The Double-Edged Sword
Chapter Twelve - Devils and Saints
It was just after dawn when Duo stepped into the courtyard. To reflect his serious intent, he was dressed simply and without adornment. There were no ribbons in his hair, only a leather tie at the end of his braid, and no embroidery on his tunic, just plain cotton dyed an earthy brown. He had even foregone wearing a contrasting color of hose in favor of a lighter shade of brown, and comfortable leather shoes. His one indulgence was a pair of leather gloves which were tucked under his belt. For now, the fresh linen wrapping his hands would suffice as protection for his blisters.
To say that he had been shaken by the events of the previous day was an understatement. Life at Castle Khushrenada was difficult to navigate, but he had thought he was doing well until Sir Yuy made an example of him and the Duke reminded him of his place. Treize's quick claim of him in the antechamber had frightened Duo. He was used to energetic sex with the nobleman, but that had been a fuck, plain and simple, and its message was clear: You are mine until I say otherwise.
In a world where nobles dominated the lower classes, Duo understood the terms of this arrangement, but the lack of tenderness in the act had shocked him. Something had shifted, because title or not, Treize Khushrenada, was a good man. Then why had he done it?
Maybe the Duke sensed that Duo was beginning to take his generosity for granted, and wanted to teach him a lesson. The whispers of courtiers and servants had reached Duo's ears. They thought him too free and too proud. If only they knew how little freedom he truly had, but perhaps it was pride that had led a tailor's apprentice to try to seduce the Duke's champion right under his nose.
This morning, the knight kept him waiting. By the time he arrived, the castle's gates had opened and the usual bustle of activity was well under way.
"Good morrow, my lord," Duo said with a bow. He had to start anew. Set aside the events of the day before, and damper the feelings he held for this man.
"Are you prepared for a long day of training?" Knight Yuy was also dressed for hard work-in a tunic and hose of fawn brown colored fabric, and leather belt, scabbard and boots of dark brown leather.
"Yea, I am most eager."
The knight gave Duo the briefest assessment and then turned. "Follow me."
They walked past the sentries and over the wooden plank bridge to stand outside the castle's walls. For a moment, Duo feared he was being exiled. That Treize had sent Knight Yuy to see the deed done, but that was not the case. They took the path along the stone wall until they came to a group of squires and knights practicing archery. A target range stretched away from the castle and toward an open field.
"Have you used a bow before?"
"Nay, my lord."
"You will learn the difference between a crossbow and a longbow and how to use each one."
They approached the small group of squires, and the look on the young men's faces was enough for Duo to understand he was not their equal. Maybe not yet, he thought, but in time he would show them all.
An experienced archer was present to offer instruction, and the knights supervised and added their own insight. This was how Duo had envisioned the training, not the solitary exercise he had completed yesterday.
The archer handed Duo a longbow and a quiver of arrows while the other squires continued their target practice.
"The English are fond of the longbow," the man said. "It's good to know your enemy's weapons."
All his life he had heard stories of battles against the English, but the only threat he or his village had ever faced was by the hand of rogues and thieves. The bandits-the enemies-he and Heero had faced on the road carried tuck swords, and one used bow and arrows. This lesson would indeed be valuable.
Duo listened intently as the archer showed him how to hold the bow and load the arrows. He explained about getting the right amount of tension in the drawstring and how to use his bow hand to sight the target.
"The rapid fire of arrows is an important skill to master," Knight Yuy said. He added tactical comments, explaining how the right deployment of archers in the field could bring victory even if your enemy had a superior number of forces.
Duo was grateful for the lessons. To everyone's surprise, he hit his mark nine out of ten times. He preferred the English longbow to the French crossbow for its accuracy, but kept that to himself. He could now claim horsemanship and marksmanship as strengths, and hoped to add swordsmanship to that list very soon. The archer was generous in his praise, but Sir Yuy gave no compliments. Perhaps the knight preferred he failed?
He had resolved to do better, to try harder and not to complain. In return he thought he would receive the knight's acceptance and perhaps even love. The goals of his heart and his head were becoming intertwined. He wanted to follow his heart-as he always had-but if there was a lesson he had learned since coming to this place it was that he should also follow reason. Without this training and attaining knightly status he would never be free to live and to love as he chose.
As the day progressed, Knight Yuy withdrew, stepping back from the training and leaving Duo to mingle with the squires and receive direction only from the archer. And then he was gone. One moment Sir Yuy was speaking with the knights, and the next he was nowhere to be seen.
Duo supposed he had been called away, but to leave without a word made Duo feel like a leper. All the other knights had remained and continued to interact with their squires.
"Sir Yuy had matters to attend to," the archer said, seeming to notice Duo's disappointment.
Duo nodded, wanting to believe that was true.
~ ~ ~
Heero had to leave. His pleasure in watching Duo was not that of a knight mentoring his squire, but of a man whose heart sang for the very first time.
He had watched enrapt as Duo hit his mark again and again. He took to archery like a hawk takes to wing; cutting a wondrous, sinewy silhouette with feet planted apart, and arms taut holding the bow and pulling back its' drawstring. He was so beautiful and masterful that Heero could barely take his eyes from him. He had to turn his back and walk away. His world was about to crack. The orderly life that he had known had turned into a court jester's routine.
The curse worsened day by day. The more he tried to suppress his desire, the more it glowed in his heart. He warred with himself; heart and head in a battle to the death. One minute his heart ached for Duo to touch him, to finish what he had started in the antechamber, and the next his head took hold of him, telling him that he could not love and maintain his knight's oath.
Duty bound to his master's orders, Heero endured the proximity to the bewitching young man. There was potential in Duo, but knighthood was not merely the mastering of weaponry. It was not something that could be obtained in a matter of weeks or months, and it most certainly was not meant for the lower classes. Heero secretly acknowledged Duo's extraordinary beauty and brilliant marksmanship, but would not break his knightly vows or stand to see a commoner knighted. And so the battle raged.
It was enough to drive a man insane.
That evening in the great hall, the Devil's amusement continued. The Duke seated his lover next to his first knight, stating that he wanted all his knights and their squires arranged this way. As the air stirred around him with the whoosh of Duo's scarlet damask tunic, Heero breathed in a heady brew of lavender and rose, and a hint of something more... pure Duo. He had gotten close enough to Duo before to begin to learn his scent.
He wondered if he was being punished for standing close to Duo when the Duke had entered the antechamber. They had been about to kiss, a moment more and Duo's lips would have been his. Duo's breath had brushed his face when the moment had been lost.
Now they were seated inches apart. It was inappropriate to place Duo here, so close to the Duke and therefore so high in the hierarchical chain. But this had nothing to do with hierarchy, did it? This was a test. Heero was being given a chance to prove that the Duke could still trust him, that he had not been wrong to choose him for the errand of retrieving his lover.
How can he mistrust me? Heero wondered, but perhaps the Duke had good reason to be suspicious.
The meal was served while the Duke's minstrels played on their hornpipes and harps. The distraction was good, but Heero was ever aware of Duo's presence beside him. He knew the delights of being kissed by this man, and for a moment had thought he would experience it again. A tiny, shameful thrill went through him knowing that Duo had wanted to be close even after the way he had treated him.
Now Heero watched Duo out of the corner of his eye. He watched him scoop a portion of black pudding and rice onto his plate, but take only a couple of bites.
"Perhaps some salt would improve the flavor," Heero said.
Duo turned to him, his violet eyes showing his surprise.
Heero reached for the salt dish and set it in front of Duo's plate.
"Thank you," Duo said, softly.
The Duke was engrossed in his conversation with Lord Winner, so Heero took the opportunity to interact further. There was no harm in talking, was there?
"Just a pinch ought to do it," he said.
Duo's brow furrowed, but he followed the direction. After another taste, the tiniest of smiles curved at his mouth. "The salt does wonders." He turned in his chair and his thigh pressed against Heero's.
Heero's eyes shot up to see Duo staring at him intently. They should not be touching, nor should he be enjoying the warmth of Duo's leg against his own.
A cough from across the table broke the moment, and Heero caught Quatre's concerned gaze squarely fixed on him. If his friend was noticing these interactions, certainly the Duke could as well, but it seemed the nobleman was otherwise engaged. His conversation had drifted down the table to one of the older knight's whose wife had recently had a baby.
Suddenly, Heero remembered Quatre's words from days before. Once the blush is off the relationship he will discard this boy as easily as the last. Heero knew the pattern as well as anyone, but he had honestly thought that Duo could keep the Duke's attention longer than the others had. Duo had nothing to fear. He was far more beautiful... Heero stopped his thoughts right there. He had never been this distracted, and felt anger rising in him again.
He flashed Duo a warning glance as he jerked his leg away. But just as he did, he noticed a flush on Duo's cheeks.
"Are you unwell?" Heero asked.
The violet eyes were filled with emotion. Duo stood and his spoon clanked against the pewter plate, drawing attention upon him. "My Lord, please excuse me..." Duo did not wait for Treize's permission to leave, and the rush in which he left the hall caused a great murmuring among the guests.
"I'm sure he is overtired from his training," the Duke said. He stared at the door and then sighed deeply, before inviting his guests to eat their fill.
~ ~ ~
Duo hurried from the hall, past the curious looks of the sentries at the door, and down the corridor. He didn't know where he was heading, all he knew was that he needed to get out of that room. He needed to be away from the damn formality of Treize's banquet and the insufferably boring conversation, and more importantly he needed to be away from Heero.
He shouldn't have done it, but Duo could not resist touching Heero. It was too tempting with the memory of being in each other's arms in the antechamber. Well, that was a fantasy. Heero had merely held Duo's wrists, but it was true they were about to kiss. Duo would have kissed him if not for Treize's bad timing.
He was tired of this game, but he had no one to blame other than himself. He had seen an opportunity for escape in the guise of the Duke Treize Khushrenada, and had flung himself at the man. Damn it, but the nobleman had been charming and all too willing to get caught up in an affair. It seemed perfect, and everything had gone to plan, until the Duke had sent that impossibly gorgeous knight to escort him. Still that hadn't mattered, all that much, until the knight had rescued Duo from rogues, injuring himself so chivalrously in the process.
Duo had always gotten weak in the knees when it came to swordsmen, but he had never seen anyone like Sir Heero Yuy. He thought he had found pirate's gold when he had met the Duke, but even he could not make Duo's heart pound the way it did when he looked at Sir Yuy. Whether it was the man's dark good looks, intense blue eyes, or the way he held himself, Duo could not say, but he suspected it was the complete package when it came to his feelings for the knight. The prospect of having to deny those feelings for all time was something that Duo did not want to face.
He raced past pages, servants and courtiers until he reached a safe haven-the chapel. He purposefully slowed his steps as he entered the sacred space. Candles illuminated the dark wooden chapel, and the painted faces of the portraits of saints that hung on the walls. Duo settled at the side of the room, on a chair behind a wooden pillar. He doubted anyone would come looking for him here.
On the morrow, he supposed he would continue the training as a means to ensuring his future. But everything seemed unsure, the very ground beneath his feet no longer stable. He had taken himself away from the safety of home to make his own way, but to achieve the safety net of knighthood would take months. It was time he feared he did not have.
~ ~ ~
The air around Heero was lifeless now that the bench beside him was empty. The hall was colder and less bright without Duo. The conversations and the meal continued without him, but Heero found himself unwilling to engage in either. He should be relieved to have the object of his desire out of sight, but instead he felt as though a part of him was missing.
He took another long drink from his wine as he observed the Duke, watching for any indication that Treize was tired of Duo and ready to pursue other options. It was wrong to wish for the demise of the Duke's affair, and also to deceive himself into thinking that he had a chance with the long haired Duo. The last time he listened to a poet's love sonnet, he did not recall a verse about wooing one's love with rudeness and brutality.
At least the Duke's cast-offs always faired well. There was a bit of a scramble for Treize's leftovers whether they were horses, jewels or lovers. In the past, Heero had observed this fact with a cold eye, but knowing that Duo would be the next item up for bid sent a pang of regret through him. He had been the one to bring him here, after all. He had assumed that Duo understood what the Duke was offering him, if only temporarily, but Duo was a commoner. He would have had little opportunity to study the ways of the rich and powerful. All of the Duke's previous lovers were of noble birth. Perhaps that was why the Duke was so adamant that Duo become a knight.
Heero was tired and anxious for bed. He excused himself from the gathering which had by now settled near the hearth.
The chapel was on his way to the stairs that led to the second floor and to his rooms. A moment in quiet meditation would be good after such a long day. Perhaps it wouldn't hurt to light a candle to Lady Fortune as well.
He entered the chapel and immediately felt soothed by its solitude. The room was quiet and the flicker of the candlelight calmed him. His world had been turned upside down ever since meeting the bright-eyed and opinionated, Duo Maxwell.
Heero approached the altar and took the taper lying at the base of the candles. He lighted it on one of the bees wax candles and reached to the second tier of candles set in blue glass votives. He lit a single candle, blew out the taper and closed his eyes as he took a deep breath. He would overcome this challenge. He would find his knight's resolve again.
The sound of wood creaking behind him sent him turning on his heel, ready to face an intruder. "Is someone there?"
His eyes widened as Duo appeared from behind the shadow of a pillar. "Good evening tide."
Heero's heart beat faster. He had hoped to find peace, and instead had been thrown into the presence of the very person causing his life so much turmoil.
"I have disturbed your solitude," Heero said, setting the taper down and turning to leave.
"Please..." Duo came forward to stand only a few feet away. "It is so rare for us to have occasion to talk."
Heero blinked. God knew he wanted to talk to Duo, and more, but it was folly to be alone with him. "Perhaps there will be time during the morrow's training..."
"Let us not squander the moment at hand. Unless someone is waiting for you?"
"Someone waits for you," Heero said, harshly.
Duo nodded, but drew closer. "For now he waits, but for how much longer?"
It was surprising to hear uncertainty in Duo's voice. Since they had met, Duo had been stalwart to the point of cockiness. More than once, Heero had thought that Duo needed to be reminded of his place as a commoner, but the young man seemed hell bent on breaking all the rules. Now it seemed that life was not going as planned.
"I observe the Duke's whims, but I do not understand them."
Duo chuckled. "And I am but a whim."
"Then, does it follow that you do not understand me?" Duo asked.
"I do not need to understand."
"Not even because I am your squire?"
He could not answer. Duo's eyes were focused on his face, and it made Heero warm to be under the scrutiny of that gaze. Was it his imagination or was the space between them shrinking with each breath he took?
Once again, Heero made an effort to leave, but Duo laid a hand on his forearm and looked on him with pleading eyes. The emotion-filled face froze Heero to the spot.
"Do you ever feel like people are saying things about you that aren't true?" Duo asked.
"I do not worry about what people say," Heero said, feeling the heat of Duo's hand through the sleeve of his tunic.
"Not even when it's from the mouth of your lord and master, the Duke?"
Heero shook his head. "If you are trying to set me against His Grace-"
"Nay," Duo said, quickly.
"Then I know not your purpose for the Duke has always spoken the truth to my ears."
"Then it is true..." Duo said, his voice going soft. He stepped closer, much closer until their faces were inches apart. "You are not swayed by beauty."
Heero pressed a hand to Duo's chest, holding him at bay. "Then why do you test me?"
"Because I am swayed by beauty... your beauty."
Heero's cheeks burned at the words. He released the pressure of his hand, allowing Duo to cross the line that neither of them should cross. Their lips met and Heero could resist no more. The pressure of Duo's lips was welcome.
Heero grabbed Duo's biceps and held him as the kiss became hungry. For the first time, he glimpsed the passion that each of them held just below the surface. This kiss was a hundred times more perfect than their first. He had wanted this for so long, had fought his need to feel Duo close, and be the recipient of kisses from those lips.
Duo's hands touched Heero's face, warm palms and fingertips caressing him as they moaned into each other's mouths. The kisses were sweet fire, igniting an image of Duo pulling his linen shirt over his head to expose a pale, sinewy figure.
But it was too much for a man of honor to give in to animal lust. Heero pulled back in torment. "Saints alive! What spell have you cast on me?"
"The same that you have cast upon me." Duo touched Heero's cheek again, only to have Heero flinch. "You wanted me to kiss you."
Heero's brow furrowed. "Are you accusing me of seducing you? Is it your game to ruin me?"
"You made a game of humiliating me in front of your noble friends, and yet you accuse me of such things?"
"If I treated you poorly, then why do you kiss me?"
"To show you none of that matters. I am yours, Heero... if you'll have me."
He blinked, stunned and elated to hear his name on Duo's lips, and with such a declaration as none ever uttered. But how could the knight embrace something that he knew was wrong? His pulse throbbed in his brain as he warred with himself. He wanted Duo, wanted to do unspeakable things to him, but he could not have him under these circumstances.
"I will not have you, sir," Heero said, taking a step back.
"Because of Treize-"
"Because this is only a game to you."
"Am I not a game to Treize?"
"The Duke's affairs are not mine to judge."
"But you are most eager to judge me."
"I am most eager for you to recognize your folly. You make a game of love and money while others risk their lives to protect the countryside. You are a commoner in birth and ambition." He could not stop the words once they started, but their impact made him cringe with regret.
Duo sucked in a shaky breath and took a step back. For a second, Heero thought Duo might stumble on the stone floor, but he remained standing. "This is how you see me?"
Nay, he thought, but this is the only way to end what cannot be. "It is better for you to hear the truth than to continue-"
Duo held up his hand, sharply. "You are not my master, and you could never know the truth of my heart. May you burn in Hell fire!" Duo turned and ran from the chapel, knocking a candelabra stand over in his haste.
Heero took several steps to follow, his hand reaching out, and stopped. He should be satisfied to be rid of his problem. Surely now, Duo would beg to be released from his training.
Glancing back at the altar, Heero prayed his sacrifice was enough and that in time the heavy weight pressing down on his chest would ease.