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Para Bellum | Afternoon, Friday 15th September


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Fencing Practice Hall

 

 

The enclosed area was filled with mirrors. In the middle a large circle was drawn with all kinds of lines, known as the Spanish style, it was used in the instruction of young men just learning the arts.

 

Several artful displays of armor and rapiers to the walls called attention. Two dummies were set up for those courtiers that wanted to practice their stabbing technique but more often than not the men gathered here to train with each other, or to observe others.

 

 

 

Charles had meant to read after the reception, rather than anything more strenuous. He had been altogether too conscious of the fact that he had drank slightly too much and eaten far too little to undertake anything that might require genuine exertion. It had just happened that the book his hand and eye had first chanced on in his apartment had been George Silver's Paradoxes of Defence.

"And moreover, the exercising of weapons putteth away aches, griefs, and diseases, it increases strength, and sharpens the wits, gives a perfect judgement, it expels melancholy, choleric and evil conceits, it keeps a man in breath, perfect health, and long life. It is unto him that has the perfection thereof a most friendly and comfortable companion when he is alone, having but only his weapon about him, it putteth him out of all fear, and in the wars and places of most danger it maketh him bold, hardy, and valiant."

Charles disagreed with the long dead fencing master on many points, but that had had the ring of truth to it, and so he had found himself here, in the fencing hall, sweating into an old shirt. He had lost his first two bouts, the first because he had had to work off the wine and the second because he had been focused on perfecting a tricky little imbrocatta Baselard had shown him during recess. That had stung a little, but the former had been expected and the latter he considered a fair trade. He had won his third in any case, with his favourite counter-riposte, which had gone some way to soothing his pride.

He had stepped away to face one of the dummies after that, working mechanically through his repertoire of thrusts and cuts. He had been going for some time without halt and was by now sweating, his breathing kept even only by an effort of will. 

His posture remained perfect, though, and his blade wavered not at all. 

Edited by Charles Audley
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  • 3 weeks later...

Francis had been leaving his meeting with Cumberland when he heard the faint sound of noises from the Fencing Hall. Rather than feel like the Earl of Kingston, subject of annoying pamphleteers and horrible gossip, he had the pang of just wishing to be Francis. Simple life of sailing and swordplay. What he'd lived before coming to court. Life now was far more complex.

 

He entered the room and sighted Chatham and exhaled a sigh of relief, for he doubted Chatham would hold gossip against him, for the man knew him personally rather than not at all.

 

"It seems you have been at work for some time," he commented to the other lord. "Mind if I join you? I find myself missing the bits of my former life where practicing at swordplay was a prime activity to break the monotony of crossing seas."

 

His technique, unlike most courtiers in England, was of the Italian style. He had spent much of his time there.

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  • Charles Audley changed the title to Para Bellum | Afternoon, Friday 15th September

There was something wonderful in exertion, Charles had always found. Something wonderful and liberating, that let you transcend your cares and even conscious thought, leaving only the sublime feeling of focusing solely on physical excellence. It was simultaneously meditative and satisfying.

Silver had the right of that, give him his due.

As a child, first learning to fence, he had been prone to being swallowed up by the feeling and rendered totally insensible to the world around him. Now, even with only half as many eyes as he had had then, he was more the master of himself and accordingly more aware of his surroundings. He caught sight of Kingston's approach and straightened from his guard, inclining his head and smiling in greeting. He had heard the rumours swirling around the other man, of course, even occupied as he had been over recess, and paid them little mind. He liked Francis.

"Kingston! By all means, please. I would welcome the company – I, too, have always found that swordplay dispels boredom and keeps me in even temper, but it works better with a sparring partner."

He assessed his companion as he spoke. Kingston was taller than him, well practiced with a blade to judge from his words, and he moved with that grace and economy of motion that Charles had always associated with skilled swordsman. This would prove an excellent challenge, Charles suspected, and he relished the thought.

 

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Unlike many courtiers, Francis had fought more than his share of duels (mostly over women in foreign lands) and had lived his life surrounded by battle. He shared many similarities in that way with Chatham. Both had strong minds and were deadly; though, admittedly, persons likely could believe the deadly part about Chatham sooner than they could about the youthful and almost femininely pretty Kingston. 

 

Kingston, though not a boastful fellow by any means, having been separated from his inheritance of Villiers vanity and ego at an early age by liberal application of birchings from his grandfather, had not been separated from the Villiers gift of swordsmanship. In fact, of all abilities in a man like Buckingham, Francis was most similar to his uncle in swordsmanship. It was a passion and passe-temps that they shared together frequently.

 

His Majesty also liked sparring with Francis for his height, for even having a height advantage over the "cub," Francis was not the size of a small child by comparison to the King's gargantuan height. Chatham was intelligent in his musing that height in swordplay provided a strong implicit advantage for reach was exponential, tall persons having both a longer arm and wielding a longer rapier. Unfortunately, Francis had not brough his own tipped practice sword, this being an impulse decision rather than planned, so sword length would not be an advantage for him, simply his arm, because the room was not stocked for tall men.

 

Coming further into the room, Francis chuckled as Chatham said a partner worked even better. He pat the dummy's shoulder and said with a grin, "This fellow cannot provide a man like you with much challenge." He gave a soft snicker of a laugh, "And provides as much witty repartee as reposte." 

 

He shucked his justacorps and waistcoat, tossed his cravat on the pile, and untied the neck of his shirt, feeling far more Francis than he usually did at court. Kingston looked the part, but he oft did not feel it. His comfort was a simplicity and freedom this new life would never provide. 

 

"These are a bit shorter than I am used to, but this was an spur of the moment decision for me. I confess I heard noises and felt the call of the sword," he added, as he moved to select one to practice with. 

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Charles laughed along with Kingston and raised his blade in salute to the dummy.

"To be wholly fair to our friend Manichino*, while neither a swordsman nor a wit, he is an utterly superlative Stoic, and his unflinching endurance of all that comes his way a shining example to us all."

In truth there were any number of courtiers who could have done with emulating Signor Manichino in that regard, but Charles did not count Kingston among their number any more than he did himself. However pretty the other man might be, Kingston had been a sailor and a captain, and Charles had spent enough time afloat to know that that was a life that sharpened and hardened a man full as much as his own had sharpened and hardened him.

"It's funny," he mused, gesturing at the dummy, "how as a boy one imagines all one's opponents thus — dumb in every sense of the word, and utterly helpless before the superior swordsman — and then one becomes a man, and finds such a thing wholly unsatisfying."

He waited patiently as Kingston made ready, considering how he should approach this. Height was second only to left-handedness in the list of things that made a swordsman difficult to deal with in his opinion. (He remember the Scottish officer he had fenced the previous Christmas, Dundarg or something like that, and suppressed a wince. The man had been both left-handed and hugely tall, which had made for quite a chastening experience, even before he had headbutted Charles.) Kingston was not that tall, thankfully, but he still had a few inches on Charles.

There were ways to deal with taller men, of course. They tended to be slightly slower in transition, for one, but that was very much a relative thing, and even at its best less of an edge than a simple several inches of added reach. It relied, too, on your being willing and able to outwork the other man, which was not an assumption Charles felt safe making here.

At least the spontaneous nature of Kingston's decision meant his greater reach would not be as great as it might have been. Charles grinned at the other man's revelation.

"I have to be very careful coming within earshot of the fencing hall at Whitehall," he offered in kind, "lest I find myself within two hours later, now late for a prior engagement."

 

*Manichino – Mannequin

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Francis could not help but laugh. As a child in exile, he had learned his swordsmanship from books and with wooden "swords" as tutors in such things could not be afforded, and he had two older "brothers" who were truly his like-aged uncles, so he had never been afforded the notion his opponents would be stupid.

 

"I suppose I should not be surprised that you were either the oldest or did not have brothers given your title," he explained. "I, on the other hand, had two uncles of a similar age to me in our household who were either taller or bigger, and I the youngest. My imaginings as a boy were quite different!"

 

He selected a sword and held it out, testing a few guards with the unfamiliar length and weight of weapon with a "hmm."

