Three brothers lived long ago, in a forgotten age, in a land now lost. Their parents were well-to-do folk, but two of the brothers were born quarrelsome. The eldest insisted on having the last word in all things, and bored those around him with pointless, rambling stories. The middle brother was fierce-tempered and fearless to a fault, and often got into fights he could not win. The third brother, however, was as sweet-mannered and kind a boy as ever lived. When he grew old enough to speak, he was always padding after the eldest asking for a story, or admiring the middle brother’s sword-skill.
Though he was not especially strong or clever in his own right, and was too sickly to take a trade of his own, his brothers adored him for believing in them. It was the youth who apologized on his fierce brother’s behalf when his temper got the better of him, and it was the youth who found the lovely strands in the worst of the eldest’s stories. The other children claimed to adore each of the three, but only when asked, and never invited them to play.
Each brother, in his time, grew to a man; the writer became sober and thoughtful, and if his stories found little audience, that little loved them well. The warrior became tall and strong, and if he did not win all his battles, precious few of his defeats were less than hard-fought. Their friends, who once seemed so many, turned fewer and fewer each year, and spoke to them less, but they had each other and were content for a time. Their mother treasured all three of them; their father, though kind in his way during their youth, was always afraid his sons were too listless. This fear blinded the father to the youth’s frailty. In time he bid them go out into the world and make their own way. The youth’s brothers protested that he was not grown enough yet, and urged their brother to put their father off but a little while longer.
But the youth would not hear of it: “We are men grown now,” he laughed, “and of good birth, and all our friends are behind us! Surely it will not be so hard to make our way in the world.” So he said, and off they went. But soon the brothers found that none would buy the writer’s tales, for none knew his name, and none would take the warrior’s sword-oaths, for none knew his name, and the youth had no skills of his own to offer, besides which none knew his name. They wrote to all the friends who would hear them asking help or guidance, and much was promised, but no help or guidance ever came.
For long years they wandered the same city streets, hoping they might find opportunity there, until at last their father sent word that he had lost patience with them. The youth protested that both his brothers had plied their trades faithfully, and well, and it was not their fault that they found no fortune, but their father would not hear it. If the youth cared so much for their brother’s trades, he wrote, it was for the youth to find something that would sustain them, since they clearly had done too little to sustain themselves.
The youth’s brothers begged him to let them try their hands a little longer, at least until their money was run out, but he would not hear of it. “It’s time I grew up!” the youth said, full of cheer. The writer found this much inspiring, and wrote many stories to channel his brother’s brightness. But the warrior saw that their friends, who seemed many enough if not at all so many as the friends of others, were dwindled almost away, and he saw that the youth had seen. Their brother’s smiles were smaller, his laughter more hesitant, and he did not move with the same energy.
“Listen to me, brother,” he said, drawing the youth aside, “The way ahead will be hard. I have heard this from the old soldiers whose counsel I sought. The world ignores us when it does not revile us, and you are a kind heart, and will take it poorly. You must fight, for they will not fight on your behalf.”
But the youth only danced away, and said, “Brother, that is no way to live! Why fight the world when I may befriend it?” And he would hear no more of fighting from his brother.
In the final year it came that the youth took work in a mine, but his frail lungs could not stand the cold, damp, coal-filthy air, and he was grievous ill while he worked there. His overseer would not believe him, and scolded him fiercely for his weakness, which the overseer took for laziness. When the warrior caught word of this, he stood between the two one day, unspeaking, and would not let the overseer pass to speak to his brother. So it was the youth lost his job in the mines. Later the warrior regretted only that he did not kill the overseer on the spot. The brothers bore the youth back to their parents, and for a time it seemed their father relented, and their mother was overjoyed to see them again, and the youth began to recover.
But when the youth was still ailing, their father ordered them back into the world. The warrior was furious, and would have drawn his sword against their own father had not the youth stayed his hand. “Please, brother, he is only concerned for our future, that if we languish here too long we will never learn to stand alone. Stay your sword,” the youth begged, and so they went forth again, though the youth was not yet whole. Now the writer saw that their brother, though he still loved the stories, could not muster the same energy for them, and was worried, and went to him.
“Brother,” he said, “you are right that our father means well, but he is mistaken. Let me write to him. I will make him understand, and we will have our reprieve just a little while longer. You only need more time to recover, and likely after this illness is passed, your ordeal will have strengthened you. You will be strong enough to work then, only wait a little while longer.” But the youth laughed, though weakly, and shook his head.
“Brother, that is no way to live! A healthy young man cannot spend all his time in sickbed!” And he would hear no more of writing their father.
There came a terrible month when the three brothers returned home to visit an old Aunt on her deathbed, stricken with illness while their parents were away on a vital errand, and caught the disease themselves before she passed. For three weeks the brothers could do naught, and it was only the warrior’s discipline which forced him up each day to feed his brothers and himself, and it was he who kept them cleaned and warm abed, though it drained him sorely. Even so the warrior recovered first, and the writer soon after, but the youth was still so very weak. His brothers begged him to rest, but he would hear no more of it, and they woke one morning to find him already on the road.
They followed him to a high mountain pass overlooking golden meadows and tough flowers, with no one else in sight, and there they found him dying.
“Brother, we must get you home!” the warrior barked, but the youth would not be taken.
“Brothers,” he said, “this world offers no way for me to live. I see this now. You, my clever brother with your ready quill: all that happens to you is fodder for your stories. You will do well of them with hearts less frail than myself. You, mighty brother with your wrathful sword: all that happens to you makes you stronger. You will carve a path to glory without my fears to make you doubt. It is lonely here on the mountain, yes, but lonely places suit us well, we three. We have always walked without friends save each other, and this place can be ours alone. I am content to rest here, forever.” And with that the youth died.
But his brothers realized that he was wrong, and they had needed him, as they claimed all along. The warrior had hated the names of the merciless men named in stories, but realized it was only his brother’s kindness that kept him from cruelty. The writer always hated stories written only to bring sadness, but could not see of writing happy ones in a world which offered none for his brother, the youth.
“What shall you do now?” asked the warrior. “I have heard of a company of honest warriors, who take ready swords without regard for the puffed-up lords who might recommend them. I will join them.”
“I have sent word to a lord who might wish to buy my first great story. I hope he will take it,” the writer said, and looked to the youth, so still now. “I will write our brother’s story, first,”
“Why?” the warrior asked. “The world did not listen to him while he was alive, however much they claimed to love him.”
“Perhaps, but perhaps they will listen now,” the writer said. “After… I do not know if I shall write again.”
Then the surviving brothers, after burying the youth, parted. Some stories say that the warrior became the fiercest of swordsmen, and swept the field in his furies, and that wicked men walked in terror of his avenging blade. Others say that he faded to obscurity, or died a villain himself. Some stories say the writer became a scribe of great legends, and his works were beloved the world over; others say he died penniless and alone, and his words with him. All the stories agree that each year while they lived, the pair returned to the high pass, and their brother’s grave.
All the stories agree that neither the warrior nor the writer ever forgave their father, and that they hated him implacably until the unraveling of eternity.
(For the second half of the Brothers’ tragic tale, click HERE)