Swordfighting Lesson

In which Haft teaches Cantil


Knights’ Practice Room

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You stand on the chamber which serves the Knights’ Practice Room. One part is dedicated to hand to hand combat, and the rest of the area has stands for straw dummies. You can also see much of the countryside from here. On a chair near the door sits the old sergeant, Doel, who maintains the equipment.

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You can go: Equipment Room <E>

Contents: Doel, the Trainer and Straw Target.

Cantil sits crosslegged on the floor against the wall, well out of the way. He is watching two men spar, his eyes narrowed thoughtfully.

Haft walks into the room, scanning for Cantil.  When he sees the youth he walks over and pulls over a stoll, sitting next to him and also eying the spar.  “Thoughts?” he asks.

Cantil hmms, shaking his head a little. He watches for another few seconds, then says musingly, “I think… they must know each other very well.”

Haft narrows his eyes, regarding the opponents’ choices.  “And you determine that because?”

Cantil says, “‘Cause. They sort of… know what the other is gonna do. Like they spar a lot together.”

Haft nods.  “You’re correct.  In fact I see these two in here often. They’re regular sparring partners.”  He offers, “In addition, if they were less familiar with each other’s technique, one or the other would likely have connected a blow by now.  Fancy exchanges of blows look interesting, but the reality of warfare is to get in quickly and score your blow.  With real blades, that’s often enough to disable an unarmored man.  But they’ve been at it awhile and are still predicting each other.”

Cantil nods thoughtfully, not looking away for another moment. At last, he glances up at Haft expectantly.

Haft waits a moment more till one of the men finally lands a winning strike.  He nods in approval, then turns to Cantil.  “So, you’re Lord Dar’s squire.  How long, and what training have you had thus far?”

Cantil says, “Uhh. A couple years now, I think, yeah. I’ve done a little bit with wooden swords and targets, mostly on my own though since milord has a lot to do.”

Haft nods.  “No point trying to explain the pictures till I see what you already know.  Just be rehashing old lessons, maybe, and I don’t need my time or yours wasted.”  He rises, fetching two practice swords and  returning, handing one to Cantil.

Cantil unfolds his legs and rises, reaching out to take the sword. It seems to sit comfortably in his hand, and he waits to see what Haft will do.

Haft shakes his head slightly.  “Not short sword style.  You learned anything of the longsword?”

Cantil narrows one eye at Haft and looks down at the practice sword in his hand.

Haft says, “Two-handed work. For a man without a shield, it’s a good thing to know. Allows you greater control and more force behind your weapon.”

Cantil says, “I’ve only practiced arming sword forms.”

Haft says, “All right then, let’s try a few passes.”

Cantil looks doubtful, but he nods and raises his sword.

Haft brings his sword lightly in from the right side, not too fast, looking for Cantil’s reaction.

Cantil switches hands without thinking as Haft begins and raises the practice sword to parry. It’s a fairly strong block, but he doesn’t seem to know what to do next.

Haft catches Cantil’s blade, edge to edge, and sets it aside with a sweep to his left.

Cantil’s forehead knits. He disengages from Haft’s blade and draws quickly back, returning his sword to the position it started in, albeit in the other hand.

Haft frowns.  “You switched hands.”

Cantil glances up at Haft guiltily and quickly switches back.

Haft furrows his brow.  “You try to use both?”

Cantil pauses, confused. “Er– it’s this one in all the books?”

Haft lowers his sword, nodding.  “Aye, it would be.  Ain’t that the hand you use for…well, eatin’?”

Cantil pauses again, longer this time. “Uh…”

Haft chuckles.  “Put down your sword a minute.”

Cantil sets it down carefully by his feet, watching Haft.

Haft fishes in the pouch at his hip, then tosses a copper to Cantil.  “Catch!”

Cantil watches the coin’s arc and cups his hands underneath it.

Haft snorts.  “Well, that failed to answer the question.”

Haft says, “Toss it back.”

Cantil flicks it neatly at him, using his left hand.

Haft asks, “Huh.  Left-handed then.  I’ve known a few men who can fight left-handed, or fight with either hand.  Has Lord Dar expressed a preference in your training?”

Cantil says, “Not in this, no.”

Haft strokes his beard.  “I wonder.  The trouble is that an attack from the right…well, come and look at the drawings.”  He returns to the stool and picks up a small stack of parchments, leafing through until he finds the one he is looking for and beckoning Cantil over.

Cantil stops to pick up his practice sword and trails after him.

Haft points to the page.  “You see here, how the man–sorry, I know it looks a bit like a woodchuck, but I did my best–see how he’s making that strike?  According to Dobrin here, a strike from the right is the strongest sort, and so I wonder whether it’s better to learn with the right hand first, or to train you in the left and find ways to compensate.”

Cantil looks at the drawing thoughtfully. “It’s got to be from the right?”

Haft says, “No, it don’t have to be.  It’s just the strongest position, or so he says.  Maybe that’s cause most folks are right-handed.  Trouble is, attacking from the left with a dominant left hand might give you an advantage in strength, but it won’t give you one when you need to block his blow.”  He frowns thoughtfully.  “Although…like I said, it’s often the first strike that matters most.””

Cantil hmms. He crosses his blade across his body and swings it thoughtfully with a backhanded motion so it comes from the right, then shrugs.

Haft shrugs.  “I might get a couple of opinions on the matter.  For now, go ahead with that hand.  Switching wastes time unless you’ve got a good reason.”  He rolls his eyes.  “Sparred with a man yesterday kept checking every welt and rubbin’ his arms and stuff.  That’s one of the first things to know: if you’re slow, you lose.  You’re distracted, you lose.  And most times, if you don’t get the first blow in, you lose.  And outside the practice room, that means dead.  Now, let’s try that same pass again, slowly.  Show me what you’d do.”  He rises up, setting the papers aside, and stands ready.

Cantil purses his lips and raises his sword again, waiting for Haft to make the first move.

Haft brings his sword in from the right again.

Cantil raises his weapon again in his left hand to block, and pushes back this time, wary of Haft’s last trick.

Haft nods.  “Better, but not quite best.  First, you don’t bring your edge against mine.  Do that and the two bind.  Bring your flat against my edge.  It’s stronger.  Try that first.”  He steps back and stries the move again.

Cantil repeats, confused, “Bind?” But he twists his blade to do as Haft advises.

Haft asks, “Good.  I mean that if you wanted to bring your sword along the length of mine–the next thing you should do, to strike at me, your blade will move more smoothly if it’s the flat against mine and not edge to edge.  Course edge to edge might catch a nick, too, but that’s not the chief concern.  And even if you were only trying to deflect, you’d want the stronger part of your sword against the weaker part of mine.  Got that?”

Cantil seems even more confused, but he says, “Sure, all right.”

Haft says, “Try it again.  This time, as the swords meet, angle your sword and slide it along the length of mine to bring it toward my shoulder.”

Haft repeats the move.

Cantil looks suspicious, but he gives it a try.

Haft sets the blade aside in a similar manner as their original exchange, but gives a small nod of approval.  “Yes, like that.  Next, improve upon it.  Again, you want the strongest part of your sword to meet the weakest part of mine, and that also means lower on your blade to the tapering of mine is the best place for us to meet to give you an advantage.  It gives you far more control as you slide down the blade to strike at me.  But to do that, it’s necessary that you see what I intend and respond almost at once, before my arm is fully extended.”

Cantil says slowly, “I think I understand.”

Haft repeats the exchange with Cantil several more times, offering advice for improvement with each pass.

Cantil finally draws back, wiping his forehead with his sleeve. “I should go,” he says, glancing at the window. “Lord Dar said to be back by supper.”

Haft lowers his sword.  “Right.  Better get a move on then.  You’ll want to wash up.  This was good work.  Maybe…” He suddenly looks a little uncertain.  “Maybe again another time?”

Cantil says, glancing at him with a companionable grin, “Yeah, all right. Thank you.”

Haft smiles faintly.  “You’re welcome.”

Cantil looks at Haft’s practice sword and reaches out for it, offering to return it to its place.

Haft hands the sword over.  “Thanks.”

Cantil salutes him with it and carries it off to the weapons rack. He disappears through the door.

Haft smiles after the lad.

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