An Awful Guard

In which there is a discussion of career choices

Chesterton Township


Contents: A daughter of eve with short, copper hair (Megren).

Haft, Megren and Haft’s niece and nephews stand in a clear area behind the garden after morning chores have been completed.  The boys each hold a wooden sword and Calla has perched herself on the wooden garden fence to watch while the boys takes their turns first.

While Haft answers a question from Ven about the age at which a man can join the guard, Calla addresses Megren.  “Have you been a guard long?”

Megren stands on the other side of the fence, leaning steeply forward with her elbows rested against the rail and her feet tip-toed while she watches. She wears her town clothes, but she has her sword strapped to her side anyway, in case Haft needs a partner in displaying forms. She glances away from the boys to Calla. “Coming up on two years now. It feels like longer, though.” She wrinkles her nose at the sound of this. “I mean — in a good way. It feels like the right place to be.”

Calla asks, “Was your father a guard, too, like my grandfather?”

Megren shakes her head. “No, my father was a hunter.”

Calla says, “Oh.  My other grandfather was a carpenter, like Papa.”

Megren asks, “Would you like to be a carpenter?”

Haft instructs the boys.  “Right, so you said your father made you swords before.  Do you know anything about how to hold them properly?”

Ven shrugs, “Sure.  I’ve seen a spar or two.”

Ash looks doubtful.

Calla bites her lip thoughtfully.  “Maybe.  Papa won’t let me handle the sharp tools yet, but I like the way he can carve things into the wood.  And he explained the things he does to join two pieces…dovetail and mortise and tenon…that’s kind of interesting.  Feel like I’ll never get big enough to lift the big boards though, sometimes.”

Megren nods, her eyes shifting distractedly toward the practice session. “How old do carpenters usually start learning?”

Calla says, “About eight.  I’m seven now.  Ash and Ven are learning already.”  She sticks out her lower lip, then says confidentially, “Ven would rather be outside.””

Haft nods to Ven.  “All right.  Show me what you know.”  Ven proceeds to raise his sword with both hands on the hilt.

Haft watches.  “These swords are a little shorter, to train to use arming swords.  You’ll want to hold it with your dominant hand.”

Megren taps the toe of her shoe against the earth absently. “Pretty soon, then.” She tilts her head, watching Ven thoughtfully. “What about you? You like being indoors more, then?”

Ven frowns.  “Dominant?”

Haft says, “The hand you eat with.”

Ven extends the sword with his right hand.  “It’ll get awfully heavy that way, won’t it?”

Calla considers.  “I like being outside in the garden–not just the flowers,” she adds quickly, as though afraid to be thought frivolous.  “I like helping grow the vegetables.  But I like indoor things too.  I like sewing.  I hemmed this apron.”

Megren smiles. “That’s good, to like a lot of different things. It’s harder to be unhappy when there’s so much to like.”

Haft says, “Yes, but that’s why you practice until your muscles are used to it.  If you get tired while fighting before you’re opponent, well, you lose.”

Ash tests the weight of his sword, finding it even more heavy due to his smaller size.

Calla smiles.  “But then, how did you decide what you wanted to do?”

Megren leans her ribs against the rail and her forearms. “Well, hunting is just you by yourself for days and days. Sometimes, if you’re like my father was, you even live out by yourself. I liked it when we went into town to sell things… being around people. Being a guard let me do that and still use some of what my father taught me.”

Ven looks at his uncle.  “Can we try now?”

Haft gives them some simple instructions and says, “All right, let’s see one of you try to score a hit on the other’s chest.  Not too hard, mind.  There’s no point in force until you’ve mastered the technique, and I won’t have your mother sore.”

Ash steps forward, not raising his sword yet.  Ven gives him a look as though he’s already won.

Haft nods.  “All right, go ahead.”

Ven steps forward quickly, as Ash lifts his sword to block, a little too late, and Ven’s sword touches his chest and he stumbles back.

Haft says, “That’s good Ven.”  He turns to his younger nephew.  “It’s often the first strike that determines the outcome of a fight, even ends a fight, so the moment you prepare to enter a spar, or if you were using a real sword, the moment you scented trouble, your sword had better be up.””

Ash says, “I was trying to…” he trails off.

Haft says, “Conserve your strength, because it’s heavy?” Ash nods.  “That makes sense.  And certainly you’ll want to conserve energy in other ways, if you find yourself in a long fight.  But the lifting of the sword isn’t the place to save energy.”  He looks slightly apologetic.  “There’s nothing for it but practice, I’m afraid.  Do you have the swords your father made you?”

Ash nods eagerly.  “I can fetch ’em.” He looks hopeful.

Haft says, “Yes, maybe you’d better do that.  We can’t very well show you how to use a sword you can’t lift.  But I can tell you a few ways to train up your muscles and you can practice those after I go.”

Ash waits just long enough for his uncle to finish talking, then dashes around the side of the house.

Calla frowns.  “Are you leaving very soon, Uncle Haft?”

Megren looks up from Calla to Haft.

Haft smiles at his niece.  “Soon, but not for some days yet.  Megren and I both have our duties at Anvard to return to, and I wouldn’t want Captain Garian to regret his decision to allow us leave.”

Ven leans on his sword.  “What’s your captain like?  Is he old and grizzled, with a patch over one eye?”

Haft looks slightly bemused by this imagined image of Captain Garian.

Megren says, “Not too far from the mark.”

Haft snorts.

Haft asks, “You gonna tell the lad about the Captain’s peg leg, too?  And the ear trumpet he needs just to hear our questions?”

Megren says, “Well, I supposed he would be more interested in how he’s missing all his fingers from his right hand, but those things are all right in their place.”

Ven gives Megren a skeptical look.  “Now you’re having me on.”

Megren looks very very innocent, and also a bit like an imp.

Calla looks at Megren for a moment, then bursts into a fit of giggles.

Haft says, “Nothing so outlandish, I’m afraid, Ven.  Captain Garian does have a scar over his left eye, but he doesn’t wear a patch, and he’s younger than I am.”

“Megren here, though,” he confides, “has a wooden leg.”

Megren frowns at Haft. “I told you that in confidence.”

Ven actually glances toward Megren’s ankles.  Calla doubles over, then has to steady herself to keep from falling off the fence.

Haft looks penitent.  “Well, I woulda kept the confidence better if you’d stop takin’ it off to whack me over the head.”

Megren says, “Maybe I’d stop doing that if you’d stop telling people all my secrets. Next you’ll be letting on I’m Queen Lucy disguised.”

Haft rubs his head. “I still ain’t convinced of that.  If you were you’d give me a drop of that cordial after you cracked my skull.”

Megren says, “I left it behind in Narnia. Only so many things one can pack.”

Calla leans forward.  “What’s Narnia like?  Have you been, too, Megren?”

Ash rounds the corner, carrying two lighter swords.

Megren makes a face at Calla. “You are far too sharp for any fun. No, I’ve never been. This is my first time away from home, actually.”

Calla says, “Oh,” and looks to her uncle for an answer.

Haft rubs the back of his neck.  “Well, it’s different than here.  Very few humans.  Lot of Talking Beasts, fauns, centaurs…”

Calla interrupts. “Unicorns?”

Haft smiles.  “Unicorns.  Winged Horses, too.”

“That would be so exciting, to ride a Winged Horse!” Calla says.

Ven gives her a slightly superior look.  “No one rides them.”

Calla’s face falls.  “Oh.  Why not?”

Haft explains.  “Because they’re beings like you and I, not Dumb Beasts.  You wouldn’t like it very much if Ash insisted on going for a ride on you.”

Calla squints.  “Ven gives me piggy-back rides sometimes.”

Haft chuckles.  “There are exceptions, but on the whole, your brother is right.”

Ash asks, “Are all the creatures in Narnia good, now that the Witch is gone?”

Megren lifts one hand to lean her chin in it as she listens.

Calla says, “That’s right.  Mama said there used to be a Witch Queen, and snow all over the country.”

Haft pauses.  “Most of the creatures are, yes.  Used to be you’d hear nasty rumors of a hag or a werewolf, especially up north, but those have mostly been stamped out or driven off.  There’s still a bit of a giant problem along the northern border, but last I heard the High King was attending to that personally.  As for the Narnians themselves…well, I guess it’s the same as here.  Some of them are kind and friendly, and some are sour and cross, and a few are dishonest, but most are upright.”

Ash asks, “Have you met many dishonest people?  Here in Archenland I mean.  I mean…” he tries to explain, looking between Haft and Megren, “that’s your job, right?  To stop bad people at Anvard?”

Haft shakes his head.  “Not very many.  Every now and again you’ll see a youth try his hand at swiping a sweet in the outer ward or something, and hopefully a talk with their parents will be enough to straighten them out.”

Megren tilts her head. “It’s too stop bad things. Sometimes that means bad people, but mostly even people that do bad things aren’t bad.”

Ven looks a little let down.  He looks at the sword in his hand.  “What’s the point of learning to fight?  Sounds like you don’t even need your sword.”

Haft says, “You learn against the day when you may need it.  If you don’t need it, so much the better.”

Ven says, “but Mother told me you were one of the best swordsmen on the guard.  Why would you bother learning more than the basics?”

“Because my opponent may well know more than the basics, and if it ever comes to that, I prefer to perform with competence,” Haft says, a little stiffly.

Megren says, “Sometimes just having the skills is enough to prevent a fight… if someone who knows a little can tell that you know a lot, they may not challenge you.”

Ven considers this, then nods.  “I get it.” He looks at his brother.  “So can we try again now?”

Ash nods eagerly, plainly happier not to be forced to lift the weightier sword.  He offers his brother the other sword their father has made.

“Thanks,” Ven says, leaning the proffered sword up against the fence and raising the one that Haft brought.  “I’m going to try with this one, I think.”

Ash seems to know he’s being tested on his mettle, but merely shrugs and lifts his own sword.

“Go,” says Haft.

Megren glances at Calla before leaning forward again to watch.

Ash and Ven leap forward at the same time, both aiming for their opponent’s chest, but Ven’s longer sword and longer reach prevails this time, and he hits Ash first.

Haft nods approvingly.  “That was good.  You were both ready for each other.  But neither of your were trying to block, so the point went to the person with the longer reach.”

Ash looks unhappy. “I should have used the longer sword.”

Haft shakes his head.  “You should use the sword that you can lift.  There are ways to combat a longer reach.  I–”

A voice from the house calls out, “Ven, Ash, Calla?  Come and help me with lunch.”

Calla hops from the fence and her brothers’ faces fall.

“Go on then.  We’ll be in in a few minutes.”  Haft squeezes Ash’s shoulder, giving the boy a small smile and nodding to Ven.

Ash smiles back before following his brother and sister into the house.

Haft comes to stand beside Megren, leaning on the fence.

Megren straightens. “We should see if they could use any help.”

Haft says, “Yes.” He smiles faintly.  “I’m trying to determine which boy I was more like at their age.”

Megren peaks her brows. “Oh?”

Haft says, “It’s just…Ven reminds me a lot of myself in some ways.  All that energy.  I had that when I was a boy.  But–” he lowers his voice “–for all his apparent interest, I can’t help but think he’d make an awful guard.  And yet I took to it like breathing.”

Megren says, “Well, he wasn’t raised in it.”

Haft says, “No.  I think that’s quite the difference.  My father and I talked many times about what it took to be a guard, and sometimes–when I wasn’t slaying dragons–I’d just stand by the corner of a shop or on a hillside and watch for hours, to see if I could stand it.”

Megren says, “Calla said he liked to be outside.”

Haft says, “Oh? I wonder what he does besides wrestling and boxing.”

Megren says, “I don’t know. But I had a thought: maybe he’d like to spend a summer helping my father. I’d have to ask first, though. Da likes company in a different manner from me.”

Haft looks surprised.  “That’s a long way from his folks.  I expect he’s learning his father’s trade.  You’re welcome to ask, of course.”

Megren lifts her shoulder. “If he’s happy with it, then there’s certainly no reason to take him away. It’s hard to tell with kids.”

Haft straightens.  “Yeah.  Bring it up with Jorgen, maybe.”  He waves his hand in the direction of the house.  “Shall we?”

Megren says, “Sure.” She hops the fence with ease despite her dress.

Haft precedes Megren to the house and opens the door for her.


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