Chapter 11 – Ronan
Six Years Earlier
I can’t believe he’s really gone.
Of course, I’ve known for over a year now. How could it not be true? But now that his body – or what remains of his body, anyway – has been found, there’s no denying it.
My brother is dead.
The ceremony ended more than an hour ago, but I still can’t tear myself away from the freshly laid dirt that marks his grave. I cried when they tossed the dirt in on top of his casket. “Don’t you know this was my brother?” I wanted to scream “Show some respect! You can’t just…you can’t…he can’t be…” It was the first time in the year since he’s been missing that I allowed the tears to fall. Now I can’t make them stop.
I was too young to realize how dangerous it was, what he was doing. Volunteering as a Seeker, joining the Hunt. To a twelve-year-old, your seventeen-year-old brother is invincible. Especially Riven. He was brave and strong and smart and kind, all the things your older brother should be. I had no doubt that he would find the treasure. I thought he could do anything.
But he never came home.
My dad realized it first. My mom refused to accept it. I stuffed it down deep inside of me, and took caution to never, ever let those feelings come out. I didn’t think I could handle them if they did.
Turns out I was right; I can’t handle them.
Everyone has gone home – even our parents – and I stand over Riven’s grave all alone now. My eyes are swollen from crying and I feel so exhausted I could collapse on top of the wet earth.
“You left me,” My voice is a hoarse whisper at first, then grows into an agonized scream. “You left me!” I sink to my knees and bury my face in my hands. “You said you would come home. You promised. But you lied, you didn’t come home. You lied, Riven! You’re a liar!” My fists pound the ground in a heartbroken rage and finally, I do collapse onto the ground.
I lie there on my side next to my dead brother who’s under the ground for what feels like hours. I drift in and out of a hazy sleep, my dreams haunted by all the potential scenarios leading to Riven’s death. In one, he is falling from a steep cliff onto jagged rocks jutting up from the river rapids below. In another he has become desperately, hopelessly lost and finally collapses onto the dusty mountain ground out of thirst and starvation, unable to move another step to save himself. In a third, he is attacked and ripped to shreds by a ravenous grizzly bear with foam dripping from its monstrous fangs, all blood and flesh and tattered strips of clothing.
That’s the worst part, I think in a period of relative lucidness. Not knowing how it happened. Did it hurt? Was he ready? Did he think of me before? Did he realize he’d broken his promise? Was he sorry? Riven’s bones, confirmed to be his only by the family heirloom compass found close by, whispered no secrets, told no tales.
And now I am alone.
That night I lie in bed unable to sleep, my eyes refuse to close. Each time they do I’m haunted by the same dreams of Riven dying alone in the mountains. Finally I decide to go get some water.
I stand in the cool darkness of the kitchen, sipping cool water when I hear their voices from the bedroom across the living room. Guess my parents can’t sleep, either.
Their voices are hushed, but I can still make them out. “I can’t believe he’s really gone,” my mother says with a quiet sob.
“I know.” My father’s voice is strong, but pained. I can hear their ancient bedframe creak with their movement, and picture him pulling my mother into his arms. “It was an honorable death though. Riven will be remembered for his bravery. At least we can be proud of one of our sons.”
The words pierce my heart more devastatingly than any weapon ever could. I shouldn’t be surprised by them, I’ve always known my parents loved Riven better. How could they not? I’m not as strong as Riven, or as smart. I get below average grades, I’m not brave, and I’m the smallest in my class. Riven was everything I’ve ever wanted to be, a hero in his own house. But to actually hear those words from my own father’s mouth…I thought that nothing else could hurt worse than the pain of losing Riven, but I was wrong.
Tiptoeing silent as a mouse back into my bedroom of quiet darkness and sorrow, I slip soundlessly back into bed. Wouldn’t want to inconvenience my parents by disturbing the night’s silence and give them another reason not to love me, I think bitterly. Curling around myself in bed, I fall into fitful sleep and wake with intermittent bursts of crying, dreaming that I am the one who has been lost in the mountains, except when they find my remains, no one comes to my funeral.