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Stories from the Verse
In Verse Proportion
Chapter 76: Slade 193
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Previous chapter: Kondor 197
As the professor faced Slade, he drew some kind of scarf or sash from his shoulder, holding his sword in his left hand and this cloth with his right. Florentine, Slade thought. Been a while since I fought someone who used that. Also, is he left-handed, or does he expect that having the cloth in his right hand will be the stronger weapon?
He shifted his sword to his left hand--the students gasped--and drew the dagger to his right. If the professor was planning based on Slade’s handedness, he hoped this would put him off. There was a nod, possibly something like an eyebrow raise (he was getting better at avian facial expressions), and then the word came and weapons were raised. Perhaps because of the anticipation, there was a pause before the whistle that meant start.
Yet in a sense they did not start. Caution seemed to be the watchword on both sides at this point. They lowered blades to defensive positions, but remained planted in their starting positions. Silence filled the space, invaded only gently by the noises of lizards and songbirds in the trees across the field.
I’m ready when you are, Slade thought, but chose not to try to speak under the circumstances. His opponent was watching him intently, clearly waiting for his move.
What would the professor do? He probably intended to attempt to take out one of Slade’s blades with that cloth. That would be the way to start: deal with the cloth, at least make it appear that it is not a significant advantage.
Slade moved forward. He crossed his raised blades, and as he anticipated the cloth came up to meet them. He caught it, spreading it between the sword and the dagger and planting it directly on the professor’s face. Blinded, the professor swung wildly, but Slade was already out of reach, and as the sword tip passed he stepped in to land a touch on the bird’s hip. The point was called. He stepped back.
The professor untangled himself from the cloth, but returned it to his hand. He nodded again, and as Slade nodded back he thought perhaps that expression was suggesting that he was impressed. They returned to starting positions, and again the go was called.
This time the professor did not hesitate, but came in strong, swinging the cloth. Slade was not certain what it was expected to accomplish, but for the moment ignored it, expecting the real attack to come from the sword. It did, but he met it with the dagger, and there was a flourish of blades in which the cloth was not able to get across to the dagger in any significant way. Finally the bird flipped it high and managed to catch both its own sword and Slade’s dagger under it, but this again left its flank open, and Slade landed the touch under its arm with his free sword. Point called.
This time Slade released the dagger and struck the cloth-covered sword with his own. His dagger slipped from the tangle and landed in the grass, but the bird took advantage of the cloth to attack Slade’s sword, passing under, around, and over with the cloth dragging behind its blade, and then with a snap twisting the sword from Slade’s hand. It flew, and landed several feet away. Slade was now disarmed.
But the bird was momentarily delayed by the cloth entangling its own blade. Slade quickly considered the situation. His dagger was right there, but if he dropped down to grab it he would be open to a hit before he could defend himself. Instead, he dove the longer distance for the sword.
Grabbing the hilt with his right hand, he rolled to his back. The professor had followed him, and was coming in for a stab to center mass. Slade was quick enough to deflect the thrust, but because of his awkward sprawled position it caught his left arm, and a point was called--but he also was able to cut back to slash across the front of the professor’s suit, and that finished the match.
He found a language link somewhere, and said, “Well played, professor. Your students have an excellent teacher.”
“Not so good, I think, as you. I could learn much from you.”
“Ah, but I could also learn from you. I have fought people who used capes in their off hand before, but I’ve never thought to try it--the dagger serves me well, but as you observed I don’t always manage to hang on to it. I would be honored to practice with you. If your mornings are not free or you prefer a different time, we can arrange something.”
“I will consider it,” it replied. Probably, Slade thought, it did not want to look too bad in front of the students--but indeed, it had done better than any of them, as well as the two best working together. It comported itself well, and no doubt had retained the respect of its students. After all, it had scored a point sparring against a god.
Slade realized that Shella had been waiting, and he walked over to join her, whistling, “Class dismissed. Good job, everyone.”
“What was that about?” Shella asked as he approached.
“That,” he answered, “was the professor of warfare and tactics, or whatever they call it. He’s pretty good--not as good, I think, as Prince Ruard, but probably better than Prince Acquivar. Were he taller with longer arms, he would be a considerably more significant challenge, but as he is he was able to land a point against me.”
“That is impressive, m’lord.”
“I thought so. Anyway, I’ve worked up an appetite. Breakfast?” And offering her his arm, he escorted her to the mess hall.
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 #443: Versers Acclimate. 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: