There were seven of them. The two oldest ones stood in the shade of a sycamore, watching their younger brothers.
"I bet he catches the first fish," one of them said presently.
The other one squinted at the reflecting water. "Who, Secundus? Quartus or Septimus?"
Secundus let out a breath of exasperation. "Honestly Primus, do you really expect Quartus to catch anything with that broken arm? I was pointing at Septimus."
Primus returned his gaze to where the younger boys were all now thrashing about, except for Septimus who remained stone still. And then there was suddenly a fish in his hands. Primus had not even seen his youngest brother move.
"You see?" Secundus said. "We'll have to watch out for him.
Primus nodded. Then frowned. "What do you mean by 'we'?"
There was a short silence and then Secundus answered, in a slightly stilted voice, "Simply that as the eldest we must look out for one another first and foremost."
Primus left it at that, though he knew that an alliance between any of his brothers would be impossible. Unlike other kingdoms, where the oldest male inherited the throne, Stormhold princes were to compete with one another for it. To the death. When the king died, the last brother standing would take his father's place.
"You cheated!" Quintus accused, pointing a finger at Septimus.
"Yeah," Sextus chimed in. "We're supposed to be using our hands.
Septimus looked down at his own hands. One was empty, not even wet. The other held a dagger with an impaled fish.
"If you don't play by the rules, then don't bother to play at all." Septimus hadn't seen who'd said it, but he was pretty sure it was Quartus. When he did finally look back up, all his brothers had left him, except for Tertius, who looked extremely uncomfortable.
He started over to his younger brother, but held back. "Don't worry about them, Septimus. They're just jealous because none of them have ever caught one before."
"Yes, they have. Just not with their bare hands. But that's stupid. Why would you use your hands?"
Tertius, already ill at ease, opened his mouth and closed it again, much like the fish were doing at his ankles. At last he shrugged and headed out of the water, muttering to himself that he was definitely too old for such childish water games.
Completely alone now, Septimus too exited the water. Once out, he flung the dead fish off of his dagger and sat on the shore. Sextus, Quintus, and Quartus were now seeing who could stay under water the longest. With any luck one of them would drown. He turned his head up toward the sun, so as to appear relaxed, but really he was thinking. Opening his senses. Primus and Secundus, now joined by Tertius, were watching him, he knew.
Septimus sheathed his dagger and walked back into the still lake's water. Sextus, the first to come up for air, looked at him uneasily, but when Quartus popped up he forgot about it and focused on splashing his older brother. The youngest brother shook his head and marveled at such folly. Didn't his brothers realize that the company they kept were their competitors for the crown? When he was waist deep, he sat down, so that the water came up to his neck. Again he was very still.
"What do you think he's doing now?" Tertius asked. He looked out of the corner of his eye to see if his observational question impressed either of his older brothers. It hadn't.
"Isn't it obvious?" Secundus sneered. "He's trying to catch a fish…with his bare hands."
Primus, perhaps the most kind-hearted brother, felt pity for the boy. It was simply unheard of to catch a fish in your hands. The little creatures were too slippery, and human hands were too slow and clumsy to grasp them.
After a while, the three eldest brothers tired of watching Septimus and turned instead to the next set, who were now out of the water and doing tests of strength.
The boys moved quickly, from trees to grass to rocks and back to the water – but never to where their youngest brother was. The men moved with the sun, following the shadows, until it was nearly sunset where they came to rest beside the horses.
"Tell our brothers that it is time we returned to the castle," Secundus ordered, swinging up into his saddle.
The servant walked quickly over to the rocks where Quartus and Quintus were daring Sextus to jump. Luckily for him, the servant came and he was unable to do it.
The boys dragged their feet glumly back to where the horses were. But were cheered to find Tertius having a hard time getting into his saddle.
They'd been mounted for some time, when Sextus broke the silence. "Oh, let's do go already! It isn't like he doesn't know the way back himself. And we can leave a servant to guide him if he does get lost."
Tertius, now in seat courtesy of Primus and two servants, started to scold him when his own horse started to paw the ground. "Oatberry is getting antsy," he remarked.
"We can't sit here all night, the sun is setting and we should be half way home by now! Bah, I'll go and get the little whelp." And with that Secundus pulled hard on his horse's reigns, so hard that a normal horse would have screamed. But this one was used to its master's harsh ways. He then kicked it into a gallop and headed for the water, the sunset, and his brother.