The Hikariyami Rapier

∴ A Transient Peace∴

The garden is awash with moonlight, like a sea of silver mist, rushing over ornamental bridges before you, flooding every tangle of flowers and cluster of blossoms, casting a light that is both soft and stark on the small beauties that you might otherwise have missed.

This is a time outside of time, you think, pausing to admire a cluster of delicate bell flowers trembling beneath the moon’s benign indifferent gaze. It is not true night, when darkness serves only to obscure, nor does it hold the bold certainty of dawn. Rather, it is a liminal space that drifts between the two, perhaps lasting only seconds, perhaps lasting an eternity.

To your family, asleep in their beds, this time does not exist at all. It is only you, sleepless and driven by duty, drifting through the watercolour world that the moon has painted for you.

There is a peace in that, in the brief and brittle solitude that you share with the moon and the flowers. A silence broken only by the paper-thin whisper of warm breeze in the blossom-laden boughs as a confetti of petals crosses your path.

And then it is gone. That wordless, transient feeling that the moment was written for you. Another enters the garden as if summoned by the wind, striding purposively from behind the temple, silk robes flowing in the moonlight, slippered feet silent on the stone. They pause on the other side of the wooden bridge, waiting wordlessly.

With a deep sigh you turn on your heel to face them, giving a short, sharp bow before slipping your hand into the welcoming hold of your rapier hilt.

The time for peace is over.

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The Vicissitude Rapier

∴ A Wind of Change∴

A milky sunrise seeps over the grey-green hills, not proclaiming the new day so much as mumbling it. The first swifts flit to greet it from beneath the crenelations, streaks of sudden motion across the narrow window slit. From your perch on the deep stone sill you let out a long yawn. 

The gentle scuff of wool against steel has been the only thing keeping you awake, your leaden head bobbing toward your chest with each pass of the cloth.

“You’re going to wear that thing away if you keep polishing it,” your companion remarks from his post by the door.

“Gives me something to do,” you grunt, turning the gleaming rapier over in your hands. The sleepy morning light plays off the polished steel, picking out the engraved curls of the cup, the deep fuller of the blade. You smile, satisfied by this, at least.

“Light little thing, isn’t it?” your comrade goads. “You sure it’ll stand up to what’s coming?”

You slip from the sill in response, your legs protesting at their unexpected use. Flicking the sword out before you, you whip it through the air in a series of tight, precise cuts, recalling the darting swifts at the window.

“I reckon it’ll do,” you mutter, stepping out of stance and slumping against the wall.

Your companion gives a low whistle. “Wouldn’t like to be tickled by that feather, that’s for sure.”

The pair of you lapse back into an uneasy silence as the unwelcome day continues to brighten the stone chamber. Your vigil has been long, and the news you are awaiting rife with anxieties of its own. Better to be silent than to speculate, you reckon. There’ll be time enough for that on the other side.

Just as you are reaching for your cleaning cloth again, the studded door rattles, as if shaking off its slumber. Your comrade leaps nearly out of his skin, his hand flying to his hilt, and a squeak in his voice as he demands, “Who goes there?”

“I am come to summon you,” a voice replies. The door slides open to reveal a harried-looking guard bearing dark circles under his eyes and the crest of your lord on his breast. “It is time.”

“Then the king is dead?” you ask.

The messenger nods, and your stomach twists with thrill and fear at once.

You sheath your sword with a flick, and as if you have sliced the air itself, a cool breeze whispers through the window.

“Change is coming,” your companion murmurs with a hopeful smile.

“Change is here,” you reply.

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The Reiter Reborn

∴ A Second Strike∴

You stride down the familiar corridor, your kidskin soles silent against the swirls of fine marble, but the carved quillons of your sword jangling against your belt buckles to announce your presence.

The door at the end of the hallway is open, and you know that your Master is within, eagerly awaiting your advice on his latest deal with the Lowlands. From the hints he’s been dropping lately, you suspect that there’s more to this meeting: after five years as an apprentice, you are considered ready to graduate as a guild member.

Keen as you are to fulfil this fate, there is something you must do first. You pause just before the door, and turn your full attention toward a small framed print on the wall. Smiling, you take in the wood-cut knight on horseback, riding through monsters and demons with a look of steadfast splendour.

This unassuming image was a source of solace when you first moved into the grand townhouse, a mere child of fifteen. You recall yourself tracing the delicate lines of the hero and his steed when you thought nobody was looking, longing for the simple morality of his fairy tale world as you naviagted a world of commerce and politics.

As you did then, you drop your hand almost instinctively to the wire and leather grip of your longsword, still striking in its similarity to the knight’s own brand with its curving quillons and a gleaming wheel pommel. Like the needle of a compass, you like to think the slender blade has kept you on course, reminding you of that straight-backed knight and the vows he might have made.

Your name rings out across the marble expanse. With a wistful sigh you nod your final salute to the woodcut knight, and turn to face your future.

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The Furlano Longsword

∴ A Problem Halved∴

The salle is silent but for the sound of clashing blades. Students line the long, high-ceilinged room like empty suits of armour, rigid and wordless, their eyes fixed on the fight.

The duel was not your decision. You can say that at least, though you might admit to goading your master into it. The fellow was never fond of you, from the first time you corrected his footwork. All it took was a little critique, an impertinent question or two, and a certain wrinkling of your nose when he held forth on measure. Eventually he was bound to crack.

And today he did, the words like music to your ears: “well if you’re such an expert, Mister Furlano, why don’t you prove yourself in a fight?”

You let the pause sound long, until all the students around you had pricked up their ears and strayed from their pairs to see the drama unfold. Then you gazed up with innocent eyes.

“Was that a challenge, Maestro?” you asked quietly.

And so the duel began: longswords, gloves and gambesons. A fight to first blood.

Your master fences much as you expected: at first flashy and uneconomical, keen to embarrass you in some splendid fashion. Then, as his tricks sputter out, he becomes coiled and defensive, stepping back from the engagement when he might press his suit. Finally, as he starts to tire and sees that you do not, he resorts to desperate swinging cuts that create great gaping voids.

You select one of these and step daintily into it, one hand sliding from the oxblood grip of your longsword to the thick forte of the blade, while the other remains cupped about the steely wheel pommel. You glance up just in time to see the panic in your master’s eyes before you jab both arms outward, the fangs of your crossguard flashing as the sword sinks between his ribs.

He stumbles back, clutching at his wound. You watch idly as students clamour around him, some casting wary glances in your direction, others staring openly with something like awe. The master’s wound will heal well. You chose your target carefully. His reputation will take a little longer to repair.

A flower of battle you may be, but that doesn’t make you any less of a thorn in the side.

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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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