For You I Suffer
I sat on the grass watching Hilde throw stones into the pond. I thought about how the sunlight struck black sparks off of her midnight hair, how her sweet laughter tinkled in my ears, how her dark-blue eyes look at me with affection ... in short, I was screwing up my courage to ask for her hand in marriage.
But wait – perhaps I should tell you who I am. Otherwise, why would you care to hear my tale?
My name is Duo Maxwell. I was the son of Howard and Helen Maxwell, personages of imminent respectability and sense, I can say with no little pride. For most of my life, I lived on an ordinary farm on the outskirts of an ordinary town on the edges of an ordinary kingdom. Well, perhaps not so ordinary. Rather than a kingdom proper, my home town of Fashel and the surrounding villages are actually part of a baronetcy. The Baron of Calderash, himself, lives in an impressive castle several days travel from Fashel. However, until the events of this story occurred, I had never been more than a mile from the family farm.
So, I suppose you could say that I lived a rather uneventful life. ‘Am I ordinary as well?’ you may wonder. Well, I’d like to think not. I’m a bit short in stature I’ll admit, although living and working on a farm most of my life has graced me with a strong, lithe build. I have a nose that’s been called pert, a high forehead, distinctive cheekbones, sun-kissed skin, and lips that are perhaps a bit lush for a man. I’ve been told I was handsome, even pretty. However, the two features that are my personal pride without question are my eyes and my hair.
People are always startled when they see my eyes for the first time. Why? Because they are a most unusual shade – amethyst. That’s right, not blue, not even violet, but a rich shade of amethyst. The shade of my favorite semi-precious stone. But, of course, being a man of modest means, I had only seen amethyst jewels in pictures – which never get colors quite right – so I had to take the word of a traveling merchant that my eyes did indeed put the stone to shame.
As I stated, my second favorite feature is my hair. The color isn’t so amazing; my locks are a pleasing but not extraordinary shade of dark chestnut. No, what makes my hair interesting is its sheer quantity. To say my hair is unusually long for a man would be an understatement of the grossest sort. Braided, my hair falls nearly to my butt, and unbraided, it’s even longer. My mother and father often despaired at my refusal to ever subject myself to grooming shears, but I suppose my rebellion was a not-so-unconscious desire to make my ordinary life a little more interesting. Well, I would definitely get my wish.
But enough about me. I’m not really a vain person, but since words are my only vehicle in this endeavor, I am forced to use them to paint a realistic picture. I hope I haven’t bored you to tears.
As I was saying, my life continued on a fairly even keel for the first eighteen years of my existence. The one bright spot was my dear friend Hilde. She lived on a neighboring farm and had been my constant companion since we were both still in baby booties. We shared everything, her horse, my tree fort, and eventually, our first kiss. A few months before I turned eighteen, our increasingly frequent stolen moments of innocent passion in the loft of my barn went a bit further than usual and we ended up sharing our first experience of making love.
And this is what led me to seriously consider the idea of marriage. By then, I was eighteen and she had attained that milestone only a few weeks behind me. I loved her and she loved me. We would live a long, happy – if ordinary – life together and die of old age in our sleep surrounded by doting grandchildren. Or, at least, that’s what I envisioned at the time. Looking back now, I can hardly believe how limited my vision of life, and of myself, truly was.
But I’m rushing ahead of myself, my apologies. Once I had decided to marry Hilde, I needed to do two things. One was, of course, to ask her if she was willing to join herself with me for all eternity – or something romantic along those lines. The second, and most important, was to convince our respective parents that I could take care of her. In other words, I had to prove that I could make my way in the world.
I had no money; I didn’t really need any living on my parents’ farm. The land basically provided everything we required. Leaving home to seek my own fortune was a daunting notion, to say the least. Then something occurred that removed this obstacle, although, I can honestly say that I would have preferred a different solution.
Less than two months after I’d decided to settle down, my parents were killed in a carriage accident. Apparently, a merchant traveling either to or from the market in Fashel – I’ve never been certain which it was – encountered a snake itself sunning in the middle of the road. Or, I should say, the man’s horse encountered the snake. The gelding took fright and bolted, dragging the carriage with the terrified merchant behind it. My mother and father were themselves traveling to market, albeit on foot. They never even had a chance to avoid the horse’s wild passage. My parents were struck and killed, leaving me an orphan and their only heir.
So there I was, an eighteen-year-old landowner. The farm was fairly self-sufficient and, thanks to a wise purchasing decision by my great-grandmother, the land was reliably fertile and giving. Though parentless, I now had the means to support my intended bride. First, however, I had to receive the land officially.
That’s when I met *him* for the first time.
By some obscure law, land transfers, even if only from father to son, were not automatic in Calderash. One of the baron’s officials had to physically hand over the deed, which was maintained in the castle, to the new owner. The new owner would then sign some forms if he could – otherwise an ‘X’ was sufficient. Only after proper execution of the proper documents, including a witnessing signature from the presiding official, would the land formally pass over into the new owner’s hands.
The news of my new status was delivered helpfully by the merchant himself, along with the offer to keep me in essentials in exchange for the pleasure of my company. The merchant, a regular in town, had apparently had his eye on me for sometime and saw his chance to gain my favor with an act of kindness. Being a sole worshipper of women – or I should say, of Hilde, since she was the only woman I’d ever been with at the time – I ‘politely’ refused. Fortunately, the merchant didn’t hold his bruised jaw and blackened eye against me and continued on his way.
After a period of intense grief, assuaged somewhat by Hilde’s gracious solicitude and warm body, I traveled to town to contact the presiding official. A request for the deed to the farm was sent with all haste to the castle and I waited patiently for the baron’s representative to appear. Little did I know I would meet the great man himself.
For some reason, which I would soon discover, the baron was making a tour of his lands. Bringing the deed with him was no great imposition, so, no more than a month after the death of my parents, there I was, sitting on my front porch eating preserve-covered toast when a gigantic carriage rolled up the lane, escorted by three mounted men.
As I stood and walked to the roadside to meet the baron’s official – for I was certain that’s who was traveling in the regal coach – I studied the three guardsmen. The outer two were large, imposing, and basically unimpressive. In other words, typical guardsmen. But the young man riding the beautiful white Arabian in the middle caused an intense, almost visceral, reaction in my young body.
The man was not nearly as grand in stature as his companions. Rather, I could tell by how far his feet came down on the horse’s sides that he was only a bit taller than me, if slightly broader in the shoulders. His clothing was, however, more grand than the garments of other two men. Whereas they wore plain, brown leather jerkins and leggings and carried simple, competent swords in their scabbards, the younger man was a far different story.
A black cap, containing a deep-blue feather that would have been considered frivolous on anyone else, covered his somewhat messy brown hair. His understated, though obviously well-tailored, jacket and breaches were in non-descript black velvet – as though he wished to passed unnoticed. I’m afraid there was little chance of that!
He dismounted in one, graceful movement and stalked – that’s the only appropriate description of the way he walked – towards me. As he approached, I noticed the jeweled hilt of his sword and the fancy, engraved scabbard. I was reconsidering my initial opinion that he was a mere guard when I happened to look up, meeting his gaze for the first time.
How can I describe those first few moments in his presence? I felt as though I had fallen down a well, a deep well of intense cobalt-blue. My breath quickened, my cheeks flushed, and I had the unbearable urge to press my trembling lips against his beautiful, if slightly cruel-looking, mouth. ‘Incredible’ was the word that immediately sprung to mind.
My reaction surprised me, to say the least. Up until that moment, Hilde was the only person to ever arouse a sexual response in me and what I was feeling for this amazing, and quite *male*, stranger made my reactions to her seem like the mildest case of puppy-love. Desperate to conceal my response, and praying fervently that my growing erection wasn’t showing through my homespun breeches, I stepped forward and offered the stranger a greeting.
“H-hello,” I managed weakly. “Welcome to Maxwell farm, good sir. How may I help you?”
