“Among other evils which going weaponless causes, it causes one to be despised.” – Scarovese, Means to Ends
“On your guard, boy! Over the right foot, not the left! Damn your miserable hide, the first time you step against a real swordsman, you’re going to find yourself dead within a breath! ”
The ring of steel on steel sounded in the circular chamber of limestone. A younger man struggled to wipe sweat from his brow as he faced off against an older man. The older man’s face was livid at the mistakes of the younger; he barked his orders at the boy in a brusque and sharp staccato.
“I still don’t understand why you keep me down here, away from everyone,” the boy scowled as he twisted the rapier in his hand to parry his master’s falso manco.
“You’re dead, boy. You’re better served remaining so. And my patron believes you will serve him better so, as well.”
The boy stepped to the older man’s left, delivering a swift ridoppio. He knew the older man’s skills were considerable; it was why he’d been sent to train young Gianni with the sword. He was also unsurprised that the older man batted aside his blade on the body thrust.
“Why did he save me?” the boy asked, glaring at his instructor.
“Does one discard a tool that has a dulled edge, but may still be useful?” the older man asked gruffly, as he slowly executed an imbrocatta.
The thrust was not lost on the younger man, but his understanding of the older man’s tactics was barely formed. He completely missed his instructor’s riverso tondo dal polso, concealed by the finta. The older man’s blade barely missed slicing open his throat.
“No. One sharpens his tool, until its edge is keen enough to cut again,” the boy’s instructor replied to his own query as his blade’s tip just under his pupil’s chin, “And I can see you will take quite a bit of sharpening.”
When the boy looked away, red-faced, the older man pulled out a handkerchief to wipe his face.
“Padre Arnaldo will be here very soon to continue your lessons. You should clean yourself up.”
“But we’ve only been practicing for an hour now,” the boy protested, “I’ve so much more to learn!”
“Indeed,” the older man said, looking to the boy and softening his tone, “But we have much time for learning. Your day is not yet come. He will call you to him when it does, and until that time you are mine to train. Now go.”
The young man rushed away under his instructor’s orders. With him gone, the older man breathed a sigh of relief. The sigh was nearly inaudible as the boy escaped for a bath, yet there was another in the room who heard it.
“Is he testing even your skills already, Carlo?” came a rasp from the shadows.
The observer made his presence known by stepping into the circular room. He was tall and gaunt, dressed in the robes of a Vaticine priest. His nose was a sharp hook, his cheekbones sunken. A thick scar ringed his neck.
“Padre Arnaldo, you’re here already. The boy has gone to clean himself up for you,” Carlo said, looking away from the priest’s face.
“So I heard. To have gone from a provincial child, to a canal rat, to one who tests the sword of the great Carlo Accorso della Villanova. The boy has come a long way in so few years, wouldn’t you say?”
“Indeed,” Carlo replied cautiously.
“Our Prince will be ready for him soon. But will our young Gianni be ready? He does not know what he must do. Does it ever bother you? What you must do in service to our Prince?”
The swordsman let out a short laugh.
“We exist to serve our Prince, Padre. Careful that your questions do not reach his ears. If you know him as I do, you’d know not even a priest is above his reproach. Or beyond his reach.”
The priest’s hand reached up, touching the scar upon his neck.
“I believe I know his reach quite well, Carlo. As you must surely be aware,” the priest’s eyes looked far away with his answer.
“The boy will be ready. It is our duty to ensure that he is. It is our Prince’s command,” Carlo said with a smile upon his face for the priest that did not reach his eyes, “Perhaps you should go upstairs, and make sure that you do not fail in your duty to Principe Villanova again?”
The priest raised his eyes haughtily, and moved to follow the young man’s path upstairs.
Carlo Accorso della Villanova watched the priest’s back as he ascended.
“I’ll let the boy be the judge of whether he can do what his Prince commands of him. His first test will be his hardest. It is never easy to take a life, the first time. Yet the sting will be lessened somewhat when he learns what you’ve done to his family, Padre,” Carlo muttered to himself, his grin spreading.