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FIC: Seals of Love (7/9)




Title: Seals of Love
Genre: Much Ado About Nothing
Rating: T (some implications)
Author: tkel_paris
Summary: Written as a Christmas present for sykira. A what if inspired by my writing “Glance of Love” and the indications of what might have been for Benedick and Beatrice had their merry war not been triggered.
Disclaimer: Good lord, I'm writing fanfic about a Shakespeare play! Do I need to write that I own nothing? Especially when it's inspired by a particular stage performance?
Dedication: sykira. Merry Christmas, love. :D And to my betas: tardis_mole and bas_math_girl
Author's Note: When my Muse got the bug that later became “Glance of Love”, she got a few other ideas as well. And now that NaNo's over, I'm working on the Christmas stories. Thank goodness some of them were already done. :D

And now I'm not sure when the rest will be posted. One of my betas is at least temporarily unavailable due to unforeseen circumstances. Please think good thoughts. Thank you. I decided to post this to show what happens at the duel.



Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four / Chapter Five / Chapter Six
DVD Extra the First / DVD Extra the Second



Chapter Note: This is the first time I've ever had to give footnotes within my own story. I felt it necessary, and tried to make the marks less intrusive. Don't know how well I did, especially since I couldn't find the kinds of resources I wanted to support my beta's information. (I once again owe tardis_mole a lot in terms of making the details feel right.) Footnotes are at the end of the chapter.

CHAPTER SEVEN: A GRAVE MISAPPREHENSION

Don Pedro led Claudio toward the appointed area, the inner courtyard of Leonato's villa, as the appointed time drew near. “Challenged thee!”

“Most sincerely!”

In the aftermath, neither man seemed able to quite accept that this moment was at hand. It seemed a bad dream.

Only Don John's expression, a careful mask of grimness that did not seem out of place for him on a normal day, seemed anything like calm. He dared not speak for fear that he would accidentally say something that would enlighten the Prince his brother. Such actions would endanger the deception he had practiced. There was still a danger, for Benedick had seemed to grow thoughtful when Don John himself spoke. At least his brother had not given specifics of transgressions to lay at Hero's door, for the Senor cousin would have surely been able to challenge them on those very details.

As the trio, accompanied by many of Don Pedro's men, approached, they saw members of Leonato's House, and some of Beatrice's House, standing around. Men who had to belong to the Watch and the town militia stood almost as sentries. The governor himself was present, eyes focused on the man beside him – his dress jacket and sash already removed. Men who served directly under Benedick's command were already present, a symbolic sign of where their loyalties lay.

Benedick was practicing sharp motions with his cup-hilt rapier, his favored weapon. A weapon preferred by men with strength, that had a good weight to it as it slashed.(1)

The tight control over each movement reminded Don Pedro of why this man was, despite the recent assertions that Claudio was his right hand, the best soldier at his disposal. Losing Benedick would be a blow to all future actions. And quite possibly lose the country to invading forces.

And yet tender his resignation the man already had, and Don Pedro could on second thought see that it was necessary or his honor would be wronged. He did not know if anything would recover Benedick into his service, but he hoped that he might be able to stop this duel. He had thought hard about the sights of the previous evening once the challenge had been issued and accepted. It was true that the only things they had to prove the woman they saw was Hero was that she wore a color similar to what Hero had been seen wearing earlier, she seemed the right size, and the villain had called her by the name of Hero.

Could there be an innocent explanation? Perhaps what they saw was a random lady who was merely addressed as 'Hero' by some man they had not been able to see well? Could his brother be mistaken?

He did not dare entertain the idea that his brother was outright misleading him. He thought himself better able to see through such things. And if that was the case, then he feared he would have to order his own brother's execution. Assuming their father approved.

Benedick paused in his practice and turned as he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. He had already spoken with Leonato about what the man would have to demand... should things go ill. But there would be an acknowledgement that Hero was wronged. He would have that above all else. “Prince, do you still stand with one who has shown himself unworthy of many merits he hath been praised for by thy own tongue?”

The saddened tone wounded Don Pedro, for it was clear that Benedick was mortified that the lord he had served for many years had placed him in such a position. “Benedick, I implore thee that this duel doth not proceed.”

