Monday, 25 March 2013

FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! #24


This week's FIGHT is written by Colleen Cheetham-Gerrard.

On a cold night, lit only by the moon, a wolf howls.

This is considered to be one of the most dramatic openings in any kind of 'dark' fiction. Wolves, however, with their differing tastes (Philip Roth is typical), consider it clich├ęd, sterile, and racist.

Who cares about stupid wolves though? Wolves fight only when they have to, over sensible things like food, mates and territory. Humans have evolved beyond the need to fight only when essential. Humans fight because someone looked at them funny, or because they felt sad that day or simply for the love of the smell of the blood.

Our Fighting Choices are what make us human.

Fighting is what makes us better than wolves.

(Fighting wolves is what makes Liam Neeson better than you, but that's a different argument altogether.)

Some of us can't fight very well. That's okay. We can read about other people fighting, and that's just fine. Wolves can't read. Wolves suck.

Look, see; further veracity for my entirely sound comparison.


FIGHT #24

 


EDWARD CULLEN
vs
COUNT DUCKULA


WHO THEY THEN? 



Edward Cullen is a vampire. Fear not, mortals! He's a good vampire, sworn to eschew tasty human blood in order to sparkle in the sunlight and go to high school again, and again, and again. Because that's definitely what we all aspire to with eternal life. He calls himself a vegetarian, and like all good vegetarians instead slakes his bloodlust by hunting animals in the woods. His love for Bella Swann – and his excellent hair – define his life. For more information on Edward Cullen, see the Twilight books. Or the Twilight films. Or Fifty Shades of Grey



Count Duckula is a vampire. Fear not, mortals! He's a good vampire, sworn to eschew tasty human blood...well, sort of. When he was resurrected, a bottle of tomato ketchup was used for the spell instead of the traditional blood. This means that Count Duckula is:

A. A duck, and:
B. An actual vegetarian. 

Rather than be obsessed with a rather drippy human, Count Duckula craves fame as a light entertainer. For more information, see the classic Count Duckula TV series.

There is no erotic fan-fiction spinoff of Count Duckula that we are aware of. Please don't write one.




THEY PACKING MUCH HEAT?



Edward Cullen is a deadly vampire. As he will tell you himself, he's the perfect killing machine. His sexy looks, sexy voice and sexy smell is designed to lure in the human for an easy kill. To compound that, he's impossibly fast, impossibly strong, and never ages. Unlike the traditional vampire, Edward can go into houses uninvited, has no problems with crucifixes, and sunlight merely makes him sparkle. He's also telepathic. The only way to kill him, in fact, is to dismember him and then set him on fire.

Count Duckula is the 17th in a line of deadly vampire ducks. Unfortunately, his botched resurrection means that he is without the traditional fangs enabling him to slaughter dozens of puny humans. He can, however, vanish in a puff of smoke and has no reflection, and can stroll around quite cheerfully in the sunlight.

Edward Cullen wins.


THEIR BACK: WHO HAS IT?



Edward has the primary support of his family, a group of similarly vegetarian vampires turned, married and/or adopted by his 'father', Carlisle Cullen. His family share many of the same super-strong traits as Edward. Many of the members of his family also have superpowers, including a 'sister' who can see the future and a 'brother' who can influence the emotions of those around him. In need, he can also pull together group of vampires who more than anything else resemble the most egregious X-Men ever, with handily coincided superpowers and a frequent desire to slaughter all homo sapiens in the surrounding area.

Count Duckula has two loyal servants, Igor and Nanny. Igor is a dedicated and elderly servant, always willing to resurrect the most recently deceased Count, and despairs of the current Count's propensity towards carrots. Nanny is a rather stupid hen, but one possessed of super strength and overwhelming loyalty. Both have managed to defend the castle of pitchfork-bearing mobs of peasants in the past, and keep up with all of the cleaning and maintenance in a decrepit Transylvanian castle. I can barely clean my flat once a week.

Count Duckula wins.

NUANCES AND WHATNOT



Edward Cullen, for better or for worse, is a representative from one of the biggest cultural phenomena of the last decade. Sure, some might say he's a thinly veiled Mormon and the worst boyfriend role model adored by young women since Chris Brown, but a cultural juggernaut is not to be ignored. He is adored by teenage girls the world over, enough for them to buy three copies of the same book just to get a free poster. Depressingly, he gets the girl and by all accounts lives happily ever after. He's played by Robert Pattinson, and you may have recently read a book full of interesting facts about him.

Count Duckula should probably be a cultural juggernaut, but just doesn't quite have the sex appeal. It's worth noting, however, that the character has his origin as a foe of Dangermouse. Surviving several encounters with the greatest secret agent of our times has to say something in his defence. He has the ability to be reincarnated, depending on whims of his loyal but occasionally stupid servants.


IT'S CLOBBERING TIME


For reasons that probably have something to do with his love life, Edward Cullen finds himself in the dark, misty mountains of Transylvania. He stalks through the paths, unafraid of anything in this perilous place, for what could be more deadly than him? Still, the sun would rise soon, and if the locals see his glittering skin, they might guess his deadly secret. These mountains and people have a history with some of his more bloodthirsty relations, and he doesn't want to face the pitchforks this time around.

Fortunately, a castle looms ahead, just through the mist. Running at a frankly needless high speed, scrabbling over branches like a spider-monkey, Edward arrives at the castle and knocks on the door. “Let me in!” he commands.

The door swings open by itself, but unperturbed by normal vampiric lore (and basic etiquette) regarding invitation to other people's houses, Edward strolls right in. Suddenly, there is a small explosion in front of him. When the smoke clears, a small duck in evening dress stands in front of him. “Oh hi!” says the duck, enthusiastically raising a wing in a cheery salute. “I'm Count Duckula! Who are you?”

My name doesn't matter,” mutters Edward dramatically, as he tried to read the Count's thoughts. “I'm just here to save my love.”

Oooh!” exclaims the Count, clapping his wings together. “You're an American! Have you ever been to... Hollywood?”

Sensing nothing but good wishes and a bizarrely large amount of sparkles in the mind of the Count, Edward nevertheless recognised a fellow vampire so instinctively lashes out, quickly trying to launch himself on Duckula. “Argh!” squawks the Count, disappearing and re-appearing in a small cloud of smoke. “There's no need for that! I would just love to go Hollywood, find an agent, maybe appear in a few movies...”

You want to advertise us? You want the Volturi and the world to see our EVIL?!” Edward roars, and lunges again for Duckula, who disappears and re-appears, now looking slightly more flustered.

Well, I can't be seen in the camera but I think we could overcome that, maybe... argh! Nanny! Igor!”

By this point it has all descended into farce, with Edward trying to run at Duckula at improbably high speeds, and Duckula always remaining just out of reach. Edward isn't quite sure why jaunty and oddly British music seems to be playing in the background, and definitely isn't sure how he ran into the waiting fist of an oversized hen with one arm in a sling.

Momentarily stunned and down for the count, Edward overhears the Count talking quickly to what seem be his servants. “He's a vampire from America, Igor!” he hears, still feeling dazed from the mighty blow. “I'm hoping he can get me a screen-test once he calms down.”

An elderly vulture leans down, looking at Edward. “A vampire? This one? Master, he's sparkling in the sunlight, that's no vampire.” He sniffs. “Unless he's like you. A...” Igor shudders. “A vegetarian.”

What?” Edward looks up properly, the haze beginning to lift. “I am too a vegetarian. I only eat deer, and mountain lions. Not horse, though.”

Well, that's a start,” mutters Igor. “Still, we can't have another vampire in this house. Nanny, fetch the impaling stake.”

Panicked now, Edward looks around desperately for an exit, deciding to risk the wrath of the mob and their pitchforks. This place was worse than the fourteenth time he'd gone to high school. Count Duckula flaps wildly in the background. “Igor! Come on! This is my BIG BREAK!”

Sensing an opportunity with the servants distracted, Edward lunged forward using his superhuman strength once more and grabs the Count by the opera cape. “Let me go or the duck gets it!” he shouts wildly, before suddenly remembering how hungry he is, and how he hasn't eaten duck for years...

Igor debated stopping the bloodbath as Edward tore and ripped at the young master, but suddenly realised there was a better solution to this problem, one that would make Igor's life significantly more like the good old days. Making sure to take the correct ingredients this time, he went to prepare the resurrection room. The Age of Asparagus surely couldn't be far away, now...

***

Edward never talked about his time in Transylvania to Bella. He felt that she would never need to know about his odd encounter with the vampire duck. One dark and stormy night, he was suddenly startled by a pillar of flame in his front room, which died down to reveal a familiar duck in an opera cape.

Hello, Edward,” the duck lisped, showing off his new set of fangs, dark red madness showing in his eyes.

Count Duckula?” Edward gasped. This wasn't normal. The deer never returned, particularly never with a more pronounced and comedic lisp. The duck stepped out of the shadows.

Yeth. Me.” Count Duckula smiled, but there was no humour in it. “You thould have got me that thcreen tetht...”

The screams of Edward Cullen as the enraged duck ripped him limb from limb could be heard through Washington state.

No-one made a joke about being hoisin by his own petard, because they're classier than that.

Hell hath no fury like a duck seeking celebrity.



AND THE WINNER IS...

  

  COUNT DUCKULA





Arguably, the loser is possibly Bram Stoker, weeping over what became of his creation in just over a century.

FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! will return in:


"IT'S ON DAYS LIKE THIS THAT MORTALITY SEEMS A BOON."

If you have any suggestions for who you'd like to see square go each other in future FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! articles, please mention them below.

Monday, 18 March 2013

FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! #23


This week's FIGHT is written by Ann Griggs.

It is better to inspire loyalty than to inspire poetry.”

- Ancient Dundonian Proverb.

Who watches the folk who are watching the watchmen? Cos if they’re just watchin' each other, tha’s impractical. And kinna weird.”

- Contemporary Dundonian Proverb

Unless you’re into spine-sex, no-one literally has your back.

It’s all a clever metaphor, ain’t it?

Who stands on the other side of your sidekick? Often, the answer is ‘no-one.’

Thus, the cornerstone of combat is the backup of the protagonists, and their ability to overcome the odds, no matter how desperate things seem.

Where there is no hope, there is always vengeance.

In many ways, this would have made a more satisfying resolution to one of these character’s arcs.

Oh well.  

FIGHT #23

 


SAMWISE GAMGEE
vs
RON WEASLEY



WHO THEY THEN? 




Samwise Gamgee is one of nature's small, awkward cleanliness-obsessed creatures. If he were human, he would be a School Janitor and branded 'a bit shifty looking' by the press if anyone got murdered within a forty mile radius, but fortunately Sam is not human. He is a Hobbit from the Shire in Middle Earth. The loyal friend of Frodo Baggins, he accompanied him all the way to Mount Doom, and then went home and had a nice quiet life. Some people will probably tell you that he was a gay, but homosexuality - along with the Etch-a-Sketch - was not invented in Middle Earth until the Fourth Age.

He appears in the book and film series The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. And probably the third Hobbit film. 



Ron is a young wizard of the Weasley Dynasty. He is also ginger. This isn't mentioned that much because wizards have different racisms to mankinds (for example, if Ron were a janitor he’d probably be a beloved spinster who collected ceramic West Highland Terriers, but racist wizards tend to go for the ‘Mudblood-lover’ angle).

The loyal friend of the more handsome and eponymous Harry Potter, he helps Harry defeat Voldemort on a number of occasions*, and accompanies him into the Chamber of Secrets, plus that big awkward camping holiday they went on. His skills are saying “Bloody Hell, Harry”, being blokey and dependable, and having sex with Hermione Grainger at least twice.

He appears in the increasingly poorly edited adventures of Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling.

Eagle-eyed but human-brained readers will have noticed that both authors use their initials rather than their first name. This is totally why we linked these two characters together. We were going to use Jonah Jameson until we realised that J. K. Simons’ name was derived from letters of the same Latin Alphabet as Tolkien, and that would never do.


* He is sometimes there when it happens. 


THEY PACKING MUCH HEAT?



Ron has a magic wand and his friends know a lot of spells, so together they can conjure up pretty much anything. However, because of all their poncy “morals” and shit, they refuse to use all the cool death and torture spells, so can merely stun people or make their nose grow kind of big. This is enough to thwart the most evil wizard the world has ever seen and his minions because the most evil wizard the world has ever seen and his minions are rubbish.

Sam’s main weapon is an elvish lightbulb that repels spiders or something, but isn’t very good for fighting anyone who is generally familiar with daylight. He's a gardener so can probably get his hands on a rake (woe betide the facial features that do not suit linear scratchings), or possibly render you unconscious with an astronomical quote for some minor landscaping. He also has access to a magical ring that makes you disappear but he is apparently unwilling to carry this, favouring to carry Frodo. But he could always lob Frodo at someone.

Sam wins.

THEIR BACK: WHO HAS IT?



Sam and Frodo did have the backing of the entire Fellowship of the Ring, which involved people who seemed pretty damn proud of their axe, their bow, their sword and other items of weaponry that could be misconstrued as metaphors for genitals (see also: all other weaponry). Then Frodo decided to wander off and Sam followed, meaning that the only person who could potentially have Sam's back is Frodo, or some narratively convenient eagles. Not only does Frodo not have Sam's back, but when he's not groaning and falling over, he's siding with Gollum.

Being the fourth most popular member of the Weasley family, Ron can rely on his parents to rescue him in the style of Ellen Ripley should one of their son’s gastropod themed hexes somehow fail to repel one of the few reliably murderous dark witches.

Ron's best friend is the “famous Harry Potter”, assuming that they are not in a huff with each other because they are teenage boys. Although frankly, despite being heralded as “the famous Harry Potter”, he is a pretty rubbish wizard to have your back. This is mainly because he keeps standing in front of Ron. Fortunately, Hermione Granger fancies him, so has a vested interest in keeping him in at least two pieces. Plus, legendary bad-ass Neville Longbottom is standing behind him with a massive fuck-off sword he just found in a magic hat.

Ron wins.


NUANCES AND WHATNOT



Sam is a lowly gardener from what I can only guess is the West Country of Hobbiton. I don’t know. What do you want, research or something? He's very small and a bit podgy but will do ANYTHING to defend Frodo, including reading 'Go fuck yourself San Diego' from the autocue. He has promised Gandalf to keep Frodo safe, and Gandalf is pretty scary, especially when he does the whole deep breath/LOOMing thing.

Incidentally, ‘Loom’ is an archaic euphemism for a penis. Now you can all snigger at anyone wearing ‘Fruit of the Loom’ clothes. Don’t say this blog isn’t educational.

Sam, like Boromir, does most of the hard work only for someone else to swan off with the credit. Unlike Boromir, he’s pretty much okay with this.

He is also scared of boats.

Ron is good at wizard’s chess, although it would strain credulity for this to become an important plot point at any stage. He's pretty small and a bit skinny (let’s ignore the later films) but will do ANYTHING to defend Hermione. Well, he'll say he'll do anything, but tends to be all talk and no action (let’s ignore the later books). JK Rowling has stated that Ron acknowledging his weaknesses makes him a man. Not looking promising then unless he can become the perfect battleaxe of a woman, but then we’re verging on Jeremy Kyle territory.

Ron, like Boromir, gets pretty miffed about how everyone thinks his new bezzie is better than him at everything. Unlike Boromir, he isn’t played by Sean Bean, because that would be wrong (especially in the first earlier films).

He's also scared of spiders.


IT'S CLOBBERING TIME


Weasley and Gamgee face each other nervously, Sam lighting the room with the blinding light of Elandil, then Ron turning it out using a delumintor, over and over again, biding time until someone bigger, stronger, more rugged and prettier comes to help. Gamgee is the first to realise that there are no elves coming to his aid. Ah, those beautiful elves. They’re so pretty and shiney and clever and...

OW!” Shouts Sam, as he is hit by a small hard vegetable, and turns to see Ron running behind a hippogriff. He picks up his enemy’s long-distance weapon of choice, now lying broken on the ground.

A potato? What the waste of good food. You’ll pay for that!”. He pops it into his gardening bag and charges in the general direction of Ron, narrowly avoiding a face kicking from the big winged-horse-beast.

Ron points his wand at Sam, shouts “EAT SLUGS," and the slimy black creatures come pouring out of Sam’s mouth. Shocked for a moment, Sam falls to his knees. Luckily, Sam has a handy bag of gardening supplies so pops a couple of slug pellets into his slime-filled mouth which soon work their own kind of magic on the slugs, turning them into what looks a little too much like man chowder.

Ron almost faints at the sight of the rampaging Hobbit, his mouth sending out plumes of sluggy spray as he roars.

Sam quickly seizes his chance and puts Ron’s wand in his ring, thus rendering it invisible. This makes the fight more equal and causes slash-fiction writers everywhere to have a coronary.

Ron complains that this is unfair and stomps about in a bout of angst for a few chapters. Meanwhile, Sam is rummaging around in his gardening bag and pulls out a trowel, ready and willing to use it as a teenage embludgeoning device. While plucking his towel from his sack, a spider crawls from its hiding place. Ron gibbers in disbelief.

I can’t believe you would fight dirty!” shouts Ron, hastily backing away.

My tools are cleaned regularly.” says Sam. He notices the spider, and bravely collects it using a glass and a piece of card, before flinging it in Ron’s direction. Ron makes a noise beyond the frequency of human hearing, trips over a box of quidditch balls, crashes into the mirror of Erised and slumps to the floor in a shower of bloody shards, while the now-free bludgers start pummelling him.

Defeated by a spider!" sighed Sam, dodging a bludger. “You’d never catch me being despatched so rubbishly.”

At that, Sam starts convulsing, and blood begins to pour out of his every orifice. And I mean: Every. Single. One.

Imagine.

Too late, Sam realises his fatal mistake. Slug pellets are poisonous not only to slugs and Humans, but also Hobbits. He falls to the ground, twitching. In his last breath he sighed “I’m sorry, Mr Frodo”.

Ron stands up woozily and looks in the mirror. His smile judders into bloody fragments, leering back at him like a Pixies song.

Maybe you aren’t a useless wimp after all. You won.” he says to himself, failing to realise the gaping, bloody wound on his head is more than likely fatal.

You won Weasley. You’re their King.”

He stumbles forward into the light.



AND THE WINNER IS...

   

 RON WEASLEY


"Hermione, why is Ron's arm disguised as Gerard Depardieu?"


FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! will return in:


 "SAM, MY SWORD IS SINGING 'MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE'. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?"

If you have any suggestions for who you'd like to see square go each other in future FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! articles, please mention them below.

Monday, 11 March 2013

FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! #22


This week's FIGHT is written by Philip Tibbetts.


Haters are always going to hate, but that’s never enough.

Hate wants to be heard, it needs to hurt. It’s part of the system, and if you’re in the system the hate will find you, one way or another.


The pervasive persistence of the expectation should serve to dull it, but only serves to prove the paranoia and allow the fear to fester. When the confrontation comes, I leave. I can see the violence but I don’t feel it, I can’t allow myself to feel it.

I look out from my mental redoubt at the instinctual physical defence, the natural justice, the noble savage. I may not like it, but I have to admit:

Survival makes me feel good.  


