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Thicker than Water

Emily, age 15

Llewellyn sat on a broad, flat rock at the top of a hill, the gentle shade of a nearby tree just taking the edge off the heat of the summer sun. The softest of breezes played with his yellow curls and the hem of his earth colored tunic. The same cool fingers that brushed his face set the leaves whispering in the nearby forest. With his eyes closed, the young man could hear wind, animals, people, the running stream, and a dozen other noises rising into one universal symphony of joyful life. Let Cavan make up his stories, he thought to himself, He’ll never hear anything this beautiful no matter how hard he tries to imitate it with his words.
Llewellyn was caught up by the music, every particle of his being intent on the rise and fall of the notes, when a shadow fell across his face. As it blocked out the sun, it seemed like the orchestra in his head had suddenly gone out of tune, and his ice blue eyes snapped open angrily. Someone stood above him, looking down so that his face was in shadow, but the familiar silhouette gave away his identity. “Tell me, Cavan, what was so important that you had to come all the way out here to find me?”
As the dark-haired boy held out a hand to help his older brother to his feet, he replied in his soft, tenor voice, “I want to speak with Father, and I need you to be there.” He remained calm and expressionless under Llewellyn’s scrutiny, waiting a few minutes and then abruptly turning away to walk toward the villa. Not once did he turn around to see if his brother was following him; one of the things that bothered Llewellyn was his brother’s uncanny ability to spend only a few minutes with a person and then be completely at ease, knowing exactly what that person would do even before the person knew.
When they were about halfway to the house, Llewellyn felt the urge to run. His long, powerful legs sent him flying forwards, away from the tightly controlled, enigmatic presence behind him. He made himself go faster and faster, until he stood in the cool shadow of a doorway, panting slightly from the pace he’d set for himself.
By the time Cavan reached the villa, Llewellyn’s breathing was back to normal and his mind was clear enough to wonder just what his brother had meant by “I need you to be there.” Once again, he followed Cavan, this time straight to a large, bright room with windows reaching high above the head of any person Llewellyn had ever seen. Their father, Mackenzie, sat beside one of these windows, gazing out at the orchard. He turned his head and shifted his body slightly to see who had entered, and smiled when he recognized his sons. “Cavan, Llewellyn, come sit by me. The view out this window is spectacular. I only wish I were a painter, so I could capture it and save it ‘til winter’s cold is upon us.”
Llewellyn smiled at his father’s speech, but Cavan wasted no time in saying his piece. “Father, I’ve thought for a long time, and I wish to have my half of the inheritance now, if I may. I’d be no good to anyone here, but there are schools in the city... We all know that Llew will take over the estate someday, but I cannot stay here and rely on his goodwill forever. I want to write my stories, to travel around the world. To see and feel things I might never see or feel here.”
Mackenzie sat silently for a moment, his brow furrowed in thought, and then he turned to his older son. “What do you think of this, Llewellyn?” Caught off guard, the tall young man stammered, “I- I hadn’t thought about it. I suppose what he says makes sense, in a way...” Glancing up, he saw Cavan’s dark blue eyes, pleading with him. Quickly, he made a decision. “I think if Cavan wants to go off on his own, you shouldn’t try to stop him. As to the inheritance, if it’s really important to him he’ll go anyway, so he might as well be prepared.”
Mackenzie nodded gravely, his grey curls making him look just like an older Llewellyn. “Very well. I should be able to find everything you need by the end of the week, Cavan. If that’s all...?”
Cavan nodded. “Thank you, Father.” As they walked out of the room together, Llewellyn glanced back at his father and saw him gazing at a small painting. Looking closer, he realized it was a portrait of his mother. Cavan looks so much like her, he realized with a start, while I take after Father. No wonder Father favors him, if Cavan reminds him of Mother before she died. If only... But their father only rarely spoke of their mother, and even then it was only for a few moments. Sighing, Llewellyn walked out into the hallway and began wandering aimlessly, thinking to himself about Cavan, and his mother, and music.
Two weeks after Cavan left, Mackenzie called Llewellyn into his study. “I just received a letter from your brother,” he explained as he handed the young man a sheet of paper. “I thought you might like to read it.” “Yes, thank you,” replied Llewellyn, his eyes already straying to the words written in Cavan’s compact script. Mackenzie smiled indulgently and went back to his work as his son walked slowly out of the room, reading as he went.
My dear father and brother, (it read) In my first week here, I’ve made many friends. The very first two were Keefe, a young man with visions of leading the greatest theater group in the history of this city, and his equally inspired younger sister Magan. They and a group of their friends have been trying to stage a production, but have had little success thus far. However, with the aid of my money and skill at writing and directing, we hope to make some kind of deal with one of the local theaters. I think we stand a good chance of succeeding.
