A man could make a name for himself on the Bridge of Blades, if he had a good sword and he knew how to use it. For local boys, it was almost a rite of passage, to stand on the bridge and make an open challenge, to face any opponent who came against you with a sword in hand. You fought until you lost. If you fought long enough, someone would notice…and if the right person noticed? It could earn you a place in one of the Great Houses. Maybe even a chance at the Bell Guard. At the very least, you might prove yourself worthy of the city watch, which was better than laboring in some tradesman’s shop for the rest of your life, or hauling cargo on the river.
Yes, there were opportunities to be had on the Blade.
But the foreigner was only looking for a bit of fun.
Even before he drew his sword, he managed to call attention to himself. Blond and fair, he stood out amongst the dusky people of Corregal all the more for his outlandish clothes. Local fashion favored sleek cuts and subdued colors. His elaborately embellished, plum-colored shirt, belted at the waist with an embroidered sash, was ostentatious, to say the least. He wore too much jewelry, too, with gold and gems glittering at fingers, throat and ears.
Jurati, the word went round, with some derision. The islanders were renowned for drinking, gambling, and debauchery, not swordplay. No one took him seriously when he first started nosing around for a bout; they judged him to be some rich merchant’s son, too young and stupid to know what he was asking for. But he persisted, sauntering between the groups of young men gathered on the bridge in the late afternoon, offering unasked for opinions and calling the reputation of the native swordsmen into question when no one would consent to spar with him. It was Donan Patt who finally gave in, hoping that if he humiliated the peacock quickly enough they’d see nothing more of him but his plucked tail as he ran off.
“What is the wager?” the Jurati asked, his accent making a lilting cadence of the words. The question was met with more scorn. A circle of onlookers had formed around the pair, Donan’s friends mostly, looking forward to seeing the stranger get what he had coming. Donan was not the most talented youth in the group, but his father was in the watch, and he was certainly competent enough to deal with this upstart.
“It’s against the law to wager on the Blade,” Donan informed him. The Bridge of Blades had many rules, necessary in a city where each of the ruling houses maintained what amounted to its own standing army. Bloodshed in the streets might be unavoidable when one house went to war against another, but on the Blade it could at least be contained. The ban on wagering kept tempers from flaring if a contest turned unfavorably for either party.
The stranger accepted this stricture with an easy shrug. “We fight for honor alone, then. It is better that way. Now tell me,” he said, pulling his sword from the scabbard at his hip. “Does our honor demand real steel, or must we duel with sticks like those boys over there?” He gestured to the far end of the bridge, where a pair of ten-year-olds in livery swatted at each other with wooden practice swords.
At the sight of the Jurati’s sword, a ripple of surprise moved through the circle of onlookers. It was a Arrenal blade, the silvery engravings down its length thought—but never proven—to be part of a spell-forging that made them lightweight and ever-sharp. Magic or not, there wasn’t a man on the bridge, fourteen or fifty, who didn’t know the value of a Arrenal sword, and few who had hope of ever owning one.
Donan drew his own sword—solid, local craftsmanship without the elegance of the foreign weapon, but just as potent. He’d worked six months laying stone on the Meridian Bridge to pay for it, and he trusted it wouldn’t let him down now. “We can fight with steel,” he said. “You should know, though, that if you’re injured here, you’ll have no recourse to the law. Not even if someone died.”
It did happen, sometimes. But a man who drew his sword on the Bridge of Blades was expected to know the consequences.
“I am not so worried about dying.” The Jurati smiled, a little sideways tilt of the lips that was just shy of arrogant. “Nor for killing either.”
He bowed then, and, with a flourish of his arm, straightened into a position of readiness.
Donan, not wanting to spend any more time than necessary, moved in quickly with a blow aimed high at his opponent’s shoulder. The Jurati deflected it easily and returned with a thrust that made Donan jump back to avoid the point of his blade. Before he had a chance to recover for another attack, the Jurati slid forward and, with two cutting swings to keep him on guard, brought the flat of his sword down on Donan’s wrist with a resounding thwack.
Donna cried out and dropped his sword. As it clattered onto the cobblestones, there was a moment’s incredulous silence among the witnesses, and then an explosion of consternation. Impossible, that a Corregal swordsman could be defeated by anyone so quickly, let alone a Jurati fop. Some trickery must have been at play. Someone would have to step in and make things right. Donan Patt slipped off unnoticed into the crowd, clutching his bruised wrist along with his bruised ego.
The Jurati smiled complacently amidst the uproar as the young men on the bridge wrangled over who would get the next chance at him. Spinning his Arrenal sword around by the hilt, he gestured his next opponent forward and said, “Who’s next?”