The field was razor sharp and crystal frost had taken refuge on every blade of grass. Lanor’s boots made the frostbitten ground crackle and as he let out an exhausted, wavering breath, a cloud of mist appeared before it ascended into the violet morning sky. The stars were still visible, though narrowly, and the sun was rising, though with hesitation. The world was silent, the air bitter cold, yet it had in it a hint of the summer which was soon going to pass.
With the sound of his boots, there was another pair of feet marching just behind him. An elderly man exhausted himself as he stumbled forward, trying his best to follow Lanor’s tracks precisely. They walked on a vast green field, flanked by evergreen forests where the wind retreated to shackle the branches and cast out the leaves as if with a mighty spell.
No bird sang, and no dog barked. The air itself felt like a frozen string and his heart was fuming with anger. His left hand was in a constant fist and his right fingers were wrapped around the hilt of his sword. Air was cast out from his nostrils as if he was a raging bull and his eyes, those narrow blue eyes, were dimmed by the red hue of rage. Yet he kept his chin high, his steps sharp, and his posture tall. He walked as if an entire town was looking at him and he did his best to keep up his aristocratic air.
He could feel the small bumps his cloak struck as it graced the frosty peaks of grass and his eyes were flooded as the bitter wind smote him as if to taunt him for his intentions. Yet his spirit remained strong and his mind was set on the task at hand. His valour did not waver and his lips remained like a sharp blade just beneath his curled moustache.
As his eyes were set on the small apple tree, which stood on a humble hill farther away, his empty mind, his unwavering intention, shattered for a moment. His feet froze and the gentleman behind him let out a cry of astonishment.
For a moment, he stood still, his chest brought forth and his chin rising as if he cast a mighty judgement on the tree, yet inside his mind, he now remembered his past cold night. He remembered the bitter night he spent alone, without laying his eyes on his daughter, and as he had for years, without seeing the eyes of his beloved. The shining red apple which hung from the tree reminded him of his love, for it was here when he had met her and had assisted her with the collection of the fruit.
His lips wavered as his fingers tightened around the hilt. His hand roared for him to unsheath the blade and let out a cry for blood, yet with the utmost dignity, he remained silent.
“Are you all right, sir?” the elderly man said through his heavy breaths before he coughed.
Lanor kept his sight on the tree and felt as if the corner of his eye thirsted for a tear, yet he drew it in and strengthened his posture in defiance. He would not cry, for it was indeed he would witness the tears in the eyes of his foes while he stood tall like justice
They continued to the tree and as they arrived, the sun had risen just enough to paint the treetops with its radiant golden rays and the distant hills were awakened from their slumber. With the sun, the mist rose from the field and Lanor witnessed as it began dancing with itself. A magnificent ballet of nature took place before his furious eyes and it softened his features just slightly.
“Time?” Lanor asked without taking his eyes off the dancers on the field.
The elderly gentleman dug into the pockets of his waistcoat and drew out a silver watch. He fixed the round glasses on his hooked nose before declaring, “Right about 5:30, sir.”
Lanor’s nose rose with disgust as his eyes watched his surroundings like a hawk. No man was to be seen, not even at the edges of the woods and the boiling rage in his stomach began to surface; with great difficulty, he managed to suppress it just enough so it would not reveal its presence.
Five minutes had passed when he heard the sound of a galloping horse. He turned towards the town which remained over the hill and from the tree line, a rider appeared on a brown stallion. If a man could kill another with a simple look in the eyes, the rider would have fallen dead right there and then.
As the horseman approached, Lanor began preparing himself, without taking his eyes off the man. He gave up his cloak, and his fine coat before also handing his large round hat to his elderly acquaintance. He thus remained in his simple, yet refined white shirt and had his sword tightly kept in his person.
The horse came to a halt just a few dozen feet from the tree and the rider, a young man with a living chaos for hair, dismounted. He was panting and his face, though owning the handsomeness of youth, was red like a living fire. Lanor smelled the fear and he could see doubt shining in the young man’s brown eyes. Yet the young man acted as if he was the pinnacle of confidence, for he took off his cheap coat and made all necessary preparation before he approached the tree with a sword by his waist.
His steps were unsure, rapid yet without a firm footing. He managed to glance at Lanor a few times before his eyes were cast on the ground as if he had now come face to face with Providence himself and was about to receive his eternal judgement.
“Sir, it appears that you have arrived later than the time we had had the pleasure of settling upon,” said the elderly gentleman with a hint of the annoyance of the perceived arrogance the young man no doubt revealed in his air.
Yet Lanor saw no arrogance, not now for that vice had been made clear the night before. Nonetheless, his eyes were burning for he could not resist the urge to plunge deeper into his bitter memory. He savoured the thought of his blade piercing his heart. His eyes narrowed at the thought of watching him bleed on the frozen ground where he would fade and no doubt be cast into the depths of hell where he belonged.
“My apologies, my good sirs,” he said as he made an attempt at a humble bow. “I had trouble on the way, yet I hope our occasion might not be disturbed by my failure of upholding our agreement.”
“We shall proceed without further disruption,” Lanor said with a cold voice as he turned to walk off the hill and onto the stable ground. He drew his sword and made a few cuts and thrusts as his heart began to reawaken from its contemplated slumber.
Lanor gave no further glance to the young man, but he heard him pleading with the elderly gentleman. He cared not to harken his ears to make sense of the words that were partly swallowed by the wind, for his mind was set on a single objective; his sword in the heart of this mongrel.
The young man bowed to the man he had spoken to and marched down the hill. Lanor could see his face burning and the anxious twitching of his hands as he got closer. His eyes were wide like that of a cat, yet they owned no courage, only fear. It seemed as if he had now seen the infinite and knew that he could not run from his judgement.
Lanor savoured the anxiety of his adversary. His mind felt the greatest joy of the torment this young fool was going through and he stood like the pillar of justice, like a righteous paladin of God who knew His infinite will.
“Your sword, sir,” Lanor said as he gave a slight bow, keeping his eyes on the young man.
“Before I unsheath my blade, sir,” the young man muttered, clearing his throat as he raised his chin in a final attempt of regaining his confidence, “I wish to offer to you my utmost sincere apologies, for I know I have wronged you gravely. And if in any other form, you could receive justice than by the spilling of blood, I would pay that price without the slightest hesitation.”
His brows knitted themselves together as his legs shivered. Lanor watched the boy and through his fearful tone, he heard humility. For a moment, he considered the young man’s offer, but as the memory of his deeds crept back into his mind, he spat the thought of absolving him from his mind.
“Do not waste my time further, sir,” Lanor said, with a cold voice as his hand tightened around his sword while the other rested itself on his waist. He lifted his sword and pointed it at his foe, while his eyes studied him with fiery fury. “On your guard.”
The young man, with a plump in his throat and with his insides turning over, drew his sword and took his guard. No matter how he tried, he couldn’t keep the sword still, for his hands began to sweat and shiver terribly. Lanor could see the boy muttering his prayers and it only strengthened his resolve.
But before they could take a step or clash against one another, Lanor heard another horse galloping from the distance. The elderly gentleman turned to see the one approaching and it was soon when he said,
“Sir, it is your daughter.”
Lanor froze as his heart jumped up his throat. His eyes which had narrowed like that of a hunter were now wide open and his focus was gone with the clashing of broken glass. Now he could only see the eyes of his daughter and he set aside his guard as he turned towards the apple tree.
“M. Bastien, are you certain it is indeed her?” Lanor queried through the wind that got caught in his long black hair.
“It is her, sir. I am certain,” Bastien replied as he glanced at him over his shoulder.
Lanor cursed in his mind and his teeth clung together with great anger. He had told her to remain at home, not to venture out before he would return. Twice he had commanded her to obey this week. Twice she had rebelled against him. Now, twice his heart had been shattered.
The lady on horseback rode over the hill and her eyes, filled with tears, met her father’s at once. Like a shattering breath of frost, his body froze for just a moment as he witnessed his daughter sobbing, while her tears fell on her deep purple dress.
“Father, have mercy on him, I beg you,” she cried out as she got off her mount with the help of M. Bastien.
She ran down the hill, with her blazing red hair flowing freely in the air. The young man let out a sigh of terrified relief as he too lowered his guard and watched the event unfold.
“My darling, I commanded you to remain at home until I would return,” he roared, yet his voice turned gentler as she embraced him and cried against his chest.
“Please, father,” she sobbed, holding him tightly as if her life depended on him. “I love him dearly. Do not strike him down, for you would kill me along with him.”
With hesitation, he wrapped his arms around her and felt her heart beating against his own. His eyes were wide open, yet he could see nothing but the furious storm which now raged inside him. She kept pleading with him, yet he remained silent.
Even now when he saw her sobbing, his rage did not turn calmer. The only reason he did not charge the young man was that she was present. He looked at him with bitterness and saw him granting him a deep bow with his eyes full of fear and doubt. The rays of the sun reflected off the droplets of sweat which slowly covered the young man’s face.
He stared at him, his mouth turning into a cold line as his eyes hunted for his adversary’s gestures of weakness. The sun beamed down upon him and he heard a whisper in the wind. What shall be done?
End of part one.
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