The Double-Edged Sword
Chapter Twenty-Six - Tout Est Bien Qui Finit Bien (All is well that ends well)
Duo lay beneath him, his braid half undone and his cheeks flushed as he panted. Heero loved Duo's appearance fresh from lovemaking - his composure gone, tumbled and uncoiffed, and too sated to speak coherently.
"You... have done... me... in," Duo said between breaths.
It pleased Heero greatly to bring Duo so much satisfaction, and with so little practice. "We shall have to improve your stamina."
"Ha," Duo barked. "Fill me with less drink and merrymaking and see whose stamina is greatest!"
The previous night, Duo had liberally enjoyed the wine from the Duke Peacecraft's vineyards. It was a hearty, aromatic wine, easy to drink with so much to celebrate.
"This is your first full day as a Knight of France," Heero said, slipping from Duo's warmth. He leaned over to the small bedside table for a linen towel, and wiped away the evidence of their pleasure. "What plans have you for the day? For the future?"
"My only plan is to be at your side." Duo's brow creased with worry. "Is that not enough?"
Heero grinned to soften his lover's concern. "Yea, for now."
"Am I beholden to Treize?"
"Why would you think that?" Heero settled along Duo's side, warm beneath the covers.
"Am I not his to command now that he knighted me?"
"He is your sponsor, not your master. Each knight in training has a sponsor, and it is that man's privilege to confer knighthood. If the Duke Treize wishes for you to serve him, he will make a formal request."
"As he did with you?"
"Yea, he requested my assistance with the rogues. I could have declined, but I wanted to honor our friendship, and end the scourge on the countryside."
"Do knights decline such requests?"
"Some, but most seek the chance for adventure and reward that serving a great lord can bring."
"That does not sound like you... seeking those things."
Heero was pleased to hear this, but he knew better. They had much to learn about one another. "I am not faultless, Duo. I sought adventure, but I told myself it was with purpose. I lived only by the sword."
"Now that the rogues are dispatched, where will the adventure be?"
"With you at my side?" Heero chuckled.
Duo laughed and rolled over on top of him, resting his arms on Heero's chest. "I am anxious to begin. When shall we leave?"
"I should send a message ahead to inform my steward of my return."
It was the first he had truly believed he was heading home to the seat of his ancestors. It had been so many months that Heero had begun to accept Lyon as his home. Not that he had ever forgotten his roots in the Lorraine region, but for a time he had been needed far more at the Duke's side.
"Then can we leave?" Duo asked.
"We should beg leave of our host and the Duke Treize first."
Duo planted a kiss firmly on Heero's lips. The taste and feel of those lips were like rich, full apple blossoms.
"Let us not waste a moment," Duo said, and wriggled off him and out of the bed.
"The soonest we can leave is on the morrow."
"The morrow?" Duo stood next to the bed, looking as though the wind had been taken from his sails.
"Yea, the tournament ends this day. We should attend and...."
"I am sure Duke Treize expects you to exhibit one of your knightly skills."
"I am expected to compete?"
"It is a competition for knights, and you are newly knighted. You owe your sponsor that much."
"But I have never jousted!"
For all of Duo's confidence, he was not fully prepared for the life of a knight. Heero looked forward to being the one to guide Duo as a knight. He would take that responsibility seriously and lovingly, unlike the first time when the Duke Khushrenada had bestowed his care upon him.
"You may enter the event of your choice," Heero said, trying to soothe Duo's anxiety.
"I would not wish to disappoint my friends," Duo said. "I shall have to choose carefully."
On their way to the tournament grounds, Duo expounded on his strongest skills, listing them as though he was a seasoned veteran. "Horsemanship, archery, wrestling... My small size might be an advantage against a large opponent."
Heero nodded. "I believe the archery event is today. You would not have to worry about dodging your opponent."
Duo snickered. "But I do not have a crossbow."
"We will borrow one..." Heero said, scanning the people coming and going from the event arena. He spotted Wufei coming from the grandstand. "Sir Chang!"
"Will you join us?" Wufei asked, coming to stand with them. "There is room for two more."
"First, we need a crossbow for Duo to enter the competition."
"Indeed you should," Wufei said to Duo. "Your mastery of the bow - "
"We need to hurry," Heero interrupted.
