An allegorical twist on David and Jonathan
|Jestin, son of Seamas, King of Alba, nudged his best friend just as he let his arrow fly. The man's arm jerked, sending the shot flying over the deer-skinned target.
Darach frowned as Jestin grabbed the bow from his hand.
"Let a real man show you how 'tis done!" Jestin nocked his arrow with a flourish, squinted one green eye, and let loose of the strings. The arrow flew straight and true, smacking into the target's red center.
Jestin smirked and passed the bow back to Darach.
"We're tied now, aye?" Darach asked, pulling an arrow from his quiver. Jestin crossed his arms over his broad chest and nodded.
"Aye, and loser pays for the beòir," Jestin grunted, "But you'll not best me, Darach. Ach, you never have and you never will."
"There's a first for everything," Darach winked. Pulling the string to his cheek, Darach took one last glance at his best friend to make sure he wouldn't "accidentally" bump him before taking aim. As he exhaled the arrow took flight, sailing toward the target...and then over it, into the woods.
Jestin threw back his dark head and roared with laughter, "'Tis as I said, aye?" Slapping Darach on the shoulder, Jestin turned his groaning friend towards town.
"Time to make good on our wager," Jestin's eyes twinkled with good humor, "I pray you have a goodly sum of coin in your pouch, for I aim to drink up as much of it as humanly possible!"
Darach brushed off Jestin's hand and adjusted his rumpled plaid.
"Aye, I'll pay up. But I can't stay for long. Your athair is expecting me to ply the harp for him this eve."
Jestin clenched his jaw and quickened his step, causing Darach to bound forward and catch him by the arm.
"'Tis not oft your tongue stops flappin' like a boireannach," Darach teased.
Jestin glared but didn't throw back a witty response.
"Ach, ain't you gonna bite back?" Darach stopped mid-step and dropped his quiver to the ground with a dull thump.
Jestin sighed. Spotting a rotting log near the path, he turned to sit.
"My father means to kill you, Darach."
Darach laughed as he plopped down on the log, "That's foolish talk, Jestin. Your athair loves me like a son."
Jestin rubbed his dark beard, shaking his head as the sun began to set. He fixed unfocused eyes on the Highland mountains as his mind wandered back to the day that Seamas, his father and king, had fallen into a fit of rage and tried to kill Darach. Darach had been playing the harp in the Great Hall when the king let a spear fly at Darach's head. Jestin grimaced at the memory. The music, apparently, was not able to sooth the savage beast that day.
"That's why father flung a spear at your fleeing backside, then, eh? Out of love?"
Darach waved an indifferent hand. "With all due respect, Jestin. Your athair is a moody man."
"Ach, and we both know he made you head of the teulu with the hopes you'd be killed in battle. And then he offers my fair siùir's hand in marriage...for a dangerous price."
Darach blushed. "A price I was glad to pay, Jestin. Besides, I was able to bring back a larger tochradh than the king expected."
"And what a dowry it was," Jestin grinned, "The foreskins of two-hundred Roman soldiers!"
Dorach shrugged, "Your sister was worth it."
Jestin stood with a grunt and hefted the bow over his shoulder. The sun had disappeared and darkness had curled its dark fingers over the town.
"I spoke to my father about you, Darach," Jestin frowned at the memory, "His soul clings to anger and fear and jealousy."
Darach grabbed the quiver and the two began to walk down the hill, towards the pub in the center of town. With a quick side-glance, Darach read the perturbed look on his friend's face.
"Because of me, aye?"
"Aye. He knows how the people love you. He told me he fears you will become king when I should be next in line."
"But...that's not the way it works. An heir is always picked by tanist. 'Tis custom."
"Aye, but your clan is part of the roydammna..."
"Which means I have a good chance at taking his place," Darach groaned.
"Father aims to murder you. He's tried already and don't you deny it."
Darach's mouth pinched shut as he contemplated his friend's words. The torch lights from town grew brighter the closer they drew to town. Jestin placed a hand on Darach's shoulder as he fought his emotions.
"You know I love you like a bràthair. I'd be honored to one day call you lord and king," he shook his head, "I have no desire to rule Alba."
"What would you have me do?" Darach whispered.
"Leave," Jestin's voice cracked, "Take a band of our best warriors with you and return when 'tis time for you to take father's place."
Darach shook his head, "What of Marcail?"
"My sister would say the same. She would rather have a live fear-cèile than a dead one, aye?"
Jestin rested a hand on the pub's door, ready to push through and escape the gloomy conversation.
"As your friend I would urge you to action...before 'tis too late."
The two friends sank onto a wooden bench, pints in hand, each lost in their own thoughts. The door to the pub burst open and the king's warband flooded in with the cold air.
"Darach!" the head of the band cried, "We have orders to take you back to the Great Hall. King Seamas desires your ear!"
"And the rest o' his head," a warrior laughed.
Jestin's eyes bounced to Darach's. "Go, my bràthair. I will hold them off."
The two jumped as one to their feet. Jestin pulled Darach into a bear hug before pushing him towards the pub's back door. Screaming a battle cry, Jestin launched himself into the warband.