Contrary to popular belief, Polaris is not actually the brightest star in the sky. It ranks 50th in brightness with Sirius (it's name comes from the Greek word for scorching) being 1st! For my friends in the Northern Hempisphere, you can find it by drawing a line through Orion's belt and to the left. :D
Katasterismoi (meaning "placings among the stars") is kind of weird to explain, but from what I can understand, it's basically the Greek myths and legends that surround the constellations.
I hope that everyone enjoyed the last chapter! Thank you to those that reviewed: Darth raven reborn, Dont'lookatme, Darth raven reborn, Sassysplash, Da_Undertoad, and Jett-Wolfe98! And if by chance there's anyone else reading this that hasn't commented, I would LOVE to hear from you! :)
Jett-Wolfe98 reviewed the last chapter in a PM. :)
Don'tlookatme: Aaaahhhh Volger! You tell him! Don't worry: someone's going to figure it out sooner than later! Thank YOU for the comment on my story. :)
Da_Undertoad: I think Volger's in denial. ;) Maybe because he's spent all this time looking for him, and he doesn't know what he's going to do once he finds him! Thanks for the review; great to hear from you! :D
Sassysplash: Oh my goodness, thank you! You are so sweet! :) Thank you for the review! :D
All original characters and plotline belong to Scott Westerfeld; I own nothing!
Volger stepped onto the dark deck. It was quiet; much quieter than his room. The only sound was the gentle splash of the waves hitting the hull and the low chatter of the few crewmen on watch. He thought for a moment that he heard the thump! and clank! of a sword, but there was no swordsman in sight.
As he continued across the deck, he came upon a bedraggled wooden dummy that one might use to practice fencing with, and this one certainly looked like it had been. It had no face and was only a torso with arms; covered with nicks and cut marks. It was actually well-constructed for something so simple: its arms were jointed, which mean that they moved when hit. It reminded the count of a skeleton and it might have been a bit unsettling to look at if its body wasn't slightly droopy, which gave it a pathetic, bedraggled look.
"Hullo, Count!" said Wolfgang's voice. Volger had to look around for a moment until he spotted him standing on the railing. He must have been the one fencing, for there was holding a sword in his hand. "Lovely night, isn't it?"
Volger glanced up at the dark sky. The sun had long since disappeared; the only light came from the spattering of stars above them. The moon appeared to be covered by a piece of cloud and was dimmed, but yes, Count Volger did suppose the weather was agreeable. It was certainly better than it was the night of the storm. "I suppose it is."
"A bit," he admitted, though he wasn't about to confess the cause of it.
"Me, too. And there are far too many stars out to be sleeping," said Wolfgang, his back to the Count. He held onto the ropes for support and pointed with his sword towards the horizon. "Polaris! There, can you see it?"
Volger looked in the direction the blade was pointing and saw the light twinkling in the distance. "The North Star."
Wolfgang looked down at him. "Are you a sailor in addition to being a Count?"
The Count shook his head. "No, not at all. I just happen to know a bit about the sky."
"Oh! Do you enjoy astronomy, then?"
Volger walked over to the railing, his gaze up at the stars. "To an extent. ...Someone I knew a long time ago taught me quite a lot of the mythologies behind the constellations. Katasterismoi, I believe it is called."
Wolfgang gave him a quizzical look. "Are you Greek?"
"No, but my... friend was."
"You probably listened much better than I did," Wolfgang said as he dropped back down to the deck, landing with a thump!. "I was always trying to escape lessons, much to my mother's chagrin."
Volger felt an involuntary prickle in his chest. "Your mother?"
"She taught me all about the katasterismoi," Wolfgang said as he poised himself to resume his attack on the dummy. "Every constellation, every star," he continued. "Though I appreciate it much more now than I did then. I was always was much more interested in fencing than learning about the sky. I'd take swords over stars any day back then." He lunged at his wooden opponent.
