The ambrosial sunlight spilled through the streets of Verona that day like water from a bucket. Even though it was a warming, clear light, the air was chill, and the briskness told of a cold autumn and hard winter to come. But it was only the end of August now, and for the moment the thoughts of hardship were put to the back of minds.
In the courtyard of the Capulet house, the sound of wood-upon-wood rang out, echoing over the cobblestones and up to the clear blue sky above Verona. Meanwhile the servants and adults of the house were about other business, two young male offspring of the noble family had gathered in the courtyard in order to duel.
Despite his furious parrying of the other boys attacks, Tybalt found himself being forced to take steps backwards. A frown of frustration found its way onto his face, and he sidestepped to avoid being backed up against the wall of the courtyard. As he stepped, he begin to press his own attacks with the wooden rapier, trying to keep Benedict occupied long enough to get around him.
There was a quick routine of attacks and parries, and one of Benedicts thrusts slipped through Tybalts defenses. Swiping at the wooden blade with his own, he threw his hips backwards to dodge, and promptly tripped as the toe of one boot caught between the cobblestones.
The swears of a boy on his lips, Tybalt tucked in his arms and rolled twice, onto his back. His muscles were poised to spring back to his feet when he felt the wooden sword kicked from his grasp, and the tip of his cousins own weapon tapped patiently just above his heart.
The other Capulet was smiling in triumph, sweat beaded above his lip and at his hairline, making his already wavy black hair even curlier. Do you yield, Tybalt?
Never, he spat, glaring up at his friend along the fake rapier, which continued to tap at his chest. I would rather die.
Benedict nodded. Very well, then. The tapping stopped, and he leaned his weight against the sword, just enough so that the pressure hurt and there would be a small bruise later. After a few seconds, he drew back, and nodded. Tybalt winced and looked up at his cousin. That was a very thorough stabbing. Am I in danger of becoming a vampire, that you had to pierce my heart so? He rubbed at the place he had been stabbed, meanwhile taking the hand Benedict offered to help him to his feet.
The son of Lord Capulet nodded sagely. Indeed. It was for your own good, byr Lady.
Rolling his eyes, Tybalt bent and scooped the fallen rapier from the cobblestones, balancing the blade against his shoulder as he straightened. For a moment, all jest was gone from his green-gold eyes as he regarded Benedict. Some day, cousin, Ill be as good as you at dueling. And then well rout the Montagues together. None of us will ever have to fight with them again.
Benedict smiled thinly. Perhaps. Youre always so violent, Tybalt. Someday, I hope youll learn that swords arent the answer to everything. I swear, when Im Lord Capulet, Ill see the feud ended peacefully. Then there wont be any reason for us to fight them again. We can be like brothers, and help each other.
In all of his eight summers, Tybalt had never heard such a thing, and he shook his head violently, the sunlight picking up the red highlights in his dark bronze hair. Like brothers with the Montague family? They are worse than dogs! To show his disdain, he spat onto the stones they were standing on. Id never stand for it! Why, youre half a Montague yourself, for saying something such as that!
A scowl darkened Tybalts face as Benedict simply laughed. Instead of being insulted, as any other Capulet would have been, the young heir of the Capulet house merely laughed good-naturedly. But his good-humored mirth was abruptly cut off as a heaving cough shook his frame. The wooden sword fell from his hand with a clatter, and the terrible, wet coughing continued as one hand clutched at his chest and the other flew to his mouth. Benedicts dark eyes shut tightly, and he continued to shake.
Weapon discarded in an instant, Tybalt was at his friends side, holding him steady and gazing about with wide eyes. His gaze fell upon the closest servant, a young maid, terrified by the horrendous coughing. Fetch the doctor! When she remained frozen, Tybalt snarled, Go! and she scurried away into the house of the Capulets.
As though from nowhere, the Capulet steward appeared, gently scooping the ten-year-old Capulet boy into his arms. Almost immediately, Benedicts coughing quieted, though his chest continued to heave, and the grimace of pain remained on his face. When he drew his hand away from his mouth, there was blood and phlegm in his palm.
I will take you to your chamber, young Benedict. The doctor will be along promptly. Come along, Tybalt. Theres no sense in you staying behind.
Tybalts anger of a few moments ago had already dissolved, instead replaced by a chilling fear. A distant baby cousin had once had a cough like that. He didnt think he could ever forget the sight of her mother weeping over the clay-cold, blue corpse that had resulted. Tybalt could not seem to shake the memory from his mind as he followed Gallino through the house to Benedicts chambers.
