The Emerite Montante

∴ A Pointed Insight ∴

Candlelight laps at the painted stucco walls – in the whorls of the plaster you can imagine landscapes and faces as you perch on the hard pallet bed. The light is a comfort, as is the illusion. Beyond your little leaded window all is dark and unreadable, save for the twinkling nightlights of a few other late-to-bed acolytes. It is a moonless night. Not a time to brave the streets, but an opportunity for introspect.

With this in mind, you turn your gaze to the dog-eared deck in your hands. You have been shuffling the yellowed cards absently for what seems like an age, keen to discover but unwilling to commit. You remember your grandmother asking you to shuffle, when her hands were too rheumed to do so herself. You would sit for hours watching her craggy-faced friends at their parlour games, laughing and tutting over hot herbal wine.

Now another game is afoot. With a deep breath, like one about to slip beneath cold water, you cut the deck and turn the first card. A sigh of relief, for it is an old friend. The Hermit. He faces the West, old but unbowed, snow-capped mountains at his feet. In his right hand he holds a lantern. A guiding light, but a limited one. Not all will be revealed at once. And in his left hand he holds a staff.

No, not a staff. The realization hits you like a harsh wind. In the deck you were taught from, it was always a staff. But in these cards, your Grandmother’s cards, the detail is different. Instead of a twisted stick, the old man holds a sword. Tall and austere as the figure himself, it reaches past his shoulder, a figure-eight of blackened side rings at its cross, and another above its stern, angular lugs.Your trace the lines of the black grip, and pause at the place where they meet white steel.

The staff would have been a symbol of balance, and authority. But this is something different altogether. In an instant, you know what you must do. You gather the cards from the bed and, paying no heed to the moonless dark, draw your traveling cloak from its hook.

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The Trooper Montante

∴ A Strange Requisition ∴

The old ammo box you’ve chosen as a bench is cold through the tattered canvas of your fatigues, but what’s a little discomfort in the field? A whistled tune pushes through pursed lips as you busy yourself cleaning your weapon – one of your father’s old songs, you think.

The incongruously merry ditty is underscored by the distant bass rumble of a tank – an endangered beast. Bertha, the boys call her. One of the last few workhorse vehicles that hasn’t given out. It’s only a matter of time, of course, but until then every jerry can has to count.

With a sigh you turn the weapon over in stained and calloused hands. You miss the routine of cleaning your old rifle, those working parts you knew by heart – but with bullets going the way they were, the ground troops had to get ahead of the curve.

The regulation tan leather and steel wire of the grip are new, but the rest is old. Very old. You recall the tread of your boots in the empty marble halls of the city museum, and how you unsentimentally stripped the shattered glass cabinets of anything that might make use.

For a brief moment you wonder who the last person was to use this hefty piece of steel – how they felt on the eve of battle, and what foe they wielded it against. You pull your mind back from the larger, looming question – has anything really changed in the thousand years since?

A horn sounds on the far side of the camp, weird and wavering. With a wince you don your dented M1, and pull yourself to your feet. Hefting the greatsword over your shoulder with a grunt of satisfaction, you start the slow march to your fate.

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The Temperantia Greatsword

∴ A Tempering Blow ∴

A slow exhalation forces its way through clenched teeth as you fight to clear your head. To push back the hot wind of anger, knowing how it turns cyclonic. You recall the words of your teacher: temperance, boy. Temperance and discernment. That’s what wins a fight – not a blaze of righteous glory, nor a clumsy, tell-tale rage. Only moderation.

Your senses reel and you clutch the spiral-bound grip of your sword for balance. You are almost dwarfed by her, yet she moves with measured certainty. You open your eyes to recall those familiar features: deep blue leather, fullered steel, the resplendent sun on the cap of the pommel. These are the things you can trust. The straight, sharp line between right and wrong.

As your breathing slows and the heat fades from your cheeks, you take in your opponent with renewed passivity. You’ve seen his kind before, you realise. All baiting, leering show. You will not rise to it this time. Instead, you step coolly into measure with an ascending cut from the right. He is not expecting it – nor the next one – nor the thrust that finishes him.

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The Folia Greatsword

∴ A Leaf on the Breeze ∴

You always loved the aspens at this time of year. They are the last orderly thing on the landscape – the tall, austere row that marks the end of your father’s land and the beginning of the wild beyond. And yet, every year, as the first warm winds of Autumn play amongst their upturned branches, the trees themselves become a shimmering chaos of trembling leaves.

You tuck your flask back into your jacket with a sentimental sigh and return your attention to the greatsword beside you. Its long blade flares toward the tip, itself shaped like a slender and glimmering leaf. The days are growing shorter now, but you should have time for another dance before dusk. Cupping your hands around the leaf-green leather, you swing the blade upward in a graceful arc and begin the drill you know by heart.

As the gleaming blade feints and freewheels in the air around you, you feel a touch of sun-warmed breeze about your skin. Behind you, a thousand thousand leaves begin to whisper and tremble on the wind as the evening draws in.

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The Hausier Montante

∴ A Fate Entwined∴

Rough hemp cuts into your palms, but you bite your lip and continue to twist. The bitter sting is familiar now. Familiar as the dry, dusty stench of the ropewalk, and the weight of unwound material about your waist. You step methodically backwards, chapped fingers adding torsion to the expanse of rope before you.

You are roused from your work by the sound of footsteps, and a dark shadow crossing the gold thread of evening-lit rope. You glance up to see a figure, tall and wiry, leaning against the doorframe. You can tell he is a fencing master – not by his stance, or the scar across one eye, but by the montante which he holds like a pilgrim’s stave.

It is a streak of white steel, almost as long as its wielder is tall. The quillons and rings curl like ropework, threads of yellow metal braided with the white. Your fingers yearn to touch it, to release the rope into tangled chaos and instead take up the sword. To feel the tight coils of your trade rewritten in brass and steel.

The master makes a short bow, and showers you with questions about quality and quantity and price. You nod along but barely hear him as your stars shift their alignment, threads of fate unweaving and entwining into a new certainty:

You will learn to fence. Whatever it takes, you will learn. And one day, you will wield that sword.

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