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Wednesday, 14 January 2009
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My Brother, My Killer
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Chapter Five: A Heart Divided

Later on Simon didn’t remember much of the big day of Nicolas and Agnés safe that any stories about the bride weren’t exaggerated. When she first opened her veil, Simon had to swallow to clear his dry throat. Her beauty by far surpassed any he had seen before in a mortal woman, even rivalling that of the avatar of the Lady he had seen. Though she was small compared to the groom, she drew all attention towards her. Her long, ash blonde hair fell over her shoulders as she removed the veil during the ceremony, revealing her entire face. Every part of her face seemed to be the work of an artist but her eyes were her true marks of the divine: silver eyes swirled with an ethereal light that unsettled all who looked her in the eyes. The eyes in which an unwary man could drown in, grasping in vain towards the light of the sun above. A shiver ran down his spine as they shortly passed over him. After the ceremony Nicolas finally introduced him to her after which he quickly had to address some other guests. “So you are the mysterious Simon my love has bragged about ever since we met. It’s a pleasure to meet such a good friend of his.” Agnés shortly bowed to him which unsettled Nicolas even more.
“The pleasure is all mine, milady.” He nervously uttered: he never was any good with women, especially the pretty ones. His life had ever been a single-minded thrust to his duty and the opposite sex he’d mostly ignored until now. Of course he had tasted of life’s sweets –he was after all just a mortal man and it is amazing how many women would throw themselves at one’s feet when one is slightly famous- but it had ever been fleeting and nothing more than an experience. He clumsily returned the bow.
She flashed him her pretty smile and continued, taking him by the arm. “So, please tell me, my good sir, how does one like yourself manage to be single here. We can’t have that, now can we? After all one has to dance at a wedding...”
Simon’s thoughts raced with the conflicting impulses. “Dance? I mean... Single?” Agnés seemed slightly displeased at the rude interruption but listened to his next words. “I... I don’t need your help.” Panic has an odd way of making forget one’s manners.
Her face clearly displayed her malcontent. “And here I thought I could help you. But it clearly seems that your reputation, sir, is undeserved and your loneliness well-earned.” She turned away from him, leaving him wondering what just happened. 

Who is she to judge me and my reputation? Simon wondered indignantly as he wandered outside to the gardens. These were now filled with guests from all over the country and of every rank. He emptied his cup of wine and set it down on the counter. A serf instantly refilled it. I who faced more dangers then she can even count to, the spoiled child. What does she know of the world? Of life? The most pain she ever had to endure was when she filed her nails too short. Simon took another swig of his wine. She never felt the crude blade of a corrupted elf render flesh to the bone. His cup was again full but he didn’t mind. If her dinner is late, she calls it a tragedy. Apparently she never had to live on nothing but roots and the knowledge having just a few drops of decent water left. He stopped a moment to remark that it was an excellent wine. For everything there is, she has a servant at the ready. I at least know who to dress a wound with just one hand. The nearly inebriated young knight concluded it had to be Bordelen probably. Just like that stuck-up bitch! The servant anxiously saw him drain another cup. I bet she really has a servant for her every need. Even that one! Lady take me if she was still a virgin! The servant emptied his jug in the cup and hastened down the cellar before that bothersome knight needed more. How can she take care of Nicolas? She barely knows him, I’ve had the honour to be his trusted for over five years. If she really loved him, she’d never asked him to leave the chapel. They’d make do with whatever they could get down there. Meanwhile Simon looked around for that infernal servant. Now Nicolas is in the hand of a spoiled brat, barely able to take care of herself, let alone Nicolas. Lady be damned, I hate that harpy. The rest of the evening was nothing but fragmented memories for Simon. After emptying another jug of wine on his own, Jorge finally found him asking directions to the nearest ship to a bush. The loyal knight endured an half an hour of drunk nonsense and gibberish before he managed to put him to rest in his bed.

When morning came, the worst headache he’d ever had seemed to throb just beneath his skull. What shards there were left of the day before in his memory all seemed to point out to one conclusion: that woman wasn’t fit for Nicolas. However when he tried to prompt how he arrived to that decision, the armies of a thousand nations were drumming incessantly and painfully bothering his stream of consciousness. Every bite of breakfast seemed to cause a enflaming revolt in his stomach. Nicolas wore that annoying smile of his like he knew in what kind of pain he was writhing in now. That wife of his seemed to be the paragon of every table manner and courtesy but he read the anger in her eyes when she fixed them on him. After trying to swallow another bite of the baked eggs, the hung-over knight had to give up and had him excused from the table. This may not be my finest hour but, curses, I can’t stand that woman.


