Sometimes Personal Differences Can Be Smoothed Over with Lots of Alcohol and Mockery
“Rh’eyltakak, is what the locals used to call it, before the church got a hold of it and called it Mount Saint Bernadette. I think the old name has a bit more gravitas, don’t you?” Robbie wiggled his eyebrows at them. “Anyway, back before there was a monastery there, rumour is it was a hidey-hole during the Flame War. So I’m trekking across the Fury Plateau to climb the stupid thing, and let me tell you that is not a nice place to trek. First of all the Roe Range is full of volcanoes, so it’s sulfur and ash everywhere. The locals aren’t very friendly, and on top of that, well, it’s a huge mountain range. I’m sure Owen knows what that means.”
“Dragons.” Owen grinned, taking a draw from his tankard. He wasn’t a big drinker and he knew from experience that he would regret it in the morning, but he couldn’t very well be the only one at the table not drinking, and besides, this was the first night since they’d left Merket where they were staying in an inn rather than outside. A little celebration was in order.
“Dragons,” Robbie agreed with a shake of his head. “Big assholes, too, not like that puny one you scared away.” Robbie paused so Owen could give him the finger. Then he turned back to the table. “Anyway, lot of them nesting around there and we know they don’t like visitors. Wish I could say I fought them all off, but really I ran like hell and hid under a lot of rocks.”
Robbie paused for laughter. “Probably smart,” Deatra told him. “Not all of us can have balls for brains like Owen, and the luck to go with it.”
“It’s all skill,” Owen protested, to lighthearted jeers.
“Anyway, wish I’d had the lad with me, maybe it wouldn’t have shaved so many years off my life. But eventually I got there, ready to find the treasure that had to be there.”
“But instead you found the monastery,” Cleo guessed.
“Don’t spoil the ending. But yes. They wouldn’t even let me look through the catacombs, just said there was nothing there.” Robbie’s face split into a grin. “Though some of the nuns up there let me explore their catacombs, if you know what I mean.”
The jeers that followed that were louder than those Owen had gotten. “That’s the worst euphemism I’ve ever heard,” Deatra announced. “It doesn’t even make bloody sense.”
“Made sense at the time, let me tell you.”
“Having fun?” An arm landed around Owen and Gavin leaned in from behind, talking into his ear.
“Hey.” Owen turned his smile on Gavin, who kissed him lightly. “What are you doing?”
“Taking your chair.”
“You going to come sit with us common folk, your Highness?” Dennis asked, looking at Gavin as if unsure of him. Which Owen figured was fair.
“Yeah, I thought I would for a while. Owen’s going to spend some time with Gabrielle.”
Owen raised his eyebrows at that, and looked over at the back table, where Gabrielle was currently sitting by herself. Gavin had been with her until a moment ago. “Pretty sure I wasn’t invited over there.” Gabrielle was talking to him, but only in short bursts. And she still went out of her way to limit the amount of time Owen could spend with Gavin.
“I’m inviting you. And I’m taking your chair in the exchange so I can drink with the fun people.”
“Gabrielle’s not fun?”
“Gabrielle’s not letting me drink properly. Go.” And he gave Owen a sharp shove that nearly pitched him out of his chair. Owen stood to avoid being sprawled on the floor, pretending that everyone wasn’t laughing at him.
“This is going to end with me getting beat up,” he muttered in Gavin’s ear before straightening. “Sorry, got to go,” he told them. “Boss’s orders.” Owen paused before turning around. “Get Gavin to tell you the story about the ghost in the church in Knifewater.” It was one of the only stories where Gavin came out looking like a fool instead of Owen.
“Owen.” Gavin glared at him, and Owen smiled innocently before heading across the crowded common room to Gabrielle’s table. He could already hear them demanding the details from Gavin.
Gabrielle saw him coming long before he got there and didn’t actively make to stop him, so Owen sat across from her, projecting confidence he didn’t feel. “Evening.”
“You’re not my brother.”
“He stole my chair,” Owen said. “And made me come over here. I think he wants us to be friends.”
“I think that’s not going to happen.” Gabrielle looked at Owen darkly, and took a drink. “I’m putting up with you, and that’s going to have to be good enough.”
“And I appreciate that,” Owen said with a small smile. “But Gavin tends to get what he wants.”
“From you, maybe.” Gabrielle snorting. “I’m not sleeping with him. I have more leeway.”
“Do you?” Owen asked, honestly curious. Gabrielle just looked at him and raised her hand to summon the server with more beer.
A young man brought over a platter with two tankards on it and Gabrielle nodded for Owen to take the second one. He’d left his other one at the other table. “I shouldn’t,” Owen muttered, taking it by the handle. “I’ve already had too much.”
“You’re still talking straight, so that seems unlikely,” Gabrielle countered. “Besides, alcohol is good for you.”
“It’s…really not.” Owen frowned.
“You, of all people, are going to call me a liar?” Gabrielle put her elbows on the table, leaning forward in challenge.
Owen had to look away and took a drink from the tankard. “Fair enough,” he mumbled into the froth. He could feel himself getting lightheaded. “Think Gavin was mostly annoyed because you weren’t letting him drink.”
