“Time was when men fought duels, Dustin, and still do, I suppose. There was an honor about it, a set of rules, unspoken yes, but nonetheless, they were there. Come, join me.” The old man said and swung the sword a bit as if to beckon him. Dustin swallowed hard yet once again, “Remove your blade from the scabbard.”
“Like you did?” Dustin asked with wide eyes as he stepped forward. The old man smiled and shook his head.
“No.” He chuckled, “I apologize, it is something that I got in the habit of when I do that. It was something that used to scare the hell out of my old sparring partner, Farrow Dunhill.”
“It was very impressive, Grandfather, to be sure.” Dustin said as he slowly drew the blade from the scabbard not wanting to cut himself. He set the scabbard against the stack of firewood that was stacked up against the house under the back window of the kitchen.
“This sword that you hold was the first one that I ever purchased. Your namesake used it often in our times together. He was quite comfortable with it.” The old man said and smiled briefly.
“He did? He was?” Dustin asked and the old man nodded in response with a now warm smile.
“Stand near me, let me show you.” The old man said. Dustin came to stand near the old man and stood like him, looking over at him and copied his stance, he held his blade out as did the old man, “Feel the blade in your hand, the weight, the balance of it. It gives you a power, use it, and let it use you. Become as one with it and it will guide you. Close your eyes for a moment.” The old man said. Dustin did as he was instructed and closed his eyes, “Do you feel it, the weight?”
“Yes.” Dustin said above a whisper.
“Good, then move it, as you would your own arm, let it become a part of you. Slow and graceful are the watchwords.” The old man said and watched as Dustin moved the blade about, rolling it, swinging it a bit with his arm, “Good, keep the focus on it while keeping your eyes closed.” The old man said and watched as Dustin moved the blade about, “Excellent, my boy.” The old man said, “Now, open your eyes and focus ahead of you. Your enemy is in front of you, he has a sword and is at the ready. Can you imagine him?” The old man asked and Dustin nodded in answer, “Good, now, watch how I move…” The old man said and moved the sword, tip up, side to side just a bit, “parry…” he said and rolled his wrist, pointing the sword tip down toward the flagstone, moving the blade side to side, “block,…” he said and then rolled the sword tip out and leaned forward slightly, ‘lunge.” The old man said and then stood back, lowering the sword, “Now, you do it.” The old man said softly and watched as Dustin moved, “parry,…block,…lunge…very good, my boy, very good indeed.” The old man said as Dustin returned to his side after all of the copied motions, “Do you understand?”
“Yes, Grandfather, I think I do. It feels quite a natural thing to do.”
“Excellent.” The old man smiled, “Alright, let’s try it together then.” The old man crouched slightly, “Ready?” He asked as Dustin got into position and nodded, they began and moved together as one, side by side. Robert and Andrew were in amazement as they watched what was happening in front of them, this dance of steel.
“Parry…block...lunge.” The old man said as they went through their paces, “Again,…parry…block…lunge…” The old man said as they did over and over side by side, “Excellent.” The old man said and stood straight. Dustin turned slightly and looked at him.
“That can’t be all there is to it, Grandfather.”
“Of course not, my boy, but it is a start, a good start. You cannot possible grasp it all in one lesson, Dustin. What I am trying to show you is to become used to the blade, to become one with it, an extension of your arm.” The old man said.
“I do see that, Grandfather, yes. It feels as if it has always been there, but not really, does that make sense?”
“It does, my boy.” The old man said, putting a hand on the young man’s shoulder, “It means that you understand and that you might be a natural at this.”
“What is next?”
“What do I do?” Dustin asked and was excited with this new power that he felt.
“Another time. We must take this slowly.”
“Are you tired, Grandfather? I did not think, I apologize…” Dustin said and looked at his grandfather with wide eyes. The old man smiled and shook his head.
“No, I am not tired. I thought that you were cooking and had other things that you were doing.” The old man said.
“The stew will need another hour at best. Could we try something else while we wait?” Dustin asked. The old man shook his head.
“So much like your namesake. He could never wait as well.” The old man said and backed up a few steps, Dustin turned to face him, “Alright…we will go slow. I want neither of us to be hurt by this, understand?” The old man asked and Dustin nodded as the old man raised his sword, Dustin did as well and got into the stance to copy the old man, “Feel your feet, your legs, they must be comfortable for they are what carries the battle. Without them, you are lost, do you understand?” the old man asked and Dustin again nodded as the blades touched.
“Oh my God.” Henry said as he came through the opening in the stone fence and looked up at the back of the house and saw his youngest son and his father there with blades in their hands. He stopped in his tracks as his middle son, Henry Quintan stopped and went wide eyed at what he saw as well up on the flagstone.
“What are they doing?”
“He is teaching Dustin the blade.” Henry, the senior said flatly.
“What? He is? How do you know?”
“Because he taught me as well when I was younger than Dustin is. He showed me just like that.” The elder Henry said as he stared at what was about to happen.
“He is too old to be doing this, isn’t he, Father,…Grandfather, I mean?” The younger Henry asked.
“Just watch and you will see.” The older Henry said with a nod as the dance started up on the flagstone.
“Block…” the old man said as he moved, Dustin blocked, the blades singing as they touched, the old man pulled back and swung slowly, “parry…” The old man said and Dustin moved and countered. The old man pulled back, “lunge…” the old man said and Dustin lunged but was blocked by the old man with a block, “Excellent, my boy.” The old man said and smiled as he lowered his blade, “Now, how was that?”
“It was good, felt good.” Dustin said and held up his sword and firmed his stance. The old man saw it and recognized what the younger man wanted.
“Alright…just remember, easy is the word.” The old man said, “No one is to be hurt.” Dustin nodded in reply and set further down in the stance. The old man smiled and set his blade and touched his steel to Dustin’s. They slid up and down each other for a moment and then it began, the lunge, the block, the lunge again, and then the parry, another lunge, another parry, the lunge, and then the block. The old man pulled back and Dustin held off as well, “You are very good, my boy, for never having done this before.”
“Perhaps it is from listening to you and your battles, Grandfather.”
“I think that it is something else entirely.” The old man said and smiled.
“What would that be?”
“Understanding the control of the blade, my boy.” The old man said and held his blade up again, “Ready to try again?” The old man asked and Dustin nodded and set into his stance.
The dance began yet once again as the blades sang out against one another. Blocks, lunges, parries, all performed and matched against one another with almost perfection behind them. Their stances had not changed, as they held their place, their own ground as it were, offense, defense, both worked with equal measure.
“I wished I had paid more attention to this in school.” Andrew said as he watched his love and the man that he admired above all others work the steel against one another. Robert was standing next to Andrew and looked down at him.
“They taught you this at school?” Robert asked as the steel sang out with hit after hit. Andrew did not look at Robert but watched the pair before them, Dustin had his back toward Andrew and Robert. The glint and flash of the steel was the only thing that diverted his eyes.
“Yes, at University, Oxford. They wanted to teach those students an art that they felt was not only part of our history, but something that was becoming a dying art as well it seems.” Andrew said. Robert narrowed his eyebrows and looked at the pair still swinging away at one another.
“Excellent, my boy.” The old man said with a bit of a grin, letting it go and slowed a bit, Dustin stayed with him, slowing as well, “Now,…” The old man said and pulled his blade away, Dustin stopped moving altogether, “I think it is time to show you a bit more.” The old man smiled briefly, “Come…join me.” Dustin moved and came to stand beside his grandfather.
“Are you tired, Grandfather?” Dustin asked.
“No, why, are you?” The old man asked and seemed to have a new lease on life. His eyes flashed like that of the blade and he seemed to be not as out of breath as Dustin was. Dustin smiled and shook his head a bit.
“No, sir, I am not. I was merely concerned for you, that’s all.” Dustin said as looked almost over his shoulder at the old man.
“When…and if, I drop over, then we will stop.” The old man said and winked long. Dustin smiled wide at it, “You look so much like him, both him and your father when they were your age.”
“What are you about, Quintan?” Martha asked from the stove as she watched Callum come in through the back door. There was a look on his face that she could not quite name. Callum smiled warmly at her and cocked his head slightly as he looked at her.
“Where is the other Squire of the property, I wonder?” Callum asked.
“I have not seen him. I assume that you are speaking of Dustin?” Martha asked and Callum nodded. He went out of the kitchen, into the parlor, through and into the little hallway next to the stairs and stopped at Henry’s open bedroom door. Callum smiled as he saw Dustin and Henry on the rope bed, Henry fast asleep, Dustin rolled his head and looked up at Callum.
“Is he alright?” Callum asked above a whisper.
“I don’t think he’s been sleeping well as of late.” Dustin said in an equal voice.
“You think so?” Callum asked. Dustin nodded and slipped himself away from Henry and got up off the rope bed. He came next to a worried looking Callum.
“I have not found out why as of yet, but he went to sleep immediately as his head hit the pillow with me next to him.” Dustin said as he looked down at Henry.
“Poor little one.” Callum said, “I wonder what is possibly troubling him?”
“It might be that he thinks that you are leaving again, leaving him, but I don’t know that for certain. I’ll speak with him and try and find out.” Dustin said and then looked at Callum, “What are you about then? I see a look in your eye.” Dustin said and Callum smiled and leaned his head against Dustin’s.
“I can never keep anything from you, can I?” Callum asked softly and Dustin shook his head a bit, “Join me outside. There is something that we need to do together. I’ll be upstairs a moment.”
“Alright.” Dustin said and gave him a puzzled look. Callum winked and turned away, leaving Dustin alone at the doorway.
Dustin stood on the flagstone, the dog, Fitz, was leaning against him as Dustin scratched behind a floppy ear. Dustin heard the back door and looked over his shoulder seeing Callum carrying the swords in his hands, and closed the door behind him. Dustin straightened and turned to face Callum. The dog looked also.
“What is this then?” Dustin asked. Callum tossed the one sword and Dustin caught it with his one hand.
“The Guardsmen nearly had you the other night, as well as the rest of us. Thomas and I were speaking earlier as you know. He put a thought in my mind that we might need help in this. I agreed with that.” Callum said and held his own sword by the scabbard, “However, I think that that help might be far and few between in coming, so this may be left up to us.”
“What are you trying to say, Quintan?” Dustin asked as he narrowed his eyes.
“I want to take no chances with your safety, Dustin. You mean far too much to me to have you placed at risk. You are a good shot, deadly accurate actually, but I want to make certain that you have the skill you need with a blade, just to be on the safe side, my own peace of mind as it were.” Callum said.
“So…you want to…practice…against me?” Dustin asked.
“No, I want to teach you even more than what you know already, to make certain that you remain safe, my love. Can you understand that?” Callum asked.
“I do, Quintan, and I love you for the thought, but Christian is the far better…”
“Christian may not always be at your side, nor may I, my love.” Callum said and gave a brief smile, “Can you not see that?”
“Yes, I do, Quintan, but, you…against me…”
“Not against you, my love, but with you, to show you.” Callum said. Dustin thought about it a moment and then nodded slowly.
“Alright…if that is what you wish.”
“No, Dustin, not what I wish, but what must be.” Callum said and swung his blade, the scabbard flying off into the tall grass, “Shall we?” Callum asked and held out a hand leading Dustin out in the tall grass of the knoll. They faced off against one another, Callum held up his blade. Dustin looked at the scabbard that still covered his blade for a long moment and then looked into Callum’s steel blue eyes, “I will not hurt you, my love.”
“I know you wouldn’t, Quintan, that is not my thought. What of your wounds? Should you be doing this?” Dustin asked.
“After what we have done together today over in the barn and there in the stable. This is just another type of exercise.” Callum said and flashed his eyes. Dustin shook his head and gave a brief smile.
“It is far more than that, Quintan.” Dustin said. He pulled the blade from the scabbard and dropped it in the grass and readied himself. Callum touched the tip of his sword to Dustin’s, “Do your worst.”
“I think not. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I have watched you over all this time, Quintan. I believe that I have learned from it and from you.” Dustin said as he slid his blade down Callum’s, “As I said…do your worst.”
“Grandfather?” The young voice asked and the old man came back to where he was, standing next to Dustin on the flagstone. He saw Robert and Andrew standing there at the back door of the house and then he looked at his young grandson.
“Forgive me, my boy, I was lost for a moment in the memory of another practice session.” The old man said, “Where were we?”
“You said you were going to show me something more.” Dustin said. The old man saw both Henrys coming up the pathway. A soft smile was one the face of the elder, his son. The old man lowered his blade a bit seeing it.
“I see you have come to join us, Henry.”
“Yes, Papa, and it seems that we are just in time before you start the next lesson.” The elder Henry said, still smiling and then caught the look from his youngest son, “You did quite well, Dustin.”
“Thank you, Father. Grandfather is quite the teacher I must say.”
“Indeed. I remember my instruction as well.” The elder Henry said and shifted his eyes to his own father, “Perhaps you should have a bit of a rest, Papa. It has been some time since you have done this, you know.” Henry gave him a look and the old man sighed and raised an eyebrow.
“You are right, of course, Henry.” The old man said and looked at his youngest grandson, “Dustin, perhaps you should check on your supper. If there is time, we can begin again in just a bit.”
“Alright.” Dustin said, and gave the old man a look and then looked at his father, who cocked his head slightly toward his youngest son. Dustin went over and sheathed the blade and leaned it against the firewood. He gave another look to the two older men and then went toward the back door of the house, Andrew stepped aside and let him pass, but followed him into the kitchen.
“I must say, that was most impressive.” Andrew said as they were alone in the kitchen. Dustin went to the stove and lifted the lid on the large pot. He picked up the wooden spoon and gave the contents a good stir and then tasted from it. He set the spoon down and put the lid back and looked at Andrew.
“Thank you.” Dustin said softly and gave a brief smile.
“What is wrong?”
“Nothing.” Dustin said quickly.
“I know better than that.” Andrew said and narrowed his eyes a bit, “Something is bothering you, what is it, your father?”
“I don’t understand why it does, but yes, it bothers me that he stopped this between Grandfather and me.” Dustin said and looked out the windows seeing his father and grandfather talking at the end of the flagstone. Andrew turned his head and looked as well seeing what Dustin was seeing. Robert and Henry were at the back door, outside, talking to one another, nodding now and then toward the two older men.
“What do you think you’re doing, Papa? What prompted this?” Henry asked as he folded his arms and stared at his father.
“I felt that it was well beyond time to instruct him, Henry. Did I need your permission to do that?” The old man asked raising an eyebrow, sword in hand.
“Certainly not, Papa, but why now? As I recall, you did not instruct me until you had felt that there was a danger about, and you wished to know that I could defend myself. Is there a danger about, Papa, something that you have not told me of?” Henry asked and the old man smiled.
“No, there is no danger, Henry. It is merely that Dustin and Robert had had words that’s all. I wanted to show Dustin that there was another way to handle his feelings, to focus them, and not let anger take him as I saw in the kitchen.” The old man said.
“He has never handled a blade before, Papa.” Henry said.
“Yes, I know.”
“But, he did quite well, I must say.” Henry said as he leaned forward to his father and gave a slight grin. The old man nodded.
“He certainly did. I was most impressed. I am wondering, Henry, do you still recall how to use a blade?” The old man asked and the son went a bit wide eyed.
“I suppose I do, Papa.” Henry said through clenched teeth, “What are you thinking?”
“Perhaps, if I were to tire while instructing Dustin, that you might be able to stand in for me.”
“I could never instruct…”
“No, not instruct, Henry, just follow what you know, letting me give instruction as it were, while I sit here on the chopping block.” The old man said. Henry thought about it a moment and then nodded.
“Yes, that might work.” Henry said and then smiled wider and nodded even more and looked at his father, “Yes,…yes, I see what you mean, Papa. I would be happy to.”
“Excellent.” The old man said and put his free hand to Henry’s shoulder, “Now, I would care for a glass of wine, and for supper. Are you and Henry joining us?”
“Yes, if that is alright. I am growing a bit tired of dried beef and mash. My own cooking is rather lack-luster.” Henry smiled. The old man chuckled.
“You are always more than welcome to join us, Henry, you know that.”