“Claudio hath spoken beyond what can be easily forgot or forgiven,” Benedick responded. “Although my soul tells me that your wisdoms have been misled by one who would see the Count not gain his heart's desires or be praised any further than he hath already. There is only one way the Count may escape my sword.”

Not yet willing to address the implication that his princely wisdom could be misled, Don Pedro focused on the last part of Benedick's brief speech. “And what forfeit shall be required to call this duel off?”

Benedick raised a finger for each part of the demands. “He must start by owning to his foul words the night the match was made, words against my and Beatrice's honesty; then I insist on hearing upon whose authority thy accusations were founded and what thou actually saw. As I am certain that none of you truly saw Hero's face then even you, Claudio, shall own that to accuse her such is slander. Own this all and then bend under a penance of my choosing, and honour shall be satisfied without the duel. Thou was well into thy cups when I left the gentleman's night, and I cannot imagine that either of you had recovered that lost blood by the time of the events intimated in the accusations.”

Don Pedro flinched. Benedick had raised an important challenge, for had he not always said that decisions of importance must be made with a clear head? The Prince knew he himself had been quite merry until his brother had come with his claims, and Claudio had been much further along. Should he have demanded men more sober than they come along to observe and give their own judgement as to whether the woman they saw and heard was truly Hero?

Claudio's pride had already been wounded mightily the night before, and he had thought that to publicly denounce Hero was his only recourse. To have the man he called friend challenge him as having made a worse blunder was too much. And so his words were not tempered by restraint or reason. “I never meant to call thy or thy wife's honesty into question, for I assume that I had vital intelligence that the pair of thee lacked; as for what I accused Hero of, I cannot believe that any man would make such claims without basis in fact. I charge that thy knows thy cousin not, and that thy own accusations are most offensive!”

Leonato's and Beatrice's men cried in anger, and the governer's face twisted with rage. Don Pedro flinched, and Don John hid a smile.

Benedick's eyes turned cold. 'Then prepare to defend thy life, Claudio, for thy words prove thee unworthy of thy title! And then I shall demand a forfeit from the source of thy slander! Count thy blessings that mine wife did not hear thy slander!”

Claudio turned and began removing his outer garments, stripping to Benedick's level. His head was in a rage, and he steeled himself to defend his own eyes.

Benedick looked grimly at Leonato. “You know what you must do, uncle.”

Leonato nodded. “God defend thee and thy just cause, nephew.” He embraced his nephew then, the man who was nearly a son to him.

Benedick returned it. For all the just causes he had to dislike Leonato, the man's love for his family could not be denied and nor could his overall wisdom and reverence. For that he deserved to be treated as a father here, and Benedick would honor that. Indeed, he had more respect for Leonato than his own father. Letting go, he nodded to the men of the house and stepped to wait for the duel to begin.

Don Pedro watched as Claudio, having finished with the necessary disrobing, took several deep breaths. “Count, you are certain this is what you must do?”

“What choice do I have, my lord?” he answered grimly and with considerable emotion. He turned, and the two combatants stepped forward to their designated spots.

The Messenger approached and stood between the two lords, looking between them grimly. He respected both men, and had never imagined things coming to this. Still, it was not his place to suggest an alternative. Instead, he bade them present their swords and he was grimly happy that both were of the same length. Although Claudio's choice of a dueling rapier seemed far less manly than Benedick's, being the weapon typically chosen by men who were not soldiers for settling their differences, and spoke less of honor than of cowardice.(2) He then bade them remove their shirts, as custom was want, to be sure neither hid another weapon.

Thus bared, it was obvious the younger man was less well off in muscle as Benedick, and equally so in sword of lighter steel. But even so it was uncertain if evenly matched was correct, such an uneven measure of the pair. Benedick was brawn and well-toned, and well versed in fighting. Claudio was lighter, untested in the same count of years on the battlefield as Benedick, but he was more agile.