When they reached the room, he moved ahead and opened the door, allowing Gallino entrance. As the servant placed his masters son upon the bed and tucked him under blankets, Tybalt found his hands to be shaking. Anger flaring again, he clenched them tightly into fists to stop the tremors.
I will go direct the physician here, Gallino declared in his soft voice. Master Tybalt, will you remain here with Master Benedict?
Of course. His voice cracked slightly, and he cleared his throat. Of course.
Very good. Gallino dipped a bow and left, closing the door quietly behind him.
For a moment, Tybalt remained still, staring blankly at the closed door, but he was jolted from this absence of mind when Benedict spoke. Tybalt. His voice was weak, and he coughed once. Cousin, you wont leave me until the doctor comes, will you?
The young boy turned and took a seat on a chair beside Benedicts bed. His feet didnt even reach the floor, and he felt strangely foolish. Ill stay.
His friend smiled and his eyes closed peacefully. For the moment, his breathing seemed to be calm, if a little shallow. His chuckle was low, short, and whisper-soft. I think you might have terrified that poor maid girl with your shouting.
Tybalt hmphed in his throat. Me? I think it was you, with all that coughing. She looked like she was going to keel over of heart-stop. The two enjoyed another brief chuckle.
There was a short pause, and Benedict spoke again. Tybalt...? I... Im scared. Dark eyes caught green-gold ones. I know that I shouldnt be, because the Lord will be there to guide me, but I... I dont want to die. There are so many things I have to do yet.
The younger of the two Capulets made a scoffing sound, trying to be flippant. Whatre you talking about, Benedict? Youre not going to die. Youve just got a cough, thats all. The look that the other fixed on him made Tybalt squirm in his seat. Right?
We shall soon find out, an aged voice said from the doorway, startling the two boys. Benedict gasped in air, and began coughing again. Tybalt turned, and came face to face with the Capulet physician, who smiled at him kindly, though there was grimness behind it. If you would be so kind, Master Tybalt, I need to examine your cousin.
Swallowing, he nodded silently and slid off the chair. Looking up, Tybalt caught sight of his aunt and uncle, usually so regal and proud, standing by the doorway, looking both lost and scared. Lord and Lady Capulet normally were so guided and wise that it disturbed their young nephew to see them appearing weak and confused.
As he neared them, Lady Capulet looked at him with a kind of cold stare that abruptly turned to tenderness, and she smiled. You may go, Tybalt. You may see Benedict later, when he is feeling better.
The young Capulet bowed, moving from their path. Yes, Aunt.
For a moment, he considered the prospect of wandering about that Capulet house, in order to wait for Benedict to return so they could continue their game of earlier, but, abruptly, he sighed, and began to make his way toward his chamber. Even if there was nothing wrong with his cousin -- and inwardly, he cried out. There couldnt possibly be! -- it was doubtful that either the doctor or Benedicts parents would allow him to go back out again today.
Two weeks had passed since the day Benedict had been struck with his coughing fit, and it seemed that he had gotten no better. Tybalt had tried to gain permission to go and visit his cousin, but all Lord and Lady Capulet would say was that he was too tired just yet to be visited, and he needed all of the rest possible to regain his strength and good health.
But, yet, even when the windows and door were closed to Benedicts chamber, one could hear the coughing from the courtyard below.
The young Capulet cousin had been amusing himself with a mock-sword fight against an invisible and incorporeal opponent, a ritual that he had picked up in the last several days. To those watching, it was almost as though he was fighting the ghost of whatever ailment his friend was himself battling, and the more superstitious of the servants had taken to crossing themselves during these escapades.
Every day he fought this invisible foe until he could no longer even lift the wooden practice sword, but Benedict got no better. Every day the fight would end with his exhaustion, tiredly stabbing his foe through the heart, before leaning on the sword where it stuck between the cobblestones. His style had improved, almost inexplicably, but nothing more.
It was in the aftermath of one such fight, that day, leaning heavily against the practice sword and wiping the sweat-soaked hair out of his eyes that Tybalt heard a pair of hushed voices around the corner. He recoiled inwardly as he recognized them as his aunt and uncle -- it would not due to be thought to be eavesdropping. Gentlemen and Capulets did no such thing.
He was about to turn away, humming inside his head to drown out the temptation of listening to the conversation, when some of it managed to worm its way into his ears.
This will be the third child weve lost, Guido! I dont think I could bear to lose any more than this.
Lower your voice, woman, or everyone will hear you. We have not lost him yet, and he is a Capulet. He has strong blood, unlike those wretched Montagues. He will recover, though we must be patient until then. I will not have you wandering about looking downcast and melancholy, or the servants and other members of the house will pick up on it. Benedict needs a healing, hopeful atmosphere, otherwise he may think we all believe him dead already. There would be no quicker way to break the spirit within that boys body.
