(To read the previous chapter of Strength click here)
The oaf you requested, M’lady,” Matthew said, as he and Hector arrived at House Ostia, “Though I suspect the inelegant clanking of his armor already alerted you to his presence.” “Many thanks,” Lyn said, “You’re as timely a courier as ever.” “Hey, I’m right here!” Hector said, “Don’t talk about me like I’m some package to be delivered! And Matthew, if I wanted your opinion on my armor, I would have asked for it!” “Well, I think your armor’s cute,” Lyn said, “It’s like a bell you put on a housecat so you know if it’s getting into trouble.” “I, er,” Hector said, starting to blush. “Bravo, Lady Lyndis,” Matthew said, “I thought myself the master of getting under m’lord’s skin, but it seems I still have much to learn.” “D-don’t say that like it’s something to be proud of!” Hector said. “Although, now that I think about it,” Lyn said, “Why do you always wear armor? I’ve known you for over a decade, yet I can’t seem to recall or even imagine you wearing normal clothes like a normal person.” “Well, for all his many faults, m’lord is an honest man,” Matthew said, “He would never seek to deceive anyone into believing he’s a normal person.” “Quiet, you,” Hector said, “And the reason you can’t remember me not wearing armor is probably because I look so swarthy and bold in my armor that it overpowers any other memory of me. I’m sure I’ve worn ‘normal’ clothes since we met.” “But can you recall a specific instance?” Lyn asked, “Because I can’t. You even wore armor to our wedding.” “Only after I asked you if you were OK with it and you said that you were!” Hector said. “I was, and I am,” Lyn said, “But I assumed it was some kind of Lycian tradition until we attended Eliwood’s wedding, where he looked far more dashing in his suit.” “Of course he did!” Hector said, “He’s Eliwood! But you must admit, I looked swarthier than he did.” Lyn chuckled. “I must.”
“Well, surely there must have been at least one time that you saw m’lord without his armor,” Matthew said, “Lilina’s very existence is testament to that. Unless he keeps his armor on?” “M-Matthew!” Hector said, flustered, “Don’t speak of such vulgar things in front of Lady Lyndis!” Lyn laughed. “If I couldn’t handle vulgar things, I never would have married Lord Hector in the first place,” Lyn said, “Out of respect for my husband’s privacy, I can’t answer your question, but I have no qualms with him telling you himself.” Matthew looked to Hector expectantly. “I… this is ridiculous!” Hector said, “I… I am Marquess Ostia! I don’t have to answer your insane questions! Do you think Eliwood puts up with this kind of tomfoolery from his retainers?” “Y’know,” Matthew said, “If you refuse to answer the question, you’re basically admitting to the more embarrassing answer.” “I don’t admit to anything!” Hector said, “I just don’t want to dignify your question with a response? How would you like it if I asked about your sex life with Serra?” “How would you like it if I answered?” Matthew asked. “I, uh,” Hector stammered. “I know I rarely act it, m’lord,” Matthew said, matter-of-factly, “But the truth is that you are my dearest friend in all of Elibe. I’m not nice to you nearly often enough, but I’m going to try to make up for that by doing something very, very nice for you, right now.” “And what’s that?” Hector asked, a bit frightened by Matthew’s sudden change in demeanor. “I will warn you that you absolutely would not like it if I answered,” Matthew said, gravely serious. “Matthew, I’ve been your friend long enough to know when you’re trying to trick me,” Hector said, “Because you’re always trying to trick me! I won’t fall for your reverse psychology!” “I’m proud of you for seeing through my deceptions, m’lord,” Matthew said, “Next time I’ll have to come up with a more believable lie.” “You’d better!” Hector said, “You’d make a poor spymaster if even a fool like me could see through your lies.” “Hah, yeah…” Matthew said.
“Actually, m’lord,” Matthew said, “If you’ll forgive me for breaking character… I just want to say I really meant all that stuff I said. I know my antics can be tiring, even if you know it’s all in good fun. But even so, after all these years, after all the jokes I’ve taken too far… you still put up with me, long after everyone else decided I wasn’t worth the trouble. And it’s… hard for me to be sincere like this, when I could just brush it off with a joke, but you’re worth the hardship, m’lord. You’re a good man, Hector, and I’m honored to call you my friend.” “I… yeah,” Hector said, “Er, I mean… I feel the same way. As Marquess Ostia, everyone has such high expectations of me, and I always have to pretend I’m someone I’m not. But around you, I can just be Hector, the big rowdy idiot I’ve been since we were kids. And you may be a pain in the ass at times, but if it weren’t for you, I’d have gone mad from boredom years ago. And I never tell you how much I appreciate it, but I do. You’re my best fri-” The word caught in his throat. Matthew laughed. “It’s OK, m’lord,” he said, “there’s no shame in coming second to Eliwood.” “Glad I’m not the only one who thinks so!” Hector said. “Hah,” Matthew said, “I had planned to stop making jokes at your expense, but if you insist…” “Bring it!” Hector said, “We’re friends, and friends don’t hold each other back!”
