Vol 0. Chapter 1. Morgan Selbair

As the horses halted, the young Morgan Selbair got down of the carriage. He looked at the castle looming over him, before a blond-haired boy approached, his expression friendly yet mischievous.

“Are you Morgan?” asked the boy. According to what his mother told him, he had to be Bertrand, older child and heir of House Basthed. His cousin. ”Father told me you know how to use a real sword. Do you want to spar later?” He looked Morgan’s age, if slightly younger.

Half-hiding behind him, there was a girl hardly older than four, holding tightly into Bertrand’s shirt. “Say hello, Cai!”

“H-hello,” murmured the little girl. By her likeness to the boy, she had to be Cailin, Bertrand’s younger sister.

Morgan mumbled a greeting back, as a couple of adults approached.

The woman spoke first, her lips curving into a gentle smile, “children, don’t bother Morgan too much. He must be tired after his travel.” She was his father’s sister, Seras.

Beyond sharing the same black hair and dark skin, looking at her kind expression, Morgan found it difficult to believe she was related to his stoic father.

“I’m fine, aunt Seras.” Next, Morgan nodded respectfully at the blond man beside Seras. He couldn’t forget the etiquette his mother had taught him. “Lord Sigmund, thanks for receiving me.”

The man frowned slightly and looked at Seras, who sighed. This sent Morgan into a panic. Did I say something bad, already?

“It was no problem, Morgan, but call me uncle. There’s no need for formality between family.”

Morgan nodded, doubt staining his mind.

“Let’s go. We’ll show you around.”

Two weeks later, Bertrand was playing with other children while Morgan looked at them from the window, yearning to be there but not daring to do so.

So distracted he was, his aunt caught him by surprise. “Morgan, why don’t you go to play outside?”

Admitting he didn’t know how to do that or interact with other children at all wasn’t an option. 

“I’m too old to play.” He almost flinched at his lame attempt to imitate the arrogant tone his father normally used.

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Seras’ expression was serious, but by the glint in her eyes, she was resisting a chuckle. “Morgan, you are twelve.”

“Eleven, actually.” His cheeks burning, he looked away.

“Only a year older than Bertrand, and yet, younger than some of those kids outside. So I don’t see the problem.”

“I don’t know any of them but Bertrand. It would be awkward,” he muttered. The idea of going outside and make a fool of himself was too much for him.

“Alright.” Unlike his parents, Seras was considerate about not forcing him into situations he felt uncomfortable with. However, her understanding but sad expression made his chest hurt. “But staying inside your room all the time it’s not good for your health.”

“I’m sorry…”

“Mmh. Maybe you could go to our library. Reading should be engaging enough for someone your age, don’t you think?”

“I g-guess?” It wasn’t in his plans but to say the truth, his plans -moping all day- were rather sad.

When Morgan entered the library, there was someone already there. Big blue eyes looked at him.

“Good afternoon, Cailin,” he said in his gentler tone possible, knowing the girl was possibly worse dealing with strangers than he was.

“G-good afternoon,” she muttered, making herself as smaller as possible, hiding her face behind her book.

Morgan resisted a sigh as he moved towards the bookcases, looking for something interesting to read. For him, anything about knights and sword fighting would be perfect.

Once he did, he sat at the table across from Cailin’s.

To his surprise, instead of ignoring him, every few minutes the little girl stared at him with curiosity as if she wanted to tell him something but couldn’t.

As the girl struggled with her shyness, Morgan decided to give her a hand. “What are you reading, Cailin?”

Cailin started. “I’m not.” He lifted an eyebrow. ”R-reading, I mean… Don’t know how. I’m just looking at the figures,” she admitted, looking down in embarrassment.

Morgan wanted to punch himself for causing that reaction. Of course, she didn’t know how to read yet, she was just four. “You could ask someone to read it to you.”

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The girl deflated even more. “I can’t. Papa is busy. Everyone else’s too.”

“Aunt Seras isn’t. You can ask her, I’m sure she would accept.”

She shook her head. “Bertrand would make fun of me if I bother Mama.”

Morgan frowned. Bertrand wasn’t a cruel boy by any means, but he liked to mess with his sister a little too often. “I guess Bertrand isn’t an option either, then.”

Cailin sighed miserably. As it happened with Seras before, despite knowing her for only some weeks, Cailin being sad made him unhappy too.

“I can do it,” he said.

Cailin’s expression was hopeful. “R-really?”

“If you want me to.”

Nervously, she nodded.

Smiling softly, Morgan stood up and sat beside her, gently taking her book. “From the start?” She nodded. “Alright. Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess with golden hair…”

Despite not being his kind of book, Morgan had to admit the fairy tale was a nice reading.

For her part, Cailin was engrossed. In the last minutes, having shifted closer. More comfortable with his presence than she had been since his arrival.

