Of Swords and Other Things
I watch from atop the fences as two lanky boys kick up clouds of dust under shuffling feet. The sword master and a group of five other boys line the practice circle. The reek of unwashed bodies made worse by vigorous thrusts and parries catches on the breeze. Lantsida and her twin, Basina, escaped inside to finish their needlework rather than be subject to the rank odor for one instant longer. I’ve grown used to the musky roughness of young men. It sings of hard work and determination, an outlet for frustration and anger.
It’s home. It’s Hal.
The layered fabric of their practice doublets blunts the sound of a solid hit. Hal always wins and gives a raucous cheer, which most of the boys echo. He raises his arms in celebration, reveling a strip of bare skin that sends waves of delight through me. Even missing his left eye, Hal never fails to strike a killing blow. Basina says the other boys let him win because he’s their One True Prince. Mama slapped the back of her hand with a wooden spoon the last time she said it. We’re not to speak of Hal as anything other than the orphan boy we took in nearly ten years ago. He’s not His Royal Majesty Prince Henry Louis Philip Charles Valois. That name is supposed to taste like ashes in our mouth.
Instead, it tastes like hope. The royal line didn’t all expire in that tower.
Hal’s taller and more slender than most boys his age. Raven-haired and gray-eyed like his mother. The shape of his full bottom lip closely resembles his father’s mouth. Anyone who worked in the palace would know him, even with the ragged scar that mars the perfect symmetry of his facial planes. He wears his hair longer on the left side to hang down over the deformity.
He’s beautiful in ways that other boys will never be. His kindness shines like the stars at night: quiet and delicate.