A/N: My interpretation of Basch's capture at Nalbina, and the flashback dream that ensues.
No Brother Of Mine
"You must go to the king. I'll handle these!"
Reks' face was flushed, but his eyes were resolute. Basch listened for the rest of the unit as they moved ahead, and made a split second decision.
"Fight well," he said bracingly, and turned to follow his unit around the corner.
They were not there.
As if from nowhere, six imperial guards swept down on him. One knocked the sword from his hand and kicked it aside. Two grabbed his arms. Another kicked him in the back of the leg, forcing him to the ground. Still another grabbed his hair and pulled, forcing his head back. He thrashed, and a gauntlet caught him hard across the face. He closed his eyes against the blow, and felt blood flow from his nose as the guard holding his head back threw him forward.
He heard footsteps coming up the stair, the clank of armor, and then a voice, so familiar it sent his heart into his mouth.
"We may let you live long enough to see prison if you do not struggle, Captain."
Basch jerked his head up to look toward the voice, and stared into his own face.
His twin glared back at him, mirthless and cold. He was dressed crown to heel as a Dalmascan knight, but his eyes spoke of a different fealty.
"I have no brother, Captain. I am Gabranth, Judge Magister of the Archadian Empire."
Gabranth retrieved Basch's sword from the floor where it lay, examined the pristine blade. It took Basch a long moment to find his voice; his mouth had gone dry.
"I . . . What sick riddle is this? What are you doing here?"
The man glared, and sheathed Basch's sword in the empty scabbard hanging from his belt.
"I am sent to do that which you cannot."
Basch frowned at the cryptic remark. "I do not understand."
His brother scowled handsomely – fifteen years had done little to mar his looks – and lifted his chin. "A man such as yourself, indeed, cannot understand. Your duty is to preserve your country's freedom, but it would seem the concept has, once again, eluded you. Thus, I come to your aid."
Basch struggled to comprehend this dance of words and came up short. "Noah, what is the meaning of . . .?"
"You will not speak to me this way!" Gabranth slashed Basch across the face with his own sword. Blood spurted onto the floor and he slumped forward, clutching the wound.
"Raminas will die, brother," he heard his twin whisper in his ear, "And you shall burn for it."
Gabranth rose to his feet and addressed his men. "Take him through the back to the Oubliette. Take care that you are not seen."
Basch thrashed violently, but an Imperial smashed him across the face with the back of one gauntlet. Three more men dragged the struggling captain to his feet. He flailed and cursed, yelling at his brother's back as he turned to flee. The sound of the young Dalmascan battling valiantly around the corner on the stair was like a lifeline; Basch scrambled for it, raising his voice in a scream.
"Treachery! Treachery! Reks! Azelas! To Me, Knights! To Me!"
A soldier punched him hard in the jaw; he felt it fracture as he slumped forward, grunting in pain.
"By the Gods, Noah..."
Gabranth stopped, turned; his flint-blue eyes glittered mockingly.
"The Gods, Basch? The Gods have no use for men such as you and I."
A marksman hit Basch hard in the head with the butt of his gun, and he knew no more.
* * *
The village of Ronsenburg lay silent and empty in the wee hours of the morning. A waning moon hung in the sky, and Basch, a man of twenty-one, crossed the courtyard of his childhood home. A large traveling pack bulged on his shoulder. The weather-beaten wooden gate at the South wall of the courtyard was as tall as he, framed by an iron trellis supporting a blackberry cane older than Landis itself. He paused at the gate, plucked a single fat berry from the cane, and let the early-autumn sweetness of it fill his mouth one last time.
Basch turned back to look at the place he had called his home for as long as he had lived. His mother lay sleeping within, a note lying in wait beside her on the bedside table. She would weep, there was no doubt of this. Regardless, Basch could not find it in his heart to stay any longer, not when mortal fear of Archadia gripped Landis like the dead of winter. If he could not convince his family to flee, even in the face of imminent death, he would have to fly on his own.
Basch startled from his thoughts as a figure emerged from behind the ancient fruit tree that grew in the center of the courtyard. Its face, caught in the scant light of the moon and creased with fatigue, was identical to his own.
The figure spoke. "What brings you into the garden in the dark of night, brother?"
Basch squared his shoulders, irritated by the pretext of curiosity. "I would ask you the same, Noah."
"I have been waiting for you here. I would know your intentions, Basch. Your bag has been packed for days, and now there it is, slung on your shoulder. Why?"
"An airship will be carrying evacuees to Dalmasca in an hour. I told you of it just this morning."
Noah stepped closer to his brother, his face lit white by the lamp over the gate. "You would truly run, Basch?"
"Noah, the Empire would see us all dead! Ronsenburg is not safe anymore. There are refugee camps in Bur-Omisace, and it is thought that the Dalmascans will..."
His brother cut across him. "Listen to your words, Basch. You speak of fleeing your homeland. You would allow such cowardly thoughts to fall from your lips? You shame me. You shame us both!"
Basch repeated himself, his voice cracking with urgency. "They will kill us all, brother!"
Noah made a small, impatient sound and turned away, disgusted.
Basch persisted. "We may seek a new homeland beyond Landis' borders, Brother. Please, fly with me. If you pack quickly, we can still leave tonight."
Noah lowered his voice, spoke slowly. "When Archadia escalates this invasion, Landis must have forces in place to protect her people. Surely you comprehend that?"
"Aye, But . . ."
"Why will you not enlist and fight beside me, Basch?" Noah bore down on his twin, eyes wide with earnest. "In the Army, we can defend Landis! We will be honored as heroes of the Republic, and when she is free of Archadia, we may rise up stronger than ever!" Noah's face darkened with patriotic furor unbefitting him, and a look bordering on madness flickered in his eyes.
Basch took a step back, shook his head. "You do not understand."
Noah glared, stepped back as well. His hands were in fists, his knuckles white. "Nay, indeed I do not."
Basch slung his pack over his shoulder and began to walk away. He hesitated and looked back at his brother, his heart heavy in his chest.
"Sorry to leave you, Brother."
Noah lifted his chin. After a long, burning moment, he turned away from Basch and shouted, his voice echoing from the walls of the courtyard.
"You are no brother of mine!"
Basch bowed his head, turned his back on his twin, and walked through the front gate, passing for the last time beneath the trellis laden heavy with berries.
He did not look back. He knew he would never return.