So understandably, she almost screamed when Bertrand pushed the door open. “Oh, there you are, Morgan. I had been looking for you.”

Morgan resisted a grimace. “Is that so?”

“Yeah, haha. Couldn’t found you anywhere. I almost thought you were hiding from me.”

It seemed that way because he was. Bertrand was so absurdly outgoing, Morgan didn’t know how to act around and had tried to avoid him, which was difficult while leaving in the same place.

“What do you say if we spar?” Also, Bertrand’s common sense was lacking. Couldn’t he see asking to spar with Morgan was an atrocious idea?

“Sorry but I’m reading to Cailin at the moment, right?” He looked at the girl for support, only to receive a confused glance in return.

“We can c-continue another day if you want to play with Bert,” she said. “T-thanks for reading to me.” Cailin smiled softly.

Morgan would have been happy about the little show of affection if he weren’t about to hit his face against the table. Cailin had completely misread his intentions.

“You heard her, let’s go.”

Morgan sighed in defeat, unable to refuse, as Bertrand pulled him away. He just hoped this would not explode on his face.

When they crossed with Sigmund, Morgan thought everything would resolve by itself. Instead, not only the man was okay with them sparring but he wanted to watch. Worse yet, Seras and Cailin joined the little group too.

Morgan’s nervousness reached its peak as they walked into the training grounds. A pair of squires helped them put on some silly wood-armours and gave them their weapons.

“Are you sure about this?” Morgan asked again, mentally imploring Bertrand to change of opinion. Even if they were just using practice swords, it didn’t mean they couldn’t get hurt.

He had no idea about Bertrand’s training, assuming he had any. Meanwhile, his father had personally supervised Morgan’s training, making him better at sword-fighting than most children.

“What? Are you chickening out?” mocked Bertrand.

“I’m not.” He scowled.

”Well, you better watch out then or I’ll wipe out the floor with you, dear cousin.” Bertrand shifted on his feet while flailing his wood-sword around in a quite clumsy fashion.

Now Morgan was sure, there was no way this would end nicely.

“Remember your honour, children,” said Sigmund. “Don’t strike at the face or under the belt, say ‘yield’ if you want to surrender, and whoever knocks the other first win. Understood?” They nodded.

“Don’t be too rough, okay?” said Seras and they nodded again.

“W-win, Morgan!” yelled Cailin, to his surprise and Bertrand’s utter bafflement.

“Oi, you are supposed to support me, your brother!”

Cailin hide behind Sigmund, making the man chuckle. “Morgan. Son.” He lowered his arm. ”Begin!”

Bertrand didn’t waste a second and ran to Morgan, flailing his sword in a large arc. Morgan didn’t even need to block but simply stepped away.

After his failed attack, Bertrand turned around with a grin on his face. “Haha, you are fast. Let’s see if you can do that again.”

Bertrand attacked again, this time, Morgan blocked. His cousin’s attacks were not that strong and rather slow, which made them predictable.

So with ease, Morgan counterattacked with a strike towards Bertrand’s side. It wasn’t intended to hit but gauge his cousin’s ability to block. Instead, it connected and knocked Bertrand on the ground.

Morgan barely heard as Sigmund called his victory. He was horrified. Just as he feared, he had hurt his cousin, the heir of the family that so kindly opened their home to him. He felt as if choking but no matter how much air he breathed, it didn’t help.

With his back to them, Morgan could perfectly imagine their reactions; his uncle burning with cold anger, his aunt’s disgusted expression, and Cailin paralyzed in fear.

They are going to hate me, he thought, they are going to−!

“That was amazing!” Bertrand stood up, smiling excitedly. “I knew you were good but that was incredible. I didn’t even see you moving.”

“E-eh?” The dizziness left Morgan’s mind. “You aren’t mad?”

“Mad about what? People get hurt while sparring all the time, don’t they?” Morgan nodded, still nervous. “And I’m alright. Don’t be a worrywart, Morg.” Bertrand gave him a light punch on his shoulder.

Morg?” To have his name botched like that was unthinkable, and yet, instead of anger, a sense of giddiness took hold of him.

“That’s how I’m calling you from now on. You can call me Bert!”

“Eh. I prefer to keep calling you Bertrand. But thanks, I guess.” He looked away in embarrassment.

Taking a tentative look at their public, his previous worries were proven needless. Sigmund looked okay about the sparring result, even amused if Morgan dared to say so; Cailin was impressed, her eyes shining; and despite a shadow of worry, Seras smiled at them, her wish for the cousins to interact finally fulfilled.

“Hey, Morg, I’m sure I can beat you at bow. What do you think? Want to try?”

Morgan was mediocre at archery but he doubted Bertrand was any better. “If you say so.”

Since that day, Morgan’s expectations for the future brightened.

Little by little, he lowered his defences and opened to his relatives. In exchange, during the next five years, they showed him something he hadn’t known before: The way a family was supposed to be.

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