"Well, one of Treize's men is about." Wufei wandered off in search of the bow. It seemed unnecessary to follow him, and as it turned out, he returned rather quickly. "Here," he said, handing over the crossbow and arrows to Duo. "Try not to embarrass the other knights."
"Thank you," Heero said. He placed his hand at the small of Duo's back and pushed him towards a table where a clerk kept records of each knight entering the events.
"Name," the plump clerk said without looking up from his ledger book.
"Duo... Sir Duo Maxwell of Valence."
The clerk raised his head, squinting against the noon day sun. "That event is about to begin. Where have you been?"
Making love, Heero thought with a small grin.
"Am I too late?" Duo asked.
"Nay, go on," the clerk said, pointing toward a group of men with crossbows.
They walked halfway to the grouping of competitors, and then stopped to share a quiet word.
"I shall watch from the grandstand," Heero said.
Duo's eyes were on his opponents. "They are quite large."
Heero looked at the men and noted that most were a foot taller than Duo, and broader. "A handsome purse entices many to compete, but does not ensure their skill." He recalled Duo's rapid mastery of both the crossbow and the longbow. "You will do well against them."
"I am nervous."
Heero placed his hand on Duo's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "You will be fine. Now join the others and I will see you after."
Duo gave a firm nod and headed off, his posture confident. Again, Heero marveled at the resilient, defiant young man he had fallen in love with. Quatre had been right about Heero's heart from the start, but Heero should not have taken his frustration out on Duo. He had treated him unkindly at best, and would spend the rest of his life making amends and choosing his words with much more care.
In the grandstand, the Duke Peacecraft was surrounded by the guests from his banquet, nobles and commoners. The Duke was seated in the first row under a canopy, shielding him from the brightness of the day. Seated at the Duke's right was Lord Winner with Trowa at his side, and on the Duke's left, a knight whom Heero remembered flitting around Milliardo at the banquet.
Heero bowed to the Duke, and then took a place next to the man who had brought Duo into his life. "Your Grace," Heero said with a bow to the Duke Treize.
"I wondered when you would join us," Treize said.
Heero leaned forward and happened to notice the Duke Milliardo brushing something from the tunic of the knight accompanying him.
"Milliardo was always good at falling in and out of love," Treize said, seeming aware of what Heero had seen.
"So long as he is happy."
Treize chuckled. "A month ago you would have said love was a waste of time."
"I know differently now."
"I am glad of it. Would it surprise you if I said that I was jealous?"
"Sire?" Heero's heart skipped a beat, worried that the Duke had misgivings about letting Duo go.
"I held onto Duo longer than I should have out of jealousy that his heart was set on you."
"You were jealous of me?" It was difficult to believe, since Treize had been the one with Duo in his bed.
"I have long sought true love, but instead of being patient for its arrival, I pursued every young man that turned my head." Treize glanced over his shoulder to Wufei who had returned to his seat in the row behind them, his Chinese companions with him. "I assure you that I relinquished my pursuit of Duo's heart weeks ago. I have finally found the one I have longed for."
The confession was said with such openness that Heero knew it to be true.
"You should let Duo lead in your relationship," Treize said. "He is the sort of man who leads with his heart. You lead with your head."
Heero nodded, appreciating the wisdom of his elder. It might seem a pity that the Duke had taken so many lovers, but Heero admired that he had embraced love, no matter how small the flickering flame.
A blare of a trumpet announced the archery event. The field was prepared with targets, and the competitors walked out in single file.
Duo was last in the group of eight men. There were four sets of straw targets painted with rings and bull's-eyes, and set at 200 yards. Four men competed at a time, with Duo in the second group. Their names were announced as each took his turn, and surprisingly Duo received a strong cheer. It seemed that his reputation was already growing among the locals.
The larger men had no difficulty in drawing the bow, but it was the accuracy of their shot that mattered. Duo excelled in precision, and sent off three good shots, receiving the most points among the men in his group.
The second round pitted the two men with the highest scores - Duo and a knight of longstanding, Sir Bernard. The spectators seemed evenly divided in their support of the men. Heero thought perhaps the commonfolk leaned more in favor of Duo, while the nobles supported Bernard. Duo's humble background won supporters and detractors. Heero recalled that he had been in the detractors' camp for far too long.
The targets were moved to 300 yards, making this a true test of skill. Heero held his breath each time it was Duo's turn. His lover cut a fine figure at the center of the arena, his form perfect in an archer's stance. His braid fluttered lightly in the breeze, just as Heero's heart fluttered with pride. Duo let the arrow fly and it hit within the second ring on the target.
"He is a natural," Wufei said, leaning to Heero's ear.
Heero smiled, envisioning the first day Duo had picked up a bow. "He will exceed us all."
Wufei sat back and said something in his native tongue to his companions. Heero was much more at ease with him than Duo thought. Part of the jealousy was simply that Wufei, a prince and a warrior, had accepted Duo so readily. The two had become friends while Heero continued to struggle with his feelings, losing time and losing ground. Wufei was a reminder that he needed to work doubly hard to gain Duo's full trust.
It was announced that Sir Duo and Sir Bernard were tied with one shot remaining for each. The crowd cheered, yelling out their favorite's name. It warmed Heero to hear Duo's name on so many lips. Even he could not deny the triumph it was for a tailor's son rising to this standing.
Sir Bernard pulled his bow taut, leveling his aim and released the arrow. It whooshed through the air with incredible speed and struck the target just outside the red bull's-eye. The crowd gave a groan mixed with cheers, some seeming to think it was enough to win the day.
Duo stepped forward, the cheers and chants growing louder, almost deafening. Heero scanned the crowd as they waved ribbons and flowers. "Sir Duo! Sir Duo!" they cried out.
At first, Heero thought Duo so focused that he did not hear the support of the crowd, but as he stepped to the line, he grinned and nodded. The acknowledgement excited the people more, but the event's judges signaled for them to quiet. Duo stood strong and straight at the line as the crowd hushed. He pulled the bow tight with a creak of the wood and set the arrow. His hand was steady, the bow unwavering.
Duo released the trigger, and Heero cringed, thinking his lover too quick at marking the target. In the blink of an eye, the arrow struck. Bull's-eye!
Heero leapt from his seat, joining more than half of those gathered in a jubilant "Hurrah!"
Duo held his arm's high, smiling broadly and waving to the crowd. Sir Bernard came forward to congratulate him and share a few words unheard over the cheers.
A judge guided Duo to the grandstand to receive his reward. He raised a hand to shield his eyes from the sun, and the Duke of Nevers leant forward with a velvet purse in hand.
"You surprise us in many ways," the Duke said, handing the reward over. "Congratulations. You are a true marksman."
Duo grasped the purse, smiling as though he had been given the keys to Heaven. "Thank you, my lord." He bowed deeply, and when he raised his head searched the crowd until his eyes settled on Heero. His smile brightened as he held up his prize. "I did it!"
With those words, the crowd cheered again. Heero went down to meet Duo as he came out of the arena.
Duo dropped his crossbow and threw his arms around Heero. "I never dreamed of entering a contest such as this."
Heero embraced his lover, and then gently withdrew. All eyes were on them. "You bested one of the finest marksmen in the land."
"Will there be trouble?"
"Nay, Sir Bernard is a nobleman in the truest sense." He frowned a little for saying that to Duo. Even though Duo was now a knight, he was an impoverished knight with no land, and no income. "We should rejoin our friends," Heero said, gesturing toward the grandstand.
There was a hug waiting for Duo from Lord Winner who practically climbed over Duke Treize in the process. He was not yet strong enough to walk without assistance, but the excitement seemed to carry him away.
"You could fill your pockets on the jousting circuit," Quatre said, holding Duo tightly.
"Is that what men do?" Duo asked, sounding amazed.
"Yea, a few come to mind," Quatre said.
"More than a few," Trowa said, grasping Quatre by the arms and returning him to his seat. Trowa turned to Duo, holding out his hand. "Splendid work trouncing the favorite!"
"Thank you! I surprised myself."
"Do not let your opponents hear that," Heero said, in a playfully chiding tone.
With some jostling, all the friends managed to squeeze together in the first row, including Wufei. He suddenly seemed intent on sitting next to his lover.
They enjoyed the sparring a dozens of men who used blunt swords to out maneuver and defeat their opponent. While they watched they ate sweetened almonds and roasted fowl. It had been a long time since Heero had enjoyed a tournament from the vantage point of the grandstand. In fact, since becoming a knight he had entered at least one contest in every tourney he attended.
"You seem most pleased," Duo said, leaning close.
"This is the most perfect day I can remember."
Duo's face lighted, seeming overjoyed. If not for the public setting, Heero was certain his lover would have kissed him.
"We are in agreement, sir," Duo said with a wink. "Can I hope for more days such as this?"
"You can do more than hope," Heero assured him, feeling supremely confident in their future.
"I shall." Duo smiled.
They looked into each other's eyes, silently sharing their commitment. Heero's face warmed, unable to prevent it from the intense love he could see in Duo's face. Such a beautiful young man, and he was giving himself to Heero.
Duo placed his hand on Heero's. "I will not let you down."
Heero blinked. "Of course..." He wanted to say more, but cheers erupted as one contest led to another.
All were carried along on a wave of excitement, a wave that Heero gladly rode.
~ ~ ~
By that evening, everyone was ready for less formality. Fitting the mood, the Duke of Nevers invited his most favored guests for an intimate dinner in the castle's garden.
They met under the Duke's round, battle pavilion decorated in vertical stripes of red, white and gold. It was large enough to hold twenty men, a table for strategy meetings and a bed. Tonight, the tent was laid out in Persian style with cushions strewn about the ground on exotic rugs and furs, and low tables covered in every delicacy imaginable from figs and honey glazed pears to beef kabobs and roasted quail. The room was lighted by candlelabras and exuded a warm intimacy, but it reminded Heero of his time in Jerusalem and the struggle against the Saracens. So many had suffered and died.
He stood just several feet inside the tent, frozen in terrible memories.
A touch to his arm brought him back to the moment. It was Duo, looking striking in an emerald green tunic, black hose and boots.
"Pray, what is it?" Duo asked, his voice soft like it often was in lovemaking.
Heero took a breath, suddenly feeling ridiculous. He looked about the room to his friends who were seated and engaged in conversation. "It is nothing." One day he would find the courage to share those dreaded memories.
Duo's eyes narrowed on him, seeming to disbelieve his words. For a moment, Heero thought Duo would press him for more, but he simply took his hand and gently encouraged him to follow. They found a comfortable place on the floor, amid the cushions and pillows in colors more vivid than a rainbow.
Heero raised his cup of wine in a toast. "To the Duke of Nevers whose alliance saved the day!"
"To the Duke of Nevers!" the others said in unison.
Each person in turn made a toast, some noting a noble trait of one in their party, others toasting to victory and peace. They ate and drank their fill in this relaxed atmosphere, and before long, Heero had completely forgotten his uneasy memories.
The conversation naturally came around to the topic of departing. Lord Winner was first to broach the subject.
"Milliardo has invited us to remain here until I am well enough to travel by horse." It was understood that he was including Trowa in his plans. Quatre had been carried to the tent by chair, as with the previous evening, but his health seemed to be improving rapidly. "After my recovery, I should like to return to Castle Khushrenada for a short time before we journey onward to Italy."
It was inevitable they should part, but Heero felt a measure of melancholy at saying farewell to Lord Winner. They had become close friends and confidantes, though the latter had often made their friendship uncomfortable. Heero had never been angrier than when Quatre confronted him about Duo.
I was a fool, Heero thought.
Duo nudged Heero's leg. He turned to see Duo's wide eyes encouraging him to beg their leave as well.
"I am most grateful for the hospitality," Heero said, directing his comments first to the Duke of Nevers. "But it is my great wish to return to Strasbourg with Sir Maxwell and tend to my own affairs."
"From what Treize has told me," Milliardo said. "You have selflessly endured a long separation from your homeland. It would please me to have you and Duo stay, but since that is not possible, I extend an invitation for you to return at your leisure."
Heero bowed his head. "Thank you, my lord."
"I shall miss your steadfastness, courage and strength," Duke Treize said.
"Thank you, sire."
"One day, I pray you and Duo will return to Lyon."
"I am certain we will," Duo said with a smile.
"Then I will help you perfect walking with silent footsteps," Wufei said to Duo.
"You think me capable?"
"Indeed," Wufei said, puffing his chest out to show confidence in his teaching.
"Remember," Treize said. "I am a great lover of letters. I fully expect to hear from you... all of you." He raised his glass to Heero, Duo, Quatre and Trowa in turn.
The friends remained in the pavilion well into the night. None seemed eager to be the first to end such splendid reverie.
When it was time to say their goodnights, Duo proposed that they also make it their farewells.
"This is how I should like to remember all of you, until we meet again."
