The ground was soft against his feet from the previous night's rain. As he ran, the dull thumps of his footfall echoed through the dirt, alerting summer hares that possible danger was near. He went quickly and quietly, taking care not to snap fallen branches and twigs with his heavy boots, or to linger long against the bark of the dog-wood trees so as not to leave his scent. He cared not for the hares that knew of his presence; the game he sought was larger, and much more filling.
Castor lifted an arrow from his quiver, pulling it taut against his bow's string as he silently came to a halt behind an old and looming oak. His eyes narrowed in concentration as he angled the bow towards his target: a large buck. He had been tracking the beast all morn, from before even the earliest birds had begun their waking song. Surely mother would be proud when he returned home, lugging the deer along by the antler. Indeed, his family would feast that night. Sucking in a breath, Castor nocked the arrow into place, and let loose the wire.
A loud cry broke through the peaceful silence of the wood, and while Castor simply flinched, the buck startled violently, jolting out of place and darting forward, the hunter's carefully crafted arrow just missing its mark, and instead skinning the buck's hide and burying itself into the trunk of a spruce. The beast honked in alarm as a man appeared from the bushes, a sword drawn high above his head.
Castor groaned in irritation.
The man went for the buck, swinging wildly, an exuberant grin plastered across his face. The buck reared back, barely escaping the slice of the blade, and turned on its hooves, running right past the hunter as it made its escape. Castor watched its backside as it quickly disappeared from view. Once out of sight, he turned sharply to the fool with the sword, golden brown eyes twitching, and barked out a name.
Pollux, as he was now known, swiveled to look at the source of the shout, his winning smile faltering for half a second before moving back into place, even cheekier than before. He pointed his sword towards the wood where the buck had disappeared to, and then back towards the tree where Castor's arrow was lodged, laughing loudly. "Castor, was that your arrow just now?"
Castor glowered at Pollux, crossing his arms against his chest. He nodded once, firmly.
Pollux brought a hand to his head, scratching at his scalp as he chuckled guiltily. He seemed to search for words, and Castor believed him to be thinking up an apology for scaring away the game, when Pollux spoke again:
"Perhaps you should better your aim, brother."
The air around them settled into a silence similar to what had once been just moments before. Castor stared, unblinking and disbelieving, at his brother, jaw going slack. Pollux did not stare back, too fixated on sheathing his blade and examining his nail beds to notice the hunter's face going beet red in what most would identify as pure, unfiltered rage.
Instead of screaming, however, Castor began to laugh. Pollux took a glance towards him, his own smile returning as the sounds of mirth filled the thick and foggy air.
Wiping at his eyes, the last of Castor's chuckles died out and he walked over to his brother, locking his bow into place across his backside as he went. Pollux held out his arm in greeting and Castor grabbed on, the two firmly giving each other a shake. Releasing each other's forearms, Pollux clapped Castor on the back. "I jest, brother," he laughed, and Castor received him in kind.
"Too much, I fear. You knew I was tracking the beast, I woke you this morning and gave word of my plans!"
Pollux gasped at the accusation, hand gripping at the cloth that covered his chest. "Yes, but that one in particular? How was I to know?" Castor graced him with what Pollux had named 'the look': disbelief, disapproval, and distaste, all morphed into one expression. Pollux held up his hands in defense.
"There are many bucks in these parts, Castor! Frankly, I'm appalled you would even think I would try to sabotage your plans-" once more Castor shot him the trademarked expression. "Castor!"
"Pollux, we were born together, do you not think I see through your lies? You truly are a dolt," Castor remarked, walking over to the spruce tree that had been pierced by his arrow. He began working at pulling the sharpened point from the tree, an act that only Castor would really take the time to do, especially with the head being so deeply embedded within the tree's flesh. Pollux ceased his half-jests of trying to convince his brother that he had not purposefully scared away the buck and kicked quietly at the dirt, a niggling of fear gnawing at his mind that Castor may actually be angry with him.
Castor spared a glance at his sibling, quirking a brow at Pollux's abnormal show of reservation. Turning back to his work of whittling away the wood to shimmy his arrow out of the clutches of the spruce, Castor gave an off-handed remark.
"If you wanted to join me that badly, you could have just said so this morning."
Pollux perked at the suggestion, the twinkle in his ocean eyes returning. "Could we?" he asked. When he received no answer, Pollux repeated his question, but louder.
"Castor, could we? Could we, could we, could we, could-"
"Yes!" came Castor's somewhat irritated response, but Pollux could hear the smile hidden behind his words.
With a cheer, Pollux gathered up his brother, who had successfully (and finally) retrieved his arrow, and yanked him away towards the rising sun.
The two returned later that evening, dragging behind them a boar and three jack-rabbits. It wasn't much, certainly nothing compared to the buck Castor had originally planned for, but it was enough.
They arrived at the palace gates empty handed however; a swarm of servants surrounding them and taking the game off their hands; the maids buzzing around them with rags, nagging them about the filth they brought back with them; the page boys insisting they not go out alone the next time they were to hunt. The cooking staff however, congratulated the two on their success and promised a well-cooked meal to be served to the family in the upcoming hours.
The two escaped the maids' grasps minutes later, assuring them they would get proper baths after dinner, if only to appease their insistency. Once free the brothers bolted for the garden, where no servants but the groundskeepers were to be. Making their way through the maze of hedges with a practiced ease they had acquired from years of travelling the exact route, Castor and Pollux snuck away to a secret place that only a select few knew about.
The directions were simple enough, but tricky if you made a wrong turn or didn't know the location already. To make it to the destination, one should go through the garden, all the way to the back of the maze, where there was a hole in the hedges. The opening was wide enough for a grown man to sneak through. Going through the hole, one arrives outside the palace limits. You must walk twenty paces north, then climb the old stone wall, and continue westward for half of a mile. If followed correctly, you will arrive at a wall of rock, covered in rope vines and weeds. There is a path that leads you through the wall hidden behind a thick entanglement of vines; follow it and you will exit into a cove, surrounded on all sides by high and heavy stone.
The cove was where Castor and Pollux spent most of their time, given that they were not out hunting. Yes, hunting occupied most of the brothers' days, but when they were not out catching jack-rabbits and hares and shooting geese down from the sky, they found themselves here. A low hanging oak tree grew near the middle of the clearing on a grassy patch of land, surrounded by a shallow spring which was fed by the steady spray of a waterfall. The waterfall fell from the top of the high stone barriers, fed from a long winding brook that sourced from a deep lake. Rocks of all shapes and sizes spotted the spring, acting as stepping stones to other locations in the cove. A thin but sturdy tree grew from the foundations of the wall, its roots weaving cracks through the weathered rock. There was a knotted rope dangling from one of its branches, and if you climbed it, you could just barely make it to a strip of land that jutted out against the high stone enclosure, space occupied by a maple sap which homed a family of sparrows. [The boys had not climbed the rope since the nest was built, for sparrows had quite the temper when threatened]. Another trail led to a large patch of land with low-growing sweet grass, clusters of dandelion and clover infused with the ground. There was a small alcove that the sun rarely hit in its hidden position behind a boulder, a wide selection of moss and fungi thriving inside from the damp and heavy air it supplied. Scattered around the clearing were fallen stone columns, ash-grey and weathered. They held the last few memories of a temple dedicated to the sun-god; Apollo, as told by the faded sun runes etched weakly into the stone.
The cove was a beautiful scene to come across, and the brothers relished in being the ones to discover it first. The two sat themselves on the low branches of the oak, struck up in idle chatter. The sun dipped lower in the sky, and the cove was aflame in the orange evening light.
Castor and Pollux rested leisurely in the tree, both occupied in their own personal activity. Pollux had climbed a limb higher than Castor and was sat so that his legs dangled off the branch, his upper body leaning against the thick trunk. He used a throwing knife to whittle away at the bark, carving poor attempts at pictures into the tree's wood, dulling the blade and making it virtually useless if he needed it later on. Castor, on the other hand, was laid out on the lowest branch, and he thumbed idly through an ancient bestiary, the cover bound in worn brown leather.