Keefe looks very much like you, Llewellyn - he has your same curly yellow hair and light blue eyes, but his skin is fairer and he isn’t quite so tall. Magan is an inch shorter than I, with curly red hair and a profusion of freckles. Her eyes are hazel, and quite truthfully she is one of the loveliest girls I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. I’ve rented an apartment in a building not far from where she and her brother live, and while my room is rather dark and shabby, at least it is my own, and I feel more independent than I ever did there with the two of you.
I must end my letter here, as I promised to meet my friends ten minutes from now, but I remain affectionately yours, Cavan
Llewellyn shook his head at his younger brother’s flowery way of writing, so different from how he usually talked. Or does he talk like that now that he’s in the city? Does he act that way all the time now, to impress his friends? He only talked that way here when he wanted to impress us... no, when he wanted to impress me. Llewellyn resisted the urge to crumple up the letter - his father would undoubtedly want it back - and instead placed it carefully on a nearby table where his father would be sure to find it. Then he went outside and started running, his head clearing as he did, and the sounds of his breathing and his heartbeat and his leather sandals slapping the ground turned into the beginnings of his music. It calmed him, this one thing that Cavan could never, ever take away from him.
For three months, a letter from Cavan arrived every week, and every week Mackenzie would call Llewellyn into his study, hand him the letter, and then later retrieve it from the small wooden table in the hall. Llewellyn began to run not just after reading Cavan’s letters but all the time, and he lost himself in the music of the spheres more and more often. Even in the city, Cavan still affected his older brother every day.
Then one week Cavan’s letter didn’t come.
Mackenzie repeated over and over that it must have been lost, or delayed for some reason, and that there was no cause to worry. Llewellyn still ran, this time to escape his father instead of his brother. One week without a letter became two weeks, became three, became a month, became two months, became three months, until it had been half a year since they’d heard from Cavan. Mackenzie spent more and more time sitting by the window where he’d sat when Cavan had asked for his inheritance, and he lost interest in his books, his estate; everything that had once been so important seemed less and less so. He only seemed to brighten around Llewellyn, and more than once Llewellyn had needed to have a meal with his father just to be sure that the older man ate at least once that day. I’m all he has left, Llewellyn thought to himself once. First Mother died, and then Cavan left, and I’m just his third choice because he’s got nothing else. It was not an entirely pleasant thought, and he continued to run each morning when he got up and each afternoon before he went indoors for the evening.
One morning, Llewellyn paused at his favorite spot on top of the hill to watch the sunrise. As rays of light floated upwards, brightening the dark blue of night into the violet-blue of early morning and giving the clouds a pale pinkish tint, his eyes swept down the glory of the sky to rest on the large metal gate at the entrance to his father’s estate. There, barely visible in the dim, was a small black silhouette. Who, wondered Llewellyn, would be coming here this early? Surely whoever it is can’t expect to meet with Father now. Quickly, Llewellyn recommenced his run, but now he headed directly towards the gate.
As he came closer, he realized that the person was wearing a torn, mud-stained cloak, the hood drawn up to hide the face in shadow. Threadbare and worn, the tunic hanging down past the hem of the cloak was brown and green from grass- and mud-stains, and barely large enough to cover thin, gangly legs covered in their own layer of filth. But none of Father’s friends would dress this way... Suddenly, the drooping neck straightened and the hood, which in truth barely deserved the name, fell backwards to reveal disheveled, coal-black hair, tanned and weathered skin, and a pair of sunken dark blue eyes. “Hello, Llewellyn,” Cavan half-whispered in a voice hoarse with lack of use and little water. “Where’s Father?”
As Llewellyn turned to look towards the house, he and Cavan saw Mackenzie flying towards them, a thin white cloak billowing out behind him like a giant sail. His cries of “Cavan! Cavan, my son!” filled the air, as did the sound of his sandals slapping the ground. When he reached his sons, he threw his arms around the younger, who was now as tall as Llewellyn. “My son, my youngest, home and safe at last! Cavan, back from the land of the dead! Oh, come inside, both of you!” A servant woman, whose thin brown hair had come out of its neat bun as she chased after her employer, now offered Cavan a thick pale blue cloak in exchange for the dark rag hanging about his shoulders. “Mary, send word for Ansel to kill the calf - yes, the calf, don’t stare at me so! And tell the others to decorate the grand ballroom, and to drive around inviting all of our neighbors and friends to a grand feast we’re having in Cavan’s honor! My son has been returned to me!”
As these arrangements were made, Cavan looked first surprised, and then was very quiet, allowing his father to hug him often and saying a “yes” or “no” every now and then as he was asked questions. He refused to talk about what he’d done in the time he’d been away, except to say that the theater group’s performances hadn’t done as well as they’d expected, and Cavan had found himself penniless and without friends. One time, though, as they walked back to the house and Llewellyn thought his own angry thoughts, Cavan caught his brother’s eyes and allowed himself a very small, triumphant smile.