For You I Suffer
Treize moved first, thrusting his sword out in a light feint designed to test his opponent's reflexes. The baron parried with equal nonchalance, not even moving his feet as he countered. Treize smiled in mocking acknowledgment of his opponent's skill while the baron's expression remained impassive. The next two exchanges were the same, the ambassador assessing and Heero answering easily. But the Slaburrian apparently saw something that pleased him for in an instant, his smile sharpened dangerously.
My gut tightened as I clearly remembered the moment I had first seen its like and my throat constricted. My fingers flew toward my itas though to reassure myself that the ambassador's punishing hands were nowhere near. I had briefly lost my focus as panic rushed through me, but I looked back toward the field just in time to see the match begin in earnest.
Trieze's next thrust was quick and vicious. Heero still parried it cleanly, but this time he was forced to adjust his stance. His eyes narrowed and he seemed to take his loss of ground as a personal affront for he followed with an attack of his own that ended the heretofore static nature of the fight. From that moment on I could only gasp in amazement as the two men met in a graceful dance, their swords tracing arcs of quicksilver into the air and their footwork as dazzling as might be envied by a court master.
My knowledge of swordplay was woefully inadequate. Heero and Trieze moved so quickly that my desperate gaze could barely keep pace. But even I could see that my master seemed to give ground more oft than he gained it, and that hateful smile never faltered on the ambassador's lips.
Zechs stood on the other side of the field, his attention riveted by the match and his duties as judge. But his wife stood by my side and it was her sharp breath of surprise that told me my paranoia had not been unfounded.
"Too slow," she whispered. I glanced up at her, and saw that her brow was furrowed in puzzlement. One hand supported her elbow so that the other was near her mouth, a finger tapping incessantly against her lips.
"My lady?" my trainer asked, looking at her only for a brief moment before turning his aquamarine gaze back toward the match.
"Something's wrong. He's too slow," she repeated.
"What do you mean, Noin?" Lady Une interjected. Her expression was stern but a sliver of concern shown through her implacable features. "Speak up, girl," she urged. Noin never looked away from the combatants.
"My lady, I have watch my lord husband and the baron practice their swordplay since we were all children. I dare say that I know every move, all of their tricks, and the full power of their speed and endurance. My lord is masterful with a blade, but he has never been able to best Heero, even though the baron is a few years his junior." She looked toward the older woman, her red lips pressed into a grim line. "This man who fights before us now is not the Heero I am used to seeing. His movements are slow, almost sluggish."
"But surely that cannot be true," Quatre insisted. He pointed toward the arena, his eyes shinning with excitement. "I am no expert to be sure, but Heero seems to be in perfect form!"
Most anyone would have readily agreed with my trainer's assessment. Treize attempted to use his superior height and reach to outmatch my master, but every attack was turned on the baron's blade. We watched as Heero adjusted the angle of his sword, deflecting one particularly powerful thrust before turning in a full circle to aim a cut at the ambassador's midsection. Trieze parried with equal skill, catching Heero's blade on his own and pushing the young baron backward in another attempt to exert his physical dominance. The baron did not give way, but the blades came ever closer to him and I gasped as I once again saw him stumble.
"There, did you see?" Noin's sharp inquiry confirmed my worst fears. It had not simply been a product of my overtaxed imagination. "Damn the man! I had suspected but hoped I was mistaken." She sighed with disgust. "He is completely drunk!"
The others looked at her in astonishment, perhaps as much for the uncouth expletive as for her incredible assessment. Lady Une was incredulous, her face flushing a rather becoming shade of pink as she took quietly vociferous issue with Noin's pronouncement, ever aware of intruding ears.
"Drunk?" she hissed in a sharp whisper. "Surely you jest! My nephew would never put himself in such a disgraceful state. And in front of company!" She glared at the younger woman. "He is not lacking in self-control." She did not say ‘like my brother' but her meaning was clear. Still Lady Noin did not back down.
"Even you, my lady, cannot pretend that you were unaware of his sullen mood today. Why he never once put down his cup during the entirety of this gathering. In fact, I am amazed that he is even standing given how much I suspect he has had to drink." She broke away from Lady Une's dark glower as the clash of steel stole her attention. "No, Heero has great control of himself, as you say. But there is no mistaking his state."
"B-but surely it will not cause him any undue difficulty," Quatre sputtered. "After all, it is not as though the ambassador means him any harm. This is a nothing but a friendly contest!"
His confidence quickly proved undeserved. The crowd gasped, ending all conversation, and I cried out helplessly as the baron was lurch backward, turning to avoid Treize's sword as it arced toward his midsection. The move spared his stomach, but he suddenly clutched his right arm. I felt a sharp pain in my lower lip and realized that it was being mashed between my teeth as I saw a bright red stain spread slowly beyond his fingers and realized that blood had at last been drawn. Heero seemed not to feel the pain of the wound. Instead, it merely sparked his anger. Before Zechs could cry foul, Heero returned the affront with a ferocious counter that forced Treize to give back any ground he had just managed to gain. If Heero had been any lest agile, impaired or not, surely that last attack would have eviscerated him.
Maybe it was the shock of seeing my master injured that made the previous exchange between Quatre and Noin play clearly in my memory, but it suddenly occurred to me to wonder at Quatre's choice of inquiry. It was not Heero's inebriation that seemed to concern him, though it was clear that the baron's lack of sobriety was front and center on the minds of our female companions. No, he only seemed to worry that the contest remained sportsmanlike. As for myself, I was equally nervous over both Heero's state of mind and his continued well-being and I could not fathom my trainer's seeming nonchalance regarding whatever darkness had driven his friend to drink.
A cold phantom wind raised gooseflesh over every inch of my exposed skin as understanding flooded my mind, threatening to drown me in panic and horror. My fingers curled, digging deeply into the rich soil beneath me, as I realized the awful truth. I stared up at my trainer, the strength of my gaze fit to pierce him through had it been a solid thing. This time I could not be ignored, and though he struggled against the lure, Quatre glanced down, meeting my appalled glare.
‘You told,' I mouthed, not wishing to be overheard so that my shame might further come to light. But a white hot stab of betrayal nearly rent me in two and I wanted to scream. The blond tried to hold his ground against my silent accusation, firming his soft lips and declining to deny the charge. But in the next moment he looked away, a flash of guilt twisting his handsome features.
The desire to hurl insults and make known the depths of my hurt built within me until I was on the verge of leaping to my feet to do whatever damage to him I might inflict before being restrained. But deep down I knew that he loved me and that he had only my best interests at heart. I am certain that he thought telling my master what had befallen me during that terrible night with the ambassador was the proper course. Treize had abused me, thus giving grave insult to the man who owned me. Was this, then, the reason for Heero's condition? No, I could scare credit such a notion. Even if my master felt some slight over the way I had been treated, surely his anger was not such that it would drive him to drink.
"Heero!" Lady Une cried out, stopping the dizzy whirl of conjecture. Her shout was drowned out by the greater surprise of the crowd and a swell of cheers from the Slaburrians. I looked back toward the match to witness a sight that shredded my heart with fear.
Heero was on the ground, the ginger-haired ambassador standing over him in triumph, his blade high over his head, carried there by the momentum of his victorious stroke. Heero yet had his sword but the battle was over. I stared in disbelief at the notion that the man I would have sworn to the heavens was invincible had been defeated. I saw Lord Zechs's shoulders heave in a frustrated sigh, his firm jaw clenched in anger as he was forced to face his duty and call the match. And there it might have ended had not Treize's treachery won through.
"And now, my dear baron," the ambassador sneered, looking down on his vanquished foe, "all shall know who is the better man." He did not speak loudly, but the arena was not large and his voice carried clearly. "But perhaps it is a moot point as there is one present here who is already quite aware of that truth."
"Tell me," he prompted, glancing in my direction and smiling at the utter shock I could feel turning my face to tortured stone. "Does your whore scream out as loudly for you as he did for me? Did he tell you how much we enjoyed out time together?" He spat out a taunting laugh. "Sweet Duo begged me with such pretty words that I fucked him after I nearly choked his life away with my cock."
My agony was complete, my shame made known to all. The crowd went deathly silent, both Calderash nobles and Slaburry delegates alike at the unbelievable speech. I felt the burning weight of a thousand pairs of eyes, nay a million, and my hands instinctively clawed further into the dirt, as though I might dig my way down and let the dark earth cover me and hide me away forever. But my own disgrace suddenly became as nothing when I saw the sword tremble in the ambassador's hand.
"My lord!" I cried, my heart stopping cold in my chest as the blade descended with deadly swiftness. Perhaps all Treize meant to do was deal Heero another wound to sweeten his victory for surely killing him unprovoked in front of everyone assembled would be the height of folly. But I need not have been concerned. Heero's sharp gaze had never left his enemy's face, his concentration never wavering even as my ignominy was made public.
It was almost a simply matter for him to roll away from the oncoming assault. Rather than move away from his attacker, Heero turned in toward the other man's body, hitting against his legs. Treize suddenly found himself overbalanced and pitched forward, falling over Heero as the younger man leapt nimbly to his feet as though he had never indulged in drink in his life. With a skillful arc of his sword, Heero sent Treize's weapon flying across the field to land just inches from my knees even as the ambassador landed at my master's. In a total reversal of their previous positions, Heero now stood over the Slaburrian with his sword inches away from the other man's throat.
I stared at the thing that had threatened to take my master from me, for I had no doubt but that Treize had meant to kill him, the consequences be damned. As had become my automatic reaction to intense stress, my lungs had seized, stopping my breath as though Treize's member were still buried in my throat. The sudden cessation of fear and the accompanying flood of air into my starving lungs caused me to slump forward until my head touched the grass. Quatre was instantly on his knees by my side, his hands warm against my back and his outpouring of concern falling on my ears. But I could not look at him as sobs wracked my naked body and tears filled my eyes.
His requests for assurance were barely heard, nor could I make sense of the murmurs that rumbled through the crowd. Feminine voices, pitched in turn with disbelief, fury, and concern passed over to me, but they did not pierce through the roar sounding in my ears. I was torn between blissful relief that my master was safe and unrelenting humiliation that he knew the truth of what had occurred between me and the Slaburry ambassador. For though his intentions had been full of the blackest malice, Treize had not lied. He had turned me into nothing more that a whore who moaned and pleaded for his own destruction.
All was lost to me. Even had I been prepared to give any credence to Noin's insistence that Heero did truly hold some affection for me, that hope was gone. Indeed, what expectation could I have that I would even be allowed to remain at Windshire, regardless of Quatre's assurance that it was I who was the victim. I knew that, now that the full scope of my wantonness had come to light, I would be tossed away like so much trash. Yet, even through the wail of self-loathing and grief that clamored in my head until I thought I might go mad, one voice above all managed to break through the din.
"You are not worthy to speak his name. And yet you would dare to harm what is mine? I swear on my sword, you shall never see him again so long as I draw breath!"
Heero did not rail or shout, nor he did even raise his voice. But his tone rang with unshakable authority and none present doubted that he meant every word. I raised my head, the power of his presence drawing me like iron to a loadstone. My tears obscured my view, but still I could see him, standing over the fallen ambassador like a stone monument that could weather the assault of millennia and never falter. Treize was utterly still, the point of the sword uncomfortably close to his worthless neck. A brisk wind blew, stirring the air with the only sound that could be heard. It dried my eyes enough so I could see the bright spots of color that shown on the Slaburrian's otherwise pale countenance. His expression reflected his complete amazement at this unexpected turn of events. And then Heero made a pronouncement that I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams.
"For your crimes against me, for spiting in the face of my hospitality and causing grief and harm to that which is mine, you are henceforth banished from Calderash." Treize was not the only person who gaped at the baron in utter disbelief. But Heero continued undettered before the astonished faces surrounding him. "Your fellow delegates are welcome to depart at their leisure and to return whenever duty or pleasure requires. But as for you...." Blue eyes narrowed until his gaze was as sharp as the blade he held pointed at his beaten foe.
"As for you, you will leave my castle and my kingdom before night has fallen, and if you ever step foot on my lands again, I will have you killed."
Heero turned away, dismissing Treize with cold finality. Once the threat of the sword was removed, the ambassador leapt to his feet, remaining unarmed only because his own weapon was too far away. He whipped around toward his departing adversary, all pretense at civility gone. His handsome features were somehow altered, as though his inner evil had obliterated all his claims to handsomeness. I shivered, realizing that I was finally seeing that which I had met the previous night and had hoped to never see again.
"You think that you can treat me this way, as though I was some naughty child? You ungrateful whelp! Who was it that saved your pathetic country from starvation? You owe me the lives of your people, baron, and I swear I shall have what I am due. You think to banish me?" His laugh was disturbing and tinged with madness. "I will take our so-called treaty and crush it underfoot. Winter approaches, my dear baron, and you can watch your people starve!"
My master's steps never faltered. The trade minster smoothly stepped in to the breach of Heero's silence, proving that the trust the baron placed in him was not unwarranted.
"Might I remind you, ambassador, that the treaty was signed and witnessed by more than just yourself." Zechs approached Treize, picking up the dropped sword as he passed it. "It will not be undone now, not merely at your whim. No matter your posturing, I am well aware that your king was eager for cooperation between our two countries to resume after his long feud with the baron's late father." The wind blew his long, platinum mane behind him as he handed the Slaburrian his sword. "I am certain, that he would be most displeased to learn that you have attempted to undermine him."
I heard no more of what passed between Lord Zechs and the banished ambassador, for at that moment, Heero reached where our little party stood. Lady Une stepped toward him, her hand reaching out as though to verify through contact that her beloved nephew was indeed hale and whole. She called to him to stop but he ignored her and everyone else who attempted to distract him. Instead, he looked at no one except to send my trainer a speaking glance. Then he was gone, crossing the bridge and moving toward the garden door, disappearing through it into the castle.
Lady Une sputtered with indignation and glared at Quatre, demanding an explanation. But either he had none or he was far more adept at reading my master's silent communiqués than I had previously credited. Instead of answering, he merely bowed toward her and the other ladies, the gesture encompassing the trade minister as he approached. Without a word, he reached down to retrieve my chain and I quickly found myself pulled to my feet, the two of us following in my master's footsteps as we left the abruptly ended fête behind.