Over the passing months Simon merely tried to ignore her to the best of his cunning: sitting on the far end of the table, avoid the living quarters in her wing of the castle, had any message to her be relayed by one of the brotherhood, it came even as far as starting to dodge meetings with Nicolas when she’d be present. If by chance they’d encounter, he’d then hurry out of her way. It wasn’t long until Nicolas suspected as much and before a week was through he had Agnés confess why.
“Brother, we need to talk.” Simon did not like that tone: every time he used that particular voice there was something clearly wrong. He stopped overseeing the training of the new destriers and patiently awaited him to continue. “How has Agnés slighted you?”
The forwardness of the issue surprised him and he quickly answered. “Slighted me, Nicolas?”
“Ever since the wedding you’ve been ignoring her.”
“I wouldn’t dream of ignoring her, brother.”
“How come then that she absolutely has no success to talk to you?”
“She has been reaching me? But I’m right here.”
“Cut it out, Simon!” Heads turned to see what made their lord raise his voice. His former apprentice however didn’t like to stand in the middle of such attention. He couldn’t even remember the last time he had.  He subtly tried to drag Nicolas away to a more quiet area. When he continued the anger still lingered in his voice, a fury in his eyes. “I swear to the seven signs of the Lady I shall hear the truth. So out with it.”
“Fine. But are you sure you want to hear it, brother? Because once said, it can’t be unsaid.”
“Agnés has told me of the misunderstanding on the wedding day. I’m sure you had your reasons to act as you did but why maintain such hostility against the one I love? She has tried to make amends with you but every time she tries to near you, you’ve disappeared faster than wine on a Bordelen holy day. Agnés knows you mean the world to me, brother, safe for her and the brotherhood you are the only one I fully trust. So spill it out before it turns ugly and I lose my best friend.”
“She isn’t right for you.”
“What?” This answer baffled the legendary knight.
“She isn’t right for you.” Saying it aloud, made it sound more juvenile and petty then intended. “She doesn’t know you. How could she? Her world has ever been a golden cage.  Yours are battlefields and slaughter. She trapped you into some-one you are not. She’s every little girl’s dream, right down to the ponies and the prince on a white horse. Well, her prince never rode a white horse and used to be famous to be the greatest sword wielder alive.”
When he finally rested his rant, the fury was gone from Nicolas eyes, replaced –to Simon’s consternation- by disappointment. His voice bore no reproach towards his young friend. “Oh, Simon, you never even gave her a chance, did you? Do you really think I’d fall in love with a girl that believes in castles and ballroom dances? I’m... grateful you want  to keep an eye out for your brother but this not a decision you are allowed to make nor did I make the wrong one, trust me. If you get to know her, you’ll see what I see every day when I’m tired or anxious. She calms and soothes me. She pleases me with her greater intelligence often lacking in women of courts. She is one of the smartest people I know and her beauty comes second to that. And she has talent.”
That last word shocked him even more than his clear disappointment. “Talent?”
“Yes, she’ll never be as great a warrior as you, my brother, but everything she has learnt, she taught herself with grim determination not to become another faceless bride. Her skill rivals that of any lord in this land, even her father’s. Please go talk to her, give her a chance for the sake of our friendship. I want you to train her just like I once did with you. My time is too scarce to grant her the attention she needs and no other is worthy enough to challenge her. It’d be very sad day for me if my best brother wouldn’t get along with the love of my life.”

This is insane: I’ve defeated the crazed boar of Meldew by staring down his tusks and then strike before he’d hit me and here I am standing before a door of a creature far less frightful and yet I can’t even move myself to knock. What am I afraid of then? That Nicolas is right and she truly is an amiable person or that I am wrong and she is worthy of him? Either way I am on the losing side. It took an age for her to open the door after he finally forced himself to knock. She sounded a bit surprised but after a slight hesitation she invited him in. “Sir Gastinois, please come in. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Grudgingly he mumbled the words he had rehearsed. “Milady, it seems I owe you an apology and an explanation for my behaviour at the wedding banquet. I’m truly sorry but I am not used having people worry about me and my private matters.”
“I gathered as much but that still doesn’t explain the months of hiding from me, sir.” Her tone was soft and forgiving.
“If you wish an explanation for that, I can offer you none. Though it shames me to admit, there seemed to have been no reason.”
Agnés seemed to weigh his words carefully before continuing the conversation. “Oh, but there has to be one. But I believe this one to be rather harmless if somewhat endearing, sir. Your reason is one born out of love and loyalty to Nicolas, a careful friendship fused with mutual respect. Your love in this case turned into concern. Concern for your best friend which is perfectly natural. Which later on turned into worries and after our first meeting into misplaced jealousy and anger. I’m sorry it happened this way but I beg you to give me another chance, Simon. For I love that man with all my heart and I will find bravery there to face anything that would come between us.”
“I will try, milady.” Simon sighed: his fears had been realised twice. "Nicolas mentioned you having skill with the blade.”
“He did?” Now it was her turn to surprised. “He must have had his reasons then.”
“He did. In fact he wants me to help you continue improving your skill. He’d do it himself but his lack of time wouldn’t do your training justice.”
“He does? My father strongly disapproved it of course, especially after I disarmed him.” Her eyes slipped into the distance as she reflected on her youth. “I had to be more ladylike: less waving swords, more small talk. I never stopped completely however, training myself in secret in my room with an old and battered sword. Nicolas was the first man to ever find out. Well, if he is sure, I’m willing to give it a try.”
“We’ll start next week if that’s alright with you, milady.”

