But here is the next chapter. Enjoy!
Chapter Five: I Learn More
Malcolm came home just as I had finished putting supper on the table. Now would be the perfect time to tell him what I had decided to name my sword. As he walked in, I looked up at him with a welcoming smile.
However, he seemed oblivious to it and merely murmured, “Is supper ready Meg?”
I would have none of this. Planting my fists in my sides, I faced him. “Malcolm,” I stated, “something is wrong. Tell me what it is.”
Malcolm avoided eye contact. “Nothing is wrong Meg,” he answered.
“And,” I continued, “It is wrong to lie to your sister. Now, tell me what is wrong.”
My brother gave in with a sigh. He sat down in his usual chair and ran a hand through his already untidy hair. “The King has heard some disturbing news, and it has me worried as well.”
I sat down, confident that my brother would tell me all. “Go on,” I encouraged. “What news?”
“Meg,” Malcolm replied patiently. “I can’t tell you that. It’s confidential.”
I frowned. “Surely our King knows that I would do nothing to betray him!”
“I know, but these are dangerous times. Our kingdom may be forced to wage war, and the very walls have ears to bring news to our enemies. Peace and serenity have come to an end for now, and it’s time we faced that fact.”
I saw that argument would never change his mind, so I switched tactics. “How can I help?”
My brother smiled wanly. “Keep Crystal safe,” he answered simply. “The king knows that when and if there is a war, he will stay with his troops. However, during his absence the enemy might take advantage to take his daughter as captive and force him to give up his kingdom because of his love for her. These are only possibilities, and slight ones at that, but it worries the king nonetheless.” My brother paused, and I watched concern for the princess come into his own eyes. “I might as well be completely honest with you Meg,” he continued with a sigh of resignation, “I’m worried about the princess too.”
Suddenly I understood, and wondered how I could not have noticed it before. “You love Princess Crystal, don’t you?” I asked, though it was more like stating the obvious.
For the first time in his life that I can remember, Malcolm blushed. First, his ears grew darker and darker, and soon his whole face was as red as the cherries growing in our orchard. He nodded, but I had already gotten an answer from his reaction to my blunt question. My brother looked so much like a boy I saw once that was caught stealing apples in our marketplace, that my sense of humor got the best of me and I burst out laughing.
Malcolm recovered himself, and looked slightly injured at my laughter. “Why is that so amusing to you?” He asked indignantly.
“Your face,” I gasped out between outbursts of mirth.
My brother’s face twitched, his mouth curled into a smile, than a wide grin. He must have realized what a spectacle he had made of himself for he was soon laughing along with me.
We recovered ourselves and with one last grin at each other, we began our meal in silence. I remembered that I was going to tell Malcolm the name of my sword, but as I opened my mouth, Malcolm began speaking.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you right away that I loved Crystal,” he apologized, turning red again.
My mouth twitched, but I restrained myself. “That’s perfectly fine, Malcolm,” I assured him. “I understand, really.” Even though I did not understand, and to be completely honest, did not want to understand.
“I didn’t know myself until about two days ago,” Malcolm continued. “Of course, I knew that I enjoyed her company and liked her as a friend, but when the king laid out his worries about her if there was a war, I suddenly realized how much I needed her companionship. I knew that without her my life would seem incomplete.”
I tried very hard not to be wounded by these words. Hadn’t his life with me been happy? Hadn’t we always been the best of friends? Why would he prefer Crystal to me? Bitter, jealous thoughts against the princess began piling up in the back of my mind. Quickly, I kicked them out, mentally of course, and smiled sweetly at my brother.
“I would love to have her as a sister,” I said, leaving out the ‘in-law’ that I had wanted to tag onto the familiar term. “She and I are already best friends. Where will you live?”
Malcolm looked surprised. “Here of course!” He exclaimed.
“But won’t the princess need all the space of the castle?” I asked.
