“Look you, Marius,” His Grace, Lordem Thalallicka, Guardian Brigadier of the Far Marches and Dux Pacem of Her Divine Authority’s First Home Legion of Heavy Horse – the unmitigated bastard – dodged my stroke, managing to make me look like a fool with no training and worse fashion sense. Again. He continued, barely sweating in the cool air atop the Keltharian Escarpment, “what say we call this a day? I truly did not intend insult to your sister. She was a vision at his Lordship’s ball, nigh-equal to Her Divinity.”
I cut at him again, and this time he had the grace to interpose his own blade to catch mine. Galling, but not nearly as dishonorable as simply stepping out of the way. Of course, his beautifully constructed Trelganic saber – if austere, lacking the decoration it deserved – turned the blow. Indeed, I felt the barest tremble in his grip, to my chagrin.
“I tell you this truly, while I had imbibed a goodly portion of Thelmertin’s best brandy, I was not nearly so far gone as to impugn Melestia’s honor.” The smug arse-rag disengaged, and slid past me as I staggered forward through the space he’d just vacated. “I am, in truth, quite fond of your sister.”
My back stiffened, expecting at any moment to feel the cruel bite of his steel diving into my tender flesh. I did not understand why he chose not to. In his defense, I had consumed just as much brandy the previous evening, and if my words had been just as intemperate as his, well, they’d at least been in defense of family.
“Please, Marius, can we not come to accord and set this aside?”
The small crowd that had gathered to witness our duel murmured while I spun about, slashing blindly with my own blade. At nothing. Cousin Lordem had stepped to one side, a good span out of range of my reckless blows. In his eyes was the one thing that ignited genuine rage in my breast. His pity – and that I could feel from his lickspittle cronies – washed over me. I choked on it.
I’d always been second to the great Cousin Lordem. Ever since Mum and Father had gone for a cruise in the Great North Lake and not come back. Melestia, Cassianna and I had gone to live with His Lordship, Uncle Bertcalith and Aunt Pervinia. And I’d begun to come in second to Cousin Lordem. Our tutors consistently gave me excellent marks. And gave him marks fractions of a point higher. The maestro praised my bladework, and yet gave my dear cousin one of his own blades to carry. Her Divinity commissioned him as a captain. I got a lieutenancy. And not in the cavalry, but with the foot.
Always second, always lesser, and always unfair. In all truth, Lordem was likely innocent of genuine wrongdoing. It was just that he’d said the wrong thing at a moment unblessed with grace of any kind, and I’d somehow had the courage of heart and impresence of mind to call him on it. And now I had to see it through.
“My lord cousin,” and if my voice was a trifle shaky, could not an eorl of barely seventeen summers perhaps be accorded a measure of fear against an obviously superior foeman, “we cannot be reconciled short of spilled blood. You did, last evening, in my presence, make wild and debauched speculations as to my sister’s status. It was unworthy of a gentleman and a kinsman, and I will have satisfaction. Now stop toying with me, or I shall call you a coward boy playing at a man’s work.”
It would have sounded better without the panting. Unfortunately, the cur had chosen cavalry sabers for our dispute. Beyond that, he had years of experience with them and inches of reach on me. And nearly a stone of lean, handsome muscle over my own plain, wiry form.
Did I hate my blessed cousin? No more than I hated anybody.
If nothing else, my speech brought a flush to Lordem’s cheeks and a certain set to his jaw. The truth always makes powerful men uncomfortable. Even angry. I readied myself for the inevitable clash.
“Toying with you?” My cousin’s words were clipped. Apparently I’d struck a nerve. “I’ve been hoping to avoid this, Marius. I’ve been hoping you’d grow up. I’ve sacrificed many an offering at Temple in prayer for your eventual maturity. Perhaps where softer teachers have failed, a hard lesson will succeed in teaching you your own worth.”
He assumed a stance I knew well. Feet still flat, but weight forward; knees bent, slightly stooped and head up. His blue eyes stared at nothing, and yet I knew they saw everything with a clear, cold watchfulness that send a frisson of apprehension up my spine. He held his blade in a grip of stone, heavy tip extended. When he spoke, his voice was devoid of emotion.
“Defend yourself, Cousin.”
©David E. Pascoe 2013. All rights reserved. Do not copy, distribute or otherwise disseminate without the author’s name, and a link to this page. You do not have the right to alter it. You do not have the right to claim it as yours. For permission to do anything other than quote it for review or recommendation purposes, email email@example.com. This is a work of fiction, all coincidence between it and real people place or events is illusory, a delusion born of a fevered mind.