The Amfracta Rapier and Dagger

∴ A Serpent’s Coils∴

The roar of the onlookers is a hot rush in your ears as you step out to meet your challenger. As you stride across the salle, one hand waving absently to the audience, you’re already sizing up the competition. 

The serpent, they call him. To be honest, you can’t see why. His slight stature, narrow eyes and nervous disposition put you more in mind of a rodent than a snake. 
But his sword – now that is a thing of beauty. A curling black guard, like his namesake’s sinuous coils, sweeping up into an elegant knuckleguard topped with a dragon’s head. 

Another look tells you that there’s more to this totem animal: clamped between the serpent’s jaws is a carved black heart. In every sword is a story, and this one is clear enough: beware the allure of the beast, for this one is a killer.

The horn sounds and you settle into guard, watching for your opponent’s tells. Almost immediately he circle-steps around you, smoothly, confidently. You follow him round, angling your blade to protect your right shoulder, only for him to take another sweeping step. 
You’ve seen this before: the serpent is back-footing you, forcing you to move in response to him, to fight on his terms. Knowing this, you relax and plan your lunge, waiting patiently for the gap in the arc of his next side-winding stride.

As you shift your grip on your sword, ready to strike, you realise that something is amiss. Your attacker is not where he ought to be. With a split-second sinking feeling, you understand: the serpent has not only been stepping around you, but with each stride fractionally nearer. Now, perfectly in measure, he catches your blade with his dagger and steps in to take the point.

You’ve been caught in the serpent’s coils.

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The Finisterra Rapier

∴ A Journey’s End∴

“One foot in front of the other,” you think to yourself for the umpteenth time today. The simple mantra has become akin to a prayer as you stumbled over cracked, dusty stone, over rolling hills and through rocky crevasses. Where your companions have their rosaries and their psalters, you have faith in your own two feet. And, of course, you have the sword.

You have carried the sword a long way now, slung about your waist on rough leather straps. You have become accustomed to the feel of its black scallop hilt swinging at your hip, and adjusted your gait to account for its narrow blade slapping at the back of your knee. Light as it feels in the hand, its weight has certainly slowed your once-manic pace over the weeks.

Your fellow pilgrims eyed it with suspicion. You have been asked why you carry it, received well-meant offers to share the load, and been berated for not laying down your earthly possessions, as the Disciples did. All you can do is smile sadly in response and keep walking: one foot in front of the other.

And now it is visible in the distance: the hazy horizon between sea and sky, and the indistinct peninsula of grey rock jutting toward it. Finisterra. The End of the World. And so it was when he died at war, sword in hand, a loyal soldier to the last. You did not leave your garret for weeks, did not eat or sleep, as unable to bear the sorrow as you were to share it: that unspeakable love you had known.

“I will love you to the ends of the earth,” you told him before he left, and you have held true to your word. After a month of blistered feet, baking sun and gradual, gruelling rebecoming, you have reached Finisterra.

It was the sword that inspired it: delivered to you by a messenger boy some weeks after his death, according to his final wish. You had stared dumbly at it, turning it over and over in your hands, memorising every line carved into its swirling pommel, its seashell guard. The shell had always made you think of the pilgrims, passing through on their way to Santiago. And in that mundane little thought, you felt something like solace. Something like yourself.

Turning briefly to be sure you are alone, you scramble down the crumbling sandstone rocks toward the sea, the wind catching your hair and tugging at your doublet, as if willing you into the waves yourself. You think about it for a moment, as you have many times over the course of your journey. You let the sharp tang of desolation draw you in for a moment, so familiar as to be almost comforting. Then, instead, you crouch to the ground and unhook the sword from your belt, pressing your lips to the waves of its pommel, and laying it at last to rest on a sea-slick stone at the end of all things.

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The Concentrica Rapier

∴ A Centred Stance∴

Circles within circles, you muse to yourself as you trace your way through the topiary maze. It’s not the biggest maze you’ve seen, nor the most challenging, but it’s good to be alone, letting the hubbub of the party fade into the distance.

