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I found my friend lounging about in our lodgings. His arms drooped from unbuttoned sleeves and an uncorked bottle lay nearby.
"Hello!" he cried, his voice far too loud.
"You started without me," I accused.
"There's always one of them to spoil the fun." He tossed the bottle towards me, oblivious and forgetting to cork it first. I managed to collect the bottle before the Bordeaux stained the rug too much. Then, taking a long pull, I swallowed the drink without tasting.
"His name's Fuchs. And you'll be fighting him with pistols tomorrow at sunset. Shouldn't be too complicated."
My friend gave a stupid smile but made no comment. He had never fought a duel. He didn't appear nervous, but I couldn't be certain. Logan was often able to hide his emotions. But not while drunk; I passed the Bordeaux back to him. Like me, he took a long swig from the bottle.
Then he chuckled, darkly. "Remember how 'formulating' this trip was supposed to be?" I shrugged. Logan's father had said as much. Logan continued. "Well, I suppose killing someone for honor and all that is pretty fundamental to a man's skills." He started laughing, his tone high and airy.
I sighed. Duels were not something to be taken lightly. The wine hadn't gotten to me yet, and I was still thinking clearly. Logan wasn't. Although neither of us had ever been involved in one, we were well versed in the history of the ritual. For centuries, men had been killing each other in a tradition to recover honor. Deflowered and adulterous wives had seen their enraged husbands cut down by their lovers. Politicians had shot each other over the smallest detail of ideology. Brothers had crossed steel in the rosy dawn for control of land, women, wealth, and a multitude of other things. Regardless of its qualities, the duel was not a light venture to undertake. The insulted was just as likely to die as the insulter, adding, well, injury to insult.
I won't pass judgment on Logan, but a blow is completely and utterly unforgiveable among gentlemen. Normally, letters would be exchanged offering polite discourse on location, seconds involved, terms, and formalities of the like. Apologies could even be given and accepted. The duel could then be canceled. In our case however, only immediate satisfaction would suffice. Logan had struck the man. No apologies or protestations would change that. The next day, one of the two would bleed. If their shots missed, each gun would be reloaded and they'd try again. It wouldn't be pretty.
These thoughts must have weighed on Logan's mind too, despite the drink. He sat up. "You'll go home, won't you? You'll bring my body home and let them know, won't you?"
I could hear tension, not fear, in his voice. "Stop that talk."
"Promise me," he insisted. It all seemed irrational to me. If the lad fell, would I abandon him and instead traipse around Europe on the rest of the Tour?
"Logan, you have my word. The Fletchers always keep that."
"Like the time you promised to make love to Whinny before I did?" The shift in conversation caught me off guard and I guffawed. Whinny had been a rather social girl we each had once courted.
"And I did, didn't I?" I said, proud of myself.
He threw a pillow at me and made to stand. The wine didn't help, so he stumbled a bit. I started to rise.
Logan held up a hand, cutting me off. "A viscount needs no assistance." The haughty grin on his face broke, and he couldn't keep from laughing. That didn't stop him from ambling out of the room, and I heard him collapse on his bed.
The day ahead promised to be challenging and perhaps deadly. I decided to follow him. I extinguished the lamps and disrobed. Climbing into sumptuous sheets, I again considered the haggard woman we saw along the street, the flies tormenting her. We shared similar heritage, and I was resting upon a massive bed while she lay in squalor. How would I change that? How indeed could I make a difference? Those thoughts flew about me, tormenting me like the beggar's flies in the noon-day heat.
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