The Double-Edged Sword
Chapter Eleven - The Hearts of Men
Duo's breath was ragged as he came to a full stop in front of the stables. He had bolted from the courtyard, his mind wild with the need to escape. Questions and confusion filled his head as he ran-should he take his horse and go far, far away or did he have the strength to see this through? He needed time to consider the options, and that need led him here.
He sat down on a bench near the entrance to the stables. He liked this place. It seemed removed from the complexities of castle life as though it operated by its own rules. But of course, that wasn't the case. Treize's governance was all around him whether he chose to see it or not. Still, Duo was comfortable here. The scent of horses, hay and manure was a welcome change from the pungent body odor inside the castle.
The stable hand, Trowa, came around the corner of the building with a horse brush in hand. "Here to ride your horse?"
"I need a place to rest a moment."
The taller boy appraised him, seeming to notice the sweat and dust that clung to Duo. "You look like you've just come off the rack."
"I was in knight's training, but to be stretched on the rack might have been more merciful." He gave a laugh.
"Is that blood on your hands?"
Duo turned his palms up, revealing broken blisters and cuts. The blood had stained his clothes where he had rested his hands. "Me thinks I am not ready to be a knight."
Trowa knelt before him to examine the wounds. "If the path to knighthood was easy everyone would do it. I can bandage these for you. Wait a moment."
In minutes, Trowa returned with strips of fresh linen. He slowly wrapped the cloth around Duo's hands to cover the open wounds. "What did you do before you came here?"
"I'm a tailor's apprentice."
"And now the Duke wishes for you to be a knight?"
Duo nodded. "I fear I will disappoint him."
"He would not have asked you to take this path if he didn't believe in you."
The statement surprised Duo. "My father planted the seed, and I suppose the Duke found it amusing to sow."
"Then you intend to make a joke of it?"
"Nay." Duo shook his head vigorously.
"Good, because it is a rare opportunity." Trowa patted Duo's knee and stood. "Stay here awhile, if you like."
The stable hand went about his daily tasks, but in time joined Duo on the bench, seeming pleased to have a visitor. Sitting side-by-side, they shared stories of their families, but Duo let Trowa do most of the talking. His mind was preoccupied with thoughts of Sir Yuy. No matter what Trowa spoke about, Duo associated it with the knight. Tales of wild horses gave him visions of Sir Yuy galloping through the woods on his steed. Descriptions of market town fairs had Duo imagining the knight in a joust of peace with a ribbon from Duo's hair tied about his wrist. He shook his head to clear the fantasy. Why did his thoughts always lead there?
"What is it?" Trowa asked.
"Your stories..." Duo hesitated. He did not want to offend his new friend by telling him that he had only been half listening. "You are most kind to share your time."
"It's fine. The marshal of stables is a good man. He knows that I will get everything done."
"How long have you worked at Castle Khushrenada?"
"Many years now."
"Are you happy?"
"Yea." He smiled.
"And that happiness is due in part to Lord Winner?"
"Yea, but I pray you keep that to yourself. We do our best not to be noticed."
Duo nodded. "So, you are... in love with him?"
Trowa grinned, seeming to consider Duo's boldness in asking. "Yea."
"It must be difficult to hide your feelings."
"No more so than it is for you."
Duo opened his mouth to respond, but then snapped it shut as he considered Trowa's words. "Everyone knows that I am the Duke's...."
"There is nothing to hide."
"As you say." Trowa's eyes danced in amusement. "And what of the one you truly love?"
"The one I...?" Duo's breath caught. "You suppose too much."
"Oh? Then why do you blush, sir?"
Duo put his bandaged hands to his cheeks. Indeed, he was blushing.
"Be not disheartened," Trowa said. "Your knight is not experienced in matters of the heart. It will take
"Time that is better spent in knight's training." Duo stood, needing this conversation to end. "I thank you for your kindness, but I should not intrude any longer."
Trowa's lips curled in a smirk. "I told you that my master does not mind. Or are you rushing off because your master does mind?"
Duo felt his cheeks warming again, certain that the master of which Trowa spoke was Sir Yuy. "Good day," Duo said, giving a bow of his head and turning on his heel.
An uncomfortable knot tightened in Duo's belly. The feelings he thought he had set aside, buried in anger deep in his gut, were fighting to break free. Trowa's insinuations, nay, his accusations that Duo loved someone other than the Duke frightened him. In part because of what would happen if Treize found out, but also because it was the truth. Duo loved the dark haired knight with all his heart. That was the part of him he wished concealed and forgotten for there was nothing more painful than to stand next to the one you loved and not be able to touch them in fond tenderness.
