The Double-Edged Sword
Chapter Fifteen -- A Knight in Training
The teacher and student were a curious pair to be in knight's training--one a prince from a strange land and the other a commoner. Duo was pleased when Wufei suggested they meet for the intense training the next day near the Duke's vineyards. It afforded them privacy and quiet. Even with the farmers tending to the crop, the location was sufficiently remote from the bustle of Castle Khushrenada.
Though Wufei was eager to share all he knew about Chinese martial arts, ultimately Duo had to competently handle the weapons and armor of his own country. Wufei also understood that Duo was coming into his training late. The sons of noblemen, even poor ones, began knightly training as boys with wrestling, archery, horsemanship, and etiquette.
Wufei's methods were strange, making Duo thankful for the privacy. He did not want to be called a fool, though he had no doubt that Wufei could best a good many of the knights. The most radical aspect of the training was the use of what Wufei called chi or energy. Duo listened intently though he found the concept odd. Chi went hand in hand with proper body movements all of which Duo was expected to learn and to practice daily.
"Without strong, flexible muscles you will not be able to perform the movements correctly," Wufei said.
To obtain the desired strength and flexibility, Duo was instructed in the Shaolin style of martial arts; an ancient form practiced by Buddhist monks for three thousand years. The training involved stretching and stance work which required Duo to hold his sword in different positions for short periods without moving. When the exercise was explained, Duo thought it too simple to be effective, but he learned the aching reality of holding a position for even a handful of minutes.
His favorite lessons were the kicking and punching techniques, something he had never seen a knight do in practice or at a joust. Everything he was taught was repeated again and again to condition his mind and body.
At the end of each day, Duo was covered in sweat and dirt. He shuffled back to the Duke's bedchamber, dropped on the bed, and fell asleep until the evening meal.
On the fifteenth day of the training regimen, Wufei announced the start of more intense training. "Today, we begin the sparring form of fighting."
"Sparring?" Duo was weary just from the sound of it, but knew this was his only route to knighthood.
"Sparring forms are designed to teach the basic concepts of battle, and the techniques needed to manage a weapon. It is something we will do together like a dance."
"We are going to dance?"
Wufei grinned. "Not like your minstrels dance as they perform, but a sword dance... a warrior's dance."
"Oh, like you were doing the day we met?"
"Yea, but you will start with the most basic form."
The next four days were the most enjoyable and challenging the teacher and his student had yet experienced. Duo learned to move in harmony with Wufei, in a choreographed display of swordsmanship. Though his muscles ached, he felt himself getting stronger, and becoming more accustomed to the movements and their meanings. A change was happening in mind and body as Wufei had promised, and Duo saw the first glimpses of what he could become.
That night the Duke arranged for a special dinner to celebrate Duo's accomplishments and Wufei's growing status in the court. The other guests included Lord Winner and several knights who had remained behind should the castle or village be attacked.
For days, there had been little mention of Sir Yuy, but Duo was aware of the Duke receiving messages from the patrol. Their efforts had taken them south toward Avignon and they would not be returning soon. Duo's sadness and anger at Knight Yuy's departure remained unchanged, but he spent less time thinking about it. His training kept him far too occupied to waste his chi on a man who cared nothing for him.
Before the evening ended, the Duke asked Duo and Wufei to give a demonstration. Duo laughed, thinking that Treize had to be joking after indulging them in such a delicious meal and his best wine. But the Duke persisted and Wufei got to his feet and encouraged Duo to join him.
Two knights handed over their swords, and Wufei instructed Duo to take a sparring stance. If not for fatigue and the affects of the wine, Duo would have given them a good show, but his body did not want to cooperate. His limbs were heavy, and his movements were slow. Wufei corrected Duo quietly, seeming to not want to embarrass him, but his struggle to do well was apparent.
"I have another idea," Treize said, getting to his feet.
Duo and Wufei paused in their dance, wondering what would be expected of them next. The Duke came over and held his hand out to Duo. "Your sword." Duo frowned, thinking he had failed his master, but Treize smiled at him. "The wine has done you no favors this evening and for that I am to blame. But I do enjoy seeing you blush."
