So You Want to Kiss Your Nemesis

The next girl through the door was Robin’s prototypical customer.

She trotted in with her chin up, her posture so rigid she definitely had back problems. Her dress jacket was the color of newly hatched cardinals, and it was doubtless self-tailored, the material wearing out at the seams. Likely she was one of those academy girls who was paying their own way—so she was definitely shopping for a blade.

Robin gestured with a white-gloved hand across a rack of scimitars and kukris, smiling graciously at her customer. She said, “Welcome to the Intimate Blade. We find the edge for that special someone in your life. My name is Robin. How can I help you today?”

The girl immediately stepped behind a rack of claymores, as though the merchandise would hide her. She lifted one, strained with the weight, and then returned it to its rack. She mumbled in an eastern accent, “I’m Zsofia. I need a particular weapon.”

Robin said, “Looking for something for that special someone?”

Zsofia’s nostrils flared. “Ja-yoon. My nemesis.”

“That’s the way. Going to propose?”

Pink shot through the girl’s face. “What?”

“To propose a duel.”

The girl straightened her jacket. “Uhm, well, yes. She’s gone too far this time.”

Claymores weren’t Zsofia’s point of interest. That was obvious from the way she kept glancing at the rapiers on display across the store. Robin pretended not to notice as the girl feigned interest in scimitars and forked daggers and an axe that was taller than herself.

As a kindness, Robin stepped into the back room. Ten seconds later, the girl was at the fencing display. The air whispered with the swishes of blades as she tested weights and lengths. She was a natural—actually, from her form, better than a natural. She was well-practiced.

“I know you meant to send that letter to me,” she said. “I’ll show you. Take this.”

The girl was smack-talking an absent opponent. It made Robin blush with empathetic shame. She’d been like that at a certain age, too.

But Zsofia’s recoveries were slower than they could be. She was picking blades that were too heavy.

To be kind, Robin needlessly cleared her throat, then counted to three before passing through the velvet curtains. The girl fiddled with an epee between thumb and forefinger, as though she’d never seen one before. She was a better fighter than actor.

Robin said, “You might try the Kismet. It’s my design. It has a lower weight balance and might better suit your arm.”

The rapier had a basket hilt molded in the likeness of a dove’s wings. Zsofia accepted it and gave it two thrusts at a mannequin before her eyebrows raised so high they disappeared under her bangs. “It feels like it was made for me.”

“Thank you. That’s what I aim for,” Robin said. “I made it myself.”

“You did?”

“I smith all my own products.”

Zsofia gaped around the racks of weaponry. “All of them? But you’re so . . .”

Neither of them finished that sentence. Bantering at the poor girl would’ve shattered her, from her frozen expression, she was already trapped in the brain lock of the adolescent and queer.

Instead Robin said, “When I was young, there was nobody else making the kind of steel and edges I needed. So I made my own.”

Zsofia lowered the sword to the ground and tilted her head. “Were you avenging someone?”

“My pride. I had a ferocious nemesis.”

Instantly the girl doubled her grip on the sword’s handle, like her hands were holding their breath. “Did it work?”

Robin scratched an old scar on her shoulder, hidden by her doublet. “Heavens yes. I dueled her until she yielded. We were married that spring.”

Zsofia trembled. “You . . . you can’t marry your nemesis.”

“What can I say? She found me disarming.”

It looked like Zsofia was trying to glare at Robin, but she was clearly too preoccupied daydreaming to put any malice in it.

Robin fixed the other rapiers in the display. “I get it. You have all these emotions bound up in each other. You see each other every day. She’s probably from a noble family that would never smile on your courtship.”

“No,” Zsofia said quietly, like she was gossiping in church. “Her parents would forbid that.”

“Yes, they always do. So it’s easier for her to express her frustrations through a feud than honesty. And you’re trapped calling her a nemesis.”

“Ja-yoon is my nemesis!”

Robin raised an empty hand, as though drawing an invisible foil. “And you fantasize about the day you clash blades.”

“Oh, I’ll show her.”

“You’ll send her rapier into the dirt, and balance the tip of your blade under her chin, and lift it so she has to look you in the eye.”

Zsofia took a step back and put a fist over her mouth. “H-how did you know?”

“We’re not the only frustrated sword fighters in the country, dear.” Robin waved her over to the checkout counter. “So would you like the Kismet?”

The girl dropped her eyes and her hands to her lap, where she clutched the sword. The blush had won its campaign and held her from the end of her collar to the tips of her ears. She whispered out, “Yes please.”

“Would you like it wrapped?”

“No, thank you.” The girl straightened her furious posture again. “I’m going to use it this afternoon.”

“Fantastic. I’ll give you a ten percent refund if you invite me to the wedding.” Robin touched her shoulder again. “Twenty percent if you elope.”

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