Pride of Ostia
It really wasn't fair, Oswin thought, that a knight be given the same duty that usually befell that of a nanny.
"Tell me about it," Matthew had said earlier that morning. It had been the first time he'd had the chance to meet one of Ostia's spies in person, and the other man had only laughed at his predicament. "The young master isn't all that bad. He's headstrong, and he also has the tendency to run off…"
Unfortunately Oswin found himself faced with one lost "young master". As the saying went, "If you know where it is, it's not lost." He had absolutely no idea where the young Lord Hector had gone. Fourteen years old was too young to wander off alone, and old enough to know better.
If he'd ever pulled such a thing, himself, he would have gotten the beating of his life. As it were, Lord Hector would get a scolding and nothing more. A real shame. Sometimes a bit of pain helped to keep things in perspective.
"Where are you going, Lord Hector?"
The younger brother of the marquess stopped dead in his tracks and eventually thought to shrug his shoulders. "Out."
"The aristocracy does not simply go out, my lord," he said dryly. "But if you wish to disobey your tutors and go out, I will call for—"
"That won't be necessary." Hector turned and headed back to the inner rooms of the castle. "I've changed my mind. I'll be studying in my rooms if you need me."
"Some things never change, do they?" Matthew asked, leaning back against a tree trunk as Serra prattled on and Oswin kept a close eye on Hector.
"I didn't ask any of you to come, if you recall." Hector pressed his lips together and clapped a hand over the ear nearest Serra. "All of you could have stayed back in Ostia."
"Heading out alone is—"
"Look, I can take care of myself, okay?"
"It's still not safe," Matthew pointed out.
"It's nothing but irresponsibility!" Oswin felt himself saying. "Men of your station are not afforded the luxury of doing whatever you please whenever you please!"
"Oh, and bringing a few people with me is so much safer?" the marquess's son scoffed. "Uther's the marquess—not me!"
"Only until his death," Oswin felt himself saying, but he forced his jaw to close so quickly afterward that he heard the click of his teeth. Matthew turned to stare at him with wide eyes.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"It means, young master," Matthew said airily, "that there is a good chance you will outlive your brother, the marquess. He is much older than you, after all."
"He'd better start producing heirs now, then," Hector grumbled.
"My deepest condolences," Oswin tried, but Hector said nothing in return. Perhaps the news of his brother's death had left him speechless with grief, though he doubted it.
Hector had not really known his brother very well.
Though perhaps that was a reason in itself to grieve.
"What do you think, Oswin?" Hector asked one night as they headed toward their side of the encampment.
"About what, my lord?"
"About me taking my brother's place as marquess." He sighed uncharacteristically and let one of his hands scratch the back of his neck. "I mean, it's not going to be easy, and I know that, but."
"Lord Hector," he said, feeling pride well up in his chest. "You will be a fine ruler." And then, as an afterthought, he added, "As long as you stay away from arena fights. Ostia should not have to lose its marquess to anything short of war."
"Or illness," Hector said.
"Or illness," Oswin agreed.
"What is this, Lord Hector?"
"What's what, Oswin?" the marquess of Ostia asked, leaning back slightly in his chair to look at the general of his military.
"You're here, reading over papers instead of nowhere to be found." He pretended to marvel at the situation. "In fact, you were in the first place I looked!"
A smile flickered over Hector's face, but it was strained. "Lyn's lucky," he said. "She can just up and leave Caelin to me and do whatever she wants."
"Taking Caelin was an excellent move for us."
"I know, or I wouldn't have taken it." He looked out the window and crinkled his nose. "She's still lucky."
"With all due respect, my lord… Do you think it was easy for her to leave Caelin and all those she cared about?"
Hector dipped his quill back into the inkwell and shook his head. "Oswin, you're right, of course. I know it wasn't easy for her. She wasn't born for this kind of life, anyway. She'd go stark raving mad…though I'd almost be willing to pay to see that."
Oswin couldn't help but crack a small smile. "I must agree."
"But to answer your question… Yes, I am here, in the first and most obvious place you could think to look in. Does this surprise you?"
"Not really, milord," he said. "I simply remembered how you were only a few years ago… Running off, leaving me frazzled and irate…"
Hector's laugh was loud and clear. Oswin felt relieved to hear it. "Ostia does not need to lose its marquess to a purely optional battle, I think you said."
"Something like that."
"Plus, I have work to do, people to see… And my wife is here." He seemed lost in thought for a moment, his quill suspended over the parchment in front of him as he blinked slowly. "I really have no reason to be anywhere else."
"Good to hear, Lord Hector."
The sun was bright on the battlefield, and he realized that he could hear nothing. He really was an old man, now, he thought as he began to fall, hands grasping at the steel wedged between his plates of armor.
But he never hit the ground.
"Oswin? Oswin?" a voice called frantically, and he felt himself being lowered slowly to the ground. "You fool! I would have been fine if you hadn't stepped your crabby old self in the way of that spear!"
"My Lord Hector," he managed to say when the face of his marquess hovered over him.
"Look, Oswin," Hector said. "You can't go and die on me, now!"
He supposed he should make some kind of dying speech of loyalty. Dying for one's lord was one of the highest honors—every knight knew that. But all he could think to say was, "Tell Serra I'm sorry."
Hector's forehead crumpled up with lines as he frowned. "She's going to be so angry," he said, and then he closed his eyes and ripped the broken spear from Oswin's ribs. "You shouldn't have tried to be all noble. I could have handled it. Now who's running off to where they can't be found?"
"Lord Hector, remember," he groaned as the metal was torn from him, "when you asked how I felt about you taking your brother's place?"
"Yeah," Hector said. "That was so long ago."
"You've done us proud."
It was all he said, all he could say. More words would keep Hector from the battle, and he was already half defenseless as things were, leaning over him as if he could protect him. From what? Oswin thought. Death? He would have chuckled if he could have managed it.
"Thank you, but I can't take all the credit," Hector said, and he knew he meant it. Ostia's marquess's eyes were moist, but when he stood and blinked, all traces of it were gone. "I'm sorry, Oswin," he said before turning away. "But I've got a war to win."
But Oswin was already gone.
Wow, I'm very out of practice with writing, so forgive me for the quality of this one. This was written for charity and is for TehExile, who requested anything with Oswin in it. Thank you for reading! Feedback is, as always, appreciated.