Chapter 12
Cupid's Arrow

Eagle, Gladius; Gladian Year 597

"My younger sister embarrasses me terribly. She acts with absolutely no regard for her station as a woman or as a noble. I simply cannot understand how she can be so irresponsible. If she continues to act this way, she will never find a husband..."
- Excerpt from the private diary of Lady Liria

Life had become so much easier ever since Luther and Julian finally put the feud to rest. The days of sneaking around just to chat or spar had come to an end. Luther did not even get suspicious looks from the household servants at Julian's estate anymore.
In fact, he was visiting on a social call to celebrate the seventh anniversary of Julian's marriage to Liria. Julian insisted that the celebration consist only of a few close friends, much to Liria's dismay. He did, however, promise to go all out for their tenth anniversary, but that did little to mollify her. She did not understand or appreciate the austerity of a warrior's house and wanted to live as extravagantly as the old patricians in Corinth. Luther was thankful Julian was none too eager to imitate their example.
A servant led Luther to the garden, where Julian and Liria were already lounging by one of the fountains. Julian waved at his friend when he came into view. Luther returned the wave and took a seat near them. After the young lord of Aran was served a glass of wine, Julian raised his own glass to Luther.
"I'm glad you could make it," he said warmly. "I take it you have nothing pressing to keep you at home."
Luther nodded as he took a sip from his glass.
"You know the highlight of my week is our sparring match."
Julian laughed, but quickly noticed his wife's discomfort.
"Ah, of course we won't be sparring today. After all, this is supposed to be a party."
Luther shrugged.
"A good match is more interesting than--"
His sentence was cut short by a soft kick from Julian. Though he usually did not concern himself with matters of tact, Luther wanted to be nice to Liria for Julian's sake and heeded the warning. He quickly thought of a change of subject.
"So, seven years... It must be nice..."
"It is," Julian replied with a sip of his wine.
"Lord Luther, should you not consider finding a wife soon?" Liria asked.
Luther shrugged again.
"I don't know. I've always been devoted to the way of the sword and I've always thought marriage would just be a distraction."
"You just seem restless," Liria said. "Perhaps marriage would help you reevaluate your priorities. You also must consider your obligation to maintain the family line."
Luther scratched his head and looked at Julian.
"Is there some sort of plot by married women to rein in all their unmarried friends?"
Julian laughed until he realized his wife had taken offense at the remark. He gave Luther a look that was half pleading and half threatening for him to correct the damage.
"It was just a joke," Luther said in a mostly feigned display of sheepishness. "Sorry."
Quite certain he would only cause trouble if he opened his mouth again, Luther opted not to speak for a while. Looking around, he saw Liria's sister playing with Julian's son in a mock swordfight. Nyssa had not changed at all from the tomboyish brat she was seven years ago. Nevertheless, she had grown into a young woman in that time and an attractive one at that. Of course, acknowledging to himself that she was easy on the eyes did nothing to change things between them and their relationship remained fundamentally antagonistic.
Julian's son Leonard was an interesting character. Luther had never heard him speak while he was around, only stare with an intensity hardly befitting of someone so young. Luther tried not to think much of it. After all, Leonard was just a kid, he told himself.
While he was thinking about it, he caught Leonard staring at him just then, only Luther could not really make out the emotion behind the stare. Whatever his reasons were, it is never a good idea to avert your attention in a swordfight, even a fake one. The boy got a decent thump on the head from his opponent and a fair amount of teasing to top it all off. Luther watched this with no small amusement, but his attention was soon taken away by a sigh from Liria.
"Why must she act like that?" Liria asked no one in particular. "She should be ashamed of herself."
"It's just the way she is," Luther replied nonchalantly.
"She is wrong!" Liria said sharply, startling Luther. "It was improper when we were gentry and it is even more improper now that we are nobility. I tried to be lenient on her when we were children, but she is old enough to know her place."
Luther wondered if she ever told Nyssa how she felt, but the answer became clear when her sister walked up to them. Liria went silent again. She was obviously unable to argue with someone as forceful as Nyssa.
"You all talking about me?" she asked in a playful voice, unaware that she was on the mark.
She picked up a wine glass from the serving tray and was about to take drink when Luther felt compelled to take a jab at her.
"Aren't we supposed to water it down for the children?" he asked.
"I'm not a child," she retorted, downing the entire glass in a single gulp.
Liria cleared her throat.
"It is undignified to drink that way," she scolded. "Definitely not befitting a lady."
"I never asked to be a lady," Nyssa grumbled.
Liria rose out of her chair, slamming her hands on the table.
"Nyssa!"
The outburst seemed to be a little much for Liria, for she blushed and hesitantly returned to her seat. Nyssa looked around for a servant to refill her glass. With none in sight, she turned her attention to Luther.
"So... you wanna fight?"
Luther only arched an eyebrow.
"Come on," Nyssa pleaded. "I'm sure you're bored. I'll never get any better if I just play with children like Leonard."
"Women don't need to fight," Luther said bluntly. "Besides, you're supposed to be celebrating your sister's anniversary, not whacking sticks around like you're still a kid."
Nyssa looked at her sister briefly.
"Aw, she's too busy pouting, as usual," she said dismissively. "And about the other thing..." She paused, as if to give Luther time to remember what he had said. "Why do you think women don't need to fight? Are you saying women aren't good enough?"
Luther shrugged.
"I'm saying that women don't need to fight because there's more than enough men for the job. Women are supposed to make life, not take it. Besides, it doesn't really matter what I think or whether a woman's good enough or not. There aren't many people out there, man or woman, who'd get behind something like that, so why bother? It'd only cause problems."
Luther's reply was more thoughtful than what Nyssa was expecting and she had no answer for him. In spite of her usual stubbornness, she silently dropped the subject, downed another glass of wine and returned to sparring with her sullen nephew. Luther thought that was the end of it, but he could not be more wrong.

