I wrote this five years ago. I think it ages quite well.
I couldn’t refuse him, could I? The stranger had been riding in the rain for hours. Well, I looked at him good, but I figured if he was sent to kill me he’d take out that sword and swipe me there… By the Iron Saint, I couldn’t refuse him Westerla hospitality. My wife went without dinner again for him, and she will starve soon I feel sure… but this is a matter of what, for want of a better word, must be called honour.
He ate – is eating – in a sort of deliberated haste, with a swordsman’s precision as if the thing is important somehow. He’s eaten all but the last piece, lying exactly halfway between us on the rough-grain table. I want to take it, like hell. He swallows another hardly-chewed mouthful; I see muscles turn in his neck. Still, I can’t break the tradition; the guest eats first, that’s the way it’s always been, undeniable unless he would allow. Which, he should. His hand moves to take the last piece. Now I put forth mine as if to suggest he might be full. Under his dark hood, I see his eyes boring into mine with a weight of a cold threat, and I meet them. My eyes want to look warily once again at the sword by his side, but this time I hold his gaze, hold my resolve, because this bread is mine and so is this house. He needs to know that. I hold my own.
The time passes on. His eyes never blink, under that dark hood so outlandish. In accord, neither do mine. I’m not suited to this. After a short time, my eyes go from itchy, watering, to outright hurting me, yet still, as my vision blurs, I hold my position and resolve my will to ice. He hasn’t moved an inch, none less either. My hand is aching too, hovering like that, just above the table.
My eyelids shudder involuntarily. Augu Iron Sword, my heart, give me strength, yet I can’t hold them anymore. I have to give in… no, I shut them a second then they’re back wide, to blink away the pain somewhat, but, denying the shame of the defeated, still don’t I give in. I see again, in relief I see he gives no movement. I’m defiant. Still he sits frozen in the same posture exactly, staring into my eyes as I stare at his.
“Forgive me, but I am hungry!” I decide then to say. He makes no move, no answer, almost… mocking me! Well, I won’t stand for that. I reach out and take the bread. He makes no moves to stop me. So there!… I almost say it. He says nothing.
In fact, I notice as I swallow the last of the meagre portion, he hasn’t moved at all. His hand is still poised to make a grab for some spectral loaf. The table is now quite pathetically empty. I raise my eyebrow at him – I guess being still somewhat elated by my victory to attempt such a gesture. He makes no move, just stares at me. I acquire a growing sense of dread, that something about this is simply not right…
After a moment of panicked indecision, I move my hand – it hesitates halfway in its path, but still he is immobile and uncaring – and wave in front of his face. Nothing. At all. Not a word.
Suddenly grimly sure, I circumvent the table, and, with a minimal pause, in vain, to see if he would protest, I tear back his hood.
I choke. He’s dead, eyes staring now seeming less defiant and more, well, dead and cold; yea, I could have coped with that, but… he’s also my brother. So clear and unmistakeable as to laugh in the face of my weak, fleeting denials. The colour has already fled from his skin. That omega pendant around his neck – that monastic order … Symn with them? Then why – …I feel dizzy. I feel weak. So… dizzy…
The world is spinning… before I understand that I am falling the world goes black. My last half conscious moments are of screaming hallucinations whirling around me, and a deathly chill spreading from my stomach, clutching at me, making me seize up…
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