The Double-Edged Sword
Chapter Twenty-Four - The Language of Love
They were half asleep when they reached Castle Peacecraft, but once the cart came to a halt inside the gate, they were quick to action. Heero and Trowa leapt from the cart and waved several servants over, while Duo remained at Quatre's side.
"We will get you into a soft bed where you can rest," Duo said, squeezing his friend's arm gently.
The team of servants eased Quatre onto a wool blanket, each holding a corner to carry him into the castle. Trowa walked alongside, directing the men as he held Quatre's hand.
Duo grabbed the jug of herbal broth the healer had provided and ran to catch up with Heero who was following close behind the procession.
"His fever persists," Duo said, quietly.
Heero nodded. "It is to be expected."
"What about his wound? It still bleeds."
"The healers did well to clean and bind it, but the surgeon will treat it with fire."
"That sounds painful," Duo said with a worried frown.
"A cup of strong mead and Trowa at his side will see him through."
"I do believe you are a romantic." Duo smiled.
"Perhaps," Heero said, giving his own small smile.
They went directly to one of the guest bedchambers where a surgeon and his assistant were waiting. Once Quatre was placed on the bed, his boots were removed and the surgeon got to work. There would be time to unclothe and bathe him later.
Though Trowa was anxious to remain at Quatre's side, he stepped away to speak with Heero and Duo. "I will look after him now. Thank you for your help."
"We can stay longer," Duo said.
"Nay, you should rest."
"What about you?" Duo asked, seeing the fatigue plainly on Trowa's face.
"When Quatre rests..." A groan from his lover sent Trowa back to his side.
Duo stepped forward to follow, but Heero grabbed his arm.
"Let them be."
"Are you certain all will be well?" Duo asked.
They left the room, and just as they closed the door behind them, Quatre cried out. Duo wrapped his arms around Heero in a fierce embrace. The fight had taken its toll on all of them, but Quatre had suffered the most serious wound.
"I should have been more cautious," Duo said in the embrace.
"If the rogue had not recognized me..."
"Shh," Heero said, caressing Duo's hair.
"My lords," a female voice said.
Duo stepped out of the embrace and his cheeks blazed with embarrassment. Perhaps she would think their intimacy nothing more than brotherly affection.
"I beg your pardon," she said, curtsying.
They gazed upon the young servant girl who had interrupted their private moment. She was dressed like the other female servants of this castle in a long, sleeveless gray woolen tunic and linen under-gown, and soft leather shoes. Sewn to her tunic above her heart was a rosette made of red and white ribbons, signifying the Duke of Nevers' banner.
"I am to show you to your bedchamber," she said, her eyes cast low in reverence.
"That is most kind," Duo said.
The girl looked up, brightening at his comment. "This way, my lords."
They followed her down the corridor, passing many doors, and finally stopping at the last one. She opened the door and stepped back, bowing her head. Duo went inside first, and found the room similar in grandeur and comfort to the one Trowa and Quatre now shared. His eyes settled happily on the canopied bed with its heavy brocade drapes and bed covers. He stepped towards it, thinking only to rest his weary bones, but before he could sit down another servant entered the room.
"Good eventide, my lords," the elderly servant said.
Duo smiled halfheartedly as he turned from the bed in greeting. "Good eventide."
"His Grace had this room prepared especially for you."
Duo and Heero exchanged glances.
The man gestured towards the hearth where a fire was burning, and a large, wooden bathtub sat before it, filled with steaming water.
"The water is scented with cedar and orange," the man said. "And there are linens, robes, soaps and all you will need to bathe."
"Bathe?" Duo asked, amazed. It sounded divine, but he cast a longing glance back to the bed where he longed to fall asleep in his lover's arms.
"His Grace thought you would like to refresh yourselves."
Just then, two more servants entered, bringing a platter of food and pitcher of wine. The refreshments were set on a side table near the tub.
"There are sweet meats, cheese and roasted fowl, and wine from the castle's vineyards," the older servant said.
Duo's mouth watered. "Thank you."
"It is all thanks to his Grace," the man said with a bow. "Now, if there is nothing else, I bid you a goodnight."
One by one the servants left the room, closing the door softly behind them.