Volger held his hands behind his back and observed, as he did often with Alek. Wolfgang was fast and strong with his arm; impressively so. But he struck too hard, and the unnecessary force was going to drain him quickly. That and his footwork were a bit messy, too.
"Did your mother teach you fencing as well?" After he said it, Volger realized that it probably sounded quite insulting, but luckily Wolfgang laughed.
"Of course not! I'm self-taught, I'm afraid. Is it that terrible?"
The Count circled him slowly. "Keep your weight in your back heel." He had said it a thousand times at least to Alek when he was first learning; it was an easy yet unwise habit to fall into, and even easier to do if you didn't have an instructor constantly reminding you.
Wolfgang glanced at Volger and began doing just as he said; beautifully so. "You should keep your fist tight," the Count added, noticing that Wolfgang had a tendency to move his hand on the handle quite a lot.
Wolfgang continued lunging as he adjusted his grip. "You fence as well, I take it?"
"I've been practicing my whole life, actually," Volger said, brushing the hilt of his sword. "I was Alek's instructor for quite some time."
Wolfgang stopped and looked at him. "Really? Maybe you could help me."
Volger scoffed at the idea, but Wolfgang didn't move. "Come on, you can't be any worse than I am," he said. "I haven't practiced a bit since we left Japan. It's shameful, really."
He looked at the Count, a familiar twinkle of mischief in his eye. "Or maybe you are worse than me, though I really don't see how that's possible, and you don't want it to be shown."
There was a particular trait in the Volger family (the boys, especially); something one might refer to as a competitive streak. Oh, it ran in other families; the Count had seen it plenty of times in others, even Alek once in a while and Deryn especially. But he had never seen in so strong as in his own family. He and his brother, Emile, had once challenged each other to a tree climbing contest and didn't stop until Mother had literally dragged them both inside after Emile had broken his arm and the two of them had run through stinging nettles. It remained a sensitive issue in the family; he and Emile had never resolved just who the rightful winner was.
But the point was that never, not once, had Count Volger said no to a challenge and he wasn't about to start, especially when it was from a common sailor. He didn't care whose son he was; even if it was his own he would not give merit to the young man's outrageous accusations.
The Count drew his sword and pressed the blade against Wolfgang's, taking note of the workmanship. "Where did you get this?" he asked, following the delicate engraving with his eyes. It was almost an Arabian style, with the tip curved ever so slightly, but the basket guard was far too intricate. It reminded the Count of candy floss that was spun out of soft gold; all molded into a cage shape that covered Wolfgang's hand.
Without preamble, Wolfgang lunged at him. It caught the Count only slightly off-guard, as he made it a policy to always mind his opponent, and he riposted it easily with a flick of his wrist.
"It was my grandfather's," Wolfgang answered, advance-lunging again. "My grandmother gave it to me before she died."
"It's beautiful," Volger remarked, eyeing the sword as Wolfgang brought it down against his own blade. "You certainly use it well."
Wolfgang smiled, pleased with the comment. "Thank you."
"Are you left or right-handed?" he asked casually.
Wolfgang banged his sword down on Volger's and the blades slid together, the metal-on-metal making an unpleasant screech. "Both!"
"Very good," Count Volger noted. "Your footwork, however," he continued easily, keeping one arm behind his back, "could use a bit of tightening."
And with that, he stepped to the side just as Wolfgang lunged forward, confusing him just long enough to jump behind him and hold the blade to Wolfgang's back. It was a modified appel, one of his own strategies. Perfectly fair, though he did acknowledge it was perfectly irritating.
Wolfgang turned around carefully, eyeing the tip of the Volger's sword. It was a perfectly safe distance from him and of course Volger wouldn't stab him with it, but he looked very, very wary.
"That's not fair!" he said, looking up at the Count, his eyes wide. "You cheated!"
