Eight years ago
Casidhe’s sword slipped from his sweaty fingers as he landed on his backside. No amount of air could soothe his burning lungs; muscles ached that he’d never even felt before. And his head still rang from the night before…
“You used to be so much better at this,” said Brandeouf, looking down at him. “How sad to think that you hit your peak at the age of ten.”
“Sod off,” Casidhe growled, struggling to regain his feet – he knew better than to ask his father for help. He never would have dared to address his father in such a manner at that age, either. “There’s more to my life than this now.”
“Oh yes. Why learn a trade when you’ve got Sim to take you out drinking and whoring every night?”
“He’s a better friend to me than you ever were.”
“You’re damned right. I’m your father, not your friend.” Brandeouf snapped his sword and dagger back into their sheaths. “But you know, my own father died before I was born. And I never thought I’d be a father myself… so I’ve raised you the only way I’ve known, to be like me. But you’re almost a man, now, and I can’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do.”
“What’re you saying?” Casidhe had never seen his father act like this before.
“I’m saying that you’re free. I’ll continue to train you, if you want, but only if it’s something you truly want to do. If you’d rather live in the sewers, I won’t stop you. I only ask that you pay heed to one last lesson.”
Where was he going with this? Casidhe wondered. He stumbled his way into a chair, watching as Brandeouf searched for the right words.
“Being a duelist,” said Brandeouf, “isn’t about fighting. It’s about the code. It’s about wanting to be more than you are, being part of something bigger than yourself. Our ideals are what elevate us from every thug with a blade on those streets.”
“You’ve told me this before,” Casidhe said, matter-of-factly.
“Yes, but you need to know why. Someday, Maker willing, you’ll be a man. And you’ll face decisions that are harder than anything you’ve ever faced before. What’s important to me is that you do the right thing. Not what I’d tell you to do, not what Sim thinks you should do, or what you think will impress some girl… not what’s easy. You’ll have to listen to your head, and your heart, and decide what’s right.”
“And the code says what’s right.”
“It’s as good a way to live as any.”
Casidhe leaned forward in his chair. “The code that says to offer mercy when it’s asked for, even when you know the bastard will stab you in the back as soon as you’ve turned it.”
Brandeouf nodded. “That’s always a risk. But sometimes, your example can – “
“Are we done here?” Casidhe stood up, legs uncertain, and headed for the door.
“Off with Sim again, I’m sure. I pity poor Islene, how she must weep to look down on what’s become of her son.”
Casidhe froze. He could count the number of times Brandeouf had mentioned his late wife on one hand. His father, seeing that his words had hit home, said “Begone,” and Casidhe left the room.
- – - – -
Casidhe woke up the next day with no idea where he was or any memory of arriving there. His first thought was of his mother; he’d failed to kill the pain with drink.
It was the first attempt of what would be many.