Dan waved Rex and Double-J back to their starting positions, then commanded them to resume their bout. The contrast in their styles became immediately apparent once more, Double-J rushing forward, Rex waiting patiently. To Dan, Double-J fenced as if driven by a force of nature, his repeated attacks against his opponent like a ocean’s surf crashing onto shore, his blade attacking in waves of fury, receding only to gather strength for the next crashing wave. It was the a strategy typical for sabre, the weapon of choice for Double-J, while Rex’s approach was in turn standard for his weapon, epee — cautious and patient, waiting for his opponent to misjudge in distance or temp, or to leave a target undefended; the strategy of the spider, immobile and seemingly lifeless yet always conscious of the web of its defenses, ever ready to pounce on a mistake. The two teen’s body types even seemed to match to their competitive styles, Double-J a short compact ball of energy, Rex’s long thin limbs conveying a spidery presence.
“Halt.” Dan didn’t consult either of his judges, the attacks from both fencers clearly landing off target. Neither was making a proper adjustment to foil, their weapon for this demonstration bout; Double-J landed three consecutive hits with the edge of his blade, and Rex’s ripostes were striking mask and arms.
“In foil, only touches with the point of the blade count, and the target area is limited to the torso – no arms, legs, or head.” Dan was speaking as much as a coach to the two fencers as he was a teacher to the assembled student body, who, judging by the uncomfortable murmur he heard, was losing interest quickly after the series of off-target hits. Dan glanced over at Principal Stephens, who held up four fingers. Dan then called the competitors to en garde, and peered through the gray metal of their masks to make eye contact with both teens, his commanding glare delivering a silent command: Clean it up.
“Fence.” Once more Double-J advanced briskly, the point of his blade aimed at Rex’s left. Rex waited, gave ground, but on his second step spun his foil under and around Double-J’s, and lunged forward. Without attempting to parry, Double-J completed his attack, his voice exploding into an excited YELL as his point landed on Rex’s shoulder.
In the freshmen section, the sleeping girl who had woken stood. Her motion caught Rune’s attention as he raised his hand, followed by Annie; Dan halted the action, retrieved the microphone from its stand. “We have an attack from my left, and a counter-attack from my right — no parry, from either side.” He pointed at Annie, standing behind Double-J. “The attack from the left has right of way — does it land?”
“I agree. The counter-attack from the right does not have priority, even if it had landed first. That makes our score one for the left — ” waving at Double-J — “and one for the right– ” now at Rex. A lone pair of hands in the crowd clapped, then another, not joined by a third; Dan waved his students back to their starting lines, anxious to show their audience more action.
From behind his starting line, Rex pointed playfully at Double-J. “I’d have had you by now in epee.”
Double-J snorted. “If this was sabre, you’d be begging me to finish you off.”
Dan issued the order to resume the bout. Again Double-J advanced, noticeably slower this time, and began to employ one of his favorite tactics: twirling his weapon, the red plastic tip on the blade’s point tracing a large, slow, hypnotic circle. Rex was familiar with this tactic, knew from experience to keep his attention focused on Double-J’s target, to ignore the blade’s distraction.
Rex allowed Double-J to advance, until the tip of the circling blade crossed the plane of his tip; with a quick squeeze of his fingers, Rex flexed his blade, making it clang loudly against Double-J’s. A gasp of surprised excitement escaped from the crowd. Double-J twitched his head, hummed in audible curiosity, and resumed twirling his blade, faster this time and making no effort to avoid Rex’s flicking blow; another gasp from the crowd, louder this time, served as a cue to repeat the actions, twirl-twirl CLANG, twirl-twirl-twirl CLANG, twirl-CLANG, each metallic collision eliciting further gasps of appreciation.
Dan smiled. “Thank you, boys.”
Double-J abruptly ended the circling, extended arm and weapon directly at Rex and lunged, Rex parrying as he shuffled a step back. Double-J stepped forward, lunged again; Rex attempted to bind instead of parry, but the force of the attack was strong enough to make him lose his balance. Double-J lunged again; Annie raised her arm.
Dan called halt, but before he could ask Annie for her judgment Rex raised his hand, stepped to the microphone, lifted the front of his mask, leaned down — “A touch, a touch, I do confess.”
A sharp, appreciative laugh rose above the crowd’s murmur. Dan leaned in to the microphone as Rex stepped away. “I see my colleague, Mrs. Guthrie, appears pleased that someone was paying attention during her Hamlet lessons last year.” An awkward giggle rose from the crowd.
Dan announced the score as the combatants returned to their lines. The bout resumed, Double-J once again charging yet this time met with an aggressive step forward from Rex — the two teens stopped, Double-J hesitating for the first time in the bout, then Rex extended his arm and ran forward, a cry of surprise erupting from the audience. Double-J stepped to his left as Rex ran towards him, weapons jabbing as their bodies passed, both Annie and Rune raising their hands.
“Halt! Running attack from my right — ” Dan deciding not to introduce the term fleche — “no parry, counter-attack on my left.” He pointed to Rune, who nodded. “Touch left!”
The formerly sleeping freshmen girl walked down three rows of bleachers.
“We are at two touches apiece, and, I believe — ” Dan looked at the principal, who nodded while pointing to his watch — “that we’re out of time. We have a draw then, and let’s hear it for our two competitors, Rex and Double-J!” He backed away from the microphone, clapping loudly, accompanied by Rune and Annie and then, with gradual acceptance, the student body.
Dan nodded at Rex, and was about to call both fencers to salute each other when he saw Double-J approach the microphone, his mask removed and determination on his sweat-stained face. He grabbed the stand, tilted it towards him.
“Hold on!” Spit sprayed onto the microphone. “SENIORS!” His finger jabbed accusingly at their section. ” You don’t want to see this end in a goddam TIE, do you?” A chorus of laughter, followed by a piercing cry of HELL NO! He glared at Dan, fire in his eyes, pointed — “This bout isn’t over yet! We’re at 2 touches apiece, and I’m not leaving until one of us gets a third!”
A cheer of laughing approval rose from the crowd, energized by the novelty of the most recent challenge. Double-J stepped back, raised both hands in the air, foil extended toward the ceiling, a smile of triumph on his face. He then jogged to the senior section, waving his arms up, the students now giddy and on their feet, a rhythmic chant of duh-bul-jay, dub-bul-jay beginning to rise.
Rex turned to Rune, both looking to the other for a suggestion on what to do next, and neither finding any help. Dan looked at Annie and spoke, and when she held a hand behind her ear and pointed to the crowd with her other hand, he walked up to her, leaned down and ordered her to remind him to kill Double-J at the next practice.
Dan returned to the microphone, only to see Rex already leaning over it and, raising his foil towards the junior section, shouted, “Double-J, I accept your challenge!” A roar of approval came from all sections of the student body.
Dan looked over at the principal, who smiled wryly in return. Dan shrugged; the principal looked at his watch, then lifted his head and nodded, extending two fingers.
Dan waved Rex away from the microphone. The chant of du-bul-jay from the seniors had grown louder, more coordinated after the roar from Rex’s pronouncement. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Dan announced, “we have time for one last touch!” The crowd shouted its approval, even the seniors stopping their chant to participate.
The combatants retrieved their gear, returned to their lines. Double-J turned to Rex, pointed his foil forward. Rex responded with a flamboyant bow, right leg extending back as he leaned forward, then suddenly stood upright and whooshed his foil in front of him.