Wrapped and wound like a winter scarf he keeps his thoughts to himself, concealed behind eyes that reveal nothing.
Words turned and twisted out of shape still hang in the air between us. Stupid, thoughtless words but my manly pride would be wounded to unsay them. And now that the deed is done how can they be recalled?
It doesn’t matter anyway, he’s gone. Coat buttoned up as tight as his feelings, feet heavily shod to slip and slide on mud and splash through shallow puddles. The rain is getting heavier.
I drift around the house, absently touching things; mementoes and such. All precious reminders until I shut them out, burn them away from my brain in a fit of pique. How dare they intrude their memories! I’ll get rid of them, throw them out with the rubbish. Clear the house of everything that shouts of him … us … whatever.
The frenzy lasts for hours. Everything goes – a spring clean in the middle of winter, until I lay exhausted on the bed and wonder why I’m crying. His smell, his essence, lingers. The scent of sweat and semen clinging to the linen and pervading the air. I’ll strip the bed tomorrow, when I have the energy to move again.
Morning and the sun has forced its way through the clouds. Its beam sends shafts of light into the bedroom, piecing my eyelids and making my eyes ache. I look around the room, at the devastation, the nearly empty wardrobe with its door hanging open and the racks almost bare. I cringe at what I’ve done.
It’s not too late, is it?
The phone is near and I close my eyes and hold it tight as I dial. He answers on the third ring, his voice distant, inflexible.
All I can think to say is, “I’m sorry.” I know it's not enough. And then I wait.
Captain Rupert Meredith studied the brace of pistols laid out in plush elegance in the satin lined case. Caton, Lord Fornley’s man, held the case open with steady hands, allowing Rupert and his fellow Captain, Martin Quest, Rupert’s best friend and second, the opportunity to examine the pistols. Martin reached in and withdrew first one, then the other, checking them over carefully.
“They are fully loaded and ready to be used.” Caton’s voice was grave, as befitted the occasion.
The young Lord Fornley stood some distance away, his own second next to him. Dr Scott, summoned to attend the confrontation and give aid where needed, waited by a grassy knoll, watching the proceedings with a slightly nervous air.
“You are a fool to carry this through Rupert,” Martin said as he handed one of the pistols to his friend.
Rupert waited until Caton had headed towards Lord Fornley to deliver the remaining pistol before replying.
“What choice do I have? The young fool has just come into his inheritance, he has something to prove, as much to himself as anyone else. Curse rather his stupidity in issuing the challenge in the first place, egged on by that shrew of a sister.”
“What did you do to her to cause Fornley to throw the glove at your feet?”
Rupert shook his head. “Nothing! The chit pursued me to distraction, then was put out because I paid her no attention and sought retribution by saying I had trifled with her affections.”
“Could you do nothing to dissuade her?”
“What? And risk letting it be known my interests lay elsewhere? I think not.”
“You duel to the death. You know what that means, whoever is the winner could be called before the Courts for murder.”
“And those who have assisted can be indicted too. We are all in danger of prosecution Martin, no matter what happens. It can only be hoped we both miss and Fornley accepts satisfaction.” Even as he said the words Rupert doubted the brash young man would be content unless blood was spilled, preferably Rupert’s of course.
He could see Lord Fornley’s second checking the remaining pistol, there was not a lot of time left. Laying a hand on Martin’s arm he drew close for a moment.
“My affairs are in order, Martin. Whatever happens, I rely on you to see my wishes are carried out and ensure Bastian does not suffer for this.”
Martin nodded, “Of course Ru. Aim well my friend.”
Removing his coat and handing it to Martin, Rupert was assailed by the scent of his lover on the shirt he wore. Why had he chosen to claim the garment from the pile of clothes discarded in such haste the night before? A token perhaps, as knights would accept a favour from their ladies before a joust, a favour that Bastian had no idea he had granted or even that one was needed.
It brought him some comfort now, to feel the linen close to his skin, remember the touch of his lover in the early hours of the morning when he had left their bed to dress for his assignation with a brace of pistols.
“Why are you about, so early in the day, Ru?” Bastian’s voice had been petulant, aggrieved that Rupert was ignoring the stroking hands and explicit invitation to return under the covers for more exploration and indulgent lovemaking.
Rupert’s gaze had travelled from the half lidded eyes to where the turned back bedclothes exposed the long lines of the roused, waiting body. Bastian’s pose was the picture of debauchery; deliberately enticing and provocative, his smile seductive. Rupert could easily have given in to the temptation to forget all and return to that perfection, shutting out an unforgiving world.
Instead he pulled his gaze away and finished dressing. “I have an appointment with Lord Fornley that cannot be broken. I will return shortly so wait for me here. I have given Jacobs the day off, no one will disturb you.” Or find you in my bed was his silent thought.
Finally, composed and fully dressed he returned to the bed and kissed the full red lips then withdrew quickly, before Bastian could pull him close.
Reaching the door he turned for a final look. “If I am delayed Martin will attend you. Trust everything he tells you.”
Bastian’s voice followed him as he had hurried down the stairs and out onto the street. “Ru… wait, what’s going on?” But he had ignored the entreaty and was gone.
Rupert could feel the cold seeping into his body as he stood stock-still, back-to-back with his opponent, pistol raised in his right hand. The wind moved restlessly through the trees and the early morning sun brought little warmth.
“You know the rules gentleman. I shall count out twelve paces and on the twelfth you will both turn and fire. Should neither shot find its mark you are at liberty to fire again,” Caton paused before continuing with the count.
Rupert obediently took a step forward. The next step was just as easy and Rupert didn’t hesitate, consigning his fate to the lap of the Gods. Was this the price of their temptation? The penalty of forbidden love? If it were he would gladly pay it for the time he and Bastian had held together.
The paces went quickly after that and as Caton’s voice intoned “Twelve” in final ringing clarity Rupert turned, his finger tight on the trigger. He heard two shots ring out, so near to each other they could be one. He conjured the face of his lover and could almost think he heard Bastian call his name, the voice taunt and full of horror. He felt sharp, hideous pain and saw a cloudless blue sky.
Then there was nothing.