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Accidental Warrior: The Unlikely Tale of Bloody Hal, page 1

 

Accidental Warrior: The Unlikely Tale of Bloody Hal
 


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Accidental Warrior: The Unlikely Tale of Bloody Hal


  ACCIDENTAL

  WARRIOR

  THE UNLIKELY TALE OF BLOODY HAL

  COLIN ALEXANDER

  ACCIDENTAL WARRIOR: THE UNLIKELY TALE OF BLOODY HAL

  Copyright © 2016 by Colin Alexander

  All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  ISBN: 978-0-9993257-1-1

  This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author.

  Smashwords Edition

  CONTENTS

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Epigraphs

  Prologue

  1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12

  13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24

  25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36

  One crowded hour of glorious life

  Is worth an age without a name.

  “The Call,” Thomas Osbert Mordaunt, 1730-1809

  The instant I received the order I sprang on my horse and then my “crowded hour” began.

  Theodore Roosevelt

  The Rough Riders

  (originally published C. Scribner’s, New York, 1899)

  Is all that we see or seem

  But a dream within a dream?

  Edgar Allan Poe

  “A Dream Within A Dream,” 1849

  PROLOGUE

  HAL CHRISTIANSON WAS a most implausible hero.

  Why would I write a line like that? If you did not know Hal, that would conjure up an unflattering image. He would, you might think, be short, with bad hair, thick glasses and maybe a limp. But you would be so very wrong. Hal was six foot three. He hadn’t quite filled out his frame, but you couldn’t tell that with his clothes on. His hair was a full, thick mop somewhere between light brown and blond. With all that and his gray eyes, he would have looked at home under a horned helmet in the prow of a Viking longship, which is undoubtedly where some of his Danish ancestors had stood. So, he could have looked the part of a hero.

  At eighteen years old Hal was young, but young is a relative term. Through most of human history you were considered a full-grown man at eighteen or younger. Charles XII of Sweden commanded an army in battle when he was fifteen. Even in our modern world, many of the heroes who stormed onto the beaches at Normandy were eighteen, and it wasn’t just at Normandy. So, youth did not disqualify him from heroism.

  However, Hal Christianson was neither a warrior-king nor a soldier about to charge into battle. He was a newly arrived college freshman, and there was nothing less heroic in the Year of Our Lord 2016 than a college freshman. Consider that his parents wouldn’t trust him with a car. Hell, he was just a couple of years removed from having parental controls on his browser, although, in truth, he had evaded those fairly easily. He had been lectured—endlessly, it seemed—on what constituted acceptable behavior and had a checklist of ‘key questions’ to ask in the course of any attempt at seducing a girl. Assuming, of course, that he could get a date with a girl in the first place. Storybook heroes, as you know, always get the girls. Probably, the point has been made.

  The world is, however, a strange place in which even stranger things may happen. A life may take many twists, few of them apparent in advance. Let me tell you the unlikely tale of Hal Christianson.

  1

  School Days

  “BOO!”

  At the shout from behind his back, Hal Christianson jerked forward in his chair. One hand slammed shut the screen of his laptop. The mouse that had been in his hand flew into the air, smashed on the floor and split apart, disgorging its battery. Realizing what he had done, he re-opened the laptop. The images on the screen were frozen.

  “Shit!” The word slipped out before he knew it. That had not been his mother popping into his room to see if he was doing his homework. The laughter coming from the doorway to his dormitory room was his roommate’s. Bobby Marshall was there, leaning against the doorframe with a big grin on his face.

  “Someone might think you had a guilty conscience,” Bobby said. “Shit, I don’t care if you spend your time playing those stupid games. Who are you today, Gandalf?”

  “No.” Hal was sure his face was bright red. “It’s The Great Game.”

  “Right. With the usual crew of a hundred geeks from around the world pretending to be magicians or warriors waving swords in each other’s faces.”

  “It’s not like that.” Hal pushed the chair back and walked over to his roommate. He was five inches taller and at least twenty pounds heavier than Bobby, but there was no sign Bobby was intimidated by his size.

  “Bobby, aren’t you ever curious about what it would be like to be in a different kind of world, be a different kind of person? Do things you can’t do here?”

  “Not really.” Bobby peeled off his T-shirt, wadded it into a ball, and made a one-handed jump shot, landing the shirt on the pile of clothes at the foot of his bed. He held up three fingers. “Not nearly as curious as I was about how Jenny Savage looks without her clothes, although I know the answer to that one now.”

  Not for the first time, Hal wondered how the school’s vaunted algorithm had paired him with Bobby and how he was possibly going to make it through the year with him as a roommate. “Okay, fine, but don’t start in about ‘waving swords.’ You were happy to join me in re-starting the fencing club here.”

  “Hal.” Bobby managed to make that one word sound sorrowful. “What planet do you live on? The fencing club at my high school was large—thirty people most of the time—and ninety percent girls. You do see the connection, don’t you? I figured, and I know it’s my mistake, but I figured it would work the same way here. But what do we have? Six. You can count them on your fingers. And of the six? We have Cassidy and JoBeth, who are the most obvious couple on campus, and Shawnika and Tao, and that’s not the way I roll.”

  “You are disgusting. Do you ever think about anything other than getting laid?”

  “Occasionally I think about keeping my grades up to the level that my father will write the check for next semester. But only occasionally.”

  Hal shook his head, then pulled his phone out to check the time. They were due at the gym for the fencing club, but Bobby seemed in no hurry. “Speaking of fencing, we should get going.”

  “Actually, I want to talk to you about that. The group we’ve got isn’t going to get bigger or more interesting. I’m out.”

  “You’re quitting?” Hal wanted to pick Bobby up and shake him, or turn him upside down and drop him on his head but, of course, he did neither of those things, nor did Bobby’s relaxed slouch suggest there was any risk. “You can’t! Jesus, the Fall Invitational is the beginning of November! The Big One! Laszlo knows all those guys, and I’ll bet anything it was a favor to him we got invited. Now we’re going to show up with just me for the men’s?” Laszlo was a graduate student in the Chemistry Department who had gone to college in his native Hungary, a place where fencing was taken very seriously. “He will go nuts!”

  “No, he won’t.” Bobby went to the pile of clothes by his bed and rummaged for a clean pullover. “There’s no requirement for any particular number—men, women or total. Laszlo used his connections so you could fence there
. This is for you, because you’re good.”

  Hal shook his head. “Even if I was that good, I need to practice with someone, and none of the women fence saber. You can’t quit.”

  “Can so.” Bobby checked his phone. “You can work with Laszlo.”

  “Crap.” Hal started to feel desperate. “Look, the Big One’s held at a women’s college. Women. Women’s teams. You said that’s what you were looking for.”

  “Women, yes. Looking like an ass and losing in front of them, no.” Bobby stuffed the phone in his pants. “Let Laszlo know, will you? I’m meeting Jenny in fifteen minutes.”

  “You want me to tell him? This fucking sucks! You can’t do this to me.”

  “Yeah, well, it’s not like I signed a contract. What’s Laszlo going to do? Truth is, you’re really good at this, good enough to do well in the Big One, and that’ll be enough to keep Laszlo going. Hell, you’re good enough to beat him.”

  “I don’t—”

  “You could. Look, I have to get out of here, but I have some news you can use. There’s a Columbus Day party this weekend at Water Gap College in Pennsylvania. I’m going down with Harry Connaughton. He was there last year and he said the girls’ll practically jump you the moment you get through the door. Come with us. What you need is to get laid.”

  Hal stared at him for a minute. “What about Jenny?”

  “She’s going to her parents’ for the weekend. Anyway, it’s not like I’m married to her. So, are you in?”

  Right then, going to a party with Bobby was the last thing Hal wanted to do. “I’ll tell you later.”

  • • •

  After Bobby left, Hal sat on the bed with his head in his hands. The Big One was the fall fencing highlight, at least in the northeast. He had imagined the club on the university webpage, blog posts from the competition. Now it felt more like a farce.

  Worse, five people wasn’t enough to keep the club going. Maybe he should have been more aggressive about recruiting. Maybe he should have run a fundraiser or a community project like other clubs did, but he wasn’t good at organizing things like that. Maybe he should have gone to a larger university, where there was a real team. He shook his head to clear it of his father’s voice: ‘You can’t build your life around fencing.’

  It was time to go to practice, anyway.

  He picked up the duffel that held his gear and weapons, shoved his feet into flip-flops and walked out. The dorm sat near the top of a hill, with the college’s small observatory nearby. Downhill were the athletic fields and the gym. The weather was warm for early October and the grass on the hillside was still as green as summer, at least where the students had not worn it away. He spent the walk turning over in his mind what to say to Laszlo.

  In the gym, two parallel pistes of rubber mats were laid out at mid-court of the basketball court, and the four girls were already setting up the scoring equipment. No, he corrected himself mentally, the four women. Cassi had ripped him one last month for making that mistake. Cassi usually wore short-shorts that showed off her bare, slender legs. Unfortunately, she already had her fencing uniform on. Christ, he was starting to think like Bobby. Anyway, she was practically joined at the hip to JoBeth, making such thoughts foolish for two reasons. And Hal suspected that she disliked him. He dropped the duffel on a stray chair and started pulling out his gear.

  Hal already had his plastron, jacket and knickers on when Laszlo entered the gym. He was a short, wiry man with close cropped dark hair and a thin beard. When he saw only the five of them, he did not look happy, but he usually did not look happy anyway. Hal pulled on his socks and shoes without saying anything.

  Laszlo set them to practicing footwork. After half an hour, he spat out, “Enough.” He looked at them again, as though counting heads, and said, “Let’s do some practice. Hal, you work against Nika with the foil for a while. Then, I’ll get my gear on and we can work on saber together.”

  “Sure.” Hal nodded. He looked at Nika, dark brown eyes in a dark brown face that never smiled at him. She nodded ever so slightly in return.

