The vacation brought with it the unresolved situation between her and Neil, and a growing friendship with Julian. At first, she had been in awe and shy of him, and their first practice session had been a litany of stumbles and falls on her part, with continual ‘I’m sorry’ and as many patient reassurances on his part. Finally he had put down his flute and said to her, “Listen, come and sit down and let’s just talk for a while.”
She had sat down on the floor, assuming the same crosslegged posture as he was in, and he had started to talk. Things about his childhood, how he had kept making whistles and flutes out of bamboo, wood, paper, combs until his parents had bought him a flute.
“Not a very good one, but better than I w-was able to make myself.” He told her about school, and he revealed that he was only about two years older than her. In a short while she was talking about her father’s death, and for once she did not have to assume a mask, but could tell him honestly that although she missed her father very much, she was also glad that the long illness was ended, and that she had felt relieved rather than sad when the news came. She talked about death and the fact that the prospect of her own death held no fears for her, after almost dying, and then hastily amended it to after experiencing her father’s death. She had never been so relaxed with anyone, so able to be herself. And Julian had listened, and nodded in the right places and smiled when he should and touched her hand gently when she needed it.
And she found that she could do the same for him, she understood his words perfectly and felt a connection that was almost palpable.
By Saturday their understanding extended to the music and movement, and on Sunday she flew to his music in the limited space of the inn, and shared that moment of moments all artists crave, when the applause is merely a confirmation of what you know to have been your best. It was as close to sublime as she had ever experienced, and she floated home afterwards in a cloud of euphoria. Even her mother commented on the fact that the two of them seemed to draw the best out of each other.
She had also managed to contact the person in charge of the fencing club at the university, and been told that they had a junior league, and she was welcome to join them on any Tuesday night at 6 to try it and see if she liked it.
The internet had also proved helpful in locating swords and swordsmiths, and she’d found that there were people who devoted their lives to recreating samurai swords, broadswords, epees, kukri’s and all manner of swords through the ages, usually in search of the mythical perfect sword. Even better was the news that there was someone who practiced the craft in the next town. She wasn’t sure how she was going to talk her mom into buying a sword, but that bridge was best crossed when she came to it.
Neil had kept his distance, and for that, at least, she was grateful, but he was certainly under her skin in some way – she kept thinking of him, what he was going to do during the vacation, and how much she’d like someone to talk to about the unknown land and her role there.
The first Tuesday of the vacation was gloomy and the clouds seemed to promise snow, so her mom insisted on driving her to the fencing class and, as she put it, getting the lay of the land in terms of costs.
They found the group in the gymnasium, all of them in white padded suits, limbering thigh muscles and swishing wicked little swords around. A very broad but obviously fit young man came over to them.
“Tracy? Hi, I’m Anton. We spoke on the phone.”
Tracy acknowledged that and introduced her mom, who immediately started grilling Anton about the costs. As it turned out, his answers about how second hand equipment gets passed along, often at nominal costs, satisfied her mom. Tracy received her blessing, and then she allowed herself to be led to an area with some chairs and a few other parents.
As for Tracy, she was taken in charge by a girl about her own age, shown where to change into a set of borrowed padding, and given a very bent sword, one that approximated straight in that various dents in it sort of cancelled each other out and the point was more or less in line with her hand.
“Don’t worry about it, today is simply going to be some exercises and getting to see whether you have a sense of point.”
“Sense of point?”
“Yeah, that’s knowing where the point of your sword is in relation to your body and hand. Not everyone has it.”
“I see. Can you learn it?”
“I suppose with practice you can get better, but believe me it’s better to have it naturally. It seems you’re kitted up, let’s go.”
The new members, Tracy, an older woman named Stacey, two boys, Mark and David, and an older man, Burt, lined up in their ill-fitting borrowed padding and masks, each holding a foil that, like Tracy’s one, had obviously seen better days.
The coach, Martin Burden, came across and addressed them.
“Well, all of you, for one reason or another, has decided to join us in the sport of fencing. Before we go any further, who of you has an interest in fencing simply to get fit?”
Stacey and Burt lifted their hands.
“OK – please go across to Amanda, over there in the right-hand corner. Now, who wants to compete in this as a sport?” The two boys’ hands shot up. “You’ll come with me. And I suppose, you, young lady, want to do this out of an historical interest and you want to learn to actually fight. You’ll stick with Mindy.” His tone was contemptuous, and he walked away with the two boys. Mindy smiled at her.
“Don’t mind him, he wants people to train for the Olympics and hates those of us who are interested in all kinds of swords and the use of them. As far as he is concerned, there is only the foil and epee and saber, and anything else is barbaric. We practice with the katana woods and the broadsword blanks as well as those three.”
“Wow, I didn’t even know there were so many different swords. I mean, I know they all had different shapes, when you look for pictures of swords, and I saw the names, but...”
“You didn’t make the association to different applications. Most people don’t. OK, let’s check your point work.”
She led Tracy to a wall on which was mounted a rectangle containing four small circles, about 5 cm in diameter. “Stand over here, and hold your sword like this.” Mindy turned her body slightly, raised her left arm behind her, and extended her right arm slightly away from her body, the elbow bent, the sword held pointing in front but slightly inward and upward.
Tracy copied her, and Mindy patiently adjusted her stance until she was satisfied.