“You two really are too cute together,” Lyn said. Hector blushed. “You are a kinder woman than the likes of me deserves,” Matthew said. “See, isn’t it so much easier to just tell the truth?” Hector asked. “Nicely done, m’lord,” Matthew said to Hector, before turning back to Lyn, “To repay your generosity, I’ll tell you why m’lord always wears his armor. As I’m sure you already know, m’lord is deathly afraid of bears.” “I can’t say that I did know that,” Lyn said, “Why did you never tell me?” “Because I’m not!” Hector said, “Matthew’s just trying to make me angry!” “Then you would fight a bear for m’lady?” Matthew asked. “Of course I would!” Hector said, “I would do anything to keep her safe!” “I apologize for not making myself clear, m’lord,” Matthew said, “Would you fight a bear solely to prove your love, even if she were not in danger?” “I… no?” Hector said. “Because you’d be too afraid, m’lord?” Matthew asked. “No!” Hector said, “Because why would that prove my love? Lyn would hate it if I fought a bear! This whole thing is idiotic!” “Perhaps you are correct, m’lord,” Matthew said, “Suppose, hypothetically, of course, that I could signal a nearby bear to appear at this very moment. How would you react?” “What kind of question is that?” Hector demanded, “Of course you don’t have a bear nearby! That’s impossible… isn’t it?” “I don’t know, m’lord,” Matthew said, “I am rather tricky.” “I swear to all the gods, Matthew,” Hector said, “If you’ve somehow smuggled a bear into House Ostia as a sick practical joke, I am terminating you. And I’m not talking about your employment!” “An excellent barb, m’lord,” Matthew said, “But I don’t think you’d get so worked up if you weren’t afraid of bears. I rest my case.”
“He does make a pretty compelling argument, dear,” Lyn said, “You did sound rather frightened.” “Because Matthew’s insane!” Hector said, “I absolutely believe that he would risk life and limb just to play a practical joke on me.” “You flatter me, m’lord,” Matthew said. “So you confess?” Lyn asked. “Yes!” Hector said, “Fine! I’m afraid of bears. Aren’t you? They’re large and strong, with sharp claws and teeth! I have a very normal amount of fear of bears! I’m tired of discussing this, so I’ll just let you say whatever ridiculous lie you’ve cooked up in that devious little brain of yours.” “Many thanks,” Matthew said, “As I was saying, everyone knows that in the event of a bear attack, you should make yourself seem large, right? And that’s exactly why m’lord wears armor all the time.” Lyn laughed. Hector physically bit his tongue to keep from interrupting. “My goodness,” Lyn said, “Why is he so afraid of bears?” “I thought you’d never ask,” Matthew said, “When Hector was young, his brother read him a bedtime story about a cartoon bear. I believe it was called-” “Don’t you dare speak his name,” Hector said, gravely serious. “What’s the matter, m’lord?” Matthew asked, “I thought you agreed to let me tell whatever ridiculous lie I’ve cooked up in this devious little brain of mine. The only reason I can think of why you’d interrupt me is if I were somehow telling the truth.” Hector sighed deeply.
“OK, fine, I admit it. When I was very young, I was afraid of a particular bear from a storybook that my brother read me. In all honestly, I’d forgotten all about it until this one,” Hector said, jabbing Matthew’s shoulder, “Brought it up.” “Why was your brother telling you scary stories at such a young age?” Lyn asked. “You misunderstand, m’lady,” Matthew said, “It wasn’t a scary story. I believe it was a tale about how friendship is the most powerful magic of all.” “You’d better hope it is,” Hector said, “Because friendship is the only thing keeping me from striking you down where you stand!” Matthew gave an exaggerated laugh, slapping his knee like he’d just heard the funniest thing in the world. “What’s so funny?” Hector asked, “That was no jest.” Matthew stopped laughing. “Well, then I find your words most troubling, m’lord,” he said, “If you think friendship is all that stops you from striking me down, then you must have forgotten about my lightning quick refl-” He was interrupted by Hector’s armored fist, crashing into his face and knocking him to the ground. “Hector!” Lyn reprimanded. “He started it!” Hector whined, “And I didn’t even hit him that hard! I’m sure he’s fine.” But Matthew remained on the ground, giving no indication that he was fine. “Is he breathing?” Lyn asked, “Maybe I should go get a healer.” Hector sighed. “Matthew, I know you’re fine,” he said, “But you’re scaring Lady Lyndis, so hurry up and-” Before Hector could finish his sentence, Matthew rose from the ground and punched Hector in the crotch with all his might.
Hector recoiled slightly from Matthew’s attack, but Matthew himself winced and cried out in pain. “And this, m’lady,” Matthew said, presenting his bloodied knuckles to Lyn, “is why m’lord wears armor.” Lyn laughed. “Is that so?” She asked, jokingly. “I… yeah, pretty much, actually,” Hector said, “Even a run-of-the-mill degenerate like Matthew could best me if he caught me off guard. And since a run-of-the-mill degenerate like him could always be lurking nearby, I have to always stay on guard.” “You wound me, m’lord,” Matthew said, “I’ll have you know that I am in fact quite an exceptional degenerate.”
(To read the next chapter of Strength, click here)