Fic: Worthy of His Steel, Ch. 5: A Clash of Swords
Disclaimer: Puts a chill in the bones how many honest writers have been claimed by this franchise.
Summary: Jack meet Will. Will meet Jack. Quick! Separate them before somebody gets killed! More of the epic of the blacksmith and the pirate. More movie novelization and missing scenes. We have rejoined our regularly scheduled program.
Thank you, Geekmama, for the wonderful beta work.
A Clash of Swords
Will Turner had never faced across drawn steel a man whose life he intended to take. Nor had he ever fought an opponent who was trying to kill him. Sheer rage had propelled him into this duel, careless of the consequences, heedless of the pirate's warning. But Will had never let his emotions control his swordsmanship for long.
As the shock of the pirate's first attack shuddered along his blade, the young blacksmith wrenched his mind away from long-held custom. This would be no contest with the best two out of three trials.
The man who won the first bout in this match would live. The man who lost would die. It was as simple as that.
He could make no mistake because a mistake would be fatal.
With the prudence characteristic of his fighting, Will did not leap immediately to the counter attack. Instead he moved from one ward to another, retiring a little at each thrust, all his fear-heightened senses trained on the pirate. Just as he had always done since his first fight with Gordon, he sought to insinuate himself into the mind of the man he must defeat.
His world narrowed to the telltale flicker of an eye, the minute giveaway tensing of a single muscle, the slightest shift of weight or breath of air that preceded a motion.
Will was not impatient. He could wait for his enemy to serve himself to him. In due time, when he had absorbed all he could learn of his opponent's style and skill, he would close measure and take the attack to the pirate.
As he allowed the man to drive him back, Will felt a grim satisfaction. Let the pirate think he had an inexperienced boy on the retreat. He would learn his mistake soon enough.
The musical strike of swords sang throughout the smithy as Will gave way with sure steps, parrying each of the pirate's blows precisely and carefully. When he was sure of his ground, Will brought the fast action to a dead halt. For an instant, the two men stood motionless, blades straining, neither daring to move a muscle, watching each other and waiting for an opening like two poisonous snakes poised for attack.
Then a predatory smile touched the corners of the blacksmith's mouth. For the first time, he, William Turner, would face a pirate, not as a mewling, cowering child, but as a man with the skill and the fortitude and the strength to exact retribution. The sense that each blow must be harder and faster than ever before, that he must not pull back at a touch or first blood, that he would instead follow through, driving his blade to its mortal conclusion, filled him like the roaring of a hurricane.
With contemptuous ease, Will Turner struck back. And now it was the pirate who was forced to retreat.
Jack was no stranger to seeing his own death in the eyes of an opponent. Over the years he seemed to have provoked a number of individuals and organizations into attempting to put a final period to the legend of Captain Jack Sparrow. However, he had rarely faced an antagonist this ravenous to kill—as though the blacksmith were dying of a thirst only a pirate's blood could quench.
Jack, on the other hand, had no desire to see this foolish, heroic boy's blood mix with the dust of this shop floor. Once, when he had been nearer the lad's age, he might have matched him, fury for fury, until one of them lay dying at the other's feet. But such useless waste of life had long since disgusted him. Now Jack Sparrow was all too aware of the price that could be paid and of who could be asked to pay it. He had already refused to allow the governor's daughter to purchase his freedom with her life. He would not ask her hotheaded champion to pay that final coin if he could find any other way out of this pickle.
However, Jack's hope that the boy would lose his nerve under that first attack seemed doomed to disappointment. Unfortunately, the blacksmith's voracious hunger to slaughter a pirate was accompanied by a frightening level of skill, totally unexpected in a respectable tradesman.
It was just his luck to happen upon the only smith in the Caribbean who really knew how to fight, he thought grimly, watching his longed-for escape fade as he beat a hasty retreat.
The lad made no useless or complicated feints. All of his motions were economical—never three moves when one would do. He pushed his feints into real threats against which Jack had no choice but to respond, leaving the pirate scrambling to recover from his parry to meet the second intention attack. And even if the young blacksmith had given him time to counter-attack, it would have done Jack no good because the boy never let his guard slip or uncovered himself.
It had been . . . a very long time . . . since Jack had faced blade work of this caliber.
As the clash of steel on steel shivered up his sword arm, the unsettling feeling of familiarity intensified. He had done this before. And not, he felt puzzled, with an enemy. However, the only warmth in this lad's eyes was burning, blistering rage.
Up until now, Jack had been toying with his opponent, trying out his paces, hoping to probe a weakness that he could exploit, or trigger some prudence in this young fire-eater, that would lead the lad to step aside and save them both from doing something regrettable. That tactic was manifestly a failure.
As the pirate continued backing further into the shop in his effort to avoid the murderous point of that expertly wielded sword, he considered his next move. Clearly his plan to disarm the whelp was going to have to be revised. Jack knew very well when he was outclassed. However, his youthful opponent had one Achilles heel, as it were—one slight vulnerability that Jack could perhaps exploit and thus save his own valuable hide. Whatever his plebian origins, this blacksmith fought like a gentleman, courteous and highly refined. It had been more years than Jack cared to remember since he had been forced to duel according to polite custom, but he knew the style when he had to cross it. This boy's noble, if misguided, adherence to honour was Jack's only chance to extricate his posterior from the mess in which he now found himself.
Jack tended to place more reliance on his agility and cunning than on settled principles. His swordplay veered towards the wildly impulsive and imaginative. But he trusted he had mastered l'art de donner et de ne pas recevoir sufficiently to evade his self-proclaimed executioner.
In the end, every fight was won or lost first in the mind. Skill mattered, but craft mattered more.
As he had been taught, Will drove his enemy before him, giving the pirate no opportunity to surprise him with an attack in time. Sparrow's parries, when he managed to find them, could not be followed with ripostes because he was still moving backwards. The safest opponent, Will thought with satisfaction, was a retreating opponent.
He had nearly pinned the pirate against the forge when, unexpectedly, the man beat aside Will's blade and disengaged.
Even though a fighter never disengaged and stopped, but always disengaged as a parry and then a strike.
Will frowned, puzzled, and studied the pirate, waiting for him to raise his weapon in signal that he was prepared to resume fighting, but Sparrow seemed to have decided it was time for conversation. Once again, he appeared oblivious to the threat of Will's sword aimed at his chest as he sauntered forward, cutlass insouciantly at his side.
"You know what you're doing. I'll give you that," the pirate conceded, as though he were commending a student. "Excellent form." He punctuated the compliment with two ringing taps of his blade on Will's sword. Then his eyes narrowed in doubt. "But how's your footwork? If I step here . . ." Sparrow sidestepped to the right and opened the attack in prime, high and inside.
The words, so like those of a master swordsman at practice, lulled Will into the familiar pattern. Instinctively he assumed a similar posture and met the attack with a parry that transformed immediately into a counter-attack. The memory of these motions lived in his muscles; the rhythm of these strokes drummed in his pulse.
Pass, sidestep, volte, traverse. Leading with the body, foot landing simultaneously with a strong, balanced block, beat, attack, counter-attack. Maintaining the ideal distance without allowing his opponent in too close.
Dust rose in puffs of air from hushed footfalls as measured and precise as any cotillion, but far swifter, set to the perilous, elegant music of steel clashing on steel.
For a moment the two of them froze, swords binding forte to forte.
"Very good," Sparrow said approvingly. They might have been drilling in the salle d'armes rather than maneuvering to kill one another. Counteracting the binding with a circular parry, the pirate reversed direction. "And now I step again."
Again they resumed the deadly, intimate dance of swords, circling in lethal minuet amidst the glittering passage of blows.
