TITLE: The Duel
GENRE: Historical Suspense with Romantic Elements
Cambridge, England. 7 March 1733.
What did a man wear when he might die before sunrise?
Thomas Calderwood, Baron of Montwine, thrust his head into a crisp linen shirt. It smelled of bran starch and the hedgerow where it had dried, sun-bleached after laundering. He pulled on his indigo waistcoat with silk-embroidered buttons, sewn in Spitalfields. Not his finest but well-fitted. Dark enough to blend into the early morning shadows, loose enough to raise his pistol-arm swiftly. Handsome enough to meet his Maker–but No!
Blood wouldn’t mar this dashing swoop of cravat today, nor any another, God willing.
Knife, slipped in his boot. Dagger, sheathed in his belt. Hands–clenched and unclenched, awakening reluctantly, readying themselves. Tom shrugged into his favorite wool coat, thick-napped, dark brown like his hair. His fingers combed through stubborn curls and tied them back in an efficient queue. Candlelight flickered in the mirror. He cut a fine figure.
Fine, fine. Two French pistols in their case. Alexander’s.
He slung his brother’s satchel on his shoulder and cantered down the dark stairs. A desultory lantern lit the mews. The horses shied but Robin steadied them. Tom mounted and nodded for the young servant to follow.
They rode hard, past the Cock-and-Bull Tavern, past the Colleges. The morning star gleamed above a church spire. A sign? Tom prayed it so.
Eight hoofs on cobblestones beat a tattoo in his head. Their horses careened between carts headed to market on the bridge arching over the Cam. Farmers, too, up before the sun in market-day rituals. This Saturday of nearly-spring was dawning fair.
They dismounted at the fields outside town, their footfalls quiet from sinking in soft mud. Withered grass stretched across the meadow and rustled in the March wind.
A good day for a duel. It had been too cold to practice in the snow and ice. Tom’s nose twinged, sorely chapped from the illness that had plagued him all winter.
He coughed. No good, that. He feared it would distract him.
Fear would distract him.
The sharp chill of dawn heightened all his senses. He could almost hear the earl’s stallions whinnying in the distance and charging across the fens. He was fortunate this wasn’t a joust, for he’d never match the earl’s horsemanship.
But he had finesse with flintlock and cartridge. Robin held the case open. Tom claimed his weapon and hefted the long, slim gilded gun in his hand. He molded his grip to the carved burlwood stock and ran a bare finger along the metal barrel, bracingly cold. His leather gloves were warm and supple, so no matter.
The matter was this: Turn, pace, count. Turn. Fire.
His arm rose steady, his mind clear of all but the fulsome need for vengeance. His heart would take satisfaction in the shot, whate’er the outcome.
When his finger jerked, his ears rang with the report.
The sun rose at last, blinding him.
Why was he facing east? That was a mistake. He’d know better next time.
"Good aim, Sir!"