Oh, my lord, I know you speak the truth, but I am nothing but a woman, and a mother besides, and I am afraid. We have already lost two sons, and he is our last one. I dont think I could bear to watch him perish as well.
Tears sprang unbidden to Tybalts eyes, and he wiped at them angrily, stalking away back towards the Capulet house. He paused only long enough to replace the practice sword in its proper place with the others in the house carpenters shop, before he whirled and locked gazes with one of the servants.
I am going out into the city, he spat icily. No one is to go with me or follow me. If my aunt and uncle require me, then you may send someone after me.
The servant bowed his head, though he was at least two feet taller than the boy. Yes, sir, he murmured meekly. As you wish.
Tybalt nodded once in satisfaction. Very well. I will be back for dinner.
Very shortly, the young boy found himself outside the Capulet gates, and on the sloping, street-lined hill whereupon his family resided. He took a moment to breathe in the crisp end-of-summer-beginning-of-autumn air, and closed his eyes as the wind ruffled his hair.
Allowing himself the undignified but boyish action, Tybalt put his hands in his pockets, although he did not let his posture droop like the sons of the peasant class. Instead, he retained the straight-backed, proud bearing of the Capulets, that even one as young as he had already learned and taken to with flying colors.
The young Veronan wandered aimlessly through the streets and markets of his home city, flowing through the crowds. The many merchants and peasants did not know who he was, as they might in later years, but they could tell he was from one of the ruling noble families, and moved swiftly out of his way. The ware-sellers were prepared to offer him any food he might have asked for without worrying about payment, but the young Capulet remained silent.
Turning a corner around the edge of one building, Tybalt was unable to see the other boy until he had already collided with him. Gold-green eyes looked up angrily, prepared to berate whatever peasants boy had crashed into him, and was met by a pair of apologetic brown eyes in a wide face framed by curly hair -- and a frame dressed in clothes that obviously belonged to no peasant of Verona.
The other boy seemed to do this same examination of Tybalt, before speaking. I must apologize for running into you, friend. My companions often tell me I should more often look where I am going. Are you injured?
The Capulet was half-startled by this politeness. No, I am not. And I accept your apology. I wasnt looking where I was going, either. Only now did Tybalt realize that the other boy indeed had companions with him. There was a set of two other boys watching the exchange in amusement, one a little younger than Tybalt, like the one he had collided with, and one even younger.
The tall, brown-eyed one gestured to the other one of the same age, a blonde and blue eyed boy. This is Mercutio, a cousin to the prince. Tybalt dipped a short bow, and the other nodded. Next, the other boy indicated the much younger one. My cousin, Romeo. Tybalt and he nodded at each other. And Im Benvolio. He smiled, offering his hand. Of the noble house of Montague.
The hand that the bronze-haired youth had begun to place in Benvolios he abruptly withdrew, recoiling, and his lip curling. I am Tybalt, he said quickly, of the nobler house of Capulet.
Immediately, silence hung between the four boys.
After a long, long moment, Benvolio spoke up quietly. I see no reason to extend our parents quarrel. Why not, at least for now, extend the hand of peace? Perhaps in our later years, we may work to mend the hostilities between our two families.
For a moment, Tybalt couldn't stop himself from considering this. Almost unnervingly, this Benvolio reminded him of his cousin, Benedict. It seemed that they both wanted nothing more than to end the fight between their two houses. The two would probably be great friends. And would it be so bad, mending the rift between the Capulets and the Montagues...?
And then, the young Capulet sneered.
"I see no need nor reason, and don't have any desire, to be peaceable with any of you. You are my enemies." He drew himself up to his full height, and fixed the other three with a cold, gold-green stare. "And with this, I must bid you..." He gritted his teeth. "A good day."
With that, Tybalt turned in silence, and walked away in the direction he had arrived from.
When he returned, the young boy found the Capulet house in an uproar. The servants -- who at this time were usually either eating or serving dinner -- were rushing about looking flustered, and a few of the women were crying. He heard a loud wail, and looked up, freezing. There was no mistaking the origin of that cry -- it was the voice of his aunt, and it was issuing from...
The window of Benedicts room.
His legs were tired from his stroll through Verona, not to mention the mock sword-fight of earlier, but that didnt stop Tybalt from breaking into a run, bursting through the doors of the main house and hammering up the stairs and down the hallways to his cousins bedchamber.
As he came in sight of the door, Lady Capulet was being pulled along by the elbow, one of the female servants urging her away from her sons room. As her nephew passed, it seemed that she didnt even notice him.
Afraid of what he might find, Tybalt slipped by her and into the room, just in time to see his uncle pulling the sheet up over Benedict. Even under the covers, it could be seen that the young heir was skeleton-thin, and Tybalt drew back in horror. He could see no labored rise and fall of his cousins chest.
May God save me, Lord Capulet intoned, crossing himself, eyes downcast, as though he had not heard his nephew at all. I have lost all of my sons.
At this, the eight-year-old Capulet let out a strangled cry and fled through the hall. As he ran, he pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes to try to stop the flow of tears from falling. It was weak to cry -- a female action. And above all things, he did not want to be weak.
But he felt so alone.
As he passed a doorway that was slightly ajar, Tybalt paused, hearing a pitiful wailing and whimpering. With a jolt, he realized that it was his little cousin -- Juliets -- room.
Gingerly, he pulled the door open further and padded in. The two-year-old Juliet, awoken from a nap by all of the commotion, was curled in the corner, sobbing, her little dress stained by tears. As her older cousin entered, she stopped abruptly, hiccupping, and looked up at him with wide blue eyes.
The young Capulet knelt beside her, pulling her into his lap and wrapping her in a hug. Have they woken you up, Juliet, and wont tell you whats wrong? He felt her nod minutely, and clutch at the fabric of his shirt. Smoothing her brown curls, Tybalt hummed. Its alright. Inwardly, he knew he was telling himself that as much as he was Juliet. With one last swallow, he pushed down his tears. There was someone more than himself he had to be strong for now. Would you like me to stay with you?
Juliet nodded again, and Tybalt rested his back against the wall, murmuring reassurances to his young cousin late into the evening, even as darkness fell outside the window.
This time, in the Capulet courtyard, the sound of very real swords striking against each other sounded. The two combatants on this day were a young servant man who was a fair hand at swordplay, and Tybalt.
Ten years had passed since Benedicts death, and Tybalt had grown into a strong, tall man of eighteen years, handsome, proud, and an excellent swordsman. Throughout the city of Verona, he was regarded as one of the best. But in his own mind, it would never be good enough. He would never be as good as Benedict had the potential to be.
Nimbly parrying the others latest attack, Tybalt slid the blade of his sword down the other, catching the cross guard of his sword on that of the servants, before flicking his wrist. His opponents sword flew from his hand, before clattering on the cobblestones.
Calmly, Tybalt placed the tip of his rapier against the others throat. Yield.
The man nodded, lowering his eyes respectfully. I yield.
The Capulet lowered his blade. You may go. Nodding a second time, the servant went to retrieve his sword and left.
Hearing a sudden outbreak of solo applause, Tybalt turned, and smiled to see the exuberant face of his cousin, Juliet. He swept a bow with a flourish, and crossed to her where she was seated on a bench along one of the walls outlining the courtyard.
Sheathing the rapier, he took a seat next to her, and she smiled sweetly. Congratulations on another victory, cousin. Even if it was only a practice session.
He laughed, and shook his head. Hardly a victory, Juliet. The man is not as good as some, and he is hardly a challenge anymore. He blew a sigh. And how are you, this fine autumn day?
She made a tiny shrug, in a ladylike fashion. As well as one could be, I suppose. And you?
Tybalt shrugged as well. In the same condition. Perhaps a little bored. These are idle days, it seems. Folding his arms across his chest, he leaned back against the bench, stretching his legs out before him and crossing them at the ankles.
In answer, Juliet merely smiled, and looked out and up at the blue sky, as though all the knowledge of the world could be found up there. Tybalt regarded her in silence for a moment, before he too looked up.
I promise I will protect you, Juliet. Its what your brother would have wanted.
There was a desperate, almost pleading look in Benvolios eyes. I do but keep the peace, he explained earnestly, hurriedly. Put up thy sword, or manage it to part these men with me.
Tybalt merely fixed him with an angry, haughty, and condescending look. Over the years, ever since that day they had met in the streets of Verona, Benvolio had never failed to be kind to Tybalt whenever they had encountered each other. It was enough to drive the Capulet mad -- the Montague was so like that best friend he had lost when he was a child.
A few times, when Tybalt was too tired to fight or argue with him, they would retire to drink together. Once, during one such session, they had ended up arguing, and Benvolio exclaimed that Tybalt was arrogant enough for ten men, though he was really only one man, drowning in pride. And some day it would be the death of him. They had exchanged more heated words, and blows, and had parted company.
That had been a few months ago, and Tybalt hated to admit it, but he missed the Montague.
Now, he hefted the rapier in his hand, letting a terrible, twisted smile spread across his features. What, drawn and talk of peace? With a flippant gesture, he indicated Benvolios own blade, clutched tightly in his hand.
I hate the word as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.
In that moment, Tybalt saw something that looked like a feeling of betrayal flash through his counterparts brown eyes, and his anger seethed.
I have not betrayed you, idiot. I was never your friend. I never accepted that stupid offer, so many years ago.
The sword twirled in the nineteen-year-old Capulets hand, and he fell into a fighting position before he lunged at the other, rapier raised to attack.
Have at thee, coward!
Patience perforce with willful choler meeting makes my flesh tremble in their different greeting. I will withdraw, but this intrusion shall, now seeming sweet, convert to bittrest gall.
Grinding his teeth, Tybalt spun on his heel and exited the dance- and feast-hall of the Capulet house, storming with quick steps through the torch-lit hallways and staircases to his own private chambers. He encountered no servants on the way, as they were all engaged downstairs, at the place of the festivities.
He had no qualms, then, about slamming the door with a satisfying racket, and he did so, before slipping out of the ornate, flashy clothes of the party, and donning much simpler and more comfortable attire. With a hissing sigh of anger, he sank into the chair set at the writing desk placed against one wall of his room, and reached for a bottle of wine and a glass.
Pouring himself a goodly amount of the red liquid, Tybalt re-corked the bottle and swirled the wine around in the goblet before taking a sip.
Letting the fragrant taste roll along his tongue and down his throat, Tybalt fumed inwardly. How dare that rat of a Montague -- and probably with friends, no doubt! -- enter to mock them?
A little growl escaped his throat. This was one more insult you could be sure he would not stand for.
Tybalts lips parted in a slight gasp as sudden pain lanced through his abdomen, Romeos sword slipping between his ribs like a knife through warm butter. His own rapier, and dagger as well, fell from his hands, rattling against the stone of the street. Gold-green eyes looked up at the furious face of the Montague as he dropped to his knees, his opponents weapon still protruding from his torso. He could already feel the warm blood soaking through his shirt and flowing down his skin.
He coughed suddenly, tasting blood upon his tongue and spitting it deliberately onto Romeos boot, though the other did not seem to notice. Tybalts eyes fluttered, before his gaze shifted and he found himself looking into Benvolios face, over Romeos left shoulder.
There was loss and anger in that face, for the death of Mercutio, and sadness as well. But there was also pity, and somehow Tybalt knew it was meant for him.
By our Lady, Tybalt! The Montague rose abruptly from the table, albeit a little unsteadily from the wine he had consumed. You are the most arrogant man I have ever met in my life! Arrogant enough for ten men. You think you have the world in the palm of your hand, but someday you will find the truth -- that you are nothing more than one man, all alone, drowning in your own pride. And I suspect that one of these days it will kill you.
The Capulet laughed loudly, grinning wolfishly and dipping a would-have-been-graceful bow, barely managing not to knock over the bottle of wine. I would rather die by the hand of my pride than that of any other. A man is nothing without both honor and pride.
Benvolio snorted. A man is nothing without good sense. You are too hotheaded by far, and it will be the death of you. Honor is necessary, of course, but pride is a foolish thing. It will sooner run a sword through your belly than feed you.
I hardly need my pride to feed me. I am not a poor peasant, groveling in the streets with the dogs for the slightest crust of bread.
The brown eyes of the other man were fierce and angry -- emotions Tybalt was not accustomed to see being displayed so openly by this member of the Montague family, no matter their many fights. There you are, with your damned arrogance again. Perhaps you are not a peasant, but all men are equal when they are dead.
I do not need your preaching, Montague. Whether or not my pride kills me is no concern of yours. It seems to me that you would have made an excellent clergyman, if ever you were pressed into honest work. Your almighty ways befit the station well, and you do so enjoy to hear yourself talk.
Benvolios glare was even more intent than before. I should call you out for that.
Then why dont you? Tybalt clicked his tongue. If you dont, its quite dishonorable of you. Shameful.
Get out of here, the other growled. I have shared wine and company with you, and you dare to insult me for it.
Tybalt laughed. What did you expect? We are just cats and dogs, we Capulets and Montagues.
One man, all alone, drowning in pride.
Most of his body seemed to be induced to nothing but a throbbing numbness, now, but Tybalt felt his lips curve into the ghost of a smile even as his vision faded, and the last piteous look from Benvolio was burned into his brain.
So you were... right after all. Perhaps I should have accepted that offer of peace you... gave me so long ago. I never did like the thought of drowning.