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A Fateful Encounter

Dear Reader,

This excerpt is from a possible prequel to The Swordmaster’s Daughter. It is written from her friend, Nathan Field’s point of view, describing the very first time he met Lucinda Evans. Nathan Field was a famous actor and playwright whose career overlapped with Shakespeare’s. Nathan started performing in a company of boy actors possibly against his will to begin with after being kidnapped, along with several other boys to quickly swell the ranks. The company was called The Children of the Chapel as it was attached to the royal choir. As an adult actor Nathan Field was well known for performing sword fighting scenes on stage.  Of course he would have needed to learn his skills somewhere, which is where Lucinda Evans comes in. However, Lucinda is entirely my own creation.

London, Southwark, 1600

Saint Mary Overbury was my starting point and I planned to follow the river until the houses ran out, leaving London Bridge and the temptation to escape out of reach. Soon the houses thinned and the road diverged. The main road veered away from the river but I took the narrower tow path. After some time I came to a brick wall that ran all the way to the river’s edge, forming a barricade for any passing traffic. There was a gate in the wall, which was padlocked to keep out intruders. As I put my face up to one of the cracks between the timbers, the gate creaked on its hinges, swinging open.

     An empty path. An open gate.

     Of course I went in.

     The towpath continued on, weaving between stands of tall reeds so if anyone came along I could duck behind them and hide. Eventually the path led to a substantial timbered landing where a large barge was tied up. How easy it would be to set off down the river, if only I knew how to steer a barge. The landing was in view of some buildings so I stayed in a clearing close to the cover of the reeds enjoying the rare experience of being completely on my own.

     The clearing was sheltered from the wind that blew up off the river and the only sounds were the lapping of water and intermittent bird song. Picking up a short stick I dragged a trail in the dirt then found myself a decent length of driftwood. At one end it was a good thickness for my hand to comfortably grip, before tapering to a thin tip like a gentleman’s rapier. I started swinging it about using a clump of reeds just short of where the water lapped as my target. Imagining it was Master Robinson I lunged and stabbed and slashed, taking out all my frustrations on the unfortunate reeds, startling a family of ducks with my thrusting and cutting. With a honk and a flurry of feathers the mother duck herded her ducklings away. I slashed on regardless, so intent on my Battle of the Reeds I was oblivious to my surroundings.

     ‘Keep doing it like that and you wouldn’t last a heartbeat in a real sword fight.’

     I whirled around with my sword stick still in attack mode, ready to actually have to fight. To my astonishment a girl stood in front of me, hand on one hip holding a long basket from which lengths of cut reed stuck upright and jiggled as she moved. She looked to be about my age. It is hard to tell with girls. She was taller than I but did not yet have a womanly figure. Her hair was caught up under a cap and she held my astonished gaze with very steady blue-grey eyes. Though her eyes were piercing it was not her eyes that held my attention but the very sharp looking curved sabre she held in her hand.

     ‘If you are not playing at sword fighting but actually trying to cut some of those reeds, stand back and let me do it for you. Tis much easier with a decently sharp blade.’ I was not used to being ordered around by a girl unless you counted my older sister Dorcas, but it did not seem like a good idea to disagree with the bearer of a lethal looking sword, even if it was a tall and skinny girl, so I stood out of the way. With one swipe left, then one swipe right, she cut down the clump of reeds quite cleanly. ‘It’s just like fighting,’ she explained as if I was a simpleton. ‘The first blow takes out the arm, the second blow, the legs at which point the opponent should crumple, then you are free to finish him off with a blow like this to the head.’ Using a two-handed grip she swung the sword in a graceful arc and brought it down vertically over the prostate reeds, cutting the bundle neatly in two. If she expected a reply, I had none. I was rendered utterly speechless, never having encountered a girl with a sword. She waited a moment and when I did not speak she kept up her end of the so far one-sided conversation. ‘Do you want these rushes or not because if you have no need of them they will fill my basket nicely?’

     ‘Take them, take them please,’ I said stepping forward to help pick them up now her sword was once again safely sheathed. ‘Where did you learn to do that?’

     ‘My father,’ the girl said. Her chin thrust forward declaring her pride in this fact. ‘He is a Master swordsman, one of London’s few true Masters of Defence. Being able to use a sword comes in handy for collecting these. We bind them in lengths about the thickness of a man and use them for students to practice upon.’

     ‘But wouldn’t the swords cut straight through them.’

     ‘Not when they dry out and are tightly packed together, and the swords my father uses for teaching are not sharpened. Not like this.’ Her hand slid along the outside of the sword’s leather sheath in the same manner most girls would stroke a beloved pet cat.

     ‘Could I learn to do that?’ the thought popped out of my head and turned straight into words.

     ‘Anyone can come for lessons at the academy. It’s not just for rich nobles like those Italian and Spanish imposters.’ She said Italian and Spanish as though the words themselves were infected with plague.

     ‘How much does it cost for I have no money.’

     ‘Hmmph,’ she said. ‘My father can’t afford charity cases. You would have to save up. Why do you want to learn? You don’t look the fighting kind.’

     ‘What’s the fighting kind,’ I said indignantly.

     ‘Not you,’ she said bluntly killing all of my pride with one blow before adding brightly, ‘but my father says, anyone with half a brain can learn if they pay attention and practice hard.’ She smiled up at me with a good set of teeth and skin lovely and clear and unmarked by the pox like so many of the girls around where I grew up.

      ‘So, why do you wish to learn how to fight?’ she asked, targeting me with those blue-grey eyes with a disconcerting gaze that was both un-maidenly and direct.

     ‘I was to be a scholar but now I am to be trained as an actor and I thought I should be able to fight well enough not to look like a fool and be booed off the stage.’

     ‘Ooooh! Are you with The Lord Chamberlain’s Men? My grandmother has taken me twice to the new Globe playhouse on bankside. If I was a boy I would love to be a player.’

     ‘Why so?’ I asked.

     ‘It would be wonderful to be on stage, with all those people watching,’ she said using her hand in a sweeping arc to indicate all the people, ‘to have the power to make them cry, or laugh, or cringe with shame, simply with the force of your words.’

     ‘The playwright’s words,’ I corrected.

     ‘As you like, but it is the actors who make it real, who make the words come alive.’

     ‘I should like to be a playwright, or a poet with a famous patron but for now I am stuck with being a boy player.’

     ‘Then you must know what it is like to be on a stage!’

     ‘Well, not quite. Our first performance is a few weeks away.’

     ‘At The Globe with the Chamberlain’s Men?’

I shook my head regretfully at her obvious disappointment.

     ‘At The Rose?’ I shook again. ‘The Curtain?’

     ‘I am part of a new company of boy players. We have our own theatre.’

By now she had unslung her basket from across her shoulders and rested it upright, leaning on it with her forearms. ‘All boy players? Boys like you?’

     ‘Well, all different boys but we were all taken because we had a talent for singing or reciting or playing instruments or some such.’

     ‘What do you mean taken? Surely you mean chosen?’

I stubbed at the ground with my foot, feeling suddenly shrunken underneath the intensity of her stare. ‘We were taken. By force. None of us as far as I know agreed to join or were asked. These men just turned up on the street or at our schools or choirs and took us away.’

     ‘That is terrible. What of your families? Did they have no say?’

     ‘Some tried to get us back, my mother for one, but since we are attached to the Queen’s choir we have no choice but to serve.’

     ‘That sounds more like being a slave. If that happened to me my father would come after them with all of his swords and most terrible weapons.’

     ‘Well I have no father. And no weapons. It’s not so bad. They feed us well and the beatings and punishments are not much worse than at any other school. If we learn our lines and do what Master Evans requires then—’

     ‘Master Evans the scrivener?’

     ‘One and the same.’

     ‘Why, he is my father’s cousin, though my father does not think much of him. Calls him a puffed up toady who would sell his mother for a penny.’

     ‘That sounds like him,’ I laughed. ‘By the way, my name is Nathan Field,’ I said finally remembering my manners, ‘fatherless youngest son of a dead clergyman, actor in training, and totally inept swordsman, at your service. Pleased to make your acquaintance Miss Evans?’

     ‘Yes it is Evans. Lucinda Evans. Only daughter of a Master swordsman since my twin brother and mother died when I was very young, trained in the arts of defence with the use of broadsword, dagger, rapier and long sword, though my father will not let me touch a halberd or battle-axe, sadly.’ Not so sadly, but quite wisely, I thought. She looked me up and down never averting her eyes as most maidens would. There was a boldness and frankness to this girl and under her gaze I felt myself blush.

      ‘Well Nathan Field you may be no swordsman but you seem honest enough. I could teach you.’

     ‘Teach me what?’

     ‘The noble science of defence.’ I must have looked puzzled since she laughed at me and added. ‘How to use a sword and not get yourself killed. Let’s begin now.’ Before I could answer she picked up a long cane of willow and trimmed it with her blade so that it was close to the same length as my own mock sword. Leaving her basket at the side of the path she bunched her skirts with her left hand to hold them above her ankles. I tried not to stare at her ankles though it was difficult not to. Her right arm held the cane in front of her pointing up at an angle with her elbow slightly bent and her ‘sword’ pointing forward. ‘Pretend we are fighting with rapiers and try and run me through.’

     ‘But you are a girl. I couldn’t do that.’

     ‘Most likely not, but give it your best.’ At which point she lunged at me thrusting her arm out straight with great swiftness, the tip of the willow cane poking me on the right side of my chest. It was only a stick but she hit me with such concentrated and rapid force that I reeled backward two steps. ‘If this was a real rapier you would be coughing blood by now since I have already pierced your lungs.’

     ‘I wasn’t ready,’ I protested.

     ‘You must always be ready. Keep the weapon up and in line with your arm. That’s better,’ she said starting to circle around me while holding her ‘sword’ ready to strike again. ‘The first rule of defence is to stay just out of reach. Move back if you have to or jump aside. Now try and see if you can stab me and I will show you what I mean.’ I made a half-hearted attempt at a few thrusts which she parried away with a responding tap of her stick. Though I tried to get past her ‘sword’ with mine she flicked it away, no matter from what angle I came at her. Failing that, she stepped aside or shuffled backward just enough so that she was always a little out of reach.

     ‘Your arm must be longer than mine,’ I complained. ‘You are taller.’

     ‘Who said fighting is fair? You are wearing breeches and I am in a skirt. Everyone has advantage and disadvantage. Stop trying to fight like the Spanish or the Italians. You’re not poking at a fire, you are trying to damage and disarm me. Don’t forget, there is always a good English slash.’ With that advice she brought her stick out to the side and as she raised her arm away from her body I seized my chance and rushed forward, only to feel the sting as her stick struck the outside of my calf. She cut at my legs the same way she cut down the rushes. I dropped to my knees, clutching at my leg whereupon she came in so close I could see her chest heaving. Her stick formed another upward arc through the air and came swooping like an eagle towards its prey. The prey in question, being the top of my skull. I heard the swish as she flicked the stick in a swift downward motion, and threw my hands up in a desperate attempt to protect my head. I waited for the moment of contact, for the terrible sting upon my hands or the teeth jarring thwack to my head, but just before the moment when the stick would have connected, Lucinda suddenly whipped it upwards and threw it away.

     ‘You could have cracked my head open!’

     ‘I wasn’t really going to hurt you,’ she said, smoothing down her skirt.

The side of my chest and the outside of my shin might beg to disagree.

     ‘Well not badly anyway.’ Getting up from my knees I brushed my stockings down. ‘I could teach you properly, you know.’

I had no doubt of that.

     ‘But how would we do that? Where would we meet?’ Just then the bells of Saint Paul’s sounded the hour from across the water as the bells of Saint Mary Overbury on Southbank chimed in.

     ‘I must go.’ She picked up her basket and slung it over her shoulder and turned to hurry off back up the path.

     ‘I don’t know where to find you,’ I called out after her.

     ‘Whitefriars,’ she called back. We were practically neighbours. I hurried along the towpath after her but by the time I reached the gap in the fence she was gone.


Quick question. Would you be interested in reading a prequel novel written from both Lucinda and Nathan’s perspectives? If so, please drop me an email and let me know.

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