"Saints be praised!" Duo rushed to the food platter and picked up a slice of meat with his fingers and stuffed it into his mouth. "You have to try this!"
Heero smiled. "First, I am going to bathe."
"Do that," Duo said with a nod as he shoved more of the delectable fare into his mouth. He poured a cup of wine and drank as he watched his lover strip off his tunic and linen shirt. "Oh..."
Heero looked over a bare shoulder as he slipped out of his boots. "You cannot have both. It is eat or bathe."
It was a difficult choice, but Duo had an answer. "I will eat while you bathe and my cup will floweth over." He lifted his glass to the knight, saluting him, and then drank another mouthful of the hearty Burgundian wine.
Heero removed his hose and stood next to the tub, swirling his hand in the scented water. "There is room enough for two."
The firelight illuminated the knight's nakedness in a warm glow, which had the curious effect of minimizing the grime and fatigue of battle on his skin. It was the first that Duo had the luxury to indulge in his lover's naked beauty.
"You are like a warrior angel fallen to Earth."
Heero's brow furrowed. "A fallen angel? You think me a demon?"
Duo laughed and put his cup down. "You are no demon, sir knight." He stepped to the tub and kissed Heero full on the lips. "You are beauty itself."
Heero grinned, and then eyed the tub. "Bathe with me."
"You tempt me, but I fear I would fall asleep and drown."
"I will keep your head above water," Heero said, and began to unbuckle Duo's sword belt.
Duo gulped at Heero's enthusiasm. They were both exhausted, but a bath would go a long ways to recovering their good humor.
In moments, Heero had eased Duo out of his clothes. They stood looking upon one another. Heero slid his hands up Duo's arms, caressing him. "Let me bathe you."
"Nay," Duo said, rubbing the smudge of dirt on Heero's cheek. "You are well spent from the fight."
Heero pulled Duo's braid forward to lie over his squire's shoulder. "I could wash your hair."
"Perhaps you are the one who was thumped on the head." Duo chuckled.
"Allow me this, Duo."
The look in the knight's eyes was determined yet tender. Duo doubted he could dissuade him if he tried.
"I will want to return the favor," Duo said at last.
Duo stepped into the tub and eased into the waist deep water. The servants had left extra pitchers of water for cleansing. Heero worked carefully, first unraveling Duo's braid and then combing it out with the ivory comb left next to herb-infused oils and soaps for their bodily care. Once Duo's hair was loose, Heero poured water over it. Ever so gently, he massaged soap and oil into it, being mindful of the bump at the back of Duo's head.
"You pamper me." Duo tilted his head back and closed his eyes. He could feel the wonderful warmth of the fire and the soothing touch of his lover.
"You gave me a fright," Heero said, softly.
"Oh?" The edge of concern in the knight's voice brought Duo to full attention. He turned in the tub to look him full in the face. "I meant to support you not frighten you. I was overly confident."
"You know it is true."
"'Tis true, indeed, but I do not wish to argue just now." Heero encouraged him to turn around so he could continue rinsing his hair.
Duo smiled, and leaned back against the tub's smooth, wooden side. "I am sorry that I could not finish the fight at your side."
"You did more than most men could."
Duo's eyes closed as he drifted on the compliment. It was not like Sir Yuy to be so forthcoming. Perhaps it was a sign of their growing bond.
With Duo's hair washed and combed, and slowly drying from the fire's heat, Heero joined his lover in the bath. It was a little crowded to be washing the knight's hair, but they managed. Despite his fatigue, Duo found great pleasure massaging the soap through Heero's dark brown hair. Again, he marveled at the knight's handsome features, and wondered how such a man had remained alone all these years.
Each took a small wash linen and soaked it in the water before rubbing a bar of soap over it. The lathered cloth was then used to scrub away the dirt and grime of the day. They smelled fresh as maidens, but Duo kept that to himself, glorying in these few moments of silent industry. Their eyes and hands communicated in a way that made words foolish.
The bathing complete, Duo turned in the tub, sloshing the water over the sides and onto the rug. He rested against Heero's chest, between his lover's legs, and sighed happily.
"Let us stay here the night," he said, feeling himself drift to sleep again.
Heero chuckled. "And have us both drown?"
"Then give me a moment to recover my strength."
The knight kissed Duo's ear, and wrapped his arms around his chest. "I will give you two."
A tingle ran down Duo's back to hear Heero's voice in his ear, and feel his arms about him. There was so much to be grateful for this day, and so much that might have been lost in that bloody skirmish. His mind dreamily remembered the way his swordsman lover moved with the fluid grace of a lion, defeating all in his path. "You fought brilliantly."
"You saved the day," Heero said in a voice husky with love and continuing fatigue. "The townspeople responded to your plea and made the difference in the fight at a critical moment."
"They saved the day, I only asked for their help."
Heero leaned closer, placing his lips at Duo's ear. "You believed in them. We were outnumbered and you devised a plan to save us."
"You think that the turning point?" Duo was amazed that Heero put so much weight on that moment.
"If not for that, the Duke would have found us dead."
A shiver shot across Duo's shoulders. "Nay," he said, almost breathless. But it was true. They had been grossly outnumbered.
They grew quiet again, each ruminating on the possibility of a very different outcome.
"I want to go to bed," Duo said, suddenly.
Heero kissed Duo's shoulder, and gave him a little lift to stand. It was more effort than Duo had anticipated, but he managed to get upright and step out of the tub, dripping water everywhere. Heero followed, and handed over a towel. They took turns drying themselves and each other, smiling with equal measures of love and relief at being alive.
At the bed, Duo pulled back the azure-colored cover and climbed in first. The bed enveloped him in the softness of feathers and silk, but the real pleasure came when Heero slipped in beside him. They wrapped their arms and legs around one another, and Duo kissed Heero with a passion more intense than he had ever known. His tongue explored the knight's mouth, prompting them both to moan in the deep pleasure.
With a sigh, Duo pulled from the kiss and rested his forehead against Heero's. "Would your disappointment be too great if we—"
"Continued on the morrow?"
"This is more than I dared hope," Heero said.
They lay back on the mattress, nestled alongside each other, and before another word was uttered, fell fast asleep.
~ ~ ~
The fire was mere glowing embers by morning, but the lovers were warm and truly safe for the first time since they united.
It surprised Duo to find that he was first to awake. In the dim light of the sunrise barely peeking through the heavy brocade curtains of the window, he observed the knight's face. Calm and almost serene, the nobleman's features reinforced Duo's notion that Sir Yuy was an angel sent from the heavens above. He loved this young man with all his heart, and at last could imagine a future filled with happiness.
His fingers trailed over Heero's chest as he admired the creamy tone of his skin, and the taut muscles beneath. There was so little he knew about Heero, his life, his family, his road to knighthood, but Duo felt bonded to him in a way he had never known with another person, not even his mother and sisters. It was almost as if they were two halves of a whole, and now that they had found each other all was complete.
He chuckled aloud, and the sound stirred Heero to wakefulness.
"Are you well?" Heero asked.
"You mean... this?" Duo patted his head lightly. "Tender, but the headache is gone."
"The healer should be commended. Did she tell you her name?"
Duo thought for a moment. In all the commotion and the dizziness that followed his injury it was difficult to remember these details. "Her assistant called her Madame... Sally. Yea, it was Sally."
"I have no doubt her skill saved you and Lord Winner."
In his exhaustion and exultation of bathing and slumbering with his lover, Duo had ceased to worry about his friend. Since no news had come in the night, he was confident Quatre was well, but still it would be good to see for himself. "We should inquire to his wellness."
"After we break our fast."
Duo looked to the door. "Do you think they will leave us alone for long?"
"The castle feels quiet. It will be an hour, maybe more, before the servants attend to the guests."
"That is all the time we have?" Duo asked with a pout.
The knight grinned, seeming amused by the question. "We have a responsibility to our friends and our host to be seen and to participate in all that is offered."
"Nay, speak to me as my lover, not my teacher."
Heero grasped Duo's arm and pulled him closer with a playful tug. "We have as much time as we need. The servants will not—"
Duo cut off the knight's words with a firm kiss to his lips. "Why did you not say so?"
"Perhaps I am the one in need of a teacher."
