Chapter 4
The Other Half

Eagle, Gladius; Gladian Year 589

"Today I met the most enchanting young woman I've ever seen. She has a grace and delicacy that touches the depths of my heart. When I am around her, I am at peace. The troubles between House Leon and House Aran fade away into nothing. I realize that I am not yet a man, but surely this is the woman I am destined for."
- Excerpt from the journal of Julian, son of Sebastian

The past year had been a difficult one. With Percival back in charge of House Leon, the hostilities against House Aran had increased tenfold. Dozens of men-at-arms on both sides had died in the constant fighting, yet the King and his vassals remained uninvolved. Two noble houses busily bleeding each other were no threat to the Crown, after all.
It took a patience and temperance beyond their years for Luther and Julian to stop themselves from succumbing to the hatred and the violence. The results of their individual research into the origin of the feud often yielded conflicting information. The two of them came to an agreement that they would not take the other's findings personally. It was difficult at times, particularly when Julian would bring ranting excerpts from his grandfather's journal, so filled with abuse and invective that it was hard to glean anything useful from it.
They continued to persevere in their work and their mission took on a whole new meaning when they looked into the journals of their fathers. Both had sections written in code. Luther had no head for such things, but after a couple months' work, Julian cracked the code and the two of them were surprised to discover that Gregor and Sebastian had been secretly trying to end the feud. They saw the fruitlessness of the feud, but there was nothing they could do in the end. They could not prevail against their greatest obstacle, the very man who started the feud. They died, and the status quo remained.
Even though the truth about Gregor and Sebastian meant a lot to their sons, their wishes would not change anything, even if the journals were exposed to the public. Julian knew his grandfather would never yield and Luther knew Tiberius would stay on the defensive. Their only hope was to wait until Julian was old enough to become lord of House Leon. Until then, all they could do was seek to minimize the bloodshed.
As usual, they had snuck away from their escorts to practice and share information. Both had improved substantially as swordsmen and enjoyed the fierce competition. Though Luther preferred a longsword and Julian a rapier, they would often train with different weapons to flesh out their abilities. This day, however, they stuck with their favorites.
They were well into the heat of their match when they heard a girl's scream in the distance. Curiosity got the better of them and the two followed scream to its origin. In a narrow alley near the Southside tavern, two girls were being accosted by a drunken miner. The older girl, an auburn-haired teen, was on the verge of fainting while the younger one, a tomboyish blonde, defiantly barred the way to her elder.
The miner would have been enough of a threat barehanded, but the sturdy mattock he carried gave him a definite lethality. Glancing at each other, the two youths knew what they had to do, but they did not know how to go about it. Luther, being the younger and more impetuous of the two, did not wait to work out a plan and shouted out a bold challenge to the miner.
"Are the men of the Atlas mines just a pack of wild dogs? Back away from those girls or you'll answer to me!"
Julian gave him a critical look, but Luther shrugged at his companion. Perhaps he had been overly dramatic. The miner was somewhat nonplussed at the big talk coming from someone so young. Still, his aggression was redirected at the new arrivals.
"Ain't yer mamma taught yew no manners, boy?" the miner grumbled drunkenly.
He lumbered forward with an overhead strike that sent cracks through the cobblestone street. It was a sluggish attack, though, and Luther and Julian dodged in opposite directions in more than enough time. Luther jumped at the miner and cleft the head off the mattock with a swipe of his sword. Julian circled around to flank the miner and to put himself between the miner and the girls.
The miner stared blankly at the broken handle for a moment and then threw it at Luther with more force and speed than the young Aran expected, hitting him squarely in the chest. While Luther was doubled over, the miner slugged him hard, dropping him to the ground. Before he could hit Luther again, Julian moved in and stabbed the miner in the back of the shoulder. The wound was neither deep nor life-threatening, but the pain was enough to make the miner turn his attention to Julian. Before he could do anything, though, there was a loud crack and the miner collapsed. Behind him stood Luther with the mattock handle in his hands. The young swordsman spat out some blood and tossed the mattock handle away.
"Are you alright?" Julian asked.
"I'll live," Luther replied, rubbing his sore chest.
Julian then crouched by the miner and held his hand near the man's mouth.
"He's still alive," Julian said. With that taken care of, he turned to the two girls. "It's dangerous for you young ladies to be wandering out in the city without escorts. What on earth were you two doing?"
"We can take care of ourselves!" the younger one snapped.
"It sure didn't look that way to me," Luther retorted. "What can a little brat like you do anyway?"
"What was that!?"
"Now, now, Nyssa," the older one said as she pulled her younger counterpart toward her. "You must not be rude to these young gentlemen. They did save us from that bad man, after all." She looked to Julian and Luther. "Please forgive my sister. She is but a child and an intemperate one at that. We are in your debt. May I be so bold to ask your names?"
"Is it not the custom to give one's own name first?" Julian asked in a slightly teasing tone.
The girl blushed.
"Oh my! Where are my manners? I am Liria and this is my sister Nyssa. We are the daughters of Erasmus, the vice magistrate of the town's mining operations."
Julian smiled at her flustered efforts at propriety and said, "I'm Julian, son of Sebastian, and my companion here is Luther, son of Gregor."
"What a beautiful name..." Liria said dreamily. She suddenly looked startled. "Surely you do not mean Master Julian of House Leon and Master Luther of House Aran, do you?" She bowed to them while guiding Nyssa's head down with her hand. "You do us a great honor by gracing us with your presence, sirs."
"A gentleman is honor-bound to help those in need," Julian replied. "Especially damsels in distress."
"Aren't the Leons and the Arans supposed to be fighting?" Nyssa asked.
"Do not be so rude, Nyssa," Liria scolded. However, her sister had made a good point that piqued her own curiosity. "But now that she mentions it, my good sirs, what of the feud between your two houses?"
"Sadly, it continues to this day," Julian said, shaking his head, "but the two of us seek to put an end to it once and for all."
"How wonderful..."
"We're nothing special, miss," Luther said. "We're both too young to do anything yet. All we can do is try to steer our people clear of each other."
"Well, what you are doing is still admirable," Liria insisted. "The desire for peace has to begin somewhere. The feud threatens the stability of the entire city, no, the entire kingdom. I do pray your efforts will not be in vain."
"It is indeed my, rather, our sincere hope that we succeed," Julian said. "In the meantime, shall we escort you home? I would hate to see any more unfortunate incidents today."
"We don't need your--!"
Liria clapped her hand over Nyssa's mouth to stifle her, bowing again and saying, "We are not worthy of such an honor."
"I insist," Julian said.
"Then it would be rude of me to refuse," Liria replied.
Julian and Luther escorted the two home as promised. Upon reaching the door, Liria bowed to them one last time (guiding Nyssa's head down yet again as she did). When she turned to walk into the door, Julian grabbed her wrist. She turned to Julian and blushed at his forward action. Realizing the awkwardness of the situation, Julian blushed as well and hastily released her.
"Um, I was wondering..." Julian said haltingly. "Does your family not have any bodyguards? I don't want to see you or your sister getting into that kind of situation again."
Liria shook her head.
"Gentry of our rank can scarcely afford household servants, let alone bodyguards. This was the first time something like this has happened."
"Allow me to assign one of my men to protect you. It would put my mind at ease."
"Wait a minute," Luther interrupted. "The vice magistrate works for my house. It might put him and his family in danger if word gets out that a man of House Leon is acting as a bodyguard for them. I'll see what I can do to get one of my house's fighters to protect them."
Julian held his chin in contemplation.
"A good point..." he admitted. "We have to maintain appearances while this feud lingers." Smiling, he gave Luther a pat on the shoulder. "Thank you, my friend. In my zeal I almost put these two young ladies in danger."
"No worries," Luther replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. "We'd better get going."
Julian nodded in agreement. He looked back at Liria.
"This is farewell for now, my lady. May we meet again under better circumstances."
Julian and Luther then turned and walked away. After a few moments, Julian sighed heavily.
"What an amazing stroke of good fortune..."
"What do you mean?" Luther asked.
"How can you ask such a thing?" Julian asked in astoundment. "To meet such an elegant young woman..."
Luther shrugged.
"I suppose you're still too young," Julian mused. "In a couple years, you'll develop a taste for women and see what I have seen."
"Whatever..." Luther replied with a roll of his eyes.
"You will check on getting someone assigned to their household, won't you?"
"I said I would. I'm surprised that someone like the vice magistrate doesn't already have protection for his daughters. It gives me one less person to sneak away from."
"You'll be sure to pick a man of virtue?"
"Of course, of course," Luther answered with a slight trace of irritation. "I wouldn't want anything to happen to your 'elegant young woman' and that tomboy brat."
"I wonder when I'll see her again..."
Luther rolled his eyes again. Julian was completely taken by that woman and they had only just met. It was not a feeling the young Aran could understand and he did not want to understand it. All that mattered to him was the way of the sword and the politics of the two houses. Women were no concern of his, but he was only thirteen. Age often has a way of changing priorities.