The Double-Edged Sword
Chapter Ten: Bristling Hedge
Duo squinted at the noonday sun as he emerged into the courtyard. The sun's brightness pained his eyes, and for a moment he could hardly see, but he had to keep moving. He was waiting for Sir Yuy's next command. The knight had not stopped walking since leaving the Great Hall, and Duo knew not where they were going.
The castle's courtyard was in a flurry of activity. A wagon full of fresh vegetables, and another full of chopped wood were being unloaded. Deliveries arrived all day, merchants hawked their wares, and country folk milled about waiting for an audience with the Duke.
As he crossed the courtyard, some ten paces being the knight, Duo scanned the vendors with their small wagons filled with cloth, pots and pastries. The smell of the pastries, warm from the oven, made his stomach growl even though he had enjoyed a hearty breakfast in bed. A baker woman held out a slice of pie, but he had no money to buy it. He was richly clothed, but his appearance was a deception. He was no more than an ornament, but he hoped one day he could live up to the status that his clothes gave him.
Even if the title of knight was Henri Blois' dream, Duo would take it. He could go anywhere as Sir Maxwell. If Treize grew tired of him, he would have the means to look after himself, especially if the title came with land. It would be a good life, and all for a mere dalliance with a duke. He smiled, now realizing that Treize's generosity came at a price. He expected something in return for each kind word, soft caress, and title given. It suited Duo just fine to work for a prize.
Where was Sir Yuy, anyway? Ah, there, standing in the shade of the tower with Lord Winner.
Duo approached them, and gave a deep bow. "Lord Winner, Sir Yuy."
"What a pleasure to see you, Duo. Do you have a message for us?" Lord Winner asked.
"Nay, I await my master's bidding."
Quatre's lips curled in a smirk. "That may be a long while by the number of people waiting to see His Grace."
"Oh, but I mean, Sir Yuy's bidding."
Quatre blinked and looked to Heero. "You are his master?"
Heero cleared his throat. "His Grace appointed Duo as my squire."
"How delightful," Quatre said, chuckling. "Well, I will leave you to it." He walked away, glancing over his shoulder and waving at them in amusement.
"Is he always happy?" Duo asked.
"Do not be fooled. Lord Winner's cunning is renowned. He is a great military strategist." Heero took several steps and then looked to Duo. "Follow me, unless I tell you otherwise." He led Duo to the stable yard where knights and other men-at-arms were gathering. "You will join us on patrol, but keep to the rear. Now go and saddle your horse. We leave momentarily."
Duo's eyes widened. He wasn't prepared for this, but he was pleased that the knight was taking him along. He darted towards the stable, unsure of how he could prepare his horse in time, and was relieved to bump into the stable hand, Trowa.
"Can you help me, sir? Where is my horse?"
"In the stable, good sir."
The taller boy looked on him with something akin to sympathy. "Follow me."
They went into the stables, now mostly empty as many of the horses were being used for the patrol. At last they came to the stall with Duo's beautiful Spanish roan. He smiled on seeing it again. He was a beautiful horse, but he doubted that Treize had intended it to become a squire's work horse.
"Do not worry," Trowa said, entering the stall with a saddle. "The horse will serve you well, so long as you treat him with respect."
"Of course, I will." Duo watched as the horse was readied by an efficient and gentle hand.
Trowa gave Duo the reins, and without a word returned to his duties.
"Thank you!" Duo called after him.
The knights were fully assembled when Duo joined them. His stomach tumbled with nerves. He didn't belong in the company of these men, not yet anyway. They were formidable, well-trained knights with hard faces and strong bodies. Even their squires held themselves with serious intent. Duo knew better than to approach Knight Yuy. He would do as he was told and remain at the back of the procession. He felt uneasy, unarmed as he was, but determined to learn by example, and to help find the bandits.
The patrol rode through the countryside the better part of the day. At one point, the group broke into two, circling a small village and meeting up on the other side. All the while, Duo followed and watched. There was good camaraderie among the men. They seemed to genuinely appreciate each other's company and ability. He had no doubt that they would eventually be successful in stopping the rogues, but it wouldn't be this day.
They returned to the castle, many of the men talking of food and drink, and Duo hoping for the same just as soon as he took a hot bath. But Knight Yuy had other plans for him. When they dismounted in the stable yard, the knight signaled for Duo to follow him yet again.
"But sir, when can I eat?"
The knight glanced over his shoulder, his blue eyes partially hidden behind his dark bangs. He did not say a word, but he took Duo by way of the kitchen and allowed him time to eat a slice of bread and cheese and wash it down with wine. Duo smiled, temporarily satisfied.
"Now back to your training," Knight Yuy said.
Duo nodded, but his brow creased with worry. Their relationship was nothing like the other knights and squires. Certainly those young men had known each other for years, but at one time, Duo had felt a friendship beginning between him and Sir Yuy. Couldn't they use those memories to help shape their new roles?
Knight Yuy took him to an area of the courtyard reserved for military training. There were wrestling matches in progress and several young men were engaged in vigorous swordplay. The rigors of training to become a knight looked more daunting than Duo had imagined. All the swordsmen he had admired had gone through this, but they were large, brutish men who could pick up a broadsword and wield it with ease. The wooden sword that Sir Yuy handed him was not even half the weight. How would he accomplish his goal of growing into a mature knight with a weapon like this?
"Strike this with your sword." The knight pointed to a wooden post, and then began to walk away.
Duo blinked in shock. "That's it?"
Sir Yuy looked back at him, pausing in his stride. "Imagine it's your enemy and strike it as many times as you can. I will check on your progress later."
This was how he intended to train his new squire? This was the method that Treize was certain would make Duo a knight? Duo breathed a heavy sigh and struck at the post with the wooden sword, hitting it as hard as he could. He didn't understand how this foolish exercise would build anything other than frustration. Surely it was meant to occupy Duo's time, and not waste Sir Yuy's.
The other men in training ignored him, and Duo continued with the exercise as best he could without direction. He struck the pel again and again, sometimes pretending it was his enemy, and sometimes imagining he was chopping wood. As time ticked by and the sun began to wane, Duo believed this a test of wills. Sir Yuy did not like him. He had made a fool of him in the garden, and was making a fool of him now.
He dropped the wooden sword and looked at his palm. Blisters were beginning to form. He would not wait for the knight to return before ending this game. Defying his master, Duo went in search of more refreshment. The kitchen servants were pleased to offer him stew and a glass of cool, red wine. After his meal, Duo explored the castle, learning its corridors and delighting in all the activity. The castle was a world unto itself. He had had no idea that its halls could echo with the voices of so many. He had expected it to be a place of isolation and retreat, not crowded and bustling like a village market.
As he wandered this way and that through the halls, he heard the raucous laughter of men. He turned a corner and slowed his steps as his eyes took in a group of six knights, and among them, Sir Yuy. The men quieted as Knight Yuy held up his hand on seeing Duo.
"Why are you not at the pel?" Sir Yuy asked.
Duo swallowed, hearing the accusatory tone. "I practiced as long as I could, but when you did not return-"
"You were to continue until I told you otherwise. That was your charge. I thought it simple enough."
"Perhaps too simple for your squire." Duo sneered.
"Squire?" One of the knights asked. "I thought this one was the Duke's lover."
Heero sighed. "He is that, and as of today he is also my squire. That is why he accompanied us on the patrol."
The knights laughed, and one asked boldly, "Will his training require you to bed him as well?"
Heero turned sharp eyes on the man. "His training will be no different than any other squire's."
"Exactly," the knight said, prompting more laughter.
Heero's face darkened. "I will show you the training he receives."
With that the knight headed off, Duo first in tow, and the rest of the knights a step behind them. They made their way outside to the courtyard where the shadows were now longer.
Heero grabbed two wooden swords, tossing one to Duo. "Defend yourself," he said, taking a fighting stance.
Duo blinked in astonishment. This sword was heavier than the one he had been given earlier. He was not ready to defend himself, but that seemed unimportant to the knight. Still, Duo would do his best to follow his instructions. The moment he mirrored the knight's stance, Sir Yuy lunged at him. Duo jumped back instinctively to avoid the attack, but the knight was merciless. He struck Duo's sword with a powerful blow sending a fierce tremor through Duo's hands.
The fight continued with more lunges. Knight Yuy did not reserve his blows to Duo's sword. More than once he hit Duo's legs, and finally, a hard thwack to his rump.
"Hey!" Duo cried out. "Why do you strike me?"
"Do not speak to me in that tone," the knight said, nearly growling. "Hold your ground!"
Duo's breath came hard. It was impossible to hold ground when he hadn't studied and practiced the appropriate stances and moves. Sir Yuy was the best swordsman in the land, everyone knew that, which made this display like comic theater as Duo danced around to avoid injury, and the knight attacked as though in the heat of battle.
More bystanders gathered around them, furthering the embarrassment. The lesson went on as Knight Yuy found endless ways of striking his squire. Duo's cheeks blazed with humiliation and confusion. He had had enough. He threw his sword into the dirt at the knight's feet.
"Pick up your sword!"
Duo gritted his teeth. His body ached, but he raised his chin in defiance. "When you are ready to teach me and not make a fool of me, I will fight you again!"
He did not wait for a response as he fled to the adjacent bailey, somehow his legs having the strength to carry him. He heard wild laughter as he retreated, and his eyes stung with tears.
Why had Sir Yuy done that to him?
~ ~ ~
The knights slapped Heero on the back as they dispersed. His solution to his squire's disobedience was popular with them, but it left Heero feeling hollow. He had let his emotions lead him into a shocking public display that would reach the Duke's ears in no time. But that was the least of his concerns.
A knot formed in his chest when he recalled the strikes he had given Duo. He was untrained and unprepared to receive the blows that Heero had given him at nearly full strength. He knew in his heart why he had done it, and it wasn't to demonstrate Duo's lack of training or defiance. He wanted Duo to see the foolishness of this arrangement and beg the Duke to release him from his bonds to the knight. Then, for Heero's sake, the suffering would stop. For each time that beautiful face and those large, searching eyes looked upon Heero, he came undone and that much closer to losing everything he had worked so hard to attain.
He headed to his chambers to prepare for the evening meal, and was immediately accosted by Lord Winner.
"What is this talk of you fighting Duo in the courtyard?"
Heero recognized the displeasure in Quatre's voice. He led his friend into an alcove for some degree of privacy. "He went against me."
"So you humiliated him for all to see?"
"He is not suitable for knighthood, but if I am to train him, he must do as I say."
"Oh, Heero," Quatre said, shaking his head. "Can you not see past all the laws you have set for yourself just this once?"
Heero blinked. If not for the rules, the law of the land, what was a knight to live for? "A knight must never waiver in his cause."
"And what great cause were you fulfilling in this act?"
"He is willful and has charmed the Duke into giving him more than his due. I seek only to make him worthy."
And send him as far away from me as possible, Heero thought.
"There is no moving you on this point. But friend, do me one favor?"
"If I can," Heero said.
"Do not punish Duo for having made Treize's acquaintance first."
Heero's face warmed as the words struck his heart. If only he had accompanied the Duke to the countess's wedding last spring, then perhaps he and Duo would have met before... He shook his head to clear it of the silly wish, and frowned at his friend.
"Ah, you agree. You wish you had met Duo first."
"What if I do wish it? It changes nothing!" Heero's words were ground out through clenched teeth. His entire body tensed as he awaited his friend's next barrage of why he should throw everything away for love. But Quatre was silent. "No more advice, old friend?"
"Love will find a way, Heero." Quatre placed his hand on Heero's shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly. "If you desire it, love can be yours."
Heero opened his mouth to protest Quatre's simplistic view of the world, but his friend's watery gaze stopped him. Instead, he clasped his hand on Quatre's shoulder. "I do not wish to fight you, too. You are a good friend."
Quatre smiled. "And that is why I must say these things."
"I understand." But Heero didn't want to listen.