 

"As a youth, though, I oft had a better conceit of myself than I should have. Naval service dispelled me of that somewhat. Later exploits in Naples proved I could learn and did learn some fine lessons from skilled swordsmen." With a grin, he said, "There's little sport in a contest easily won, and I gather you will be quite sporting."

 

His blue eyes cast over the Spanish style circle on the floor. That style was more up close than a tall man like Francis needed. Italians favored lines and less "dancing" as some of the Neopolitans might call it. 

 

"So, Chatham, do you prefer sparring more a la macchia* or traditional?" he asked. "I do not personally mind either, but at court it behooves me not to show up to attend the King with a black eye or fat lip." 

 

Not used to this practice weapon, he contemplated beginning with a different guard, but his preferred was the most used of the mixed guards of practiced swordsmen in the Italian style, a combination of 3rd and 4th. 

 

(OOC - *rough and tumble style)

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"Oh? You never dreamt yourself a new Achilles, tearing through armies of men who might as well have been stuffed with straw? Perhaps I was an even more arrogant child than I thought, then."

Charles laughed again, but behind the amusement he noted the care Kingston was taking over the selection of his weapon, and revised his estimation of the other man's skill up another notch.

"And I certainly had a finer conceit of myself than was warranted as a youth, but then so did every man ever born I think. One knows too little of the world at that age to measure oneself accurately against it."

He moved the tip of his blade in figure eights as he spoke, keeping his wrist limber.

"It was Tangiers that taught me, both that I might be genuinely good at this and that despite that I was not a tenth as good as I had thought. I was almost all athleticism and aggression then. I have endeavoured since to add refinement and science." He answered Kingston's grin in kind. "Enough to provide you with ample sport, I hope."

Charles considered Kingston's question a moment, and shrugged easily.

"I believe in practicing as you mean to play, and so generally favour a la macchia, but in light of your position, and my own need to avoid any further damage to my visage, perhaps we might extend one another scholar's privilege?"

Kingston had suggested he was trained in the Italian school, and so Charles expected him to take either the third or the bastard guard, or the counterguards to either favoured by Fabris and Alfieri. For himself, Charles favoured the counterguards when fencing rapier, and had since his own time in Italy, a preference only strengthened when Baselard suggested that he read the Italian masters again.

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Francis snorted, "Yes, athleticism and aggression had most of us rushing into a false opening as youths. We learn to be more measured and calculating as we age; those of us that survived the false openings at least. My ward is still succumbing to false openings with vigor in practice, until we practice with an edge, then he feels his own vulnerability more clearly." It was his habit to practice most mornings with Tommy, but his summons from Cumberland had prevented that on this particular day. 

 

"As you wish," Francis replied with a laugh. "Feel free to knock me on my arse if you can," he added with a jaunty little bow of his head. 

 

He took up his favored starting position, which was as Chatham had mused a bastard guard of 3rd and 4th, but Francis for himself preferred the term mista, and awaited those opening moves where one generally sussed out the ability and style of their opponent. If Chatham did not make the first move, Francis was fully ready to toy with him some. Height allowed boldness while staying out of the measure. 

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"The prospect of seeing your own blood does tend to prompt a certain level of focus and caution," Charles agreed.

He answered Kingston's nod with a flicked salute of his blade and came into his own guard, the counterposture to the mixed guard. To a casual observer it was a mirror of KIngston's, and it mostly was, only with the subtle difference of a slight angle to his wrist ensuring that the line between his opponent's tip and his own body was completely covered by the forte of his sword. Always important, the closing of that line was a necessity here, for to come within his own measure Charles would first have to pass into Kingston's.

That fact also mandated that he play proactively and press the other man, for let alone Kingston could pick him apart in relative safety. That suited Charles, who in general held that risk increased in exponential proportion to the length of a bout, and who in this specific case thought it likely that he would tire before Kingston, if only because he had been at this longer.

Athleticism and aggression shall have their day again, it seems, though hopefully tempered with vastly greater calculation.

He came forward smoothly and unhurriedly, confident in his guard but edging ever so slightly to his left as he advanced. Charles had always liked to get outside his opponent's blade, and since losing the eye that slight drift helped keep those opponents out of his blind spot. Coming into distance, he tested Kingston's responses with some light probing, the customary cautious Investigatory manoeuvring of two swordsmen at their first engagement. It was dangerous, though, to linger like this against a taller swordsman, and so Charles launched his first earnest attack.

It started with a smooth cavazione, as though he were still playing the traditional patient game, and then accelerated as he committed and closed the distance with a rapid passing step, his left foot moving forward of his right. Simultaneously, his left hand came up to grasp his blade at the midpoint, allowing him to force Kingston's blade down and away with a two-handed beat and then thrust home as though he were wielding a short spear or bayonet. The botte de paysan, it was called, more common among the French than the Italians in his experience. Charles liked it because the passing step helped displace his torso should the opponent try a counter-in-tempo, and if instead they attempted a disengage around his beat, it would perforce be a larger, slower motion, needing as it did to move around his arm as well as his blade. Finally, should they manage to get their point on target despite all that, he could attempt a parry with his off-hand.

All that was in theory, of course. Practice could often prove a different matter.

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Charles and Francis fencing as a wild Mountjoy appears 

 

As his Ursula was attending the Queen and the Queen seemed to be content to stay in her apartments Charles had no particular calls upon his time so he decided to head down to the stables and spend some quality time with his horse Roland. Descending to the ground floor of the main tower and passing the suite of the Duke of Buckingham he noticed a fruit bowel near the entrance of the Dukes Suite. Thinking that His Grace of Buckingham would not begrudge his horse a snack he pocketed an apple and continued on his way. He was wearing a simple coat of brown wool broadcloth with cloth covered buttons and no lace, a waistcoat of dark green boiled wool with small gold buttons and tan elk skin breeches with brown hunting boots. The outfit was plain but immaculately tailored except for the now unsightly bulge in his coat.

His journey took him through the Middle ward and as he was passing, he heard scuffling and voices from the fencing hall and decided to pop in for it was not unusual for gentlemen to observe sparring matches and he had been dreadfully neglecting his swordsmanship as of late. Quietly entering the room was empty but for Kingston and the Pirate-like gentleman that he had seen often at court but did not recall ever being formally introduced. As they appeared to just be facing off Mountjoy did not disturb them content to allow them to proceed as he observed.  

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Francis was only minutely aware of Mountjoy's arrival and only because he was more accustomed to pay attention to his surroundings than most. Serving on a ship and having been boarded before, you never knew where an opponent could come from when in the midst of fighting another.

 

The cavazione was all too frequent an initial attempt, and Francis moved his blade into a controcavazione, neglecting the attempt, and trying to use his superior reach to keep Chatham's sword, thus keeping his lines closed. It was a move to keep Chatham to the inside when he seemed to want the outside. He followed it with a quick ridoppio.

 

It became clear rather quickly that neither was going to make a point on the other very easily. Both knew what they were doing.

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Charles was vaguely aware that someone had entered the fencing hall, though what sense prompted that awareness he could not say. The sound of the door hinges, perhaps, or a change in the air as the door was opened. No one appeared to be charging him screaming, however, so he kept his attention firmly focused on the failure of his first assault.

KIngston had remained composed (which not many even among experienced fencers did when Charles closed so fast and aggressively, which in turn was no small part of the reason he favoured manoeuvres such as the botte de paysan) and denied him the outside line he wanted for his attack, thus leaving him in a somewhat vulnerable position. His opponent, naturally, was disinclined to allow him to extricate himself and moved swiftly to take advantage with a smooth mandritto aimed at clearing his blade. (Or so Charles judged in the frozen half-instant he had to decide.) 

He derobed the cut and then broke measure to avoid the anticipated follow-up, his point out to discourage too close a pursuit. He might have lingered to try a parry or an attack-of-tempo, but Kingston was fast, and the risk of being hit in contratempo or simply being doubled grew massively with every second spent in distance.

And there is little I hate like being doubled.

Charles, almost despite himself, found himself grinning. He had had the worst of that exchange, he judged, because he had revealed a little more of how he liked to fence than Kingston and lost the initiative. He had learned a few things as well, of course. Kingston had speed and nerve, knew how to use his height without relying on it, and, more importantly, paid attention to small details like Charles subtly edging left. None of these were good things from his perspective, but that made them good things to know.

His grin widened, the joy of the challenge singing in his veins. Kingston was almost certainly the best swordsman he had faced in quite some time, and he was going to have to be artful if he was to triumph. Bearing that in mind, he baited a trap — the slightest change in angle in his guard, leaving the slightest hint of an opening to his outside, the sort a man who had been working all morning might easily leave in the grasp of fatigue.

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The two swordsmen engaged in a spirited engagement. He moved to the side where he could better view the action and also position himself so as not to disturb their play. He casually leant against a window recess as the click clack of blades connecting and the shuffle of feet gave testament to their sport. They both seemed most competent. Audley appeared more winded than Kingston but still evenly matched.

 

[OCC: Not a lot for me to comment on at this point so feel free to continue without waiting for me to post if I lag.]

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Facing a new opponent at swordplay was rather like facing a new opponent at cards. You never knew what they had up their sleeve, nor their tells, nor their tendencies. The youthful Francis might look to be barely of age, if even of age, but he was far older and more experienced that looks told.

 

What Francis betrayed in his movements was not betrayed by the movements of his sword themselves but rather by what Chatham could see one the forearm of his left. If Chatham noticed it or what he would make of it was unknown, but when Francis' white, lacy shirtsleeve rode up, the boney side of his forearm was littered with raised scars. It could mean one of two things, that he had used the less damaging part of his forearm to block attacks, which might say something about the type of attack that was successful with him, or that he'd fought in enough duels where he had distinct advantage that his opponent pulled a surprise dagger on him with some frequency. Unless one agreed to sword and dagger first, pulling one was generally an ignoble attempt to save one's life. One way or another, it betrayed the type of experience Francis had with a sword. 

 

WIth his swift movements, it was obvious he was enjoying himself immensely in the quick tit for tat with Chatham, the clanking of their attempts and blocks rapid. 

 

When Francis saw the opening, he did not take it in the typical fashion but nor did he let it pass. Instead he raised his foot as if he were readying a lunge, but stamped it down short in a feint, ready to take advantage of how Chatham tried to close, whether the opening had been real or a play. Even so, it was highly likely with Chatham's skill, he would not find an opening even then.

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Charles noticed Kingston's forearm scars with the watchful part of his mind that handled the thinking while hands and feet did what they had been trained to do. He bore similar marks himself, similarly acquired, as Kingston could see when his own shirt sleeve rode up. Most probably the scars simply signified that both of them were proper bravos as well as gentlemen, but Charles did start to distantly consider what sort of actions might necessitate a fend with the forearm. 

In turn, of course, Kingston seems to have noticed that I like to edge to the left...

In immediate reality, beyond such considerations, Charles thought for half an instant that his little trap had succeeded, and so nearly fell into Kingston's. Only the fact that the deliberately shortened lunge was one of his own favourite deceptions saved him. A planned lunge to counter in opposition was delayed just a fraction and became instead a step to flush the counter paired with a girata to the left, voiding any target he might have presented to Kingston and allowing him to strike home in the tempo thus created. Of course the other man knew he liked to move to the outside line, and the girata naturally left his blade unsupported by the rest of his body and thus very vulnerable to being seized. 

But that was fine, for this was a layered deception. If the initial attack should land, all well and good, but Charles's true intention was to coupé over the attempt to find his sword and finish with an imbrocatta. Risky, of course, for Kingston was by no means guaranteed to act as expected and should he do otherwise Charles would be very exposed, but as a skilled swordsman the other man should naturally look for advantage of the sword, or so Charles calculated. He was conscious, too, that he was almost certain to tire before Kingston and so was obliged to take risks to seek an early conclusion, for his chances of victory diminished with every passing moment. The gamble, then, seemed to him the best option.

Presuming, that is, that Kingston does not surprise me again...

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