"How did you enjoy your first leave to town?"
"Oh, fine, sir. Very interesting."
"I thought so, too. Since I did not, in fact, see any of you around town. And I went by the stable where Mr. Vimont keeps his mare, and found her missing. So you went through with your plan?"
"Yessir. Worked very well, sir. We didn't have any packs handy to load on Zelda, but she's a nice little thing and easy for Vimont to lead. He genuinely likes her, sir."
"I'm sure. And everyone turned up at afternoon classes, all correct, so that's good."
"Except for some scratches and contusions on Misters Darcy and Vimont, who were naked..."
"Well, yessir. But that's good, really. You don't have to worry about the duel any longer."
"Tell me about it."
"Yessir. Well, there were already four of us on the little expedition to Ufham Wood—not counting Zelda. Should we count Zelda now, sir, seeing as we're so much closer to her, as you might say?"
"Not in this case, I think. Go on."
"Yessir. Well, there were Darcy and I with Vimont and Zelda, trying out the leading, and as I said Corliss wanted to have a look around the wood, so that was four. And Littlejohn's wife was busy in her training, so he said he'd just as soon come with us, so there were all five of us.
"Well, Zelda seemed to enjoy herself no end. Must make a nice change, not having to carry anything. And Vimont's quite good with her."
"Yes, the three of you are going to leave poor Corliss and Littlejohn in the dust, in horse-care class. Nice time poking around the trails?"
"Well, there wasn't exactly an Until, sir. Corliss met two fays and made introductions, and time was getting on, and we'd all been getting on with each other, so Darcy just up and said, 'Vimont, we can forget that duel if you like.' But Vimont got this uneasy look and took to shifting around on his hooves, and he said he didn't have any quarrel with Darcy now, and was sorry he'd given offense, but he wasn't sure it was completely gentlemanly to back out."
"Yessir. So Darcy says we have everybody we need here, with the seconds and Corliss to ref, so if it would make Vimont feel better we could have a little friendly sparring right now and 'honour would be satisfied.' "
"That ... may have been clever."
"I'll tell him you said so, sir! So we find a little clearing where two paths cross, and everybody gets in position, and suddenly we find the trees are full of petty-fays, watching and cheering. One little lady all in dandelion down tells 'em to take off their shirts so as not to get 'em torn. Very insistent, I thought."
"Blonde? Not so stick-like as many of them?"
"That's Lathwin. She likes to see some good muscle. And she can appear as a full-sized woman when she wants. Just as a friendly warning. A 'date' with her can have mixed results."
"Thank you, sir. I'll pass that along. Well, our two heroes start rearing and waving their forelegs at each other, and the scratches, sir, are because they both fell over into the bushes. Then Vimont tries to get in range by hopping on his hind legs while he's rearing, so he falls over again and knocks the wind out of himself. And Darcy comes over to give him a hand up, but Vimont is still thrashing away in the scrub, sir, and doesn't see him."
"And that's when Darcy got kicked in the horse chest?"
"Indeed, sir. Well, Vimont scrambles up and falls all over himself, verbally this time, apologising, and neither of them noticed until later that, when Darcy was hit, he lashed out reflexively and got Vimont in the horse ribs. Actually, it was Littlejohn pointed it out.
"So then Corliss plays the referee and pronounces honour satisfied in a very convincing voice, sir, when he stops laughing. About then we noticed the shirts were missing. Lady Lathwin's work, I now suppose. So our heroes wander about a bit, trying some pleading and grousing, then give it up. And Corliss has his hands full with Zelda, who was not happy about seeing her stallion fighting and wanted to leave."
"He should've handed her over to Vimont."
"So he did, sir, when Vimont got back from looking for his shirt. We'd have gone home then, but Littlejohn was busy with the woods fays. They'd been betting on the match and had given him the kitty to hold."
"Not Corliss, the ref?"
"Corliss didn't want anything to do with it, sir. He said so, though very politely. And one of 'em said Littlejohn was the most honest of us anyway. I'm not sure if I'm insulted about that. Anyway, Littlejohn was counting out little gilded leaves while the fays are arguing which particular leaf was whose, until finally his phone gives a squeak for five-minute warning.
"So we say we have to go, and Littlejohn dumps the leaves on the ground among 'em and tells 'em to just be honest, and then we put in some galloping practice to get to class in time, sir."
"Very nice. Well done, all. Did either of our heroes stop by the pub on the way to pick up Zelda or go to the wood?"
"No, sir, all the above was entirely unaided by alcohol."
"A technical question, sir: What are we supposed to do with our arms in a fight like that? They both had their fists clenched, but they weren't doing anything with them."
"If you must go rearing about, the best use of your hands is holding a pole arm or club of some kind, if you can get one. But it's perfectly reasonable to stay on all fours and wade in fists first. That's the approved method for bar fights, because of the low ceilings. Of course, hooves alone were the terms of the duel."
"Thank you, sir."
"How did you get Zelda back home?"
"We swung past the base stable and parked her in an empty stall for a bit, sir. Turned round and there's the brownie, demanding to know what we think we're doing. I explain and Vimont pleads and the brownie nods, but I think Vimont may owe him one, now. She was gone after class, which put Vimont in a tizzy, until I called his stable and learned she was back, as if she'd never left."
"Yes, I think Vimont owes Eowyck. Tell Vimont he likes hot cream and bourbon. Vimont can invite him down to the Bow and Sabre next time he's free."
"Thank you, sir."
"And we have plenty of T-shirts, but if you want them back, ask Eowyck about that, too. He'll get them from Lathwin when she's done sniffing them."
"Sniffing, sir? I think maybe we'll just forget about the shirts, sir. In fact, maybe the whole incident is best forgotten."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that."
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