The Duel

Two men stood in finery, facing each other in an open field. The rising sun crept slowly over a distant tree line, and the men’s shadows stretched far across the dew-soaked grass. The older man had arrived first, and was accompanied by three supporters who now observed the grim scene astride barded horses. Albert, the younger man, had come alone. Behind him, his horse pawed at the dirt and tramped about, a reluctant participant in its master’s foolish affair.

Albert’s opponent postured in a stiff, sudden motion, and raised aloft the ornate wooden pistol. Albert gritted his teeth and mirrored the salute. His pistol felt awkward and heavy. Albert had purchased the weapon days before in a haste, unwilling to compound his already questioned honor by admitting to a lack of readiness. He had spent a month’s pay on the thing, and had only fired it once, at the tree behind his home. Twenty paces away, just as he stood now, he had blasted away a chunk of bark. As a child, he had climbed that tree, and from its highest branches could see across the rooftops to the market. Harming it so had pained him, but such wistful musing had not followed him to the field that morning. He hoped only today that his aim held true.

Albert was the challenged, and thus was obligated to fire first. Last Sunday, to the peal of church bells, a well-dressed gentleman that he had not recognized strode forth and lashed a weathered glove across Albert’s face. Retribution was demanded. Terms were set. Peace with God was made. And so here they stood. But as Albert faced maiming or death, he felt assured. The circumstances had crashed down on him like burning timbers, but he refused to give into the fear he felt now. Surely, fate would smile on his bravery. He closed on eye, and focused on the glint of sunlight dancing off of the older man’s coat button. He slid his back foot, steadying himself on the wet ground, and fired.

A crack of thunder and burst of smoke, and the panicked cries of Albert’s horse. A flock of starlings erupted upwards from a nearby willow. Across the field, there stood his opponent, unfazed and unharmed. Albert had missed. His arms fell to his side, and for a moment Albert thought to turn and run. But as his opponent leveled his pistol, panic was replaced by reminiscence. Albert thought about that night in the barn. He thought about how Elizabeth’s hands had trembled in his, and how her freckled chest had heaved with every desirous breath. Her eyes, green like the waters of the River Shannon, had never left his. Albert now saw those same eyes in the face of Elizabeth’s father, now cold and full of conviction. As those last happy thoughts fluttered away, Albert’s pistol slipped from his grasp. The newly polished and nearly virginal weapon clattered at his feet. Albert at once took note of a twinge of remorse on the face across the field, but it was lost in a cloud of white-grey smoke. The Albert felt cold, and as fell he saw the starlings, again roused from their perch, eclipse in a swirling mass the light of the morning sun.

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