The Duelist is a story that I’ve had in my head for a long time, and was finally able to write late last year. The inspiration for the main character and the events described come from local legend. It seems incredible today, but there was a time when duels were fought for a variety of reasons (were any of them really good reasons?) and there were “serial duelists” who killed several opponents over the years. Quentin Knox is a combination of one of these duelists and a legendary local Revolutionary War hero who supposedly became so fond of war that he went on to become one of Napoleon’s officers.
Some of the research here comes from an earlier nonfiction book called Delmarva Legends & Lore. The weapon of choice for duelists in 19th century Americans was the dueling pistol, but the idea of a duelist who preferred a sword was intriguing. Quentin Knox is not an entirely good or likable person, not even to himself, but he does have a sense of humor and skill with a sword:
Revolutionary War hero turned soldier of fortune Major Quentin Knox returns from Europe’s Napoleonic Wars broken in spirit and impoverished. A deadly duelist and fearless soldier, he has seen and done things of which he is not proud. With his last coins, he buys passage to the Chesapeake Bay Tidewater country that he remembers from his youth. But instead of peace, he finds his skills as a swordsman called upon once again to teach a teenager from the local gentry the art of the sword in preparation for a duel that he is being forced into fighting. Knox soon engages in the most challenging swordplay of his life as he enters a dangerous game to keep two young friends from killing one another in a duel. And in a final act of violence, he may finally find his own redemption.
The Duelist is a bit more than 13,000 words long, or around 50 printed pages, so calling it a novella made more sense (I thought) than calling it a short story. This novella has three parts, rather than chapters. For a while, I wondered if I could add scenes and characters to make it into more of a novel length. However, some stories are as long as they need to be, and I think that’s the case here.
After reading it, you may agree that settling differences with a duel wasn’t such a good arrangement, particularly if Quentin Knox was your adversary!