I don’t want you to come away with the idea that we fought all the time. That isn’t true. When we were little, we played and wrestled as boys will. Esse made us little wooden swords and bows, and we took turns playing raiders against settlers. Or sometimes we were both raiders and the settlers were old clay pots or other trash we just bashed up.
We got in trouble once when Esse smashed a pot with his sword—a good pot, full of oil for cooking. It belonged to our old Uncle, Labyn. He was Becca’s step-uncle, I think. But Esse made such sad eyes at him, and smiled, and apologized over and over. Labyn patted him on the head and relented. I offered to pay for the pot and the spilt oil, but Labyn said, No, he was a boy once too, we should forget it … and not just tell Izzy. But Esse bragged to our father about it. So he made me work it off, while he and Esse hunted. That was the charm he had, and the luck.
But they caught nothing that trip. Izzy came back home, exhausted, and lay down in the cool of his tent, and slept. I think he had been drinking all the wine they’d brought. Then Esse came up to me and said,
“Do you have anything to eat? I’m famished. I tried to run down a deer but he got away.”
I said I had nothing but some boiled oatmeal that was maybe still warm.
Esse said he’d eat it. “Fetch it here.”
I said I would but since it was mine and I had made it, he would have to trade me something for it.
“What?” He padded his hands around his coat of stitched hides. I have nothing. You want his knife? He unsheathed Izzy’s knife from his place in his belt. “He said I should have it. Bit it is old and dull and I don’t like it.”
I thought a moment. “No.” I paused to make certain I had his attention. “I’ll trade you as to who is the oldest.”
“But I am older!”
“Only by a little. We don’t have to tell anyone. I’d just like to know what it feels like to be the oldest.”
“It feels like shit.” Esse’s stomach rumbled.
“OK!” he roared. And he ate like a starving man.
I went and fetched the porridge. So, that was done.
The next day he came back with some conies and offered them to me. I said no, I didn’t like conies, and he could cook them himself and give them to Father, like he always did. Esse said they were to settle the deal. I told him to stick his conies up his crack. Then we fought.
Father ended up with the conies; he really enjoyed it when Esse came home after a hunt. Father never did any hunting himself. He didn’t like to get up early and he said his bones creaked after holding still for too many minutes. But he loved roasted meat. Loved everything about it. And loved Esse because he brought it.