Guite was standing across from Yepnen. He still could not supress the feeling of unease he had. He was holding a sword, but it didn’t seem we has proficient with it. In contrast to that, Yepnen’s posture was natural. Boris had seen his brother duel with sons of the neighboring lands a couple of times. Usually, they didn’t fight to kill and be killed. It was just like a sword competition, and most of the time it was ended after one or the other side was wounded. He knew Yepnen dueled. He just never saw him up close. A few steps’ distance away, Yepnen and his cold, blue eyes were quite different from the usually warmth of them. It was almost hard to believe it was the same person.
Yepnen said curtly,
“Draw your sword.”
With Guite’s draw, Yepnen simultaneously moved the hand holding his own sword. When Winterer’s blade came out, everyone was shocked, the witnesses included. Some people in the midst of them whispered to each other.
“Look at that white blade … It’s not a usual sword.”
“I wonder what that is. Anyone know about it?”
The sun was to the west, and its reddish light was on the backyard. The onlookers’ faces were colored red, like they were all drunk. In the midst of that, the white aura of Winterer gave a chilly sense of a piece of ice being thrust into their chest.
One man remarked in a low voice,
“They say that there’s a sword called the winter blade …”
Just then, the two duelers ran to the center of the yard. They then proceeded to guard against each other. Winterer started to burn like the red sun.
The first to attack was Guite: like any other novice swordsman, he thought that a preemptive attack was optimal. But as soon as his sword brushed Winterer, he understood that this fight was on a wrong footing from the start.
He could not apply his strength for long enough. The thin, young Yepnen’s arm strength was much more than Guite’s, even though he was able to go without starving purely by his fists. Winterer had magical beauty, and devilish sharpness. Guite quickly retreated after he saw the tip of his blade being sliced off.
It was Yepnen’s turn next. He closed to range in two strides and diagonally struck the apprehensively shivering sword. The blades skidded off each other. Guite’s sword vibrated with a metallic friction sound, then let out a clear peal. No-one knew what it was, because only the wielder of Winterer could know.
Guite seemingly popped a vein and blocked two consecutive blows with his best skill. And it ended there.
“What in the…”
Not only Guite, but most of the people around him exclaimed in shock. Guite’s sword shattered and fell to the ground in a shower of pieces. It was not two or three shards either. It was something that could never be done with a sword of iron or steel. What was that white blade?
The situation was obvious to Guite now. He didn’t hesitate and dropped to the ground as he saw Yepnen’s Winterer sweep in for a stab. He smacked the ground with his forehead and started rubbing his hands together.
“P-Please, don’t kill … me… mercy …”
No more worrying about keeping his face, when his life was in jeopardy. Yepnen stopped his sword, pointing straight at Guite’s neck.
“Do you capitulate?”
“Yes, yes, sir, of course sir.”
Yepnen replied in a cold voice,
“Do you remember the promise you made with me?”
That was a terrible thing, but better than dying. Guite nodded after a short pause, quivering .
The sun dipped under the horizon. The inn started to hang up lamps, and Yepnen lead Guite into the inn at sword-point.
Boris followed his brother in. He didn’t get to match eyes with Yepnen, and he was nervous. Would Yepnen really feed all of the soup to that man? If it was the usual Yepnen, he wouldn’t … but Yepnen also ate that soup just now.
The people around them could not take their eyes off Winterer. Speaking softly enough that Yepnen could barely hear them, they exchanged short words. Winterer was again letting off a white glow, like it was newly cleansed.
Guite sat at the table, and Yepnen kept his sword on Guite’s back, standing. He ordered,
Guite raised his spoon. It was visibly shaking. During that time, multiple grubs had crawled out of the bowl onto the table. There was less grubs than at the start, but the sight of them crawling out was even more disgusting. Guite was already choking like he was going to throw up before he took a single spoon.
Yepnen spoke again.
“I am not saying it twice.”
Boris’s voice was quavering, but Yepnen didn’t even spare him a glance. He was expressionless. Yepnen was not the older brother that always smiled at him brightly right now.
One by one, the watchers turned their sight away, because they did not want to see either eventual result. But for some reason, no-one actually left. Guite dipped his spoon into the bowl with a weak hand. Slowly, his shoulder started shivering too. He ate.
