The Double-Edged Sword
Chapter Six - Courtly Love
Duo stretched and yawned as he rolled onto his back, delighting in the warmth of soft linen on his naked skin. Only a long imprint remained where the Duke had lain next to him. The last two days had been spent here, in the Duke's private chambers, being pampered with hot baths, sumptuous food, fittings for his new wardrobe, and an ever increasing intimacy. It was much as Duo had imagined.
At an early age, he had realized his attraction to men, and theirs to him. Exploring the pleasures of sex had been a game until he made Treize's acquaintance. It was then that Duo realized that sex could lead to something more-a way out, but also potentially to love. Oh, not the romantic love of maidens' dreams and minstrels' songs, but the passionate, physical love which men could share. Soft, eternal devotion was reserved for gentlemen and their fair ladies.
Thoughts such as these were practical, but Duo could not deny that his eyes misted each time he heard a love ballad recited. Meeting the Duke-a man both grand and powerful-made Duo's heart flutter with the possibility that there could be more than just physical pleasures waiting for him. Against all odds, could love be in his future?
It was the third morning since Duo's arrival at the castle, and like previous mornings he did not wish to leave the large, warm bed. After days without proper sleep-due to the rigors of travel and the Duke's attentions-Duo pulled the quilt around his bare shoulders and sank deeper into the feathered mattress, longing for endless slumber. But it was not to be. The bed curtains were drawn back suddenly, allowing Duo the briefest glimpse of the Duke as the sun's rays streamed into their sanctuary. The sharp light of day, forced Duo completely under the covers with a groan.
"Too much wine last night, my Chestnut?" the Duke asked amused, standing beside the bed.
"Please, my lord. More sleep would do wonders."
Treize laughed. "Ah, more sleep and less wine, I should think. But that will have to wait. I am meeting with Sir Yuy and want you up to greet him."
Duo's breath caught as he remained hidden under the quilt. "Sir Yuy?"
"Yea. It is time I heard the details of your journey."
Slowly, Duo lowered the quilt from his head, squinting into the morning's brightness. "The details are becoming foggy with time."
"Exactly, that's why I've asked Sir Yuy to meet with us."
The prospect of seeing the knight had Duo's mind spinning. Things had ended badly between them, but this was an opportunity to work together again. Sharing their experiences of the road could help to reform their bond.
Duo sat upright in the canopied bed, noting that the Duke was dressed only in a yellow damask robe. "The meeting will be after we break our fast?"
Before Treize could respond, there was a solid knock at the door. "He is most prompt."
"Wait!" Duo reached out to grab the Duke's robe to stop him as he stepped toward the door, but the distance was too great between them. The nobleman flung the door open to reveal the waiting knight, dressed in fawn brown tunics and boots.
Duo sat motionless and silent in the bed with the quilt held under his chin to hide his nakedness. His heart pounded as he observed with wide-eyes and deeply blushing cheeks the Duke ushering the young knight into his private chamber.
~ ~ ~
A young page had brought the Duke's handwritten summons to Heero early that morning. So stunned was he by the location of their meeting that Heero read the note three times: Attend to me in my private chambers. The matter of your confrontation with the rogues must be illuminated.
It was a critical matter to be sure, and Heero had waited two full days for an audience with the Duke. He would have waited another two days, and more, if it meant they could meet in a setting more befitting the serious nature of the subject. But the Duke, in a mischievous mood no doubt, had designated his private bed chambers. The nobleman's unique love life was no secret to Heero or the other occupants of the castle, but the man tended to veil the more sexual aspects of those affairs. Why then was he inviting one of his knights into that very chamber where his new lover lie ensconced?
Heero entered the large room, focusing solely on his liege. "Good morrow, my lord."
"Good morrow!" The Duke replied in good cheer. "Duo and I are most eager to discuss the men you encountered." He turned toward the bed and smiled. "My dear, there is no need for modesty. It is not like you to be shy."
Heero's eyes now fell fully on Duo who was sitting in the large canopied bed, shrouded by a red and gold quilt. The young man's hair was undone and in the morning light it glistened with deep auburn highlights. Heero guessed he was naked beneath the cover, and could all too easily imagine how the sunlight would play on Duo's skin, knowing how the moonlight had glowed upon it.
Treize walked to the bed and gently urged Duo to relax, tugging at the quilt. "Sir Yuy brought you to me in one piece. Even your fire is intact." When Duo would not release his grip on the covers, the Duke retreated to a nearby chair where a linen shirt lay across it. He tossed it to his lover.
Unable to look away, Heero watched Duo slip the shirt over his head and onto his shoulders. He was rewarded with glimpses of bare skin and the tumble of chestnut hair. A beautiful, and yet unwanted vision. With the shirt on, Duo slid out of bed and padded behind a screened area to presumably dress fully.
The Duke sat down in a wooden chair, reclining as he glanced toward the painted wooden screen behind which Duo had disappeared. "I could spend a month with him in this room and be happy. We would not be bored."
Again, Heero wondered what demons were at play, torturing him this way. He tried to be pleased at the Duke's good fortune in finding such a lovely and willing lover, but instead he cursed the day he was given the task to retrieve him.
"You carry two swords now?" the Duke asked. "Is it the fashion for knights to have so many these days?"
"Nay, my lord." Heero pulled one sword from its scabbard, holding it out. "I took this from one of the rogues."
Treize examined the sword carefully. "A tuck sword. An interesting weapon for a thief."
Heero knew the type of sword well. Tucks could split chain mail and find their way between the joints of plate armor. Though such swords were fairly common, they tended to be carried by Crusaders only.
"The markings are familiar, but I cannot place them. What are your suspicions?"
"German?" Heero offered.
"Or the Alps. Perhaps the House of Winner's heir would be of use in this study."
Heero knew that Lord Quatre Winner's lands drifted north into the Alps. "I will show him the sword."
"Good, but first tell me of your encounter."
Heero spoke of the danger they had faced and the men's determination to take Duo for ransom. The Duke tapped his finger on the arm of his chair, listening carefully, and seeming disturbed by the news. As Heero finished his brief account, Duo appeared from behind the screen dressed in a short cream tunic, tan hose, a belt embroidered with gold thread, and leather calf-high boots. Duo breezed past him, giving Heero a long look at his braid tied with a leather band adorned with pearls.
Duo lighted at the Duke's side, and the older man put his arm around his waist. "Do you have anything to add to Knight Yuy's words?"
"Yea," Duo said. "He is too modest."
"Is that so?" The Duke pulled Duo closer.
"Sir Yuy was most brave against great odds." Duo looked directly into Heero's eyes. "The rogues were ruthless and would have sooner seen us dead. I have never witnessed bravery such as his before."
"You were brave also, good sir," Heero said. He was unsure what to make of the compliments, but they did please him.
The Duke looked between them, seeming to weigh their mutual admiration. "Perhaps there are more details to be remembered if you discussed it... together."
"What more is there to know?" Heero asked, perplexed by the suggestion.
"Details are sometimes forgot or overlooked. I wish for you both to recount this in the greatest detail to my chancellor. He will put your words to paper, and I may study them at leisure."
There was no swaying the Duke once he was set on an idea, but Heero wished for a way out. He doubted his ability to remember anything at all with Duo standing so close; his beauty, fresh and sparkling in the bright morning light was far too distracting.
"Yea, my lord," Heero said, obediently and bowed.
"Good. Now I have a surprise for my Chestnut."
"A surprise?" Duo asked, smiling.
The Duke smiled. "Heero, meet us in the stable courtyard in one hour."
Heero made his way to the stables, slowly, taking a circuitous route in order to check the castle sentries. When he arrived at the appointed time in the stable courtyard, he found the Duke, his lover and a small entourage already there. The group was admiring Duo astride a roan horse, and riding it in circles.
"Magnificent," the Duke said as Heero joined him.
"The horse?" Heero asked.
"Both," the Duke said, chuckling. "Duo has natural ability. Look at his form in the saddle and the way he moves with the horse's stride. You must have noticed on your journey that you were in the company of a fine horseman."
Heero had noticed, but he suspected the Duke would prefer he had not. "I can only say that he did not mind being in the saddle all day."
