∴ A Golden Dawn∴
You stare listlessly at the rough wooden beams, your eyes so accustomed to the dark after a long, sleepless night that they can pick out every knot, every whorl. And every moment marked by the slow drip, drip, drip of the leak in the roof which denies you rest, occasionally accompanied by a scurrying of small claws.
The room is derelict. The inn is derelict. The city is derelict. This is not the London you dreamed of when you first decided to find your fortune here as a fighter – not this cold, comfortless country with its barking language and sour wine. You rue the day you left the golden fields of Tuscany for this. With a groan you pull yourself from the rough pallet and stumble toward the window, pulling the shutter back for a breath of what passes for fresh air here.
You are greeted not by now-familiar lifeless grey, but an unexpected blush. It takes your eyes a moment to adjust – then you realise that in the quiet of dawn, the rose-hued rays of a somewhere-brilliant sun are reflected, vivid yet gentle, from the leaded windows across the narrow alley. Each pane shimmers tentatively in its casement, like a splendid array of rubies.
You watch for a moment in quiet contemplation – then with a new lilt in your step, you stride toward the bed and reach for your sword, propped beside it in readiness for all manner of imagined intruders. It is a good sword – sturdy and imposing. It has brought you this far, and it will take you further still. The day is young – oh so young – and you feel like fighting. You hold the weapon up to face the reflected dawn, marvelling at how the newborn light plays about the gleaming brass grip.
∴ A Bird on the Wing∴
You’ve been pacing for what seems like an hour now, back and forth across the creaking floorboards, no doubt driving the innkeeper to hysteria. But how can you rest with the duel looming over you?
You groan and sink into a battered armchair with your head in your hands. It ought to be a straightforward affair – another dalliance, another wronged brother or fiance, another ritual duel to brush it all under the carpet, then slinking away to another new city. But you’ve seen this gentleman fight – and you’ve a feeling he won’t settle for first blood.
You reach for a rag and your already well-polished sword, still bristling with nervous energy. Your fingertips brush the copper bird perched in the top ring of the guard. The heraldic guardian of your family, a mythical footless martlet who can never roost, and thus flies day and night. As you touch it, you hope for something of its airborne grace, its ceaseless effort.
Then your hand travels downward, tracing the deep fuller of the blade, finding the familiar figures carved therein. “Scoundrel”, your fingers read. Even in your heightened state you cannot repress a smirk. There is power in this totem, too. Martlet you may be, cast out for your crimes with nowhere to roost – but if you must strive on, you will do so with style.
You rise to your feet, sweeping the broad blade up in a salute to nobody in particular, and reach for your feathered hat. Oh yes, you mean to cause a scandal.
∴ A Twist in the Tale ∴
Sword in hand, you round on your opponent, savouring the surprise in his eyes. Normally he is the active partner, goading, challenging, while you hold back. You are content to parry and riposte, working him out like a riddle until an opportunity for attack is only too obvious.
But the weight and the want of the war rapier tug you from your comfort zone, urging decisive action. You watch instinctive fear give way to fascination as, by degree, your partner falls in step with your new dance.
You narrowly sidestep a cut to the right and, drunk on new-found authority, close in on him with a triumphant grin. He has no choice but to step backwards, pinned against the rack of weapons by the tip of your blade.
“Give in,” you murmur, enjoying the moment. “Admit that you never stood a chance.”
But now it’s his turn to serve a sparkling smile as he brings his left hand up and knocks your blade away with the flat of a dagger. The black-bar ribcage of the main gauche’s hilt rebounds to meet your jaw with a thud. Too late it dawns on you that he must have snatched it from the weapons rack while you gloated.
“Not this time, old friend,” he smiles as he stalks past you.
∴ An Honorable Quarrel ∴
“Prove it, then,” your comrade cries, and takes up his rapier with a flourish.
You can barely recall how this row began, but it ends here, where they always do, with a duel a hair fiercer than jest, each of you eager to join in this dance of skill and steel.
Your instructor would despair, of course – is it not he who told you the best way to win a fight is to avoid getting into one? But perhaps he’s forgotten what it’s like to be young and hot-blooded.
You fight down a grin. It would not do to make explicit the pleasure you each take in these contrived after-class quarrels. Instead, you scan the rack of weapons, looking for something new. Something unexpected.
Your eye alights on a heavy, single-edge sword with a round, black pommel and a guard of two black rings. It is broader than the rest, shorter. Almost a cavalry sword. You slide your hand over the cord-wrapped grip and lift it experimentally from the rack.
Your eyes widen. The sword is authoritative, yes. Dominating, even. But its weight and wieldiness defy appearances. You turn back to the piste with a sly smile. Yes. This one might just do.