Darton nearly lost the fight right at the start by slipping in the water on the street, but he managed to catch his balance, dodge slightly, and angle his blade in so that the other’s sword swept along it and past him. The young cavalier feinted at his foe’s leg, then slashed at an angle that would have slashed its point cruelly across the other man’s face had that man not ducked, ignored the feint, and caught Darton’s blade with his own. He exploded upwards, knocking Darton’s swordarm over his head, and the point of his blade arced toward the youth’s belly, but Darton used the momentum from the other man’s push to fall back, and the point missed him. Barely.

     Both men snapped back into stance, rapiers forward, free arm cocked with fist on hip. They stepped in a slow circle, there in the middle of day, in the middle of the street, the light rain soaking their clothes, making their movement less cerrtain—

     You must be prepared to fight under any conditions, Aramee had told him, many times. And he’d been right. He usually was.

     Vaguely aware of the faces watching the duel from surrounding windows, Darton made the next move. A thrust, parried with skill, then a feint, parry, riposte, parry. The swords rang loudly in the empty street as the young cavalier was forced backward by the superior swordsmanship of his opponent.

     Then he responded to a feint he should have ignored and his guard was gone. The other’s blade flashed in at his belly, no way could he stop it, he’d lost, and the rapier’s point stabbed in—

     And poked him gently in the ribs over his heart.

     Darton laughed, lowering his sword, shrugging. “Okay. You win.”

     Aramee scowled. “That was too damned easy!”

     “You’re better than I am.”

     “Not that much better.” The older cavalier removed his wide hat and shook rain from his soaked hair, then used his fingers to stroke more water from his dark goatee. Then the hat went back on, floppy with the weight of the rain. The panache looked sickly.

     “I’m not used to fighting in the rain,” Darton said, not bothering to sound sincere.

     “What? Nonsense, boy. As I’ve told you, you must be prepared—“

     “—to fight under any conditions,” Darton finished for him. “I know. I’ll learn.”

     Aramee peered at him from under the drenched hat. His eyes were thoughtful. Probing. A slight smile played at the corners of his mouth. “What is it, lad? What’s on your mind?”

     “Not much.”

     “Not much, indeed. I know you well enough by now. Something’s on your mind. Is it a woman?”

     Darton frowned, a bit exasperated. He felt like a child, with Aramee an adult asking condescending questions. “No. I have no girl troubles at the moment.”

     “What is it then? Has it anything to do with you moving into yon inn across the street? Eh?”

     They were in the street between the Copper Sands Inn, where Darton now spent his nights, and Kengarn’s house, which he was watching.

     He started to say no, but realized he’d better give his friend some positive responses or he’d soon be parrying questions from their other cohorts as well. “Well, I suppose you could say that.”

     “Care to talk of it?”

     Darton thought briefly before shaking his head. “No. I’d rather just work on it alone for now. It’s nothing important, not yet. If it becomes so, I’ll tell you all about it. Just following a hunch.”

     Aramee grinned. “Already off on solos, eh? Well it’ll be good practice for you.” He stepped closer, clapping his hands on Darton’s shoulders, suddenly serious. “But remember, if you need our help we are always ready. Don’t hesitate to involve us if you need, or if you just want to. ‘All for one’ and all that, right?”

     Darton smiled. “Right.”

     They moved off toward the doors of the inn, where hot coffee and cakes waited inside. Comrades. Friends. Heroes.

     Two cavaliers.


...Chapter 15...