There was some hesitation, but everyone agreed. With hugs, kisses and well wishes, the friends took their leave.
Heero and Duo slept only a few hours on their return to the bedchamber. They were anxious to start, and woke at dawn to pack their few belongings in satchels provided by the Duke of Nevers. The Duke Treize would see that Heero's belongings from Castle Khushrenada would be sent in the coming weeks.
Very few people were awake when the lovers departed. A stablehand saddled their horses, and a kitchen girl packed a saddle bag of food. They rode side-by-side through the castle's gate. It would take a minimum of five days to make their way northeast to Strasbourg. Heero happily anticipated the time alone with Duo.
"You are more willing to travel with me now," he said, remembering how he had forced Duo to leave his parents' home in Valence.
Duo looked to him, cocking his head slightly. "You have since proven yourself useful."
"Useful?" Heero chuckled. "You have barely begun to experience my usefulness."
Duo laughed, and so their long ride began.
It was a pleasantly uneventful journey. To Duo's delight, they rested each night at an inn, where they enjoyed a meal and retired to a private chamber for a thorough loving. Duo's eagerness to share himself, body and soul, cast a deep spell on Heero. He no longer resisted Duo's charms, instead delighting in the smallest of smiles, a glance or a touch. Duo would captivate him for a lifetime and more, and Heero would do all he could to return the favor.
As each day passed, they grew to know each other better. Heero appreciated Duo's wonder at the sights along the way, the cathedrals, the farmers toiling in fields, the tiny villages. In turn, Heero shared his knowledge of these places, though until now he had only seen them as strategic points on a map. Duo had a way of making everything bright and new.
When they reached Lorraine, the region where Strasbourg was located, Heero's thoughts turned to more practical matters. He was anxious to speak with his steward who would update him on every aspect of his lands and the people who inhabited them. Heero would listen to the peasants with more sympathy than he had before, all because of one young man.
Heero's life was about to begin anew, but would this life be enough for Duo, too? Should he expect Duo to remain at his side, a knight in his own right, but one without a title, and a true claim on anything?
"Your thoughts seem far away," Duo said.
Heero blinked, only then realizing he had been lost in a private struggle. "I was wondering what our life will be like."
"What is to wonder? It will be grand!"
Heero smiled along with Duo, his heart lightened by his lover's outlook. Duo's confidence had increased exponentially since his knighting. He had always been a man with cocky pride, but the honorific of "sir" had legitimized and tempered that pride.
If only I could give Duo something of his own, Heero thought.
The forest road opened onto a clearing filled with a beautiful orchard. Heero recognized it as part of his holdings. This was his boundary lands, a charming, rolling landscape that he had enjoyed as a child when he wished to hide from his teachers.
There was a village close by, just out of sight that sustained a dozen families. They were bound to this land as Heero was bound to his duty as their lord and master. The villagers farmed the fields and provided him a small income annually, while in turn they were given a place to shelter and a share of the harvest. On its own, the village and the crop lands seemed insignificant compared to Heero's entire holdings, but they would mean much more to a man of new ambitions, who had struggled to make a name.
~ ~ ~
"This place is more beautiful than any I have seen!" Duo halted his horse as he admired the apple trees around them. "I could spend my days here happy."
The orchard had been planted many years before. The trees were heavy with fruit, their leaves a deep summer green, and the apples ripe in a blushing red.
"Would you care for an apple?" Heero asked.
"Surely the lord of this place would hunt us down if we dared."
Heero reached to one of the tree's to pluck them a treat.
"Heero, dare not without the lord's permission."
"Perhaps you are right," Heero said, withdrawing his hand. He dismounted his horse and encouraged Duo to do the same.
"Are we to rest?" Duo asked, puzzled as he slid down to stand next to his lover.
Suddenly, Heero was on bended knee before him. "My lord, if it pleases you, may I savor your fruit?"
Duo laughed. "We cannot make love here!"
Heero laughed, too. "Sire, I request a taste of your apples."
Duo raised an eyebrow. Perhaps it was a bit much to think that Heero would use such coarse language. "If that is how you make your request, surely you will be denied."
"You think me insincere?"
"Your lack of sincerity will be detected at once."
"I beg your pardon, my lord," Heero continued with his rehearsal. "You have the finest apples in all of Lorraine."
Duo blinked, deciding it truly odd that Heero should go on like this. "Heero...?"
"Yea, my lord? This is your land."