Thus Simon started to teach Agnés the exact things Nicolas had once taught him. After a hesitant start Simon put his pride aside to give her the attention she needed. Surprisingly enough she progressed more quickly he could have hoped or wished for. There was definitely a talent hidden in her fighting style of dexterous moves and quick jabs. Agnés had fast reflexes and nimble feet which made her a daring opponent. Even so, Simon still had difficulty accepting her as a peer: she was still a woman and born out of high nobility. She spent her time in a sheltered keep with her every whim fulfilled. The turnaround came one spring night after they both returned from a neighbouring castle. Marauders had been sighted in the area but it was presumed to be just a rumour. Alas they managed to ambush them both, outnumbering them five to one. In the end they defeated the norse raiders and sent them howling. The nimble maiden had saved his back more than once that evening. Letting all restraint go, Simon became more familiar to the woman Nicolas loved so much until they could boast a strong friendship between them. Soon they dedicated every spare time to the noble art. 


Two years passed in the peaceful Entrevilles, the seasons following each other one by one as is the natural order of things. It was then Nicolas’ great plan was revealed to the brotherhood: near the south border a fort had been built with every knight’s need. Soon the camp inherited the name of Nicolas, hence known as Camp Niçoise. The brotherhood was free to live there as they pleased, to come and go as they wished. Needless to say they controlled and guarded it themselves with the helping hand of Nicolas close by. In return the fort swore allegiance to the family Pinsson and its heirs. Meanwhile the lord had become accustomed to the everyday governing of the fief and was able to spent more time with his two favourite people. It is hard to discern the actual shift but in those years Simon’s jealousy of his friend’s wife slowly transformed into a burning and impossible devotion. It has ever been a thin line between love and hate and Simon crossed it. Caught unawares, his affection for her grew thanks to their time spent together. When the knight finally realised his mistake, he tried to force himself to see that there was no future for this sprout. He tried to forget it in the arms of other women but every time it left a longing for her. Leaving was also not an option for he enjoyed the time the three of them spent together too much. Everything he valued lived within the now stifling walls of Pinsson Keep, even regular visits to brotherhood could not calm his anxiety. He swore however not to risk both friendships for the foolish whims of his heart. The young lady had nearly learned everything the young knight knew. Her blade was as fast as a diving eagle and just as deathly and accurate. Nicolas gifted her a masterwork shortsword, fit to her height and strength. Simon and Nicolas found it difficult now to win a duel with the tenacious and fast Agnés.


