Well of Bones

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Chapter 12

“It becomes easier to be a delight to one another if your very life depends upon it,”

Sir Girard Iron Bone concerning the virtues of dueling, twenty-fourth day of Reaping, 3182

Letting his hand drag in the cool water, Jake watched the coastline for the opening to the infamous cove where the fisherman was last spotted. After not hearing any word from the Albatross for a whole day, Varro dispatched a search party. Two boats, loaded with all the knights well enough to fight and as many marines as could be spared at the cave. All were armed to the teeth. There would be no more surprises without a contingency. Varro had learned his lesson. These creatures were not to be underestimated again.

Varro, Margaret, Brutus, and several marines sailed a small schooner borrowed from a local fisherman, followed closely by an even smaller sloop, manned by Jorn, Brom, and Jake. Salvo stayed behind to tend to the wounded. Amir and Dogwa still needed attention and the local physician was a drunk. Count Varro would not leave his men with him.

“Is that it?” Brom queried, pointing to a narrow gap in the cliff face.

“I don’t know,” answered Jake with a shrug. “These black cliffs make it hard to tell how far back things go.”

“That’s it,” Jorn interjected, working the rudder and loosening a line. “You can tell by watching how the water churns at the mouth with each swell.”

Jorn hailed from the northern islands of Brenar known as Ska’al. His people became masters of the sea long before any other civilizations even dreamt of leaving sight of the coastline. Hundreds of years of seafaring and warfare with neighboring tribes made the people of the ice ocean develop into expert sailors, exquisite swimmers, and warriors who only sought glory on the battlefield. Jorn exemplified all three qualities. Everything from his strong build and blond hair to his deep scar running from his nostril to his chin attested to his heritage.

Jake’s father often did business all over the Brenarian isles so he required Jake and his brother to know the histories of all indigenous people of Great Brenar. This came easier to Jake because the people of Ska’al interested him. Especially the legends of Ska’al warriors who could breathe underwater.

Maneuvering the sloop flawlessly, Jorn led the other boat into the cove. Barrels, powder kegs, and wreckage from the Albatross floated in the narrow passage. Just as Jake had feared.

Rounding a gradual yet jagged curve, the Albatross became visible. Brom gasped. The vessel was engulfed in water up to the stern bulkhead with its bow completely underwater. Its stern was in the air and it had rolled to port. It had stopped sinking, most likely sitting on a submerged shelf, but it still bobbed and clattered against the cliff.

They neared the wreck and threw grappling hooks to board. The deck was slanted forward but the men held their footing well. No sign of the crew. No one spoke as they searched the wreckage for survivors or even a corpse. They searched for a half hour with no findings other than blood smears, broken blades and spent pistols.

“A fisherman did this?” Brom whispered to Jake. “Where have the bodies gone?”

Jake nudged a broken cutlass with his toe and wondered that himself. They had to be dead. They were all gone and there was too much blood about to suggest otherwise. Jake walked to the gunnel and looked overboard into the black deep. He strained his eyes, trying to pierce the veil of darkness. The hair on his arms stood on end and a shiver clattered his bones.

“Alright,” Varro shouted, startling his men. “Get these swivel guns off the railing, bring all cannon up, and salvage any supplies in good condition. Jorn, take Brom out to collect those powder kegs floating yonder. All other hands, get to work before she sinks completely. Load the cannon onto the schooner. She can hold ’em.”

The men jumped to work, cutting lines, releasing the guns and crates from their places and hauling them on deck. This action went on for quite some time without incident, until a splash on the lower deck made Jake flinch. He stepped carefully down into the water. The cold rolled up his body and took his breath away. It was dark, Jake squinted to find what had made the noise.

“Light a lantern,” Jake demanded of one of the marines standing at the top of the ladder. A moment later, the marine passed the lantern down to Jake though he was hesitant to follow the knight down.

The forward decks were submerged, and Jake stood facing them with his back to the ladder leading topside. With his left hand, he thrust the lantern forward, hoping to cast the light further into the stacks of crates and black, cold water.

A louder splash this time. Jake drew his sword like lightning, his blade flashing. He realized he had been holding his breath and let it out quietly through pursed lips. Ripples appeared from behind a stack of crates. Jake squared himself with the stack and planted his feet as solidly as he could on the wet slope, ready for anything.

“Show yourself,” he called out, “or be slain.” A moment with no answer passed, then another and another. A face slowly peeked around the corner, then quickly disappeared again, sending more ripples his way. Inching his way silently forward, he heard a slight whimper.

Jake threw himself around the corner, blade high, tip pointed down, ready to strike a fatal blow on the unknown enemy. Once the water around him settled, he discovered he faced no enemy. Before him, hunched over, cowered a young man. A sailor of the Albatross. A survivor.

“Do not eat me, great beast,” the man begged without daring to glance to who stood there. Jake sheathed his sword and made several attempts to usher the shivering man topside. The sailor resisted, refusing to leave his hiding place. With no other option, Jake dragged the man topside. Thrashing and flailing, Jake pulled the delirious sailor by both collars and dropped him at the Count’s feet.

“I found him hiding below,” Jake said. When the mad man had settled, the Count bent low and asked for the sailor’s name.

“Mayberry,” the sailor said between wheezes, “William Mayberry.”

“William, what happened here?” Count Varro asked. The sailor’s eyes widened as if he had just remembered.

“We must leave this place,” William gasped as he gripped the Count’s jacket and pleaded with tearful eyes. “We must leave now. Please, I beg you.”

William’s warning was unheeded, his urgency ignored. The Count asked the sobbing man if there were any survivors. He shook his head. Then the Count asked where the corpses were, and William pointed to the center of the cove without a word.

“The coward hid in the hold like a frightened hare while his countrymen were killed and taken to the depths for food.” Jorn frowned and wrinkled his brow. “He brings shame to Great Brenar. I would rather die like a man, amongst my brothers than even think about hiding while they fought and died. He’s a disgrace and I’m sick of looking at him. We should leave him here for this beast to finish him off and the gulls to pick his bones.”

Jorn spat on William’s shoulder and returned to scavenging supplies.

“We leave no Brenarian behind,” Varro called to Jorn’s back. “Coward or hero, a man is still a man and must be treated as such.”

Jorn kept walking away.

Varro clenched his fists and lunged forward several steps. “Lieutenant, you have forgotten yourself.”

Jorn froze and took a deep breath before turning around. When he did, he kept his eyes low. “Forgive me, my lord.” He looked past the Count to William. “I am sorry, Mister Mayberry. It appears I have let my emotions get the better of me.”

Jorn returned to the supplies. After several uneasy moments, Varro directed the knights to finish loading the scavenged goods and prepare for cast off.

“Will we not go after this monster and avenge the Albatross?” Brom asked with rifle in hand.

The Count raised his eyes to the surrounding cliff tops, shielding his eyes from the sun. “No, not today. He will not surface for some time. He has just fed.”

#

“Perhaps we should give them the week,” Salvo said. “Maybe two.”

Count Varro wrinkled his brow as he thought. The wounded could use time to heal and that beast would have to grow hungry again to surface, but Fogwater was still on the loose. He tapped a finger on his glass of whisky.

“No,” Varro said. “We must keep the pressure on Fogwater. He is bound to make a mistake, and we will be there to make him pay.”

Dogwa coughed as he lay unconscious on the table across the room. Varro exhaled as he eyed the wounded knights. He feared if he looked directly at them, his emotions would muddle his ability to command and he would be the one to make a mistake. Fogwater would surely be there to take advantage of any slip. Varro gulped down his whisky.

Margaret helped Amir drink some water from a pewter mug because he could not see. Thick bandages covered his entire face including his eyes. He dribbled on his chin bandage. Margaret gently dabbed it dry and Amir jerked and groaned. Maybe not gentle enough.

“The men need time to heal,” Salvo said.

“Don’t you think I know that?” Varro snapped in a harsh whisper.

Margaret diverted her eyes when Varro returned his attention to her and the wounded. She avoided looking at the Count as she checked Dogwa’s wounds and listened to his breathing. Varro could hear it too. Raspy, labored breaths rattled out of his chest like beans in a can.

“Did you not use the elixir?” Count Varro asked Master Salvo.

“We did,” Salvo replied as he shifted in his seat. “We are running low. What we have already administered will help them, but we cannot risk any more. If any others are wounded, we need to be able to help them as well.”

Varro inhaled sharply through his nose and leaned back in his seat. He glared at Master Salvo with sharp eyes.

“The paralyzed marine,” Varro said. “You could have helped him.”

“There was no knowing if the elixir could help him and we needed it for our men.”

Varro slammed his fist on the table. “He was a Royal Marine of Great Brenar, and now he is dead.”

What could have been done? Gods, I’m already emotional, Varro thought. And why shouldn’t I be? Two of my knights are dead, another might join them, and the fourth is a bandaged mess. On top of that, I have sent the Albatross to its doom. Varro poured another whisky.

“If we go after Fogwater now, with limited strength, we will get much of the same result,” Salvo said.

Of course, he’s right, Varro thought. Even from a completely objective standpoint, some rest and relaxation made sense. A guard at the cave would still be required. A rotation of several marines with one knight could be arranged. Varro nodded his head slowly.

“I’ll tell them.”

#

Gravel crunching under hooves, Brom trotted his horse to the Governor’s mansion on the hill. He wore a fine blue velvet coat with white lace cuffs and long tails. The tailor assured him the type were the latest fashion in Logan: Brenar’s capitol. His three-cornered hat was pristine, his shoe buckles polished, and the finest cologne scented the nape of his neck. He felt silly, but the tailor had insisted.

Under his arm, he carried a bouquet of wildflowers he had put together himself. Anna had expressed her adoration of the flowers blooming in the marshland on the road to the monastery. She said they signaled that spring had finally arrived. Brom thought the blue, gold and white blossoms looked best in combination so that is what he brought her. It was fortuitous that Anna was fond of the wildflowers as Brom had spent nearly the entirety of his wages on his outfit.

The knight took advantage of the last week and a half of leave. While the other knights drank and ate, or healed, Brom courted Miss Anna Crane. He had called on her twice already. Count Varro gave his blessing as long as Brom did not shirk his duties.

Brom fidgeted with his horse’s reins as he went over the last two dates in his head. Each had gone swimmingly unless he had missed anything that indicated otherwise. This time would be different, Brom thought. For better or worse. His hand went to his vest pocket and stroked a simple silver band with his fingertip. Or perhaps next time.

Brom dismounted and sprang up the stairs to the mansion’s front door. He knocked twice with his knuckles before he remembered the brass knocker. He was unaccustomed to little luxuries like this and often overlooked them. Brom knocked once more for good measure with the knocker. The tall, dark butler answered the door in his mechanical manor and ushered Brom inside. With a shallow bow, the manservant went to fetch Anna. Brom waited in the parlor with the flowers behind his back, perusing the collection of art and the twin rapiers hanging over the fireplace. He knew nothing of the art other than its beauty. The swords, however, Brom adored.

He marveled over the fine craftsmanship and precious materials they were made from. Brom was so attached to the swords that he did not hear Governor Bradford enter the room.

“You may draw one if they interest you so.” The governor gave Brom a start. The young man placed a hand over his heart.

He did not wear his powdered wig or any of his makeup at this time, revealing weathered but not weakened features. His thin hair was cut close and light as if the color had drained from a once very dark head. His cheekbones seemed sunken which was strange on a chubby man.

“Pardon me, my lord. I believed myself to be alone,” Brom said with an embarrassed chuckle. The governor returned the light laugh then repeated his offer with an open palm to the boy. Brom smiled as he laid the flowers down on a low table. He unsheathed the sword delicately, holding the weapon on flat hands.

“I have inherited those from my father, the co-founder of this company. He personally saw to my training since I was a little boy so that I may be effective with them if the occasion arose once I was a man. Are you a man of swordplay, young master Grute? I know you are a man of the sword due to the company you keep, but waging war may not be as elegant a task as a duel might be.”

“All I know,” Brom answered admiring the blade, “the knighthood has taught me. My father believed the craft to be obsolete. My father believed swords to be going the way of the catapult. Because we are developing more efficient ways to defeat our enemies, swords will one day soon be used only by duelers defending their honor. Since I am a commoner and come from a family with no noble honor, then there is none to lose; none to defend.”

“Well said, young man,” Bradford said with a smile, pouring them each a glass of brandy. “I imagine your father also had a hand in your keen wit.”

“No, my lord. My father was a man of very few words. He could always communicate in other ways. The knighthood is responsible for my formal education.”

Bradford shrugged and sipped. “All the same. Your statement could not be truer, and your father had informed you correctly. I possess those swords for that very reason.”

Brom raised his eyebrows. “You do not strike me as a dueling man.”

“Ah.” Bradford pointed a finger to the ceiling then touching it to the end of his nose. “That is because I have yet to be involved in a duel, thankfully. My father was, however, a dueling man. That very blade you hold is that which he thrust through the heart of his business partner at the top of cemetery hill.”

Brom glanced at the sword in new wonder. He believed these swords to have not seen any blood. He handed the weapon to the governor with care.

“Do you fence for sport, mister Grute?”

“No, I suppose I do not. Fencing had always been training specifically for combat. I never really thought of it as sport.”