With a final lunge, Sparrow drove Will back against the forge, but rather than press his advantage, the pirate dropped his arm, tilted his head, and with a strange smile, said, "Ta."
Then he sheathed his cutlass, turned, and walked away.
Stunned, Will realized the pirate had maneuvered himself in between his opponent and the door. This had not been a test of swordsmanship, but of strategy. And he, Will Turner, had failed the test.
However, he had not yet lost the match. The apprentice smith weighed the sword in his hand, balancing.
One good thing about a fight with an honourable man, Jack decided, was that you could turn your back on him and walk away without expecting a sword between your shoulder blades. For all that this boy wanted a pirate's blood so badly he was salivating for it, Jack knew he wouldn't be breaking the rules to get it. Not particularly logical, but he wasn't complaining.
Sauntering over to the loading dock, Jack vaulted lightly onto it and stepped eagerly up to the door. Relief that he'd be getting away at such small cost gave his step buoyancy. He was in one piece, and he'd been able to leave the kid in one piece, too. He could feel the young blacksmith's eyes drilling holes in his back, but he didn't turn around.
The silken slice of air hissing by his ear was Jack's only warning that his bright plan was scuppered. Then the solid thunk of steel impaling timber shook the entire door.
Where once there had been merely a wooden bar, the lifting of which would free one eager-to-depart pirate from this pestilential smithy and its sanguinary smith, there was now a barricade through which a sword stuck fast, humming like an angry hornet.
Every vertebra in Jack's spine came crawling up his neck. He stared at the blade under his nose until his eyes nearly crossed. That was . . . too bloody close!
With one hand, he grasped the pommel of the gently quivering sword. The vibration stopped, leaving the sword distressingly steady. Gripping the hilt with both hands, Jack tugged.
He tugged harder.
The bar and the door rattled, but the sword stayed driven into the wood. Jack added his full weight to his efforts, jumping up and down in increasing frustration, trying to break the slender strip of metal free from its oaken imprisonment. However, Lady Luck was having nothing to do with Captain Jack Sparrow this day.
He was going to have to find another way out. Jack turned and surveyed the only obstacle to that goal. The boy stood by the forge where Jack had left him, looking insufferably pleased with himself.
"That is a wonderful trick!" Jack exclaimed, his smile as insincere as his enthusiasm.
In a jangle of broken chains, he retraced his steps to the loading dock and strode onto the cart ramped and blocked against it.
"Except, once again," he pointed out, "you are between me and my way out."
Swaying with studied nonchalance, he descended the sloped bed of the cart. If it let him shake the wobble out of his knees, who was to know?
"And now . . . " Jack smirked in satisfaction as he drew his cutlass with a sharp ringing of steel against scabbard, ". . . you have no weapon."
Alas, what Jack had taken for nervous glances over the boy's shoulder turned out to be no such thing.
The young blacksmith lunged for the forge and drew forth a sword being heated for some small repair. The air in the smithy sizzled with its fire as he brought it up to block the pirate's blade.
The donkey took one look at the glowing metal, let out its frantic, rusty-gate bleat, and began charging around its circle again, setting all the gears in motion.
Jack knew exactly how it felt. The scar on his arm twinged in phantom pain. It did not matter that he knew a red-hot blade would have no strength against tempered steel. What mattered was quashing the utter revolt of all his nerves and sinews that wanted to join that flea-bitten donkey. Somewhere inside his head, a gibbering madman was flailing in frantic circles screaming that that was molten steel, and there was no way in hell he was going near such a substance with his flesh ever again.
Jack ignored the ravings of his brain. He refused to acknowledge the fact that the sweat-dripping heat of the forge was now ice in his blood. A slight widening of his eyes was his body's only betrayal.
On the other hand, now was not the time for heroic stupidity. In the space of a heartbeat, Jack Sparrow desperately scanned the room, seized upon a plan, and dived for refuge behind the great central shaft that turned the gears.