"You mean we have reached your lands?"
Heero, still on his knee, took one of Duo's hands. "I am giving title of this land to you, Sir Maxwell. It is but a parcel of two hundred acres with a small village to farm it, but it will provide you a decent income."
Duo gasped in disbelief, falling to his knees. "You cannot mean this."
"What is a knight without land of his own?"
"This beautiful orchard is... mine?"
"Yea, sweet Duo. I am handing it into your care."
He wrapped his arms around Heero, pulling him into a fierce embrace. "What can I say, but thank you?"
"Say also that you will keep this place as beautiful as it is today."
"Yea, I will cherish it as I do you." Duo kissed Heero deeply, breathing in the man along with the sweet scented air.
"Now," Heero said, withdrawing slightly. "May I partake of your fruit?"
"The apples and more," Duo said with a purr.
Duo longed for a quiet place, a private place to ravish his lover, but it would have to wait until they were settled for the night. They got up, and Duo selected a beautiful specimen to share. They each took a bite of the apple, and Duo thought it the sweetest he had ever tasted.
"If this is your orchard... my orchard, are we close to your home?" Duo asked.
"Very close. We have but a mile left in our journey."
They rode the last mile at a gallop through lands which became more heavily forested. As they rode over the crest of a hill, a large fortress came into view in the distance. Duo pulled back on his horse's reins, slowing the Spanish roan to a stop.
"Can that be Castle Yuy?"
Duo's mouth hung open in awe as his heart pounded. "It is larger than Castle Khushrenada!"
"Pray do not say that to Duke Treize."
"But it is!" Duo exclaimed, pointing to the fortification high on the hill as if to clarify which landmark they were discussing, the only landmark within view.
Castle Yuy was nestled on a high hill, overlooking the forest and mountains. The pinkish hue of its brick was like a warm beacon amid the deep forest green.
"That is the castle of a king!"
"Nay, it is merely the castle of a very well placed noble family."
"Sir, you are too modest!" Duo's mind spun to remember fragments of conversations, gossip, anything that would have informed him of Heero's extraordinary origins. "The story of your family must be grand!"
"I had planned to tell you over dinner."
"Please do not make me wait," Duo said with a plea. "I envisioned you in a great manor house, but this castle in the clouds is beyond imagination."
Heero laughed, seeming pleased by Duo's considerable wonderment. Slowly, over the last leg of their journey, he revealed a portion of the history of the Yuy clan. Nearly three hundred years had passed, since his ancestors had come to this place and began building a fortress to protect their interests. Each successive generation had added onto the castle, until this immense, yet beautiful stronghold was created.
"I have yet to put my mark on the fortress, except to supervise repairs," Heero said. "I considered plans for an addition, but set them aside when I left for the Crusades. With you at my side, I feel the time is right to make improvements."
Duo's chest warmed with his lover's words. "It will be my privilege to assist in that project." He observed Heero on his steed, seeing him for the first time as the lord of a great castle and vast lands. Sir Yuy was a truly modest man, even if he was often stubborn beyond reason.
They continued through the forest with their eyes ever fixed on their goal, while Heero sketched more of his family's history.
"My ancestors were given the governorship of this region by King Louis VII. He ruled over two hundred years ago. This is the boundary of a kingdom that needs protection against foreign incursions. With the responsibility of holding off invaders my family was given the title of marquis."
"You are a marquis?"
"Yea, but I prefer the simple honorific of 'sir.'"
Duo snorted. "There is nothing simple about you, sir!" He had a feeling that he would be treated to many more surprises.
The castle grew more enchanted and immense as they approached.
"Where is the city?"
"Strasbourg is yet beyond this ridge. We can visit it on the morrow if you like."
Duo nodded, and they continued on. Surprisingly, Heero bypassed the main entrance and led Duo to a lesser used gate on the western wall.
"You are lord of this castle. You should make a grand entrance," Duo said.
"It has been a long journey. Let us ease ourselves into castle life."
They came to a stone path which led to the side entrance. Heero explained that this gate was used by servants and few others.
"In accordance with my family's mandate to protect the region, this gate is also well guarded." Heero drew his horse close to the gate made of heavy wood and iron. He pounded his fist against it. "It is Sir Yuy, your master. Open the gate!"
Duo shivered at the authority in Heero's voice. A moment later and he nearly laughed when a small peephole opened in the door and a pair of eyes gazed out. The eyes widened on recognizing Heero's identity.
