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A Passage of Blades

I'm so excited that The Emperor's Agent is out and that some of you are diving into it! I thought I'd share a fun scene from it, a fencing scene that showcases one of the "new" characters in The Emperor's Agent, one who will be familiar to some of you as Emrys and Xandros in times past.



The next day I met Corbineau at M. Clanet's salle, dressed as Charles and ready for practice. It seemed that much of Boulogne kept late hours, or perhaps it was too beautiful a day to spend indoors, but in early afternoon there were only a few men there. One was clearly there for a private lesson with the maestro, while others were practicing in pairs. Corbineau had paid a membership fee, so we took off our coats and went to work.

It felt very good. I was not as smooth as he was, but we were of a height and build, so neither of us had much advantage. His style was dirtier than mine, the style of a man who had learned first in the field and then refined it with lessons, whereas I had begun as a child under my father's tutelage learning the formal style of the duel when I was six years old.

We had been at it nearly an hour, working up a good sweat, when Reille and Subervie came in, so we stopped and watched them for a bit. I watched Corbineau lose money on a wager match.

"It doesn't matter," Corbineau said. "Not when my friend Charles here could roll Gervais up."

Reille's eyebrows rose. Most of the members of the salle might be convinced I was some friend of Corbineau's named Charles, but the Lodge members knew I was a woman.

"I can't say I'd take that bet," Subervie said, coloring. "Wouldn't be sporting."

At that there were derisive hoots from the men who didn't know who I was.

"So little confidence?" Corbineau asked lightly.

"I wouldn't want to hurt the …er…young man…." Subervie stuttered, looking daggers at Corbineau.

I decided to rescue him, as I liked him very much. "I am not so young, nor in fear of your sword, Colonel. I would be delighted to make a match with you," I said, with a courteous bow.

"I'm going to kill you, Jean-Baptiste," Subervie hissed. "I can't fight a…."

"Gentleman so young?" Reille put in, a smile playing about his lips. "Then I will relieve you of the burden." He gave me a sharp nod. "I'm handicapped here, so I will give you this -- hold me off five minutes from a body touch. Limb touches don't count."

At that the gathering crowd ooohed and started placing bets, as Reille was well known as a fencer. And, standing well above six feet, he had both the reach and weight of me.

"Done," I said with a negligent shrug, the excitement already chorusing through my veins. "It will be my pleasure, General."

"Fifty francs on my friend Charles!" Corbineau shouted. The bookmaker started giving him six to one odds.

I took my coat back off and made a few more passes with the practice foil. Corbineau leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Damnation. I thought you could take Gervais."

"Thank you for the vote of confidence," I said, but I was anything but sanguine about fencing Reille, myself. I'd seen him cross blades with Michel, and I had never been anywhere near Michel's league.

Subervie leaned in on the other side. "Madame, you don't have to do this. Some harebrained scheme of Corbineau's…." He gave Corbineau a stern look. "It's most unsuitable."

"My dear Subervie," I said. "I am most unsuitable, as you are no doubt learning." I pushed my hair back behind my ears and stepped out in to the center to salute.

Reille had taken off his coat as well, and fenced in dark blue waistcoat and breeches. He gave me a courteous nod. "Ready?"

"Ready," I said, and when the timer gave the signal we began.

Our blades barely kissed in the middle, sliding together and then apart. He waited in guard, his eyes on my face.

Pretty dark eyes, I thought, and fierce at last. This was something that moved him to passion.

Yet he was cool. A quick exchange of points, but he did not even change expression, collected and still. He is a thinking one, I thought. He doesn't go hot in the field either, I imagine. He goes cold. Ice is worse than heat, sometimes.

And he was fast. I almost missed the disengage, the quick thrust that should have hit my left shoulder. Instead it hit the back of my hand, stinging and leaving a welt along my thumb.

"Hand touches don't count," Corbineau reminded everyone loudly. "Come on, Charles."

Gamely I put my best into it. He was not used to a left-handed opponent, and that gave me something to play with. A quick riposte, a step back giving ground to lead him, and I almost had it. A quick disengage, and I pinked the elbow of his sword arm.

"Body touches only!" Corbineau said, but I heard the exhalation run around the room. It was something to have hit Reille at all.

His lips compressed, and the blades touched again, scraping and flying like fire. He was fast, fast as a much smaller man, though he stood over six feet, tall and thin and all lanky muscle. Still he hung back, not pressing me though he could. He had the reach. I had to get in close and he didn't need to, so he could afford to play me at the point, waiting for me to make a mistake.

I could try to hold him off. The victory condition was that he had to hit me. Most of these men were aggressive fencers, and his stand back and wait style would be very effective against them, men who would rush to close and tire themselves out in attack while he simply defended until they were exhausted. But this victory condition made it my game. He had to touch me. I just had to not be touched.

At that I began to fly from his blade, backing quickly around the room, circling out of reach, not even trying to connect but only to defend.

I saw Reille's eyes narrow. He knew what I was doing, and that he would need to change strategies accordingly. Riposte, riposte, beat and beat and beat. Now he was chasing me, circling with his longer stride. Only the tips of our blades connected, parry and parry and parry.

I saw the movement in his eyes first, before in his limbs, and he flew into a beat attack that could only end in a thrust. My blade came up, dropped below his beat and caught his disengage awkwardly. He beat….

"Time!" Subervie shouted. "Five minutes is up!"

…beat again, and slipped under my guard for a beautiful touch on my right shoulder, solid as anyone could want.

Corbineau cheered. "It was after the time! It doesn't count! Pay up, my friends! I told you my friend Charles was good!"

Reille saluted solemnly, and I returned it, my shoulder aching all to hell. It was a tipped foil, but it hurt all the same. He shoved his sodden hair out of his face and came over to me. "Are you all right, Madame?" he asked quietly. "I didn’t mean to hit quite that hard."

"I'm fine," I said. "And I'm amazed I held you off long enough. You're good."

"You're fast," he said. "And the left handedness throws me a little. I don't have too many sinister friends."

"Of both sorts?" I smiled. "Are your friends right-handed, or simply upstanding fellows?"

"Both," he said. He had a disarming smile, pulling the right side of his mouth more than the left, which gave him a charmingly lopsided look. "We're good boys really."

"Are you? I hope you're not too good. Virtue can be terribly boring."

"I try not to be dull." Reille said, and I thought he blushed a little. "But I have the reputation of being a bookworm."

"Because you finish your homework?" I asked.

"And everyone else's. But that's what it's about, isn't it? Learning to be a team. It's good to be competitive, but when we get in the field we need to be able to put that down." He shrugged. "We'll be there soon enough, I suppose."

"I expect you will," I said. I felt eyes upon me, and glanced about to see Michel in the doorway watching, his hat in his hand. Before I could say anything, he spun around and left.
And what if he did? We were done with each other. There was no reason in the world I couldn't talk with a handsome young man my own age who happened to be an excellent swordsman and a bachelor besides. If it sent Michel scurrying out of the room, it was really his problem.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
tricksterquinn
Aug. 9th, 2013 08:08 pm (UTC)
Oh, I do love that scene! And Reille, willing to fight her when Subervie is stuttering helplessly. And Corbineau, causing trouble!
jo_graham
Aug. 12th, 2013 01:07 pm (UTC)
Corbineau is always causing trouble! :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )