Genre: Tweens/Young Adult
Editor: Nancy Bell
Line Editor: Deb McIntyre
Cover Designer: Kaytalin Platt
Seventeen-year-old Connor Coleman is the last of a dying breed of quarter staff fighters in England of the near-future. His father has taught him nearly everything there is to know about quarter staff fighting. He knows the styles of the six animals—cat, fox, hawk, stag, boar, and bear—and hopes to master them all.
The only problem with mastering the styles is getting Connor’s father sober enough to help him. Connor has been following his father around England for the last year, fighting others with his quarter staff in a loosely organized gambling ring. Connor is tired of fighting and hopes to escape this lifestyle so he can return to a peaceful life.
All of Connor’s plans come unhinged when his father joins the crew of a cargo ship which travels the world looking for others to battle with sticks and staffs in illicit competitions.
With the help of a beautiful girl he takes under his protection, Connor hopes to escape the brutal combat circuit. Ultimately, he must decide whether to fight against everything he despises or retreat to the peaceful life he has always longed for.
The arena gradually filled to capacity, and by the time the man with the bristly mustachemade his way to the arena floor, silence had fallen over the crowd. He reached into a black bag and drew out a number. The number was projected onto the ceiling. It belonged to a local fighter who was cheered emphatically as he made his way to the roped area.
Nervous, Connor looked at Andre. The next number projected to the ceiling was not Connor’s, but another Portuguese fighter. The two men twirled their respective weapons in the air. Both sticks were thin, long, and light. The men moved quickly and incorporated jumps and rolls into their warm-up routine.
Without warning, a red light flashed on the arena floor and the crowd crashed into a booming thunderous applause. The men engaged in a rapid exchange of blows. They dodged and jumped across the floor avoiding rampant strikes from each other.
Connor did not see either man favoring any body part. Portuguese stick fighters must not inflict much pain, he decided.
But while the thought lingered in his mind, one of the fighters landed a strike with the end of his stick directly into his opponent’s stomach. He then jabbed the end of the stick directly into the eye socket of the off guard fighter, who fell face first into the wood pellets.
The man in the mustache checked on the fallen fighter, who was not moving, and proclaimed a winner. Many men cheered, while others were disappointed. Then the winner of the fight was greeted by a man covered in gold jewelry who presented him with an envelope.
The fighting and wagering continued. All of the men called to fight were Portuguese, and Connor could tell the men from the ship were growing a little restless. The fighters were all fast and accurate. One wrong move against any of these fighters could cost him an eyeball or several teeth. The long sticks allowed these fighters to keep a greater distance from their opponent, which also seemed problematic to Connor.
The next set of numbers flashed on the ceiling and the Portuguese streak came to an end. One of the ship’s crew made his way down to the arena floor.
“Is very much like Portuguese to choose weakest fighter from visiting fighters,” Andre said.
Connor was a little confused. “I thought all the men on Veloz's ship were good fighters?”
“Most are. Tony is old and slow, he has bad disadvantage against Portuguese style,” Andre replied.
The Portuguese fighter was the best fighter of the night. He rolled across the ground in a simple somersault and with one swift movement scored a direct strike with the end of his stick on Tony's cheekbone. Tony fell backward unconscious and the crowd roared louder than it had all night.
“I sink is very bad vee come. Portuguese always choose old fighter and young fighter vhen vee come here. Maybe you fight next and end up like Tony,” Andre said.
Connor considered Andre's comment for a minute. “If they pick me, I'll be fine. The trick in beating this style is to stay defensive and let their momentum create mistakes.”
“Is easy to say, Connor, hard to do.” Andre said.
“It's hard to practice for, but I've had plenty of practice for this,” Connor said.
Andre chuckled and resumed watching the action.
Two more fights between Portuguese fighters were called and then the man with the bristly mustache announced it was time for the final match of the night. The final numbers of the night shone on the ceiling, and the first number sent the crowd into hysteria.
A stick, curled at one end, but long and thin like the other Portuguese sticks, was hoisted into the air by the man with the bristly mustache. An ordinary-looking man approached and took the stick. The crowd cheered “Palo” over and over again. The man stood by the roped arena and placed the curled end of the stick around his wrist. He began to make fencing like movements with his stick while he limbered up.
Connor was about to laugh when Andre pulled him close. “You number vill be called next…he is best in Portugal, I fight him last year and he get point on me…you know it hard to get point on Andre. Careful Connor,” Andre cautioned him.
Connor’s number lit up the ceiling, and he proudly walked down to claim his hawthorn staff.
Palo had already entered the rope area by the time Connor reclaimed his hawthorn staff. Holding the weapon in his hand felt a bit strange after watching all the fights with long and skinny sticks. Connor realized with a start of apprehension he hadn’t fought in a match since Grimsby. The fleeting thought of England wisped across his mind as he firmly gripped his staff and stepped into the roped area.
Before he had time to think Palo was already advancing. The Portuguese used his stick like a long sword as he struck at his opponent’s hands, forearms and shoulders. The attacks were quick and nearly indefensible in the defensive quarter staff position.
Palo momentarily calmed his relentless attack. Connor changed his position and gripped one end of the staff with both hands, as the Portuguese fighters did. Palo sensed victory and advanced aggressively, aiming at Connor’s face. Connor turned quickly and the strike narrowly missed him.
It was the last miss of the night. Another advance came quickly and Connor countered with a big swing of his heavier staff. The blow connected with Palo’s thinner, livelier stick and broke it with a loud crack. The splintered and jagged half stick hung limply on the fighter’s wrist.
Connor pivoted and delivered a blow across Palo’s back just below his neck.
Palo crumpled to the arena floor and Connor stepped over the body, leaving him passed out on the pile of wood shavings under the hush of the silenced crowd.