The boy looked up from his book. “Here, Mom,” he called from the parlor. He sat in the big armchair by the fireplace, a favorite spot of his. His father had liked that chair, and Eva could barely make her son out behind one of its huge, curved arms. Eva peered over the back, looking at the boy, looking at the book on his lap.
“All right, Dante,” she said, “Where’s your brother?”
She dropped the shirt over his head. It’d been turned inside out with the hopes that the laundress might miss the big blotchy stain down the front. The fact that the laundress was a minor wolf demon with a nose for blood had slipped someone’s mind. One of those someones pulled the shirt off of his head, saw what it was, and turned a bright red.
“How’d you know,” he mumbled, shoving it off to the side with his book. Oh, he’d made an honest go of things. He was wearing Vergil’s blue vest, and his shoes. He’d even done them up the whole way, the way Vergil insisted on.
Eva laughed. “Mom knows these things. Where’s he gone?” Dante turned redder. “Did he make you promise not to say?” Dante nodded, mutely. “And what a good little brother you are not to! Even to your mother!” Dante groaned and shut his eyes. “Okay. How about you tell me where he might’ve been, oh, say, a half hour ago?”
“North gate,” blurted Dante. “Said he had to go meet someone on the field of honor, after the fight yesterday, and, and--”
“Well!” said Eva, slapping her hands down on the back of the arm chair and tipping it slightly, rolling Dante back into the plush cushioning. “Let’s go for a drive, hm?”
They found Vergil halfway between the town and the manor, doing a slow trudge in the overgrown side of the road. He hadn’t gotten too far, for how long he’d been missing. In his defense, the sword was longer than he was tall. The end of Yamato’s sheath dragged in the dirt, no matter how many times he tried to fix the angle.
Eva pulled the car up alongside him. “Howdy, stranger.”
“You told,” said Vergil.
Dante popped up from the passenger's side. “Did not.”
“You did,” said Vergil. “You are so easy. Can’t you keep to the plan for two seconds?”
“It was a dumb plan anyway!”
“Boys.” Eva rapped her knuckles against the car door. This ended all argument. Vergil trudged on, bottom lip jutting and brow furrowed so deep you could lose a coin in it. “So what happened?” Vergil said nothing. “You know, the ‘field of honor’ is still a long way off and it might rain.”
Vergil shot Dante a filthy look. Dante glared.
“Had to,” said Vergil, brusquely. “He was stupid. He said stupid things.”
“Stupid things? About what?”
“About…” Vergil scowled. “It’s not worth saying!”
“But worth dueling over?”
“Ngh!” said Vergil, who’d never done too well when you made him think about these things. He stopped, and Eva stopped the car next to him. For a second, it looked like the rain had started, but no. Just a few drops spattering the hood.
This was when Dante said, quietly, “Rico Donati said you were a witch.”
He waited, as though expecting Vergil to make a fight out of this, but Vergil just stood there, so Dante fiddled with his laces and continued: “He likes to fish over by the wall. I tackled him. But Vergil stopped me and, like, punched him. Said he was older and that it was his job. Said it was honorable.”
“I said it was what dad would’ve done. Get it right.”
“I see,” said Eva, mulling over this. Well. That explained the blood on the good school shirt. “He wasn’t wrong.”
Eva held up a finger. “Technically, a witch is defined as someone who’s made a pact with the devil.” She peered at her sons, with their white hair, and their ghostly eyes. She smiled. “And, hm, I think I might’ve done that.”
“Oh, Dad doesn’t count,” said Vergil. He turned with a fist bunched, and he looked so stern and ready for action that Eva covered her mouth.
“Your father wasn’t the normal kind of devil, no,” she reached over to pat Dante on the head. Dante had melted against the upholstery. It was hard to say what made him more miserable, being a dirty snitch, or the words he’d just had to be a snitch about. Knowing Dante, though, it was probably the latter. “He was a better man than most actual men. And honorable, yes you’re right there. He always did the right thing when he could. He told me exactly the terms and the clauses of our contract, when we made it. He didn’t try to cheat me and he fulfilled his terms… but anyway, I doubt the son of the local butcher knows any of this.”
“So he was wrong.”
“Mm. Let’s just say he was being a little stupid. Hop in.” The sky chose that moment to get greyer. Eva frowned, hit a switch to put the roof up and opened the door. Vergil hesitated, a hand tight on Yamato. “You can sit in the back, or share the front. Your call.”
“Move,” said Vergil
Dante dug his fingers into the edges of the seat. “No.”
“I told him I’d meet him at the old well. If I’m not there, he’ll think I’m a coward. We’re still going there, right? I mean, dad wouldn’t’ve run away from a duel, would he?”
The rain spattered the windshield. It was a light shower. The roads wouldn’t be bad for awhile, and only if it kept up. Eva didn’t turn the car around, and Vergil looked relieved. Dante continued to sulk. In the end, they’d shoved in next to each other, and Dante was squished against the door.
“No, he was old fashioned,” Eva agreed. “But I don’t think he was so much about bringing Yamato to face down a ten year old.”
Vergil looked down.
“Just guessing,” said his mother.
“Well,” mumbled Vergil. “What would dad have used?”
Dante blinked back to the present, finding the flaw in that statement that only Dante would consider a flaw at all. “But that wouldn’t work too well,” he said, “Dad wore gloves. White ones, too.” They’d both spent awhile in front of the portrait at the top of the main stairs.
“He did go through a lot.”
“So why’d he bother with them at all!”
“Your father,” Eva dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, as though the rain had ears, and might betray the secret she was about to tell, “Had claws that were three inches long.”
“Actually,” said Vergil, for about the third time in the hour. “You don’t have to stand out here with me.”
His mother made a great show of innocence, weaving her shawl between her fingers as she held the umbrella more thoroughly over the two boys huddled beside her. “I think I should,” she said. “I am the wronged party, after all. A lady should be allowed to face her accusers.”
“And I think I should stay,” said Dante. “Because you made me wear your itchy vest.”
“You’re wearing my WHAT?”
“What time did you arrange this for, Vergil?” Eva interrupted.
“Hour past noon.”
Eva checked her pocket watch. “Quarter to two. Do you want to wait a little longer?”
“Yes,” said Vergil, at the same time Dante said, “We can’t go NOW.”
The rain got heavier. The street stayed pretty empty.
“Quarter past,” said Eva.
“He’s not coming is he,” said Vergil.
Eva crossed her arms and stared over the square. A woman came out of one of the shops, saw her standing there with the boys, then turned and walked very quickly back inside. “Hm,” she gave Vergil a very grave look. “I don’t think so.”
“He chickened out,” said Dante. “You DID hit him really hard that first time. What do we do now? Do we reschedule or something?”
They looked to their mother. Eva, the sudden expert, squeezed Vergil’s shoulder. Vergil did not look too heartened by this. He folded his arms, and glared darkly at the pavement. “Hm. Well. When there is a duel and one of the parties fails to show… I think it means you’ve won.”
“Mmph,” said Vergil.
“Congratulations,” said Eva.
“Mmph,” said Vergil.
“You were probably quite out of his league anyway,” reasoned his mother. “It would’ve been a really boring fight.”
The pep talk was not working and so Eva, glancing up to check that the rain had slowed, brought out the big guns:
“Well! No sense in wasting a trip to town. I know a good place where the owner’s not too adverse to witches and duelists. How about some ice cream?”
The effect was instant: “Ice cream?”
“Can I have sprinkles?”
“I’ll have ‘em too!”
“Oh, don’t be such a copycat Dante.”
“Boys, boys,” said Eva, folding her umbrella with a smart click and strutting off across the square. They followed behind her like a pair of ducklings. A pair of ducklings that had to shoulder past each other, and Vergil wound up hauling Dante by the ear. “We can all have sprinkles. And seconds. And hot fudge.” She paused. “…if you stop pulling your brother’s hair.”