The Rubaurum Rapier

∴ A Lordling’s Ransom ∴

The floor of the stable is hard, cold and dirty. You know you must look absurd here in your armour of red and gold, a gem amidst the dung. That’s what the man must be thinking as he watches you struggle, a half-smile toying at the hard edges of his mouth.

Again you pull against the splintering beam with your bounds, hoping to fray the rope that holds your hands, or better yet, break the beam and watch the whole rotting roof fall in around you. In the ensuing commotion, you could probably make a break for it.

Your uncle said you oughtn’t go. He said you were too young and too untested to see battle at the bridge. But your noble notions got the better of you: you could hardly let men serve under your banner without being willing to bleed yourself.

And bleed you did: great spatters of crimson against the golden stubble of the cornfields. It was not the blow that unhorsed you, but the dead swoon you fell into at the sight of the damage.

When you came to, you were here. Gagged and bound. Desperate. Defiant. Doomed. Your life in the hands of some lowborn traitor, no doubt imagining the tales to be told of him as he turns your rapier in his rough hands.

You clench you teeth about the foul-tasting gag to see the sword handled so. It was a gift from your father, its elegant grip in the colours of your crest. The colour of blood against shorn stalks of corn. Your captor smiles – for real this time – as the golden inner of the cup glints in the evening sun. Then, as if arriving at a decision, he crosses the space between you.

With a surprisingly deft cut, he severs your bindings with the blade, and you immediately wrench the rough, dirty cloth from your mouth.

“What is it you want?” you demand, only a slight tremor to your voice. “Return me to my men, and I will see you paid handsomely. Gold. Land. Hell, a title. I have an estate in the Fenlands…”

The peasant waits patiently until you run out of offers.

“I’ll take the sword,” he says, flicking it through the air with a whistle.

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The Wayfarer Rapier

∴ A Minor Inconvenience ∴

With the carefully conditioned shuffle of the pious, you hobble over the cobbles toward the city gate. You can smell the capital’s telltale mix of piss and entrails from here – and you have never been so glad to breathe it in. It’s been a long journey and an unpleasant one, mired in rain and mud and ill-spilled blood, and now it is at an end.

“Name?” the guard asks indolently as you find shelter from the drizzle beneath the gate’s stone arch.

“Brother Placido,” you respond, allowing a beneficent smile to crease the corners of your eyes.  In the last town you were Brother Symeon. The one before that, Brother Donizo.

The guard barely glances at you. “What’s your business?” he drawls by rote.

“I come to complete my pilgrimage,” you reply, holding out your hands at your side to display a road-worn cloak and knotted rope belt.

The guard sweeps his stupefied gaze over your humble visage and waves you through the gate, making a mark on a piece of parchment. You sweep a low bow and continue your steady progress into the capital.

“‘Ere!” a cry comes from behind you. You wince. “What’s that under your cloak then?”

You paste a smile to your face and turn back to the guard, pulling aside your cloak to reveal the rapier.

“Only my faithful companion,” you explain, patting the black scallop hilt. “For personal protection, you see. The road can be unkind to wayfarers like myself – and the Lord helps those who help themselves.”

“I don’t much like the look of that,” the guard grumbles. “How long’s the blade on it?”

“As long as it needs to be,” you reply through your teeth, patience wearing thin.

Only it says ‘ere you’re not supposed to carry a blade longer than a yard and ‘alf a quarter.”

“Is that so?” you ask, drawing the sword from its sheath with a flourish. “And are you going to come over here and measure it?” You fall easily into a defensive stance, facing the paling guard.

“What kind of Christian are you anyway, threatening folks like that?” he mutters, hand sliding to hilt of his own sword.

“Oh you mistake me,” you laugh. “I said I was on a pilgrimage. I never mentioned Christ.”

