by Clay StaffordJune, 1999
The Fencing Master is a mystery set in the mid-1800s, when Queen Isabel II was on the Spanish throne and a revolution was in the making. There is an interesting analogy throughout between the art of fencing (context), the more symbolic art of love (theme), and the art of political revolt (place). All are subtly tied together. The fencing master, Jaime Astarloa, is nearing retirement. Before his death, he has one goal: A fencing move from which there is no parry, or countermove. He calls it the Holy Grail, the thrusting move for which there is no defense. Other characters include a gambler, womanizer, and member of the Queen's court; a disillusioned priest turned journalist; a snobbish man of noble birth whose family has run out of money; a piano teacher who once dreamed of greatness and is sadly in love; and a beautiful, mysterious woman. These characters are the mystery and to tell more would almost give the mystery away.
The Fencing Master is the story of a man's life, of passion, of making a difference. It is a mystery of the life in every day. Feelings and intuition cannot be grasped and examined like a piece of art. Yet, as the fencing master learns, they can be analyzed in hindsight like a good match of foils: deliberate thrusts, deliberate feints. In the beginning, we find only a fencing master searching for the perfect thrust, who wishes to live his last days in peace, reliving only the joys of his past, finding macabre consolation that his days are numbered, and making his humble way by teaching the passing gentleman's art of fencing in a disillusioning new world ruled by revolvers and firearms. Quickly, though, he realizes that life will not grant him any such peace in his old age. As with many a man's sleepless nights and the answer to many of life's mysteries, a single thought begins them all: There was a woman . . . Clay Stafford is a writer and filmmaker living outside Nashville.