The atmosphere in the orangery was getting all too close, especially given the way the Marquis and his brothers touched their hands to their hilts as you entered. They have not forgotten your father’s rash words, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to let you forget either.

A dead end. Tutting to yourself, you double back slightly, taking the path to your left.

A sudden rustling from behind you. You turn, and see nothing. With a gulp, you quicken your pace and continue walking the pattern of concentric circles. It was probably a wood pigeon, or one of the Marquess’s insufferable peacocks.

Again, a sussurration. Your heart in your mouth now, you slip through the next break in the hedge, ready to retrace your steps and leave the leafy labyrinth, only to arrive at the maze’s centre. A ring of white gravel with a tacky brass sun dial on a stone plinth. You grimace.

Then the unmistakable sound of a sword being unsheathed. Then another. And a third. This is the reckoning you sought to avoid, and here you are pinned with nowhere to hide. Nothing but foliage to protect you.

And then you look to your own sword: to the circles within circles of thick, black bars that form the hilt, stark against a steely grip. This is your protection. This is your sure centre.

With a deep breath you rise onto the balls of your feet, feeling your balance, knowing your place. Time slows to a familiar place. You draw your sword. There is only one way out.

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The Mulinello Rapier

∴ A Swirling Exchange∴

“Don’t watch the sword,” you tell yourself as your attacker flows toward you, a wicked smile on his lips. “Watch the man, don’t watch the sword.” 

It’s no use though. You can hardly tear your eyes away from the glint of the steel blade as it makes tiny, provoking circles, nor the oppressive black whorl of a guard above it: a concentric spiral, drawing your gaze into its steely coil, like the pull of a whirlpool.

No sooner have you thought it than you are back on the riverbank: seven years old, sprawled out with the wooden stick you had been using as a sword dangling desperately over the water. 

You see your playmate’s grasping hand reaching for the gnarled bough again and again, hear the mighty splashes as he paddles furiously against the swirling current. You watch the fear in his eyes as his strength begins to fail him, and recall the horror of your own helplessness in the face of that mighty churn.

Never again, you vow, coming back to yourself. Never again will you stand helplessly by and let death take its course.

With a roar you tear yourself free of the sword’s hypnotic pull. Your opponent starts at the sudden sound, making a hasty cut to your head. You  grit your teeth and parry it high, stepping past him under cover. The attacker yelps as you slide your blade down his, angling the tip against his chest, and again as you slide your hand into his hilt, twisting and locking his arm.

His fingers slacken immediately, and you jerk the black-spiralled rapier out of his grasp, leaving him to crumple on the cobbles. Again you gaze at that deft, destructive spiral, but this time you smile. The power of the maelstrom is yours.

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The Apini Rapier

∴ A Honeyed Word∴

Your stomach churns as you step onto the waxed wooden floor of the piste, sweat already building behind the haze of your mesh mask. The excited chatter of your audience rises and falls, sickly inside your skull, a persistent buzz beind your reeling thoughts. 

Suddenly you remember.

Another summer, another mask filtering your vision. But this time the swaying buzz is the humming of hundreds of bees, and the mesh is the veil of a hand-me-down beekeeper’s hat.

“Easy now,” your grandmother coaxes as your gloved hands lift the lid from the hive.

A flurry of honey bees spills from beneath the lid and you flinch back violently, dropping the lid with a thud.

Your grandmother shakes her head behind her veil.

“Watch the bees,” she tells you, her tone soft and soothing against the agitated buzz of the swarm. “See how they dart on the breeze, turning effortlessly in the air? There is much we can learn from them: move lightly through the world, and it will give you wonders.”

With this she steps deftly toward the hive, composed as a queen, and places the lid aside. You watch in awe as she reaches into the box of writhing insects, and gently lifts a honey-dripping comb from it.

A shout of “to measure!” brings you back to the duel with a start. Your opponent hovers in front of you, faceless behind their fencing mask, their sword already hanging in an extended guard. You draw your rapier to meet theirs, and cannot suppress a smile at the brass and steel bee-stripes of its grip.

As you fall into stanceyour blade dances through the air, light as a beeswing, and recalling your grandmother’s words you prepare to dance behind it.

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