∴ A Crossed Purpose ∴
The sounds of the house are different tonight. As you lay awake in your single bed, you tease out each quiet strand in your mind: the rhythmic drip from the gutter by the window. The scuffling of mice beneath the floorboards. Your mother’s muffled snore. And now, strange and familiar at once, a crescendo of rustling sheets as your brother turns in his sleep.
It has been months, almost a year, since you last shared this too-small room with him. He left in March with the promise of glory and a little pay put by, and returned this morning with hollow eyes. It’s only for a few days, he said. They’ll be marching again come Monday. He didn’t want to talk about the war. He didn’t want to talk about much. He retired early to bed.
Now he mutters as he rolls over, urgent nonsense and panicked whimpers. You pull the rough blanket over your head in an ill attempt to block out the sound, to block out the truth that all is not well, to block out the wild idea that already gathers pace within you.
At last with a sigh you stand, slip on your coat and breeches and – careful not to step on the creaking floorboard – make your way to the end of his bed. The sword is hanging from the footboard by a leather belt, subtle and simple and deadly. You slide your hand over its rough wire-wrapped grip and curl a finger around the thick, grooved ricasso. The black X of the guard glides forbiddingly over your fist as if in warning.
Rapier in hand, you cross the room in three tip-toed steps before sense has time to catch up with you. Your brother has seen enough of battle – now it’s your turn.