First Born

Michael was the first son. The eldest son. He remembered when his parents brought Richard home, a squishy, red faced, noisy thing that Michael was supposed to take care of.

"They're my mother and father. I had them first," he told his squalling new brother that night, leaning over the baby bed that had been placed in his room.

He had to share now.

-l-

When they were older, Michael had to hold Richard's hand when they went into market. "Look out for your brother," Michael's father said, leaving them in the square when he went to talk to the blacksmith.

Michael made Richard sit at his feet while he talked to Sarah Miller, boasting that he'd steal apples for her from Old Zedd's orchard.

"I can steal apples, Mickey!" Richard piped up, looking up from his drawing in the dirt. "I can help."

"No, you can't," Michael scolded, his ears turning red."I thought of it first." Sarah was laughing at him, at that stupid name Richard called him. "And my name is Michael!"

-l-

Michael was sixteen, a man grown, when his mother got sick. But Richard was still a child. A little boy. That was why, Michael told himself, that his mother called for Richard when she was dying. She knew her first born could handle himself. He didn't need her anymore. It didn't matter that he didn't get to say goodbye.

The night after they buried her, Richard crawled into Michael's bed. It was the first time he'd done that since he still believed in the Bogie Bear. "What was the last thing mom said to you?" Richard whispered in the dark.

"Watch out for your brother," Michael recited without opening his eyes.

"Huh. Me too." Richard grasped Michael's hand.

-l-

"You look good, Mickey!" Richard said from the door. Michael adjusted the new brass pins at his collar and turned to face his little brother, scowling. "Are you ever going to stop calling me that?"

Richard shrugged and grinned, "I don't know. Probably not."

Michael huffed. "I'm First Councilman now -"

"Alright," Richard interrupted. "I won't embarrass you. I promise."

Michael narrowed his eyes, but nodded, clapping Richard on the back as he moved into the family room. "Where's dad?" he asked Richard.

"He went to see Old Zedd. He didn't think you'd mind. You don't, do you?"

"No, of course not." Michael's throat was tight.

Of course he didn't need his father's blessing on his first day as Hartland's leader.

-l-

"Will you seek a seat on the council?" Michael asked Richard after his coming of age party.

"I don't think so," Richard answered, still in his best vest."You did it first, and one great leader in the family is more than enough."

He laughed, and Michael joined him, quietly relieved.

-l-

Michael was in the town square when Richard found him.

"Brother!" he greeted, leading the family horse. "I fixed that bridge you asked me about."

"Thank you," Michael started, before losing his train of thought.

A woman in a long white dress had just walked into the square. She was beautiful, with hair as black as midnight and skin the color of a peach. Michael caught her eye, and she approached.

"I've never seen her before," Richard breathed once he noticed her.

"I saw her first," Michael whispered back. He took a step forward, positioning himself in front of Richard.

"Hello. I'm the First Councilman," he told the beautiful woman, holding out his hand to her.

She didn't take it, or tell him her name. Instead she described an old man she was looking for in clipped tones.

"That's Old Zedd," Richard piped up.

Michael glared at his brother. "I can show you the way," he told the beautiful woman with the cold blue eyes.

She allowed him to lead her.

-l-

Richard was full of questions when Michael returned home for dinner. Father laughed and teased him about posting wedding banns. Together, they plotted ways for Michael to see the woman again.

Their supper was interrupted by a knock at the door. "I'll get it," Michael said, waving his father and Richard back to their seats.

It was his dream woman standing on the doorstep. She looked like a lily, fresh in the spring.

"Hello again," she smiled at him, eyes much warmer now. "I'm Kahlan Amnell. Are you Richard, second son of George and Mary Cypher?"

"No," Michael said through teeth that clenched. "I'm Michael, and I was born first."