Garret Cain gazed out his window from high in the towers of the High Robes' keep onto the market square of West Hold. It was mid spring and the trade winds from the west had brought ships from the Homeland laden with goods to be bartered and sold. People bustled to and fro amongst the various stalls and wagons buying everything from early summer produce to exquisite Olgothian rugs to silks and fireworks from the Rasheen islands.
The activity in the market wasn't what held his attention, however. Across the square was a one story, wooden building that stretched almost the entire length of the marketplace on one side. The great open yard behind the structure was easily visible from Garret's private chambers high above the street.
Men in armor stood in a wide semicircle around a platform in the middle of the yard. Cain reached into his robes and withdrew a small pair of looking lenses that he often used at the theatre. He could just as easily view the event with a spell made for scrying, but he had been busy all morning with his work, and didn't feel like exerting himself.
As he peered through the lenses, the markings on the banner waving in the breeze atop the building were made clear; an orange and red sword thrust through a yellow sun on a field of white; the banner of the Guild of the Blade of the Sun, a mercenary company more commonly known as the Sunblades.
The Sunblade guild in West Hold was currently run by a stalwart and skilled man by the name of Norhamn Harbind. A widower of many years, and a veteran of just as many battles, Master Harbind had raised within the guild two sons; one was a handsome, dark-haired youth of his own sire, the other a fair-haired, square-jawed lad who had been adopted as a foundling when still a babe.
Today, a crowd had gathered in the main yard of the guild, where the men usually practiced at weapons and wrestling. Upon the canvas covered platform the sons of Harbind dueled.
Garret Cain smiled as he began to watch. Yes, today would be the day. Finally, years of planting and plotting would offer up fruit. "Pride is both your strength and your weakness, young Harbind." he chortled to himself.
Sivand parried yet another blow from Alaster and gave ground to catch his breath. Alaster circled him warily now; his opponent's sudden retreat was not seen as a weakness, which was wise for it wasn't. The brothers were often lauded as the two finest swordsmen in the guild, aside from the Master-at-Arms, Gerald LeCorbin, and Guildmaster Harbind himself. Sivand took a deep breath, and after flipping a golden ponytail off his shoulder, recentered himself and prepared for the next attack.
He almost missed it.
If not for his own training, it would have appeared that his opponent's blade had flowed to his off-hand by magic and was coming down on his blind side. He knew that no sorcery was involved, however. His brother had simply shifted his grip to its reverse while seeming to lean forward on the lead foot needed for the obvious attack; a simple feint, but done so skillfully that Sivand only had moments to react.
Letting his weight shift left, Sivand dropped to one knee and leaned. The wooden sword flew by his right ear, just barely clipping it. Alaster realized that his strike had missed and began to draw back, but Sivand had already shifted his weight again, this time to roll forward underneath the retreating blade.
In what seemed like one choreographed motion, Sivand planted his feet and rose straight up into his opponent, blade point leading while Alaster released the wooden bastard sword he held and twisted sharply to the side.
The tip of Sivand's own bastard caught one of the rough wooden buttons on Alaster's training tunic, popping it clean off. As Alaster hit the ground, he extended his left arm, caught the handle of his own blade near the hilt and swung in a wild arc at Sivand.
Sivand's eyes widened for a moment at the surprise reversal, but the crazy misaimed swing was easy to avoid by a quick step back. Meanwhile the momentum of the slash helped Alaster to roll to his feet again.
It had all taken but a second and a half.
The two swordsmen faced each other, breathing quickly through their noses as they sized each other up for the next assault.
The crowd watching them roared and cheered even louder than they had been. The bruised ear and missing button were the only blows that had even come close to hitting thus far, and the match was already one of the longest in the history of the school.
"You almost had me there you brown-haired devil." Sivand said between breaths.
"Aye, but you move like an eel you slippery wretch." replied Alaster.
Sivand sighed. Alaster had been acting strange lately, even to the point of challenging him to this duel. It was all silliness, but Sivand was honor bound to accept the challenge. Perhaps Alaster thought he had something he needed to prove. Sivand flexed his sword arm and repositioned his feet. "I just wish he hadn't picked me to prove it on." he thought to himself, then out loud to Alaster: "It's not my fault that I'm faster than you." Sivand mouthed the words 'too slow' silently at his brother.
Alaster seethed and forced himself to smile. "Well, least wise I shave like a civilized man."
Sivand stroked his chin with his off-hand and let his sword drop. "What? Did I forget again? I'd hate to be seen in pub..."
Alaster lashed out, but Sivand easily brought his lathe sword back up to stop the blow, laughing as he did. "Fooled you, brother." he chided.
Alaster recoiled and repositioned himself, "Bastard..."
"Yeah, so?" Sivand said with a small grin
"Can't you take anything seriously?" demanded Alaster.
Sivand whirled his blade around and took up a one-handed stance. "Sure I can," he said solemnly "Gunson had better not over cook the stew tonight or I'll throttle him good."
Gunson, the guild's head cook, had never overcooked a thing in his life.
"I'm not talking about your stomach you shaggy, ill-mannered, brute!" Alaster roared.
"But I'm being serious."
"You're a dolt."
Alaster gripped his blade with both hands and launched another attack. Sivand grinned as he blocked the blow and its reversal, then let out a yelp as his feet disappeared from beneath him. He struck the canvas covered boards with a heavy thud, and when he opened his eyes again, he was looking upside-down at the Quartermaster, Beran Tew, standing next to the Master at Arms and his father. Master Harbind gave a grunt, and the Quartermaster frowned at him. "Hallo there Master LeCorbin, Tew, Da....."
"Quit clowning you fool boy and pay attention to the duel." growled the Master at Arms.