“But you know that gentlemen fence and one gentleman may challenge another to a friendly match?”

“Yes. I am aware of these occasions. No such opportunity has presented itself to me, however. Ever since I have acquired the skills to fence properly, bloodshed had been the only association that comes to mind when I think of fencing.”

“Ah.” The governor threw his head back and stood taller than before. “You give yourself away, sir. You say you associate fencing with bloodshed which suggests that every time you have drawn your sword it meant life or death for you and your opponent. Seeing that you are still here and unscarred from what I find, you must have taken to the training well. You possess great skill with a blade, indeed, if I am correct.”

“You are very observant, my lord,” Brom said with a bow. “But I am afraid I am merely inexperienced. My lack of scarring is due only to luck in a firefight. I rarely draw my blade in combat.”

“Well then,” Bradford said while placing the sword back in its scabbard. “Shall we put them to the test?”

“Put what to the test?”

“Your skills, my boy. Your expertise with the sword.”

“I would not call it expertise, my lord. As I said, I rarely fence outside of training.”

“Do not be so modest, boy. You are a terror with the blade. I can see it in your eye.” Bradford sipped from his glass. “However, I must see for myself. Shall we have a gentleman’s match?”

Brom thought for a moment. “If that is your wish, my lord, I may only oblige your invitation.”

“Excellent, tomorrow morning perhaps. Seven?”

“Ah, you wish to get your blood pumping early, my lord,” Brom said with a smile.

“I trust you will not be sleeping off a rather nasty hangover at that hour,” Bradford said.

At that moment, the butler entered and announced Miss Crane with his chin high. Anna walked in, wearing a plain outfit that did not at all detract from her beauty. She wore a simple riding coat of brown, sturdy fabric lined with smooth linen and fluid silk. Her hat was small and sat atop an elegant hair arrangement. She wore white gloves on her hands, in which she held a lace parasol.

Brom’s eyes sparkled with a greeting smile as was the usual reaction to her presence. They met in the center of the room. Anna presented her hand and Brom kissed it delicately.

“Good morning, Mister Grute,” she said in the proper fashion.

“Good morning, Miss Crane,” Brom said with matching formality, offering the flowers. “I’ve picked these for you.”

“My favorite,” she said graciously, taking them into her arms. Then she looked up at them with inquiring eyes. “What did I hear about a hangover?”

“Ah,” Bradford stepped in. “Mister Grute was just explaining to me that he is not a drunkard like many soldiers. He will be joining me tomorrow morning for a bit of sport.”

“Duck hunting, no doubt,” Anna predicted.

“Something of the sort,” Bradford responded with a wink at Brom.

With that, the young knight offered his arm. “Shall we take a walk around the garden?”

#

The young couple went, and Bradford’s demeanor changed from smiling and gracious to grim and perturbed. He slouched in one of the couches with his glass in hand. He swirled the brandy and stared at it with his head propped on the back of the couch with his other arm.

“She loves him,” Bradford brooded.

“It is rather early to tell, my lord,” the butler responded coldly.

“Then she will grow to love him,” the governor snapped. “Something must be done.” Bradford’s eyes moved to the rapiers on the wall.

“Do you mean to kill the lad tomorrow?”

“Heavens, no. That would only drive her away from me.” Bradford placed the glass on a table and leaned forward placing his head in his hands. His fingers ran through his short thin hair.

“A tragedy, then,” the manservant suggested. “Something unthinkable and unrelated to you. She would have nowhere to go but back into your arms.”

Bradford sat upright and gulped from his glass. Hissing through his teeth, he agreed, “Something tragic.”

#

Dogwa coughed hoarsely, a bandage wrapped around his otherwise bare torso. Lying on his back, he attempted to sleep on his bed in the room at the inn. Master Salvo was at his side, changing Amir’s bandages who lay the bed next to Dogwa.

Varro removed his three-cornered cap as he entered. “What word of my brave men?” he asked with reverence for his fallen soldiers.

“Very well,” Salvo said tying an ingenious knot in the bandage. He had invented it to make tying with a hook easier. “Amir is recovering from the procedure with ease.”

Amir wore a thick bandage over his left eye socket. The eyeball itself had been removed during the procedure, the damage was too great and infection had set strong roots early. His face had two deep gashes from where the rock had split his flesh. Still swollen in places, his black and blue skin made the stitches seem like they would break. Though his broken jaw forbade him to speak, he gave a toothless grin when he saw the Count.

“It appears we will have to make him dentures, Master Salvo,” Varro said warmly, happy to see life in his friend.

“The blow to Dogwa’s ribs did much more damage than the knife, fracturing two ribs and deeply bruising the whole area. I was able to drain the fluid from his lung and he is breathing easier now. It was a miracle the knife did not puncture any vitals.”

“That is good news,” Varro agreed with the diagnosis, but Salvo placed his hand on the Count’s sleeve, requesting eye contact.

“I think you have misunderstood me, sir. This strike was too precise to have been chance. It is as if he weaved his knife around the vital organs. It is my belief that no man could strike with more precision unless with a scalpel on an operating table. This boy had been saved not by the grace of gods, but by the mercy of Fogwater.”

Varro slumped into a chair, exhausted. He thought about all the funeral services held since they had arrived. How he’d kept his stern stature, saving the expression of emotion for his private quarters.

“How many has it been, Master Salvo?” he asked, vision fixed on the windows as if he could see through the entire wall.

“Pardon, sir?”

“How many brave souls have been lost to this campaign? How many under my command have I lost? The precise number escapes me.”

Salvo was silent for a moment, choosing his words carefully. “War is not about how many lives are lost on either side, my lord. It is simply about how civilian lives can change for the better. It is a soldier’s duty to trust his superior’s judgment and follow orders. You receive orders from higher and must relay them to your troops. You must not let these soldiers’ lives affect the way your orders are relayed. If a soldier must die for the greater good, he will. It is his duty.”

The priest wrung out a wet cloth into a porcelain basin full of pink bloody water. He dabbed gently around Amir’s face, cleaning dry blood and puss off his cheeks. “It was my duty once. I would have gladly died for the Order. All you can do is pass down your commands and make certain you do not join the ranks of the fallen until it is your time, Count Varro.”

The Count rubbed his stubbly chin and glared at the wall. He stood up and straightened his coat and tugged on his cuffs. “We must all do what we must.”

The knight ducked out of the room and walked down the hall until he heard Dogwa hacking again. He paused, and bowed his head, offering a silent prayer to Apollo or whomever would listen.

#

The usual gray morning sky hung over the lawn behind the governor’s mansion. The closely cropped, emerald blades of grass sagged heavily with dew drops. Two blunted rapiers lay on a red velvet cloth in the tall dark butler’s hands. Bromley Grute and Governor Bradford stood opposite each other, stepped forward, and each took their sword.

Brom wore his white shirt, fit loosely, sleeves rolled up and tails tucked into his brown trousers. He wore buckled shoes and high stockings as was customary for such matches, as opposed to the boots he wore with uniform.

Dressed in a similar fashion, Bradford stood slightly taller than Brom but with a wider midsection. Again, without his wig and the layers of makeup. Instead, the governor had determination painted on his countenance.

“Well, my lord, shall you demonstrate how gentlemen fence? Are there not rules we must discuss?”

Bradford frowned. Brom could tell he misspoke. Perhaps Bradford did not enjoy the formalities of proper fencing referred to as rules.

“Yes, Mister Grute. If this were an actual duel, however, the combatants mustn’t speak until the duel is finished, given both have survived the affair. Until then, the duelers’ seconds must communicate for them. They must act as a liaison between the two parties. They determine location, time, weapons and conditions of satisfaction.”

“Conditions of satisfaction?” Brom asked.

“How far things must progress before the offended party is satisfied. In most cases, the challenger would be satisfied if the challenged declines the duel and proves himself a coward. Others can only be satisfied by blood. Some by a little; some by much more. It must be discussed when the duel can end. By a yield, first blood, or death.”

Duels generally were not discussed once they have occurred. Because dueling was illegal in most provinces, the parties involved kept their mouths shut to avoid legal action, but Brom had heard stories of men losing their lives in a duel. The thought of men fighting to death over an insult seemed completely foreign to Brom. What a waste of life.

“Some pistol duelers have taken to shooting into the air over their opponent so that both parties may save face. With two discharged pistols, the duel cannot progress, and it is called a draw. Some call this mercy. I call it idiocy. In order for it to work, you must trust your opponent to do the same. Mind you, this is he who challenged you or him whom you have challenged. There can be no trust there.”

“But an agreement to shoot into the air had been reached, correct? Wouldn’t the second’s call the offender’s honor into question?”

“Once the gun smoke has cleared, all that remains is the word of the seconds. Victory always lies with those who remain in the end. This is a lesson I apply to every aspect of my life. I invite you to do the same, Mister Grute.”