The young man just stared at me in silence for a long, uncomfortable moment, his cool eyes taking in every detail of my appearance. All manner of imagined horrors passed through my mind. Did I have apple preserve on my face from my breakfast? Was my clothing somehow askew? Had I inadvertently stepped in a cow patty? My stomach was fair churning with anxiety when his gaze returned to mine and he finally deigned to speak.
“I am Baron Heero Yuy. I have come to oversee the transfer of this farm into your keeping.”
The pleasant baritone of his voice distracted me to such a degree that the meaning of his words quite escaped me for a moment. Then comprehension occurred. Baron? Did he say baron? But, I was under the impression that the baron was a older man. I mean, barons were supposed to be old and commanding, even a bit crusty. Well, this gentleman certainly had the appropriate commanding air about him, but old and crusty he definitely was not!
“Baron?” I inquired with sparkling intelligence.
He immediately saw my difficulty and was amused, if the slight smile that crossed his lips was any indication. The small upturning of his lips was very attractive and did nothing to alleviate the sudden tightness of my breeches.
“Yes. I am new to the title as my father died only two months ago. Hence the reason for my personal visitation.”
“Oh, I’m sorry for your loss,” I replied with all sincerity. Recent bereavement was something we had in common and I felt it gave us a instant empathetic connection.
Heero – for he was never ‘Baron Yuy’ to me – inclined his head in acceptance of my condolences. “Please accept mine in return,” he replied, indicating that he knew of my circumstances. I repressed the warm feeling engendered by his considerate behavior as he suddenly turned his eyes towards the elaborate carriage.
The door opened, revealing an older, bookish-looking man. Obviously a secretary of some sort. He carried a large folder made of dark-brown leather. When he stopped, standing abreast of Heero, he opened the binder and exposed the contents for my perusal.
“This is the deed to the farm. If you’ll just sign here... Can you write?” He continued at my affirming nod, “Sign here and the farm will officially be yours.”
I accepted the proffered quill, already covered with ink, and endorsed my signature for the first time in my life. Although I could read and write - my mother had been most insistent on that point – I had never had much occasion to use those enviable abilities. The secretary retrieved the document and the quill, offering them to the young baron to provide his mark as a witness. Once it was done, the older man closed the binder.
“Congratulations, young man. May you be happy with your new land.” With that, he returned to the carriage, his business with me concluded.
I returned my eyes to Heero only to see him regarding me with his original intent expression. For a seemingly endless moment, our gazes locked, a silent communication exchanged between us, though I couldn’t specify what exactly was said. Suddenly, he turned away and stalked – again, no other description quite fits – back to his stallion. With one final burning glance in my direction, he rode away and out of my life forever.
Or so I thought.
This leads me back to where I began, sitting by the pond trying to find the courage to ask Hilde for her hand. It shouldn’t have been a difficult task; after all, my affection for her hadn’t diminished – even if my reaction to her never did approach what I’d experienced with the gorgeous baron. No, the problem was of a much more mundane sort.
A year had passed since my mother and father’s death and, at nineteen, my prospects were much less rosy than they had been when I was a mere lad of eighteen years. The previous growing season had been disappointing to say the least. An unprecedented and severe drought had descended on Fashel and the surrounding communities. For the first time in my life, the farm was struggling to survive. The question was, did I want to invite Hilde to share in my troubles?
Hilde’s father was a blacksmith as well as a farmer and his additional skills had carried his family through the challenging year. She would obviously be better off remaining at home, although she repeatedly dropped hints that becoming my wife would not be at all unpleasant.
To be altruistic or selfish? That was my internal debate. Did I leave my friend and lover to the comforts of her family or did I drag her, although willingly, into the morass of my financial troubles.
The argument might have circled endlessly in my head, if outside forces hadn’t intervened. I could not have imagined, even in my wildest dreams, how my life would change as I saw the unknown riders approach us.
I was soon to discover a brand new world. Was I ready? Who knows. Could anyone ever truly be prepared for what I would experience? For what I would become?