The Last Fight: a short story from Ragaris
Gormad fell in like with Yairil as he watched her swordpractice: by turns fierce and cheerfully rueful. A few days later, he noticed the way her nose wrinkled when she laughed at his jokes, and “like” burst into “love.”
Three weeks on, he was standing under the oak tree in Lefthand Alley, his arms tightly around her, and his mouth welded to hers, unable to think of anything except that he was the happiest man in Marod.
“Tonight?” she breathed when their faces pulled apart, eyes still clinging.
“Come up the back stair a little after the beginning of chapel. Let them get started – “and she laughed quietly, joyously.
That afternoon he had an errand, riding out with a friend, and when they came back he said, “I’ll put up both horses. You go in to supper,” purely to have time alone to gloat and tremble and look forward. He sent the stable-boy out, watered the two horses and rubbed them down; and then started to brush – smooth, strong, delighted strokes on Raven’s dark flank.
Behind him the door opened, and he glanced up to see Dorac.
“Greetings, sir, in God’s name.”
After ten years, Gormad thought he knew all the grunts, but this one puzzled him. It wasn’t happy, or sad, not bored or angry. It was – if anything it was uncertain, and that wasn’t like Dorac. So he paused with his hand half-through a stroke, and looked over.
Dorac was standing in the stable’s centre, between stalls. Light from the lantern on the stool shone upwards, illuminating his knees more than his face.
“There is talk,” he said, and stopped. Then, “There are whispers about you and Yairil Kingsister.”
The sound of her name flooded Gormad’s face with heat and joy, and he couldn’t prevent a grin. But his fingers and toes were abruptly cold. He turned away to hang the brush by its loop on a peg, wondering what –
When he looked round, the older man was staring at him without expression. Slowly he said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
Gormad felt several different emotions, and the greatest one was annoyance. But he’d obeyed and respected this man for a long time, and it took courage to say, “I’m not your squire any more.”
“No. Then what are you? My brother, my friend? It makes no difference.”
“I think it does. I love her.”
“That also makes no difference.”
“I love her and she loves me. She’s not happy – you don’t even like Aros!” he ended.
Fury sparked in Dorac’s eyes. “How dare you –” Visibly he mastered himself, and said coldly, “No one likes Aros. Does that give you the right to fuck his wife? Does it give her the right -”
“That is not your concern,” said Gormad, deliberately echoing words he knew so well.
“I am making it my concern. Promise me you won’t see her again.”
“Or I will make you.”
You are a stupid old man who’s never known love, Gormad thought. He took two steps forward, and said, “Leave us alone.”
Dorac hit him hard on the jaw, and he staggered backwards.
His love and his fury rose up together; his hopes for tonight, and his memories of all the times – so many – he’d wanted to hit this man. With red joy he flung himself into the fight.
It was a furious and glorious battle, but it didn’t last long. Dorac was heavier, and had years of skill and training, but he was fifty years old. Gormad was also well-trained, fast and skilled, and at the peak of his strength. He laid his former master on his back with a bleeding face, and Dorac got up and charged him again, and again was knocked down.
“It is not your concern,” said Gormad, and he turned and walked out of the stable in triumph and glory.
The triumph lasted perhaps a dozen paces. It wasn’t possible. The man who had guided and taught him; the man he’d reverenced and resented and loved and honoured – He saw Dorac sprawled on the straw, beaten and gasping; and the memory hurt more than he could bear.
He pictured the older man dragging himself up, wiping blood from his face; and moving to quiet and soothe the animals, who wouldn’t have liked – hadn’t liked – the violence. Gormad knew that was what he was doing.
“The fool, the fool,” he thought angrily. “Why did he have to make me – doesn’t he know I’m stronger?”
He went on walking, but he was suddenly cold. Of course Dorac had known. He had known what to expect, exactly how humiliated he was about to be – but still he he’d started the fight.
Because thou shalt not commit adultery.
The sky was darkening about him as he walked on almost at random, and so no one saw the tears pouring down his face.
That night he sought a private audience with the King, and begged to be sent away – somewhere, anywhere, so long as it was now. King Arrion raised an brow above the eyes that saw more than Gormad liked, and nodded.
Yairil received a handwritten message: “We cannot do this. Forgive me.” She wept and raged, and never did forgive him.
It was two months later that Dorac’s legs were injured in a marketplace riot, and he had to retire to his estate at Valleroc. He never came back to Stonehill. Before he left, he witnessed one last ceremony in the White Hall, one last Oath of the Thirty.
On that day his former squire became Gormad Kingsbrother, and the legends of Gormad the Lucky began.
Love from the PPI Blogger
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