"Hold that thought." With a quick kiss to Heero's lips, Duo darted from the bed. The chamber was cool and he missed the warmth of his lover immediately, but knew exactly what they needed. On the little table next to the bathtub was a basket of herbal oils and soaps. He grabbed a tiny ceramic bottle of cedar oil and returned to the bed in a flash. "Lesson one, oil is better than spit."
Heero laughed. "I am most eager to test that theory."
Duo's wish to make love to his knight on a feather mattress was renewed with enthusiasm. They embraced in a deep kiss, awakening fully. Without delay, he handed the bottle of oil to Heero.
"Show me," Heero said, passing the bottle back.
Duo poured a little puddle of oil into the palm of his left hand, and reached for his lover's hardened sex.
"Nay," Heero said.
Confused, Duo sat back and watched as Heero curled his hand around Duo's cock.
"Show me everything."
Heero guided Duo's hand with the oil to his cock. "I want you."
"Oh." It was less a word than a sound of wonderment. "But I have never..."
"You know well enough."
Heero placed an additional pillow behind his back and spread his thighs. Duo needed no further encouragement. He slicked his cock with the oil, and took one oil-covered finger and gently inserted it into his lover. The pressure and warmth around his finger sent a strong wave of arousal to his sex. It was not difficult to imagine the pleasure awaiting him.
He nestled, kneeling between Heero's thighs and gave him a long kiss as he leaned forward. With his hand, he guided his sex to Heero's ass, and pushed. His heart pounded as he felt his cock slip into his lover. It was extraordinary to slide its length fully inside Heero, and then pull out and thrust in.
"Unnnhhh..." Duo moaned.
Heero cupped Duo's ass with his hands, guiding him with equal desire. "Take your pleasure."
Duo covered Heero's mouth with his own, and began a constant rhythm of thrusts. "I love you."
He was nestled in Heero, surrounded by the warmth of his body. Heero's legs were wrapped about his, and he took each shove of Duo's cock with a little moan that stirred Duo to higher passion.
The first tingle of orgasm quickened Duo's thrusts. He wanted more, wanted to linger a moment more in this lovemaking, but his need was too great. He climaxed hard, spilling his desire into his lover. "Love you... Heero."
Duo tried to keep his wits about him and think of Heero's pleasure, too. He kept pumping inside him, but his thrusts were slowing, so he grasped Heero's cock and timed the strokes to match the thrust of his hips.
A long, low moan rumbled in Heero's throat and released in a cry of pleasure as he too climaxed.
They slowly came down from the intense pleasure and settled in a heap of tangled limbs on the bed. Duo felt a supreme happiness that could not be measured. Heero had given himself to him, and he in turn had pleasured Heero. It was a heady, euphoric feeling, which lulled him into slumber with a smile on his lips.
Sometime later, they were awakened by tapping at the door.
"Tis morning," Heero said, nudging Duo off him.
"What was it before?" Duo asked, sleepier than he had been the first time he woke that day.
Duo leaned up on his elbows and watched as Heero got up from the bed. He retrieved the two silk brocaded robes left by the bath, and tossed one to Duo. Slipping the saffron-colored robe on, Heero went to the door. Duo fell back on the bed, too lazy to raise himself, and half listened to the conversation between the knight and the servant at the door. He was certain he heard something about food.
The door closed with a click, and when Duo felt the bed dip he opened one eye. Heero sat at the side of the bed looking on him with a smile.
"I do believe that exhausted you more than yesterday's fight," Heero said.
"Next time I will not be so gentle," Duo said with a crooked grin, and sat up. His hair was still undone, and spilled around his shoulders. "This will take some work."
"Not too much, I pray. Breakfast is being sent up, and the Duke has arranged for us to be fitted with a new wardrobe."
Duo laughed. "Does he think our clothes shabby?"
"I am sure he means to thank us."
"Any word of Lord Winner?"
"I asked the servant to inquire."
"Good. I am eager to see him well." He slipped into the copper hued silk robe, and leaned toward his lover and kissed him. "Your offer surprised me."
"I have never desired anyone until you."
"You could have enjoyed many lovers," Duo said. Heero possessed intense good looks, and had the added appeal of being completely unaware of it.
"I did not want them, nor believe in the value of having a lover."
"Then you admit you were wrong?"
"Nay, I was right... to wait for you."
Duo was tempted to argue the point, but chuckled instead. He forced himself out of bed in search of the comb, and sat on an embroidered footstool next to the darkened hearth. "A fire would be perfect right now."
Just as he spoke, a knock sounded at the door.
"Enter!" Heero called out.
Several servants came into the room, and in moments the chamber was a flurry of activity. The drapes were opened, the remains of their supper cleared away, and their morning meal laid out. A pair of maids changed the linens on their bed, while Duo cringed with embarrassment at the heavy musk of sex lingering in the air. They smoothed the covers when they were done, and set out fresh tunics and hose.
At last, a male servant started a fire in the hearth before the knight and squire were left alone once again.
Duo tied off his braid and got up from the stool to join Heero at the table. The servants had prepared a lovely meal with a mouthwatering array of local delicacies—rich dark bread, creamy cheese, and fried sausages, sautéed in the regional wine. A small vase of wildflowers placed at the center of the table, added an intimate touch to the meal.
"It seems the Duke Milliardo's servants are accustomed to seeing men together," Duo said.
Heero furrowed his brow as he cut into a sausage. "Was that not plain when we first met him?"
Duo tilted his head at the look of consternation on his lover's face. "You cannot be jealous, sir."
"I am only saying that he was most plain in his speech."
Duo chuckled. "We should be glad. When they made the bed it was but moments since we had coupled and..." A tap at the door interrupted him. "Who can that be?" Duo got up from his chair ruffled by yet another disturbance. He stomped to the door and opened it only to have his irritation disappear. "Wufei!"
"Greetings!" the Chinese prince said as he entered the room. His dark eyes cast about, taking nary a second to notice his friends barefooted, and dressed only in robes. "Am I interrupting?"
"Nay, nay," Duo said, pushing Wufei towards the table where Heero remained seated. "Have you eaten?"
Heero flashed Duo a hard glare, seeming irritated at Duo's turnabout.
"Nay, I rose early to meditate."
"Morning prayers, how delightful," Duo said. He pulled up a chair and ushered Wufei into it.
Sir Chang was dressed in his traditional long, white tunic, slit up the sides, black leggings and soft leather shoes. At his waist was a tight sash of red silk.
"I see you wasted no time," Wufei said to Heero, seeming to mean his intimacies with Duo.
"Why are you not with His Grace?"
"Duke Treize stayed up all hours speaking with the Duke of Nevers. He came to bed just before dawn."
"Their friendship is renewed?" Duo asked, with a hopeful smile.
"So it seems."
"Did Treize tell you the root of their argument?" Duo asked.
Wufei nodded and picked up a sausage from the platter. "Milliardo broke his betrothal to Treize's cousin, Lady Dorothy." He gestured with the sausage in his hand as he explained, making Duo chuckle. "The Lady joined a convent rather than waiting for another suitable husband."
"So that is why," Heero said.
"But why did Duke Milliardo refuse to marry her?" Duo asked.
"He was in love with Treize."
"Are you certain?" Duo asked.
Wufei shrugged as he took a bite of sausage. "I have news," he said with a swallow. "Lord Winner is much improved."
"You saw him?" Duo asked.
"Nay, a servant was coming out of his chamber just as I passed. He said you had inquired and asked me to share it with you."
"We must dress and go directly to see him," Duo said.
"Shall I wait here or outside your chamber?" Wufei asked.
"Outside," Heero said, flatly.
Wufei gave a small bow of his head and stood. "I will go on ahead."
After he was gone, Duo shook his head at his lover. "Why were you terse with him?"
"He is overly familiar with you."
Duo rolled his eyes. "We are friends, and he did much to teach me how to fight."
"I shall thank him for that, but he is overly familiar."
Duo reached across the table to lay his hand over Heero's. "You expect a great deal from people, and I do not begrudge that, but..."
"Wufei is our friend." Duo did not want to chastise, but hoped that Heero would someday understand the distinction. There was no sense in arguing. God knows they had done enough of that since the day they had met.