The sight reminded Don Pedro of the difference in their upbringings. Claudio was from Florence, and had spent much time in the south. Such men were often teased by their northern counterparts and sometimes outright accused of being too soft. Benedick hailed from Padua, a rather northern climate that bred heartier and tougher men. And Padua had long been locked in altercations with Venice over land, so Benedick had actually seen more battles than Don Pedro himself had.(3)

When the two had first met, Benedick had tested Claudio by remarking on the difference. The Prince only hoped that anger would not make any real thoughts come out, let alone pure thoughts of anger. Or make comments of the differences in command style: Claudio, for all his recent feats, tended to not get as close to the men he commanded as Benedick did, and the respect shown each was markedly different because of that.(4)

Neither of them wore any shield of protection save the prayer of their hearts to their God. It was man against man, honor against honor. The Messenger raised his sword, the signal for the combatants to touch theirs in preparation and put their respective left hands behind their back.(5)

After waiting a moment, the Messenger dropped the blade of his sword and Claudio rushed forward, only to be ably blocked in his motion by Benedick, who guarded, swiveled and slashed down on him. Only the rear edge of Claudio’s sword stopped him from losing a buttock.

Claudio turned, furious and began to swing his sword back up to lunge to the side with his left foot. Benedick jumped over it and swooped in several times in a figure of eight, but Claudio matched each move with his own, hit high and swiped across Benedick’s belly.

Benedick gasped and jumped back, hitting Titus, a young gentleman of Leonato's House. He got to his feet, apologizing and re-entered the fray, swishing his blade more swiftly in an attempt to catch Claudio out. He caught the man across his cheek and sent him flying back into Don Pedro.

Don Pedro lifted him to his feet and shoved him forward, while Claudio patted a finger to his wound. It was barely a scratch. He’d had worse. He marched towards Benedick, who was barely out of breath, and started at him again.

The sound of steel on steel clacked and echoed around the inner courtyard, and Benedick tried not to be aware that this could be heard by the women and children out of sight in the rooms beyond the shuttered windows, the public rooms capable of holding so many at one time.

He swiped Claudio and took off the top button of his britches, dropping them to his ankles. Only the necessity for undergarments kept him from being fully exposed.

“Stop!” the Messenger shouted.

“Nay, good man,” Claudio refused, out of breath, lifting the torn clothing to his hips, where a long red welt had risen across his abdomen. “I shall hold them up with my left hand and continue.”

“That is against the rules,” the Messenger persisted. “The left hand must remain behind the back.”

“Let him hold his britches,” Benedick responded. “I have no wish to see his excuse for manhood exposed to the good air of Messina! My kin have been wronged enough this day!”

Claudio’s expression soured more. “Let me expose thy lack of manhood-”

“Claudio,” the Prince interceded quickly and sharply. “Fruits are the make of a man. Even that thee cannot make a lie.”

Claudio snorted. “Perhaps his wife was no more a maiden than Hero. Perhaps the Lady Beatrice laid with another to bring fruit!”

“How dare you!!” Benedick practically growled. “I knew thee to be slow, but I had not thought thee so blind!”

Don Pedro hid his face, not just in shame at Claudio’s words, but for the attack that burst from Benedick’s corner. It was more frenzy than he had seen even in the height of battle, and in this he was justified. Claudio had crossed a line that should never be crossed. He could not support him in that and took a large step back, a gesture of symbolic significance to anyone who paid attention, and now for a surety he began to wonder why his brother seemed so pleased with the day’s events. He had ignored it before, but he noticed it now.

Claudio looked for openings. He had height and youth on Benedick, so he had to use them. But there was little opening to use.

Benedick was looking to use his sharper skills and greater experience to unseat Claudio from his confidence. Never mind that he knew he could unsettle the man easily enough with words; he'd already proved that. But now his honour, his marital bed and the legitimacy of his children were in question. Unlike Claudio, he knew how to channel his anger into proper forms.

“I perceive thee breathless, old man!” Claudio taunted.

Benedick was only just warming up and had barely broken a sweat, but he was slightly breathless, mostly with anger. “No more so than the weanling I wrestled from his mother’s breast!” he shot back.

The riposte hit its mark. “I am no mere weanling! I shall wear your honour like a broach and your skin shall be my boots!!”

“Unlikely when thou is from the soft Florentine stock, having never smelt the sea and thus never gaining strength of it as a child; nay, thy steals it by the mere act of visiting!”

