Written on June 17, 2019 (♊)

Author's Notes: I wrote piece with the obvious foreshadowing of the final line very much in mind, but I thought it would be a nice change of pace from my generally gloomy compositions to work on something a little more lighthearted and goofy.

"It's a furnace out here in spite of the rain," Dycedarg said wearily. "We'll be boiled in our armor like crabs if we spar today."

Tietra, sandwiched between the wool cloak that she shared with Alma and the damp limestone of the parapet, was in something of an agreement, feeling rather boiled herself in the muggy heat of the drizzling July afternoon. As much as she might have been content for the brothers to forgo practice and for all to return to the relative cool of the keep, she could suppress a giggle when Zalbag, shrugging, untied and stripped off his gambeson and dug through the assortment of weapons Ramza had carried to the muddy courtyard. Picking up the lightest practice sword he could find, he assumed a fighting pose.

Dycedarg did not look enthused and gestured with his own blunted blade. "I had rather thought that..."

The sword hit the earth with a thud before he'd finished speaking, the smooth edge of a wooden blade pressing against his throat.

"Dead," Zalbag said matter-of-factly.

"That's hardly fair."

"I obviously can't comment on how your talks are going with Viura, but I haven't yet heard of Ordallia agreeing to new rules of engagement specifying all fighting must be 'fair' and carried out in fair weather."

Rolling his eyes, Dycedarg stripped off his own shirt and pushed his rain slick hair away from his eyes. He picked up a weapon of similar--perhaps slightly heavier--make and stood at ready as Ramza scrambled to collect the fallen garment. Zalbag wasn't given the opportunity to mirror him before Dycedarg lunged, toppling him into the mud as he parried, rolled and regained his footing. Both of them were a bit of a mess by the time Dycedarg beat too low and was caught on Zalbag's riposte, a blunted point touching his bare chest.

"Dead again."

There was a moment's silence as Dycedarg sighed and ran a hand once again through his hair. Ramza broke it. "Am I going to have to strip too?" he chirped with a note of embarrassment.

"Yes!" Alma shouted from above. Tietra dissolved into laughter.

"I didn't know we had an audience," Ramza said, pulling an arm out of his padded tunic "Can you even see anything up there?"

"I think Tietra's finding the view to be just fine," Alma replied teasingly, watching her friend turn redder than the obscured sun.

Ramza, now also topless, flexed his sword arm and saluted her, amply self-aware as to how unimpressive a figure he cut as the girls burst into another flurry of giggles. He tied his own sodden hair back tight against his neck and picked up a light quarterstaff, ready to join his increasingly mud-spattered brothers who had already commenced another round in the span of his exchange with Alma. Tietra leaned her head on her arms, looking down at the three figures on the strip with a more than passing interest that she decided could withstand her friend's ribbing.

Nobody was surprised when Ramza failed to win a single bout. Nobody was surprised when Zalbag won nearly all of them. Every shock of the day came towards evening, when the clouds unexpectedly parted enough for the sunset to cast a rose-gold glow over the three bedraggled and dirt-stained sons of House Beoulve. They were fighting two against one by then, and Zalbag seemed to have finally grown exhausted. He still comported himself with the same easy confidence he always had, even when Dycedarg over-matched him easily at the onset of the fight, pressing the edge of his blade against his throat this time, leaving a thin white line against the accumulated sweat and grime there. Ramza, perhaps, not having time to register things ending with such a swift anticlimax, continued to barrel forward towards them both unknowing that the round was over. Making one of the ungainly whoops he was forever making in the midst of combat, he made an even more ungainly sweep with his staff that somehow managed to knock all three of them over, garnering an overblown applause from Alma as they tipped into a shallow sodden half-puddle.

"I think that's enough for that day," said Dycedarg, pulling himself upright and immediately muddying his face even further in another attempt to brush aside his drenched hair. "More than enough."

"I agree," Zalbag said, in surprisingly good humor. "I probably shouldn't be crossing swords with anybody that intent on killing me twice."