Yepnen didn’t turn away to the last. Guite took a few spoonfuls, threw up, and ate again, then throwing up once more. Yepnen kept his sight on him. Guite grew limp like a wet weed and violently vomited before passing away. Finally, Yepnen took Boris with him and left.
Yepnen had just tended the candle wick before coming to their bed. He glanced at Boris, who was curled up on the sheets with a worried expression. Yepnen softened his own and asked,
“Are you worried about something?”
” . . . “
Yepnen removed his boots and perched them in a corner, and then came back up to the bed and patted Boris’s back. He was shivering.
“Now, tell it to your brother.”
Boris’s grey eyes looking into his big brother’s. They were quaking like the peaceful expression of Yepnen’s was something unexpected. Yepnen guessed what Boris was thinking.
“Boris, you …”
“It’s a relief that you are ok.”
Boris abruptly said. It was the truth.
“It’s a relief that you won against that man, too. But I . . . I think that you looked a bit different when you did. Aah, but of course, I don’t say that you did wrong . . . I know that you had to. If Father was here, he would say that you did good. But, but . . .”
“No, Boris. You saw well. You were probably the only one who could see it, too.”
He smiled faintly before sitting against a wall a bit away from Boris. He ignored Boris’s eyes for a bit, while looking through the open shutters.
“Boris, I . . .”
Yepnen stopped again for a long time. Boris looked out the window with Yepnen. Stars were scattered densely across the night sky.
“You and I were not always what our father wished from us, were we?”
Boris knew too. Father didn’t blame the two’s friendship, but he wanted them to be more tough and cold, to be unswayed by affection. He had been opposed to and hated Blado. It wasn’t too much of a stretch of thought to understand why he wanted that.
The candle wavered, and Yepnen’s voice picked up again.
“I think that Father’s thoughts were right too, as late as I am now. I ought to explain why to you instead of our father now, aye? To not weaken your mind because of petty things like sympathy. To win against any and all pains or hurts. To become like that.”
What did Yepnen want to say?
“If I was able to take care of you for a long time, if only I could do that . . . If I could, I would keep you like this, warm-hearted, soft eyes. I would make it so you could live that way for as long as you want.”
Why was he talking like he was going to leave soon?
“But I cannot always be beside you. Or, more exactly, even if I could, I shouldn’t. You probably have your own path, and you must become stronger in order to find it yourself. . . you have to become tougher.”
His eyes, similar to their mothers’, seemed to be watery. Yepnen spoke surely, accenting each word clearly, like he was forcing himself to speak words he didn’t want to.
“Boris, if you cannot become a rock, you must be a clam. Even if you are soft inside, clamp down hard and hide that. It is okay to weep in a private room, but be a clam. In that room, no-one will care.”
Boris was mystified. He did not understand why Yepnen was saying this. It was certain that he was speaking out of love, but that wasn’t all. It was too abrupt, and not the natural talking he did usually.
It was like he was trying to force a child to become a man.
It was like there was a reason he had to.
“The world . . . I know that it would not let you stay a small, kind boy. I wish that you could understand that soon.”
Soon, soon . . . Yepnen’s tone was regretful. It was like wishing for a nestless baby bird to fly, like wishing for an impossible thing.
“Brother, so you’re planning to be such a person?”
As Boris asked after a long silence, Yepnen swallowed his words and looked away, before replying.
“Of course . . .”
Now that the house had crumbled, he decided to think that Yepnen was trying to suggest things in case he grew weak. So, he nodded with big, exaggerated motions as if to reassure him. Today’s events were probably something that wouldn’t have happened if they had kept to the Longourd mansion. It was not a strange thing, Yepnen showing another side of himself. This place wasn’t someplace where everyone protected them. It was either strangers or enemies surrounding. In preparation for sleep, he started taking his clothes off, but Yepnen stopped him, shaking his head.
“Don’t take off your armor, Boris.”
Yepnen bitterly smiled.
“We don’t know if some people would come try to kill us. I’ll watch, and you go to sleep. I’ll wake you at dawn.”
Huff, and the candle was blown out.
At first, Boris thought he was dreaming. But as his sleep slowly wore off, he knew it was not. He could see his brother and Winterer on the ground. Yepnen was leaning on the bed frame, his head down. He first thought he had waken because he had heard something, but then realized he was crying silently. So silently, that it was probable that Boris hadn’t waken up because of the sound. But …
… Boris could tell from the stifling silence that Yepnen was being tortured by some important thing. The silence made a young boy’s ears ring and his chest constrict. It almost seemed like the sorrowful silence itself had waken Boris. Should he had have talked to him? But Boris could not say anything. The soundless, painful quiet was vividly engraving itself into his mind. Tears started to flow down his cheek. Without knowing why, he cried without a sound like that. Why did he? Why?
The next day, the two left the town and headed back out to the plains.
Of the single horse they had, Boris rode most of the time while Yepnen grasped the reins for him, walking and speaking of this and that. The tales were not like the silly or fun stories of ages past, nor were they funny things that happened in neighboring lands. Boris asked Yepnen every time he saw a new tree or flower, but unlike before he simply stated the name of it and stopped. Unlike before, he did not tell Boris the beautiful legends or stories about them.
“Yepnen, did you forget all the tales you had before?”
When Boris asked that, Yepnen smiled with only his lips and replied,
“I think so.”
Even Boris could tell that he was not sincerely smiling.
Though they walked until evening, they did not find a new town. Before leaving the previous one, they had made sure to ask the way to this one, but it seemed they still got lost.
“I think we’ll have to camp here for the day.”
Before it became too dark to, the brothers searched around for a good spot. They found one, and collected kindle like dry grass and twigs to start a fire. Yepnen had went on hunting trips for days with the neighboring sons of landlords, and thus seemed to be proficient with these things. The horse was tied to a small bush, because there were no trees that were sizable. Gazing at the fire reminded Boris of the torches that had surrounded the mansion. The shadows danced here and there because of the movement of the flame.
At first they didn’t realize it. Shortly after, Yepnen told Boris in a low voice,
“Boris, take your sword.”
As tension swept over his body, the hairs on his body stood. Yepnen nonchalantly threw a branch into the fire, before standing up, grasping Winterer.
“Really, do you even need to hide with those numbers?”
Afterwards, whenever Boris thought of Yepnen, he remembered three times. One was Yepnen’s blue eyes, asking Boris to die together, and another was when Yepnen was standing in front of the flame, holding Winterer, his shadowed back. And the final one was . . .
“You arrogant little . . .”
Boris didn’t budge, grasping his short sword. Yepnen slowly drew Winterer. Even in the little light of the campfire, the elegant blade did not lose its luster; it shone in the dark like a crack in the dark.
Boris saw the force of their enemy. The people surrounding the fire were about twenty-strong or more. Additionally, they were all brandishing weapons, like swords. Yepnen recognized one of the faces in the crowd and coldly said,
“Quite a lot of bodyguards, eh, Guite?”
It was partially a taunt. Guite scrunched up his face; one of the others retorted, displeased,
“Do you really think we came here to help that wretch?”
“Hmph, it seems you aren’t smart enough to know what’s happening.”
The enemy circled and started to solidify their position. The sound of their horse being chased away was heard from afar. Shadows prowled about. Yepnen quickly glanced around, trying to find who the leader was.
“What do you want?”
Boris got up, and stood back to back with Yepnen, with the fire in between them. He did not have any experience with a sword save for wooden ones, but he thought that he should not let the men know. He did a pretty good impression, but the enemy was overwhelming.
What seemed to be the leader stepped towards the fire.
“Your sword. It must be Winterer, no?”
As suspected . . . Yepnen bit down on his lip and firmly held his sword. If speaking his name at the duel was a mistake, it was quite a mistake. But Yepnen did not think it right to kill someone without telling his name. Even acknowledging the danger in dueling, long as he wanted to fight for his honor, it was a step that could not be omitted.
“Hand it over, and we’ll let you go quietly.”
The leader had black sideburns and was a tall man. He had a rumbling, powerful voice, and on his exposed chest were two sword scars. Chances were, he was quite the person if he was able to borrow that much people.
He spoke again.
“The young one is too little to die yet. Don’t you think so?”
Yepnen was not good enough to slay twenty. But he also wasn’t just going to hand his sword over before he died. As for Boris, though …?
Then, Boris spoke.
“Twelve years can’t be said as being not old enough to know the world.”
“Huh, so, what do you want to say, little one?”
The black sideburn-sporting man thought it meant they would hand the sword over, and asked curtly towards Boris.
“That I know when I have to die.”
There was no longer need for words. The first man darted out from the flank, sword high. Yepnen’s Winterer flashed horizontally, and blood sprayed in the dark.
The second sword was from the left. As it bounced off Winterer’s guard, the skin on Yepnen’s hand’s back ripped. The short, white sword was pulled towards, then pushed outwards against the sword that arced in from the front, in a diagonal. Winterer snapped out, and pierced the foe’s forehead. Hot liquid ran down the blade.
Boris tried to look straight at the dark. The first thing that appeared wasn’t a weapon, but something like a rope.
He stumbled back a step, stepped on a burning branch and blindly swung. The thwick sound accompanied the feeling of a rope being cut. In his tense state, he didn’t recognize that he was biting his lip hard enough to draw blood.
Someone swung a morningstar at Yepnen’s head, but the chain wrapped around Winterer. Yepnen tugged, and the chain snapped. The weight at the end rolled into the fire. The burning branches broke; embers flew around.
“Hmph . . .so that’s the rumored ‘frozen sunder’ of Winterer.”
The frozen sunder was one of Winterer’s special abilities. It represented the cold explosion of it. When it met another material, it could force the temperature to very low depths and destroy the material. However, one could only use it when both Winterer and Snowguard were present.
Still, it was a powerful characteristic that could not be compared with the weapon-breaking weapons. It was magic.
“Quite some skill! Let’s see how useful it is after your brother’s pierced by a sword!”
Three men surrounded Boris and approached. The two brother’s movement was completely visible due to the fire, while the enemies could hide in the dark and spot. Yepnen didn’t not know that, but if he jumped into the circle Boris would be at the enemies’ mercy. That was the sole reason he did not, or rather could not, get out of the trap.
To add insult to injury, the two’s eyes now had adapted to the light. It was nigh impossible to track the movement of their foes. A sword was shoved into the space between them. Yepnen spotted it too late to block. The man holding the sword pretended to attack Boris, before changing vector and using all his might to stab Yepnen.
A peculiar sound echoed. The sword slipped off the side of Snowguard and created weak friction heat. Simultaneously, the sword unexplainably vibrated, shaking the man’s hand. He almost dropped his sword in his alarm.
Even his shoulder was sore. The man with black sideburns’ eyes changed. He murmured quiet enough that no-one else heard,
“So, he has both pieces of the Winterbottom Kit?”
The incident at the Jinneman’s house wasn’t widely known yet. Following, he didn’t know why that house’s two sons were travelling abroad, so far away. But the rumored treasure was so close, and he was as greedy as any other man on the street, and wasn’t willing to let it go.
“Oi, try this man’s sword!”
Finally, the man and Yepnen traded blows. Once, and twice; two hits were exchanged, and in those two hits each knew that the other wasn’t a run-of-the-mill person. But Yepnen was a young man, and the other man was a veteran warrior who lived off the sword. He drew back, pretending to be beaten back, and started tugging Yepnen forward with him. Once he started to move, it was hard to fall back – if he lost the tempo of the fight, he would probably be in dire straits. More worrisome was the fact that the man didn’t keep his blade on Yepnen’s for too long, because he knew Winterer’s ability. Yepnen felt like praying, to anyone, every time he moved forward half a step. One mistake would end this all.
The two blades hit each other once, slid, then one was quickly removed from the other to avoid the frozen sunder. Yepnen took the affirmative and lashed out.
It was just a hair away from succeeding. Just before Winterer’s blade entered the neck of the man, something strange happened.
” . . . “
The opponent went limp, falling to the ground, even though the sword did not enter him. He fell without a sound.
3419 words o_O
I went ahead and did one two-week’s worth update. Hope no-one missed it too much ^^;
I had the feeling that the fight scene at the end feels a bit dragging, and I kinda struggled through it T^T Anyone else felt that way?
Anyhow, bye for the week!