  She doesn’t like me either, Hal thought. Shawnika was the biggest of the women, though, and this would give her a chance to work against an opponent still bigger. Hal’s preferred weapon was saber, but he could fence foil as well and the women only used foil. He could do it, but he didn’t like it, not the slower tempo, not being restricted to scoring with the tip only. He pulled his mask on.

  When Laszlo tapped Hal on the shoulder and gestured for him to switch, he left Nika to Tao and changed his equipment for the saber. Then he saw that Laszlo had set up the electronic scoring equipment. This would be a regular match.

  “Let’s see what you’ve got today.” There might have been a thin smile on Laszlo’s face.

  Sure, Hal thought. Start me off on foil, then pull me straight into a match with the saber with no time to get re-oriented. Asshole. There was no way Hal would refuse, not with the four women watching. He would just have to beat Laszlo.

  The match started with them trading touches, tit for tat, to a score of three to three. Hal came off the line hard on the next attack. Time to make Laszlo sweat. He forced Laszlo to retreat, pressed him to a faster retreat, and, with it, the slightest stumble. Laszlo had pulled back, but Hal thought the opening was there for a flying lunge, a flunge. He extended, lunged forward, but in the instant he had thought about it, Laszlo had readied himself, parried the thrust and Hal practically landed on the riposte. Dammit! Hal stalked back to the line, moved to attack, still thinking of the failed flunge. The touch went to Laszlo again. Hal raised his mask, stared at Laszlo, saw only metal grille. He pulled the mask down. Focus! Back to the line for attack. Again he forced Laszlo to retreat, again he was sure the opening was there, and again Laszlo scored on the riposte. On the next attack, Laszlo flew at him. Touch! Hal never came within five touches after that.

  Hal’s hair was matted with sweat when he pulled off his mask. He sat on the floor and pushed his hand through the damp mop.

  “That may not have been fair,” Laszlo said as he walked over, his mask under one arm.

  “You think so, huh?”

  Laszlo shrugged. “Bobby quit.” It was a statement, not a question.

  “You knew?”

  “It seemed obvious, although I didn’t know for sure. Why didn’t you say anything?”

  Hal just stared at him. “It’s not my job to keep track of him.”

  “Look, I’ll still train you for the Big One. You want to fence, I’ll coach, best as I can. Bobby, shit, he wasn’t any good and he wasn’t interested in getting better. No loss. You, though, you could be good. Maybe.”

  “What do you mean, maybe?”

  Laszlo grinned. “You’ve got speed; you’ve got strength. Technique is decent; you work at it. Monstrous reach in extension.”

  “Then what’s the problem? I should have had you, like with that flunge.”

  Laszlo nodded. “You should have. But you thought about it, didn’t you? I saw the hesitation.” Hal nodded in return. “Saber is too fast for that. You see; you react. You can’t think about it, and you for sure can’t think about the last attack when it’s time for the next one. Call it killer instinct, maybe, but you need it. I’m sure you won in high school on physical size and speed, but in less than a month you’re going to face some real fencers. Find that killer instinct, Hal.”

  Hal sat on the gym floor for a while after the others left. No killer instinct? What the hell did Laszlo mean by that? Okay, he’d grown up in the suburbs and not as a streetfighter, but really?

  He pulled his phone out. The only text was the one yesterday from his parents. Crap. Bobby might be a jerk, but he could use a party.

  2

  A Slip and a Fall

  BY NINE O’CLOCK on Saturday evening, Hal was sorry he had come. No girl had leaped into his arms the moment he had walked into the party. A DJ was blasting music from a laptop and portable speakers, and there were plenty of people dancing. However,
of the few girls he had asked to dance, none had agreed, or even said more than a polite ‘no.’ Beer had not helped. All the first three beers had done was make it likely that he would have a fourth. He had, in fact, just picked up that fourth beer when Bobby and Harry appeared. Each had his arm around a girl. Two buttons of Bobby’s shirt were open. Harry held a six-pack of Bud by one can, the rest dangling from the plastic rings. His other arm was draped over the shoulder of a girl with short blond hair and hoop earrings.

  “How’s it going, Hal?” Bobby said. He pulled the girl with him closer. She looked half-drunk already.

  Hal shrugged.

  “That’s what it looks like. Listen, there’s a little park up the road, near the Gap. We’re going up there. It’s quiet and it’s a warm night.”

  “Go ahead. I’ll be fine.”

  Bobby shook his head. “You ought to come. If we don’t see you when we come back, it’s a long way back to Connecticut.”

  Hal looked at the foursome in front of him. “And what am I supposed to do in the park?”

  Connaughton tossed the six-pack to him. “You can always drink. Come on, we’re going to leave.”

  Hal had the feeling that being left in Pennsylvania would not only be the perfect ending to this day, but would also be quite a story on campus by the time he got back. The school was small enough that everyone would hear about it. Had Bobby actually planned this? But, how would he get back? The app on his phone would bring a ride, but he did not want to guess how much that would cost. Had he remembered to bring his wallet? The only thing in his pockets seemed to be his phone. Without a ride, he would have to hitch the hundred and fifty miles from Pennsylvania to Connecticut. Or, would he have to call his parents to come get him? At that thought, he shook his head. Nothing could be that bad.

 
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