A sob escaped Duo's lips, and he clasped a hand over his mouth to silence it. Damn the stable boy for making him remember, and for making it seem possible. Could Sir Yuy ever love him?
Duo made his way to the Duke's solar where servants were quick to disrobe and bathe him in preparation for the evening meal. He was ready to face any criticism the Duke gave him for his weak start in the training, but he was unsure of how he would respond to Knight Yuy. Duo was still angry at the way the knight had purposefully humiliated and hurt him. It was as though he was taking revenge for an offence Duo was not aware of committing. Certainly, Duo's status was an issue, but the more he thought about it, the more he suspected the knight's ill treatment stemmed from that brief kiss they had shared. A kiss that had filled Duo's heart with hope and wonder now doomed him to endless suffering. If Trowa's logic could be applied, patience was all that was needed for Sir Yuy to accept and declare his true feelings.
"Ha!" Duo laughed, startling the servant who was buttoning his short leather boots. "Sorry, I wasn't laughing at you."
"It's fine, sir. Would you like me to send for the physician, sir?"
"Your hands." The servant nodded to the bandages.
The strips of linen that Trowa had securely tied around his hands were still in place. They looked odd, but would suffice until he could get a pair of gloves. "Nay, the injury is not so bad as it appears."
Dressed in a short green tunic, black hose and black boots, Duo made his way to the great hall. He did not know what kind of reception he would receive. Surely Treize had heard about the sword fight. Might the nobleman laugh or call him unworthy? Or would he sympathize and pamper him, chastising the knight instead?
When he entered, Treize was there, seated near the hearth with several of his knights. Knight Yuy was not present.
"There you are at last," the Duke said, waving Duo to his side. "From all the stories, I should have thought you skewered and long buried."
Duo's eyes widened, even as he went on bended knee before his sire. "Nay, the stories are exaggerated in jest." He looked up, meeting Treize's eyes. "As you see, I am whole."
The Duke's eyes narrowed on him, appraising him carefully. It did not take long for the man to settle his attention on the bandaged hands. "Whole, but injured?"
"Nothing more than blisters, my Lord."
Just then, the door to the great hall opened. Sir Yuy stood in the doorway, the torchlight illuminating the silhouette of his fine figure. The gathering quieted and all watched the knight walk across the tiled floor to greet them.
Duo held his breath as he watched the knight's confident gait. It did not seem to matter to the knight that the conversation had stopped and all eyes were on him. Sir Yuy was second only to the Duke.
Warmth rose in Duo's cheeks as the young knight stood several feet away, just outside the circle, as he bowed to his liege. There was an odd tension in the air, and every head turned to the Duke in anticipation.
"Sir knight, I would speak with you in the antechamber." Treize turned to his lover and smiled. "You will await me there, too."
"But my Lord..." Duo began to protest.
The Duke raised his hand, quieting further remarks. Duo understood that he intended to take care of this business privately.
He got to his feet and followed the knight into a small chamber adjacent the great hall. The heavy wooden door closed behind them. There was a single lighted sconce on the wall which cast deep, flickering shadows on the damp room. If not for that light and the pretty tapestries on the walls, Duo would have thought this place a prison.
He was alone with Sir Yuy for the first time since their journey and their stay in the peasant's barn. So much had changed since then. So much hope had come and gone. Perhaps he should take this chance, this brief moment, to say what was on his mind and in his heart. Express his anger and his love.
They stood half way across the room from each other like strangers, not master and squire. The knight's face was turned aside in disinterest, arrogance or sheer dismissal.
"Why are you doing this?" Duo asked, the hurt too great to contain.
Sir Yuy looked up sharply, the flame light glistening over his handsome features. He did not speak, but his eyes narrowed on Duo like a hunter's on his prey.
"Do you hate me so much?" Duo held out his hands, pleading for an answer.
The knight's face softened as he noticed Duo's hands. He stepped forward, slowly at first, closing the distance. "What's this?"
"How can you not know, sir," Duo said with a snort.
Now within reach, the knight took hold of Duo's wrists, holding him still to examine the bandaged hands. "You're too soft to play at being a knight."
Duo's skin burned from the touch. He was overcome by their closeness, but the knight's words stung. "If you would teach me," he said in true defiance. "I could show you this is not a game."
The knight's dark cobalt eyes looked on him, and Duo felt a jolt of desire. His anger should be at the fore, chastising the knight for the way he was treated, but he was caught in the moment. What happened earlier that day no longer mattered-the pain, the humiliation, the confusion. All he wanted was to close the distance between them, to let his hands glide up the fine, brown twill damask of the knight's tunic and touch his face.