They dressed quickly, anxious to see Quatre's progress with their own eyes. The fresh set of clothes was one of many pleasures they had received since arriving at Castle Peacecraft. They would be measured by a tailor later, in order that specially made clothes could be prepared for the great celebatory feast they had been informed would take place that night.
At Lord Winner's bedchamber, Duo barely waited for a response after knocking before opening the door. He rushed inside with Heero close behind him to see Quatre sitting in bed with Trowa in a chair next to him, and Wufei perched on the ledge of the window. Two servants stood close by to tend to every need.
Duo approached the bed swiftly, but hesitated to embrace his friend. He held out his hand and Quatre took it.
"You look pale," Duo said with worry edging his voice.
"I am still very weak, but much improved as you can see."
"It is good to see you up," Heero said, standing next to Duo.
"Thank you, friend." Quatre wore a white linen shirt, and a soft shawl about his shoulders. The quilt bed cover was tucked at his waist.
Duo wished to ask about the surgeon's procedure the night before, but thought his friend might not wish to relive that moment.
"What of the healer who helped me?" Quatre asked. "I should like to thank her."
"Yea, we thought the same," Heero said.
"Perhaps she can come to the feast," Duo said. The idea was met with silence, and he looked to each of his companions. "But we agree she deserves thanks."
"The Duke's banquet is no place for common..." Heero's last word trailed off as he locked eyes with Duo.
"Hmph," Duo said. "The common folk are good enough to help you, but not good enough to break bread with you."
"Duo..." Heero said.
"You need not explain. It is my own fault to believe your feelings on the subject had changed."
Heero scowled. "They have changed."
"Nay, sir. Your kindness to me is not enough."
"Kindness... to you? You heard me praise their efforts."
Indeed, Duo had, but was that merely a soft moment?
"Please," Quatre said. "Your quarrel is pointless. It is the way of the world to have class distinctions, Duo."
Duo's shoulders slumped. This was the one hurdle he had yet to conquer. Yea, Heero had accepted him into his heart, and Lord Winner had adopted him as a friend and the stablehand Trowa as his lover, but Duo and Trowa were still commoners in their eyes. The villagers who had sacrificed for the fight had even less of a chance of being respected.
"Perhaps we should speak with Duke Milliardo," Trowa said, softly.
"The Duke?" Duo asked.
"Perhaps... he would not mind commoners at his table."
"It is not that we wish to ban them," Quatre said, giving his lover a worried gaze. "But we cannot assume others are as comfortable with the notion as Heero, Wufei and I."
Duo squeezed Quatre's hand, appreciating his diplomacy. "Indeed, it is as you say. But I will beseech the lord of the castle. Thank you for suggesting it, Trowa." He released his friend's hand and turned to leave, but Heero stood in his path. "Will you accompany me?"
Heero still had an unpleasant look on his face, but agreed to join him.
In the corridor, Heero grabbed Duo by the arm and turned him towards him. "You think me prejudiced against you?"
The intensity in Heero's blue eyes gave Duo pause. He had hurt the knight's feelings. "I do not blame you if you are. You were raised a nobleman."
"You do not see the change in me?"
Duo felt a little foolish condemning a man for beliefs that most followed, and for making Heero defensive. "I only wish to thank them properly. Not elevate them to nobility."
"Oh, I was thinking that it was more than just Sally who helped us... many joined the fight."
"Duo, the Duke of Nevers is a good lord to his people. Your request may insult him."
He had not thought of that.
"Heero, I do not wish disrespect on anyone—the Duke or his people. That is why I have to ask this of him."
Heero gave Duo a long look, as if to stare him down into relinquishing his plan. When Duo did not budge, Heero sighed and gave a short nod. "I will go with you."
Duo smiled brightly.
"On the condition," Heero said, holding up his hand to settle Duo's enthusiasm, "that you give the Duke every courtesy."
"Yea, sir knight." Duo gave him a quick kiss to the cheek and headed off down the hall.
It was nearly an hour later before they received an audience with the Duke Milliardo. He was seated in a high backed cushioned chair in front of the double hearth in the castle's great hall. Several attendants buzzed about him like bees, tending the fire, retrieving books from his library, and filling his cup of morning wine.
