Waistcoats & Weaponry Page 6

Once the staircase settled, partly sunk into the green grasses, the young ladies trooped down.

Captain Niall was waiting for them. Their werewolf teacher was a truly handsome beast, if one overlooked the fact that his top hat was tied neatly under his chin, he wore no shoes, and his carefully buttoned greatcoat did not quite conceal that the rest of him was indecently bare. For some of the young ladies, not overlooking these facts actually increased the man’s appeal.

“Good evening, ladies,” said Captain Niall in his velvet voice. “And how are we tonight?” The girls chorused polite replies, some of them blushing; the youngest ones—not yet trained in the correct method—curtsied too deeply. Sophronia was pleased to note that her curtsy was nearly perfect.

“Follow me, if you would?”

Captain Niall led them down the hill to a small creek. He produced a leather case from the depths of his greatcoat. About the size of a lady’s jewelry case, it looked particularly dainty in his large hands. Despite his size, Captain Niall had a harmless, floppy demeanor. Most people forgot that he was, in actuality, a supernatural creature who could decapitate the average ruffian as easily as peeling an orange, and probably faster.

“Now, on to this month’s weapon.”

What weapon is so tiny thirty-eight of them fit into such a small case? Sophronia wondered.

With a flourish, the werewolf flipped the lid, displaying the contents. The case was full of fans—clunky and not very pretty fans, at that.

“Ladies, please form a queue. One each.”

The girls lined up by age and each received a fan. Sophronia was startled by how heavy hers was. Close examination showed that the fan’s leaves were fabric but its ribs and guards were metal, the tips razor sharp. A fan that is also a weapon, ingenious!

Captain Niall began to demonstrate movements. Many of the techniques were similar to those of the letter opener, in whose deadly application they’d already received much instruction. He expanded on their existing repertoire, with butterfly-like movements. There were sharp, quick slashes designed to surprise. There was no stabbing with the fan; the idea was to disarm and disable, not kill. It was amusing to see a werewolf waving a fan about like some imitation of an exotic dancer in the music halls.

The girls practiced with leather guards over their fans, for safety. This also kept Dimity from fainting. Over a year and a half of training to be an intelligencer and Dimity still fainted at the sight of blood. Poor thing, she wasn’t meant for this lifestyle.

Sophronia adored the bladed fan the moment she took it through the first pass. As a result, she tried extra hard to master the movements. Captain Niall was impressed. After an hour’s work, he summoned her forward.

“Miss Temminnick, Miss Buss? You’re both looking well. How about a small duel?” The teacher’s mellow brown eyes shone with anticipated glee.

Sophronia had never before faced Preshea one-to-one, but she was game. Particularly after Preshea’s dig against Agatha.

Preshea gave her a nasty smile, tucked a stray lock of glossy black hair behind one perfect, shell-like ear, and took up the guard position. Or at least Sophronia assumed it was guard position—hard to tell in skirts. One of the advantages of being a fighting female: legs were, for all practical purposes, invisible.

Their movements were cautious and clumsy at first, nothing like Captain Niall’s speedy grace. Preshea mostly attacked and Sophronia mostly defended.

Captain Niall shouted instructions, which Sophronia—at least—tried to obey.

“Miss Temminnick, try the treble clef defense. Miss Buss, the fleur de lys attack. Well done! And now, Miss Temminnick, the pirouette. Oh, look, ladies, she’s already doing it.”

The girls crowded around, fascinated.

Captain Niall switched from instruction to commentary.

“Now Miss Temminnick has taken up the Valkyrie flip. Note the curves of her movements? And a very nice snap of the wrist there from Miss Buss.”

Sophronia caught the flicker of the werewolf’s hands as he gestured for the other students to collectively do something, but her attention was taken up with Preshea.

The ground beneath her feet became uneven and squishy. Captain Niall was using the crowd to herd the two fighters onto the bank of the stream.

Sophronia had barely a moment to realize this, for several things happened in quick succession.

Preshea stripped the leather guard off her fan. With a yell of triumph she cut in, slicing at Sophronia’s unprotected face.

Sophronia reeled, raising her free hand in defense. Her pagoda sleeve fell away, exposing the undersleeve. Preshea’s fan sliced easily through the muslin and into the flesh below Sophronia’s left elbow. A few of the younger girls shrieked. There was a thump and skirts rustled. Dimity had fainted.

Captain Niall cried halt, but Preshea was out for more blood. A look came into her beautiful eyes that was more common during poison class. Captain Niall would have intervened, but Sophronia met his eyes briefly and shook her head. She did not strip the guard off her own fan, but she did switch from defense to attack. Also, she began to employ not only the slashing letter-opener technique Captain Niall had taught her but some of the dirty fighting she’d learned from Soap.

She commenced a flurry of quick nips and twists, half-fleur attacks designed to alarm but not injure. Preshea was forced to guard, not realizing that Sophronia’s real intent was to edge about so that she was uphill from her opponent. Soon Sophronia was pressing Preshea back, closer to the stream.

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