The Gratia Sword and Dagger

∴ A Gratuitous Art∴

Your feet fly over the wooden floorboards of the salle, and you hear them creaking in protest as you leap and lunge. You pay the sound no mind, consumed by the wooden waster dancing before you as you slip into a stoccata against your shadow partner.

As you drill you imagine the clash of steel against steel, the purity of that ring, the gasps of ghostly spectators as you cede away from a thrust in perfect time. You picture the long lines that you draw with your body as you pass and parry, the kaleidoscopic shapes you leave in your wake.

At last, out of breath, you land in a low lunge with a flourish. Your already pounding heart quickens as you hear slow, singular applause from the doorway of the salle.

Turning, flushed, with no hint of your practiced elegance, you see your master leaning languidly against the doorframe. In one hand he holds a single-edge sidesword, its grip a fluted column of brass and copper wire, its black guard curving in an S-shape around his bony fingers. In the other hand is a dagger, the sword’s unmistakable partner, alike in all ways but size and complexity of its guard.

“Apologies Master,” you pant, hurrying to replace the waster in the rack you took it from. “I got here early, and I wanted to warm up.”

“Why do practice?” the old man asks, toying with the dagger as he speaks. “Is there some dispute you wish to settle? Some competition you seek to win? Some woman you hope to impress?”

You have no answer that makes any sense, so you simply shake your head, staring down at your feet.

At this the master chuckles, stepping into the room with a catlike ease that belies his years.

“I’ve made a living out of teaching fighters. Hot-headed young men – they train to win. But it’s been a long time since I’ve taught an artist. Someone who trains simply to fight.”

You snap your gaze up to meet his, unsure whether or not he means this as a compliment. With a wink he tosses the elegant dagger to you, and out of surprise more than dexterity, your hand shoots out to catch that glittering grip.

“Let us begin,” the master says.

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The Tregetour Sidesword


∴ A Trickster’s Accomplice∴

The cheerful tune of a tin pipe rises through the gentle chatter of the morning market crowd, and you find yourself whistling along. There is something about the thrill of the fair that never fails to affect you – the bright-coloured fabrics, the scent of candied fruits and nuts, the mountebanks crying our their miracle cures. It is the city at its bawdiest and best.

Charmed, you pause to watch a performer in harlequin silks atop a crate. You fancy he casts a wink your way as he whisks a stream of silk scarves from his sleeve. The tricks are the same simple fare you’ve seen countless times, but still you find yourself drawn in. There’s something about the conjuror himself, his easy patter, his command of the crowd.

As you watch, you have the nagging feeling that you recognise him: those dark, smiling eyes through the mask. The delicate tilt of his jaw, almost aristocratic. Yes, you know this face – and yet you cannot place it.

A shout from the crowd rouses you, and the performer glances up from his cards and cups. A young woman is pointing at the man on stage with one delicate gloved hand, while the other is clasped around the wrist of a palace guard.

Suddenly you remember where you’ve seen those smiling eyes before: the roughly drawn sketches found posted around the city’s taverns and docks. A handsome face, and an equally handsome figure cited underneath it. This is a wanted man.

As the guard pushes through the crowd toward the harlequin, the brightly-dressed figure steps into a low, swooping guard. As if by magic, there is a sword in his hand: slight and light, leaping like a dolphin in the morning sun. A nest of flat black bars encircles the trickster’s hand, and a rectangular pommel sits lightly in his grip.

It looks like he has one more trick up his sleeve.

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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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