This is another oneshot I once wrote. It's Shakespeare romance, one-sided, Iassio (Iago/Cassio). I like to compare the relationship between Iago and Cassio to that of the Wicked Queen and Snow White: an older, experienced character jealous of a young, more innocent one.
Actually, the twist is that Iago is describing the scene of his opponent's demotion with a slight air of "what a shame", yet ironically...
FAIREST OF THEM ALL
"I am the one who beheads the wicked, and my blade is tingling to do so".
The executioner-angel in "The Red Shoes", Hans Christian Andersen.
I keep on watching you, as you lay unconscious on the courtyard pavement, before the tavern trellis. The stars are fading one by one, and the uproar in the guardhouse has finally been soothed. The blood on the pavement has dried up, and it will be really hard to wash off that memory of the event. For the moment, sawdust has been strewn on the blood stains. And we're counting our blessings.
I get to kneel by your side, to get a closer look at your features. The fiery flush on your downy cheeks has given way to a deathly pallor, drenched in a cold sweat. Those blood-shot hazel eyes that sparkled defiantly, like whole batteries of cannons, are now shut, with flickering eyelids fine as dragonfly wings. That uniformed chest of yours is restlessly heaving, as if you had a fever.
I am a veteran of countless battles, of many wars, born and raised in encampments. Thirty years of experience have taught me not to trifle with disgust or death. Thus, no feelings strike my heart or soul (if I ever have a soul) upon looking at your struggling frame: it has happened near me many a time before. And my entrails, far from being slightly wrenched, remain completely steeled in response to the reek of liquor from your parted whitish lips... which actually springs from your corroded vitals.
The ribbon on your ponytail has loosened nearly completely, letting unchecked auburn locks spread on the sawdust and on your shoulders. With that hairstyle, you look even more like a girl or like a child, if it weren't for the scarlet jacket and blue trousers that end at the start of dark riding-boots. Your fair and soft face reminds me of a lily drenched in morning dew. A withering, fading, reeking lily, that still appears completely untarnished to me.
That light frame of yours was a prime target, easy to take over, for the spirits in the glass. Once bereft of reason and of free will, you could do whatever you pleased, no matter how forbidden it should be when sober. Your true colours may have been what I saw for a while, in the lithe and lethal swashbuckler with a death-wish on the point of his rapier.
In fact, though you were at first reluctant towards drinking on duty, you had to fall sooner or later. I said "just one sip", and it all started from there: you wished for another, a third one, a fourth one. I give you a sip, and you take a full tankard. You quaff a full tankard, then a second, then a third. And that being the officer on duty. For you are free to question the orders you were given.
There is still blood on the soft gloves that conceal your light, delicate hands, lieutenant's hands more used to holding a pen than a loaded gun. I keep watching over your girlish, childish, cultured frame. Lieutenants like you are not unusual to me: second sons of the landed gentry, born and raised on peaceful estates, having only experienced battles and adventures in the pages of history and legend books... then consecrated by tradition to take up the sword, as modern knights without breastplates or lances. Not having experienced such a tranquil childhood, I look up to yours as I look down into your fluttering eyelids.
Surely, you're trying to channel, to steel, to restrain the feelings that surge within your recovering system, having been disgraced in front of your commanding officer. At least, you get to keep this empty scabbard as a memento of your few officer days. A scabbard without the blade is ostensibly as decadent as a loose ribbon or a withering lily. It's failing. Which means you're not that infallible. Not even the Pope... not even the Lord himself is. Why should a subaltern officer (on account of youth, rank, education, or any other of the variables that tell you from me) be completely alright?
I agree with you that what is said and done has been already said and done. The past can't be changed in any possible way. Now that you are not even half what you have been, your hopeful career wrecked and shattered at one fell swoop, I bet my life you'll start looking for your reflection (in steel, glass, or water?) and burst into tears. For officers can't weep, and you're no longer one of them.
We don't know each other that much. It would be one-sided: the orderly should know every whim of his master's, but why should that officer care to ask about his valet's private life? I can tell you that warfare is not that romantic, that sometimes we experience events that cause us to wonder if the Lord exists, and thus, the witness of such events will entirely give up faith, and hope as well, and even give up "love".
What I feel for you is not that kind of love. It starts with awe, sincere admiration, turned to disrespect because of the wish it is founded on: "Why can't I be you?" Then, this wish gives way to memories of my previous commanding officers, also freshly-called lieutenants, second sons of the landed gentry, raised in literary warfare. But during wartime. With empty scabbards and drawn rapiers, they repeatedly expose themselves on the frontline, as I watch behind, clenching a loaded musket and awaiting further commands.
A gunshot or a pike thrust, and the lieutenant is hastily drained of life and blood, wasting away in a crimson spring, on a chaotic battlefield. At the end, a military funeral. He is draped in the flag and earthed on the spot where he was slain: bereft of life, pale and cold, with a crimson rose on his chest or his throat. Often, he has been merely wounded and hasted back to the encampment, the surgeon's skill being worthless when confronted with the ominous chest wound, that lives on the life of the afflicted one: coughing up blood for every last word, forbidden to move or speak, he is already sentenced. The only resorts are giving the wounded officer a nice draught of brandy, to ease the pain and quench his thirst, and saying the last prayers for his soul in advance.
Rarely, an officer's young system shows enough mettle to rout the fearsome chest wound. In my life, there has been only one lieutenant who survived such a painful trial. He was nearly your age, with auburn locks and hazel eyes. To make it even clearer, his last name was Lissio. I was about your age myself back then. He had been wounded in November, taking a bullet meant for my heart, and he recovered fully in springtime. I couldn't have been more relieved, since Lissio and I were rather close to each other. Before that winter, he used to console me when the rage of warfare showed us scenes so violent that I couldn't even describe them. However, the black clouds in the distance kept on getting closer and closer.
Through his winter-long convalescence, he had developed an insatiable thirst for brandy, and it couldn't be quenched with blood or water. He became more brash and violent towards us, his eyes were always bloodshot and his fair cheeks were always ablaze. He even started drinking on duty. I had never seen Lissio like that. The generals decided to send him to the frontline again and again, but he always survived. Then, the keystone of our ranks was slain, and a losing streak ensued. We didn't get enough pay, and we were fed rather defficiently. Then, Lissio proposed that we should defect to the enemy. Though I tried to reason with him, his thirst for liquor was more powerful. I yielded. We decided to turn coat during a reconnaissance mission. But we were betrayed en route. I still remember the outcome of it all like yesterday: my dear lieutenant lays his dishevelled head on a stump, a fellow officer lowering his sword, a flash of moonlight, and I am questioned by the officer whose blade is still dripping blood. Then, without even thinking, to spare my life, I lie telling the truth simultaneously: "I was just taking orders from above".
From that springtime night on, I was Honest Iago. I could no longer believe in the Lord, nor in any of my peers. I could only believe in myself and expect praise from others. And hope I would become an officer myself, promising that my freedom and loyalty never should be sacrificed to the Holy Tankard. Those hopes are fading.
The generals of this peaceful decade, including our dark commandant, are all veterans and childhood friends of mine... and they were of Lissio's. They've all been rewarded for their services to the State and to the flag, as I was left in the shade of their achievements. They're all blue-blooded, born into our honoured gentry (the commandant himself, in spite of the colour of his skin, is even foreign royalty!). I was what I am and what I am not: "Honest Iago", running errands, carrying the flag into safety, yet usually overlooked by the higher instances.
A fortnight after Lissio's execution, I saved the captain of another company. Another youth, but this one tawny and raven-haired. He said he was a dethroned royal, who had enlisted to gain enough power to claim the crown wrested from him after a coup d'état. Now I can tell when someone is lying. I knew his tragic story was the truth. He was royalty, but I have never been a courtier: just pleased with being his aide. Unlike Lissio, this officer was reserved, cool. So I had to carry him off to the surgeon's when he was wounded. At least, he couldn't drink any liquor, on religious grounds. Still, he stood his ground in spite of the searing pain. That's right, that dark-skinned officer was our present-day commandant, the governor of this province and general of this division. Rather successful for a rightful heir who has nowadays given up on claiming his crown. The one who deprived you of your rank. The one who one picked you, either due to peer pressure from other generals, or because you are the spitting image of Lissio. Or for both reasons.
So I have planned it all behind your back, and the fun in it is your unawareness (rather finely illustrated by the way you lay unconscious). Since you could as well have been the reincarnation of Lissio, I decided to wreck your hopes by means of the same Holy Tankard that proved his downfall. At least, you haven't literally lost your head. Fallen from grace, you remind me of my first failure, of the one who was everything good to me.
Surely, you're trying to channel, to steel, to restrain the feelings
that surge within your recovering system, having been disgraced in front
of your commanding officer. At least, you get to keep this empty
scabbard as a memento of your few officer days. A scabbard without the
blade is ostensibly as decadent as a loose ribbon or a withering lily.
It's failing. Which means you're not that infallible. Not even the
Pope... not even the Lord himself is. Why should a subaltern officer (on
account of youth, rank, education, or any other of the variables that
tell you from me) be completely alright?
I agree with you that
what is said and done has been already said and done. The past can't be
changed in any possible way. Now that you are not even half what you
have been, your hopeful career wrecked and shattered at one fell swoop, I
bet my life you'll start looking for your reflection (in steel, glass,
or water?) and burst into tears. For officers can't weep, and you're no
longer one of them.
We don't know each other that much. It would
be one-sided: the orderly should know every whim of his master's, but
why should that officer care to ask about his valet's private life? I
can tell you that warfare is not that romantic, that sometimes we
experience events that cause us to wonder if the Lord exists, and thus,
the witness of such events will entirely give up faith, and hope as
well, and even give up "love".
Your eyelids part at last, revealing bloodshot hazel eyes. Then, you try to stand up. I still sense the reek of liquor from your vitals, the agitation of your mind, a faint attempt at self-control. I lend you my right hand and help you to stand up, as I kindly, yet with my penchant for irony, ask you:
"Are you hurt, Lieutenant?"
Still weak and ill at ease, you take both my hands and make one effort to stand up. There's an empty tankard on the table. For a while, you watch your reflection, then take the cup by the handle and throw it away in a fit of rage, dashing it against a wall. Then, you burst into tears and lean against my chest, sobbing desperately:
"Why... beyond the surgeon's skill!"
Then, with a faint fake smile on your whitish lips, you raise your face from my chest. I take the blood-stained glove from your right hand and stroke your downy cheeks, drying up your surging tears. I know you would do anything, even defect to the enemy, to regain your commission. That's the way I have planned. Soon, you'll actually be executed... and I will be your executioner.
"Why... heaven forbid!" I exclaim, pretending to have recovered the little faith I had before the springtime midnight when I became a freethinker... when I became the "honest" self that everyone here is familiar with.