"Sire!" the guard shouted.
The peephole closed with a snap, and they heard the lock disengaging with a clang. The gate swung open, and the guards stood back, bowing their heads.
Heero and Duo rode through the gate and along a passageway with a wall on either side. Treize's castle had been large and beautiful, but it was built of gray stone and mortar. The warm hues of this castle pleased Duo to the core. It was as though someone had dreamt it. How else could something so beautiful be created by human hands?
As they continued, all servants and guards bowed before Heero, some greeting their master with a sincere welcome. When they came to the castle's courtyard, a middle-aged man in a long brown tunic, and small group of servants were waiting. The news of their master's return had spread quickly.
"Sire, it is a great pleasure to welcome you home."
"Thank you, Howard."
This was the much talked about Howard of Belfort, the castle's steward. This man was entrusted with more authority than any other servant, retainer or guard. He had served Heero's father and advised his uncle.
Duo dismounted, along with Heero, and servants removed their cloaks. Introductions were made all around.
"If there is anything you need, please ask for me," Howard said with a bow to Duo.
"How was your journey?" Howard asked.
"Uneventful," Heero said.
"Beautiful," Duo said.
Howard nodded, seeming to find Duo's remark interesting.
Heero walked with purpose into the castle, easily taking up his role as master. By all accounts, the castle was in good order. The corridors were well swept, the wall sconces lighted, and the rugs dusted. The only request that Heero made was to prepare a light supper in his private dining hall.
At the foot of the stairs leading up to his private chambers, Howard bowed to take leave. "The servants will bring lily-scented bath water and wine."
Heero escorted Duo upstairs and into a spacious bedchamber. There were windows on either side, which had been opened to air the room and let in light.
Duo knew at once this was Heero's private chamber. His heart quickened to the lush surroundings, the colorful tapestries, the hand carved and painted chairs, and the four-postered bed. All symbols of a man of great wealth.
His first inclination was to move toward the bed, but there would be time enough for that. He went to an open window and was stunned by the view that stretched for miles. "How beauteous!"
Heero stepped to his side. "The castle is strategically positioned in order to see for miles around."
Duo frowned at his lover. "Do not spoil my view with strategy, sir!"
He felt Heero's hands at his waist, and a warm breath at his ear. "As you wish, sir knight."
Duo turned to him, smiling. "Your home is so beautiful. It must have been difficult for you to be away for so long."
"My duties took me elsewhere."
"You sound regretful."
Heero shook his head. "Perhaps I am now."
"I wish I had you to share it with sooner."
Duo lifted his hand to caress Heero's cheek, and admire the man before him. Heero was not an easy man to know, but Duo felt they had come a long ways in that knowing in a short time. His heart swelled with the realization that they would share a life here, in this magical place. Their bond would grow each day, and he would strive to learn this man as he had no other.
A tap at the door turned Heero's attention away. "Enter," he said, stepping from Duo's side.
A male servant entered and bowed. "Your lily water and wine, sire."
The servants brought in a pitcher of wine, and ceramic basins which they filled with lily water. They set the basins on the floor near the darkened hearth.
"We can have the fire lit, sir," the man said.
With deep bows the servants retreated from the room.
Heero took Duo's hand and walked him to their refreshment. "We should refresh ourselves before dinner."
They had no timetable for arriving at Castle Yuy, but had ridden hard, making the trip in six days. Duo had not questioned the speed they traveled, a lesson he had learned on their first outing together. Now he understood why Heero was anxious to return home. Home was a grand place, full of indulgences and luxuries, though not without its burdens.
Duo removed his sword belt and boots, and watched as Heero did the same. First they washed their faces, and then stripped off their hose to wash their feet. This was the next best thing when a bath was not convenient or necessary.
As Duo sat in a chair by one of the basins, Heero was immediately before him and on his knees.
"Allow me." Heero took hold of Duo's ankle and gently lowered his foot into the warm, scented water.
Duo's breath caught at the knight's humbling gesture. He bit his tongue, so as not to spoil the moment. His body stirred, but he wanted only to watch and to be grateful. Indeed, he was grateful for all Heero had done for him, for all Heero had become for him.
Heero washed Duo's feet, the scent of lilies lulling Duo into a state of bliss. "I shall fall asleep if you go on."
