Ian pulled out an arrow and called the name of his dear cousin who stood behind him.
“Why don’t we tell the former queen that we’re not her clowns?”
The arrow flew and struck a distant target. Close to the center, but not yet. He could hear someone sighing in envy. Ian rolled his shoulders and took a few steps backward.
“You know we’re not clowns.”
Simon replied belatedly as their shoulders brushed past each other.
“Even though we provide entertainment on this hot day?”
Ian looked up at the bright sun and smiled bitterly. Even though they were baking in the heat, their grandmother wanted them to demonstrate their skills and Ian and Simon had no choice but to obey.
“So it is. Better say I’m not a clown.”
It was Simon’s turn to pull his bow. Ian watched his cousin delicately aim.
Simon’s arrow was a little farther from the center than Ian’s.
‘That was where he was aiming.’
Ian understood Simon’s intentions. He was always this way. Whenever the two were directly compared, Simon was always beneath Ian. Because of that Simon could live a long life…
In a normal house–or even as members of a different noble family–as cousins of the same age they could have competed fairly against each other.
Once again it was Ian’s turn, so he stepped forward.
“I wish you could take me seriously.”
There was no reply. Ian could not hide his regret. He felt like he trapped his cousin in an impossible situation.
So he apologized immediately. Louise had taught him in childhood that he should not delay an apology.
“It doesn’t matter.”
Simon, always so gracious, accepted it without further comment.
“I want you to be serious too.”
No, he had something to say as well.
“Have I ever given my heart to my precious cousin?”
Ian pulled the bow, and Simon kept silent while he concentrated.
His arrow still was short of the center. Ian had kept his eyes on the target until the very end, while Simon finally told the rest of the story.
“It means you have someone else to sincerely devote your heart to.”
“You’re talking about Louise Sweeney.”
“Is everything alright?”
Simon looked back at Ian and did not draw his bow even though it was his turn. The topic of Louise was more important than being a clown for the former queen.
“To be honest, it’s not alright.”
Ian pointed back at the target, and Simon only drew his bow then. His posture and breathing were impeccable, but he still seemed to be in a light hurry. He wasn’t paying much attention to the competition anyway. After the arrow had been let loose, Simon’s question returned.
“Why isn’t it alright with Louise?”
His cousin was quite persistent today. Why? Ian went over Simon’s question, and confessed the one that was recently pressing on his mind.
“She’s scared of me.”
Ian sometimes recalled the brief flashes of horror on Louise’s face. In normal conversation, sometimes a blue fear would pass on her face. She didn’t seem to notice it herself.
“…Don’t let it bother you too much.”
It was Ian’s turn again and he drew his bow.
Now neither of them were paying much attention to playing clowns.
Then the arrow flew away. Ian turned away without looking where it landed.
“Is Louise afraid of only you?”
“Simone, you don’t think you’re scary, do you?”
Simon did not respond to his playful reply. Instead, he stared deeply into Ian’s eyes and struggled to find the words to say. He spoke with a different tone than before.
Then he bowed down, as if to proclaim his loyalty.
“You promised you’d crush me completely.”
“So that no one could find hope in me.”
It was a very old promise, back in the days when Louise Sweeney did not exist between the two.
“In return, I gave you my friendship.”
Simon stood up straight and Ian stared squarely at his blue eyes which resembled his own.
“Yes, I am Hillard. With brutal rights like a beast.”
He was the only one who could kill Ian and avoid the responsibility of the law. In fact, it would place all of Ian’s glory on his shoulders. Simon thought it was vulgar.
“Of course, you perfectly tamed this beast.”
Simon paused and exhaled strongly. His breath was hot, as if he had been repressing some emotion or instinct for a long time.
“An animal is an animal.”
At the end of his self-derogatory remarks, Simon stared straight at Ian.
“If you don’t trample on them, they would dare to desire what belongs to their masters.”
It was Simon’s turn to shoot the bow again. He slowly straightened his back and turned away.
Ian looked at the back of Simon’s figure. The bow was stretched. Uncharacteristically, Simon took more time than usual. Ian tried to imagine where his arrow was pointed. Would it hit the center of the target or somewhere meaningless? Did he really want Simon to be serious? Or would Ian be relieved that Simon wasn’t serious…?
The string was finally released and the arrow shot forward.
The ones who were watching from afar stood up from their seats. Even at their sound of astonishment, Simon’s posture remained unmoved, as if to remember the scene before his eyes. His arrow pierced perfectly through Ian’s first shot. Ian’s arrow was split, the ends trembling helplessly.
Simon spoke in a low voice, not looking back.
“No one should seek hope from me.”
Ian could not bring himself to answer. Perhaps the first person he meant as “no one” was Simon Hillard himself. For his own sake.