The anterior door opened, and through it came Nere Blackburn. The manic and haggard look on her face was not so different from that of her husband. She scurried straight toward Melchor and wrapped her skinny arms around him. “I am so glad you are safe,” she said into his chest. “I told Rholtam that we should not have sent you alone.”
Melchor returned the embrace, though his wasn’t quite the vice grip that hers was. He gave an acknowledging look to her reaper, who was hovering up behind her.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t greet you as soon as you returned,” she said. “Ibai wouldn’t--he... he was...”
“Being difficult?” said Melchor. And when the woman only nodded in response, Melchor exhaled a tired laugh and kissed the top of her head. “It’s alright. I’m fine.” As much as Ismael was a brother to him, Nere was a sister. Between the two of them, Melchor wasn’t sure whom he worried more about these days.
Nere released her hold on him and went to go sit next to her husband. Her strained eyes moved to Ismael’s face, and she shakily found his hand with her own.
Melchor saw Ismael squeeze her hand, but it was still not enough to stir the man back to sociability.
Rholtam picked up the slack for him. ‘Have you had a chance to assess the castle’s defenses?’
“Not yet,” said Melchor. “It is next on my to-do list.”
‘Good. If possible, I would like Orric to look them over as well. I’m sure he can--’
“I do not see an end to this,” said Ismael.
Everyone looked at him.
Ismael raised his head, gradually moving his gaze from each observer to the next. “I thought it could work. I thought we could keep our family together, but now... what hope is there? Truly? What hope? Tomorrow, they will come, and everything will unravel. Everything I’ve... everything... everything...” He rubbed his face with his free hand.
‘You’re wrong,’ said Rholtam. ‘There is hope still. But there can be no peace for us while that man still lives.’
No one needed him to specify which man he was talking about.
Rholtam wasn’t done. ‘We all know this, yes? Even if we weather this siege and somehow reconcile with the others, it will not prevent future conflicts arising in this same manner. The problem will remain.’