∴ A Branch Extended ∴
The oak dominates the dusk-lit landscape, outspread arms dripping with bearded moss, a primordial giant stepping from the still-darkened bayou.
You shudder to think of such things – of the mangrove stench of the swampland, gators lurking anciently beneath the pea-soup waters. Of the stories the grandmothers tell in the town. If the oak tree were one of their saints or spirits, what manner of thing would it be? Would its arms be stretched out in a loving embrace, or would it be vengeful, terrible, intoxicated by the blood shed on its roots?
You shake yourself from such superstition. It is only the twilight talking: the low mists and the long shadows of near-dawn. If a shadow shifts against the tree’s broad trunk, it is only your challenger. A nice, simple threat in the face of the sleeping city’s strangeness. Just a man’s wounded honour, and a strong sword arm.
The figure takes form as you near him, and you take a moment to size him up. Slight, but self-contained, like a chambered bullet. At his side hangs a simple duelling sword, but a proper one: you nod in begrudging appreciation to see the folded forte of a colichemarde blade beneath the black shell guard. Your opponent will parry well, and thrust unforgivingly.
“What’s it to be then?” you bark as you reach measure. “Death or first blood?”
A pained look crosses the man’s youthful face.
“You mistake me, sir,” he responds. “I came only to seek your pardon. I spoke rashly last night, believing you to have been the source of a certain rumour. I have since discovered that I spoke in vain. I say we should make our peace at once.”
You smile at the deflated young swordsman, and he stares back in dumb bemusement. Behind him the moss-robed oak god stands tall, primal patron of youthful pride.
“Where would the fun be in that?” you ask.