Claudio squawked and his sword swiped between them unexpectedly, catching Benedick across the chest. Benedick stumbled back, dropping his sword and clutching the long blooded slash. But like the other, it merely wept slightly. He swooned back on his haunches and dropped to his behind, all from the surprise at the opening he had not realized he had left. He looked at his hand and his chest and knew then that he had to kill Claudio.

“I have been holding back from this moment, one-time friend. But no more!” he warned calmly. He picked up his sword and rose to his feet, shaking off the aid of his uncle, his eyes now only for Claudio.

Don Pedro's eyes widened. He realized Claudio did not yet comprehend the significance. The Count was about to pay for his sin – or sins – in mistaking.

Stop!” cried Dogberry as he ran into the area. “This duel is wrong! Both men have been used!”

Only his running right in-between the men stopped the fighting.

“Constable,” Leonato protested, even as Verges and the Watch came along, dragging two of Don John's men with them, “do you know how wrong it is to interrupt a duel of honour?”

“But these men have committed false report which led to this duel, moreover they have spoken untruths, secondarily they are slanders, sixth and lastly they have belied a lady, thirdly they have verified unjust things, and to conclude, they are lying knaves who would set two honourable men against each other,” Dogberry contended, referring to Borachio and Conrade.

Don Pedro moved towards him, trying and failing to keep his own displeasure off his face. Although he had not missed his brother's plain panic at the sight of his men bound. “First I ask thee what they have done, thirdly I ask thee what's their offence, sixth and lastly why they committed, and no conclude, what you lay to their charge.” He turned toward Borachio.

Dogberry opened his mouth to protest, but thought the better of it. Until the truth had been spoken, the duel could resume at a moment's notice. And he was standing between two swords and the respective men who wielded them.

Don Pedro noted then that his brother looked extremely uneasy, far more than his normal want, and felt a growing knot in his stomach. That, seconded to the smile he could swear he saw not a moment before when Benedick declared he would cease holding back, meant there was something he was not privy to. “Who have you offended, masters, that you are thus bound to your answer? This learned constable is too... cunning to be understood. What's your offence?”

Borachio looked up slowly. “Sweet Prince, do you hear me and let this Senor kill me and not the Count. I have deceived even your very eyes. What your wisdoms could not discover these... shallow fools have brought to light, who overheard me in the night confessing to this man how your brother Don John incensed me to slander the Lady Hero, and how you saw me court Margaret in Hero's garments.”

Claudio paled and dropped his blade to the ground, leaving it hanging from his nerveless fingers. Don Pedro froze, stiffened by shame and yet more shame, of his eyes and ears and by his own bastard brother. Benedick and Leonato's faces contorted with rage. But they were not the only ones. Angelo, Margaret's father, and Titus, who had long held a tender toward Margaret, also turned red with fury.

Don John looked for an escape but could see none. Leonato's own men were guarding the place carefully, Beatrice's seemed out for blood, and the soldiers would assist them all now.

Borachio looked heavenward. “My villainy they have upon record, which I had rather seal with my death than repeat over to my shame. The lady is nearly dead upon mine and my master's false accusations, two men who ought not be enemies are locked in a duel that can only end with one at least injured – more injured than now – and in short I desire nothing more than the reward of a villain.”

While Don Pedro rubbed his face, Claudio stared at the ground by Dogberry's feet. Benedick's eyes turned on Claudio, never leaving his face.

When Don Pedro's hands fell limply by his side, he turned to Claudio. “Runs this speech like iron through your blood?”

“I have drunk poison whilst he uttered it,” Claudio choked, his voice barely reaching everyone in the vicinity.

“And did my brother set thee upon this?” Don Pedro demanded of Borachio.

“Yea, and paid me richly for the practice of it.”

Benedick could not remain silent. “And did you both plan for this duel to take place?”

“My master feared thy wits would unravel the plans, and I suggested that thy honour would ensure such a duel would take place. I do believe he wished to be rid of at least one of you both.”

Leonato needed to be seated from shock.

Don Pedro shook with shame and rage. “He is compos'd and fram'd of treachery, and fled he would upon this villainy! Just as he hath his other responsibilities!” He turned on his brother. "Foisting your own vile plot on a denied begotten and yet still, revile her innocence more by your treachery and deceit in this! O that you had covered your loins sooner!"

The words left the courtyard in silence. Don Pedro realized only a moment later what he had spoken. In vīno, vērĭtās was not quite as true as many liked to think. More accurate would be in fŭror, vērĭtās.(6)

“Let me choose his fate, my Lord,” Benedick insisted, not daring to hint that his former lord had nearly confirmed one of his suspicions that he had never shared with Beatrice. And to grant the Prince a chance to recover his composure. “I'll devise thee brave punishments for him.”

Tis your right as the most wronged party other than the Lady Hero and Lady Beatrice, praise God they did not hear what we have heard,” the Prince agreed. He added a silent prayer that the latter never would, although it might be in vain given how little Benedick censored his own words around her. He looked at the combatants and slowly sighed, pained at what he had to say. “Constable, you must step aside. Only the two men can resolve the duel.” For it had to be resolved. Honor demanded it.

Dogberry nervously stepped out and quickly to the side, standing once again at attention with his hands behind his back.

Now all eyes were once again on the combatants.

Benedick's eyes bored into Claudio's, who could barely meet them. “If thy claims to have sinn'd not but in mistaking, then thou art a coward who will not own to his failure to treat his lady as half himself!”

Don Pedro's lips twitched. The thought that Benedick clearly dismissed had crossed his mind, but now he had to speak. “Benedick, I swear I shall bend under any weight to satisfy yourself and the Lady's good old man. But I do beg you to permit Claudio live, though I shall not command it; even I cannot order you to act against your conscience in a matter of honour.”

Claudio dropped his sword, letting it fall out of reach, and fell to his knees. He forced his eyes to meet Benedick's. “Choose your revenge against me, Senor. Every accusation I have laid at thy door was said in anger, without warrant or proof. Every accusation thou hath laid at my door is proved true. Thou hast said from the first that I was unworthy of Hero, and I have proved it beyond any reckoning. If I must pay with mine life, then permit as much of my fortunes as may be removed by law from the inheritance to my family's heirs to fall to care for Hero.”

Benedick was silent for a long moment. No one could read his face, for he kept it still. He assessed the younger man's manner, deciding what the best course of action would be.

Then he stepped forward and slashed Claudio's stomach twice, drawing a brief cry of shock from the younger man. The wounds were not so deep that it would kill Claudio, but more than enough to leave an ugly scar that would brand the Count for the rest of his days even if treated immediately. Whereas Benedick's new scars would pain his wife no more than it pained him. They wouldn’t scar too boldly, but he would wear them as a bitter reminder. Claudio would wear his with shame.

Claudio forced himself to remain looking at Benedick's face the whole time, waiting for the final verdict.

The older man took a deep breath. “Honour is satisfied as far as the duel is concerned. Your penance I have yet to decide upon, but you shall not be permitted to even ask Hero for forgiveness until thou hast carried it out.”

Claudio nodded, shaking from the shock of being alive and from the loss of blood. Even as he received treatment to stop the blood flow. Don Pedro breathed in relief that his brother's aims had been thwarted at last. Leonato stood slowly, grim but in obvious pride of his nephew's conduct.

Benedick waved off the help of the men of his House, after giving each wound a cursory pat to make sure they had stopped bleeding, grabbing his clothes instead. “I must see to my family. I shall meet all of thee later.” With that he hurried into the house.

Don Pedro cast a glare in his brother's direction and stepped to examine the wounds Benedick had bestowed on Claudio. He motioned for a look when the medics seemed satisfied that Claudio was not losing so much blood. When the stained cloths were removed, he hissed.

Claudio looked down at last, and paled further. The two slashes made an X on his stomach, the mark effectively branding him a vulpes, a fox of the worst sort.(7) Two dishonors, Hero and Beatrice. He would carry this shame for life. He wondered if he should feel fortunate that Benedick had not given him the third slash he richly deserved, but then realization hit: he would be in debt to Benedick and Beatrice's House for life, a debt that would be slowly collected. Surely his life was only spared because he knew Benedick despised Don John and would act to thwart a man he knew to be a villain.

Don John noticed from the sidelines. As bound and caught as he was, he still found a smile. He could still cause some mischief, and the marriage was perhaps still crossed.

/=/=/=/

1. A cup-hilt rapier refers to the shape of the hand guard on the hilt of a battle rapier. Typically they are one meter long and weight varies, dependent on the type and quality, and many are as much as 4kg. It's incredibly sharp at the end, and I'm told they can take off a finger if you're not careful. Remember Arwen's cheek cut from the branch in the movie version of Fellowship? That's the typical kind of wound if you get a slight hit, and it weeps. In the hands of someone as skilled as Benedick, it's a deadly weapon.

2. A dueling rapier is typically one meter long and weigh 1kg. They're distinctive because of the fluted handle of silver or gold filigree and attractive design and lighter steel. They are not meant for war, but are more for decoration and thus for dueling. The lighter weight meant it was preferred by civilians who hadn't endured the rigor of military training. So Claudio's choosing this makes him appear less of a man than Benedick.

3. There are a lot of jokes, teasing, and perhaps rattling cages regarding how the location a person was brought up in influences their adult lives. We've all heard them. In this case, the basis comes from things dating back to the Romans. The auxiliaries may have been needed because the Roman legionaries didn't do so well in more northern climates. Well, check a map of Italy. Messina is in Sicily, the far south. Florence is in the northern central part of Italy, and Padua is close to the Alps and the sea. It also endured many years of conflict with neighboring Venice. (Again, check history references, especially the extensive listing of the Republic of Venice's wars. Historical context becomes interesting when twisted into the modern setting of this production.) Hence the remarks of the physical differences and the mention of Benedick being involved in more battles than Don Pedro. Soldiers would be sensitive to those remarks, unless they're like Benedick and know how to let most wash off their backs.

4. Look up history books and find the difference in how the troops viewed commanders who ordered from the back vs the ones who led from the front, most commonly during WW1 and WW2; particularly General Bucknet Jr, who insisted on being more hands on and which led to his death, compared to Herbert Kitchener, who commanded from some distance from the front lines in a more administrative position. I'll let those speak for me here, since it shows how ably Benedick commands to still be living.

5. For a quick reference on the rules of sword dueling, particularly the chivalry surrounding it, go to Classical Fencing website's page on Duels With the Sword.

6. I figured this one out with the help of my copy of Cassell's Latin Dictionary, 1968 edition. Yes, I took Latin in college. I even got a teacher to help me translate a computer term into Latin for a work project once. From the Latin fŭror: furious anger, martial rage. Thought it suited Don Pedro's mood.

7. Anyone remember the character Zorro and his mark? “Zorro” means “fox”, which is also known by the Latin vulpes – which flowed down into the Romance languages, Italian and Spanish included. Zorro liked to humiliate the corrupt officials he fought against, and marking them would do just that. But calling someone a “fox” isn't typically a compliment, which is the case here. Each slash of the mark represents a particular dishonor. Benedick would have been within his right to mark Claudio a third time, but DT's Benedick strikes me as someone who would focus on the wrongs against women and children, leaving himself out of it. Hence an X and not a Z, and why Claudio knows he's in debt for life.



Chapter Eight: Waiting Is the Worst Sorrow

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
sykira
Jan. 21st, 2014 11:42 pm (UTC)
Wow, you certainly researched this thoroughly, I feel like I learned a lot reading this! I agree with your read on how Benedick would handle everything, especially how he marks him. Claudio really was a total dick here.

I love latin! I wish I could afford for my kids to go to a school good enough to teach latin, it is so much more useful than people realize.
tkel_paris
Jan. 22nd, 2014 03:55 am (UTC)
I was lucky in that I had a beta able to fill in the blanks, and tell me when I didn't know I was missing info. It was a lesson in honor and fighting, and I knew very little about how to describe fight scenes before this story. Benedick shines here as the most honorable man of the bunch, which I knew you'd like. And yes, Claudio was a total dick. And yet this chapter hinted at far worse from someone else. Stay tuned.

Cool! :D I don't know what your kids' learning style is, but there are books about learning Latin. And there are the lovely Latin for Every Occasion books. Amazon would give you a better idea of what's out there. The ability to read it gives a huge advantage to a person.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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