Far away, the brothers heard the sounds of two women, deep in conversation. They did not look up from each their book and carving, and even as the conversation drew nearer before halting in front of them, the boys spared only a glance.
Pollux glanced up for but a moment before returning to his carving. "Helen," he addressed briefly, nodding, "and Clytemnestra, too."
Castor rolled his eyes at his brother's rudeness and laid his book upon his lap, sitting up to greet their company. He graced the two women with a sincere smile. "My sisters," he greeted kindly, "What brings you two 'round?"
Before Helen could open her mouth to reply, Pollux had cut her off. "He speaks to you, Helen." He spoke while he whittled away at the tree, giving her a smug look. "What in father's name are you doing out here? Gods forbid you dirty your dress!" He dissolved into childish snickers, and Castor struggled to keep the grin off his face, instead fixing Pollux with a half-hearted and disapproving stare.
Helen rolled her eyes and mumbled something [no doubt an insult] under her breath. She was famous everywhere for her stunningly beautiful looks, but even more so infamous for her vanity and snobbish behavior. This attitude, naturally, extended to her siblings. Pollux expressed outright his distaste of his sister, while Castor was too kind and patient to admit that Helen's attitude was irksome at times.
Clytemnestra gave her sister a pointed look, but her lips twitched upwards good-naturedly at whatever Helen had said. Clytemnestra was the kinder of the girls, and the brothers loved and cherished her. She was not ugly but nor was she pretty; instead choosing to be humble and pleasant, putting others before herself, and having enough room in her heart for all that she met. Even Helen could not bring herself to be cruel towards her. [Though she had no qualms against insulting her brothers.]
"We've come to fetch you for dinner," she said with a smile. "You both continue to impress, I've heard from Aelius that we're having boar tonight."
Pollux positively beamed at the compliment, preening himself in the dimming light of the sun. Castor, who was already on his feet again after storing his book in a little hollow in the trunk of the oak tree, scoffed at his brother's antics and playfully yanked his leg, causing Pollux to tumble out of the tree. Pollux landed hard on his side with a thump, but not before letting slip a shriek octaves higher than Castor thought was humanly possible. It was silent for half a second, and then Castor erupted into boisterous laughter, clutching at his sides, his face turning red.
Helen laughed too; quietly, and under her breath as she stared in amusement at the quickly risen Pollux. His face burned red, and his golden blond hair was tangled with twigs and dirt on one side. Anyone else would have been angry, but the brothers were close. Instead of yelling, Pollux tackled his twin to the ground with a cry worthy to grace battle. The two wrestled with each other playfully, Helen deciding she had seen enough of their childish antics. She turned on her heels and walked towards the exit of the cove.
Clytemnestra watched amused as the brothers fought, her hand covering her mouth as she laughed. "Boys, now's not the time!" she called to them, trying to regain their attention. "Come on, Helen is already angry as is, we should go now, before dinner gets cold."
At the mention of dinner the twins stopped, immediately untangling themselves from each other's grasp.
"I'd forgotten dinner!"
"Come on, Cly, enough dawdling, let's go!"
Clytemnestra watched as Castor and Pollux raced each other to the exit, the two fighting dirty and playing hard until they disappeared beyond the roped vines. She sighed fondly before making her own way out, set on the path back home.
Dinner at the table was always a treat, Castor thought. Uncomfortable, yes. Unpleasant? Absolutely not. With his mother Leda, his father Tyndareus, and his three siblings sat out around the mahogany table, it was bound to be an interesting night. Pollux, who sat left of him, was busy recounting a tale to their mother, his hands a flurry of movement and his blue eyes bright with excitement. Castor watched him spoon custard into his mouth and crinkled his nose in disgust when Pollux continued to talk. Judging by the quiet gag Castor heard from across the table, Helen found their brother equally disturbing. He chuckled behind his hand and continued to eat.
