A man stepped neath the courtyard gate. He carried a leather roll under one arm, long as a man, coiled like a rug. Snow crunched under his tasseled boots. Eyes surveyed him from either end of the wintry garden.
To the South waited a party clad in navy blue uniforms trimmed with ermine. They stood abreast behind their leader: An ashen woman with an upturned nose. She stood relaxed, but worried a pair of suede gloves between her palms.
To the North stood a swarthy group in layered, rosy cloaks. They huddled in their flowery attire, sneered at the gently drifting snow. They muttered anxiously to the ear of a tanned man in a short, crimson shoulder cloak. He nodded idly to their words, brushed his silk lapels. He stared openly at the ashen woman, eyes glittering. She didn't return his gaze.
The laden man stopped in the courtyard's center, sniffed the dry air, dropped his burden. It clanked as it hit the snow. He tugged a tightly coiled scroll from the sleeve of his moleskin coat. Unrolling it, he began to read in a level tone.
"On this, the fifth day of the eleventh month of 3.449, a lawful duel has been sanctioned on the grounds of Castle Bernhard. The presiding arbiter is myself, Beoland Montle of the Sere. The challenging party is Señor Príncipe Enrique Basquando Lovando de Saramori."
Across the yard, the tanned man in red nodded. The Arbiter glanced at him, continued reading.
"Príncipe Basquando has summoned Lord Imogen Toble of Belvirine" said the Arbiter, glancing to the woman in blue. She stared, intent, on the leather roll on the snow.
"He has summoned her to partake in a duel to first blood. As it is her honor which has been challenged, she has been afforded her choice of lethal engagement."
The arbiter knelt, undid two buckles, unrolled the leather at his feet. Steel glinted on the snow.
"She has chosen, in the fashion of the North, the regulation longsword: Length of one hundred and seventy centimeters, weight of two point five kilograms, edge of high grade razor, blade sans parierhaken. In accordance to Northern custom, the parties shall duel without armor."
The Arbiter looked up from his scroll, began rolling it. Silence fell on the courtyard. Snow fell, sticking, to the man's purple hat. He cleared his throat, nervously. Frozen vapor fell from his lips. "If the parties would please step forward."
Lord Toble blinked, startled imperceptibly. She started towards the Arbiter, tugged gloves onto her thin fingers without looking. Her gaze fell anywhere but upon Basquando.
The Prince pulled a crooked smile, rolled his square shoulders. The short red cloak dropped to the snow, baring a tanned, corded sword arm. Muttering courtiers held anxiously at his ears as he strode away. He waved them off.
Shivering, the Arbiter flicked his gaze to the eyes of each party. Neither looked at him. He licked his lips. "As the summoned party, Lord Toble is granted her choice."
Toble knelt abruptly, drew one of two gleaming crosses of steel. She extended it to the west, wrist up, peered down the length of the blade. It was greater than twice the length of her arm, but sat steady in her grip. Snowflakes perched, unmelted, on the white steel. Toble lowered her blade, nodded to the Arbiter.
The Prince plucked his sword from the snow, flipped it flat in the air. The cruciform hilt spun four times, flashed in the winter sun, before landing with a smack in his hand. Immediately, Basquando drew it back, whipped it in a double moulinet, and let it stop, swaying, pointed at Toble. The Arbiter frowned at him.
"Retreat to the length of blades extended."
Simultaneously, the opponents extended their swords, retreated until they no longer crossed. The arbiter held his arms out, palms down. "On your guard."
Toble pulled the cold pummel of her weapon into her right hand, fell into a guard with left foot extended. The blade hung above her head, its point level with the knot in Basquando's neck.
The Prince turned his right side to the woman, lazily lifted his weapon above a bent knee. The razor point, crusted with snow, hung on a plane even with the smaller fencer's heart.
"Ready" stated the Arbiter, turning his palms to face the pair. The red Prince grinned at Toble, swayed lightly on his bowed knees.
"Fight" said the arbiter, clapping his hands and drawing away, swiftly. With a twitch, Toble leapt back, swept her guard down defensively. Snow flew about her feet. She froze, readopted her high guard: The Prince had not moved.
A high, short laugh cut the air. "Imogen" said the Prince, grinning. He lowered his blade, slightly. Imogen kept her eyes fixed on it. "You hesitate. Reconsidering?" he said, beginning to circle. His eyes fixed on his opponent's face. Imogen matched him, sidestepping.
"Is my proposal so unreasonable? The families of Saramoro and Belvirine have long been allies" said the man. Silence followed, save for the crunch of snow. "You know me. Enrique Basquando is no unreasonable boor. I would insist on no more than consummation, for legal propriety."
Imogen's face twitched. Her next step slipped into a pirouette. A white line flashed in the air. Enrique hurriedly swiped away the blow, skidding in the snow on his left, back foot. His smile twitched. Imogen changed to a low guard.