Heero chuckled and patted Duo's feet dry. "You should change into fresh clothes for dinner." Heero moved to the other basin and began to wash his own feet.
"Heero, please..." Duo nearly tripped over the basins in his haste to attend to his lover. "It would give me great pleasure." He looked into Heero's eyes, and could see that Heero had not expected the favor returned. "Please."
Heero gave a small nod and rested back in the chair.
Washing another's feet was a common practice, but Duo had never realized its potential for arousal. He focused on his task, telling himself that his reward would come later when they would tumble in the great bed, ensconced in gold and burgundy draperies and quilts.
A short while later, they were dressed in fresh clothes and seated in Heero's private dining hall. The room was adjacent to Heero's bedchamber, and accessed by private door. It was decorated in rugs and tapestries of a dominant blue color, creating a peaceful quality, which in turn quieted Duo's nervous excitement.
The dinner was simple fare, but deliciously prepared - a thin pie crust, filled with an egg, ham and cheese mixture. Their conversation was lighthearted as well, both feeling the exhaustion of their days on horseback, and the pleasure at reaching their destination.
"I have been thinking of my sister, Sophie," Duo said.
"I am sure she misses you as much as you miss her."
Duo nodded. "I should like to write her and tell her of my new home..." He hesitated. Was it all right to refer to this castle as his home? "I do not mean to assume my place..."
"Duo, this is your home, and I am pleased to hear you say it."
"Verily?" Duo smiled.
"Of course. And you must invite Sophie to visit."
They raised their glasses to young Sophie, and the prospect of finding her a good husband. The wine had a lovely hint of oak, and as usual Duo was drinking too much, too fast. Through the window he could see the sunset.
"It would be grand to watch that together."
"Let me show you a better view," Heero said, getting up from the table and holding out his hand.
As they left the dining hall, Heero grabbed a lighted candle in a pewter stand. He led Duo into the corridor. On it went, passing door after door.
"How many rooms are there?"
"I have never counted them," Heero said, moving them quickly down the hall.
"I do not."
"Then I insist we count them."
"Pray not this night, Duo. There are better things to occupy us." He squeezed Duo's hand.
Duo's heart thumped. "I shall agree to delay the count on one condition."
"Name your price, sir."
"That we do those better things in as many of those rooms as possible."
Heero laughed, but did not slow his pace.
They came to a door at the end of the hall. Heero opened it and lifted the candle to a torch placed in the wall. The fire illuminated a spiral staircase.
"Are we headed for the clouds?" Duo asked.
"You shall see."
They ascended the stairs, now with the torchlight in hand to guide their way. At the top they came into a room, simply furnished with a small writing desk with several books stacked upon it, a chair and a narrow bed.
"What is this place?"
"My study. The castle has a library, but this place gives me solitude." Heero set the torch in a wall sconce and led Duo to the window, throwing it open. It was a much narrower window than the ones in his chambers. "We can see the world as only hawks do."
Duo leaned out the window with a great smile. The air was crisp and the sky pink and orange. "Oh, to be a hawk and fly over your kingdom!" He had never been in the mountains, never seen trees from the top down, and had never felt so exhilarated. "Let us spend all our days here." He turned to find Heero leaning against the wall with a pleased look on his face. "Tell me your thoughts."
"I was wondering what it would be like to stay here with you for all time."
Duo touched the corner of Heero's mouth with his finger. "Your grin tells me it is a happy prospect."
Of course, duty would intervene, but it was lovely to have Heero imagining such things.
"We can at least retreat here from time to time?" Duo asked. He had seen very little of the castle and its grounds as yet, but this room felt right in so many ways, perhaps because it was special to Heero.
"I would very much enjoy sharing this sanctuary with you, Duo."
Duo placed his hands on Heero's chest, and gazed into his eyes. "How is it we came to be together?"
Heero's brow furrowed. "I was sent to collect you."
"Yea, that is how it started."
"But how shall it end?"
Duo shrugged. "Only Lady Fortune knows."
His hands slipped behind Heero's neck, pulling him into a kiss - sweet, warm, and full of hope and desire. A thousand of France's most noble knights could not match this one in Duo's eyes. The handsome dark knight that had captured Duo's heart the moment he went on bended knee before him.
They would remain in the tower until dawn, making love with the mighty castle about them. Sealed away from the world from night 'til day, their hearts ever set upon one another.