‘Second’ Writing Workshop Contribution – by @theghostshirt
A contribution to this week’s Writing Workshop, by David.
The mist swirled at the break of dawn. Somewhere, beyond the veil cast by the trees around the clearing, a cockerel crowed once, then a second time, chest puffed out, its wattle vibrating like a red warning on this, the most final of days….for someone.
How it had come to this was truly beyond me, but here I was, ready to ensure an outcome.
The looks between them bred their own kind of venom. Like vipers cursing each other at the apothecaries store as they were milked for their poison. And oh, what an apothecary she was! Tall and brunette, with fire in her hips and that light taste of pomegranate on her lips, she was to be worshiped. And now was the reckoning. One snake would coil forever at her feet. One snake to lick her soft flesh with a forked tongue of her making.
The cockerel crowed once more.
I held up the pistol box and slowly opened its lid. My friend, my comrade, my brother in arms, he didn’t look at me. His gaze was on the fine barrelled pistol, weighted and crafted for his hand. It lay nestled in the box’s velvet lining, one single leaden shot already loaded. With my counterpart, the other second, I had already checked the twin pistol. It was being displayed now, mere yards from us on the other side of the clearing. It was like a fantasy mirror before us blighted with stupidity and male pride. A pistol in an identical box, one with an identical pearl handle, crafted by the same gunsmith that had made arms for their family for decades
The glove, that modern day gauntlet, it had been thrown down last week. At the end of a long night of chase and counter chase. The dancing had been sublime and the costumes fanciful and pearl studied, with crinoline and lace, enough to entrap the most pious of priest. My friend and his brother had been alive to the drama of their sibling rivalry, like two cuckoos forced to share the same nest. She had smiled. Thin lips, wandering eyes and that whiplash of a smile, blinding them both with its star crossed sting, dazzling enough for all our eyes.
The hammer cocked, and with steely determination he trod the yards to meet the approach of his brother, for this, the most secret of duels.
The pact had been solemnly made. Nobody, bar those present would know the identity of the victor. To slay your own blood is taboo. It was agreed, when the protocol of the duel was decided, that the vanquisher would lead their life without any stain on their name. The dead would take their killers name to the grave and as seconds, officers and gentlemen our silence was beyond question.
No matter their history and blood ties, the duellists were strangers now. Strangers ready to end one another’s lives in a ritual of aristocratic folly. They met. Eyes empty and hollow, as if brotherhood no longer existed except as a martyr for personal honour. They were soldiers and death was now their only fraternal calling.
‘Turn. Back to back. Then on my word, advance, 5 paces gentleman,’ the other second cried.
Such was the wrath that they felt for one another, that an easy ten paces was the agreed distance, one pace for every five years of their lives. They both knew it was a short, and certain to produce a victor.
Back to back.
They started as they had been in the womb together, when one would be first born, my friend, the stronger, the other, born second the weaker but more cunning. Their birth, after hours of labour and subsequent septicaemia, had almost killed their mother. The medical men had saved her life, but not her womb. They were the last of the line.
When they were five they had fallen ill together. Scarlet fever had struck them both, they had been lucky to survive. Their fevers had burned, and then broken, each at the same time. The doctors had been amazed, their father overjoyed. To lose both sons would have meant no succession. My friend, first born, he would inherit, the second born, he was merely the safe guard.
Aged ten their mother died in a tragic accident. It had been the boy’s first true glimpse of death. The Reaper’s hand had turned slowly into a fist, to grab and shake them both with a sense of their own mortality. Perhaps it was then that the true rivalry began. One day their father would die, and only one would inherit.
Aged fifteen they had fought one another for the first time. My friend was the victor but only by the slimmest of margins and it was he who carried the scar above his eye as reminder of his brother’s fury. The rock had almost cost him his sight. The drawing of that first blood had fuelled their rivalry for years to come.
Aged twenty, and then came the parting of ways. My friend took to the horse and the charge of the cavalry. His brother sought out the sea as a Captain in the making. Every conquest and battle was merely a further tale of heroism, each trying to outshine the other son.
When they were twenty five they had met her, the apothecary. Both were smitten. But the Captain won out. In secret he proposed, before he left for a ten month voyage. She accepted.
Oh, but she played them well. My friend she’d married whilst his brother was at sea. She loved the lure of his wealth more than him. And so, the Captain’s homecoming had been a stormy affair. Home to the discovery of his brother’s prize…the woman he loved. The duel would right this wrong. His brother dead she would be his, his brother dead he would also inherit.
‘Turn,’ the voice called out.
Neither knew about the life that stirred inside the apothecary’s womb, her belly just beginning to swell with the presence of an unborn. She knew well that she was with child, as did I. She would produce an heir, who would stand, one day to inherit a fortune, with both land and title. Blood will out, but succession can easily be controlled by those who seek to manipulate such things. She knew her frail father-in-law would not last long, not after the death of his precious son.
Two pistols were raised.
Two shots blasted out.
My friend slumped. His knees buckled. Crumpled he lay by my feet, life seeping away through the gaping wound to his head. It seemed odd to look down at him dying so rapidly. We had fought side by side so often, and he had always seemed, like me, beyond harm. Indeed we looked slightly alike and could have passed for brothers. For a fleeting moment I caught sight of my own death, prostrate at my feet.
His twin brother, the Captain, he stood unharmed. His arms fell to hang by his side, limp and helpless. The enormity of his deed had finally struck him. As the look of anguish passed across his tortured face the third shot blasted out.
My pistol smoked in my hand. I didn’t miss. The ball of lead ripped into the Captain’s heart and he fell backwards to the ground, dead.
Two gentlemen’s corpses, lying in a cold clearing, sometime after dawn, ten paces apart, duelling pistols in hand and two fatal wounds. Such evidence spoke for itself. It was a tragic outcome, no victor, simply two dead duellists and a faint sense that honour had somehow been restored, no suspicion on anyone else.
From somewhere through the veil of trees she came slowly, a bag of gold coins in one hand and a smile on her lips. The apothecary approached the other second and passed him the velvet bag containing his price. The cockerel crowed once again as he slipped away through the veil of trees.
The two brothers lay dead, ten paces apart. She didn’t give her dead fiancé as much as a second glance. She crossed the recently trodden ground. Ten paces; then passed the body of her dead husband. She walked toward me, my child in her womb and the sweet taste of pomegranate on her lips.
With forked tongue I kissed the back of her hand and coiled myself around her feet.