The Castore Sidesword

∴ An Alternate Viewpoint ∴

The carriage clatters over cobbled streets, its clangour at odds with your hammering pulse. Drawing a silver watch from your pocket, you mark with distaste your hand’s tremor.

Ten minutes to twelve. Nearly the alotted time. Nearly the alotted place. The chosen weapon sits beside you on the plush velvet seat, broad-bladed where its twin is slender. How keenly it will clash with its long-parted friend, you think. Keen where you are wretched.

Were this any other duel, the blood would run hot in your veins. You would relish the rush of impending danger, and wear pride like a red carnation as you descend the carriage steps.

Tonight, however, is one you hoped would never come – even as you knew it would. Even as you slipped into the sweet, forbidden embrace of the woman betrothed to your long-absent brother. The woman you’d loved since childhood.

As the hoofbeat staccato slows, you slip your right hand between the black-ribbon bars of the guard, then pass it to your left with a sad shake of your head. You were always the sinister twin. You will gain nothing by hiding your nature.

You brush the black bulb of the pommel to your lips.

“Forgive me, brother,” you whisper.

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The Adagio Sidesword

∴ An Unheard Music ∴

The crowd presses about you, constricting as the lace collar about your neck. You feel like gasping for breath, a fish out of water, pulled along by the relentless tide of humanity. Dizzied and drifting, you reach across your hip for the hilt at your side, and slide your fingers between the dark ribbon bars.

Perhaps you imagine it, but the action gives you ease – as if something of the guard’s silk-like flow feeds into your motion; something of its unyielding steel gives you strength. Slipping an index finger along the fullered ricasso, you breathe deeper and remember your training.

Find ease, your instructor told you, in the echoey halls of your home. Let the moves flow – don’t force yourself into each shape, but rather find yourself in the transitions. And above all, don’t forget to hear the music.

You brush your fingertips against the treble-like swirl of the protective guard and sigh. Yes, even here, amidst the shouts of sellers and baying of hounds, the clatter of cart wheels on cobbles, there is music. All that is left is to dance to it.

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The Ondata Sidesword

∴ A Turning Tide ∴

Clenching your fist about a smooth, dark stone you breathe deeply. Focus on its coolth, its stillness, its solidity. It is not enough. With an all-but inaudible cry you hurl the impotent totem into the churning water below and plunge your hand back into your pocket.

The crashing of waves against slick black cliffs is almost enough to drown out thought. Almost, but not quite. Still beyond the rush of incoming and sigh of outgoing sea there’s space – that stomach lurching lull of neither push nor pull. Space enough for memories to splutter to the surface.

You’ve stood here almost every night since the raid. Stood staring at the horizon where the boats appeared like a mirage, dauntless and damaging and barely real. As if watching now could make up for not doing so then. As if any amount of hue and cry could bring back what was lost.

You snap your eyes down from the mist-wreathed band of black – down to the furious spume about the rocks, all the whiter for the waxing moon. At first you do not see it, and then you cannot make it out – bright steel against white foam, dark metal against black rock. But the more you peer, precarious on the precipice, the more it can’t be anything other: a sword, long and left behind, gleaming beneath the glowering cliff.

Something more than vertigo leaps within you. Could it be the sword they took? Or one of their own in its place? Has the sea itself carried it back to you? And if so, what does that mean? What revenge does the sea ask of you now? With something more akin to hope than you’ve felt in months, you pick your way down the perilous rocks.

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The Verzaubert Sidesword

∴ A Charming Dark ∴

The snap of a twig beneath thick-soled boots breaks the silence. You choke back a cry with a nervous laugh. It’s only you. Only your own footsteps on the fabled forest floor.

There are stories told about these woods. Tales of children who never come back, of wolves who prowl along the path. And yet to recall only the darkest rhymes would be to forget the others: welcoming cottages and wish-granting grandmothers, fairy rings and forgotten castles. There are two sides to every tale, your mother always said. And this is yours.

Besides, you have the sword. Worthy of any story-book hero, smuggled out from beneath your mother’s bed and slung at your side. The weight of it comforts you, swinging with your stride. Your hand, trembling only slightly, finds strength in the unicorn curves of its copper-wrapped grip.

And now you see copper, glinting between shadow-trees. Your eyes, already acquainted with darkness, are confounded. A candle? It can’t be. And yet, drawing nearer, erring almost unconsciously from the safety of the path, you realise that’s just what it is. A candle, warm and welcoming, perched in the window of a cottage so small and sweet and unexpected that it may as well be made from gingerbread.

Strangely compelled, you slip from your hiding place and step toward the arched and bright-painted door. And then, with a start, you spy the knocker: a ribbon-like ring of black metal with two interlocking hearts at its centre. You’d know that symbol anywhere. Drawing your mother’s sword from your belt, you lift the black-hearted hilt to compare, finding just what you expected: the ring of the guard is door knocker’s twin.

Swallowing fear, you keep the sword in your right hand, ready to defend. With your left hand you lift the heavy heart-adorned ring, and let it fall.

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The Elytra Sword and Dagger

∴ A Solid Defense ∴

Late summer. Long grass waving, dried and waxen in the sun; downy heads tickling the backs of your legs as you run across the meadow; a stream of seeds taking flight in your wake. It’s days like these that make you never want to return to the city – to the vomit-splashed cobbles and oppressive, leaning towers. To the purpose and the pressure to prove yourself, the constant critique of your master, the endless drills and duels. What wouldn’t you give, in this moment, to leave it all behind and stay here beside the jingling brook, trade your rapier for a sickle, and till the fields beside your brothers?

And yet, as you let your knees crumple beneath you, tumbling against the cushioning grass to watch the clouds above, a streak of red catches your eye against the flaxen gold. You raise your head, resting your elbows on the dry ground, and watch as a solitary ladybird makes its slow, solemn pilgrimage to the tip of a straw-hued stalk. You marvel at its graceless yet gravity-defying determination, tiny legs at work beneath the hard, polished shield of its wing cases.

As you watch, you cannot help but recall another gleaming shell: the steel dish of a rapier guard, steadfast about your hand, granting you assurance as you line up your opportunity. You recall how it flashed in the lamplight as you lunged, twisting your wrist just slightly, your opponent’s counterstrike slipping from the beetle-like shell as your blade found its mark.

With a wry chuckle, you pull yourself back to your feet. So this is love, you think. You can’t live with the sword, and you can’t live without it. There is truly no escape – nor, truly, do you want one. Winding your way back to the farm, you pause to cut a switch of ash from the bramble-bound hedgerow, brandishing it as a make-shift blade. Your master will be pleased to know you practiced.

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