Volger lowered his blade at the accusation. "That's not cheating-"
And then Wolfgang backed up and hit Volger's sword away with great energy, the sounds of their swords reverberating through the air. He grinned mischievously. "Of course you weren't!" They stepped in tandem around the mast. "I really didn't think you'd fall for that. Surely Alek must have tried the same thing once or twice?"
"He never dared to," Volger grumbled. No one, especially Alek, had ever thought of accusing Volger of cheating. If there was one thing he hated, it was being called a liar. He was certainly annoyed, but found himself not put off at all, surprisingly.
Wolfgang chuckled. "I would have."
Volger lunged at him and they moved around the dark deck, dodging the few sailors that had stopped to watch and other various obstacles. Wolfgang must have had an incredibly strong competitive streak as well, for both of them refused to give the other the upper hand. Volger could tell that Wolfgang hadn't had much practice preserving his strength for long matches, for he was stepping too hard and flinging Volger's saber away with more force than necessary: telltale signs of impending exhaustion.
Wolfgang had started out very energetic, however, and Volger could see that he was glad to have someone to practice with. He was certainly a skilled swordsman, and Volger might have even called it a fair match if Wolfgang had remembered to hold his sword tight instead of constantly adjusting his grip on it. He must have completely forgotten, for when Volger struck, Wolfgang's sword flew out of his hand and stuck into the mast.
They both stopped and looked at the quivering sword. Wolfgang looked at the sword, then at Volger. He made to pull it out, but it didn't budge. "I don't think it's coming out anytime soon," he panted as he tried to yank the sword out. His pulling and tugging became half-hearted as he caught his breath.
Volger felt tired himself, and though he hated to admit it, his body was not as spry as it used to be. But in spite of this, he wasn't ready to stop. Count Volger was an excellent winner, but he was not good at losing at things. "Don't you have an extra sword?"
Wolfgang shook his head negatively, braced one foot to the mast, and pulled with all his might. The sword gave way and he went staggering backwards. If Volger wasn't there to break his stop, he might have gone right over the railing and into the water.
"Ha!" he said, bouncing back and poising himself again. "You're not going to beat me that easily!"
Without any effort at all, Volger hit the sword again out of Wolfgang's hand. It flew through the air and landed on the deck. He was clearly exhausted.
Though he may have been competitive, the Count only participated in fair fights. He frowned. "Are you sure you'd like to continue?"
Wolfgang was quiet for a minute and he sighed. "I'd better stop now before I embarrass myself any further. Well done, Count," he said as he caught his breath.
Wolfgang did look quite tired, and Volger knew it probably wouldn't be beneficial to either of them to completely exhaust themselves. "Well done," he said, conceding.
"Thank you," he said, tossing the sword next to the dummy. It landed with a loud, metallic clunk!. "I think that's made up for all of the practice I missed." He rubbed his shoulder a bit and grimaced as he plopped down heavily onto a barrel.
Volger could remember with no fondness when he first began fencing and how incredibly sore he often was. He sat down on a barrel beside Wolfgang, taking a moment to catch his own breath. Whether or not he chose to admit it, he was getting older and things like fencing weren't as easy as they once were.
"That's what I get for not stretching." Wolfgang moved his shoulder again and winced. "I wish I had something warm," he muttered.
"You should put something cold on it," Volger said almost automatically.
"What?" Wolfgang said.
"Heat increases inflammation," he said quietly, though he didn't know why he cared. "Cold will make it feel better. Try ice."
"I will, thanks very much," Wolfgang said, rotating his neck. "You were quite a fight, I must say."
"Well, I have been practicing all of my life," he said. "But thank you." Volger could feel his heart slow down and steady itself. He hadn't moved like that in years: he was going to be stiff tomorrow.
Wolfgang smiled weakly in acknowledgement and was silent until he caught his breath. "Forgive me for saying so, but there's something about this..." His expression became thoughtful and he moved his hands as though he was trying to think of the proper word.
"I'm sorry?" Volger said when he didn't finish the sentence.
