"Misfortune follows those who dare wield the weapon of another."
-- A proverb of Old Gyersheld
The bedroom was dark, lit only by a few candles. The window had its shutters closed in the seeking of privacy. There was one bed, of a modest width yet long length. The glossy headboard was carved ornately with a road over a hill upon which horses pulled a tarped caravan. Below each bedpost, at the front and back of the caravan, a knight was carved. Below the caravan's wheels and the scratchy carvings depicting grass, there was an unpainted crest of a far more simple caravan above the pillow.
And upon one bedpost, rested a padded iron bascinet with its visor detached. An even mix of gold and copper lined its edges.
She had him backed into a corner, his head leaning back with a sigh. Blond hairs rested smoothly upon his upper back.
After debriefing, it is nice to see a kind and familiar face, he thought.
Her hands were on his hips. He knew their touch to be both callous, soft and nimble. It was the latter that helped her now as she pried at the chains and lacing.
"We do not have much time, Fen," she told him.
"Hurry, then, and make it quick." Should I tell her I have challenged her uncle to a duel?
Around his waist, she unclipped and untucked the blue silk cover of his lamellar that bore the golden caravan of Leignmark upon it. Beneath, lacquered leather scales shone in the candlelight.
As she stood, lifting it over his head, he began untying the clasps along the sides of his chest that connected the back of his lamellar to the front.
As the young woman moved, her sunkissed brown hair swayed in a tightly bound ponytail. She hastily folded the silk cover and placed it upon his bedside near the hardened leather arm bracers and softer leather sleeves that had been detached earlier.
I see beauty, I know it to be beauty; yet why does it not allure me?
Then, she took the armour from him and lay it down upon the feather mattress. Shortly thereafter, his sweaty undershirt was thrown down upon it in disarray, which brought musky pheromones to her senses.
Their eyes met, and a stillness eclipsed their urgency. Desperately, Fen broke the silence, "I am to duel your uncle, for I spat upon his boots."
She smiled uncomfortably, "I pray that you bring shame to my house, my dear cousin, and thus more sensibility to Lord Richten. Nepotism does not become my father. However, I beg you, do not bring death to Sir Reubalt Richten, loathsome as he may be."
"I shall fight with honour, Mordeina, for I hear greater cruelty from that man than that which met my ears prior to our meeting," Fen told his cousin as he unclipped his sheath from his belt and leaned it precariously against the foot of his bed.
She approached him once more, and he shrank into the dark corner of the room with his immodestly muscular chest exposed.
Footsteps could be heard in the hallway behind the latched bedroom door.
"You must do this for me, Fen," Mordeina told him. "There are answers I must seek."
There are unsought answers I have been given, he thought as he remembered the last time, a year ago when he began his final year at the Gyerblade Academy, when Mordeina had backed him into the very same corner.
As her hands assisted him in removing the iron plating and hardened leather joints from around his leggings, memory washed through his mind.
* * *
Her hands were nervous enough that her nails dug into my flesh, and I enjoyed that sensation. Alongside her tender touch, it was such a thrilling contrast. And then to feel my undergarments removed, while my hands ran through her hair, I felt under a spell.
Her blue eyes looked up at mine, the only Leignmark feature that seemed to run with prominence in her blood. Like wishing wells, they were a blue of shallow depth speckled with gold and silver specks, wrought of white marble veined with a subtle red.
It seemed as if I was tossing into each a black, obsidian coin, as her pupils dilated. Such wealth only a Leignmark could often spend. Greater are our coffers than the Royal House Gyera, or the distant dynasty of Heirunne.
Fingers entered amidst sweat between padded leggings and gold haired skin. They fell away to expose all of me that was erstwhile unknown.
And as she took to my pleasuring with tongue, lips and fingers; I was met with a sense of wrongdoing. Not out of admonishments of the Hyiier, for they did not concern me. Rather, it was something I know not.
Much like now, I looked down and saw beauty, knew it to be beauty and yet was not allured. This was beauty not only of body but of mind, heart and soul as best I could reckon.
Intuition screamed. My senses became numb to pleasure just as my mind was numb to love her. And so I fell while I stood, and retreated without moving.
I don't remember what I had wished for in those eyes.
Those wishful eyes, those wishing wells, looked up at me with emptyness, glossed over by tears. She saw mine and I saw hers. And in the dim light, we both came to one conclusion.
"I-I know n-not why..." escaped my lips with lilt and longing.
She stood and brought a finger to my lips, "Hush, dear cousin. Your heart already knows me as friend and not lover." She paused, then, and waited with her finger upon my lips and her eyes holding and held in mine. And finally she realized, "We think not alike."
And that was a much kinder way that anyone had ever said it, far better than the cruel words and weapons of my pupils at the academy. They knew things about me that I had not admitted to and accepted as myself.
For her grace and candour at that time, I owe with debt the favour that I do Mordeina now.
* * *
His breathing was tight. His bloodflow was restricted. His whole body felt uncomfortable.
She backed away and looked him up and down, "So long as you keep your hair tucked inside the helmet, nobody will know you're not me."
Fen Leignmark now stood in the sacred armour of a Guardmaiden of Hyii. Unlike his own hauberk and platemail, every curve of the breastplated haubergeon was designed to accentuate femininity rather than to intimidate with elegant serration.
"Sapphire nipples? Seriously?"
"Yes, Fen," Mordeina said with a roll of her eyes and a faint grin.
"And what do you plan to do while I take your shift? Has some strapping young man been courting you?"
"Alas, a warrior woman such as I seldomly attracts men of calibre. They prefer the more fragile and delicate ladies of Gyersheld."
I wouldn't mind a woman of equal strength... Fen hypothesised, if I wouldn't mind a woman. "Hmmm..."
"Take my spear. You will need it to block entry. However, if you are superstitious and conflict arises, you will draw your own blade from my scabbard."
Fen nodded as he switched the two iron shortswords.
"If you must speak, drink enough water to support your falsetto. Through the helmet, your immitation will sufficively pass as my voice," Mordeina advised him. "The roster says I am... err.. you are... paired with Leena, for a half-shift on the prince's guard and then a half-shift on the queen's guard. Normally, I would have a full shift guarding the prince and his quarters, however things have changed in light of the attempt on Queen Prislene's life."
"Do I have to worry about Leena?" he asked her, speaking through the metal veil of a visor in a way that deceived even his own ears.
"Leena won't socialize, she's rather stoic. If she does, make small-talk."
Again, Fen nodded. "Anything else I should know?"
"I don't think so. Just don't get either one of us reprimanded," she said before pausing thoughtfully and tucking a strand of brown hair behind her left ear. "If I don't re-- oh, nevermind."
"If you don't what?"
"It's nothing," she said. "I'll be fine."
"By Hyii, I pray you make no extemporary pursuit. Did you put as much thought into what you're doing as you did into what I am to do for you?"
She stared at him blankly for a moment and then said something in a voice that sounded pained, "Press me further for information regarding what I must do, and you will be putting a life at risk."
"Are you threatening me?" he asked with morbid curiosity.
"I can't answer that," she told him. "Now, if you'll excuse me both, I believe I have two different places to be at once quite soon."
Fen walked to the door and unlatched it. "As you shall. Now, which way are you headed?"
"I cannot say."
"Which way are you not headed?" he asked, then patted the stomach of the armour he was wearing which was covered in the crossed swords of House Richten's crest. "You're hungry, Mordeina, and you wouldn't mind a snack to eat midshift."
"Heh, fine then, Fen. I won't be headed by the bakery on Theignway Lane. I suggest you take that road as part of your route towards the palace. It is below the dignity of a Guardmaiden to walk lesser streets between here and there."
"Or to be seen near a tavern," he grumbled as he opened the door.
"Is it really so tight that you need a drink?"
Fen tossed his glance from side to side dramatically, then spoke with false reluctance, "No."
"Good. That's the Fen I know," simmered Mordeina Richten.
He detected a bitterness in her voice. And later, as he watched her leave Leignmanor, Fen recalled that all Guardmaidens of Hyii swore a magic oath that sealed a conditional death. Upon revealing secrets overheard from ritual palace guard duty, she who spoke would drop dead and be marked with a stigmata of blood upon her forehead. And so he reckoned, then, that he would have to listen intently if he wanted to glean so much as a hint regarding what she might be up to. And he would not be bound to silence by an oath he had not sworn.
Thus, Fen Leignmark took up the semblance of a woman, the silver spear of a Guardmaiden and the shield marked with the pale yellow sun they call Hyii. Exiting through a secret passage, the fake Guardmaiden left Leignmanor through a floor tile in a shadowed corner of an alley of its public courtyard. After hoisting himself out, he dropped it into place and then slid it into a locked position.