Continuing Studies
by Dana DeVries

   A short, swarthy Castillian man stepped over the bodies of sailors sleeping off last night's excesses while the port bustled in the morning light all around him. Merchants and locals nodded amiably to him and he waved greetings in return. He stopped at the Escudo de Madera, a small tavern built of weather beaten timbers and driftwood. Pulling a key from his pocket, he unlocked the door and stepped inside. In the bright daylight streaming through the open doorway, the shabby tavern walls decorated with a mishmash collection of worthless junk and broken furniture looked even seedier than normal. The man strode through to the kitchen and stoked the fire before piling wood on top. After placing a pot of water to boil, he stepped back out to the common room.

   Two men sat at the bar looking expectantly at him. He immediately fell into a pose in the doorway with a look of irritation while his hand drifting to his belt in search of a sword that no longer hung there. "We don't open for another few hours, Tracey."

   One of the men at the bar smiled and raised his empty hands. He wore leather breeches and a white silk shirt like a respectable sailor, but a gaudy scarf wrapped around his head and dangling earrings gave him an air of a rogue. "Relax, Biaggio. We do not mean to cause trouble."

   "So, you decided to break into my tavern in the early morning for fun? What do you want?"

   "My friend here. He needs some instruction."

   "I do not do that anymore. I gave up teaching. Teach him one of those myriad schools you pretend to understand."

   "I have, but he is perfect for Gallegos and I never learned it."

   "I said those days are done. I do not teach anymore."

   "Once you have taught someone the intricacies of your art, the nuances…once you see them learning from you while you learn from them…you cannot abandon all of that. You cannot simply turn away. Especially when you meet a student such as Marcos. I have never met a more gifted natural swordsman. He might be able to best even Knute someday. For a master such as yourself to instruct him…the rewards could be great."

   The innkeeper frowned. "You've managed to keep your tongue after all this time, Tracey. I thought by now someone would have cut it out. You flatter me because you need something, but I don't carry a sword anymore."

   "I remember and I'm not asking you to pick one up. He knows how to stab, he just needs help in learning how to move."

   "Wait a minute!" Tracey's companion objected as he stood up. He was only medium height, which still made him taller than the other two and wore an outfit of black leather. His gray hair belied his strong, wiry muscles. "I know how to move, how to fight. I am a master of the del Rios School!"

   The innkeeper smirked, "Oh? So, you dance around your foe and hope they collapse before they can hit you? Some might call it a swordsman school, but del Rios was little more than a flamenco dancer with a pig sticker."

   "I will not allow you impugn my father's name, but neither will I attack someone without a weapon, arm yourself."

   "Del Rios had a son? Interesting. What's your name, boy?"

   "My name is Marcos del Rios and I am going to teach you a little respect."

   Tracey cleared his throat and casually remarked, "Biaggio de la Vega. He was one of the finest Gallegos swordsman in all of Castille until he retired five years ago. He remains a canny fighter. Underestimate him at your own peril."

   The innkeeper reached out and grabbed a tall bar stool. "I'm ready whenever you are, boy."

   Marcos frowned slightly at the repeated insult and drew the rapier at his side. He stepped lightly forward towards de la Vega and paused just out of reach. Biaggio did not hesitate, he swung the barstool broadly and smashed it into another stool. The second stool flew towards Marcos who spun around to avoid it. Biaggio continued his swing, brought his stool across Marcos' back and knocked the swordsman to the ground.

   The innkeeper exchanged a smirk with Tracey who still leaned lazily against the bar. Then de la Vega stomped his foot down towards his opponent's chest, but Marcos rolled aside and to his feet before Biaggio could connect. Marcos thrust forward with his sword in a steady rhythm three times, but each time Biaggio swayed aside and the blade passed by him harmlessly. When Marcos thrust a fourth time, the innkeeper parried with his barstool and then twisted his weapon aside. Marcos released his weapon and it twirled straight up into the air. Without missing a beat, Marcos stepped in close and slammed his fist into Biaggio's chin. Lying on the ground and shaking his head, Biaggio looked up in time to see Marcos catch his sword in midair and snap it into position poised over de la Vega's throat.

   The innkeeper licked his lips for a moment and then quietly stated. "I yield and apologize for my hasty words. Your father's school is formidable in the hands of a gifted swordsman."

   Marcos nodded acceptance of the apology and sheathed his weapon in a single movement before reaching down and helping Biaggio to his feet. The innkeeper shook his head and exchanged looks with Tracey again. "You're right. He is worth teaching. How long can you stay?"

   Tracey opened his mouth, but Marcos answered first. "Only a few days. My quest for vengeance cannot wait longer."

   Tracey declared, "This island holds the closest fresh water to Castille. Your prey will certainly stop here before continuing on. Surely it makes more sense to wait for them."

   "They've dodged too many problems, too many obstacles. We encountered severe storms and leviathans but according to that merchant we spoke to a few days back, they have managed to sail this far without incident. Only our speed allowed us to beat them here. I am not certain they will even stop here if we wait. I do not know what means they use to foresee problems, but it certainly seems effective. I will not wait here while they bypass us. Two days."

   Biaggio nodded slowly. "Two days. Not a lot of time. Let's get started." He motioned towards one of the round tables inscribed with several circles each centered on the same point. When Marcos nodded, he continued. "Step up onto the table. Ignore everything outside of the table. Focus only upon what is found within it. Move too far from the center and the table tips over and you fall on your face. Do not move enough and your opponent will skewer you. So move, but contain your movement within the circle."

   The innkeeper nodded as Marcos followed his instructions and then noticed Tracey watching from the bar. "Not a chance, Tracey. I agreed to teach your friend, but someone has to get this place ready for the lunch crowd. Clean the glasses, make a stew and get the chairs arranged. And as for you, keep your knees bent, like so…"