One hot summer day however destiny caught up.
“You’ve been too long in the sun, Simon: you’re slowing down.” The clinging of swords was mixed with scuffle of feet.
“I wouldn’t try to make me die out of thirst, Ange. I’ll last longer then you anyway.” The young man retorted, sweat beading down his face and hair. He lunged, trying to hit her sword arm.
“Now, see? You’ve gotten yourself a sunburn and it makes you dream.” She deftly danced out of his reach, all the while leaving small clouds of sand. The little pit where they were sparring lay between several dunes near the stony coast of Couronne.
“A headache is nothing compared to your whining.” Another thrust, once again nimbly evaded. “When will you learn that a duel is fought with your brain, not your tongue?” A feint to draw her closer, she fell for it but then -before he could strike- she instantly launched her own which he barely parried with his shield. “Nice.”
“Thanks.” She lashed out again, building momentum, to the unprotected left shoulder.
“Too predictable.” Simon’s sword pushed her shortsword away with relative ease. “It’s getting boring seeing you pant for no gain.” In fact he knew she was most dangerous when she became tired. Let her come at me.
“Enjoy it.” Feigning a ruse to make him step forward but he cleverly saw through her trap. “It’s the only time you’ll see me sweat and pant.” Abusing his sudden consternation she stepped in, aiming a swipe at his mid.
His shield is barely in time to ward off the blow. “Now it is my turn.” Before he can bring down his sword however, she unexpectedly backslashes, catching his shield, forcing him to drop it or lose a hand. “Lady be damned.” He then took a few steps backwards.
“Hah! You best forfeit now and save you the embarrassment.”
A confident look in her eyes. Something to exploit. “Never sell the skin before the actual kill, my dear.” She haughtily approaches but anticipating her move, he deals a massive blow. Efficiency: null. Nicolas, you’d cry if you see this.
“Desperate attempt.” Even so, she has to block it with her own sword, keeping her sword arm busy enough.
Busy enough for him to snatch the edge of her shield and pull it from her grip. “I don’t like fighting unfairly.”
A most unladylike curse escaped her lips: whatever advantage she had, was now gone. She took a short breather as the sea breeze cooled her incensed body. “Let me try something else.”
“You know what they say.” His eyes fixed on hers, determined to win. “Curiosity killed the cat.”
She steadily replied that gaze with her surreal eyes. “Indeed.” Agnés circles around the weary knight, trying to find the opportune moment.
“Shall this kitten try to claw yet or is she trying to lull the mouse to sleep?” Make your move and I’ll have you.
“This kitten likes to tease her helpless prey.” An altogether too feline grin now adorned her face. “For I have seven lives left.” A risky thrust straight to the sword arm, difficult to counter at such speed.Only option left to Simon was to turn his own sword counter clockwise.
“Time for the kill!” Swiftly she raises her sword upwards, catching the hilt of his sword. The force and sheer surprise knocking it out of his hand. Silence, only interrupted by the protests of gulls on the shore. 

They were both standing breathless facing each other: she holding a sword aimed at his heart, he disarmed. Sweat trickled down their spines, little cool needles in the wind. The sudden turnaround had even her surprised, not knowing what to do now. “You, sir, have been disarmed by a girl.”
A satisfied but weary smile reflected in her eyes.
Simon didn’t respond, just keeping her eyes locked with his. A distraction is all I need. The cawing of the gulls intensified at that moment. For just a split second she diverted her attention to the noise but it was enough for the experienced knight: he grabbed her wrist of the sword arm, twirling her around with the other. With a forceful but gentle tug, he pulled her close and playfully twisted her arm behind her back, forcing her to drop her weapon. “Didn’t I tell you not to sell...”
Their bodies were pressed to each other, hearts beating and both sweating. Simon looked down into those ethereal silver eyes who are looking upwards into his and his sentence abruptly ended. The object of his desire was now so close. He could not pull away from those endless depths and neither could she. There was a deeper truth there, one bound to him and him alone. Desire poured from the dark places of her eyes. She would not resist. She wants me. She loves me. Though it fulfilled his every hope and wish, he could not. He had learnt to live with the shame and guilt for coveting the wife of another but now they all returned with a burning vengeance which he could no longer ignore.

Releasing his grip, he pushed her away and turned away, not heeding his discarded gear. The truth is twofold: she loves me but will not risk all or her longing is too great to combat. The former means she’ll let me leave the scene of betrayal unscathed and we can start burying this incident. The latter will destroy everything what we have. Oh Lady fend, please stop this coil of a triangle.
And thus we’ve doomed ourselves.
“Simon? Wait!” Agnés started to run to catch up with Simon.
It’ll grow and become ever more luscious, this forbidden fruit. Temptation has been established and we’re but puppets now in the hands of a cruel and unyielding master. One day we won’t be able to control the beast and we end up killing that what we hold dear.
“Simon, we need to talk.”
“There is nothing to talk about. I have to leave as soon as possible.” He had no other choice but to sacrifice himself for he could not for the world demand Nicolas to do the same otherwise. He just kept on walking as fast as possible without starting to run. Guilt-ridden fear was driving him now.
“Don’t. We’ll find a way, I promise. Don’t leave: I don’t want to lose either of you.” Her beautiful eyes looked pleadingly, on the edge of tears.
“Don’t do this. We’ll both come to regret it before our lives are over.”
“Please, stay... I love you.”
Simon closed his eyes as he muttered a silent reply. And I you. We both burn too bright with passion. Nicolas’ cool wits numbs us: something we both so desperately seek. His blessing to us but a double curse for him. Forgive me, brother.

Last Updated ( Saturday, 31 January 2009 )
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