His blush deepened, and he handed over the sword and stepped back. "Sire?"
"I should like to try my hand at this... dance."
"Your Grace?" Wufei asked.
"I hope you don't mind, but I have watched your training from a distance and find it most impressive. Would you care to spar with me in peace?"
Wufei grinned. "I would be honored."
Duo was relieved to sit down, and took a place next to Lord Winner. He had seen the Duke with a sword only twice before. The first time was at their meeting during a display of swordsmanship at the Countess's wedding, and the second time was weeks ago when the Duke had corrected one of the squire's on his form.
"You seem pleased," Lord Winner said.
"I am." Duo smiled. "I like being entertained."
"Ah, it is a rare treat to watch my dear cousin wield a sword. He is a sight to behold in battle, but has given up competing in the jousts."
"Why is that?"
"To allow the younger men to win."
Duo chuckled. "That sounds like him."
The blond nobleman looked on him intently. "If I may say, you look well. It seems your training with Sir Chang has put muscle on you."
"Not too much, I pray."
"You were practically skin and bones before. Now you look as healthy as a young stallion."
"I have learned much from Wufei, but I doubt I could ever re-pay him."
"You re-pay him by being a good student."
Duo nodded, thinking that was exactly what Wufei would say.
The friendly sparring between Treize and Wufei was in progress. The two men spoke as they moved; Treize elegantly following Wufei's every command. This was the way the sparring form was meant to be performed.
"You will get there," Lord Winner said, seeming to hear Duo's thoughts.
He shook his head. "They look most natural together."
"They are both experienced swordsmen. It does not seem to matter that they trained in different styles."
Duo understood that Treize and Wufei were years ahead of him in their use of the sword, but there was something more about their spirited sparring. For never having done this together, they moved with a rhythm and grace that not many swordsmen could claim. It was as though they were meant to share this dance.
"It is most beauteous," Lord Winner said, a bit breathlessly.
Yea, Duo thought as he watched the two warriors. They were beautiful together and that gave him an uneasy twinge in his gut. Perhaps he should not have eaten a second helping of almond milk pudding. "I feel out of sorts."
"Are you unwell?" Lord Winner asked.
Duo looked to the nobleman and nodded. "Please apologize to Treize..."
He got up rather shakily and hurried to his bedchamber, collapsing with an oompf on the bed. His body immediately felt better as it was cradled in the soft mattress. He was exhausted from the intense pace of the training, and dizzy from the wine. A long night's rest would do him a world of good. He stared at the canopy over his head, half wanting to fall asleep as he was and half wanting to shed his clothes first.
Life had gotten very busy once he and Wufei were paired. He was thankful for the training. It gave his life purpose, moving him closer to his goal every day, and further from thoughts of Sir Heero Yuy. Times like this were among the few that the image of the handsome knight came back to him, and he wondered if he would ever stop feeling this way. He knew they were useless feelings, but they clung to his heart like a vine.
The Duke would return to their shared bedchamber soon, and Duo would focus on the physical pleasure he and Treize gave to each other. Even Treize, a true romantic, had never pretended the love they shared was more than an enjoyable diversion. It was built on lust and romantic fantasy, and perhaps even friendship, but not the enduring, passionate love of minstrel's ballads. Duo had accepted this early on, but meeting and falling for the Duke's first knight had changed everything. He longed for a life in love's embrace, and longed for that lover to be Knight Yuy.
He sighed heavily as he began to fall asleep with the cursed visage of the knight in his mind.
~ ~ ~
The next morning, the sun shone bright and hot on Duo's back as he waited for his teacher by the well-tended rows of grapes. Wufei arrived and they bowed to each other.
"Lord Winner mentioned you were unwell when you left the hall," Wufei said.
"Yea, the wine had gone to my head, but I am better today."
"Good, though I wish you had remained longer last eventide. You missed an impressive move by your master."
Duo blinked, the only thing coming to mind was how impressive Treize had been when he came to bed. But surely Wufei knew nothing of that.
"The Duke knocked my sword from my hand in a most surprising manner," Wufei said. "For such a large man he is most agile."
Duo snickered, but Wufei's seriousness quieted him. "I am sure he meant it to be sporting."
"He meant it as a challenge," Wufei said, flatly.
"Surely not! You are a most welcome guest."
Wufei shook his head. "Do not misunderstand. A challenge is good for a warrior's soul."
Generally, challenges were made when a nobleman was offended. He sought retribution by challenging his offender to a duel or some other test. But this was clearly not the case. It seemed that the Duke had found something of an equal in Chang Wufei.
"You look unhappy with the news," Wufei said.
He wasn't unhappy, but it bothered him that Treize had never wanted to spar with him. The image of Treize and Wufei in that warrior's dance was the most beautiful display of swordsmanship Duo had ever seen.
"When do you plan to duel?" Duo asked.
"I leave that to the Duke to decide."
They turned to the training, spending the day with stretches, stances and sparring forms. The training required concentration, but Duo kept envisioning the upcoming duel and wondering if he would ever be good enough to hold his own against experienced swordsmen like Wufei and the Duke.
After a long day, Duo retreated to the castle to gather paper and pen. His family had only heard from him once, though he had received several letters from them, including one this morning from his youngest sister. Sophie had written a brief note and included pressed flowers from the family's garden. Memories of his sweet sister made him long for home in a way he thought he never would. He had been only too glad to leave Valence and his overbearing and ambitious stepfather.
Now, quietly nestled in a secluded part of the castle's gardens, Duo began to write to his mother and sisters. He would feed their fantasies of noble life by telling them of the handsome Chinese prince who was training him, and how the Duke lavished him with banquets and fine clothes.
His time alone in the garden, with birds singing in the trees and honeybees buzzing from one flower to the next, was one of the loveliest he had spent at the castle. He was finally in tune with life in Lyon. He had found the rhythm of Treize's needs and the castle's daily routine, and comfort in his new friendships with Trowa. He supposed that he should count Lord Quatre Winner among his friends, but he seldom had occasion to be at leisure with the nobleman. Also, Lord Winner's closeness to Sir Yuy made Duo uncomfortable, especially after the failed attempts at bringing them together. He didn't begrudge the effort, but it made his conversations with Lord Winner more tentative.
It was something of a miracle that Chang Wufei had come along. Duo and the young prince understood each other, perhaps because they were both outsiders. The training moved Duo closer to his goal, and gave Wufei a sense of purpose, stifling his need to wander the continent. In many ways, Wufei had saved Duo from a terrible fate. His training had been failing, and his amorous pursuit of Sir Yuy had nearly lost him the Duke's favor.
He blew on the wet ink and folded the letter, tucking it into his belt. The sun was quite low and the sky had turned a brilliant pink and orange hue. The evening meal would be served soon, and Duo needed to change into something more appropriately flamboyant to please his liege.
As he walked along the garden path, he reminded himself to spend more time here. It was a lovely place by daylight. Perhaps he would suggest to the Duke that they take their breakfast here some morning. Treize loved to be among his roses.
There was rarely anyone in the garden, so Duo was surprised when he heard hushed voices as he turned onto a path lined with tall flowering shrubs. He quieted his footsteps on the gravel, so as not to interrupt. He did not know who was there, just beyond the shrubs, but when he heard moans he knew he needed to give the lovers their privacy.
"Your Grace..." the voice said.
Duo froze in mid-step, stilling himself on the garden path. Had he misheard? He listened carefully, holding his breath.
"Not here, Your Grace. Later... Meet me later."
Duo felt the blood drain from his face as he recognized the voice and to whom the supplication was being made.
Somehow he found the strength to ease towards the shrubs and peer through the branches. He had to see with his own eyes the painful truth his ears had already revealed... The Duke had a new lover and that lover was Chang Wufei.
He could see them clearly now, several yards away, embracing and kissing at the garden's edge. The Duke had Wufei pressed against the high stone wall. His hands roamed over the smaller man's body, groping him possessively, eagerly, and with each intimate touch the prince moaned.
Duo shuddered as the world began to collapse around him. He was the Duke's lover. He was Wufei's friend and student. How could they betray him like this? Hadn't he satisfied the Duke's needs? Hadn't he welcomed Wufei to Castle Khushrenada like an old friend?
