past him, shouldering him out of the way so violently that he spun on his heel.
“Vlasis!” Hurrying after him as he strode between the stalls, Zorastres fell in step. “I’m serious, my brother. We need to talk.”
Still being ignored, he caught Vlasis by the shoulder to stop him as he came around to face him, holding onto his shoulders. “Is it too much to ask that we sit down and talk? I felt it when you were stabbed…you can’t tell me you didn’t experience something with everything I’ve been through over the past year.”
Knocking his hands away, Vlasis rolled his eyes to the ceiling, took a deep breath and visibly counted to ten before looking back at his brother.
“I’ll talk to you about whatever you want, but Caoimhe is off limits.”
He accentuated each of the last four words with a sharp jab of his finger to Zorastres’ chest making him wince. “Ow!”
“For now, leave…me…alone.”
Vlasis started past him again but this time Zorastres grabbed him by the front of his leather shirt.
“I can’t, my brother. I can’t just let it go. Not when there’s a message Caoimhe wanted me to give you. She wanted me to tell you she still loved you and she forgave you. That she understood. That she and the daughter you share watch over you from the Blessed Fields even now.”
In a rare flash of undisciplined temper, Vlasis swung his fist to collide solidly with Zorastres’ jaw, throwing him into a stall door. Zorastres recovered quickly, his own anger bubbling to the surface. Scrambling to his feet, he tackled his brother with an furious yell, driving him backward to crash through the muck gate. They landed together in a thrashing fit of fists and kicks, rolling about in the slimiest ooze of congealed mud and manure imaginable.
With each punch however, their aggression eased to a kind of mild aggravation, a wrestling match that eventually broke into hysterical laughter. Falling back from each other, covered head to toe in muck, neither could stop laughing. To Zorastres’ surprise, Vlasis was crying. He was crying too and he didn’t even know why. Or maybe he did.
“I loved her, my brother.” Sitting up with his elbows resting on his knees, Vlasis shook his head, his raspy voice a low murmur. “More than my own life, I loved her.”
“Then how could you betray her, especially when she was pregnant? She was your wife, my brother.”
“That’s just it…she was pregnant. I was scared. You know me, Zorastres. You’ve known me all our lives. You know the things I’ve done and what I’m capable of… Caoimhe accepted me for who I am, a soldier of Athene. But suddenly, that didn’t seem like enough. This innocent little person was going to come into this world born to a father who killed people. You can’t begin to understand what that felt like.”
“You’re not a murderer, my brother. You’ve only ever killed in defense of the state. That’s honorable.”
Vlasis sighed with a bitter grin. “Little brother, when you’ve killed someone, not a monster but a person, when you’ve actually seen the life in their eyes die because you’ve taken it…then you’ll understand what I’m talking about.”
“So you betrayed Caoimhe with someone…why?”
“I thought if I could make her see I was a poor excuse for a husband, she’d take our child and leave, raise it without me in its life.” Spitting mud, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “It didn’t quite work out the way I hoped. I regretted it the moment I did it but it was too late. She was gone.”
“Didn’t you go after her?”
“Of course I did!” Vlasis snapped, lobbing a large lump of sludge at his brother. “But when an EarthFolk doesn’t want to be found, they’re damn near impossible to track. I figured she was headed back to her homeland in the north and was about halfway across the Dominions when Athene came to me in a dream and told me of her death.”
“So you came home.”
“I came back to Saragdi, but what made it home was gone.”
Zorastres felt sympathy for his brother and was ashamed of how he acted. “I’m sorry I was so hard on you.”
“No hard feelings.” Shrugging uncomfortably, Vlasis got to his feet in the slick muck and offered a hand to Zorastres, easily hauling him up. “I’m sorry, too.”
“You? What for?”
“For ever thinking you were a coward or weak. It was brave what you did for your friend…and it takes strength to come as far as you have.”
Zorastres looked at him in confusion.
“You’re never really alone, brother, even when you’re alone. When you were in the Underworld…I went through everything with you.”
“Then you know…?-”
“I’m not going to tell anyone. What you did is between you and the gods. I just wanted you to know that I knew.”
“I’m sorry you got stabbed because of me.”
“I got stabbed because I was doing my duty trying to protect the Hestian Temple. I’m sorry you got decked because of me.”
The mental picture of the ghost of Vlasis’ late wife cold cocking Zorastres because she thought he was his twin suddenly struck both men as incredibly funny and they erupted in laughter. Helping each other out of the demolished muck stall, they surveyed the damage, their dark brown eyes eventually turning to their mirror image’s sludge-covered state.
“I think we might be in trouble.”
“Zorastres, my brother, we’re grown men…it’s time you started sounding like one. We know we’re in trouble.”
Vlasis put an arm around his shoulder earning him the adoring beam Zorastres couldn’t help but express whenever his brother was there for him which, he realized, was more often than he ever gave him credit for. He also realized it was that very adulation that was the cause of most of his anger when he learned of his betrayal of Caoimhe. He venerated his brother so highly that he’d forgotten that Vlasis was capable of making mistakes.
~ Excerpt from “Sea of Sands” Book Two of the Tome Series copyright AJ Culpepper 2013
~ Image courtesy of onemightymistake.dreamwidth.org-