Once Pollux had finished with his wild story, Leda turned to the sisters. "And how about you, dears? Do you have anything to recall?"
Clytemnestra thought for a moment then opened her mouth to speak, but a scoff from Helen interrupted her mid-breath.
"I'll tell you what happened, mother. That no good pig, Laeteus, was trying to put his hands all over me. For goodness sakes, you'd think he'd never seen a beautiful woman before! Anyways, I was out for a morning walk, the guards flanking me on both sides, when..."
Pollux groaned loudly, earning a dirty scowl from Helen as she continued her story, and a soft shake of the head from Clytemnestra. He grumbled, quieter than before, and hunched his shoulders, spooning spoonful after spoonful of custard into his mouth. Castor rolled his eyes and shoved a napkin into his brother's face.
"-and so he comes up to me, trying to squeeze his way through the guards, squawking on and on about how my "eyes are the color of Neptune's seas" and my "breasts are soft mountains crafted from the gods in heaven," and, goodness mother, the dog tries his hand at kissing me! The guards stopped him, of course, gave him a nasty beating as well, but I say he deserves it."
Pollux nearly spat out his wine, an incredulous look distorting his handsome features. "You let the guards beat him!?" he exclaimed. Castor too, shook his head in disbelief.
"That seems harsh, Helen."
Helen glared at the boys, fire in her eyes. She looked ready to shout at them, but the verbal assault the two expected however, came from a different mouth.
"Helen is right, boys," their mother began, fixing her sons with a stern look, "assaulting a lady without her consent, and royalty at that, is never acceptable. He deserved everything that came to him."
The brothers grew quiet, guiltily looking at their plates as they realized their errs. "We apologize," they mumbled, not daring to lift their heads to meet the gaze of their family. "We did not think before we spoke," Castor said for the both of them. Underneath the table came a kick from Helen's boot. Pollux hissed under his breath.
"That much is obvious. You both are idiots," snapped Helen, boring daggers into their skulls as she glared at them in disdain. "You have no respect for women!"
Pollux dared to look up, sending an icy stare of his own right back at his sister. "If they're all like you, what's there to respect?"
"Boys! That is enough from both of you!" Leda exclaimed, angrily looking to their father; the king. "You absolutely must say something, Tyndareus, or they'll never listen!"
Tyndareus looked to his sons, disapproval written across his face. "My sons," he began, and Castor and Pollux shied away, anything but eager to hear what their father had to say. "It is unfit for princes to behave in this manner. You will not act like uncivilized buffoons to your sister. You've caused too much trouble this evening, once you are finished with your meal, go straight to your rooms. I do not expect to see you 'til morning."
The authority in his voice did not waver, and the twins were forced into submission, giving meek apologies as forms of response.
Their father gave them pointed looks. "Hurry up then," he muttered, turning back to his plate of boar.
Pollux and Castor too, turned to their food, but found they held none of the appetite that had plagued them just moments ago. Castor pushed away his plate and quietly stood from the table, nudging Pollux in sign that he should follow. They walked towards the winding stone stairs that led to their bedrooms. "Goodnight," Castor bid quietly to the remaining family at the table, only acknowledged by the ever-sweet Clytemnestra, before Pollux pulled him up the stairs.
"I dunno, Pollux, they seemed pretty angry," Castor mumbled, burying his face into a quill feather pillow. Pollux huffed in disagreement.
"Maybe Helen, yes, but the others actually have the heart to forgive us. C'mon, Cas, we didn't even do anything bad!"
The twins sat on Pollux's bed, a fire burning bright in the hearth across from them, and a lantern glowing dimly next to his nightstand. Castor sat up against Pollux's plentiful pillows while Pollux lay at his feet, his face illuminated in the flames of the hearth.
"I suppose…" Castor replied, frowning and fiddling with the hem of his night shirt, fraying the bottoms as he yanked out string after string; a nervous tic acquired as a young boy. Pollux snorted and butted his head against Castor's shin.
"You're worrying too much, brother. It'll all blow over tomorrow, you have my word!"
Castor's anxieties were not put to rest. "Do you think maybe we can go out tomorrow? Perhaps return after supper?" Pollux sat up, fixing his twin with a confused and pointed look.
"Why does it bother you so much, Cas? You know we're not truly in trouble, right?"
When Castor did not respond, Pollux leaned in, concerned. He shook his brother's shoulder. "Castor, Cas, what's wrong with you?"
Castor shook his head, self doubt setting across his face. "I don't think anything is wrong. I just-I have an inkling of worry that something bad might happen tomorrow… I don't want to be here when it happens."
Pollux stared at his twin long and hard. He knew Castor was anything but dishonest. If he truly felt unease, Pollux would listen. To blatantly ignore the stars in situations as these, or gods forbid misinterpret the signs, was a mistake even Pollux and his dull wit knew to avoid. He rested his hand over Castor's.
"If it happens, brother. I know you, and I know all too well how much you worry over everything. I'm positive nothing will go wrong. Having said that, I will accompany you tomorrow, if you still wish."
Castor nodded, his golden brown eyes fluttering shut in relief at his brother's words. "Thank you," he breathed, letting out a gust of air he had not realized he was holding. Pollux pat his hand before roughly shoving him out of the bed, causing Castor to tumble to the floor. Pollux threw back his head and laughed at the noise his brother made as he made impact with the hardwood and scrambled to his feet, pointing an accusatory finger at his golden-headed twin.
Pollux's laughter continued on, ebbing into chortles as his brother shouted his name again angrily, successfully sobering the mood. He wiped at his eyes, catching mirthful tears before they had the chance to fall. Still somewhat snickering, he began to peel away the blankets atop his bed, giving Castor a cursory glance. "What are you still doing here? Get out, I'll see you in the morning. Give a man some privacy, would you?" he barked out, the joke hidden in his voice.
Castor let slip a disbelieving laugh, shaking his head though his brother could not see. "Unbelievable, you are. Ridiculous!" he exclaimed as he backed out of the room, his hand hovering on the doorknob. Pollux looked back with faked disdain and began to fiddle with his belt, slipping it out of the loops and letting his pants drop all together. Castor groaned in disgust and looked away, opening the door to step out.
"Are you trying to catch a view of my dairy aire, Cas?" Pollux accused with a dramatic flourish. "Repulsive! My manhood is not for simple eyes such as your own to see!"
Castor bit back a laugh and turned to run down the hall, but thought better of himself and stuck his head back into the room. "All this talk of manhood, when there is none so of which I see!" he shouted, a grin on his face as he slammed the door, turned tail, and ran for his room.
Once inside, Castor grabbed the key from his nightstand and quickly locked the door, not a moment too soon. Pollux's thunderous footsteps were rapidly approaching, and before long a series of thumps on the door sounded along with his brother's angry voice.
"Open the door, Castor!"
"Only a lunatic would do something like that Poly, try again," Castor sang, using a childhood nickname that he knew Pollux despised. Another heavy thump on the door made the smaller twin snicker. "Just stop trying!" he called out.
"Never!" cried Pollux.
Just as Pollux was ready to bang his fists against the door once more, an angry shout sounded from the stairs.
"Did I not tell you two to go to bed?!" yelled their father. His voice rang so loud that even Castor could hear it through the thick stone walls and heavy wooden door. Both boys winced at his tone, and even the hardheaded Pollux knew he was not to disobey.
When the king did not reply, Castor heard his brother snicker, and he leaned his head against the wood, pressing his ear against the rough texture.
"Don't disobey father, Pollux," he whispered, though he laughed quietly as well under his breath.
"I'm not, I'm going. You're going to pay for this tomorrow, I swear it!" whispered Pollux in reply.
"I'm sure I will."
It was quiet for a moment, but Castor knew his brother had not yet left.
"... Goodnight, brother," came the hushed reply. Castor smiled.