Yet doth this accident and flood of fortune
So far exceed all instance, all discourse,
That I am ready to distrust mine eyes
And wrangle with my reason that persuades me
To any other trust but that I am mad.
I did not know I had a sister. I did not know until I found her in a garden, alive and not buried. Here she was after her wedding night, lying with the Duke. I should not have been watching, but I was.
I stood in my dressing gown in their open doorway. Breakfast had been served and half-touched on silver trays, but now they were asleep. Rumpled sheets revealed Viola's back, smooth and healed, as if she had never suffered such a shipwreck. Her hair, as short as mine, covered her eyes, and brushed Orsion's chest in tousled strands.
I have not held her enough in these past few days. I wanted to now, my arms ached with the desire, but she is in the Duke's arms. I knew she thought I was dead, too. I saw it in her eyes when we found each other again, when we thought we were both looking into a mirror, because there was no longer anything to see outside of ourselves. I had seen her heart break inside her chest.
And yet, through the wall last night, the feast of our nuptials, I heard Orsino whispering to her and calling her Cesario. I did not know Cesario, and Orsino did not know Viola. I tried to imagine the last few weeks of our lives reversed. Viola as Antonio's friend. She would woo him, and perhaps he would pity her, but he would not ally with her, man to man, soldier to soldier, as I had won his love. And me, as the Duke's boy? I could not have melted his drunken heart, or made Olivia fierce again after her grief of losing a brother.
"Sebastian! There you are."
I smiled at hearing Olivia's voice. Perhaps I could have made her fierce. I turned to see her dashing toward me. She held up her skirts to run in the long hallway.
Past her, I saw Antonio, pausing at the juncture of the hall to look in my direction. I opened my arms to Olivia, and to him. Over Olivia's shoulder, as her warm body curled against mine, already so known to me, I met Antonio's eyes.
He smiled at me. My face grew warm.
"Olivia, is that you?" Orsino's voice, hoarse with sleep, came through the doorway.
"Yes, it is me, you fool."
"Come and breakfast with us."
Olivia drew back to see if I agreed. I nodded, but kept my gaze upon Antonio. She saw that my attention was elsewhere, and she turned. Her hands had left me and she was crossing the hallway, to grab Antonio's arm.
"Oh, Antonio! You must join us, and be our new brother."
I could only stand still in bemusement as Antonio was dragged past me, into Orsino's bedroom. Antonio gave me a small smile. I finally followed him in at a distance.
Orsino was sitting up, his chest still bare, save the graying curls born from his own skin. He poured tea, and passed a cup to Olivia, who was already perched between his body and Viola's. She leaned over and whispered something to Viola, and then kissed her neck, right below her ear. Viola giggled. My sister's sweet voice lilting in my ears again made my eyes fill with tears.
Viola and my new wife were so much like sisters already that I felt as if Viola had found a replacement for me during my death. With that pang in my heart I looked to Antonio, whom Olivia had pushed onto the edge of the bed. Orsino seemed to tolerate him, as he tolerated his position.
"Sebastian, don't be shy," said Olivia.
Orsino extended his hand toward me. "Come closer."
I knelt by the side of the bed. If Orsino was to be Viola's lord, then he was to be in part, my master. I swallowed.
"I cannot get over how much you look like your sister," Orsino said, cupping my cheek. His fingers were gentle on my jaw, as he rotated my head to see each angle of my face. "How beautiful you are."
I felt my face grow hot under his admiration.
"Yes, he's very beautiful," said Olivia. "That is why I married him."
I glanced to Viola. Her face was pink.
Orsino murmured, "And I." He ran his fingers down the side of my neck, tracing its curve, and then released me.
I settled between Antonio and the rest. We breakfasted, and we laughed, and we breakfasted again when servants brought more helpings, and I wondered if we should ever have to get out of bed again.
"Oh, why can a honeymoon not last forever," Orsino said, wailing. "Why can the doves not revolt and promise spring eternally, and the tides vow never to cast winter onto our shores."
Olivia smacked his leg.
Viola laughed. "I like his words. Oh look, his lips move so prettily."
Orsino smiled and closed his eyes.
Viola reached for Olivia's hand. "This is a good arrangement. We have traded our insufferable brothers to each other, and thus saved ourselves."
Olivia brought Viola's fingers to her cheek, and asked, rightly so, "Sebastian? As insufferable as the Duke?"
I propped my head on my elbow. "I do beg your pardon."
Viola glared in my direction, and said, "I have not forgiven you for pushing me into the lake."
"It was fifteen years ago," I protested.
"And still I can smell the mud in my hair!"
Orsino began to laugh, and Viola and Olivia laughed with him. I, feeling my cheeks sore from smiling, turned to Antonio. He was lying on his back at the foot of the bed, a little ways away from us. His eyes were closed, his shoulders were still, and there was a faint etching of joy in his features.
"And you, Antonio? This talk of honeymoon? You will not say we have to part? That we must go before they discover the enemy? Do political practicalities do not belong sprawled across a marital bed?"
Antonio laughed, and said, "No, I will not say any of that. Not today. Happiness is too rare a jewel to smash with a rock. You and I both know what the wind and man can do."
"He's eloquent," Orsino drawled. "I like this man."
I rolled over and placed my head on Antonio's stomach. His fingers tangled in my hair. He said, quietly, "I still remember the sea water tangled in your locks."
Olivia's hand was on my leg, and I knew Viola was near. I exhaled, and felt Antonio's stomach move under my cheek as he breathed in turn. "If this is my watery grave, then, so be it."
* * *
And then, tomorrow came. Antonio was packing his trunk and I was assisting him when the Duke, followed by Olivia and Viola, entered our chambers.
"I have a message for you to take to Messaline, Sebastian, and perhaps Antonio could go with you. I know he does not prefer the company of my court, for they envy his skills on the high seas." Orsino smiled and offered a letter to me.
Antonio said, "Me?"
"You, Antonio, will make peace. Love and disaster has brought us all together here, and I will not let another disaster befoul it."
"Me? No, honored Duke, I have no interest in--"
"Precisely. Your hatred of Illyria is still as naked on your face as your love of Sebastian."
Antonio looked down.
I looked between Antonio and Viola. I had been saved by a nation that would have let me drown, save its own ignorance and grace. I looked to Antonio. His sad eyes offered forgiveness, but if we parted now, we would always be strangers.
"Then I will go with you," said Olivia to Antonio, stepping between us. "I can speak for the Duke's desires."
Orsino laughed. "Yes."
My shoulders sank. I went to take Olivia in my arms. "And I, of course, will go with her. Viola knows my heart as well as she knows the Duke's, and therefore our counsel will always be current."
Orsino's smile was gracious. "Then let this be the beginning of our story." He gestured as servants arrived for our trunks.
"We shall go at once." Antonio seized up his hat.
I raised my hand. "We shall go after we say goodbye."
Antonio chuckled. "Of course."
I went to my sister and she embraced me. Her strong arms squeezed my sides. I felt the calluses on her fingers pressed into my back. She had always been the beauty, softer and fairer than myself. I knew she would not now stop her fighting and swordplay. I, in turn, would learn the nice words that Antonio would refuse to say to lords.
I could imagine myself Viola while saying them in her stead. Odd that being apart had made us even more alike, I thought, and I laughed against her hair.
She kissed my throat, and then my cheek. "We will never be apart again," she said.
"Never," I said.
I went to Antonio's side, for he had no one to say goodbye to. We watched Olivia and my sister enfold each other. "Goodbye, sister," Olivia said, kissing her.
Orsino was waiting his turn, lordly and patient, a man content knowing all the borders of his kingdom. I have heard from Antonio and Olivia that he was not always like this, but I saw a calmness in his eyes whenever he looked at Viola, and then amusement whenever he looked at me. He was a man who did not want for anything in the world, and I knew that as long as he never had to give up the fiefdom that was in this room--Viola, his new love, and Olivia, his old love, and me between them, and Antonio his friend--there would be peace.
"Shall we go?" Antonio placed his hat on his head.
I took Olivia's hand, and we followed him through the door, and out into the world.