Written for a music prompts game, 2011. The prompt was “I’ll Wait For You” by Briana Hughes.
Pre-dawn, the air snappish with cold, even the roosters still asleep, and still Calvin came to the stables to see Ethelbert off. Despite his boots and fur-lined cloak he shivered in the hay, leaning heavily on the cane that prevented him from joining Ethelbert in the wars. “Have you remembered the letters of introduction?”
“I have,” Ethelbert assured him. His squire was tying on yet another parcel to his pack mule, this one a gift from Calvin: warm boots for crossing the mountains, some trinkets to remind him of home, and a book of poetry that Calvin had been pe/stering him to read for months. Ethelbert did not point out there would be little time for reading while abroad, and vowed he would bring the precious little book home safely. “As well as the letters of credit and a goodly amount of gold. I will be well looked-after.”
Calvin nodded jerkily. “No ladies to see you off,” he remarked.
“Too early and too cold.” Not that it mattered. He had no wife of his own and the ladies of his manor were serving girls or the wives of his yeomen. Strange how little it mattered, as long as Calvin ate at his table and sat beside his hearth, talking until the flames burned low.
Calvin glanced at Hector, and said, “Would you dismiss your squire so that we may speak in private?”
“Of course.” It took only a nod and Hector hurried off, no doubt glad of the chance for one more cup of ale and a few more minutes beside the kitchen fire. Ethelbert turned to his friend, already feeling the sadness of parting, and said, “If you wish to persuade me away from this action, it’s too late.”
“No, I don’t wish to dissuade you.” He placed his hand on Paladin’s warm muzzle. “I wish to make you an offer, but I … I don’t know how you’ll take it.”
“You’re not going to offer to ride a thousand leagues with that hip,” said Ethelbert.
Calvin smiled, subdued, even grim, in the torchlight. “No. This is an altogether different kind of foolishness. I wish you to know that I–” He breathed in, a method of self-fortification that Ethelbert knew well, and said, “I will miss you terribly and I will wait for you.”
Ethelbert waited for his friend to clarify this mysterious statement, and then said when nothing further was forthcoming, “Of course you will wait for me. I don’t expect you to run off to Paris or Rome while I’m away, even in your pursuit of knowledge.”
“I mean–” Again the breath, and his hand clutched tighter at his cane. “Gads, you make nothing easy. Tell me if I’m mistaken, tell me I’ve imagined it and I will never mention it again, but have we not become closer than brothers in the last years? Have we not comforted and nursed each other, have we not been each other’s cheer and joy? Do you not know how deeply I feel for you?”
Ethelbert drew back, startled by the passion in Calvin’s eyes, the animation in his thin face. He put his hands on Calvin’s shoulders — lightly, to not rest the weight of his leather riding gloves on his friend’s thin frame. “Calvin — what is this? Of course you are my dearest friend, closer to me than a brother. Of course I hope to live to see you once this war is over.”
“I love you,” said Calvin and then gulped as Ethelbert inhaled at the unexpectedness of this statement. “You’re my dearest friend and you always will be, no matter what, and I’ll wait for you. I’ll wait for your answer when you come home. You must come home. You must.”
“Calvin,” Ethelerbert whispered and glanced at the stable doors, hoping they would not be overheard.
Calvin leaned against Ethelbert, eyes closing. “Even if you don’t love me back, it’s all right. You’ll still be my dearest companion, my truest friend. I’ll wait for you.”
Of the many words they had exchanged over the years, these were the ones Ethelbert had least expected to hear, and he had no answer to them. Of course he loved Calvin as a comrade and a brother-in-arms, but as more —
Yet the idea was not abhorrent to him. He knew his friend’s body, from the years of helping him move when Calvin’s own strength failed him. It was because of Ethelbert’s devotion that Calvin could stand at all, even if he still needed a cane to walk and would never again mount a steed. There was no denying that Ethelbert had stayed when many others had let their friendship dwindle. That he had to ride to this war without Calvin at his side, to protect and comfort and cheer him, filled his heart with sorrow.
He lifted Calvin’s head to look into his eyes. There were shadows under his friend’s eyes from constant pain, the vigor of his youth gone, but still it was the face dearest to Ethelbert’s heart.
He pressed a kiss between Calvin’s brows. It was a simple gesture, it cost him nothing, and still he felt Calvin tremble. Ethelbert whispered, “Wait for me.”