"I've adapted the style of your Northern blades. So brutal" said the Prince. He turned the longsword in his hand. "Easier to kill a man, than injure him. I promise, though: I know enough not to hurt you, terribly."
His blade leapt forward. Imogen raised her blade to block the lunge. The thin steel quavered, high and sharp.The ring hung in the air, faded.
Enrique frowned, tilted his head. "Look at me, Imogen" he demanded. The Lord of Belvirine continued to watch the Prince's swaying sword.
"Look at me" he growled, brow knitted. Taking one hand from the grip, he pulled the long blade through a backhanded, clumsy strike. Imogen stepped back, deflected it with a turn of her guard.
"Look at me!" yelled the Prince. He loosed a low, upward chop. His blade struck the crux of Imogen's descending block, stuck there. For a moment, the opponents stood, nearly touching. Imogen held the Prince's blade at the level of her belt. She stared at it's point, wavering over the snow. Enrique leaned close, hissed. "Look at me, zorrata!"
She did. Prince Basquando froze, grinned at the cold blue eyes. "Goo-" he managed, before Imogen kicked in his leading knee. She pulled her sword up and away, against the descending throat. Imogen blinked against a spray of hot liquid. The Prince toppled to the snow.
A scurry of red courtiers rushed to the Prince. Vapor rose from the fallen man. Imogen watched red beads slide from her blade. She turned away, gripped the gory hilt. She fixed the Arbiter with a look: Half shock, half command.
The Arbiter knelt to examine the Prince, shoving shrieking courtiers. He took a pulse, nodded, adjusted his toque. Sweat beaded on his brow, despite the chill. Standing, he spoke.
"On this, the fifth day of the eleventh month of 3.449, Señor Príncipe Enrique Basquando Lovando de Saramoro was slain in an honorable duel. The victor is Lord Imogen Toble of Belvirine, now Suzerain of Saramoro by the death of the aforementioned, her fiancé. Long may she reign."
In all nations of the Coast, dueling is accepted as a right and honorable mode of settling scores. Though rules of lethal engagement may differ by country, they remain a bloody rule of law.
In Southern nations, the example of the Alagorian Empire is followed. Alagorians' religious script states that a duel may be held between two consenting parties at any time, so long as they agree on terms of engagement. Courts are likely to accept the results of a duel (even a fatal one) after the fact. Rarely, if ever, will a combatant be charged with murder.
As a result of this free scripture, back-alley duels and impromptu sabre fights abound when tempers flare. Usually, they are fought to first blood. However, a drunken hand (as fighters are rarely sober) is apt to become carried away, when afforded a sword.
In high society, Southerners may appoint proxy fighters to fight in their stead. These may be honored friends, capable bodyguards, or even paid representatives who duel for a dangerous living. Sometimes, motives for hiring proxy fighters may be less than noble. Tales abound of professional duelists hired to effectively assassinate unfortunate opponents in legal duels.
In the North, an entity known as the Arbiter's Guild presides over all proper duels. In order for lethal combat to be legally held, a representative of the Guild must be contacted. An Arbiter may be called for a private dispute or appointed by a court as part of a legal settlement.
Though the Guild is based in Firlund, it's members are recognized by all Northern courts. If a duel (be it to death or to first blood) is held under the eyes of such an official, it is considered legally binding. In a fatal, arbitrated duel, the surviving party may not be tried for murder.
Arbiters are responsible not only for calling duels (as would a fencing referee,) but also for inspecting or providing appropriate, duplicate weapons for opposing parties. They are also trained as coroners.
Southern fashion dictates that any well-dressed individual carry a smallsword: The chief instrument of common duels. These lines of steel are little better than glorified, ornamented needles. In a duel, they deliver deep, narrow punctures: Serious wounds, but not immediately debilitating. A stabbed fighter may continue to fence, even defeating his opponent, before succumbing himself to a pierced heart or collapsed lung.
In rough areas of the South, the knife-fighting tradition known as liccasapone is a dominant and common mode of street dueling. Combatants, dubbed "Soap Lickers," duel with short, razor knives coated in lard soap, so as to leave distinct, white scars.
In Firlund, the traditional longsword is standard dueling fare. These gigantic weapons differ from their antique battlefield counterparts: They are honed to a razor edge, designed to cut and pierce flesh with unmitigated ease. As duels are usually held without armor, the prospect of facing such a weapon is enough to dissuade casual contests.
Influence by military dress on Coastal fashion has lead many styles to include a sidesword or sabre (functional or decorative.) These mid-length, single-edged blades are worn flat on the hip. As few people, when immediately incensed, are willing to wait for a regulation weapon to be produced, dress swords see frequent use in duels. Firlish law frowns on this practice, and is likely to handle a case involving neither proper weapons nor a member of the Arbiter's Guild as a mere brawl (or, in the case of a fatality, murder.)
I don't have any notes for this one.