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Stories from the Verse
In Verse Proportion
Chapter 62: Slade 188
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Brown 215
Again the next morning Slade was greeted by a contingent of swordsbirds, and he found one with whom to establish a language link before speaking.
“So, a new opponent this morning, or a rematch?”
Two of the birds looked at each other, and Slade thought they might be the two he had already fought. They stepped forward and bowed slightly, apparently a sign of respect. One spoke, and it seemed from its cadence and demeanor that this was the one he fought the previous day.
“Please, sir, we considered your suggestion.” Slade wasn’t quite sure what suggestion that was, but figured it would come to him soon enough. “We thought perhaps, given your remarkably superior skill and besting each of us, you might fight both of us.”
Well, this was getting interesting. He had of course fought multiple opponents, but never in a practice match.
“How are the rules different?” he asked, and they looked at each other, and at another bird who apparently was going to be one of the referees. It answered the question.
“You have to eliminate each of your opponents individually, again by three touches; they combine their efforts and thus three touches total on you is a win for their side.”
Well, that wasn’t entirely fair--but then, this wasn’t supposed to be fair, and in the previous two combats neither of them had touched him. But he was going to have to even the odds just a bit.
“Fair enough,” he said, “but,” and he drew his dagger; something he took to be a gasp swept through the group, “since I’m fighting two opponents, I’ll be using two blades. Also, I remind you that these are not practice blades, and in the intensity of this doubly challenging combat I cannot guarantee that neither of you will be injured. Because of this, if blood is drawn from any participant, the match is called and decided by points. Agreed?”
It struck him that these birds apparently had never seen anyone fight with two blades. That might be to his advantage, because unless they practiced in group melees they wouldn’t know how to defend against two blades. He shouldn’t count on that, though. Swordsmanship arose from its use in combat, and combat didn’t have rules. Rules were to keep people from being injured in practice. War was about who gets to go home.
Everyone agreed to the adjusted rules, and he faced his two opponents, who obligingly stood fairly near each other, the one that was faster afoot to his left, his dagger hand. He touched the sword tip to the ground, and crossed the dagger over it since it was too far to reach the dirt, and waited while his opponents took their stances. Then they all raised their blades, and the referee gave the signal.
The two charged, but the one on his left was moving faster. He took a sharp step to his right and another two steps forward, tagged his left hand opponent, whom he was mentally dubbing Swifty, with the dagger, while catching the other, Agile, who did not expect the side of Slade’s sword to block his run. Points were called, and Slade moved quickly to what had been his right, now behind him, so that both opponents were again in front of him, this time Swifty to his right. So far so good, and this was probably not as good because the longer sword was the better weapon against Agile.
The pair hesitated, apparently unwilling to repeat their previous mistake. They looked at each other, which Slade took as their next mistake, as he was able with two strides to get between them, knock aside Swifty’s sword with his dagger, and engage Agile’s blade in a flourish that kept him busy. He positioned himself sideways between them, and used the dagger to block Swifty while continuing the fight with Agile. It was not good; he had counted on landing a point on one or the other by now, and the longer he fought with concentration divided the more likely it was that one of them would get a point.
Of course, that wouldn’t be the end of the game. It was time to take a risk.
He lunged slightly in a feint at Swifty, then returned toward Agile, increasing the ferocity of their bladework. As he hoped, Swifty followed. With one large step back, he got out of the way, and Agile and Swifty, both aiming for the empty space he had just evacuated, hit each other.
Apparently the judges called time. They needed to discuss this, obviously. Slade was picking up very few words, so he found a language link and got the rest. The decision was agreed that points would be called against both Swifty and Agile, as Slade had skillfully managed to get them to strike each other. Neither of them seemed very happy about it, and the referees were not entirely pleased either, but everyone agreed that it was a fair ruling, and the game should continue.
Because of the break, the trio returned to starting position, blades down, blades up, and again the go was sounded. This time the opponent to his left was Agile, and Swifty was to his right. Swifty stepped right; Agile stepped left.
Had this been one-on-one, that would have been the beginning of a circling motion. However, with two opponents, were Slade to follow one, he would be moving toward the other.
He stepped back.
That wasn’t going to work. It just made the triangle larger.
Well, usually he had waited for them to move. This time, having them both charge from opposite directions--he might be able to get out, but it would be tricky. It was time to go on the offensive.
He ran toward Agile--but he stopped two steps away and turned toward Swifty, whom as he had anticipated was coming toward his back. He raised his sword to block the incoming jab, then swept low to hit Swifty’s legs.
The point was called, and Swifty was out; but Slade didn’t reverse fast enough, and he felt Agile strike the back of his leathers. That was one point; one point was not significant here. He swept across with his dagger as he turned, and brought his sword across high at Agile’s head. The bird was quick, and blocked the sword--but Slade brought the dagger in to touch its exposed side, and with the last point called the game was over.
Slade had had an excellent workout. He found a language link.
“Very good, both of you. And good teamwork. Well done.”
Bowing slightly, he sheathed his weapons and went back inside.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #440: Changing Worlds. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: