The wicked heroine, p.9
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.9

           Jasmine Giacomo


  Geret dressed in his showiest clothes the next day and belted his most expensive sword onto his waist. Then he began shadowing Salvor around the city until he saw an opportunity.

  Salvor was near the picturesque fountains at the top of the trade road, which led up from the valley floor to the Market Quarter. It was a busy place, and there were people and carts everywhere. It was no problem at all for Geret to track Salvor’s approaching feathered hat through the crowd; Geret was a hand taller than the average man. He angled through the crowd toward the large, floppy black feather, holding a roasted ruskan leg in one hand and munching it happily until he collided with Salvor, causing the fowl’s drumstick to smear grease and gravy all over Geret’s finery.

  “Ignoramus!” Geret screeched, catching the older man on the cheek with a quick slap of his food. “This tunic cost me three hundred gipp, you oxen-taught shambler!”

  Salvor assumed a haughty stance until he recognized whom he had run into, and he adjusted his posture to a more accommodating one.

  “A thousand apologies, my lord,” Salvor said, pasting a smile onto his face. “Let me buy you a new one. A better one!” he added with a judicious nod.

  Geret stopped still in the middle of the street and let his cooling gaze freeze Salvor where he stood. “This is my favorite tunic, you stumbling ingrate. There is no better to be found in all of Vint. I will have my payment out of your hide.”

  “M…my lord?” stuttered Salvor, unsure he had heard right.

  “A duel, you moron. You must have a winter-frozen pond of fetid duck manure for brains. Here and now, since you have a sword handy.” Geret indicated the sword at Salvor’s side.

  Salvor apparently decided that he didn’t want to pander anymore, and gave the taller man a condescending look. “Are you sure you don’t want to finish your meal first? You do seem attached to it. And, my lord, I must warn you, I’m rather good with a sword. Perhaps you’ve heard of me. I am Salvor Thelios.”

  “I might have heard the name. Such rumors are usually greatly exaggerated, though,” Geret said, waving his ruskan leg in acknowledgment of Salvor’s comment.

  Salvor coughed in surprise, then swallowed and got a hold of himself.

  Geret let the young noble bargain him down from first blood with sharp blades there in the street, to disarming with wooden blades, up at the palace’s outdoor practice grounds an hour hence. At that, Geret suggested that the winner should take the other man’s sword as a prize, and though Salvor hesitated, Geret saw his eyes gleam with avarice as they gazed on the giant ruby in Geret’s sword pommel.

  The men met again at the appointed time, dressed in proper training padding, wooden dueling blades raised in salute on the palace combat circle. They had also gathered quite a crowd, who, far from being respectfully quiet, were cheering and shouting as if they were at a common streetball game.

  Salvor went on the offensive immediately after they had saluted each other, forcing Geret to retreat and parry Salvor’s wooden blade away several times in quick succession. Salvor’s attacks came in quick jabs, and then a lightning slice, followed by more jabs. Geret focused on his footwork; one stumble and Salvor would be all over him.

  The two young men danced around the combat circle to the cheers and shrieks of the crowd. Salvor was entirely in command of the fight, or so it appeared. He jabbed, slashed and spun, driving Geret constantly backwards. Geret made sure to look worriedly behind him occasionally, hoping to make Salvor overconfident.

  It seemed to be working, but Salvor wasn’t tiring at all. The man had stamina–Geret had to give him that. It had been several minutes and both of them were breathing heavily, yet Salvor showed no sign of letting up. Geret began to hope he never had to fight Salvor with steel.

  Then he really did trip; he’d been thinking too much and fighting too little. He stumbled back onto his behind, and had to roll quickly to his left to avoid Salvor’s jab and swipe. A quick scramble brought him back to his feet, but his slip-up had altered the tone of the fight. Salvor began targeting Geret’s sword hand almost exclusively, trying to bat his weapon from his grip and win the fight.

  The crowd had mostly given up cheering loudly by now; the end was inevitable in their eyes. It was just a matter of time. A few of the kiss-ups were still cheering Geret on half-heartedly, but most of the sounds from the audience were gasps and murmurs that accompanied the more visually daring moves Salvor made.

  Time to change the play.

  Geret stepped in at the same moment that Salvor did, catching the wooden tip of his opponent’s blade against his hilt and grinding the staves together until the hilts met. Their bodies pressed in. Their right feet were nearly toe to toe as they leaned on each other’s hilts. Geret snaked his left hand in and took hold of Salvor’s sword hand, and began to shove Salvor away from him, using the weight of his whole body.

  Salvor countered the motion with a shoulder shove toward Geret, who used Salvor’s momentum to pluck the sword from his grasp. He danced away in a twirl, to ensure Salvor could not just stretch out his hand and re-grip the handle.

  The audience clearly did not see what happened; Geret was too fast. All they saw was that suddenly, the losing fighter was grinning widely and taking a bow from the center of the combat circle, a sword in each hand! Stunned applause and cheers began, whirling around the circle into amazed shouts and even a few taunts for the loser.

  Salvor painted a cheerful-loser smile on and strode over to Geret, still breathing hard.

  “You cheated,” he said, moving his lips only a little.

  Geret smiled and nodded graciously, still panting himself, as if receiving a kind compliment on a fight well done. “You want to tell that to them?” he asked, tipping his head toward the crowd. “I’ll take my prize now.”

  Even a noble of Salvor’s breeding could not disguise the moment of hatred that passed across his features. The man spun on his heel and walked to the edge of the circle, where his sword belt lay. He drew the sword from its scabbard and stalked back to Geret, who belatedly realized that now he was left holding a wooden weapon, while Salvor held a truly magnificent steel blade.

  But Salvor merely presented the blade to him in the proper, polite manner: sword resting on both palms, handle to Geret’s right hand, blade toward his own chest. Salvor was nothing if not observant of the niceties, but Geret realized he’d made an enemy. He took the sword and held it high, letting the crowd cheer for a moment, and then, without any further ado, he headed to his rooms to calm back down.

  What a rush that had been.

  The next day, early in the morning, Geret delivered the sword to the owner’s home himself, posing as Geret’s own servant. There was no way he could hide that he’d won the sword off of Salvor, so he merely made quiet mention of it to the man as he handed over the boxed sword, once they were within the man’s personal study. The man was both grateful and surprised, and assured the “servant” that his master could expect a kind gift in return for such generosity.

  Apparently it was going to be impossible for Geret to avoid making alliances in this town.

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