Caelius was a textbook minor noble’s son. By which I mean he was a drunk, a gambler and a wastrel. His father held a small administrative position in New Stetven, something to do with ports and river traffic. So long as the money, drink, and easy companionship kept coming Caelius neither knew nor cared to know the details. (
This went on for years, a regular pattern of Caelius causing a scandal and the family bailing him out. Finally after one too many drunken parties, one too many competent servants leaving in shame or anger, the family had enough. He was enrolled in a dueling academy with a military career to follow. The rules were simple. Leave the school, leave the family.
Caelius washed out.
There was an exhibition, Caelius had been drinking, and a blunted sword tip caught him in the stomach. The odor of cheap wine rising from the result disgusted what few defenders Caelius retained.
The family would not see him. He was alone.
Two weeks later Caelius was sitting in a riverside tavern coming out of a four day binge when he met Nicos. Nicos offered Caelius a gold piece to listen to him rather than to start on day five. As Caelius was no longer in a position to refuse money he agreed to hear the gray haired man out.
Nicos had seen the exhibition and unlike the instructors he saw something in Caelius. Nicos told him he was unsuited to the Aldori or Taldan dueling styles. He was the wrong size, the wrong shape too quick and too sloppy. Training in either style would be pointless waste of resources.
Caelius thanked the man for the insightful character assessment and reached for his drink.
To this day Caelius maintains that he never saw Nicos's hand move. One moment he was raising the drink to his lips, the next he was holding half a bottle and cheap young red was soaking into his trousers.
That was his first lesson with Nicos.
Nicos taught a different style of swordplay, more fluid and adaptive than the major styles. It favored an older style of sword, broader and slightly curved.
The style attacked on odd lines and spent as much effort on understanding the battle as a whole as it did on weapon skill.
According to Nicos this style was descended from one used by Rostov horsemen long before the Conqueror came. No one remembers it now.
So Caelius trained and lived and worked what jobs could be found for three happy years.
Then came the duel. Caelius was working as a laborer for cartage and hauling company when he ran into a group of his old friends from his former school. There was taunting, the others chiding him about his fall from grace. The leader of the group even revealed that the wine they gave to Caelius the night before the exhibition was drugged. When Caelius asked why they set him up they simply replied that they did it because they could. Because it was funny.
When they laughed at the heavy old style sword he was wearing satisfaction was demanded.
It turns out that it is not illegal to duel. It is illegal for a commoner to duel a noble; especially if the commoner leaves the noble with a scar where his eyebrows used to be.
Caelius was arrested for dueling. Nicos was arrested for fomenting violence.
It took two years for the law to recognize that Caelius was technically still a noble. Two years spent in hell.
Caelius survived, just. Nicos was an old man, he didn't.
Leaving the prison Caelius was returned to his family but not to their regard. They were forced to acknowledge Caelius as a member of the clan but not to speak to him. He slept and dined alone in a pair of locked and unheated rooms. Months passed among barred doors and silent servants. Caelius began to consider ways to leave this new prison, ways that would see him joining his dead teacher.
Another month past, it is spring. Caelius wakes to find a pouch and a sheet of parchment at his place instead of the expected breakfast. The purse was heavy with coin, the parchment a charter, a warrant to bring order to the Stolen Lands.
Nicos had often spoken of finding somewhere new, a place on the edge of things, a place to found a new school and teach his style of fencing. Refining and developing the style until it would supplant the Aldori. Caelius read avidly. Here was a way out. More than that a way to honor his master and wipe the smirks off the pompous faces of his ‘betters’.
The doors that had been locked for so long stood open. Caelius saw his signature was already on the charter. There would be no breakfast today.