Mark E. Benno

“So stands the proud tale of five of my six legitimate children. You will no doubt remember my youngest son, Edward. I fear that dissolution and a dishonourable end await the lad. He’s causing a sensation in the City, and for all the wrong reasons.”

“Is that so? Why, I seem to recall him as such a fine and well-spoken young man,” said Admiral Scranton.

“Oh, I don’t deny that manners, languages, and some sense were pounded into his head. It’s just that he’s not applying himself to any honourable pursuit. And why the deuce should he, when his disastrous gaming losses are immediately erased by yet another draft on my account at Clowe’s? And the Good Lord only knows how many women he is involved with. I despair, Percy, truly despair of the lad ever achieving anything like his true potential.”

I thrust one more time and he parried, the perfect moment for me to execute a coup fouette. My cutlass whipped over his guard and in a single motion removed his hand from his wrist. The Conte di Capiccione screamed and staggered backwards, the upheld stump of his arm drenching me with its arterial flow of blood. The German term for the madness that overcame me is called blutrausch, which means something like bloodlust. I recalled the sanguine manner with which Colonel Riparo had announced that this contest would be to the death and no sane power on earth could stop me. Like a hungry thing the tip of my sword sought out the conte’s neck and I opened his jugular. A fresh spray of crimson spurted from his body as he collapsed, and it was hideous to witness the way he tried to shove his stump into his bleeding neck. I panted and prepared to advance yet, finally, the sound of other voices began to penetrate my brain.

Grace handed me a slice of bread smeared with soft cheese. “You suppose that we value our virtue above all else,” she said, reading my mind. “As you’ll recall, rebel soldiers relieved Missup of her virtue many years ago. She raised me to value service above virtue, for service to something greater than one’s self can never be taken away. Missup told me that virtue is an egg we carry about in a spoon; the time you spend guarding it and cradling it is not proportionate to its true value. In other words, how can something so easily stolen be worth anything?”

Then you truly are destroyed, I thought to myself, if that is how you see things. The tear that escaped my eye and rolled down my cheek did more to inflame Grace’s anger than any of my provocative words.

“You can stow your pity, Mr. Pamprill, for those that need it,” she said caustically.