Flash Fiction Project: Fear

The second in my series of flash fiction tie-ins to my forthcoming Gbahn and Archipelago novels, introducing Loriene, her sword, and someone who might have an even more frightening weapon.


Fear
A Gbahn and Archipelago story

It wasn’t fear. Loriene tested the weight of the blade in her hand and told herself, very firmly, that it was not fear.

Her father had taught her the wards: first with the sword raised high, second at shoulder level, third with the hand low and the blade pointed up, fourth with the hand across the body to defend the inside. She stood in the wide room with its cracked mirrors paneling the walls and watched herself run through the forms. A feint, a parry at an invisible foe. She was better at the forms than most of her father’s students.

That sound from outside, the ringing of metal on the narrow walls of an alley, that was probably one of those incompetent students. It was usually the clumsy ones who got into duels – foolish, bragging young men whose fathers had more money than sense. If Loriene were in that alley, fighting, she would undoubtedly win. Not that her father had ever let her spar with a person, or handle the swords at all when he had students. No, then she was banished to the kitchen. She took a few steps toward the mirror in an angry advance, swiping the blade before her.

One of the duelists outside shouted, and Loriene turned her head toward the window. Her father’s training room was on the upper floor. If she hurried to the window in a fast cross-over it was only to practice her footwork, not to cast a worried look down into the alley. It was not fear. Who would be afraid? Her cousin Demmina, maybe. Loriene might get into a fight trying to defend Demmina from boys in the alley, drunk and greedy. She would sweep Demmina behind her and draw her sword from its scabbard with a satisfying scrape of metal. A few perfect wards to warm up her arm, a threatening advance, and the villains would be on their way, running out into the night.

But would Demmina need Loriene to protect her? Loriene was the older one, the braver one, the stronger one, pestering Demmina into mock swordfights with tree branches and winning every time. Of course Demmina would need to be saved. But that morning they had been playing in the green behind Demmina’s house, swinging branches as they always did, Loriene winning as she always did, and with a huff of frustration Demmina had swung her stick hard. It was a wild, careless strike, and Loriene blocked it with a neat parry, then tried to pull her branchy sword back to a low ward. But it would not come. It was entangled with Demmina’s branch, wound up tightly with green tendrils that had not been there when she had stripped the branch and given it to Demmina at the start of the duel.

The bell tower rang and Loriene shook with a tremor that was not fear. It was getting late and her father would be home soon from the tavern he went to instead of the church. He had no students on the holy day but he would chase her out of the training room anyway, especially if he knew how long she had been there. She had run from Demmina’s house without saying goodbye to her aunt, without speaking to Demmina at all, and had been practicing wards and footwork ever since. It had almost been enough to drive the sight of those green tendrils from her mind.

But it was not fear. No, she had no fear of magic, and what if her own cousin did turn out to have it? That would be the end of Demmina, of course – they’d send her over the sea to some other island where those strange people went, where they put on gloves and never touched anything for fear of changing it. Loriene would never find out what Demmina might have done if she’d been any good with a sword at all, what she might have done had she swung that branch not in frustration but with intent.

There was a crashing sound, glass and fury, and Loriene jumped with a gasp. The blade dropped from her hand and clattered on the floor. That was a window downstairs breaking, in her own house, and her father not home. Her hand was numb and she could only stare at the sword on the floor and wonder how it had gotten there. Shouting, a thunder of uneven footsteps. Loriene’s breath wouldn’t go into her chest. Then her father’s voice boomed out from down the street and somehow the duelists were driven off. Loriene stared at the blade and wondered if it would truly be enough to defend her.

© 2013 Michelle M. Welch

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