Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Pen and the Sword: Swordspoint

Subtly, something changed. At first Michael couldn't figure out what it was. Both men were smiling twin wolfish grins, their lips parted as much for air as for delight. Their moves were a little slower, more deliberate, but not for the careful demonstration of earlier. They didn't flow into each other. There were pauses between each flurry of strokes and returns, pauses heavy with tension. The air grew thick with it; it seemed to weight their movements. The time of testing, and of playing, was over. This was the final duel for one of them. Now they were fighting for their lives - for the one life that would emerge from this elegant battle. For a moment Michael let himself think of it: that whatever happened here, he would emerge unscathed. Of course there would be things to do, people to notify . . . He caught his breath as St. Vier was forced to lunge back into the wall, between two candles. He could see a crazy grin on the man's face as he held Applethorpe off with elaborate wristwork. For the moment, the two evenly matched, arm against arm. Michael prayed that it would never stop, that there would always be this moment o utter mastery, beautiful and rare, and no conclusion ever be reached. St. Vier knocked over a candle; it put itself out rolling on the floor. He kicked aside the table it had been on, extricating himself from the corner, and the action resumed.


Richard knew he was fighting for his life, and he was terribly happy. In most of his fights, even the good ones, he made all the decisions: when to turn serious, whether to fight high or low . . . but already Applethorpe had taken that away from him. He wasn't afriad, but the edge of challenge was sharp under him, and the drop from it irrevocable. The world had narrowed to the strength of his body, the trained agility of his mind in response to him opponent. The universe began and ended within the reach of his senses, the stretch of his four limbs and the gleaming steel. It was too good to lose now, the bright point coming at him always from another angle, the clarity of his mind anticipating and returning it, creating new patterns to play . . .

He saw the opening and went for it, but Applethorpe countered at the last instant, pivoting clumsily so that what should have been a clean death stroke caught him raggedly across the chest.

The Master stood upright, gripping his rapier too tightly, staring straight ahead. "Michael," he said clearly, "that arm is for balance."

- Swordspoint, Ellen Kushner

6 comments:

  1. Wow. Reminds me of TotGaD's series on the Ravenloft novels!

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  2. I haven't read this, Mike: what are your thoughts on it?

    Allan.

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    1. I liked it. It's fantasy without the dragons and wizards, an alternate but otherwise mundane world. The core premise is that rather than dueling each other, the nobility fights through professional duelists as proxies. This, of course, produces complicated webs of intrigue, which puts in right in my wheelhouse.

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    2. Thanks Mike: I read this on the way from CA yesterday, and enjoyed it :D

      Allan.

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  3. My favorite fantasy novel. Hands down, bar none.

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  4. ... the edge of challenge was sharp under him, and the drop from it irrevocable. The world had narrowed to the strength of his body, the trained agility of his mind in response to him opponent. The universe began and ended within the reach of his senses, the stretch of his four limbs and the gleaming steel.

    Whoa. I've never read any Ellen Kushner, but now you've piqued my interest.

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