Duo leaned in, his eyes locked with Sir Yuy's. The man did not flinch, did not back away. Was that a blush on the young nobleman's cheeks? The space between them began to disappear....
The door swung open and the Duke entered in a rush of air. "What's this?"
Sir Yuy released Duo's wrists and took several steps back. "I was inquiring about his wounds, sire."
Treize stalked toward them, circling behind the knight and lighting at Duo's side. "It appears you gave him no quarter."
The knight's lips pursed and his gaze settled on the far wall. He stood out of reach, but Duo could still feel the lingering heat of his body. A moment more and the Duke would have found them compromised by a kiss. Of that Duo was certain.
"I heard tale of your unorthodox training," the Duke said. "But I see that my Chestnut is walking of his own volition."
Duo chuckled, hoping to break the tension. "Thank the saints we used wooden swords!"
Treize's eyes narrowed on him and then looked to his champion once more. "Rumors had you hacking him to pieces. Of course, I knew you would not harm a hair on his head."
"Yea, sire," Knight Yuy said.
"Yet, his hands are bandaged and I find you examining the wounds... most gently, indeed."
The knight would not meet the Duke's eyes, and the nobleman gave a snort as if having come to some conclusion.
"I was ill-tempered," Duo said, placing his hand on Treize's forearm. "Sir Yuy merely tried to teach me a lesson."
"You are willful. But you must do this, and do it well, if you are to become a knight." Despite Treize's familiar fatherly tone, Duo sensed a discomforting shift in the man.
"I am eager to continue the training," Duo said.
Treize looked between Heero and Duo. "I had hoped that my two favorites would work to impress and honor me. Instead, I hear of your disregard for chivalry-"
"Disregard?" the knight asked in shock.
"You physically tormented him in the open courtyard," Treize said, raising his voice.
"He is a commoner," Sir Yuy said, matter-of-factly.
Duo's fists clenched.
"Your vow obliges you to protect all of my subjects!"
The knight's jaw clenched. Duo could see him visibly struggling not to reply, not to engage in an argument with his liege.
"I am disappointed, Sir Yuy, but this was only the first day. You are unused to having a squire."
"Then you want me to continue the training?" The tone in the knight's voice seemed to indicate a desire to be released from this duty.
Before the Duke could respond, Duo bowed before the knight. "Please..." The words stuck in his throat. He did not know what was happening between him and Sir Yuy, but they needed to work together if Duo was to achieve the highest of honors and become a knight.
"Meet me in the courtyard, early on the morrow," the knight said in a commanding voice. "We will continue with lessons in archery."
Duo looked up, smiling, but his relief quickly faded. The knight's face was tight as if reflecting a tormented soul.
Sir Yuy bowed deeply to the Duke and retreated from the room.
Treize touched Duo's shoulder to regain his attention. "Was there any impropriety?"
Duo blinked. "My Lord?"
The Duke smiled. "Never mind it. Sir Yuy is not swayed by beauty." He took Duo's face in his hands and covered his mouth in a consuming kiss. When he pulled back, he looked deep into Duo's eyes. "He does not see what I see. It is his one failing."
Duo's heart quickened, realizing the Duke suspected something had happened between him and the knight. He had seen them leaning toward one another. A man this astute in life and love could not have mistaken that posture for anything else, but an impending kiss.
Fear spiked through Duo like a white hot flame. Treize knows. Dear God, he knows! Should he apologize for something that his heart had not acted upon? But there was no time to beg forgiveness. In the next breath, Treize's possessiveness surfaced at full force. He took Duo into his arms and was not satisfied until he had Duo bent over, pushing his tights down to his knees and shoving himself inside. With hands pressed to the cold stone wall, Duo took all the Duke gave him. But this claiming was too much. This road had come to an end. Where was the man he had met in the Countess's rose garden?
Moments later, the Duke finished with a couple of hard thrusts and a grunt. "If only Sir Yuy knew what he was missing, eh?"
Duo's breath caught in a gasp. "Sire?"
Treize leaned over Duo's back, still buried deep inside, and placed a kiss on his temple. "Don't worry, Chestnut. I would never pass you around like they do at the King's court." He pulled out slowly, caressing Duo's thighs. "I will have a servant attend to you with rose-scented water."
Duo closed his eyes, imagining that just beyond this wall, Treize's court waited for them. He didn't want them to know he had been taken like this. Perhaps the Duke understood that as well or he would not have offered him a chance to refresh himself.
"Thank you, my Lord," Duo said, righting his clothes.
In several long strides, the Duke was gone and the heavy oak door shut behind him. Duo was left alone pondering how close he had come to being thrown from the castle's walls.