Authors: Nancy Straight
My words were angry, “I know that yer thirs’ for power cost our parents their lives. What you don’ know, what we both kep’ from ya: our father and I both held that arrow and neither o’ us was given Chiron’s magic.”
A flustered look crossed her face. Few times in my life had I wished for our twin connection to be restored, but in this moment, I would have loved to know what was going through her deceitful mind. Her voice was low, each word articulated carefully, “Our father did not touch that arrow.”
I’d always been a decent poker player, but this time I didn’t hold my cards close – I let the joy I felt show clearly on my face. Our father went to his grave never revealing his secrets to her. I was only too happy to revel in it. “Didn’t he now? I could have sworn it t’was his hand tha’ put the arrow in mine. T’was his voice pleading with me ta guard it with me life. T'was my hand that put the arrow in the hand of the guardian of Angela's son.”
Zandra’s eyes narrowed to angry slits as she spat her words back at me. “You killed him for it! You tried to drain its magic but Chiron wouldn’t let you. All these years you still hold on to your fantasy. Chiron would never have trusted his magic to a murderer!”
Her words caught me off guard. Her delusions were getting the better of her. She had told herself the same lie for so long, maybe she was starting to believe it herself. “I killed him far it? Our parents were keeping the arrow from you! They chose to sacrifice their lives o’er tellin’ you they gave it to me.”
Zandra looked aghast. Either she was the best actress on the planet, or she had truly convinced herself that she had not killed our parents. She looked me square in the eye when she shouted, “I never laid a hand on our parents. It was
who killed them.”
I looked into Zandra’s angry brown eyes. The eyes I remembered were kinder and gentler. The two of us had been inseparable as children. She and I could go for months without words. We didn’t need them, our twin connection was so strong. We knew each other’s minds as well as we knew our own.
As a young child I sensed the darkness in her – it was in both of us. She had been a sweet girl, but had a mean streak if provoked. The darkness she kept at bay as a child looked as though it had swallowed her whole as an adult. I had long ago come to terms with my demons; had Zandra handed her life over to her own? Could I ever think of her as the other half of me again?
She continued staring at me. As she did, something in her eyes softened and the angry look gave way to the chestnut color – they were the same as I remembered as a child. I leaned in and saw the innocence I remembered shining back at me.
Zandra was telling the truth. Zandra believed I killed our parents. This realization nearly made my knees buckle. I stammered, “Zandra. . . I didn’t. . . I couldn’t. . . I loved ‘em.”
Her tone was unwavering as she backed away from me, “You did. You were the only one who could have. No one could have gotten close enough to them but you or me. I’ve gone over it thousands of times in my mind. Say what you want, but I know the truth.” The darkness began clouding her irises again as I watched the hatred she had for me stream through them. Without flinching, she warned, “You were safe in Thessaly, but you’re in my world now, you fool.”
Butterflies erupted in my stomach. Could I have been wrong all this time? I thought back to
night. We had just finished Sunday dinner at my parent’s farm in Thessaly. Dad was a towering Centaur; even though I was full grown, I still looked up to him. His hands were the size of baseball mitts, and his arms were larger than my thighs. When Dad spoke, no one questioned him – no one.
Mam had made a shepherd’s pie for dinner. It had just been the three of us eating, and the aroma sat heavily in the air.
I remembered that night like it was yesterday. My life could not have been better. My betrothal to Maggie had just been announced, and my parents were pleased. Zandra had been on an outing with Maggie, escorted by one of Maggie’s brothers. It was a musical put on by a traveling theater group at a castle just on the other side of the pasture. Normally our whole family would have attended, but Dad insisted Zandra and Maggie go together; he needed to talk to me about an issue with the Centaur Council.
Our father was the Chairman. It was time for him to pass his chairmanship down. Zandra had never been interested in the politics of our race; she favored the arts. I was his logical choice. It wasn’t my place to ask for him to step down; I waited until he believed I was ready for it. When he sent Zandra out for the night with my betrothed, I believed he had made his decision.
After we had finished dinner, Mam stood to clear the dishes as Dad pushed his chair away from the table and barked, “Zethus, come with me to the barn.” A smile forms on my lips as I still remember how the sharpness of his voice made me flinch. At the time I thought myself a man, but compared to him, I was still just a boy.
I stretched my arms up high into the air as we stood on the front porch. Dad held his pipe and packed it with tobacco while looking out into the pasture. I know we spoke, but I don’t remember the conversation. The weather, maybe? I was waiting for him to bring up his chairmanship. I kept waiting for him to tell me he intended to pass his position onto me, but those words never came. No matter how hard I try, I have never been able to remember the content of our conversation on the porch that night.
I had no idea that would be our last conversation. Had I known, I would have more actively participated; I would have burned his words into my memory. I felt the guilt for years about not remembering his words on the porch. I chastised myself for being too consumed with the idea that I would be the next chairman and that he would be the one to make it so.
I hardly remember our walk to the barn, either. We kept goats, sheep, a few cows for milk, and hens for eggs. My childhood had been consumed with tending to them. As a teenager I vowed never to have a herd of any animals, I so despised the work that went with them.
As a young man, I was known for binges at the pub and my fair share of brawls. Dad rarely commented on my actions, other than the occasional, “Get it out of your system while you’re young.” Mam was more hands on and less willing to accept his “boys will be boys” attitude.
He could have passed the chairmanship onto me when I turned eighteen, but he didn’t. He held onto it longer than most. He must have known that it was the draw of the power, not the responsibility of the chairmanship that I craved. He knew I had mates at the local pubs, but worried that I would not have the first clue how to earn the respect of the heads of families. I was headstrong, and I had never put anyone else’s interests before mine. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t learn self-reflection until long after he took his final breath.
When we arrived at the barn, the smell repulsed me. I had neglected the daily raking of the animals’ droppings because I’d been out with several of my chums the night before. I knew it bothered my father when I neglected the animals, but he said nothing. Instead he reached high up into the rafters, where a weak second floor had been built to hold bales of hay, and pulled out an object wrapped in a burlap sack.
Dad was a man of few words. He looked at the dusty burlap, squared his shoulders on mine, and put the sack in my hand. “Protect the arrow. Tell no one it’s yours. Sever your connection so Zandra never learns the truth of where it is. Trust no one.”
He didn’t tell me it was Chiron’s arrow. He didn’t need to. I felt the arrow’s shape through the burlap. I’d heard the legends. I knew exactly what he had just entrusted to me. Pride is a dangerous emotion, and my chest swelled with the knowledge of what I was holding. I came to my senses just long enough to ask, “Sever me connection? But she’s me sister?”
“Do it. She must never know.” He turned and walked out of the barn. I stood there with the burlap sack in my hand. I was transfixed by it. More than a minute passed before I finally looked through the barn door to see Dad was almost back to the house. I took the arrow out of its bag – it was beautiful. It was as straight as the ruler I used in school, as glossy as Maggie’s hair in the sunshine, and perfectly weighted when I balanced it on one finger. I held in my hand the weapon of a god.
The sound of the front door to the house slamming shut brought me back to reality. I carefully tucked the arrow back into the sack that had been protecting it. Dad didn’t have to tell me he expected me to find a new location for its safekeeping. I didn’t like the idea that it had been jammed under a bale of hay beneath a leaky roof – not at all a fitting location for a relic that once belonged to Hercules.
I found a metal file Dad kept in his toolbox, a large one with a narrow end. I began working a groove on the back side of one of the support beams that butted up against the wall of the barn. It took me nearly two hours of steady filing, but when I was done, I tested the arrow wrapped carefully in the burlap bag, and it fit snugly inside the backside of the beam. Save for the wood shavings on the floor, no one would ever suspect such a hiding place. It was protected from wind, rain, dust, and was invisible from every angle. I scooped up the wood shavings and threw them onto the pile of sheep droppings on the other side of the barn.
I started for the house but stopped. I was still brimming with pride for Dad trusting me with the arrow, but he needed to know I was ready for the chairmanship, too. I needed for him to know I was responsible and worthy of his trust. I grabbed the shovel and began cleaning up the droppings that I had neglected from the night before. At the same time, I threw out the wood filings from my arrow’s new hiding place.
I had just put the shovel away when I heard Zandra’s scream. Zandra must have been dropped off for the night by Maggie and her brother; I looked down our lane and saw no sign of a car. I stood paralyzed trying to be sure I had heard it through my ears and not in my mind. If Zandra were in trouble, it would be me she’d contact for help. I tried to tune into Maggie through our betrothal connection to find out if they were in trouble.
Zandra screamed my name, loud and long, “ZEEEEEETHUUUUUS.” I couldn't imagine anything that would make Zandra scream like that. I sprinted toward her scream, but didn’t find her in the yard. There was no sign of anyone. I ran around the back of the house but found the pasture behind the house empty, too. My heart was racing as I threw open the front door of the house to find our parents lying in a shared pool of blood with Zandra kneeling beside them.
Her face was drained of all color. I wrapped my arms around Zandra, my mind unable to make sense of the two bloody figures on the floor. Dad’s words echoed in my mind, warning me to sever my connection with Zandra. I did as Dad had instructed.
She tried probing my thoughts, but I had already shut her out as Dad told me. I got an eerie feeling that he had known his death was coming and that was why he chose to give me the arrow that night. He didn’t want Zandra to know I had it. Had he known his own daughter intended to kill him for it?
Her anger at me was unmistakable. She questioned why I had severed my connection with her. I couldn’t tell her why, so I let go of her and skirted the truth, “There were things he trusted me with; things that could be dangerous if you knew. He told me to sever my connection with you tonight. It’s for your own protection.”
As I looked at their lifeless bodies, I knew he had been right. Zandra must have killed them both to try to get the arrow. Our father had sent her out for the night to ensure he transferred it to me before she got back. It was safely tucked away where no one would find it, not even Zandra.
She had killed them – the two who had given us life, taught us what it was to be a family. For what? Greed? Power? Mam’s lifeless face fixated in horror at the ceiling. Dad lay sprawled out partially covering her body. Had he tried to protect her in the final moments from her own daughter? There was so much blood. Were Mam and Dad still here watching? Or had they already left for the pasture. Zandra wasn’t talking to either of them, so either she was ignoring their spirits or they had already left.
Zandra knelt beside the two bodies, rocking back and forth, her arms wrapped around herself. Blood clung to the hem of her dress where she had knelt beside them. I looked all around the room for a bloody weapon, but didn't find it. When the Council Enforcers arrived, they would know she had done this. She would be found guilty and her life would be taken in payment for Mam and Dad. If anything, our race believed in swift justice.
She looked so scared. My first inclination had been to go to her and comfort her, but now the thought repulsed me. She had murdered them in cold blood. They had probably not seen it coming. As angry as I was with her, I swallowed the bitter taste in my mouth and phoned the Head Enforcer. I told him the Chairman was dead.
When the Centaur Council Enforcers arrived to investigate the murders, I refused to cooperate. I never told them I had walked in with her kneeling beside their lifeless bodies. They never found the murder weapon, and I kept to myself that I believed she had killed them to try to get the arrow. As much as I hated her for what she had done, I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Zandra, too. I kept quiet.
Maggie returned that night with her father. I shared with her what had happened; she encouraged me to tell the enforcers but understood why I remained silent. Maggie confirmed that my parents had left for the pasture. It didn't make sense that they would leave for the pasture without a good-bye. Maggie told me it may have been too hard for them to stay after their daughter murdered them. Zandra pleaded with Maggie to break our betrothal, trying to convince her that it was I who took their lives. I was sure she did this to throw the investigators off her trail, and she, too, refused to answer the investigators’ questions.