I N   M E M O R I A M   M E I :   I I I

Completed January 26, 2021 (♒)

They fought again—of course they fought again. They had been two boys saddled with responsibilities that were beyond them, and there had been no place to vent their despair save for one another. If Zalbag did not recall Barrington’s many speeches as to what a pity it was that Gallione had sent him more children to tend, Wiegraf surely did. Rationing continued to go poorly. Fighting tapered off into the dread of a stalemate. The Dead Men were more or less in line when one of the Hokuten started some mischief with a local girl. Tensions spilt over then. The Fovohamese did not make divisions when it came to who had wronged them, and all westerners felt themselves the recipients of the same hatreds. It had pained Wiegraf to recognize that the differences between commoner and knight should be effaced by so much collective loathing.

All throughout it, Zalbag remained stalwart in being a sanctimonious prick who didn’t see the inanity of trying to count beans and keep order in a place where everyone was a day or so away from their grave. The man was hanged—as well he should have been—and Zalbag immediately went back to pestering the Dead Men over minutiae as if he hadn’t just hopelessly complicated everything. He’d been quibbling over issues of sacrilege two days out, as if he hadn’t just sent a man to the gibbet and confirmed everyone’s worst suspicions about all of Gallione’s sons: something about Smyton’s pig-headed suggestions that they find a priest willing to quit with some sacramental oil for their bow locks.

Wiegraf had been quite flatly terrified in the wake of the first scuffle, wondering all the week long if he were going to be called to account for it with his neck while Miluda was left to the mercy of the city at large. When absolutely nothing happened, however—either to him or to his men—the incident made him bold. If all it took were a few bruises to get Zalbag to back down, Wiegraf considered that somebody ought to be liberal in bestowing them.

He hadn’t—of course—gone to confront Zalbag that time with an aim to strike him any blows, and when all was said and done, none had been struck. Still, it would become very evident in the days to come that whatever suicidally foolish impulse had seized him during that first quarrel had returned to direct him into deeper and far more terrible depths of idiocy.

None of the preliminaries of what had happened were in any way surprising. Zalbag remained unwavering. Wiegraf became hot-headed. The two of them fell to shouting.

This time, however, Wiegraf caught Zalbag in his arms before things could progress beyond a few shoves. He pushed the younger boy's head against the flat oaken table of the room and leaned against him, thinking to pin him into place while he proceeded to tell him off.

Wiegraf, for all he grew to be very fond of making speeches, had little recollection of the one he made then. He told Zalbag a great many unkind things; he knew that. He told him he was an overpious, self-important fool who had obviously never been made to reckon his actions outside of somebody else’s orders. He told him that both his heavenly and earthly fathers weren’t going to come save them any sooner for making himself so thoroughly unlikeable in their joint names. He told him something of the grim realities of sieges and of the expendability of second sons and how much everyone hated him: how every man, woman, and beast in Riovanes wanted nothing to do with him.

“Ajora’s cunt. No wonder you’re so keen for a fight. It was probably the only way you can get anybody to set their damned hands on you.”

It was that utterance he recalled—the one that had given way to Zalbag going motionless beneath him, his ragged breath dropping off as sure as if he’d just been throttled.

“Did I strike a nerve?” He’d run a hand along the inside of his thigh then. “Have you been ruining the lives of dying men for weeks because even with your name and your station, nobody will give you a parting fuck before the end of things.”

As Wiegraf pressed his hand between Zalbag’s legs, he was completely uncertain as to how he should feel to find him hard. He was completely uncertain as to just about anything—least of all why he had done such a thing. He imagined he could feel something of the boy’s expression through the burning heat of his skin and the sudden gasp that set his breath back into motion. Wiegraf rocked against him slightly then, face hot as he fondled Zalbag through the fabric of his trousers.

Zalbag did not tell him to stop, not even when he tugged apart his laces, not even when he pulled his prick free and began to stroke it, thumb feeling about the tip of its crown as he began to squeeze. It was only when he eased the weight of his body off of him and moved to roughly kiss the side of his neck that Zalbag choked out a "stop."

Wiegraf ignored him and kissed him harder for it, using his free hand to pull him upright against him as he buried his face against his throat.

Zalbag gasped hard as he told him to stop again. He invoked God or the saints or possibly even the practical perils of doing what they were doing in one of Barrington’s offices.

He was very unconvincing as he did so.

When Wiegraf turned his face to kiss him on the lips, he thought it strange that he should be kissed back—not realizing until that moment how much he’d wished that somebody would touch him in this hell they were in. He hadn’t been with anyone—man, woman, or what have you—not since they’d left the outskirts of Gariland—not since before the Romandans had even made landfall.

“We could have saved one another quite a number of bruises this way, you arrogant fuck,” Wiegraf said when their lips next parted.

Zalbag tried to kiss him again after that, and Wiegraf had dodged him. He’d picked up his pace in the meantime, running his hand over the length of Zalbag’s shaft in long, hard strokes. He persisted though in meeting and returning what caresses he could: as Wiegraf stroked him, rutted against him, moved to whisper obscenities in his ear.

“Saint’s breath but you’re aching for it. Was this what you were trying to thrash out of me before? Did you want me to push you to the ground and make a wreck of you then too? Did you want me to ruin you beyond anything Romanda might do?”

Zalbag had made only a stifled moan when he came, spilling over Wiegraf’s hands as his body slackened. It had been clear the moment afterwards that he wished anything but that Wiegraf should continue to hold him, but he did not resist the fingers that wrenched into his short cropped hair or the mouth that trailed more hard kisses down the side of his neck. When they finally did part, Wiegraf had done nothing yet in the service of his own pleasure; his ardor had cooled enough to recognize that he had done something very wretched and phenomenally foolish.

Zalbag said no farewells from where he lay half-collapsed on the table, and Wiegraf did not wait for them. The standoff almost broke that day. Five of his men fell when the Romandans tried to surge the southern wall.

When he found his way to Miluda in the late evening, he discovered that she had been set to mind a water bowl—checking the surface for ripples in the hopes they could suss out sappers. He’d scolded her over something or another—for having failed to tell him where she was or for having let herself be alone. He had again and again stressed to her that there were men who would have bad designs on a girl of her years, and he had never listened to her firm “I knows” as he ought. After whatever lecture it had been, she’d told him that he could go hang himself so far as she was concerned, and they were on the outs for a full half of an hour until she came to drag him to supper.

When they ate together that night it had been at a time when there was still bread enough for them both to have a slice. There’d been meat even a week prior, and Miluda had been boiling the bones ever since with whatever common weeds she could scavenge: chickweed and lambs’ foot—the sort of stuff that tasted entirely of grass. The meal had been almost unremarkable. They were housed in an inn that the Dead Men had been occupying ever since the first week of the siege, and were it not for the scent of powderworks and magic outside, Wiegraf could almost pretend they were not so far removed from the days when they had a home.

She could not have known what he had done, and he could never have told her. When they parted for the evening, Wiegraf did not sleep, alternating restlessly the whole night between thoughts that he had greatly wronged General Beoulve’s son and thoughts that he should have wronged him more thoroughly.