from the collection
“Our credit should still be good at the Café Maudite,” Asamir said, leaning toward the mirror to rearrange her blonde curls for the third time.
Anna d’Gart waited—with resignation rather than patience—while her fellow guardswoman primped. She had casually tied her own auburn hair back after training, but she was accustomed to Asamir’s vanity. “The King’s Guardsmen frequent the Maudite,” she said. “We might find some trouble there.”
“Do you have funds for dinner?” Asamir asked.
“Well then.” Asamir gave her hair a final pat and smoothed out the front of her blue velvet tunic trimmed in real gold. Anna’s tunic—like those worn by the rest of the Queen’s Guard—was made of blue wool embroidered with dyed thread. Not as elegant as Asamir’s, perhaps, but much easier to care for.
Indeed, Anna’s prediction proved correct, for men in the red and gold of the King’s Guard filled the Maudite. But the host greeted the women fondly, and gave them a good table against the back wall. They ordered bread and cheese, and a little wine. And all went well until a young guardsman began to pester Asamir.
The young man was not known to them—a new member of the Guard, no doubt recently come from some province where he had made a name in battle (for neither the King’s Guard nor the Queen’s took inexperienced soldiers). Handsome enough, but he had already drunk too much wine.
At first he tried to entice Asamir to spend the evening with him, for the fact that he served the King and she the Queen did not seem to affect his romantic desires. Nor, Anna knew, would that alone have affected Asamir’s, had she been interested.
But Asamir declined his advances—Anna suspected she had an engagement with the Marquis de _________, whose wife was said to be in the country this week—and the young man took offense.
He insulted the Queen’s virtue, and Asamir told him to behave himself. Then he insulted the virtue of the Queen’s Guard, and that of Asamir in particular, and Asamir put her hand on the hilt of her sword and suggested he watch his tongue.
And then he insulted the fighting ability of the Queen’s Guard. Asamir stood up, hand on her sword hilt, and Anna did the same.
A couple of the King’s men nearby egged him on, but another who had been sitting with him pulled him back. “He is only jesting, my friends,” the second man said, but the first shook free and said, “I am not. No woman can fight as well as a man, and I will be glad to prove it.”
“Shall we step outside, then,” Asamir said.
Anna said, “Let him be. He is drunk.”
“What? Let him get away with insulting us in public?” She started for the back door. Anna sighed, but she followed. Asamir would need a second.
The drunk had already drawn his sword, and was making fancy feints with it out in the alley. Asamir drew her own and crossed swords with him.
The second man looked at Anna. Honor demanded that he fight on behalf of his friend, and that she do the same for Asamir. He bowed. “Roland de Barthes, at your service, madame.”
Anna had heard the name. People said he had saved the King’s life when the court had traveled to the provinces to view one of the battles on the realm’s frontiers. Legend had it that Roland had pushed the King over and yelled, “Down, you fool” to keep him from being shot.
A handsome man, with thick black hair that hung to his shoulders and dark brown eyes that looked like they might be merry in other circumstances. “Anna d’Gart at yours, sir.”
His eyes widened. “Ah, Jean-Paul has an unerring eye for formidable opponents. Everyone has heard of the honorable Anna d’Gart.” But he drew his blade, and they began to parry and strike.
It took only a few moves for Anna to determine that Roland was also formidable. She saw what should have been a fatal opening and lunged, but he parried easily and caught the edge of her sleeve with his return.
Out of the corner of her eye she could see that Jean-Paul was giving Asamir some trouble. Had he not been so drunk, he would have presented a real challenge. But she saw him stumble once before Roland came in with a flurry of moves that commanded all of her attention.
She heard Jean-Paul cry out, followed by a triumphant yell from Asamir.
Roland pulled back, holding his sword in front of him, pointing it toward the sky. “Honor is satisfied,” he said.
Anna yielded as well. “Best you take him out of here, before someone comes.”
Blood stained Jean-Paul’s chest. Roland half-dragged him down the street. Anna took Asamir’s arm and they slipped out of the alley.
Nancy Jane Moore is a founding member of Book View Cafe. Her most recent BVC ebook is Walking Contradiction and Other Futures, a collection of her science fiction adventure stories. She also recently released Ardent Forest, a retelling of As You Like It set in post-apocalypse Texas. Other BVC e-books include Conscientious Inconsistencies, a collection of short fiction first published in print by PS Publishing; Flashes of Illumination, a collection of very short stories; and the novella Changeling. Her short stories and essays are also available in most of the BVC anthologies, and she has a novel forthcoming in 2015 from Aqueduct Press.