A Modern Bard's Tale
Chapter 1

Copyright┬ę 2006 by D A Porter


How did I become a professional storyteller?

Well sit down and have a drink. I'll tell you all about it...

It all started as a way to meet chicks that were normally way out of my league.

Let's face facts here. I'm in my 40's. I'm not handsome, and I wasn't in great shape.

And I damn sure wasn't rich then.

I was sitting in an upscale bar one night having a coke. (I prefer not to drink alcohol in public places.) I was girl watching of course, and wistfully thinking of times long past.

Then I saw a truly radiant beauty come into the bar with the usual gaggle of girlfriends, each of whom on their worst nights would be a solid 8.

Tonight they were all 10's.

But the prize was the redhead.

And she knew it.

Hair the color of iron in a blacksmith's forge.

Eyes the shade of green that emeralds strive for but never attain, skin as flawless as that of Aphrodite.

Her face was perfectly symmetrical atop a body seemingly designed to drive men mad with desire by her mere presence.

I sipped my drink, covertly watched her via the mirror behind the bar. I saw a dozen would be Romeos approach her table and be dismissed just as quickly.

I smiled to myself. It amused me to see these handsome lads meeting with no better luck than I, had I been so foolish as to approach even the least of the beauties at that table.

I had decided to retire to my hotel room and arose to leave. As I passed by the ladies table, I turned my eyes for one final look, as any hetero male would have done. There, nestled between her incomparable breasts, was a small figurine.

A golden dragon clutching a crystal sphere.

The workmanship was so exquisite that I paused involuntarily and stared for longer than was polite.

"When you're done staring at my tits, let me know." Snapped the flame haired vision.

Where the inspiration came from, I'll never know, but I heard myself replying in a calm and level tone. "Your breasts, magnificent as they are, were not the objects of my attention. I was learning the story of the dragon."

A couple of her companions laughed, but the redhead did not. She leaned forward slightly and fixed me with those eyes of hers. "And pray tell, what is the story of the dragon?"

I smiled slightly, "Ah milady, I am a story weaver by trade and inclination. What you ask carries a price."

*What the Hell, * I thought, *the worst she can do is to tell me to get lost. * And indeed, that was the result that I anticipated.

Much to my surprise and delight, she narrowed her eyes and visibly considered me carefully before answering my impertinent sally.

"What price to you set for your tales then?" she asked at last. I could tell that she was expecting me to come up with an answer both uncouth and obvious.

I stated my terms evenly. "That you and your friends hear the tale together. Right here, tonight."

She sat back and raised her glass to her lips. Her finger adroitly shifted the tiny bent straw just in time for her lips to close around it. Never taking her eyes from mine, she sipped, then set her glass down, having made up her mind.

"Agreed." she said finally. "But here's my condition. If we don't like the story, you'll pay our bar bill for the night and never speak to any of us socially again."

I wrapped my left hand around my right fist and gave her a bow copied from countless martial arts films. "A challenge like this I cannot refuse." I said with a smile.

A couple of the other ladies were eyeing me speculatively, but I kept my attention on the prize.

She raised her head and caught a waiter's eye. He came hurrying over.

"How may I help you?" he asked fawningly.

She of the crimson tresses spoke without taking her eyes from mine. "Is there a room here where my friends and I can talk without all this noise?"

The waiter stammered, "Yes ma' am. There is a room that we use for private parties. But the cost is..." he trailed off as she turned an icy gaze on him.

"I did not ask the price. I asked if there was a room here. All that I need to know from you is whether the room is available now and it's location, if the answer is that the room is available."

The hapless waiter paled visibly, then straightened his back and gave a short nod. "This way please."

The ladies all stood as he led the way through the crowded bar to an unobtrusive door at the rear of the establishment. I stepped back and gestured for the women to precede me.

I brought up the rear of the procession, admiring the view of so many delectable behinds wagging before me.

The waiter opened the room and moved back to allow the redhead to enter.

"There is a full bar along the side wall. Will you be needing service from our staff?"

The redhead pondered a moment. "Do you have a discreet waitress or female bartender here?"

"I believe Rebecca and Molly are both on duty tonight," replied the waiter.

"Bring them," she said. "I will choose one to attend to our needs."

The waiter left and returned a moment later with two young women.

"Rebecca," he said, indicating a tall, slender raven-haired girl with flashing brown eyes.

"Molly." he said, motioning toward a lass that obviously hailed from the Emerald Isle.

She was petite with hair the color of copper and sea green eyes.

"Molly." was all the redhead said.

The waiter left with Rebecca and closed the door behind them.

I looked around the room. There were big comfortable chairs in groups around low tables.

I counted noses and chairs; there were plenty of seats to go around.

I started shifting the tables and the chairs, clearing a space in the center of the room and ringing it with chairs. A couple of the other girls pitched in to help, but the Prize just stood and watched.

In short order, we had the room arranged to my satisfaction.

The biggest and most ornate chair I placed directly across from the chair I would occupy. As soon as I signaled my satisfaction with the arrangements, I bowed the Prize to her seat, then handed each of the others into the chairs I had selected for them.

I walked over to Molly and told her that we would all be drinking wine tonight and that she should keep the glasses full unobtrusively if possible.

"And what wine will ye be having?" she asked in a brogue so thick it could almost be cut with a knife.

"The Lady shall decide." was my answer.

Molly walked over to the Prize and inquired as to what wine should be served. With a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, the Lady ordered a wine that cost almost $300 per bottle.

I kept my face impassive and thanked whatever Gods were listening that I had my credit cards along and that all had a generous credit limit.

I stood before my chair with a glass of wine in my hand. I glanced around at my audience with a much calmer face than I felt inside. "Before I begin, I would know your names. Please rise one at a time and speak your first name."

The girls looked at each other, then a willowy blonde stood. "Astrid." she said. Then sat back down. I gave her a bow and waited for the next to stand.

"Karen." She looked like a California beach bunny,

"Susan." A Marilyn Monroe look-alike

"Bethany." A copper haired cutie

"Heather." A platinum blonde.

"Dorothy. " Tall and thin with golden curly hair.

"Heather." This one an ebon skinned beauty.

"Chyoko." A petite Japanese doll.

"Marianne." A busty brunette.

And finally the Prize stood and met my eyes again with a hint of a smile. "You may call me Maeve."

I noticed that she did not say that was her name.

Only that I could call her by that name.

I had set a small table in the center of the circle, and now I set candles on it and lit them.

"All stories should be told by firelight." I said.

I resumed my seat and leaned back, crossing my legs.

I glanced around the circle again. Most of the girls had kicked off their shoes and were curled comfortably in the spacious chairs.

"My story begins, as all the best stories do, in ages long past, in lands long forgotten by man." I began.

For the next 4 hours, I spun a tale of adventure, love betrayed and love found again. The women all listened raptly, even the barmaid Molly.

The candles were down to stubs when I sat back with a sigh.

"And the golden dragon transformed herself into the form of a pendant, eternally sleeping until her lost love is reborn into this world. Then she will awaken and join him. This time for all eternity." I finished the glass of wine in my hand. "And so you have the story of the dragon that you wear." I said to Maeve. I waited for her response.

She said nothing for a long moment, and then nodded. "You have more than met the terms of our little wager."

I relaxed truly for the first time since I had noticed her little pendant.

She finished her glass and set it down next to her chair.

I stood and bowed to her again. "Then milady, I must take my leave of you. I thank you for a most enjoyable evening."

She looked somewhat surprised. "Isn't there something else you had in mind for tonight?"

"None that I care to contemplate at this time." I replied with a grin. "Save that each lady tells me herself how she enjoyed the tale."

From the look on her face, you would have thought that I had punched her. But I turned to the girl closest on my right. "Marianne?"

She stood and moved to stand next to me. "I thought it was wonderful." she said. Then she kissed me on the cheek and squeezed my hand.

I turned to the girl on my left. "Chyoko?" She didn't speak, but her eyes told me volumes as the tears still trickled down her cheeks. She had to step up onto the chair, but she put her arms around me and kissed me full on the mouth. Then she stepped down and back to her chair.

And so it went through each of the girls including Molly.

I collected kisses from them all. Finally only Maeve was left. She came around the table and stopped in front of me.

Without any warning, she swung a hand at my face aiming for an open handed slap. By sheer reflex I didn't know I was capable of, I caught her wrist before her hand touched my cheek and stopped it cold.

Her eyes blazing like green fire, she swung with her other hand. I caught that wrist also.

She stood there with my hands holding her wrists and I saw a rosy tinge rise from her cleavage to her face. She yanked at her arms to free them, but I brought her wrists down and behind her. This brought her firmly up against me.

None of the others made a sound after an initial collective gasp. I kept my eyes on hers and continued to smile gently down at her.

She wriggled for a moment before giving up and standing passively in my grip.

"I have done nothing to warrant a slap from you milady." I said in mild reproach. She made no reply at all.

I decided to take a chance and released her wrists slowly. When my hands were again at my sides, I took a single step backward.

She kept her hands behind her for a long moment, and I would have given much to be able to see what she was doing with them as she stood there staring into my face without expression.

Nobody moved except to breathe as the tableau continued. Finally Maeve took a deep almost sobbing breath and whipped her arms up and around again. I didn't even try to stop her.

This time, I felt no threat from her at all. She wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled my face down to hers for a kiss. She opened her lips and her tongue emerged to slide against mine.

She held the kiss for a good two minutes,

Then stepped back, tugging self consciously at her dress and looking down at her feet and around the room, anywhere but at my face. She was breathing hard, almost panting, her breasts heaving and her brow dotted with perspiration.

At last, she met my eyes directly. "I apologize for trying to slap you." she said. "That was out of line."

She took another deep breath and shook herself as if to shed an unpleasant sensation. "When can we hear another story?" she asked.

I smiled at her. "Anytime you wish milady." I bowed. "But please, no more than one tale per night. Else I become too weary for other pursuits."

Maeve grinned in spite of herself, and a couple of the other girls giggled at the exaggerated way I mentioned 'other pursuits', leering and wagging my eyebrows like a bad vaudeville comic.

Maeve fetched her purse from her chair and dug out a small notepad and a pen. "I am having a party this Saturday night," she said as she scribbled furiously. "I want you to come and give us another story."

She tore off the top sheet of paper and handed it to me. I tucked it into a pocket without looking at it. "Ah milady," I said. "I would be happy to attend you, however you neglect something most important."

She pulled a checkbook out of her purse. "Of course," she said. "Your fee." She held her pen poised above the check expectantly.

I shook my head. "That is not the way it is done." I told her. "I will spin my tale, and the listeners will each offer what they believe is appropriate."

"But you could wind up with little or nothing." she protested.

"And I often have milady." I said. "But judge for yourself. What would you have offered for a tale such as you heard tonight if it had not been for our little wager?"

Maeve considered, then flashed me a brilliant smile. "I see what you mean," she conceded.

I regarded her in a new light. I was no longer in awe of her extraordinary beauty, although I still appreciated it to my very core. "I will however accept a token in advance to ensure my timely appearance."

She looked disappointed and lifted her pen again. I covered her hand with mine and she lifted her eyes to my face. "The only token I will accept this night is a kiss from each maiden here, and two from you."

She flushed again, then let her checkbook and pen fall to the table unheeded. She came forward and into my arms again.

This time I controlled the duration of the kiss, and allowed her to step back after about a minute. I kissed each of the other ladies, (including Molly) with an equal thoroughness.

Then I reached for Maeve's hand and pulled her to me. This time I lifted her slightly and pressed her firmly against me as I kissed her. I put all of my attention into the kiss; everything else was blocked from my mind and sight.

When I finally released her, I had to hold onto her arm for a moment until she was steady on her feet again.

I lifted her hand, palm up, and placed a kiss as gentle as a butterfly landing in the center and one on her wrist right over the pulse point. "And now milady Maeve. I bid you adieu."

And I strode to the door and left the room.

I walked out the front door of the bar and hailed a cab. As I rode to my hotel, I mused on the events of the evening.

I dug out the paper that Maeve had given me. It had an address and a time. I carefully tucked it into my wallet. Even if the address turned out to be bogus, I was still far ahead. I had spent an evening drinking fine wine and being the center of attention of 10 of the city's most beautiful young ladies.

And not only that, but I had kissed and been kissed by all of them.

I thought back to the barmaid Molly. From the way she had kissed, she would definitely be worth visiting again.

Back in my hotel room, I surveyed the clothes that I had with me.

I realized that I had no idea what kind of party that Maeve had in mind.

I hearkened back to something I had read in a book by Robert A. Heinlein, my favorite author. "Whole hawg or none." his character Lazarus Long had declared.

Well, that was advice I intended to follow.

I checked my funds again.

Limited, but I thought adequate to what I had in mind.

I sat down in the room's only soft chair and stared at the window for a while.

Then I stirred myself and got out my pipe and tobacco. A good smoke always helped me think clearly.

Where the flowery language and mannerisms I had been using all night had come from, I had no idea.

While I am more intelligent than most, (not bragging, simple fact) and I know the social graces and have an extensive vocabulary, I seldom find a use for them.

Maybe it was just the romantic in me coming out.

Romantic, now there was a thought...

On the appointed day and time, I was standing in front of an impressive townhouse in a very ritzy neighborhood. I steeled my nerves and knocked on the door.

A gentleman opened the door and looked down his nose at me. "Yes?" he said with a disdainful sniff.

If you looked up the word 'Butler' in the encyclopedia, you would find this man or one just like him staring snootily back at you.

I was not impressed however, having little use for snobs of any stripe.

"I am William Bard, here to entertain and amuse Lady Maeve and her guests." I said.

The butler gazed at me a long moment, taking in the way I was dressed, and then he withdrew a step.

"One moment." he said and closed the door.

I looked down at myself again. I was wearing an Armani suit with a couple of unique additions.

The coat was cut so that the rapier and the dagger opposite it were exposed.

It had not been easy convincing the tailor that I was serious and not some kind of madman. (On the other hand, who but a madman would wear a SWORD with an Armani suit?)

I waited patiently, checking the time on an ornate pocket watch that had been a gift from my late father.

Then the door opened again and Maeve stood there in an absolutely stunning ball gown of the perfect light green to set off her red hair. "Oh! You came!" she said delightedly. "I didn't realize until I got home that I didn't even know your name!"

I went to one knee and kissed her hand. "Not even death itself could have kept me from your side after you phrased your request so prettily." I told her.

She laughed, and then stifled it behind a hand as she glanced at the butler's disapproving scowl. "Come on in," she said. "Daddy is dying to meet you."

She pulled me in and past the butler who looked down his nose again. "Shall I take the cutlery until you depart?" he asked.

Maeve's eyes dropped to my side and she noticed the rapier for the first time.

Withdrawing my hand from hers, I rested it lightly on the hilt of the sword. "Are you suggesting that a gentleman give up his arms?" I asked in mock disbelief. "Do you realize what you ask?"

If he had said, "Yes", I would have unbuckled the sword belt and handed it to him.

But he actually went pale and cleared his throat. "My apologies sir. It has been so long since a true gentleman has visited. I had quite forgotten the usages. Thank you for reminding me."

I simply nodded and took Maeve's hand again. I couldn't believe my luck. I didn't understand quite what had just happened but since Maeve was now looking at me with an awed expression, I wasn't about to question it.

When we got upstairs, Maeve led me over to a distinguished looking man a few years older than myself. He looked up as Maeve approached with a smile on his face. Then he saw me, and his eyes dropped to my side. He raised an eyebrow like Mr. Spock and held his hand out to me.

"I take it that you are the man who so completely captured my daughter's attention that she's spoken of little else in the last few days."

I gave him a short bow. "William Bard at your service.' I said.

He held out his hand, "You can call me Brian Kerry."

I shook his hand. He had a grip like a steel vise, but did not try the usual macho bullshit about trying to crush the other guy's hand.

He turned to a stunning woman standing next to him, "And this is my wife."

He did not offer a name for her, and I didn't ask. I bowed to her, "William Bard, Milady. You have but to command me."

She gave me a smile. "Gallantry in this day and age. How refreshing." She looked me up and down appraisingly. "Do you know the statement implied when you bear arms into the home of your host?"

I smiled back at her twinkling eyes and dredged up what I could remember reading of old Celtic customs. "It means that I thereby pledge my arms to the defense of you and yours as if it were my own home."

She held her hand out toward my rapier. "Is that a functional weapon, or mere decoration?"

I used my left hand to take the rapier from its scabbard and placed the hilt in her hand. "It is a functional blade Milady." I told her. "There is no logical reason to ever carry anything else."

She turned slightly and hefted the sword. "A good balance, but a bit light."

"The hilt is a non-ferrous alloy, and the blade itself is a borazon/titanium alloy. It will cut through steel without dulling." I said as she returned the sword to my scabbard directly.

"And the dagger?" Brian asked.

"Silver hilt and the blade is the same borazon/titanium alloy." I replied.

He nodded approvingly. "And why these choices?"

"Because a beauty such as your daughter could only have come from the blood of the Tuatha de Dannan. And the old tales tell of their troubles with Cold Iron." I said.

Brian went very still for a moment. Then he let out a bellow of laughter. "So you think we may be of the Fair Folk, come to live in the city?"

"I did not say that." I replied. "I said that there must have been some of their blood in you for your daughter to be so fair."

"You must be Irish with all that Blarney." Maeve giggled.

"Actually, my ancestors spent a lot of time in Eire." I said. "But the Irish tired of them toting off everything that wasn't nailed down, including the women. So your father's namesake chased them out."

She lifted an eyebrow, just as her father had. "So now my father is compared to Brian Boru?"

I winked at her and she giggled again. Brian shook his head with a smile. "My daughter tells me that you are a storyteller by trade, and I can see that you have a quick tongue and a quicker wit. I look forward to hearing your tale tonight."

Maeve tugged me away and into the swirl of guests to introduce me around. There were a surprising number of influential people at the party.

A couple of known mob figures, politicians, and of course businessmen and the idle rich.

I collected a lot of very odd looks as Maeve clung to my arm possessively.

As I said before, I am not blessed with good looks or a muscular build, and I had that damn sword on my left hip.

All the girls from the other night were there. Much to Maeve's annoyance, I collected kisses and embraces from each one. One or two of their dates looked like they wanted to protest the ladies displays of affection, but subsided when they saw the rapier on my side. The damn thing was coming in handy after all.

I made glib conversation with anyone who spoke to me, and kept up the old world manners and phrasing. I was WAY out of my depth. It was like riding a tiger though. Once you get going, you have to stay on or perish. More than once, I mentally cursed myself for getting into this oddball situation in the first place. Then I would look at the girl on my arm and remember what I was vying for.

Oh well. If all else failed, I would go back home to the Midwest and stay out of the city for a few dozen years. I owned my business outright, and the living I made was comfortable if not exceptional.

I deliberately submerged myself in the role.

I took my cues from Dumas et al. And somehow, I carried it off.

Gods know I had never been any good as an actor. But I did have a well-developed line of bullshit, and it served me well here.

Some time spent behind bars, (I made a bad mistake once upon a time) had given me a vast array of insults and put downs that I couched in more elegant language without quite losing the gist of the moment. Fortunately for me, most of those on the receiving end of these barbs took quite a while to figure out that they had been insulted, and by then it would have been ridiculous to take offense.

Maeve, to her credit, caught most of these sallies, but kept quiet about them until we were out of earshot of the recipient.

It was an evening of mixed blessings.

On the one hand I was surrounded by people who could do wonders for my real business. And yet if I had talked business with them, it would have blown the whole deal with Maeve.

On the other hand, there was Maeve.

Maeve was the blessing of the evening. I had her whole attention, and believe me, when she focused on me it was like being bathed in strong sunlight.

So the evening wore on until I decided to get on with the reason I had come in the first place. "It's story time." I whispered in Maeve's ear.

She brushed my cheek with a kiss and slipped off to find her father. Soon Maeve's mother came up and guided me to an immense room dominated by a fireplace big enough to roast a whole steer.

There were comfortable chairs arranged for easy viewing of the fireplace, and a padded bench in front of and just slightly to one side of the fireplace. There was a fire already burning, and the massive logs would last for hours.

I took my seat on the bench and waited as people filed in and chose seats. I ended up with Maeve and the ebon goddess Heather on either side of me. Someone asked me what I wanted to drink.

"Sangria." I said. "An appropriate beverage for tonight's tale."

Brian and his wife sat in ornate chairs a few feet away, looking like a king and his queen on their thrones. I stood and raised my glass high. "A toast before I begin." I said. "To our noble Host and his lovely family. Confusion to his enemies and blessings upon his friends!"

"To our Host." echoed the guests as they raised their glasses high.

I drank deep from my wine and handed the glass to Heather.

I drew the rapier and handed it to Maeve. She accepted it with a nod and laid the sword across her lap. My dagger I handed to Heather, who placed it in her lap with the blade pointed away from Maeve.

I stepped in front of the fire and faced the crowd. I raised my hand and got immediate silence.

"There are ghosts out there. But not all of them are what they seem." I began.

Where the story came from, I don't know. But I paced, and I gestured, and I told the tale of A Most Agreeable Haunting.

By the time I was done, it was near dawn.

But not one of the audience showed any signs of boredom. No one had gotten up to use the john, no one had wandered off during the story, and none had fallen asleep.

I took the dagger back from Heather and slipped it back into the sheath. Then allowed Maeve to slide my rapier back into the scabbard. I turned to the host and bowed. "Are you satisfied with the night's tale?" I asked.

He stood and started clapping slowly. Following his lead, the rest of the audience did the same. Brian's wife approached and embraced me. "My name is Ariel," she said in my ear so softly that I almost missed it.

There was a commotion at the back of the room and I headed that way by reflex.

I never have been able to resist helping someone in genuine distress, and this was just such a case.

Chyoko was standing at the back of the room with her back pressed against the wall.

Her date for the evening, a thoroughly unpleasant young man called Charles, was facing her from only a few inches away, and he was drunk.

"So you'd kiss him but not me?" he slurred. "You're nothing but a cheap whore." and he raised his hand to hit her.

He shouldn't oughta done that.

I reached up and grabbed his hair and yanked his head back. I laid the blade of the dagger across his throat and kicked the back of his knee to force him to kneel.

The room was deadly silent as I looked over the fool at Chyoko. "Your choice my lady. Do I give him another grin, or do you wish mercy for him?"

Charles tried to say something, but I let him feel the edge of the dagger, scalpel sharp as it sliced easily into his skin, drawing a thin line of blood. "Don't move maggot. The Lady Chyoko has not yet decided your fate." I could smell the acrid stench of urine as he pissed himself.

Chyoko took her time answering, and I was very glad that the look on her face was not aimed at me. Finally she nodded reluctantly. "Let him live. Just get him out of here and keep him away from me."

I moved the dagger to prick Charles under the chin. I used pressure on the point to guide him to his feet, then walked him to the back door of the house down 3 flights of stairs. I ordered him to open the door. He did and I propelled him out into the dawn with my foot against his ass.

I picked up a paper towel from the kitchen counter and wiped the blood from the dagger before sheathing it.

Chyoko and Brian were the only ones who had followed me down the stairs. Chyoko hugged me, then stepped aside to let Brian come up. He clapped me on the shoulder fondly. "You saved me the trouble of dealing with that young snot," He said with a chuckle. "And by evening, the tale of how he was ejected from my house, and why, will be told and retold all over the city."

