After some final advice from Coach Dan (keep your elbow in), Rex (gotta extend before you lunge, man), Annie (watch your footwork, you’re turning your front foot in when you advance, it’s throwing off your balance), Butch (I saw his match against Annie, just stay aggressive and you’ll have a good chance), and The Bird (don’t forget to breathe), Rune hooked in for what he was certain would be his elimination bout.
The bout was as predictable as it was short, Rune lunging wildly and Jamie calmly parrying, riposting, scoring. Standing at the end of the strip, Rex at first tried to change Rune’s focus, suggested different strategies for his friend to pursue, but when the scroe reached 8-1 (Rune finally scoring on a remise after a missed riposte from Jamie) it was clear that the sophomore from Bark Bay had stopped listening, was attuned only to his building rage and frustration, had surrendered any hope of winning or even scoring as many touches as he could. Rune was rushing to end the bout as soon as possible, and when that conclusion finally arrived with a 15-2 loss that did not extend beyond the first three-minute period, Rune’s disappointment was only exceeded by his relief.
Rex had been called to start his first DE before the end of Rune’s bout, so he left the job of unhooking and debriefing Rune to Coach Dan. His opponent (Rex heard him being called Ski) was another freshman at the Academy; Rex noted that aside from Francis and Jane and a few others, the upperclass Academy fencers were absent from today’s scrimmage.
Almost immediately after the start of their bout, Rex realized that Ski’s freshman status was highly deceiving; this muscular young male with long curtains of brown curly hair combined prep school energy with the blade skill of a collegiate competitor. Rex soon found himself down 3-0, and as his attacks continued to be parried or land outside Ski’s target area, the tall teen from Bark Bay wondered how he would be able to dispatch this surprising foe.
“Halt.” The command from the referee came unexpectedly, Rex needing a breath’s moment to realize they had reached the end of the first three-minute period, the score 6-2. Waiting for him at the end of the strip was Coach Dan, extending a water bottle in his right hand, the older man’s face filled with friendly concern.
“You look frustrated, my friend.”
Mask resting on top of his head, Rex took the bottle from his coach and drank swiftly, a trickle of water spilling from the corner of his mouth and mixing with his sweat. He lowered the bottle, then used it to catch his mask as it began to slip down his slick forehead. “He’s good. Fast, mad blade skills.”
“But only one victory in the pools.” The placid look on Coach Dan’s face made it apparent he had nothing more to add, that the only coaching he was going to provide at this moment would be to insist that his student discover the answers that lay before him.
Rex replayed the last few touches in his mind. “Distance — ” the word came to him the second before he spoke — “he’s not lunging. Using his speed to cut the distance, then use his blade skill to thrust.”
Coach Dan tilted his head, asking a silent question — counter?
“I’m taller than he is.”
“I’ve noticed that about you.” Coach Dan looked up, blinked.
Rex drank again from the bottle, handed it back to his coach. “Control the tempo, get longer in my attacks.” Without waiting for confirmation, he pulled the mask down onto his face, pivoted back to his starting line. By the end of the second period, Rex had tied the score at 9 and sought nothing but water from his coach during the break. After the final three minutes of fencing time, the bout ended with a 14-12 victory for Rex.
Coach Dan was no longer at the end of his strip, having gone to the other strip for Annie’s first DE. The Bird was the lone teammate he saw as he unhooked. She told him that he must be happy.
“No time for that.” He pointed to the water bottle in her hand, asked if he could have a drink; she apologize, explained she had been told to give this to him. She reached up with the bottle, Rex noticing her head barely came up to his chest. He drank, shook his head.
“I’m never happy when I’m fencing.” He drank again. “But then again, I’m not unhappy, neither. I just — just a fencer, is what I is. Minute I put on that mask, it’s like I’m in this whole other world, totally different than any place else I know. Don’t think about nothing else, don’t really know where I am, it’s almost like I don’t even know who I am no more. I just feel so — ” he looked up at the ceiling, lowered his head to drink again from the bottle, swallowed — “actually, I don’t feel anything, other than the weapon in my hand. It’s like I feel nothing, but that feeling fills my entire body. That make any sense?”
The Bird replied that what he said made no kind of logical sense at all. Yet sounded perfectly right to her.