The Swordsmaster
by Dana DeVries

   Tracey Anvilin shouted, "No!" as the two men swung at each other clumsily. They both stopped and stared at him disdainfully. "Your blows were slow, your feints predictable and your stance was completely unsuitable for rolling decks. The General hired me to teach you noblemen how to fight onboard a ship. If this is the best you can do, he should just push you overboard at the first chance and save the pirates the trouble."

   The second story salon's hardwood floors and high ceilings echoed with the swordsmaster's disdain. One mirrored wall reflected the three men while a sea breeze fluttered curtains on the windows.

   Jean Paul Allais du Crieux lowered his weapon. "Odds bodkin, what did you expect? You arm us with these leviathans of swords and expect grace? We're fencers not porters to lug such heavy burdens! We hired you to train us in the nuances of fencing onboard ship, not to insult and demean us."

   Tracey shrugged, "I didn't realize your delicate nature. Perhaps you'd feel more with a lady in waiting's fan instead of a blade?"

   The young fop's face grew pale with fury. "Perhaps a muscle-bound oaf could wield this sword, but speed and grace depend upon a more fitting blade. Allow me to demonstrate." He dropped his practice broadsword disdainfully and drew out a razor sharp rapier. His off hand drew out a main gauche.

   Tracey gestured imperiously and the other student handed over his practice broadsword. Tracey swung it experimentally and nodded. He assumed a swaying stance and motioned with his off hand for du Crieux to attack. "The reason we use heavier weapons during training is to build strength and stamina. Plus they're blunted to prevent injury to the duelists."

   The fop ignored Tracey's pedantic tone and flicked his rapier out at him. Tracey raised his blade to parry and du Crieux's blade dropped low beneath the parry. Before the fop could act upon his feint, the heavy practice broadsword crashed down upon the rapier. The thin blade bent sharply, but when du Crieux stepped back, it sprang back into shape. "A rapier is always in danger of snapping against a heavier weapon. You carry a good blade." Tracey's voice held grudging respect for the young man's choice of weapons.

   Du Crieux sneered, "Yes, unlike these iron bars, this is a real weapon. And I use a real swordsman school. Unlike that mishmash of styles you have been teaching us. How a man can fight with such lack of style is beyond me." He thrust his blade towards Tracey's chest in a typically quick Valroix attack.

   The swordsmaster parried the thrust and twisted his blade around and drew it along the fop's wrist. "What you call a mishmash, is actually a simple matter of using what is best from a number of schools. When speed is called for use it. But when something else is required, I do not hesitate. That is called the Donavan slash and would have sliced your wrist open to the bone. It's a maneuver unique to the Donavan School, but extremely useful for any swordsman who can master it. Flexibility will bring you much further than mindless adherence to a single style."

   With a snort, du Crieux launched a quick thrust followed by a slash from his dagger. Tracey parried both with a twist of his wrist and then returned the attack with a thrust at head height. Du Crieux crossed his weapons to parry the thrust above his head and Tracey stepped in close and slammed his left fist into the fop's stomach. The young man doubled over in pain, gasping for breath. Tracy kicked the main gauche out of his hand and stepped back.

   "Now you fight without the advantage of two weapons. Because you neglected to train for that, you are at a severe disadvantage so that even a gutter snipe could best you. Shall we continue?"

   The fop arose with a snarl before composing his face. Then he replied cooly, "That was a low born trick, unworthy of a fencing instructor in l'Emperor's navy. But I shall not fall for another such trick." Then with a casual flick of his wrist, he slashed out at Tracey.

   But the swordsmaster simply swayed out of the way. "No, you won't fall for that one, but the pirates have an endless number of low born tricks and if you fall for even one of them, they will kill you regardless of your high born pedigree." His stance was more rigid now and his steps more deliberately placed. He stomped his feet twice, flourished his arm and cried out, "Ole!" Du Crieux lashed out with a flurry of blows that were all lightly parried. Then Tracey smiled and began his own series of attacks.

   Du Crieux parried the first three with ease, but they kept coming and the tempo of the attacks increased. The next parry was slow and the fop found a the blunted blade laid gently across his throat. With one arm poised in midstroke, he considered the weapon and then smiled wickedly. He swung his own sharpened blade at his opponent, but Tracey danced within the length of his arm. Before du Crieux could recover, Tracey grabbed the fop's blade with his off hand and twisted it out of his grasp. Then he drove the pommel of his own weapon into the fop's chin.

   Du Crieux gasped at his opponent. "You would strike an unarmed noble? You shall hang for that!"

   "I doubt it. I have a witness that you attacked me during practice with a live blade, correct Monsieur du Mar?" Tracey turned to the second student who was leaning against the wall nearby.

   "Oh no, sir. I clearly saw you strike him after the exchange was finished." Du Mar's voice dripped with condescending scorn.

   Tracey snorted and turned away. He called back over his shoulder, "Well, if I'm going to hang, I'll hang onto your sword. Might as well get something out of all this trouble, right?" He testing the rapier upon the air. "Good balance, fine steel. A noble weapon, unfit for the likes of you. But, I really don't think that the Montaigne Navy will reprimand a swordsmaster for striking his student."

   The whisper of a shoe upon the floor behind him was the only warning. Tracey leapt forward and twirled about. The rapier was extended and ready. Du Crieux continued running at him; main gauche stabbing down towards the swordsmaster. Then the fop staggered to a halt and stared down at the rapier piercing his chest. Tracey swore quietly. "Of course, they'll certainly hang a swordsmaster who kills one of his noble students. Time to be off, I think. Monsieur du Mar, the lesson is over for today."

   Then as du Mar watched in shock, Tracey pulled the blade from du Crieux's chest and wiped it off carefully. He sheathed it and strode towards the window. With a last nod to his student, he leapt out the window. Cries from pedestrians came from below as Tracey Anvilin fled for his life.