We went back upstairs to rejoin the party. Inside, I was thinking, *Oh SHIT! That young prick's gonna call the goddamn cops and I'll do the next 20 years in the pen. *

Brian pulled me aside when we got upstairs. "Tell me about the invention business."

I went ice cold all over. He KNEW! But HOW?

"I come up with ideas, and then sell the licensing rights to various corporations." I said.

"Good answer." he replied. "You really didn't think I would allow someone completely unknown into my house, especially armed, without having them checked out, did you?" he asked with a wink.

"And what do you do?" I asked. Figuring that boldness was my best chance to get out of this in one piece.

"I am an expediter," he said. "I make things happen for my clients.

I remembered the mob bosses in the audience, and the politicians.

"I get the feeling the clients had best be exact and complete in what they ask you to do." I said.

"How so?" Brian asked with a raised brow.

"Monkey's paw." I said, referring to the old Asian fable with the moral, "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it".

Brian fixed me with a steely look, then relaxed and grinned, this time the smile reached his eyes

"I'm starting to see what my daughter sees in you," he said. "Come on, let's stir this joint up a bit."

I found Maeve standing with her companions of the other night. "Greetings ladies. I apologize for the disruption of your evening."

Maeve flowed up against me and nestled under my arm. "The hero returns." she said with a smile.

Dorothy spoke up. "What would you have done if Chyoko had said to kill him?"

"I would have slain him of course." I replied. "I damn near did anyway for the offense of raising a hand to one of my friends."

Dorothy looked taken aback, but rallied gamely. "Then you would have done the same for any of us."

"With one exception." I said. "If he had raised his hand to Maeve, I would have slain him out of hand."

Maeve craned her head to look into my eyes. "And if he had threatened my mother?"

"Then your father would have destroyed him. I wouldn't have to." I told her.

"And what if father wasn't here. What would you do if she was threatened?" She persisted.

"Then I would defend her the same as I would you." I replied.

She stepped back with her eyes flashing. "You think we can't defend ourselves?"

"Not at all," I said. "But why put yourself out when you would have me as a shield and sword?"

Maeve stomped her foot and ran into another room. "What did I do to set her off like that?" I asked the assembled girls. But they were as puzzled as I.

Brian came over and looked at the girls, "Where did my daughter go?"

They pointed, and he started in that direction. Just then, Maeve came out of the room carrying a rapier similar in size and shape to my own.

She planted herself in front of me. "I'll show you who needs protection!"

I noticed that she was barefoot and had shed the cumbersome outer skirts of her ball gown for freedom of movement. It looked like she had hacked them off with a knife, exposing the lace undies she wore beneath the dress.

The girls squealed and retreated to the sides of the room, leaving Maeve facing her father and me in the middle of the floor.

"Have you lost your mind?" Brian asked her. "What has he done to warrant such behavior?"

"He said he would have slain out of hand anyone who threatened me. Then he said that you would protect mother, and if you weren't here, he would slay for her too."

Brian looked at me with raised brows. "It seems that my daughter takes exception to your words, although I do not." He looked back and forth between his daughter and myself, "She is quite good with that toy," he said. "Do you want me to put a stop to this nonsense?"

I must have suffered a bout of insanity then, for I shook my head in negation. "No my friend, this must be settled here and now, lest it fester between us forever." I grinned at him. "Don't worry, I won't injure her."

This brought another stomp from Maeve and a grin from her father. "Actually, I was thinking she would hurt you, but..." he stepped aside and gestured for us to begin.

I looked around the room and saw the walls lined with people.

Great, just what I needed, an audience as I made a fool of myself.

I held up a hand to Maeve. "One moment as I prepare," and started to remove my jacket. Instead she came gliding in with her blade outstretched.

I spun out of the way and drew my rapier as I turned. Her rush carried her past me, and I swatted her behind with the flat of my blade as I came around.

She yelped in outrage and whipped around to face me, rubbing at her rear with her free hand. "You'll pay for that," she promised.

I kept silent and saluted her with my upraised blade. She snarled, but returned the salute.

I was in serious trouble here. I had seen a lot of movies with swordplay, but hadn't held a blade before tonight in about 6 years.

And that had been a Katana. A whole different set of sword skills.

I had a smattering of various martial arts, but was nowhere near expert at any of them.

I hoped that by combining different styles, I could confuse her long enough to disarm her.

I dropped the point of my sword and waited for her to make the first move.

She prowled sideways, looking for an opening.

I turned slowly to keep her in view, then let her get a bit to the side, deliberately inviting an attack.

She took the bait and glided in again. I swayed aside and let her point pass my shoulder, then stepped in and pivoted.

I reached out and slid my hand along her arm to cover the hand that held her sword. I continued to turn, stripping the rapier from her hand and spinning away.

She stood there, boiling mad.

I saluted her with both blades, then tossed her sword back to her.

She caught it by the hilt and cussed me in several languages I understood, and a few I didn't know, but sounded quite sincere.

We fenced for a few minutes, then I scored on the sleeve of her dress. The next time she gave me an opening, I slipped in and tore the sleeve away with my free hand. A few minutes more and I got the other sleeve. By now she would have cheerfully spitted me like a roast if she could have gotten to me.

I got cocky, (stupid is the right word here) and tossed her my dagger hilt first. "It seems you require a second blade my Lady." I said.

I could see her father behind her shaking his head and laughing silently. Ariel just looked nervous.

Maeve attacked furiously, using both blades, and I was forced to retreat toward the door. She stopped suddenly and flung the dagger at me. It missed and I plucked the knife from the doorframe where it had stuck and re-sheathed it. "If you didn't like the loan of the extra blade, all you had to do was say so." I quipped.

Maeve was tiring now, and I decided to end this little drama. I feinted a high lunge, forcing her to respond. She stepped sideways to the spot I wanted her in. I sheathed my rapier and spread my arms. "Well?" I said. "I don't have all day."

She screeched with rage and lunged right for my heart. Again I pivoted and stripped the rapier from her hand. I slid it toward her father, and then swung her up into my arms.

While she was still realizing what was happening, I dropped into a chair and draped her over my knee. I pinned her flailing legs with one of mine.

Chyoko tossed me the sash from her dress, and I used it to bind the wrists of a now wildly cursing Maeve.

"Don't let him do this Father!" she yelled.

I looked at Brian. He just nodded.

I looked down at Maeve and started applying the palm of my hand to her buttocks with considerable noise and force.

After a dozen swats, I sat her up on my leg and asked her if she still wanted to continue the struggle.

She tried to bite my nose off.

So I rolled her face down and pinned her legs again. This time I kept spanking until she wasn't cursing anymore, just sobbing.

Her father had been watching me closely and realized that I wasn't swatting her enough to hurt, and that the louder, harder smacks had landed on my own leg.

I sat her up again and looked into her eyes. "Are we done now?"

She nodded, tears still streaming down her cheeks. I dabbed them away with my handkerchief, then untied her hands so that she could wipe her own eyes. She sniffled a while, then laid her head on my shoulder and let me cuddle her and comfort her.

Brian herded the other guests out of the room leaving the two of us alone.

I put my fingers under her chin and tilted her face up to mine. "And now I claim my forfeit."

I kissed her softly but deeply. She sighed and put her arms around me.

"Never again," she murmured so softly I could barely hear her.

"Never again what?" I asked.

"I will never act like that again with you," she replied after a moment.

"Are you OK now?" I asked gently.

She sniffled and nodded. I helped her to her feet and had her wipe her face again. "Get cleaned up and put a different dress on please my lady." I said. "I will be waiting with your father."

She kissed me hard, and then ran off through another door.

I went looking for Brian. I found him talking with his wife as most of the other guests collected their coats and wraps and prepared to leave.

He turned as I approached. "That was quite a display in there." he said.

"It was something that needed to be done." I said.

Ariel gave me a wan smile. "I'm afraid that no one has dared lay a hand on Maeve since she was a child."

Brian made a noise suspiciously like a chuckle, but when I glanced at him, his face was as blank as that of a cigar store Indian.

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