After the SwordBy Teri White
Page 3 of 11
His father's certwyn passed quickly across the bascule bridge and through the great entrance. It was a bright spring morning. Bedwyr, in his best jerkin and a pair of new boots, peered through a knothole in the wood for a glimpse of what was to be his new home. He was more excited than nervous, and determined not to let himself be intimidated by the young Prince Geraint.
When the certwyn drew to a stop in front of the massive wood and iron door, Bedwyr was restrained by a firm hand form jumping down immediately. "Remember all that I have told you," his father said sternly.
Bedwyr nodded shortly.
They were escorted into the King's public meeting room and presented to His Highness personally. Bedwyr's father, a minor Duke, has seen him many times before, of course, but this was the first time Bedwyr has ever been in the royal presence. He bowed as his father had taught him and answered the questions put to him by the kindly-looking man on the throne.
At last, the young Prince was escorted in.
Geraint was a cheerful-looking boy, sturdy and rosy-cheeked, with brown eyes that twinkled, and a headful of chestnut curls.
"This is Bedwyr," the King said. "He is to serve as your page, and eventually, as your Knight, if he does well and pleases you. Do you agree to this?"
Geraint worked to bring a solemn look to his impossibly cheery face, and walked a slow circle around Bedwyr, seeming to study him as one would a horse one was giving consideration to purchasing.
Bedwyr knew well what the young Prince was seeing: a boy shorter than himself, and slighter in build, with skin that was pale not ruddy, hair that was determinedly straight, and eyes that never even considered twinkling. He deepened the scowl.
"Yes, Father," the Prince said. "He will do very nicely, I think."
The remaining details were quickly taken care of, and then Bedwyr walked back outside with his father. Their good-byes were neither sentimental nor lengthy. Bedwyr thought that his father seemed rather relieved to be rid of the son he had never really understood.
Alone, he wandered the inner yard, wondering what was going to happen next.
He heard the whisper and followed the sound to a small walled alcove, where he found Prince Geraint waiting. Bedwyr glared at him. "I suppose you want to start giving me orders now, right?" he asked belligerently.
Geraint grinned. "Well, I suppose I could. You are my page. What shall I have you do?"
Bedwyr knew that he was making a very big mistake, but his fist seemed to move of its own accord, and smashed into the Prince's smile. Geraint went down like a stone, but then he was up again, attacking. They tangled together and rolled around in the dust, grunting and swearing. Bedwyr was a scrapper but Geraint had the advantage of both height and weight, and he eventually triumphed.
He straddled Bedwyr and grinned down at him form a face that was now bloody and dirty. "Bedwyr," he said in a surprisingly quiet voice.
Bedwyr spit blood and snarled at him. "What?"
Geraint used a grimy finger to wipe away some of the blood coming from a cut on Bedwyr's lip. "Will you be my friend?"
Surprised, at both the words and the unexpectedly tentative tone in which they were said, Bedwyr just stared up at him for a moment. He could see something else now in the pleasant face, something that he had never put into words, but which he recognized too well. There was a haunting loneliness just beneath the easy grin.
Geraint leaned closer, dripping blood. "Will you be my friend, Bedwyr?" he repeated.
Bedwyr swallowed and knew that he had never been asked so important a question before.
"Yes," he said.
"And I shall be your friend," Geraint said; his words had the air of a vow.
Bedwyr finally, tentatively, gave a small smile.
So many years ago.
They had grown up together and had never been apart for more than a few hours in all that time. Bedwyr rolled over and looked at the King in the moonlight. The curls, as unruly as ever, were touched with grey now, and the face bore more than one battlescar. Bedwyr frowned at the scars, each one seeming a mute testimony to his failure to protect the King satisfactorily.
With all of that, however, the man was not so different from the boy. The tone of his request this night--"Will you accompany me?"--had been made in almost the same sweetly sad tone as the question all those years ago.
Will you be my friend?
Bedwyr sighed and closed his eyes. He must sleep. Tomorrow, his King would have need of him. His friend would have need of him.
He found himself lost in the blackness.
Kerr Avon was not afraid of the dark. Not usually, anyway. But this was dream blackness, and he was terrified. His dreamself ran blindly through the endless corridors, searching without knowing what it was he sought, crying out, but making no sound, forced to keep moving by some power, some need, that he did not even understand.
And then, abruptly, he found no purchase for his feet, and he was falling.
He was alone in his quarters. One hand hit the sensor that turned up the lighting. His finger stayed where it was until the illumination was at its brightest. At the same time, Avon worked hard to restore his breathing to its natural rhythm. "It was only a dream," he said. "Only a dream."
Yes: only the same dream that he'd had every night of late.
And he still didn't understand, could not begin to comprehend, what it was all supposed to mean. If dreams, indeed, meant anything at all.
He was breathing steadily now, evenly, softly, and the trembling in his limbs had stilled.
Well, it was this mad odyssey he was on, of course. He wiped a hand across his sweaty brow. Either he would find Blake soon, or this whole adventure might well cost him his sanity.
What there was left of it.
Suddenly unable to remain still any longer, he got up from the bed and re-donned the trousers he had shed only a couple of hours earlier. He did not bother with the tunic or the boots, however; who was there to see him now? Everyone but Cally was asleep, and she would be on the flight deck, which was not where he intended to go.
After a very brief walk through the silent corridor, he found himself, as ever, in front of the door to Blake's quarters. Or what had been Blake's quarters, until the fiasco at Star One. Until their fearless, idiotic leader disappeared.
Avon supposed that it was funny; never, in the more than two years that they were together on this ship, had he ever been inside this room. But now, in Blake's absence, he was drawn here regularly.
No one else on the ship knew about his visits here.
He slipped into the room, touched the light sensor until a dim glow filled the room, and sat in the over-stuffed chair that must have suited Blake perfectly.
"Well, Blake," he said. "I imagine that wherever you are, this must be giving you great satisfaction. You were relentless in pursuit of my loyalty. My trust. Or whatever the hell it was you were pursuing." His expression was something between a rueful smile and a pained grimace. "I guess you have it now, don't you?"
He stood again and walked around the room slowly, touching a book, a stone from some unknown planet, various pieces of Roj Blake's life. Items, for the most part, of absolutely no significance, except to their owner. And one other, namely Avon himself. Their significance to him had nothing to do with intrinsic worth, but only with possession: they belonged to Blake, and for reasons that he did not even pretend to understand--and did not think he wanted to understand anyway--that gave each one meaning to Avon.
Finally, sleepy, Avon stretched out on the bed, unmade as Blake had left it on his last night here, and closed his eyes. Sleep would come easily now, he knew from past experience. The dream never bothered him in here.
He didn't understand any of it.
Perhaps, he mused with his last bit of conscious reason, that is why I need to find Blake. So that he can explain it to me. This was not a conclusion that he would have easily accepted had his mind been fully awake. But he sleepily reasoned that it was accurate.
Blake, he decided, will tell me what is going on.
And then he slept.
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