seven years ago
This was hardly the first time that Sim MacDaer’s recklessness had landed him in hot water. Other men had frequently laid claim to whatever woman Sim was wooing, but one hard stare from Casidhe – still in better physical condition than most, with the fancy, proper blades of a duelist on his belt – was usually enough to send such men back to whatever holes they’d crawled from.
But Irial Braden was angry enough to call for a duel, even once Sim made it clear he’d be fighting Casidhe, not himself.
The crowd made room for them in the middle of the tavern. The girl in question, a brunette named Saraid, stood on the bar so she could see everything. “Kill the bastard!” she shouted to Irial, even though she’d been in Sim’s lap, drinking his wine, not five minutes prior.
Casidhe stretched his limbs and recited his oath to himself, trying to shake some of the alcohol away. He rarely drank to excess in public, since trouble followed Sim like moths follow the moon. Once he felt ready, he turned to face Irial.
His opponent was only a year or two older than him. Stronger, to be sure, but many men were. Once Irial’s sword was in his hand, Casidhe already knew the outcome – this man was no match for him.
“To first blood, then?” Casidhe offered, as if to say “It’s not too late.”
“To the death!” Irial shouted, and the crowd howled. “Kill him!” Saraid yelled again.
“Your funeral,” Casidhe said. No sense in arguing, he thought. Let’s just get this over with.
He drew his sword and dagger in one fluid motion, spinning into his fighting stance. A hush fell over the mob. These clowns have never seen a real duelist. Good thing, too, because I’ve never been in a real duel…
“That’s not fair,” Irial said, with diminished confidence. “Lose the dagger.”
“Get one of your own,” Casidhe said coolly.
That got a laugh. Someone pressed a knife into Irial’s other hand; judging by the shift in his posture, he’d been better off without it.
“I am a licensed duelist, and this a legal duel to the death,” Casidhe lied. These people couldn’t tell the difference, and were too bloodthirsty to ask for any proof. He hated this tavern…
“So witnessed!” shouted Sim.
Casidhe raised his sword’s hilt to his face and whipped the blade through the deadly arc of his salute, raising the point back to readiness. “En garde,” he said.
Irial fumbled his sword through a poor imitation of the salute. This man was drunk and inexperienced, but Casidhe knew not to dismiss his fury or his strength.
As Casidhe expected, Irial came at him with angry, powerful strokes, easily parried or avoided. A duelist’s first order of business was to defend himself, after all. The second part, to claim any opening you could, was entirely too easy with this foe. He thought about stringing him along to wear him out – and with that blonde by the door watching him so intently, the idea was tempting – but Irial was trying to kill him, and that was the kind of thing that should be discouraged.
To the third and last, then. Make every blow hurt like hell.
Irial fell for his feint, and Casidhe swung the basket hilt of his sword right into Irial’s mouth. Blood and sweat sprayed from the man’s face, and he dropped the dagger as he raised his hand to his smashed nose.
Casidhe spun another pirouette back to his fighting stance. “Had enough?” he said.
“Gill you,” Irial mumbled. “Ib gon gill you.” Casidhe wasn’t sure if those teeth had been missing before the blow, but he was definitely missing teeth now.
Irial’s attacks with just the sword were much better, but Casidhe still had little trouble evading them. “Is she worth this?” Casidhe asked. “Is that girl worth dying for?”
It was like fighting a rabid animal, and Casidhe could only see one way out. He turned Irial’s sword aside, leaving him exposed, and ran his dagger right through the man’s chest. Got his heart, Casidhe thought. This is over.
Irial’s sword clattered on the floor, and he fell to his knees, blood streaming from his chest. “Saraid,” he whimpered as he fell. “Saraid…” But the girl was already running for the door, eyes shining with tears, hand clamped over her mouth.
Casidhe crouched for a better look at Irial as the man’s last breath left his body. No one who saw the duel could quite define the look on his face, but “curious” came up more than once.
- – - – -
They relocated to another tavern when the scene calmed down – one with better security.
“You’ve barely touched your drink,” Sim said, having already touched several himself.
“That kid died for nothing.” Casidhe said, trying to see the bottom of his mug. “He loved that girl, and she ran away from him…”
“To the Fade with that idiot.” Sim finished his drink and called for another. “Love’s a fiction, Casidhe – something bards invented to dress up sex. Just like your LaCroix came up with that code to turn stabbing people to death into something less ugly.”
Sim always loved to mock the code, and Casidhe usually let it go. “Irial didn’t seem to feel that way.”
“Sure, and look where it got him! I think it’s telling that you fret over why he died, but haven’t said a word about the fact that you killed him.”
That was true enough. Casidhe had never killed a man before. “I’ve been training to do that my whole life,” he said. “Gotta start somewhere.” Shouldn’t he feel something more?
Sim scooted his chair closer to Casidhe’s, close enough for the duelist to smell his beery breath. “Look at this man!” he shouted, throwing his arm around Casidhe. “Nerves of steel! It’s us against the world, Cas. You an’ me against the world.”
Casidhe shook his head. “No, no, no. Just because I haven’t met the right girl doesn’t mean I’ll stand by you when the world ends.”
A barmaid brought Sim’s drink, and he spanked her as she tried to slip away. “What girl, Casidhe? You’re gonna let some make-believe girl come between us? After everything I just told you?”
“I’m just saying. If someone falls in love with me, I’m going for it.”
“I thought your father fell for your mother and ended up getting his heart ripped out.”
“That’s him,” Casidhe said, trying to keep his dream from crumbling under such heavy precedent. “I’m me.”
“So would you die for love? Like that imbecile did tonight?” Sim’s voice was pitching up, and he waved off Casidhe’s attempt to interrupt. “If your precious love was on the line – and putting your life on the line was the only way you could save it – would you?”
“Yes.” Casidhe had spoken the word before thinking it through. Not every such situation would be a duel, after all…
Sim scoffed. “You would die. DIE. For a woman.”
But he knew it was the only answer he could give. “Yes.”
“Y0u’re an idiot, then.” Sim finished his drink, and got to his feet, unsteady. “I’m off to the privy. You’d better have a different answer when I get back.”
Casidhe waved a lazy goodbye, taking a tentative sip of his beer as Sim vanished into the crowd. Casidhe felt the way he did, and that was that. If Sim didn’t agree, that was too bad for Sim…
“I’ve been looking all over for you,” a girl said. Casidhe turned to see the blonde from the other tavern, the one who’d been watching him so carefully.
“I’m right here.” Casidhe spread his arms, in case she couldn’t see that.
“Thank the Maker.” She walked behind his chair and ran her hands down his chest.
“So what do you plan to do, now that you’ve found me?”
“Come with me, and I’ll show you.”
By the time Sim returned to the table, Casidhe was gone.