“I know, Papa. I do not wish to become a burden on either you or Dustin.”
“You could never be, my boy.” The old man said and leaned forward, giving Henry a one-armed hug and then kissed his temple. The old man pulled back, “I suppose that I need to go and find my scabbard out in the tall grass.”
“No, Henry has it.” Henry Sr. said and nodded toward his middle son. The scabbard was indeed in Henry’s hand as he talked to his older brother. The old man turned and looked at the two young men and saw what Henry held.
“You have learned it seems.” Callum said as he blocked the blade from Dustin’s swing and then made a sweeping motion on the return. Dustin slid back a few steps, regrouped and lunged, Callum blocked.
“When you have two Marines on you at the same time trying to gut you with heavy sabers, you pick things up rather quickly.” Dustin said.
“You speak of Holt’s men.” Callum said as he blocked the next lunge and slid up the blade to Dustin’s pommel. They pressed against one another and going eye to eye gauging each other.
“I do.” Dustin said.
“I am sorry that I was not there.” Callum said.
“You had your own monster to fight on that day.”
“Indeed. And this is where he had me.” Callum said and grunted as he pushed Dustin back, making him stagger and spin in the tall grass. Dustin regained his footing and held out the blade, “Not quite like being on the deck of Dover, is it?” Callum asked.
“No, it is not.” Dustin said and was breathing hard, “Are you tiring?”
“What gave you that idea?” Callum asked as he swung the blade a bit, but was counterted.
“You seem to be keeping yourself at arm’s length.” Dustin said, still at the ready. Callum rocked his head side to side and looked at Dustin with his eyebrows scrunched.
“Oh, I see the way of it now. You think I am weak and feeble, is it?” Callum asked.
“I did not say that. But, you do look a bit strained.” Dustin said and Callum snorted through his nose.
“I’ll show you strain.” Callum grunted and lunged toward Dustin, back swinging his blade, Dustin saw it and blocked and pressed in for his own attack, turning his body slightly, colliding into Callum, Dustin elbowed Callum in the ribs, used the pommel of his own sword to hit the pommel of Callum’s to knock it away and spun back around and placed the blade against quickly Callum’s throat, making him stop and stand still.
“I have you.” Dustin said and flashed his eyes.
“I see that.” Callum said and flashed his eyes in return, feeling the steel against his skin, “Perhaps there is nothing more that I can teach you.”
“I might have to think about that.” Dustin said as his eyes locked on Callum’s.
“So, are you going to slit my throat, or are you going to let me go?”
“If I let you go, you might press your attack on me again. If I slit your throat, I would not have you to share our bed and to make love to me throughout the night. A very difficult problem, I must say.” Dustin said as a smile started to creep over his lips.
“Well, if I may suggest…” Callum started to say but was interrupted by the sound of clapping. He rolled his eyes toward it and Dustin turned his head slightly to look in that direction.
“Most entertaining.” Thomas said, Christian was standing next to him. Both of them were clapping. Each of them carried swords as well as pistols tucked into their belts.
“I agree. Quintan Callum finally bested with a blade. I should have placed a wager with you, Thomas.” Christian stopped clapping and looked at Thomas briefly and then back at Callum and Dustin. They started up the knoll as Dustin removed the blade from Callum’s throat and backed up a step.
“How long have you two been there?” Callum asked.
“Not too long. I was outside retrieving wood for the stove and heard what sounded like fighting. We both came on a run to see if we could help, thinking that there was trouble here, and not some…lovers quarrel.” Christian said and Callum raised an eyebrow.
“It was no lovers quarrel, Christian.” Callum said with an almost growl in his throat.
“Well, that’s what it rather looked like. I must say, Dustin, you did quite well against the master of the blade.” Christian said.
“Perhaps, Christian, you and I should have another practice ourselves?” Callum asked. Christian gave Callum a look of question.
“Far be it from us, Quintan, to interrupt what you two were doing, unlike earlier in the barn.” Christian said as his look changed to one of mischief. Callum raised his eyebrow again.
“You seem to be trying to provoke something from me, Christian. Perhaps instead of a practice, I should teach you a lesson,…a lesson in manners.” Callum said and turned to face toward Christian. Dustin stepped between them, putting a hand on Callum’s chest.
“Now, Quintan, he is merely teasing.” Dustin said looking into Callum’s eyes, his fingers spread out on Callum’s chest to hold Callum back.
“I suppose you’re right.” Callum said softly and looked at Dustin, “I apologize.” Callum said louder without looking at Christian.
“Quintan, it is I that should apologize. I did not mean to anger you with my ribbing.” Christian said and bowed his head slightly.
“And you did not, my friend. I was only caught up in the moment.” Callum said and exhaled a bit. Dustin took his hand away from Callum’s chest and stepped beside Callum, “Since you are both here, would you care to join us in the house? We can have a glass of wine possibly.”
“Thank you, but no, Quintan.” Thomas said, “Seeing as there is no trouble here, we will go back over to Harbroughs and leave you two for the evening.”
“Quintan, I do apologize. I did not mean to carry it so far.” Christian said as he came closer to Callum, who gave Christian a bit of a smile.
“No harm done, Christian.” Callum said, flashing a full warm smile and held out an arm. Christian came closer and Callum wrapped it around his shoulders, giving him a hug. Callum let him go and let his arm drop, it ached. Christian saw it, the pained look.
“Go into the house, rest yourself, Quintan. Thomas and I will stay vigilant with watching for any trouble that might come.” Christian said. Callum smiled again briefly and nodded once. He and Dustin turned and went toward the house, retrieving scabbards as they went across the tall grass.
“I must say…I would not wish to cross Dustin now.” Thomas said quietly as Christian came up beside him. They both looked at the pair as they went to the back door of the Cross.
“Neither would I.” Christian said, “Especially after what I saw of him in Cambridge in my parent’s home.”
“You never told me all of it.” Thomas said and looked at Christian.
“Then I think it is high time to give you the details.” Christian said and pat Thomas over the backside of his long pants. Christian walked away back toward Harbroughs, Thomas turned and followed as the back door of the Cross opened.
Dustin walked in the back door, Callum right behind him, Callum closing the door. Martha was at the stove but looked at them both and narrowed one eye a bit toward them.
“Are you two done trying to kill one another?” Martha asked.
“That was not the intention, my dear.” Callum said as he stood near the table.
“Perhaps you should explain it to him then.” Martha said as she turned and nodded toward the corner. Henry was there and was wide eyed looking at the both of them. Callum cocked his head a bit and looked at the little one.
“We were just having a bit of a practice is all.” Callum said to Henry, seeing the tears welling in the big brown eyes, “Is that not so, Dustin?”
“Yes, Henry, it is so. We were merely practicing, that’s all.” Dustin said and put his sword on the table and went to stand in front of the boy. Dustin knelt in front of him and scanned the little face, “I thought you were asleep.” Dustin said softly and the little arms went around Dustin’s neck and held on for dear life, “What is this now?”
“I thought you were going to hurt him.” Henry said as he had his face buried in Dustin’s muscled shoulder.
“Never.” Dustin said as he hugged the little one tight, “He means too much to the both of us to have me hurt him, don’t you think?” Dustin asked and Henry nodded and Dustin could feel it. Henry watched over Dustin’s shoulder as Callum took Dustin’s sword off the table and held it in his left hand.
“I’ll take these upstairs.” Callum said.
“Supper should be ready shortly.” Martha said as she watched Dustin and Henry together. Callum nodded to her his reply and then walked out of the kitchen.
“Were you watching the entire time?” Dustin asked as he pulled back but held onto Henry’s little upper arms. Henry nodded, “You were?” Dustin asked and received another nod, “Did you see that I finally got the better of him?” Dustin asked with a smile, Henry nodded big and smiled, “I say, it’s about time.” Dustin said and then winked at Henry. He dug a finger into Henry’s ribs and made him giggle, “Now, we need to go and see about the mare and the colt for the night. Would you want to help me?” Dustin asked and Henry nodded with a big smile, “Come along, let’s go.” Dustin said and took Henry by the hand, leading him to the back door. Martha smiled from the stove at the pair as they went out.