The Duke raised one eyebrow and laughed. "A fine observation."
They watched in silence as Duo and the horse went around the perimeter of the stable bailey. Trowa stood to one side, seeming to appraise the horse's new master. Heero knew Trowa to be unduly possessive of the creatures under his care, but his skill was such that the inappropriateness of his behavior was overlooked.
They were joined by Lord Winner whose smile of greeting seemed brighter than usual. "Good morrow," he said to the Duke and Heero.
"Good morrow," the men said in return.
"This is Duo?" Quatre's eyes lighted on the young man with the braid bouncing on his back. "What a charming young man."
"He is that," the Duke said, smiling. "I would have introduced you sooner, but we have been getting acquainted these last two days."
"Of course." Quatre laughed. Surprisingly, he looked to Heero before returning his eyes to the rider. "The Spanish roan seems to like him."
"Trowa questioned my choice as is his nature to do, but I assured him that Duo could handle a spirited horse."
Heero listened almost distantly to the conversation. He did not care to suffer this scene much longer with the Duke leering at his lover riding astride the fine horse. Lord Winner seemed amused by this glimpse into his cousin's latest affair. As far as Heero was concerned, this demonstration had gone on long enough. He was given an order by the Duke to submit his and Duo's experiences to the chancellor. Once that meeting was completed, he could put his interactions with the Duke's lover behind him.
"Your chancellor is waiting," Heero said, interrupting the display.
The Duke's gaze settled on him briefly, before returning to the captivating young man on the horse. "Very well. But pray do not keep him long. I think I should like to go riding later." He signaled for Duo to stop.
Out of breath and perspiring sweetly, Duo joined the small gathering. "He rides like a dream. My sincerest thanks, sire."
The Duke extended his hand and cupped Duo's cheek. "You are thanks enough." The nobleman then turned to Quatre and beckoned his young cousin closer. "Lord Quatre Winner, may I introduce Duo Maxwell of Valence."
"I am honored to meet you, my lord," Duo said, bowing.
"My dear cousin has told me a great deal about you and your lovely village."
Duo looked up, smiling at the Duke, and Heero turned away. He tried not to imagine what the two shared in private, but he glimpsed it in their eyes.
"Now," the Duke said to Duo. "Give Sir Yuy your attention as we try to resolve the problem of the rogue bands."
"Yea, my lord."
"This should not take long," Heero said to Duo. "The chancellor awaits us in an anteroom of the great hall."
"First, I would have a word with you," Quatre said, placing a gentle hand on Heero's arm.
The touch belied the determination in his friend's face, and Heero directed a page to take Duo on ahead to the meeting. They stepped away from the others into the shade of a tree, and Heero addressed his friend. "What is on your mind?"
"It is not my mind, but my heart that tells me to speak."
Heero's brow knitted. He knew the Winner heir was sensitive to those around him, often worrying about their well being. "You have a concern?"
"Yea. It is you."
"Whatever do you mean?"
"I know now what has changed."
Heero blinked, suddenly afraid that Quatre had seen into his heart. "I told you. Nothing has-"
"We have known each other too long for there to be secrets. It's that young man, is it not?"
"Nay," Heero said, sharply.
"Your intensity tells me I am correct."
"Leave me be. It is not your concern."
Quatre's eyes widened. "At this moment I may be the only one who senses your suffering, but soon others will notice. What will you do when Treize-"
"He will never know."
"Then you admit it. You love this Duo."
"I know not of love. I am a man of the sword."
"Yea, the sword has guided your life until now, but once love finds us there is no stopping it until it is satisfied."
Irritated by his friend's marksmanship, Heero looked across the courtyard to where he should be heading. "Quatre, any feelings you may sense are false and merely part of my own confusion. I will sort this out soon enough."
"Please, dear friend. Listen to your heart. It may be unfamiliar to you, but it will not guide you wrongly."
Heero took a deep breath, exasperated by this encounter. He bit his tongue to stop the sharp words that wanted to hurt his friend for being right. Instead, he turned and strode across the courtyard with a determined gait certain that Quatre was watching.
I will not succumb to your romantic ideals, Heero thought bitterly.