Mikoto and the Reaver Village (Amaranthine Saga #4) - Forthright .


Only Son

Everyone seemed to think that Mikoto was ready to step into his father’s place. Like it was only natural. An orderly progression. Seamless as the change of seasons. Gabriel’s season had ended, leaving his son with a considerable legacy. And an overly considerate assistant.

The soft clap of clasping hands prefaced Yulin’s light inquiry. “Are you avoiding me, young noble? Or is it the day’s roster that troubles you?”

Mikoto bit his tongue and kept his face turned toward the early morning mists hanging thick among the trees on the neighboring mountain. He’d been quiet, even careful, when slipping out the gate in the back garden. Yet he’d been followed. Again.

All he wanted was a little normalcy. Simple things, like starting the day with a run. Maybe some sparring. Breakfast with the Guard. Or with their newcomers, if he’d been so lucky. But suddenly, Mikoto had a schedule. And a minder.

It wasn’t fair to blame Yulin. He was only doing his job.

This Amaranthine had been Father’s administrative assistant. And his father’s before him. And so on, all the way back, almost to the beginning. According to the family chronicle, Yulin had worked alongside every village headman since Gerard Reaver’s grandson. Yulin did it all, and he did it flawlessly—secretary, accountant, correspondent, clerk, archivist, liaison, errand boy, and interpreter. As such, Yulin had a place in all of Mikoto’s childhood memories. Father’s shadow.

In the tradition of his clan, Yulin’s designation was scribe. Scribe Yulin Dimityblest, son of Linlu Dimityblest, one of Wardenclave’s less-famous founders. A moth.

“If you need escape, excuses can be made,” offered Yulin. “You are grieving.”

Which was true, but not the whole truth.

Mikoto’s attention drifted woefully over the forested peaks and passes that made up the Denholm range. For nearly a week, an allotment of battlers had been entrenched on those slopes and on the plain beyond. Safe inside the oldest—and most formidable—barriers in the world, they were undergoing special training. All very secret. And like everything that went on in Wardenclave, all very exclusive. But Father had pulled some strings, begged a favor, gotten permission for Mikoto to tag along. Then undid all those plans by dying.

Disappointment was its own kind of grief, one that prickled with guilt and regret.

Mikoto had a battler’s build and bloodline. When he was nine, Father started letting him slip in among the other kids, attending camp like any other up-and-coming reaver, pretending he didn’t live there year-round.

He’d taken every possible course their camp offered to young battlers—survival, tracking, climbing, close combat, ranged attack, stealth, and strategy games. Mikoto had gained proficiency in half a dozen traditional weapons. Had consistently ranked in the end-of-summer games. Had even been tapped for an Elderbough apprenticeship.

Father had been proud. Actually, the entire village was proud. But it had always been an indulgent, extracurricular sort of pride. Mikoto was a boy playing games. A kid with a hobby that would have to fall by the wayside. Because Mikoto was Gabriel Reaver’s only son.

Heir to a piece of history.

Headman of Wardenclave.

“I wanted ….” Mikoto trailed off with a shrug. His plans for the summer had been twofold—impress the instructor and impress the girl. The former was supposed to lead to the latter. So losing the first meant losing everything. Unless he could come up with another plan.

Yulin said, “You were looking forward to this summer.”

He would know. He’d probably handled the arrangements.

Mikoto said, “I am selfish.”

“No, brave noble. You are merely young.” Yulin stepped closer. “Your progenitor was young once, too. He understood.”

When it came to Father, young was impossible to visualize. He’d been sixty-five and already silver the year Mikoto was born. But understanding? Yes. Gabe Reaver had known what was important to his son because they talked. Not at great length. But always honest. Bedrock stuff.

“He knew what you needed.” Yulin’s fingers caught the hem of Mikoto’s tunic. “You trusted him with your hopes, and he, in his turn, entrusted them to me.”

Mikoto finally looked at the person who represented everything he’d lost and everything that would be required of him.

Like all Dimityblest moths, Yulin was short and slight, with hair mottled in a powdery range of creams and browns. The patterns were reminiscent of the clan’s night-flying counterparts. A whole family in camouflage.

Yulin was a lot of things—quiet, efficient, pleasant, and darned near omnipresent. But what threw Mikoto straight out of his peevish mood was a pair of large, putty-colored eyes. Because Yulin was close to tears.

Was it his fault?

Or did Yulin have the same excuse he’d