Bradford gave a crooked smile. Several moments of silence passed until Bradford inhaled sharply, “Well then. Should we get down to action?”

Brom nodded in agreement.

“First you must salute your opponent then make sure both combatants are on guard before beginning.”

They saluted one another by bringing their blades to the front of their faces vertically then swiping them down to their sides in unison. The butler called, “en garde.” Their blades met in the middle, poised for the first move.

Wasting not a moment, Bradford sprung forward, striking with three swift lunges. Brom parried them all and returned with a strong slash at Bradford’s middle. The governor’s posture was rigid and proper, as gentlemen fenced. Brom mimicked the style as closely as he could, in order to play into the mock duel. This continued for several minutes before Bradford scored a hit on Brom’s shoulder.

“Mister Grute,” the governor said in a friendly taunting tone. “It appears fencing as gentlemen do is too much for you.” He heaved, trying to catch his breath.

“Too much for both of us I think.” Brom returned the tone but had no need to breathe heavily yet. “You seem to be panting and either this or some other handicap has caused you to miss my heart.”

“Ey, the want for air is credited to my age but the case of my missing the mark is entirely my fault. I have been out of practice.” Bradford breathed for several moments, then continued. “Shall we change things slightly? I have been longing to see a Knight of Apollo in combat. True combat. Or as true as I can make it. We can simulate that here. May we please fight as soldiers do?”

“I fear such a fight would be bad for our health, my lord. The only rule of combat is to honor no rules. This normally ends badly for at least one party.”

Bradford gave an accommodating smile and thought for several moments.

“Well, let us enforce as few rules as possible then. We may only use what we have on our person, we may not leave the lawn and of course let us not kill each other. Do these guidelines suit you?”

Brom nodded. “And the conditions of satisfaction?”

Bradford thought for several more moments. “Shall we continue until one of us yields?”

Again, Brom nodded in agreement. The two combatants returned to their positions across from each other and saluted with their blades.

The butler stepped backward for several paces before calling “en garde,” anticipating the imminent havoc. This time, it was Bromley who commenced the violence with animalistic ferocity. Striking high and low, left and right almost simultaneously. His movements were more fluid and dramatic. Then, with a strong, downward slap of his blade, Bradford’s sword fell to the ground.

“I will allow you to pick that up, my lord, as you have yet to acquire your bearings in this new style.” The governor bowed graciously and retrieved his sword. They continued their assault, Brom having to switch onto defense this time. After a moment, Brom put a firm halt to the governor’s strong advance by planting his feet and binding their blades between them.

“It appears I am catching onto this brutal way of fencing, lad,” Bradford said before head-butting Brom in the nose. He staggered backward, wiped blood away with the back of his hand and smiled, for the governor opened the door and entered Brom’s domain all on his own accord.

Lunging again and again, Brom pressed his opponent back across the lawn. The governor tried to plant his feet to stop the advance, but Brom drove his shoulder into Bradford, knocking him off balance. As the governor regained his footing, Brom threw a solid fist onto his face, continuing Bradford’s backward momentum. Again, Bradford regained his footing and sidestepped one of Brom’s fast lunges. Bradford commenced a flurry of slashes and lunges with his blade followed closely by jabs and swings of his fist. Brom pushed him away with a kick to his hip.

Both were roaring loudly as the battle waged. At last, Bradford lunged too wildly, giving Brom an opening to his back and he rolled to Bradford’s outside. Brom hooked his left arm under Bradford’s sword arm, keeping the weapon’s tip out of range and kicked his heel into the back of the governor’s leg. Falling to his knees, Bradford felt the cold, blunt blade of his young opponent under his chin before he could think about executing an escape. He threw his head back, looking up at Brom who towered in the overcast sky behind him.

“Do you yield, my lord?”

Bradford raised two fingers with his left hand, a sign pleading for mercy as a smile stretched across his face.

At that moment, the butler announced Miss Crane who startled him from behind. It was too late. No sense hiding what they had been doing. She had already seen Brom holding a blade to her Governor’s throat. Her expression, however, was of annoyance, not horror.

“If you boys are going to play your silly war games, let it be silently so as not to disturb the other residents of this house.” With that, she turned and re-entered the mansion.

Brom allowed Bradford to his feet. They straightened their clothes and wiped blood from their noses with their sleeves.

“I fear I have contributed to some disfavor from Miss Anna Crane,” Bradford smiled with faux apology. “I am certain it is nothing. This will be forgotten presently.”

The governor stretched his hand out to Brom. The knight took it and they shook.

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