Wayfaring Writer

Driven by a violent desire to write.

The Duelists – Graduation

A much longer story idea that I’ve been playing with. A world where dueling is not only an accepted profession, but a celebrated and prestigious position to have. Meet The Duelists and have a great Sunday!

The Duelists - Graduation

Sweat shone on Johnny’s pale skin; his shoulders glistening with their beads. They rolled down his back and chest; diverting their course when they hit the patchwork of scars across his torso, badges of honor and glory from past battles. Through the damp strands of hair hanging over his eyes he watched his opponent, Regis Deneau. Regis was dressed as he was, wearing only soft leather boots and loose breeches with no scabbards. There would be no sheathing of the blades until it was all over. Held held his rapier and dagger loosely in his hands.

Regis had the height advantage, being two hands taller, and he was a lot stronger than his lean frame portrayed. But Jonny was faster, and when doing bladework speed was the most important thing. The lack of scars on Regis proved his ability to win, while Johnny’s scarred body showed only his refusal to give up.

The crowd around them was still as stone. Not a hint of movement or whisper of sound, as if they were afraid the slightest disturbance could bring the duelist’s attention onto them. A hundred statues watching the two warriors face each other, holding in anticipation. The silence was deafening, only broken by briefs gusts of wind that moved the stifling air lazily around the two duelists. They stared unblinking at each other, predators waiting to strike at the first hint of weakness. No fear showing, no weakness; two statues carved from flesh.

Without warning a horn blast cut through the thick air and the crowd roared, a tidal wave a sound and fury.

Regis charged forward, his rapier and dagger already moving in the complex Vindicator pattern. Johnny parried at the last moment, deflecting his opponent’s blade left while he rolled his body right and bringing his dagger up in a brutal stab to his opponent’s ribs. Regis narrowly avoided the dagger, sliding under in and recovering in a crouch a few feet away.

Pressing his advantage Johnny kicked a clump of dirt at Regis and rushed his blinded opponent. Regis expected his deception and rolled to the side, slashing low at Johnny’s legs. Johnny barely saw the flicker of the blade through the cloud of dirt and jumped to avoid it, rolling and coming up on guard.

They stopped, staring at each other again. The crowd yelled their approval to the two combatants. Blood roses and carnations rained over the edges of the field.

“Tired yet, Johnny?” Regis taunted.

“You’re the one that’s breathing heavy, pretty boy.” Johnny retorted. Regis smiled and stood up. “I was hoping to take you out fast, you’ve gotten better.” Johnny snorted, “Couldn’t have gotten much worse. Wanna finish this with dagger?”

Regis raised his rapier to his forehead in salute and Johnny returned the gesture. Then they both dropped their rapiers to the dirt in unison. The crowd roared again, excited to see the two apprentices go at each other with daggers.

They circled each other, daggers at the ready, never breaking eye contact. Johnny knew Regis favored the more aggressive standard grip, so he held his blade reversed to annoy him. Regis circled Johnny, throwing the occasional feint, trying to goad him into action. Johnny just watched and waited, never flinching. Regis threw a low kick into Johnny’s knee and stabbed at his face. Johnny turned his leg out to deflect the kick and hooked the thrust dagger with his own blade and trapped Regis’ hand under his arm and pulled him close.

Infighting was never pretty, and they both had a lot to lose. Johnny threw short, jackhammer punches to Regis’ ribs. Regis threw a knee into his abdomen and raked his fingers across Johnny’s eyes, pulling his dagger free. They quickly exchanged blows, allowing punches to land but always deflecting the dagger blows. Johnny threw a blistering combination of punches and turned to throw Regis over his shoulder. Regis set his feet and threw his weight backwards, allowing his arm to be dislocated, and swing his dagger around Johnny’s torso.

Johnny felt steel part the skin over his ribs, and he went cold even as hot blood rushed out of him. Regis leaned in and whispered into his ear, “Not good enough, farm boy.” Johnny wilted in defeat as Regis let go of him. Looking down he saw the long, shallow cut across the ribs over his heart. A possibly lethal strike in a real duel, and another scar to learn from.

Johnny turned to face Regis and placed a fist over his heart in the duelist salute. Regis returned the salute and clapped Johnny heartily on the shoulder. “Better luck next time chap.” he said, and they both turned to the crowd and bowed.

The final duel of the Placement was over. The rankings on the board shifted for the final time that year, reflecting the results of the latest duel. Forty-second overall. Forty second out of a class of sixty. I guess it could be worse. The bottom ten of a yearly class were allowed to return to improve their ranking in the following class. He was going to have to work hard to improve his ranking. Still, graduating as a 4th Class Apprentice was better than not being a Duelist at all.

Their friends ran out onto the field to congratulate them. Sophie reached Johnny first, first aid kit in tow. Without pretense she began cleaning the knife wound. “I told you playing defense against Regis wouldn’t help.” Sophie pulled out a needle and thread and started stitching. “You’re problem is insisting on knowing a little bit of everything instead of specializing like the rest of us. At least then you might win one event.” She finished her stitching and bit the end of the thread. “Granted, Regis has excellent bladework but you might’ve had a chance if you just picked a specialty besides getting new scars.” Johnny endured the stitching and tongue lashing stoically, “But Sophie, if I did that then what would you yell at for?” Sophie gave him a blistering glare, then threw her arms around him in a tight embrace. “You’re such an idiot” she scolded.

Despite the loss Johnny didn’t have any ill will towards Regis. As a Duelist you keep emotion out of your fighting and do what needs to be done. Besides, he was technically family.

Regis’ father and his mother had a tryst a long time ago, so that made him the bastard son of a high house. Usually, that wold make him a threat but Regis was the third son of House Deneau. There were already enough legitimate heirs to the House Seat. That’s why Regis was allowed to become a Duelist in the first place. They both had the right connections to be employed as a Duelist of the House. Although Regis’ ranking would put him in better standing.

Sophie grew up on the same farm he did. They’d been inseparable since she was born. He adopted her as a surrogate sister and they’ve been causing trouble together ever since. She signed up for the dueling school the same day he had, but they only had a few classes together. Sophie trained as an Assassin, specializing in explosives, poisons, and ungentlemanly warfare. She excelled at it too. Likely, she would enter the military and wreck havoc in enemy countries.

Johnny, however, had no specialty. He studied everything from bladework to political manipulation and back again. This left him at a distinct disadvantage in dealing with Duelists who had mastered one or two crafts. It was a consistent source of arguments for him and Sophie.

“Soph, you know I want to learn everything. Besides, if I ever get challenged I’ll pick something they’re not good at and I’m familiar with.” She pulled away from me grimacing. “Yes, but if they happen to have half a brain and a passing familiarity with it you’ll be evenly matched.” she retorted. “You’re just stubborn, and you won’t be the next Varias Black if you get killed as an apprentice.”

Varias Black was a legend among Duelists. Grand Maestro of the Duelists for twenty years and master of all the classes and skills a Duelist could study, even creating a few of his own. He was retired now, disappeared into the throes of humanity to live out his life in peace. Johnny wanted nothing more than to live like he did.

Johnny sighed at the old argument, “I know Soph, but I don’t plan on dying anytime soon.” She eyed his scarred chest, “Well, you’re scars tell a different story. But, it looks like you’re no better at dying than anything else you try.” He let out a bark of laughter and pulled his shirt on. Everyone began to gather in front of the dais where Grand Maestro Delio Vargas began to speak.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, congratulations on completing your dueling finals.” He sounded bored, he must be after doing this so many times. Vargas had been Grand Maestro for the last seven years, since Varias Black had retired. It was hard to believe the frail looking, white-haired gentleman was a Master Duelist. But his fragile appearance hid a killer’s heart and a vicious mind for politics. He attained his post through cunning and connections instead of spilling blood. He was a dangerous man. “As of today you are officially a part of the Duelist Order. Holding fast to a tradition spanning a thousand years.” He looked at the professors on the dais beside him. “Your instructors have done very well, and should be commended for training such an exemplary group of students.” He didn’t look especially proud, but he had a face that rarely revealed how he actually felt. “As you all know, a month after graduation the Tournament is held for all registered Duelists. A grand event of skill and violence.” Many of the young Duelists around him were smiling and fidgeting, barely able to contain their excitement. The Tournament was a grand affair, with the entire nation watching in earnest. “The Council met yesterday, and it was decided that this would be a very special tournament. This will be a year of the Grand Melee.

Gasps arose from the gathered apprentices. The Grand Melee hadn’t been held in almost thirty years. It was a free-for-all battle involving any duelist that wished to attend. The winner would be given the rank of Master Duelist, no matter what their rank was in the beginning of the Melee. “You all know the history of the Melee, and what it can do for someone’s reputation. You also should know that over half of all participants don’t make it out of the Melee alive. So, despite your desire for fame I caution you to choose wisely whether you attend the Melee as an observer, or as a participant. For many of you would surely become a corpse.” The apprentices fell still and silent at the declaration. Death for a Duelist was an ever present specter. But it is the life they choose to live. To fight so others don’t have too, and to die so others may live.

“Congratulations again, and to those entering the Tournament and the Melee. Die well.”

About Luke Geldmacher

I grew living on an island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Currently, I live in a 40 acre farm in Cookville, TX. I sometime write about life issues, but my passion is sci-fi and fantasy storytelling.

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