I mentioned a month or so back how I had a short(ish) story coming out in an anthology that my writing group publishes, well it is finally available! Called A Roll of the Dice III, it features a bunch of stories—some fantasy, some sci-fi, some horror—all based around four central objects: a hand, a bridge, a lock, and an arrow.
The story I contributed is called “For Want of a Sword”, and is set in a different different region of my Bulletproof Witch series, but doesn’t require any prior knowledge in order to read it (of course, if you haven’t read Bulletproof Witch already, what are you doing here?) I have a little sampler from the story below, if you enjoy it, please consider picking up a copy of the anthology. Myself, and the other eight writers involved, would greatly appreciate it!
Viscount Orlondo deLarosa Cevena slammed his hands against the table. “I need a weapon.”
The three nobles seated around it—friends and trusted confidants, all—looked up at him. Mateo was the first to gather his wits. “Planning rebellion, or just looking for a further excuse to sully your family’s good name?”
He spoke the question casually, amusement playing across his face. The man’s eyes, however, betrayed him. They darted about the room, looking for anyone that might have overheard.
There was little cause for concern. The cafe’s veranda was quiet this time of the afternoon, when heat pressed down upon the city of Landeaux, smothering what little life remained to it. Most who could afford to do so retreated indoors, or better still inland to the mountains, where the wind yet held a measure of relief.
This meant the four friends had the veranda to themselves. Below them, the city tapered away, changing to fields of coffee and hot pepper bushes that rose and fell along the hills. Far in the distance Orlondo could just make out a grove of plantains, one of the many fields owned by his father. A field in which he was supposed to be working.
Fruit and shame. It was all that remained of his family’s legacy. But not for much longer.
“It’s not for rebellion,” he said at last, and his friends relaxed. “It’s for a duel.”
Vincente, sixth eldest son of the lesser Duke Aldagoz, cringed. “Oh, and here I was afraid it was for something foolish. Are you trying to get yourself executed? And the rest of us along with you?”
“Who, exactly, are you planning to duel?” his sister Jeanne asked. She was always one to cut straight to the point.
“The Marquisess.” Blank stares met his words, so Orlondo added, somewhat hesitantly, “Colette Vicario.”
Silence reigned across the veranda. Somewhere in the city, a cathedral bell called out the hour.
At last, Jeanne cleared her throat, refusing to look Orlondo in the eye. “And why, pray tell, are you fighting a duel against your betrothed?”
Orlondo did not reply. Everyone at the table knew his reasons already.
“You truly are your father’s son,” Mateo said with a shake of his head. “I suppose you expect me to serve as your second. Not as if anyone else at this table knows the difference between a saber and a butter knife.”
“So you’ll help me, then?” Orlondo felt a weight lift off his chest, one he had not even noticed until it was gone. He reached out and clasped the Silvere’s hand in his own.
“Yes, yes. I suspected something like this was coming. Meet me tomorrow after sundown by the gates to the lower quarter. I have an old acquaintance from my time in the service who should have a few…items of interest.” Mateo glanced at the siblings. “I don’t suppose you’ll stay home if I ask nicely?”
Vincente just grinned, and Mateo let out a sigh. “Fine. Be there on time for once, and for the love of the gods, dress sensibly, won’t you? Something that doesn’t scream ‘spoiled Duke’s whelp out after curfew’.”
The siblings both started to protest, then went silent, eyes cast towards the street.
Orlondo turned to see what had caught their attention. A company of soldiers marched along the road outside the cafe, resplendent in their black and red uniforms. None of them so much as glanced towards the veranda, but the four nobles remained silent until the sound of footsteps faded into the distance.
After a moment Mateo let out a cough and turned back to Orlondo. “With all respect, my illustrious friend, are you sure you won’t reconsider? One does not defy the governor’s ban upon dueling lightly. Even if you escape execution, your family name will suffer if we’re caught.”
“Fweh, I do not care what laws that signore places upon us. The blood of Landeaux flows through my veins, and I will settle my affairs as tradition demands.”
Mateo stood. “In that case, I have some inquiries to make. Until tomorrow?”
The friends made their goodbyes. Orlondo turned to leave, but paused as a hand touched his arm. Jeanne looked up at him, eyes filled with concern.
“Is there no way for you and Colette to put this awful business to rest? She’s my friend as well, you know.”
Orlondo smiled, but it was a sad one. “I am my father’s son. No more, and no less.”
He pulled away and strode out into the street. Already the heat was fading, and the city was returning to life. Carts passed him by as he walked towards his family villa, each laden down with mangoes, cassava, groundnuts, and heavy bags of amaranth. Over everything else, the smell of coffee permeated the streets, the odor heady and pungent. So much of the city’s commerce relied on the coffee bean that the two were almost inseparable.
The sights and smells brought a smile to his lips. Even after two years, little had changed. It was still the home he remembered from his childhood, governor or no.
A shadow passed over him. Orlondo looked up and saw the swollen belly of a dirigible. Ropes hung underneath, some so close they almost brushed the top of the nearby cathedral. Then the ship passed on, towards the airfields near the harbor.
Orlondo shook his head. Well, not everything is the same.
Near a city park he paused for a pair of wagons. An unexpected gust of wind brought a moment of relief, and Orlondo closed his eyes, sighing. It would be so nice to join the other nobles fleeing the city for the mountains, to go at least one day without sweating through his clothes. Pity that neither life nor duty would allow him such a luxury.
Through the iron fence passed the sound of children playing some game. As Orlondo reached the gate, their words became clear over the clang and clatter of the city. He stumbled and almost fell into the street, but righted himself at the last moment.
Within the park children jumped rope, repeating their rhyme in a sing-song melody.
For want of a sword the duel was lost.
For want of a duel the title was lost.
For want of a title the commander was lost.
For want of a commander the bridge was lost.
For want of a bridge the kingdom was lost.
And all for want of a sword.
Despite the heat, Orlondo pulled up the collar of his shirt and walked faster. The children’s mocking voices followed him home, their laughter grown menacing in the shadowy corners of his imagination.
You can find the rest of the story in A Roll of the Dice III.