The Surprising Events of Springtime in Rodchester
J.R. Blackwell
Tycho Villiare never asked why his employers had chosen to duel. Gentlemen seldom fought duels themselves. Gentlemen often challenged one another to a duel, but since duels end in death (a state most gentleman find inconvenient), Men of Arms are employed to fight duels for them.
Men of Arms do not come cheap. Tycho Villiare was one of the most expensive Men of Arms on his colony world. He had been a soldier of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, a combat Iron in a heated mech-suit, cutting out insurrection like a scalpel. He could kill an entire household without harming a hair on the head of the family dog. After ten years with the service, his employment as a Man at Arms was his retirement. The large sums he demanded for his time meant that he only needed to work one day out of a year.
When the Duke of Rodchester found himself engaged in a duel of consequence with the half-blood bastard, Count of Carlo, he found it quite natural to use a good section of his fortune to employ Tycho Villiare to fight the duel for him. Tycho did not ask why the old Duke wanted to engage the young Count in a duel, nor how the challenge was issued. Tycho checked the Duke's considerable credit line, diverted the agreed upon amount, and waited for the appointed day.
Tycho knew that the Count of Carlo, being of royal blood but little royal wealth, would have found it difficult to employ a Man at Arms to fight for him. Even so, he could have begged a loan in order to secure such a man, but he did not. The half-blood bastard came to fight the duel himself.
This pairing was most irregular. Men at Arms may fight each other in a duel on behalf of other gentlemen, and two gentlemen, so motivated, could fight a duel themselves. However, it was unheard of for a man such as Tycho, a talented commoner, to fight a royal, even a half-blood. Before the duel, Tycho assured himself that either the bastard Count would become scared and back out of the duel, or the Duke of Rodchester would find his honor so affronted that he would dismiss Tycho from the fight and take a pistol up himself.
Tycho did not fail to consider the Duke's considerable weight and age in his estimation of the Duke's ability. What Tycho failed to consider was a fault of his own character, for Tycho could not comprehend that the Duke's love of his own skin was far greater than his love of honor and duty. The Duke, though powerful, was not a man who was prone to great physical exertions.
The day of the duel was a fine crisp spring morning, all blue skies and dewy grass. The Duke sat in the stands with his company, sipping his morning tea. The Count was alone on the field, a long and lean figure standing in well-worn boots. The Count was holding an ancient raygun that bore the dull gleam of constant cleaning.
Tycho used the pulse gun of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, standard issue, set to single fire. It was an unremarkable weapon, and certainly nothing compared to the ornate weapons that hung unused on the Duke's belt.
The Cybernetic Judge instructed the two men to stand back to back, to walk fifteen paces, to turn and draw. The Count and Tycho both took their shots. The Cybernetic Judge timed Tycho to be point one three seconds slower than his average draw time. Some say he was hesitant to shoot a royal, nervous about the consequences of such an action. There are other rumors that Tycho was slow in his draw because he knew where the bastard Count would be aiming.
A moment after the shots were fired, there was a scream from the crowd. The Duke slumped over in the stands, blood on his pale pink chair. The Count was on the ground, convulsing, his white shirt stained with dark blood. The young fiancée of the dead Duke ran out of the stands, picking her skirts up high, heedless of her exposed ankles. She ran past the Duke to sprawl on the grass next to the bastard Count. She cradled his head in her arms and wept, caressing his face, kissing his forehead. She did not look at Tycho, the man who still held the weapon that killed her lover. Tycho was no more than a force of nature to her.
Tycho carefully placed the pulse gun on the grass and walked away, his duty done.
J.R. Blackwell's fiction has has been accepted by Bewildering Stories, Escape Pod Magazine, HeavyGlow Magazine and Static Movement Magazine. She is a former freak show contortionist who is currently pursuing a Masters degree in creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania.