A day after her eighteenth birthday, Queenie and I resumed training. It had taken me a while to convince Georgie to allow her daughter to learn to fight, but Queenie was keen and our combined pestering took hold when she was twelve. Having been given a cutlass by her uncle yesterday, Queenie asked if she could use it – given that up until now, sword-fighting was done mostly with carved wooden splints.
I gave it some thought. My prized sword, a Damascus, was heavy and Queenie – still being a metal-sword-fighting novice – would find it difficult to fend it off with a light cutlass. So I decided that, yes, Queenie should be allowed to train with a real sword, but I borrowed (without his permission) one of Thomas’s cutlasses.
Maybe I could train her to shoot a decent blunderbuss also – she’d be prepared to conquer the High Seas with her uncle in no time.
Queenie made some show-off motions with her new sword, trying to imitate the strokes she used to make with her wooden swords. But even light swords were much heavier than wooden counterfeits.
“Easy, Queenie,” I said, laughing as she tried to continue, “we’re going to have to take it from the top. Get you used to it, eh?”
She frowned in disappointment, but the concession in her face was clear. I showed her a few basic strokes, and we practiced them together.
As she grew more confident, she asked, “Why did you get me a First Aid Kit for my eighteenth, Aunt Midnight?”
I scoffed, losing my balance momentarily, “I’m sorry?”
“Was it a joke? Or is that my real gift?”
“I wanted to get you something practical, not a waste of space,” I replied, and struck out.
She copied my motion, “But a First Aid Kit!”
“With all the trouble you get into, Queenie, how much money – do y’reckon – you spend on Band-Aids and antiseptics?”
She scowled at me, “But it was my eighteenth!”
“There’s a real gift for you, Queenie,” I laughed, “But it’ll come when you actually achieve something, like. I told you – all of you – birthdays aren’t really something to celebrate.”
“Where did you grow up? In mental hospital?”
“No. But I wonder if it would have made a difference.”
“Difference to what?”
I paused, “My opinion on birthdays.”
She rolled her eyes and dropped the subject.
After a few more runs, I asked, “You ready to try out?”
She snorted, “As ever! Mind, you might need to use my Kit after this.”
I laughed, “It would be a fitting vengeance – but, we shall see.”
We took up our positions, and stood in the stances that we’d been to accustomed to: swords raised above the head, both legs bent one behind the other.
There was a silence, anticipation beading on our foreheads, before I barked, “Strike!”
Queenie struck down hard as I blocked the blow, our swords still raised and locked. The ring of steel resumed as she cut to the left and I blocked again.
Up and right. Up and left.
Just as we had practiced.
Then she did something I had not expected, and stabbed down centre.
Naïve, I’d thought, because I’d struck the forward motion with a swing from the side, tearing the sword from her hand and sending it flying and then skittering along the floor.
“That was different, Queenie,” I said, straightening and sheathing my sword.
She didn’t say anything.
“Something on your mind?”
She resumed her silence.
“Is it because of the birthday gift?”
“I’m… fine,” she replied at last, “I just… I wanted to try something different.”
I sat down on the bench leaning standing against the far wall, and gestured for Queenie to join, patting the area to my side. I took a bottle of water from my bag, drank, and then handed her the bottle as she sat down, “Stabbing, when it comes to close-quarter fighting, is risky business,” I said, “I looks very easy and open, but that defensive blow I threw at you could have jarred your arm and incapacitated you for long enough.”
She huffed, “But it didn’t.”
“That’s because I’m your awesome aunt,” I laughed, punching her lightly on the shoulder, “but an adversary could – and would – have done so. Be more careful next time. I wouldn’t advise stabbing – unless your opponent is extremely worn-out or they’ve lost their balance.”
“You want to try defence techniques, or…?”
Queenie paused, “No,” she said, “I’m good for the moment. And, it’s late. I should turn in for the night.”
I raised my brows in surprise, “You’re sure? It’s unlike you,” I said, “Are you sure you’re… ‘fine’, Queenie?”
“Yes!” she snapped.
“Okay, alright!” I replied, “Calm down.”
She stood up to leave, when I saw something glinting in her back pocket.
“Hey, what’s that?” I replied, the words flying out my mouth before I could catch them.
She jumped slightly, “What’s what?” she said.
I’m nothing if I can’t adapt.
I stood up, and turned her around, looking at her face, “Nothing,” I said, fishing out the shiny paper in her pocket, “just… this.” I held the page in front of me.
She snatched it from my grasp, “It’s none of your business! Just some spare paper!”
But it was too late. I’d already seen enough to know, “O-ho, paper isn’t always that shiny, Queenie!”
She hesitated, not answering, and stuffed the page back into her pocket and turned to go.
As she walked away, I said, “Queenie. Why are you receiving assassination contracts?”