* * *

The day ended without event. It was probably not the anniversary party Liria was hoping for, but Luther figured she was difficult to please. If Julian did not continue to go on and on about how much he was in love with her after all these years, Luther would have felt sorry for him.
Though Luther tried to avoid too much wine while he was there, he still drank enough to dull his edge. Even in these days of peace, it was not a good idea to wander the streets at night alone and half-drunk. As a warrior, he was prepared mentally for all possibilities, but he highly doubted anything would happen on the way to his manor. However, something did happen.
A figure in black hooded cloak sprang from the shadows brandishing a shortsword. Luther jumped to dodge, but the attacker's intent was obviously not to strike him with the initial flourish.
He had left the ancestral gear in the manor and only had the Dagger of Eolande for defense. The attacker drew a second shortsword and tossed it at Luther's feet. No assassin would give his prey a fair fight, so the attacker was obviously challenging him a duel. Luther did not question it and even though he was not at his best, his pride as a warrior would not allow him to decline the challenge.
As soon as he picked up the sword, he had to block a swipe from the attacker. Whoever it was, the attacker knew better than to give Luther a chance to go on the offensive.
After blocking a few more strikes, Luther concluded that his attacker's relative speed was offset by a lack of strength and the skill of his swordsmanship was little better than that of a novice. Even though the Guardian was a little tipsy, it would be an easy match.
Luther turned the tide of the fight by locking blades with the attacker and then pushing him to the ground. The cry from the attacker sounded too soft to be a man. Perhaps a youth? His question was answered when the attacker's hood fell back and exposed the face. Luther looked blankly in stunned surprise.
"Nyssa?"
Nyssa glared at him and sprang to her feet.
"The match isn't over!"
She lunged forward with a thrust that Luther parried in spite of his continued surprise. As the reality set in, Luther could not help finding amusement in the whole situation and laughed aloud as he blocked Nyssa's assault. His opponent did not share his amusement and was quickly letting herself be blinded by frustration.
"It's not funny, dammit!" she cursed. "Now fight me for real!"
Luther kept laughing. The angrier Nyssa got, the sloppier her fighting became. Luther could be completely drunk and it would have been no challenge. He parried a slash with so much force that it disarmed her, sending her sword a couple fathoms away.
Refusing to surrender, Nyssa tried to attack him barehanded. Luther tossed his sword aside and intercepted her fist with his open hand. She tried to punch with the other hand and was intercepted in like fashion. Adjusting his grip to hold her by the wrists, he crossed her arms and forced her backwards, pinning her against a wall. He sidestepped an attempt to knee him in the groin and pressed his body against hers to hold her still. He looked deeply into her defiant blue eyes.
"Are you satisfied?" he asked "I told you women don't need to fight, so why do you insist on it?"
She did not reply. The awkward silence lingered for several long moments. Then she did something he never would have expected. She blushed.
The angry look in her eyes had softened. She looked so defenseless, so helpless. It was a side of her he had never seen before. Then he found himself doing something he never expected. He kissed her. He had never kissed a girl before, but like two lodestones, his lips were drawn to hers. She did not fight it. In fact, she responded with equal passion, all her aggression and frustration channeled into a kiss that seemed to go on for hours.
Their bodies still pressed together, they fell into a mutual embrace. Neither one knew what they were doing. It simply felt natural, felt right, as their hands ran up and down each other's backs, tightening the embrace even more as their lips remained firmly locked together.
Their two great energies continued to push and pull. Luther already had Nyssa pinned against the wall, but as she leaned deeper into his embrace, he had to give ground. His foot slipped and the tangled couple fell roughly on the pavement.
It took the fall to separate them. If that had not happened, there was no telling where the momentum would take them. They did not know what they were doing then and now that they stopped, they did not know what to do next. They both laid there staring at each other, trying to sort out in their minds what had just happened.
Luther saw how confused Nyssa looked and figured he had to look the same way. He tried to dismiss it all as just a fluke, a wine-induced mistake, but he could not shake the feeling that there was something more to it.
His eyes strayed down to Nyssa's lips and his thoughts returned to that interrupted kiss. That wave, that rush of strange new feelings, he wanted more. He longed for that taste, that feel, and it was clear that she wanted it, too. And so they embraced again, picking up right where they left off.
Luther's heart leapt as it all came washing over him once more. So this was the passion the poets spoke of. This was what love felt like.