“I let him have a little bit. He’s a child.”
“No, he isn’t.”
Gabrielle didn’t answer that for several minutes, until both of them had emptied what was in front of them. “No, he isn’t,” she finally agreed. “But I still think of him as one. It was hard enough for me to come to terms with the fact that he wasn’t a little boy anymore before all of this—overnight he went from being my cute little brother to being a dog in bloody heat.”
“Female dogs go into heat,” Owen pointed out.
“Shut up,” Gabrielle pointed back. “It was bad enough knowing that he wanted to have sex, and now that I know he actually is, I just…” The server came back with more beer, and Gabrielle indicated for Owen to take another. He did, and drank dutifully.
“I’m not making you picture him having sex,” Owen said after a minute. “You’re the one who keeps bringing it up. I mean, you’re his sister—you think I’m not perfectly happy to pretend that isn’t happening around you?” Hopefully Gabrielle at least hadn’t heard about all the marks he’d left on Gavin—who had made a point of bathing where people could see him the day after their nocturnal adventure.
Gabrielle watched him for a little while longer before speaking again. “I didn’t know he liked men,” she said finally. “Before now.”
“Hell of a way to find out,” Owen muttered. “I don’t know if he knew either, though. I know I didn’t know I did until I met him.”
“Yeah. I thought…” Owen trailed off. “No, I need to drink more before I tell you that story.”
“That can be arranged.” Gabrielle summoned the server again.
“You know, I’d have died a million times if it wasn’t for him,” Owen said, while they waited. More beer was brought and this time Owen didn’t wait to be told to drink it. “I think you’d be proud of everything he’s done.”
“I am,” Gabrielle admitted. “I don’t even know half of it and I am.”
“You want to hear about it?”
“Sure, until you’re drunk enough to say whatever it was you mentioned earlier.”
So Owen regaled her with stories of their adventures, picking out the ones he was best at telling and the ones that made Gavin look the best. At first Gabrielle listened rather stoically, but by the end Owen had her at least laughing at the parts where he looked like an idiot. “…And then Gavin says, ‘no, Owen. Those are snakes.’”
Gabrielle snorted into her beer. “It’s a wonder you survived so long. You know, when he was little, they tried to train Gavin in the sword. He was terrible at it—he still is, honestly. After a little while he just stopped going to practice and when I went to force him to it, he told me…” She paused for a minute, cheeks ruddy, as she recalled. “He said, ‘Gabi, You’re way better than me, so you should practice. You can protect me.’ And I told him that I might not always be able to do that, and he said he’d find someone else who could if I was ever too busy. But…you know what he said when I told him he ought to be able to protect himself?”
“He told me that he would just scare off anyone who tried to hurt him. Very matter-of-fact, while hiding behind his teddy bear.”
Now it was Owen’s turn to laugh. “That sounds like him.”
“Yeah, he’s always talked a big game. Tripped over his own pantlegs until his was fifteen, but he was always sure that he could just talk the world into working out in his favour.”
“I can’t picture Gavin being clumsy.”
“You tell me whatever it was and I’ll tell you about the time he dropped my father’s crown into the moat.”
Owen couldn’t help a glance over his shoulder at Gavin, who definitely wouldn’t have approved of this line of conversation. But that was what he got for stealing Owen’s chair. “I thought Gavin was you,” Owen said, taking a long drink. “When I went to rescue him from the dragon. I mean, I didn’t know who you were or what you looked like or anything, but I’d heard a princess had been kidnapped.”
Gabrielle just looked at him, face blank, but an amused expression grew slowly across her features. “Oh,” she said, getting it. “Now I see. How very disappointed you must have been.”
“Oddly, no.” Owen shrugged, though he found he couldn’t quite coordinate his shoulders properly. “It worked out just fine in the end.”
“Better not let it get out that your dragon-slaying skills come entirely from your drive to sleep with me.”
“Oh, I wasn’t planning on sleeping.” Owen mumbled into his tankard, wondering where the beer had gone. Gabrielle laughed again. “Anyway. That’s the real origin story of our relationship.”
“How very fitting for the two of you.” Gabrielle laughed, shook her head. “You seem good for each other.”
“You don’t have to sound like admitting that is a punch to the face.”
“Quiet, I’m trying to be a bigger person here.”
“It’s clear that you love him as much as he loves you,” Gabrielle went on. “It’s actually kind of embarrassing watching the two of you. So consider this the mandatory warning that if you hurt him I’ll rip your arms off.”
“Does that mean I’m off the ‘smother in his sleep’ list?”
“It means you can stop sneaking into Gavin’s tent through the back,” Gabrielle grumbled. “As long as I don’t have to fucking hear about it.”
“Agreed.” Owen smiled, raising his hand to call for more. “Your promised a story about a crown and a moat.”
“Oh, that’s not the half of it. If I can’t force you to not to see each other, I’ll tell you stories about his childhood until you’re too embarrassed to be seen with him.” She smiled. “Trust me, there are a lot. This one time, we were hosting some nobility from the west, and Gavin thought it would be a good idea to show their children around the castle on his own…”