My brother grinned. “That’s the nice thing about Crystal. She doesn’t want you to have to climb up to reach her level; she prefers to stoop down to yours. Crystal has already told me that when she marries she doesn’t want to live in a castle. They’re too uncomfortable. ‘Give me a cozy cottage on the edge of a farm and I will be completely content.’ Those were her exact words.”
I forced another smile. “I’ll be so happy for both of you.”
Malcolm gave me such a look of gratitude, my forced smile became real. “I knew you would,” he said.
There was a pause. Finally, I would be able to tell him the name of my sword. “Malcolm?” I asked.
He looked up. “Yes?”
“I named my sword.”
He showed interest. “Really? What did you call it?”
I smiled. “His name is Safeguard.”
My brother smiled, but I felt he was not paying me his full attention. “It’s perfect.”
I gave up. He was in love. There’s no way he was paying attention to small things like what his sister named her sword. I sighed, knowing that from now on, nothing was going to be the same as it had been.
* * * * *
“Good shot!” I applauded. Crystal and I were practicing her archery out at her father’s target and she had just finished a round of arrows. Several extremely close to the center, and only one completely off the target.
Crystal gave me a doubtful look. “I didn’t hit a bullseye,” she said woefully.
“That will come in time,” I reminded. “I’ve spent hours and hours practicing over the years to finally get to this point.”
“The point where you hardly ever miss,” Crystal finished wistfully.
I felt the hair on my neck tingle and smiled. Pausing our practice for a moment, I turned and waved at William’s silhouette. He returned my wave and continued on his walk along the wall.
Crystal frowned in puzzlement. “Who is that?” she asked.
“Sir William Price,” I answered. “He’s taken an interest in your archery.”
“Or maybe yours,” the princess retorted tartly.
I shook my head and stole a mischievous look at the princess out of the corner of my eye. “He wouldn’t want to watch my archery. It’s not nearly as exciting as yours.”
Crystal’s impishness rose to the surface immediately. “That’s true,” she agreed. “My archery is far more mysterious. You never know where my arrow will hit, whereas with your archery, you just hit bullseye after bullseye. Quite a bore.”
We laughed. I could never be mad at Crystal for long, even though I did feel as though she was stealing my brother from me.
“All the same,” the princess continued archly, “I don’t suppose you think that William prefers your company over anyone else’s?”
I felt my face grow hot with embarrassment and hurriedly changed the subject back to archery.
* * * * *
“Are you ready?” William asked, slicing the air with his sword as he bowed. “Or are you going to be too nervous to fight me with your brother watching?”
“Of course I’m ready!” I exclaimed hotly before noticing the teasing twinkle in his eyes. “And having my brother here only makes my fencing improve,” I added after seeing it.
“We shall see,” my teacher said.
We began our duel. I forgot the fact that my brother was watching. I forgot where I was and how much time went by. My thoughts were instead centered on William’s quick thrusts, and the speed of my own counter moves. Our blades both flashed in the sunlight, and I dodged and stepped forward too many times to count. Finally, the bell was rung by Malcolm and I stopped, panting for breath.
Our fight was over. At least for now.
Malcolm came up to us both with a wide grin. “That was simply marvelous to watch!” He exclaimed. “You are both magnificent with your swords.”
I bowed to my brother in mock formality. “That is true praise coming from you, my brother.”
Malcolm threw back his head with a laugh that bounced off the stone walls surrounding us. After a moment, he turned to William. “I do believe that she is better than I!” He said, still chuckling.
I gave both my teacher and brother a look of disbelief. “I don’t think I could possibly be…” I trailed off when I saw the looks on their faces. “You mean that you really think that I...! No, I couldn’t!”
William was looking at me thoughtfully. “I think you might be able to Meg. You’ve got skill enough, I suppose.”
“When shall the duel be?” My brother asked, clearly enjoying my discomfiture.
“In a fortnight?” William asked me.
“Oh, that seems so very far away,” I replied, my voice filled with sarcasm. “Why not have it tomorrow?”
“If you wish it,” Malcolm answered with easy grace.
I was in for it now. “Tomorrow then,” I said recklessly.