FIGHT #22

 


SHARPE
vs
HORNBLOWER



WHO THEY THEN? 

A black haired Londoner.


Richard Sharpe: Of humble origins he must rise through the British armed forces against a tide of institutional incompetence and bigotry using his natural brilliance in leadership along with an uncanny sense of luck to be at a series of majorly significant engagements in the history of the Napoleonic War.


A swash-buckling Kentish-man.

Horatio Hornblower: Pretty much the same, but at sea (Though, to be fair, he did come first).


THEY PACKING MUCH HEAT?



Sharpe has access to a wide range of 19th Century infantry weaponry, but is a particular expert with the Baker Rifle. This gun was far more accurate and deadly than the muskets commonly issued to most soldiers. This made it an ideal tool for the sniping and skirmishing missions of the Chosen Men. The rag-tag band of merry men in green that Sharpe leads consisting of poachers, other people and acclaimed folk artist John Tamm. Robin Hood’s Merry Men meets the Dirty Dozen. Experts all in the use of the Rifle.

Hornblower has only one weapon at his disposal: The British Navy. The most awesome platform of firepower the Nineteenth Century has to offer, and therefore the Senior Service.

They are, however, rather limited to being at or near the sea.

Still. Doesn't one covet such a formidable arsenal? Yes, one most certainly does.

THEIR BACK: WHO HAS IT?



Sharpe is able to call upon the talents of Patrick Harper; a bear of a man, so big he is one of the few to be able to handle the seven barrelled Nock Gun without having his shoulder broken by the recoil. Originally set against Sharpe after working off a little homo-erotic tension together he became a loyal enforcer to Richard, entering into a Little John/Robin Hood relationship. A stout Irishman, Harper served a long army career without injury, rising to Regimental Sergeant Major after Sharpe ended his rebellious days.

A Hornblower in the hand is worth William Bush. One time Hornblower’s superior, Bush sees through Horatio’s crippling self-doubt to recognise the man's brilliance. He ensures the Hornblower is promoted above him and proceeds to be his loyal aide. Bush is played by Paul McGann, who was originally chosen for the role of Sharpe before Sean Bean took the role. McGann has had a more succesful musical career than the Yorkshireman though, so every cloud, etc.


NUANCES AND WHATNOT



Sharpe, as well as being well versed in the art of infantry, has significant experience of naval warfare. He was present at the Royal Navy’s victories at the Battles of Copenhagen and Trafalgar.

Hornblower, as well as being well versed in seafaring, has significant experience of land based fighting. Hornblower has frequently commanded Marine incursions into enemy territory and even undertaken clandestine intelligence operations.


IT'S CLOBBERING TIME


Gascony, France – Summer 1813
Behind enemy lines.

The temperature is only eased by the last intermittent strains of a sea breeze emanating from the ocean, a distant teasing cobalt underscore to a fierce azure sky.

The land is a series of ancient hills, smoothed down as if the motion of the distant sea has eroded them, then the sun bleached them dry. Pockets of rich green vegetation cling to the shaded valleys and animals pick the last of the desiccated grazing from the fields surrounding a few lonely scattered farmsteads.

On a hilly plateau overlooking the vista is a grand country house, once gleaming boldly against the panorama but now warmly weathered, providing an understated highlight. All is eerily quiet as though sound itself is finding it too hot to work in such a climate.

Sound is then back on the case (something that will ultimately become known as a Calippo in involved) as a very Anglo-Saxon curse breaks the stifling tranquillity through the tender yet forceful medium of an Irish lilt (it's a totally Shamrockical taste). The large green frame of a Chosen Man stops just short of the cool shaded door to the house, slinging a massive gun upon his back and wiping the sweat from his brow with a coarse dry sleeve before raising his hands. A man dressed in dark blue naval uniform steps out from the doorway and into the blazing light, pointing a pistol at the newcomer.

“Captain Bush of HMS Nonsuch, I guess from your tongue you’re not a native.”
“Aye, that’d be right. Sergeant Harper of the 95th Rifles.”
“You’re a long way from the front Sergeant,” says Bush slipping his pistol back into its holster. “You can lower your hands man.”
“Yes sir, thank you sir, though begging your pardon sir, you’re quite a duck out of water here. If you follow my meaning.”
“I’m part of a naval intelligence landing party…”
“Let me guess; tasked to make contact with a French Royalist ahead of a future push out of Spain?”
“…erm… indeed.”
“Typical. All those sneaky intelligence sods don’t even know they’re stumbling over each other!”
“Well, I assume you’re not the only one on your mission?”
“No sir, I’m here with Major Sharpe. He approached the house from the rear.”
“Well I’m sure he’ll meet with Commodore Hornblower inside and follow his lead.”
“Follow sir? Doesn’t sound like the Major at all”
“He’ll have to sergeant – senior service, senior commission and, most importantly, we were first!”
“Right you are sir, best wait for them then… fancy playing football to pass some time?”
“Oh certainly. What’s the worst that can happen?"

While all this is going on, a man in the same tattered, worn green jacket as Sergeant Harper, but wearing a much smaller frame, silently pulls himself through a rear window and into the study of the house. Richard Sharpe’s eyes adjust to the comparative gloom of the room, illuminated only by the reflected glow of the sun-kissed countryside as it squeezes in through the small window after him. Swearing under his breath - for obviously missing the Countess’ bedroom window - he quietly stalks, like a mossy panther, to the closed door and rests his ear to the cool wood. From outside in the corridor he hears a man say:

“Excuse-Moi, Countess?...”

Upon hearing the fluent French from the other side of the door, Sharpe oaths silently to himself, braces himself and flings the door open. The relative dark of the corridor is interrupted a shard of sunlight pouring in through an open window at the other end, the shutters pushed wide open to welcome the dying breeze. The light partially blinds Sharpe but he sees the owner of the flowing French accent immediately in front of him. The dark blue uniform can only be a French officer!

He could be here to blackmail the Countess, or simply be here by some sort of terribly French accident, but Sharpe can’t afford to be discovered. He reacts instantly with the only weapon immediately available to him, sending the man into a whirling pool of blue with punch to the jaw.

Hornblower’s world lurches sickeningly, reminding him of his early days of seasickness if it were not for the intense pain in his jaw. Looking up from the floor he sees the rough, grimy tanned man that burst out of the room next to him but a moment ago. The demeanour and countenance and general mossiness of the man gives the impression he may work outdoors, perhaps the house groundsman? Hornblower instantly rebukes himself, how could he be so foolish - the ripped and torn green jacket is clearly military in origin! He must be a deserter and bandit, fleeing the lines and has come to the house to raid, pillage and possibly worse!

The man standing above Hornblower’s prostrate form is lean and feral, every muscle, tendon and sinew poised and taught. He is reaching for the rifle slung over his shoulder but before he can bring it to bear Hornblower whips a leg out, sweeping the man’s footing out from underneath him.
He falls with a crash like a moss covered log, the rifle cascading down the nearby stairwell like a discarded broken branch. Hornblower doesn’t waste the opportunity and is on his feet in a flash, but the fallen man springs back to his feet nearly as quickly.

The two men now face each other in the corridor, two British oaks framing the Countess’ door. Hornblower, stiff and erect in his commodores uniform, calculating options in his eddying and fathomless mind; Sharpe rough and ready in his exposed uniform, his penetrating gaze searching for any opening to exploit. Simultaneously their hands race across to their scabbards and un-sheath their swords, their weapons quivering with anticipation.

The naval man carefully shifts his weight and Sharpe lunges forward, the great mass of his heavy cavalry sword arcing upward from left to right. But the naval officers’ cutlass of Hornblower nimbly parrying the thrust of the bigger blade, deflecting it into the bedroom door. Hornblower, the less moss-resembling of the two, now counterattacks, leaping on spry toes to place a shoulder into Sharpe’s ribs.

Sharpe stumbles backward bringing his blade with him, hewing a chuck of ancient wood in twain. Hornblower flicks his cutlass back across, the tip just raking across Sharpe’s chest as he falls back taking away the last buttons holding his jacket closed and leaving a raw pink red welt across his now exposed chest. A flash of blood red rage passes through Sharpe’s eyes but he already knows his next tactic. He harnesses the momentum of his sword and swings it back around and over his head, with a step forward bringing it crashing down towards the other man. Hornblower raises his cutlass to meet the incoming steel, but he knows it’ll be no match for the weight about to descend. The cavalry sword tears the small cutlass from the seaman’s grip, but as Sharpe continues to fall upon him Hornblower anchors his foot to the floor, grabs a threadbare lapel and spins. Sharpe realises too late that he has been swung about, but like a desperate lion he reaches out with a claw and snares his foe.

The two men slam together onto the hard wood of the bedroom door. Weakened from the earlier blow of Sharpe's sword, it cannot contain the force of both men. The wood relents with one last resigned moan and the two men spurt forth into the Countess’ boudoir, sprayed and splayed upon the floor.

Immediately Sharpe’s survival instinct kicks in. The sound of singing steel sends him rolling to the side and a thin silver sliver skims past his face. Above him is a man, who holds a pistol to the head of a beautiful woman lying in the bed and now the sword pointed down to his throat. The man leers down at Sharpe.

“Monsieur Ducos will be overjoyed to hear…” The rich French accent withers, eyes widening. “Ah," he mutters, "Merde.”

Hornblower, from behind Sharpe, rolls and rises bringing a pistol to bear on the Frenchman in the room. The Frenchman begins to wheal his gun around, taking it off the girl in the bed, but far too late. With a loud retort Hornblower fires, his guns’ load ripping through the Frenchman’s shoulder, sending him staggering backwards towards the window. Sharpe springs back upright, his muscles uncoiling like snakes unwrapping themselves from limbs of purest Sheffield steel and/or mossy tendrils.

Still clutching his heavyweight weapon Sharpe runs at the Frenchman, now framed by the glowing light of the window, and plants a punch full in his face with the metal hand guard of the sword. This connects the same time as a punch delivered to the Frenchman by Hornblower who had discarded his one shot pistol and hurdled the bed to land his blow. Combined the two blows defenestrate the Frenchman and he drops silently from view to land broken on the dusty ground a floor below, like so much of his seed has before him.

Sharpe and Hornblower instantly retract, still wary of each other’s presence. Sweating and aching from their earlier exertions they look at each other and breathe deeply – regrouping, recalculating, repositioning. Sharpe - glowering, mossy, belligerent - weighs the now heavy sword in his hand. Hornblower - dashing, plucky, mossless - reaching slowly to the reassuring bulge of his second pistol.

“Bravo, my brave English boys,” comes a silky almost playful French lilt (aah, refreshing). "You have saved me from the spy of the Republic.”

The two men now look at each other with aghast realisation yet certainly relieved, and turn to look at the girl in the bed. The Countess. Despite lying in bed her long and slender frame was evident to both men. She was in her forties, her noble bearing giving her both a freshness that turned back the years and a confidence that gave her no small amount of power. The lightly tanned skin of her Pyrenean provenance combined with her French tongue to give her an exotic countenance and a beguiling sense of danger. The bed sheets were lightly draped over her, she had been waiting like this. She sits up in the bed, the long dark waves of hair tumble down over her shoulders. The sheets ruffle together around her hips.

Sharpe and Hornblower find themselves staring at the rudimentary application of physics to invigorate the rudimentary application of biology.
It is a whale bone corset.

“So perhaps now we can commence our business,” - a wicked smile flashes across her face - “To arrange relations between us...no?”



AND THE WINNER IS...

   

 BRITAIN


But the Navy did come first.

FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! will return in:


 "The Queen is dead, because Morrissey slapped her to death with a Cumberland."

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