Alaster had regained his balance from the foot sweep and swung down at Sivand. Turning his attention back to the fight, Sivand palmed the flat of his blade with his off hand and blocked the strike with both arms, then rolled to the side and tried to regain his feet, but Alaster was already on top of him raining down blows. Sivand parried as best he could from his kneeling position, and finally gained an opening. Stretching out and down he swung hard at Alaster's feet.
The blow never landed. Alaster deftly did a back handspring; launching back up by using just his off hand so that he would not cut himself had it been a real blade. Sivand had never tried very hard at the acrobatics Master LeCorbin tried to teach him because he thought they were useless. He decided to change his opinion.
"I have no idea why you wanted to challenge me." Sivand said while panting "But enough is enough. Let's call this silly thing quits, eh?"
"Coward!" Alaster cried. "I haven't lost yet. You haven't beaten me! I won't be beaten!"
Sivand barely had enough time to bring his defense back up as Alaster charged him again. For a while more the two were a whirlwind of strikes and counter-strikes, parries and dodges. The crowd stood awed and cheered like thunder when one seemed to gain the upper hand.
Then, just as suddenly, it was over. A fake attack by Sivand allowed him to get the blade of his sword between Alaster's hands and the quillions of his weapon. A twist of the arm and a jerk away, and Alaster's sword tumbled through the air and landed with a clatter on the platform behind Sivand. The crowd was silent.
Sivand lowered his sword at Alaster. "There now, I win again. Shall we stop acting foolish and go eat, brother?"
Alaster clenched his fists and squeezed his eyes shut to block back tears. Beaten again!
Sivand frowned. "Come now Alaster, it's been this way since we first began sparring. Maybe you could beat me if you had a sword in each hand." he tried to put some humor in his voice to sooth his petulant sibling's feelings.
Sivand held out his sword hand and spoke the ritual saying: "Suldin era Darim". Peace unto my brother.
Alaster opened his eyes again and glared at Sivand with hatred that almost made him flinch. The crowd was muttering in low whispers now. He took a step forward and extended his own arm, but instead of clasping his brother's forearm, he slapped it away. "Ja-Suldin son nax!" he said, spitting on the platform.
No peace until death.
Watchers in the crowd gasped. Shouts and cries of "Blood Duel!" and "Arms!" rang here and there through the crowd.
Sivand stepped back, shocked. Alaster wanted to call a Blood Feud? Over this? Now he knew his brother was mad. The shouting added to his confusion and his head swam as he tried to grasp what was happening. Something bumped his foot. Looking down he saw a sword in a scabbard that someone had slid across the platform to him. Looking up again he saw that Alaster already had a blade and was waiting for him to pick up his.
Sivand slowly reached down and picked up the sheath, but did not draw the weapon. "Alaster, wait a moment, are you sure abo..." he began.
Alaster lashed out with his weapon, the cold blade whistling hairs from Sivand's nose. "Defend yourself, or I'll cut you down where you stand!" he roared.
Sivand took another step back, but did not draw the sword. He didn't want to fight his brother like this! What in blazes was going on? Sivand's head felt like it was being hammered on by a dwarf with a cording mallet.
Alaster began to move forward again. The pounding grew worse. Slowly, Sivand began to reach for the handle of the sword.
The words broke through the clamor like a wedge. Silence fell. Master Harbind stepped forward to the edge of the platform. "That is enough, both of you. There will be no blood of my kin spilt here today!"
Alaster eyed his father warily, but did not lower his sword. Sivand removed his hand from the blade's handle, but did not drop his weapon either.
The Quartermaster hurried forward to the platform. "Your father is right, lads. Now stop this foolishness and come off of there!"
"No, Tew." Master Harbind said. "The words have been said and there is no taking them back. I have no vision as to why my sons have decided to be enemies, but there will be no killing today." His voice was low and filled with something heavy that Sivand couldn't quite place. Duty? Sorrow? Disappointment? All three? Sivand didn't know and didn't care, all he knew was that he and Alaster weren't going to kill each other; at least, not yet.
Master Harbind turned to face Sivand directly. "It's is now your right, Sivand, to either accept the challenge or leave the field. But mind me, accept or not, there will be no bloodshed today."
The words sparked something in Sivand. Leave the field. If he left without accepting the challenge, then Alaster would win by default...but he would not have to fight him either. The duel would be ended, but Sivand would have to leave the guild and maybe even West Hold. Exile. It took him but a moment to decide.
"I decline." Sivand said. "And I leave the field to my brother."
The crowd stirred again. The victor was now in retreat, without so much as a scuff! The speculation and rumors about what happened here today would send ripples through the community for months. Sivand noticed the mutterings. All the more reason for him to leave before there was trouble.
Quietly, Sivand stepped down off the platform and handed the sheathed blade to the Quartermaster. Then, with a glance at his father, he made his way through the crowd and back to the barracks.
Alaster stood alone on the platform, wooden sword at his feet, steel one in hand, burning up with frustration. He would show them. He would show them all.
Garret Cain laughed as he lowered his lens. This was working even better than he thought. The bastard child would now have to leave, and his sacrificial lamb was still alive. If he proceeded carefully, this might just nurture his plans into fruition faster.
Stepping away from the window, Cain carelessly tossed his lens onto the table in the middle of the room and hurried to the door, nearly tripping over his own black robes. There was much to be done, and he needed to move quickly.
Some notes: Internet HTML formating makes it impossible for me to display the text as it would normally appear on a page (i.e. indented paragraphs, single spaced) so it looks somewhat disjointed. Those of you used to reading internet fanfiction will be untroubled by this, for the rest, I apologize. Until I have my own website with the right java applets, this is the best I can do. Spaces between text indicate paragraph breaks.