by John Reiter
“Pfui!” Camilla sneezed, clearing her nose. “This stuff smells like a tomb, Raphael. Didn’t your sister ever dust up here?”
Raphael Montez shrugged as he pulled an old sheet off another pile of old furniture and boxes in the attic of his sister’s old house. The attic was lit by a single small window, which gave no view at all of the pretty modern suburb of Seville, Spain, in which it was situated. Pretty soon the air will be unbreathable, he thought as he inadvertently stirred up yet another cloud of dust. Aloud he said, “I don’t know. She didn’t invite me over much after she moved out.”
That was the understatement of the century. Raphael’s sister Juliet had wanted nothing to do with her annoying little pest of a brother when she was eighteen and he was eight, and she seemed to have forgotten about him and their entire family, to boot, when she finally moved out and started living on her own at age twenty. As far as Juliet Montez was concerned, she was grown up from the moment she could date, and everyone was determined to hold her back. It had come as quite a surprise when he suddenly received a letter a few weeks ago informing him that she had died in a car accident.
“I can’t imagine Juliet as a housekeeper,” Raphael added in response to his girlfriend’s question. “I’m really grateful, you know. You didn’t have to spend all this time helping me clean out her house before the estate sale.” Since his parents had died a few years back, Raphael was the nearest living relative. He had to go through all the items in the house before deciding what to sell and what to keep.
Camilla smiled, and it was as if the sun itself was rising. How did I get so lucky? thought Raphael. Camilla Sanchez was the most sought-after girl at the University of Seville. The shallow guys saw her hourglass figure, toned athletic limbs, perfectly proportioned chest, and shoulder-length auburn curls. Anyone who probed deeper would find her as beautiful within as without. She was a straight-A student, had a dry sense of humor, and would give her last dollar to a beggar, even if she hadn’t eaten for a day.
Raphael knew for a fact that he didn’t rate her. He was tall, but not athletic, although nobody would ever say he was a geek; he was too healthy for that. His hair was brown and unruly, since he wouldn’t have the first idea how to make it look good. He was an A to B student, heavy on the As, which was how he first met Camilla in their honors class. When he asked her on their second date why she would be interested in him, she just punched his arm lightly and said, “Don’t be an idiot, silly.”
Camilla stretched out a kink in her back, without a trace of self-consciousness. “It’s nothing. Hey, give me a hand with this old trunk here. I need to pull it out. Maybe there’s something valuable in it.”
“I doubt it.” Raphael joined her on the other side of the attic anyway and bent down to help her pull a wooden trunk out from under a blanket. The trunk was a heavy one. He recognized it as a gift from his mother on the occasion of his sister moving out. It had been originally intended to hold blankets.
But it wasn’t blankets that they found inside.
“Wow!” Camilla gasped, and Raphael echoed her. The first thing that caught their eyes inside the chest was a gleaming steel rapier, complete with cup hilt and long straight quillons, right out of the early Renaissance period.
“You never told me your sister collected antiques!” said Camilla as she drew out the sword and held it balanced in her hands. “This is in perfect condition.”
“I never knew she did,” Raphael replied. “Do you think it’s real?” His major was literature, unlike Camilla, who was a major in history.
“I… think so.” Camilla appraised the sword with a critical eye. “Although it’s almost too perfect, nearly brand-new. Maybe she got it at a Renaissance festival or something. If it is an imitation, it’s got to be the best I’ve ever seen.”
“Do you think it’s worth something?” he asked hopefully. Paying his way through college with his part of their parent’s estate and odd jobs was tough. He had vainly hoped to discover that his sister had owned something really valuable when he inherited her property.
“If it’s a real antique, it’s priceless,” asserted Camilla. “Even if it is an imitation, it’s probably worth a lot. Hang on, I brought some of my textbooks to do a little studying if we had time. I want to compare this to some of the pictures of early Renaissance swords.”
Camilla carefully set the sword down on one of the chairs and darted back down the attic steps.
Raphael continued to gaze at the sword in wonder for a minute or two when he heard Camilla scream. This was cut off sharply by a savage slap and the sound of men cursing.
Camilla! A shock of fear ran down Raphael’s spine. Quickly and quietly, he crept to the edge of the attic door and looked down, careful to keep out of sight.
The door overlooked the living room and, by leaning to the side, he could see the front hall and the kitchen/dining room.
The front door was hanging open, the lock a tangled mess. Three men in sweatshirts and jeans wearing ski masks were robbing the house. Two were carrying a television out the door. The third was holding Camilla, one hand over her mouth, the other twisting her arm cruelly behind her back. The left side of her face had a red slap mark.
Raphael’s blood boiled with rage. He wanted to jump right down the fold-out steps and attack. But each man had a gun, and he knew he wouldn’t stand a chance. He was just lucky they didn’t know he was there.
But he couldn’t just hide like a coward. They might hit Camilla again. Or worse.
He glanced at the sword again. Sure, he had no experience, but any weapon had to be better than no weapon, right? He seized the handle…
…and the whole room seemed to spin. In an instant he was several inches taller, and his body felt completely different. He felt stronger, more limber, and more vital than ever before. The sword, which had seemed heavy in his hand before, now felt like a natural extension of his arm.
He caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror hanging on the wall, and the face that looked back at him wasn’t his own. His eyes were different, his hair was darker, and he now had a neatly trimmed beard. Even his clothes had changed. He now wore a doublet and hose, a leather belt with a scabbard, leather boots and gloves, and a wide-brimmed hat with a feather. He looked exactly like a Renaissance Spanish cavalier.
Even his mind had changed. He still knew he was Raphael Montez, twentieth-century Spanish college student. But he also knew he was Don Juan, the greatest lover, swordsman, and trickster in all Hispania. The sword didn’t just feel light; he felt like he could put it anywhere he wished, quicker than any eye could follow (except his own). His mind was sizing up the situation downstairs like quicksilver. Before he had felt determined, but scared; now the thought of facing three armed men made him want to laugh. It was barely a light workout. Camilla would be swooning in his arms before the robbers realized they were beaten.
I need to get down there!
With that thought he was suddenly drawn weightlessly into the air. His sword pulled him straight down the stairs, as if it was attached to an invisible cord. He was flying.