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The Hiberi Sword

∴ An Enlightening Entanglement ∴

With a sigh you sink down on the bank of the Ebro. It is late in the day, and shadows are settling in the green-velvet folds of the hills across the water. The air is sweet with fermenting reeds, seasoned with dust from the packed dirt road. Before you the river is wide and unwavering, its glassy green surface broken only by the occasional writhing carp.

This is where you come to consider the truth of the “true art”, once the clamour and clash of blades is over. You replay each bout in your mind, drawing across the floor, toying over the geometries of your play.

The fight must rise from reason, you remind yourself. It does not do to act out of passion or pride on the piste. Not in front of your master, at least – poised and pursed-lipped, the first to notice when a skillful dance gives way to irrational danger.

A susurrus of undergrowth rouses you from recollection, and you turn with a start to see the rangy form of your fencing partner emerge from the dry brush, a sword over each shoulder. In his right hand is his own weapon, slender and satin-polished. The other is yours, all spiralling steel wire and swelling black bars, which only minutes ago you threw onto the floor in frustration.

This the young man holds out to you with a smile crinkling the corners of his eyes, a silent invitation. In a moment you quell the shame the arises at the memory of your outburst, and accept the proffered sword. With a curt bow, the other falls into measure – and the dance begins again.

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The Drakamor Sidesword

∴ A Draconic Manoeuvre ∴

“Repel boarders,” you bellow, the command almost lost in the spume. Those men nearest you catch the message above the din of cannon and crashing waves, and relay it down the length of the deck.

By this point, there is barely any need: it is painfully obvious what must be done. The improbable black-painted galleon is swinging round, already drawing level with your deck. Its jeering crew grasp at brightly-painted rails, swords in hand, ready for attack.

And in the midst of them, their captain. He wears a dented breastplate over billowing silk sleeves, a knotted cloth about his neck. His beard and moustache, neatly trimmed, only serve to enhance the smugness of his expression. You know this man, at least by reputation. He is the Dragon, heralded a hero in his own country, yet reviled as a pirate on this coast.

You watch with a detached horror as the man vaults the narrowing strait between ships and draws his broad-bladed sword, cutting through midshipmen as if reaping the fields. He does not heed the men he fells, making straight for you, as you knew he would: the Dragon is known for a methodical man. He boards by the book.

Seeing the length of his flashing, fullered blade you sense an advantage, and draw your nimbler weapon from its sheath. You back away slowly between the mainmast and the mizzen, drawing him into closer quarters amongst the shroud of rigging, where the wheeling of that mighty blade might be encumbered.

And yet the dragon only smiles, raising the sword to the centre line as he continues his slow, almost leisurely march. With a shout you bring your own weapon against his, and at once realise your error: the pirate has no need of space for swinging cuts.

He has already taken the line, leaving you to dance desperately about it.

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The Chalice Rapier

∴ A Cup Overflowing ∴

You kneel before the altar, the rail before you smoothed by centuries of supplicant hands, the unforgiving flagstones pressing against your knees. Staring down at your own callused fingers, you try to clear your mind of earthly things – but to no avail.

You cannot help but replay the last duel over and over, analysing each feint and flurry, barely suppressing a smile as you recall the frantic dance, the playful balance of energies. The thing was, though, he almost had you. Were it not for a startled and scruffy parry, which sent your opponent’s blade plunging into the black dish of your guard rather than your chest, your duelling days would be over.

“The blood of Christ.”

You snap your eyes upward, reveries interrupted. The priest stands before you, patient and inscrutable, the chalice proffered in his vein-lined hand. With a nod of reverence you reach for the sacred vessel, noting the scalloped rim, the subtle petal-like segments. Confound it! Even this – the blood of Christ himself – cannot fail to remind you of the sword.

You choke back the thick, sweet wine, and pull yourself to your feet. It is not this cup that will bring you salvation. Not today. Turning on your heel, you half-run for the door, oblivious to the wide-eyed stares of queuing penitents.

You have drilling to do.

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