Summary: Esca hears his youngest brother across the room, crying into his cot, his shoulders shaking in the shadows. Pre-movie/book, no slash.
Disclaimer: I own nothing, zilch, nada.
The night was uneasy.
The river crashed wildly down the rapids, swerving into bulging rocks and hanging branches, echoing around the camp they'd set. Leaves rustled impatiently, whispering to one another, sharing secrets that travelled north with the wind. Owls squawked high in the heavens, beady eyes watching for what they new was heading their way, scrutinizing the darkness for those that preyed on them. Nature knew what headed towards the hills.
Esca knew too.
He lay wide awake on his mat, staring at the animal skins that provided a shelter for him and his brother tonight, though he would rather have been out there with the guard. He couldn't sleep. He knew what came north.
He flinched even as he thought of the word, instinctively reaching for the hunting knife by his side.
Some of the men had headed upriver into the dense forest, seeking out game – the rivers were scarce of fish going into winter, and meat was becoming harder to find. Esca had volunteered to bring his youngest brother, Bradán along, to teach him the ways of their people, as was custom at this age.
But it felt so strange, so wrong to be heading further south, towards where he knew, where they all knew the danger lay.
Word had quickly spread of the dark-skinned, dark-eyed people, wearing bright colours and leather skirts, pillaging and killing and conquering and raping their way through the South, speaking a quick, slithering tongue, and fighting in the shape of shining caterpillars.
Each day, the tales grew more violent, more bloody, more terrifying than the day before, and grown men would wake up sweating, clutching their swords with white hands, their eyes bright and dread in their blood.
Esca closed his eyes, swallowing as he banished the thoughts from his mind. Sleep, he thought, I just need to sleep.
Sighing, he turned on his side, watching as the sides of the tent fluttered in the wind. The fire burned in the centre of the tent, the smoke rising in crippled, lazy turns out the hole at the top. Shadows danced eerily all around, growing and shrinking as the shelter shook and flapped.
He glanced momentarily at his sleeping brother, smiling sadly as he watched the small shoulders rise and fall. Eight summers old, and still so tiny, so skinny. So vulnerable, so defenceless, so small.
Esca wasn't sure how long he lay there and watched, but he noticed quickly the change in Bradán's breathing, changing from a slow, steady calm, to the hitched, panicky breaths of a little boy…
Alarmed, Esca propped himself up on one elbow. His brother was young, but too old to be crying. Esca knew he should leave the boy, but his maternal, protective instinct kicked in, and he needed to comfort the boy, as he had with both his brothers so many times before. "Bradán," he called, "Bradán, I'm awake."
There was no response. Esca noticed how his brother held his breath, obviously ashamed of his weakness.
Slowly, Esca slipped out from beneath his cloak. He tiptoed around the fire, cursing as he tripped over a stray bow, covering the distance to his brothers sleeping roll in three quick paces. Quietly he lowered himself beside the huddled, still figure, and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Brother," he said, "I am here."
Bradán let out what must have been a painfully long breath and seemed to crumble beneath Esca's touch. His whole body shook as sobs racked his shoulders. Esca quickly pulled him into his embrace, shushing him and rubbing his back.
"Hush, Bradán, nothing can happen to you here, not whilst you're with me, with your family. Nothing from your dreams can reach you whilst you're awake," he mumbled, gently setting himself down on his younger brother's bedroll, still holding Bradán.
"It's not a dream, Esca," said a quiet, wet voice, and Bradán pulled away from his oldest brothers' shoulder to look him straight in the eye. "Brother, I've heard the stories, the whispers about the strange men from the south –"
"Who has told you such things?"
"The other boys, Judoc –"
"Your brother should not be repeating that he doesn't understand-"
"Esca," the boy interrupted, his big, blue eyes tearful and desperate, "Are we going to die?"
Esca could barely breathe. He pulled his brother close to his chest, and buried his head in the dark mop of hair. "I will never, ever let anything happen to you. Not one Roman shall touch a hair on your head-"
"They attack women, they say. That is not right, is it Esca?" came the muffled voice.
The older brother let out a shaky breath, keeping it in time with the flapping tent, begging the Gods that his brother wouldn't realize how weak he was becoming. "No one should ever hurt any woman."
The sat in silence, Bradán still shaking in Esca's arms. The eldest closed his eyes, trying hard to control his own breathing.
"What will become of us, Brother?"
"The Romans shall never make it this far north," Esca automatically answered.
Bradán shifted so he could look his brother in the eyes again. "They are on their way, aren't they?"
Esca froze. It scared him how bright this one was. "Who has told you this? Judoc again?"
"Everything is going north," Bradán explained, "the animals are leaving. The fish escape early. Even the wind refuses to blow south," his voice fell to a whisper. "They're coming for us all."
Esca looked down at the resignation in his brother's eyes. He choked on a sob and pulled his brother back into a desperate, clinging hug. "No one will touch you. No one will ever touch you. You're safe, Bradán. Our clan will protect our children with all its might. You have nothing to fear."
Another silence fell. Even the wind dropped as the young warrior made his oath. The trees stopped o listen, and the river waited patiently.
"You, Judoc and I will stay together, yes? No matter what happens," Bradán said, gripping to Esca's tunic as if his life depended on it.
Esca knew what he was saying. Can we walk into the afterlife together, as brothers?
The eldest allowed a few tears to drop as he kissed his brothers head, and laid him down onto the bedroll. "I promise. I will always protect you, and Judoc, as will our Father, Mother, and clan." He pulled the cloak high up above Bradán's shoulders, reaching to grab his own as an extra layer for the boy. "Sleep soundly, Brother, and know that you are safe now," he smiled, leaving a hand on his brother's back, knowing now that he wouldn't sleep tonight.
Bradán – is the Irish-Gaelic word for salmon.
I thought this fitted because Esca is so protective of the young boys in the film – the rogue warrior kid he couldn't kill, and the Seal boy aswell. A little bit of fluff to cheer us all up
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