“OK – the sequence I want from you is to stab your sword into the top left, bottom right, top right, bottom left circle as quickly as you can.”
The point of the foil was about five inches from the targets, so Tracy did not see how she could miss.
Tracy stabbed forward, and only touched the edge of the top left circle, then missed the bottom right, landed smack in the middle of the top right and again hit the edge of the bottom left. Terrible!
“Wow – amazing! You haven’t fenced before?”
Tracy looked at Mindy. The girl wasn’t kidding.
“But I missed three out of the four. How is that amazing?”
“You touched two of the target areas on the edge, got one dead on and only missed one. Believe me, that is amazing. Some of the top fencers don’t even have that sense of point. Take two paces back, and this time you are going to lunge at the target and try again.”
“Watch me.” Mindy again stood as before, then stepped forward with her right leg, bent that knee while dropping her left arm and extending the sword up until her arm was rigid and parallel with the floor, the sword point against the top left circle and bending slightly. Her left leg was straight, the shin parallel with the floor.
“Oh, OK, a lunge step.”
Tracy assumed the starting position, was again adjusted by Mindy, then lunged at the target, This time she hit three of the circles, only missing the bottom left.
“Fantastic! You’re a natural. Now we’re going to do the tedious work of learning the footwork. So put down your sword and let’s get to it.”
For the next half an hour Tracy walked around the gym in huge lunging strides, jumped around it in a sort of sideways hop called a balestra, and walked around it using a very strange crablike walk called an advance. And all the time holding her right arm slightly bent, away from her body, and her left arm up behind her.
At the end of that time, she and the other new recruits were sweating and gasping for air, and were quite ready to sit on the floor and listen to Martin holding forth about the technical aspects of the swords, telling them about the foible and the forte, or weak and strong sections of the blade, about attacks and engagements and parries, about how points are scored and lost and finally about where they could buy equipment if they thought that they wanted to join.
“Oh, and there is a charge of fifty dollars to join, then twenty five dollars a month. Anton will have all the paperwork for those who wish to continue.” He turned abruptly and walked off.
On the way home Tracy raised the money aspect with her mom. “It’s going to mean an outlay of about two hundred dollars just to get the stuff I need in terms of equipment, and then the monthly fee on top of that, with the initial joining fee, we’re looking at about three hundred dollars.”
“That’s quite a bit to spend on something you’re only doing to stay fit until the vacation is over.”
“I know, but there’s something to it. I might even stick with it and try to get to the Olympics. Mindy was really impressed by my sense of point, and she reckons I could very well be ready in three moths or so to take part in some club competitions, and then go on to regionals and maybe nationals by the end of next year, when I’ll be going to the university anyway and can spend a lot of hours training.”
Her mom frowned. “You’d go to the local university instead of MTT? I thought that was your goal?”
“Well, yes and no. It really was Dad who was so keen on MTT, I’m happy to study wherever. In fact, I’d prefer to stay local, and close to you. And, if it turns out that I’m really good at this fencing stuff, I might just get a scholarship for it.”
“Well, then, I guess, the question is how serious you think you could get over fencing. I think we’ll both sleep on it, then discuss it again.”
Tracy longed to say that she needed to spend as much time as possible getting as expert as possible at fencing, since she had a world to save, but she had to stifle the urge. It sounded crazy, event to her, and she’d lived through it.
Being in the unkown land, she now realized, was simple in some ways – she knew exactly who she was there, and what she was supposed to do - but here, in this known world, where she’d been born, there were so many things that drew her attention away, that claimed her and wanted her to spend time on them, not to mention the complications of dealing with her mom.
If only she could confide in her mom, and not have her freak out, and start taking her for a round of doctors and psychiatrists, how easy it would be then. But, she realized, she didn’t trust her mom. At least not with something that sounded crazy even to herself. She tried it out loud, alone in her room.
“Mom, the day of the funfair trip, I didn’t just fall into the cart, I fell into another world. And I lived there for what felt like months and months. And I found out they have a prophecy about me, about me coming to save their world. And Neil is somehow a part of it, since he knew about me and by nearly killing me he sent me there. And that was why I didn’t want anything to do with him, but he spoke to me and explained and now he can help me. And I need to fence since the weapons there are swords and bows and arrows.”
Nope – it just wouldn’t work. Tracy could hear the frantic phone calls about delusions and maybe an injury to the head and it would all be terrible. Better to be sneaky. Sneaky with her mom, sneaky with Mindy about her ambitions for fencing, sneaky with Neil about what she was doing as she did not quite trust him yet.
And what about Julian? Her thoughts had shied away from him, since he awoke things in her that were frightening. When she was close to him she wanted to touch him, constantly, as much as she could, all over. And she wanted him to do the same to her. And more, but what was that like? She knew the talk in the bathrooms, and she’d seen enough diagrams in sex ed to know what the mechanics were, but what would it feel like? A part of her knew that she would die in the throes of ecstasy it would bring, lying with him, hell, yes, fucking him, and another part feared it would be messy and hurtful and an anti-climax.
She giggled at the unintended pun her mind had just presented. And then it ran back, like a hamster on a wheel, think of it, the loveliness of it, but he’s just so far removed, how can I ever…
Stop! No good thinking like that. Focus on the fencing exercises. Tracy took up the en garde position, and with imaginary sword in hand, lunged and recovered, lunged and recovered until she fell into an exhausted sleep.