The Solana Rapier and Dagger

∴ A Bittersweet Thrill ∴

You kick absently at the grey slate wall, as anxious and impatient and full of desire as you ever are when you wait here. It is the furthest border of her father’s lands – the nearest you dare go, or at least the nearest she’ll have you. Sometimes she is already here when you arrive, impatient and impassioned. Other times you wait for hours before trailing forlornly home in the dark.

Over the course of the summer you’ve grown achingly familiar with the slick grey of the stone, the heart-shaped leaves and five-petalled blooms of the woody nightshade that climbs it. Bittersweet, your mother always called it, and warned you not to be tempted by its pretty red fruit.

You look down again at the sword and venture a little smile. You’ve been saving for months, and at last here it is, steely and sturdy and yours, emblazoned with the familiar five petals of the passion-hued bloom whose bower became your heaven. You asked for that especially, so that every duel would be won in her honour. So that nobody would know but the two of you. You can’t wait to show her when she comes. If she comes.

You sigh, and the little purple flowers nod in the breeze.

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The Rosanglica Sword and Dagger

∴ An Ill-Starred Beauty ∴

“I used to have a ship, you know,” the old man says. He sighs heavily and stares across the water to the brightly-painted war vessel. “Nothing fancy like this ‘un mind, but she knew what she was doing out there. Aye, that she did.”

You grunt an indifferent response, eyes fixed on the approaching craft. You pat the left breast of your doublet, satisfied by the slight scrunch of parchment – the papers that will grant you a new start, another chance at glory.

“You’ll be off after the French then, will you?” the old man tried again. “Light some powder under their arses and show ’em what’s what, eh?” He chuckled to himself. “Well that’s a fine thing, I suppose.”

You wish the old sot would find some other seafarer to bother and leave you to your thoughts, but he persists.

“It won’t be a long life, mind. Never is. They all find their way to the bottom in the end. Boats, that is. An’ if you’re lucky, they’ll take you down with them.”

At this you tear your glance away from the incoming ship, irked. “If you’re unlucky, you mean,”

The old seadog grins showing stubs of brown teeth, and holds his palms out to either side as if to present himself.

“Look at me, lad,” he cackled. “Do I look like one of the lucky ones to you?”

You shift awkwardly, taking in the man’s haggard physique and straggly hair, a shirt that’s seen better days and battered leather boots. At his side hangs a sword, incongruous with his shabby appearance. An elegant basket of crossed black bars encloses a gold-patterned  lining, crested by a large segmented pommel.

He sees you staring, and his hand flies to the hilt. Slowly, so as not to cause alarm, he draws the weapon and holds it out to you.

“You looking at this? Ah, she was never mine to keep either. May as well send her back to the sea. Go on, go on, take her! And may she bring you better fortune!”

Wide-eyed you reach for the brown leather grip, barely daring to believe your luck.

“They all find their way to the bottom, you know,” the old man repeated. And then he was gone, lost in the burgeoning crowd, leaving you dumbfounded, a sword in your hand, and a ship on your horizon.

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The Septecord Rapier and Dagger

∴ A Sweeping Gesture ∴

With a pounding heart, you shoulder through the osteria door, keen to keep pace with the taciturn Italian. For months now you’ve been on the trail of the Order, enquiring at inn and abbey alike as to its members, its location, and chiefly, how you might join.

For the most part, you’ve been met with blank expressions from laymen, or sneers of derision from rival knights. But tonight, unexpected, as you nursed a cup of souring wine in a dim-lit traveler’s inn, the Order found you.

Wiry and wryly smiling, the knight announced himself with a hand on your shoulder. Turning with a start, your eyes flashed briefly to his face before widening to take in the embroidered crest on his doublet. A cross of seven hearts, and atop them, a phoenix.

You’ve been asking questions,” was all he said, before turning to the door with a gesture.

Outside, he turns to face you with an expectant look. But as you sift through your wine-fogged memory for the speech you’ve had long prepared, he shakes his head with a look between amusement and disappointment, and reaches to his hip.

A slender sword is whisked from the folds of his cape, three elegant steel rings encasing his hand as it sweeps upward in the form of a salute. With a sudden sinking feeling, you realise that this is all the conversation he means to have.

Well then, you frown, reaching for your own sword, you’d better make it good.

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The Vittoriosa Rapier and Dagger

∴ A Stalwart Defence ∴

The stone flags bite at your knees, cramped as they are with time and tension. Ignoring the pain, you roll polished beads between your fingers, murmuring familiar incantations, willing your prayer to drown out the sound of cannon from the fortress above. The noise is bone-shaking, bombastic, at odds with the quiet sanctuary of the chapel – but, you remind yourself, as long as it rings out, there is hope.

Your pious petition is shattered by a new clamour – the insistent thud of a fist against the chapel door. Heart leaping, you scramble to your feet, pressing the rosary to your lips in one last silent appeal before stumbling toward the portico.

“Who is it?” you demand, your voice thin and frightened on the incensed air.

The reply is so familiar, so commanding, that your knees nearly give way again as you scramble to unbar the heavy door. Behind it stands an imposing figure, face obscured by a wide-brimmed black hat, the glint of steel armour just visible beneath a tabard of red and white.

“Grand Master,” you greet him, agape.

He lifts his eyes to meet yours. “It is finished,” he announces solemnly, “by the grace of God.”

You want to cry out, dance for joy, even throw your arms around the marvellous man at your door. But the solemnity of his gaze holds you immobile.

As he sweeps past, he draws his sword. You choke back the urge to protest, and watch as he makes his way to the altar. The sword is no jewel-encrusted ceremonial piece. Like the man, it is simple, stately, worn by battle yet no less elegant for it. As he kneels, he places his gloved left palm beneath the flat of the blade, and raises it in both hands toward the cross.

“Deo Gratias,” you whisper.

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The Vizconde Ropera and Dagger

∴ A Touch of Class ∴

Your fingers fumble at the elaborate fastenings of the black silk doublet and you mutter a curse, earning a clout from your mother. Softening at your expression of utter consternation, she draws you round to face her and sets to work on the seemingly endless buttons.

Already you’re starting to sweat in layers of slashed linen and braid-bedecked silk. The high neck presses into your throat, making you want to cough. Your hands look small and childish at the end of puffed sleeves.

Whenever you’d watched your elder brother going through this ritual, you’d quietly envied him his finery and circumstance, feasting with fine ladies while you skulked in the nursery with a scopperel. Now your time has come, however, and the role feels as forced and uncomfortable as the doublet does.

As if summoned by recollection your brother sweeps into the room, a vision in particoloured silk, and takes you in at a glance.

“There’s the little Vizconde,” he says with a grin, “trussed up like a chicken and ready for supper. But wait! There’s something you’ve forgotten.”

He brings his arm out from behind his back, and with it a gleaming steel dress sword, as bedecked in graceful loops and braids as you are. You gasp. Slipping your hand around the twisted wire grip you straighten to your full height, a smile tugging at the corners of your lips.

Perhaps you can play the gentleman after all.

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