A twig snapped under Duo's foot and the Duke pulled away from his new amour. He turned towards the sound. "Who is there?"
Duo swallowed hard. What should he do? If he ran, the Duke would overtake him in a dozen long strides.
"Show yourself!" the Duke said, unhappy at having his affair interrupted.
Duo had no choice. He walked along the shrubs until he found an opening and stepped through. Wufei gave a low gasp on seeing him, but the Duke took a step forward in a somewhat threatening stance. Duo could not help but look at them, even though he wanted nothing more than for them to disappear.
"What have you to say?" the Duke asked.
Duo's brow knitted. "What have I...?" He couldn't speak, let alone understand what was happening before his eyes. It was as though Treize was accusing him of being in the wrong. Duo knew he had no recourse, but Treize spoke so often of loyalty, truth and beauty that this had to be dream. Yea, he had fallen asleep in the garden while writing and this was simply a strange dream.
"Duo, this changes nothing," Wufei said. "I will continue to train you for knighthood."
Duo's mouth dropped open in disbelief. So, it wasn't a dream, it was a comedy, but where was the audience?
"Let us change for the evening meal," the Duke said. "The cook is preparing roasted pheasant and boiled potatoes." Treize put his hand on Wufei's shoulder, squeezing it and speaking to him quietly. Wufei gave a firm nod and headed out of the garden alone. Treize turned to Duo and smiled. "I never expected you to be the jealous type."
"I was... surprised."
"Indeed." Treize walked over to him, and gently took Duo's hand, bringing it to his lips and kissing it. "Wufei is right that nothing has changed. You will continue to share my bedâ€¦"
Duo withdrew his hand. "But you... you want him."
"I am surprised it bothers you, Chestnut. You seemed to understand your place here." His voice was sincere and oddly comforting. He had a way of saying things that made people desperate to agree with him. He was a master negotiator, after all.
"I don't know," Duo said, beginning to doubt all that he knew.
Treize brushed his hand across Duo's cheek and bent to kiss him, but Duo took a step back.
"Your pursuit of true love is beautiful," the Duke said. "There are many things to admire in you."
"You admire me?"
"Is that not apparent? Perhaps my retainers are right. I have spoiled you."
Was he being ungrateful? Treize had given him a splendid world to live him with soft, tailored clothes and jewels and feasts, and the means to make something of himself. All the man had asked for in return was affection and companionship.
"Our roles remain the same. I want you in my bed as I always have." This time when Treize bent to kiss him, Duo accepted the advance. Their lips met and Treize quickly pushed for more, sliding his tongue into Duo's mouth. "There," he said, pulling back slightly. He held Duo's face in his hands and looked deep into his eyes. "We have always shared an attraction."
"And now you are attracted to Wufei."
"I pray you do not hold it against me. Or perhaps you understand? Do you feel more than respect for your teacher?"
"He is my friend." It was hard to deny the young man's good looks, but Duo had never thought of Wufei as anything more than a friend and a teacher.
"Perhaps we can all be satisfied. I will ask Wufei to join us one night. How would that be, Chestnut?"
Duo's eyes widened, but before he could protest, Treize kissed him hard.
"We can talk more later," Treize said, taking a step back. "I should like a walk in the garden before dinner."
Duo was relieved to be excused from the Duke's presence. He retreated quickly from the garden, his mind racing with all that had happened. He felt Treize's kiss on his lips, but in his mind saw Treize and Wufei kissing. How could they have done this? Was he so inconsequential that no one cared how he felt? At least Wufei had the decency to look shocked at being caught.
Treize now had two lovers. Did that mean he'd be sleeping in two beds? Where was Duo expected to sleep when it was Wufei's turn? Or would they be getting a bigger bed to accommodate all three of them? He couldn't perform with another man in the bed!
The questions made Duo's head hurt, and his stomach queasy. Just when everything seemed as right as it could be, Fate made a fool of him again. She knew he was not ready to strike out on his own. It was suffer the Duke's whims or return to Valence and that tyrant of a stepfather.
What choice did he have?