"Well?" The tall, young man arched his eyebrows expectantly, waiting on his servant's reply.
Eusebio sucked in his lips, wishing he had invested the time to consider what he was going to tell his master, instead of rushing straight over.
"Barone Friuli, his man insists the duel will proceed," the servant said.
Luigino Friuli steepled his fingers and fixed the other man with his steely blue eyes. "A ultimo sangue?"
Eusebio shook his head, looking relieved. "No, master. The ambassador insists that first blood should satisfy his honour. A primo sangue."
"That's not so bad, eh? We shall circle and cut at each other, deport in a manner to satisfy good society, then laugh about it over supper, as one of us licks his wounds. Now then, what have we planned for the following... is there something else? Speak out, Eusebio, or I will have you back tending to my hounds."
A look of hope flickered in the servant's eyes.
The young noble gave a curt shake of his head. "No, you would prefer that, you rascal!"
Eusebio wrung his hands. "Oh, Barone! It was so much simpler to clean up the dogs' mess."
Luigino laughed. "Out with it, tell me what is troubling you."
"While I was there I had the opportunity to watch Miyamoto exercise his swordplay. He practises with bales of straw..."
Luigino shrugged extravagantly. "And did he manage to strike these bales?"
Eusebio nodded. "He cut them."
"Let us hope that hacking at straw will dull his blade," Luigino said with a smile on his lips.
"No master, he cut each bale in half. Each time with a single stroke."
The baron stood, pressed a finger to his lips, head bowed. "So... a primo sangue... a ultimo sangue..." He juggled invisible weights in his hands. "The point is moot."
"Si, master," Eusebio said. "But worry less about the point, and more about the edge."
"I have heard of these butcher's blades," Luigino said.
Eusebio shook his head. "Nothing could be further from the truth, Barone. The blade is a thing of beauty, and the way he wields it.... I swear it is artistry, my master. Artistry!"
"Am I to understand you will still be in MY corner on Thursday?" Luigino slapped his servant on the shoulder and barked a laugh. "Ah, such a stupid mistake I made. Who was to know they dress that way all the time? My comment was... light-hearted."
"His sense of humour, notably absent," Eusebio added. "I fear there is more."
"But of course there is."
"He will be wearing his traditional armour to the duel," Eusebio said.
"Armour? In this day and age? For a duel?" Barone Friuli looked perplexed. "Is that allowed? It surely is not sporting."
"He insists," Eusebio said. "I have seen it. It may be to your benefit. It is... garish."
The Barone Friuli put his arm around his servant's shoulder. "I believe it will be to our benefit. I do believe it will..."
As dawn leeched illumination into the woods Miyamoto Musashi's gaze was fixed squarely on his opponent at the other side of the clearing. He had not wanted it to come to this, but the foolish young nobleman had insulted him in front of his wife and now he was honour-bound in the eyes of his hosts to exact satisfaction. If only it had happened at home, amongst the Emperor's court, he could have joked with the young man about it and passed it off as the buffoonery of an ill-educated foreign devil. He would not dream of shaming the young man by attempting anything so crass here, under the glare of the Italian court.
He had to give the young baron credit for an icy nerve. The Italian was dressed in a suit of armour that must have been over two hundreds years old, and had his two hands clasped in front of him on the hilt of an enormous two handed sword, the unsheathed tip of which rested on the ground.
The signal was given and Miyamoto danced forward, sword still sheathed. He closed the distance between them in a flash, body angled to present the least target. As he took his final step forward his katana snaked from the scabbard like a steel snake striking. He had opted for a simple thrust to the side of the neck, sufficient to burst the chain-mail coif under the full-face helmet. It would draw blood, but, hopefully, would not be fatal.
He leapt backwards as his opponent collapsed in front of him. Miyamoto was confused. The Italian's head rolled to one side. No! The helmet was empty.
When the tip of the rapier traced across his cheek he barely felt it. When the cut registered, he threw his palm up to his face, turned with his blade raised to strike.
"A primo sangue!" the ambassador shouted. The seconds were about him and had him held firmly in their grasp. Rage bubbled up and erupted in a primal scream of fury. He could see the young nobleman being bundled away by his party. The Japanese warrior watched as Luigino was dragged backwards by the men around him, desperate to get him away. The Italian shrugged helplessly, smiled broadly and threw Miyamoto a salute.
Miyamoto stopped struggling and began to laugh.