Heero and Duo were announced and ushered to the hearth by a young page. They bowed to the Duke, and were directed to be seated. The nobleman was dressed in a long, pale blue tunic with long sleeves and a belt of gold. He wore his platinum hair loose about him, and had the shadows of a long night under his eyes.
"You look well this morn," he said in greeting, closing his book.
"Thank you," Heero and Duo replied in near unison.
"Is everything to your satisfaction? After that battle you deserve every accommodation."
Duo glanced at Heero, and remembered his cautionary words. "Yea, your servants have been most attentive."
"Good," the Duke said with a smile. "Was there something you wished to discuss?"
"Yea, Your Grace," Duo said, careful to keep his voice even and respectful. "You may not be aware of it, but some of your people helped in the fight."
The Duke nodded. "I heard reports of it, and how you rallied their support. It was well done and will be written in my court's annals."
"Thank you for the honor, Your Grace," Duo said. It felt unnatural choosing his words so carefully, but he respected Heero's wisdom on the matter. "I wanted to thank those people, the healer, the blacksmith, the lavender seller... all of them, and thought to go into the village to find them."
"You may certainly do that with my blessing."
"Good," Duo said with a little bow of his head.
"How do you intend to find them?" the Duke asked.
"That may be difficult, but perhaps one will lead to another."
"We know where the healer lives," Heero said.
"It may take you the better part of the day to find all you seek."
"Oh," Duo said, suddenly realizing the magnitude of the task. "I should not want to miss the feast this night."
"It will be a grand spectacle like none other seen in Nevers."
"Will there be many in attendance?" Duo asked.
"A fair amount, thirty or so, though this hall can accommodate many more."
"Then, there is room for a few more guests?" Duo asked, tentatively.
"Indeed. You have someone in mind?"
"Yea," Duo said, bowing his head. "If it pleases you, pray consider the commonfolk who risked their lives to come to our aid." When he raised his head he gulped at the pensiveness of the Duke's face. With the heavy pause, Duo thought he had crossed that line Sir Yuy had warned him against. "Please forgive my boldness." He bowed again in his seat.
"You make an interesting point," the Duke said at last.
"I do?" Duo asked, sitting up.
"It is not unheard of to invite members of the lower classes to banquets. In fact, just last month I had the mayor sup with me."
The mayor was not on the lowest wrung of the ladder, but the Duke was headed in the right direction.
"How many people helped you?"
Duo counted on his fingers as he pictured each person in his mind. Their faces were clear to him now that he had mostly recovered from the agony of the day. "Ten in all, Your Grace."
"Could you describe them to my chamberlain?"
"Indeed, I can, Your Grace," Duo said with a smile.
The Duke clapped his hands and in a near instant a page appeared at his side. "Get the chamberlain."
"Yea, sire." The boy ran off with the speed of a youthful pup.
"I hold the Joust of Peace each year to the people's delight, but had not thought to extend an invitation to the celebration this night."
The chamberlain arrived, wearing a traditional long gray tunic.
"I wish to invite to my banquet, the villagers who fought the rogues yesterday. Squire Maxwell will describe them to you and you will make every effort to locate them, properly clothe them and bring them to my hall this evening."
"Yea, Your Grace," the man said with a deep bow.
"Oh, and see that their families accompany them as well."
Duo could not contain his great appreciation. With a broad smile, he got to his feet and then went on bended knee before the Duke. "Thank you, Your Grace."
"I should have thought of it myself," Duke Milliardo said, pleasantly. "Now rise, and enjoy the day."
Duo stood, and Heero with him. They bowed and were excused from the hall. As the door closed behind them, Heero slipped his arms around Duo, pulling him into an embrace. There were servants about, but this seemed not to matter to him. Duo held him close. "Did you think he would have my head?"
"I am proud of you," Heero said.
Duo pulled back to look in the knight's eyes. "You were against this."
"I was wrong."
"What?" Duo laughed. "Now you jest."
"Nay, those people did an extraordinary thing and deserve this reward."
Duo smiled, and pulled Heero back into the embrace. "Thank you." He kissed his lover's ear and whispered, "I love you more each day."