Wolfgang moved his hands again. "There's just something about this that seems very..."
"Paternal!" shouted a voice from somewhere on the deck.
"What was that?" Wolfgang said, looking to where the sound came from. From the darkness emerged the wretched beast called Bovril, looking unreasonably proud of itself. It padded up to Wolfgang and sat just at his feet.
"Oh, it's just you," he said, chuckling while he bent down and stroked its head. "Bovril, right?"
"Paternal!" the creature repeated, this time with more gusto.
Wolfgang looked amused. "Why are you saying that, you silly thing?"
"It's just babbling," Volger answered quickly, not amused in the least. Both the creature and Wolfgang looked at him. He cleared his throat. "Paid it no mind. Aleksandar says it repeats bits of conversation; it must have heard that word sometime today."
"Oh," Wolfgang said softly. "It's strange what the Darwinists can do, isn't it? Absolutely incredible that they can create a creature that talks; actually talks!"
The Count shooed the creature away with his foot lest it blurt out something else that was none of its business. "Parrots can do the same thing, and they weren't created by any Darwinist."
Wolfgang laughed. "Fair enough! I take it you aren't one, then?"
"Absolutely not. I was raised a Clanker and will live the rest of my life as one."
"You're in rather a strange place, then."
"Here," Wolfgang said, motioning to the mast and sails and ship. "Captain Dakkar is a staunch Darwinist, as is most of the crew. And aren't Deryn and Alek as well?"
"Ah," Count Volger answered quietly. "Well... I didn't come aboard for that particular reason."
"I understand. Forgive me; I've spoken out of turn," said Wolfgang. "I should know better: I have my own reasons as well for coming aboard."
Volger didn't say anything, though he couldn't help but be a little curious as to what those reason were.
"So, you're a Clanker that's practiced fencing all his life. You must have had a good teacher, and seeing as you come from a noble family that would make sense."
Volger watched the young man. It was almost as though gears were turning in his mind as he thought of what he was going to say.
"You've got an accent, though I'm not sure I'm entirely familiar with it. I'm going to guess that you hail from... Germany?"
The Count felt a nervous fluttering in the pit of his stomach, though he didn't know why. It was a simple question, one anyone making polite conversation would ask. Polite conversation; that's all it was. "Close: Austria."
Wolfgang's face lit up. "I was born in Germany, just over the border!"
"You were?" Volger said quietly.
"Yes! Though I haven't been there since. Where in Austria?"
Volger nodded. "Vienna."
"I think I was born in the forest somewhere. I was born in a Clanker country, but I don't call myself one as you do."
Volger felt a tinge of disappointment. "Are you a Darwinist, then?"
Wolfgang shook his head. "Not much of a Darwinist either; I'm terrible with allegiances." He chuckled to himself softly.
"That's very interesting," the Count said, trying desperately not to think the thoughts racing through his mind. He had looked far and wide for Esmé, assuming that she had fled, wanting to get as far away from him as possible. He never thought that she might not have left Austria at all.
"Familiar!" Wolfgang said suddenly, jumping up. "There's something about you, Count Volger, that seems familiar."
"Familiar?" the Count repeated.
Wolfgang sat back down. "What I was trying to say earlier! I feel almost as though we've fenced together in the past. We haven't met before, have we?"
Volger answered quickly. "No. Except for last night."
"Hmm. I'm probably just imagining things," Wolfgang said. Volger jumped a bit when he clapped a hand onto his shoulder. He smiled at the Count. "But I think we have more in common than you might think, you and I."
Volger felt his throat go dry and he felt a strange feeling as he averted his eyes from Wolfgang's to the sea. Very faint pink was spread in a thin line just over the horizon. It was quiet; the kind of quiet that lingers just before something important happens.
"Dawn will be here soon!" Wolfgang yawned lazily. "And I think there may be sleep in my near future. Thanks for tiring me out," he said, smiling brightly. "Sleep well!"