He groaned. “It’s too early.”
“Did you two hear me?” His mother’s voice came again, this time with a hint of impatience creeping into it.
Al’ev heard Brox mimic his groan from beside his bed. He smiled, twisted around in the bed and looked over at the fully grown seven and a half year old dog. A dog who had grown to stand several feet tall and had tan fur that tended to get everywhere. A dog who currently had a massive paw covering his eyes.
“I know. Me too. But you know Mom will be up soon if we don’t get up. Come on boy.”
Al’ev sat up, then yawned and stretched. He got out of bed, made to his chest of drawers and pulled out some simple clothing. As he was getting dressed for the day, he had a nagging feeling at the back of his mind as though he was supposed to remember something. What it was he couldn’t quite grasp.
Brox was up by the time he finished putting his shoes on, patiently sitting by the open door to his room. Al’ev smiled as he approached the door. The morning usually began with a game to race down the stairs and then outside into the yard which was behind the house.
“Ready?” The dog stood up. “And….go!”
The two of them sprinted down the hall towards the stairs. Brox was already in front of Al’ev by the time they reached the first of the steps. Al’ev knew it wasn’t over yet, there was still a ways to go. Now that he had reached the stairs, the advantage was his again. The hound slowed down, but he didn’t.
Al’ev jumped from the second story to the landing that marked the halfway point along the staircase. The table that sat there shook as he landed, just ahead of his dog. He then used the momentum he still had and lunged again, this time to the foot of the stairs. Turning now, he made to run to the back door.
As he ran from the stairs past the kitchen, he shouted to his mother. “Morning Mom. Taking Brox outside.”
“Breakfast in a few,” he heard her call back.
He made it to the door just seconds ahead of the canine. Opening the door, he jumped the two steps leading down into the yard and skidded to a stop. Al’ev turned back towards the house and knew what was about to hit him before he even saw it. Brox lunged out through the open door and collided with him, knocking Al’ev to the ground. The dog proceeded to vigorously lick his face and Al’ev laughed as he vainly attempted to fend off the assault.
The two remained outside for a few minutes, playing in the yard for a bit together. Then they returned back inside and headed into the kitchen. Nalef already had both Al’ev’s and Brox’s breakfast waiting for them.
Why do I hate mornings again?
His mother’s voice shook the thought from his mind. “Hurry up and finish, Al’ev. You don’t want to be late do you?”
His face took on a confused look. “Late for what Mom? Did we have to meet someone at the library today?”
“You forgot? But you were so excited about this a week ago! Al’ev, today you leave for your week of sword training in preparation for The Day of the Swordsman! Some of the soldiers from the garrison are volunteering some of their time to teach a few of the younger townsfolk some basic swordplay. You and Joshua where two of those who were chosen this year!”
“Oh yeahhhh…that’s what I was forgetting!” He looked frustrated with himself.
The sound of someone knocking on the front door made it to their ears from the living area. Nalef went to answer the door and then game back with Al’ev’s friends, Joshua and Mel, in tow.
“Come on Al’ev! They’re going to start soon! We need to hurry or we’ll be left behind!” Joshua said, holding a small pack over his shoulder.
“Okay, okay! I’m gonna go grab my stuff, then we can go.”
“Mel, will you take Brox and go with the boys for a bit?”
“Yes Ms. Reldin.” She said grabbing the small rope that was attached to what passed for Brox’s collar.
“Remember to stay focused, hon. Have fun!” Nalef said as Al’ev ran out of the kitchen.
“I will. Bye Mom!”
Al’ev grabbed a few items of clothing and stuffed them into his bag. Then he raced back downstairs and left with Brox, Mel and Joshua for the town square where the fliers that had been posted up around the town had stated they needed to go. The flier also said that, from there, some guardsmen would come and take the participants up to Fort Halar.
When they all arrived, they found a small group of children ranging from a several years younger than Al’ev, to several who were easily a few years his senior. Among them were elves, humans, dwarves and even a pair of Halflings, likely twins from what Al’ev could see. In total there were ten kids gathered.
The entire group waited only a short time until two town guardsmen showed up and lead them a short distance through the town and into Fort Halar itself.
Halar’s town garrison was ancient, dating back several hundred years. It was built for times that were not as peaceful as they were now. The fort that the garrison was housed in had high walls surrounding the main barracks. Unlike most elven architecture, the rectangular structure had been crafted from stone taken from nearby quarries at the base of the Larian Mountains. The walls were tall, strong, and meant to hold back assaults from dwarven armies of the past. Now they did little more than hide the activities that went on within. Time had not stolen the intimidated image it presented though.
Entering through the front portcullis, Al’ev was able to see what was inside the walls for the first time. The garrison was actually smaller than he had thought it would be.
Before the group was a large empty dirt yard that had been set up with training dummies, six on either side. Behind each row of dummies there was a ring marked out in the dirt that, Al’ev guessed, measured around 30 feet across.
Three structures dominated the rest of the area. The first was a two story building that sat directly in front of them. Like the walls of the fort, it too was made of stone and looked to be quite sturdy. Al’ev had read that this building housed the main barracks and so it would likely be where the trainees would be staying for the duration of the week.
The second building was off to the group’s left. This building had a smaller footprint but was much taller if one included the tower that protruded from it as being a part of the rest of the structure. The base was made of the same stone as the other building and walls, but most of the higher parts were made of wood. Al’ev guessed that this building housed the armory and likely several rooms dedicated to strategic planning and such. Very little had been written about this tower.
The final building was off to the group’s right. It looked to be the garrison’s stables and from the smell on the wind, Al’ev knew he was correct. Beyond that, there was nothing special about this structure that he could see from where he was.
The group continued moving forward until they made it to roughly the center of the training yard. There they were met with three guardsmen, one of which appeared to be older than the other two, but all three were human.
“Hello there. Glad you could all make it to the two hundred and thirty fifth annual training for the Day of the Swordsman.” The older man spoke up. “My name is Captain Greil. I’m in charge of this garrison’s training outfit which means I’m responsible for making sure that those who protect you everyday are ready to face whatever may come their way. This here is Lieutenant Farfellow,” The bald man on the captain’s left nodded his head “and this is Lieutenant Grayson.” The captain indicated the man with a well kept beard on his right.
“Throughout the duration of this week the three of us are going to honor the Nameless Swordsman by teaching all of you a bit of swordplay. The skills you learn here throughout the week may save your life or the life of those you care about in the future. Heed out lessons well.
Now to start things off we’re going to divide you into three groups. Lieutenants Grayson, and Farfellow as well as myself will each be training one group a piece." He began counting the children gathered before him.
“I hope I don’t get stuck with the old guy.” Joshua whispered into Al’ev’s ear. Al’ev was hoping for the opposite for himself. His gut was telling him that Captain Greil would probably be the best to learn under, though he wasn’t certain yet.
“Are there any questions before we start?” Captain Greil asked. “No?”
“Uhm, Sir?” Mel asked from next to Al’ev. “Can I take Brox,” She indicated Al’ev’s dog who sat patiently next to her, “and watch from over there? I’m not much of a swordsman.” She pointed to an open area a bit away from the training dummies.
“You don’t want to learn this stuff Mel?” Al’ev asked her.
“No. I came to watch you and Joshua.” She said looking down at her feet. Al’ev wasn’t sure, but he thought she was blushing. “I’ll look after Brox while you’re busy.”
“Okay…” Al’ev turned to Brox. “You go with Mel and be good, alright?” The dog barked. “Good boy.”
“Aww how sweet. Someone has a cute little girlfriend.” Al’ev heard one of the older boys whisper to another, sarcasm oozing through his voice.
“Alright little lady, you’re free to come and go and keep watch on your friends as they progress. It never hurts to have an audience.” He laughed for some reason Al’ev didn’t understand as Mel walked over to the side. “Okay, is everyone else planning on learning?” The Captain asked.
The remaining nine children indicated that they were.
“Okay. I see some of you who have done this in years past. I want the three of you to go with Lieutenant Grayson.”
The boy, who Al’ev thought had made the sarcastic remark, made a point of bumping into Al’ev hard as he passed by nearly knocking him over. Al’ev stumbled a bit but didn’t react otherwise. He had heard how people like this operated and he had already seen enough to know that this boy would be trouble.
“Watch it.” Joshua said seeing what had happened.
The older boy turned around and glared down at them both. “Yes, I suggest you both do that.” He grinned then waked over to where Lieutenant Grayson had gathered the other two older students.
“Watch it Taruk. Don’t think I will hesitate to kick you out of the program again this year.” Captain Greil turned back to the remaining six kids. “The rest of you will come with either myself or Lieutenant Farfellow. Let’s get started. You two, Halfling children. You’re with me. Right. Lieutenant, your turn.”
Lieutenant Farfellow stepped forward. “Alright Captain. As you got first pick, I’ll just take my three now and go, with your permission of course.” The Captain nodded then indicated for the lieutenant to proceed. “Then I’ll take the human boy,” he pointed at Joshua who made a noise of glee “the elven girl and the dwarven lad. All of you come with me.”
Al’ev suddenly realized he was the only one left. His face must have shown his disappointment.
Why was I chosen last? Did I do something wrong?
He could feel the shame of tears beginning to well up in his eyes when Captain Greil spoke up.
“It’s okay son. I know he’ll regret not taking you before the week is out. Come on, let’s get started.”
The captain took the three of them to the far corner of the training grounds and spoke again.
“Alright, all of you drop your bags by the dummy and take these. One each.” Captain Greil grabbed the four wooden swords that were standing up against the dummy as the children placed their bags on the ground. He handed one sword to each trainee.
“First, I want you to start by getting used to the balance of your weapons. Yes like that.” He said watching the Halflings start spinning about and swinging their wooden blades in the air.
Al’ev played with the sword a bit noting that the section he recognized as the “pummel” seemed to counter a great amount of the weight of the remainder of the sword. Before he was finished getting used to the weight, Captain Greil spoke up again.
“Okay, now each of you hold out the sword in front of you like so.” Captain Greil held out his own wooden sword angling up in front of him and the children all mimicked him. When they had he took a swing at the sword in each of their hands knocking them from their hands with little apparent effort.
Al’ev felt as though a huge gust of wind had somehow blown the sword from his hands and had the same look of surprise that the Halflings showed.
“Just as I thought, you all have to work on your grip first. It’s okay. Most new recruits do as well. Okay, pick the swords up and we’ll start working on that first.” The Captain said.
The Halflings didn’t move right away but seemed to snap out of their shock when Al’ev walked forward to pick his blade out of the dirt. They did the same and all three returned to where they had been standing before.
“Okay, let’s do the same thing, this time I’m going to check the position of your hands on the hilt.” He went to the Halfling twins. “No, no, not like that. Grab here and here, but don’t hold on too tightly…now you’re holding it too loosely. There, better.” He walked over to Al’ev and checked his hands. “Interesting. Was this how you were holding the blade before, son?”
“No sir. I thought about how you hit the blade before and decided this would be better.”
“Indeed? Why don’t you have a look at what I just showed the twins.”
Al’ev did as he asked and was surprised to see that he was already holding the blade the same way the captain had helped the Halflings to.
“Novices don’t normally adjust that quickly, son. What’s your name?”
“Reldin, sir. Al’ev Reldin.”
“Well Reldin, you’ve certainly begun to prove Farfellow’s choices folly by what you’ve shown me here. Blades up!”
They all did as they had before and this time all three managed to hold on as the captain swung at their blades. Al’ev noted that, though the wooden weapons had collided with what felt like the same force, the grip allowed him to absorb much of the force with his arms.
“Good. Remember how that feels. Now we can move on.” Captain Greil said.
The rest of the first day continued on like this, the Captain focused on testing and improving their stances. They broke for lunch in the barracks building but before entering, Al’ev noticed that Mel had disappeared. He wondered when she left then continued on into the barracks.
The first floor of the barracks was built out to include a small dining area and a cooking area. There was easily enough room for them all to find a spot to eat. Al’ev found Joshua and the two of them shared a little about what they had learned. So far their training had seemed very similar. Grips, stances, the very basic fundamentals of swordplay.
A logical place to start I suppose…
When they were finished with their lunch, they were instructed to head back out to the yard. When he reached the dummy with his fellow Halfling trainees, he noticed that Mel had returned and that Brox was still with her. He didn’t pay her much mind as Captain Greil began the lessons immediately upon their return. They continued lessons for the remainder of the afternoon much like they had in the morning. Greil was focusing on basics and he stated that they’d be doing much of the same the next day as well.
When the sun was finally low in the sky, Al’ev noticed that Mel was leaving. As if she could sense him looking at her, she turned and waved. He waved back and smiled as he grabbed his backpack. He didn’t understand how she could sit and watch without doing anything for the entire day. It had to be boring watching everyone else have all the fun.
The trainees all gathered at the main yard and were instructed to follow Lieutenant Grayson into the barracks where they were told they’d be bunking for the duration of their stay.
The inside of the second floor of the barracks was very simple. It was divided up into several rooms that lined a hallway that ran the entire length of the building. Each room had four beds inside. Each group was instructed to remain intact and stay to a single room each. This put Al’ev with the Halfling twins who had asked Al’ev to call them Rafe Rendl and Linder Rendl.
“Okay everyone, as soon as that sun is in the sky again tomorrow morning, we’ll be starting back up.” Lieutenant Grayson said. “Put your things away then head down to the first floor and have dinner. That is all.” Grayson left and all of the children complied with his orders. Most were exhausted from a long day of training. When they were done with their dinner, they went up to their rooms and passed out.
Al’ev found sleep very easily that night.
The following morning came too soon, at least in Al’ev’s opinion.
“UP RECRUITS!” Came Lieutenant Farfellow’s voice as he went down the hall and pounded on each wooden door as he passed. “DON’T MAKE ME COME THROUGH AGAIN!”
“I hate mornings…” Al’ev said as he struggled out of bed and into a new change of clothing.
Rafe and Linder muttered their agreement as they struggled into their clothing as well. They all assembled in the mess hall on the first floor and ate a small breakfast. Captain Greil came in and gathered his three trainees up and took them out to the yard where they began working on the basics again for a second day.
About midway into the morning, Al’ev was surprised to see a pair of guardsman allowing Mel and Brox back in. She waved and then had to hold on to Brox’s leash tight as the large hound bolted forward when he saw Al’ev. The Captain allowed Al’ev a short break to say hello. On his way over to both he was knocked over by Brox who had broken free of Mel.
“Quite the hound you have there, Reldin. Does he hold you in your sleep too. Or is that what the girly is for?” Taruk, the older student who had nearly knocked Al’ev over the day before called out. A few of the other students started laughing.
“Ignore him Al’ev. He’s just a jerk looking for attention.” Mel said. “How did the night go?”
“It was quiet. I missed Brox though.” Brox barked at this then licked his face energetically.
Al’ev laughed. “Ugh. Okay, Brox. OKAY! I hope they have a bathhouse somewhere around here.” He managed to get Brox off him.
Mel smiled. “Yes but, by the looks of things, Brox was already halfway done with your face. Why not let him finish?”
Brox barked once and Al’ev and Mel both laughed.
“I should get back to training. I don’t want to miss out on too much. Captain Greil keeps saying how surprised he is with my abilities. I don’t understand why. I’m just doing what feels right.”
Mel smiled then picked up Brox’s leash from the dirt. “Don’t let us hold you up then. I don’t want to get you in trouble. You’re good enough at doing that on your own.”
“Brox and I will be watching from over there again. We can see both you and Joshua quite from there, right Brox?”
The dog barked in agreement.
Al’ev nodded then pet Brox. “Okay, I’ll chat with you later.” Al’ev then walked back to continue his lessons along with the Rendl twins.
The focus of the day’s lessons was mostly through words accompanied by Greil showing the children what each thing he was talking about looked like. The topics varied from combat forms to parts of the sword to theoretical situations, during this segment he used Al’ev to describe what proper reactions and options would be. Al’ev was soaking up the information almost as easily as he did knowledge of the arcane.
The day passed quickly and the second night went much the same as the first and again, all of the children found sleep easy that night.
The third day of training started out the same, though Al’ev was a bit sad to not see Mel or Brox throughout the day. Captain Greil gathered up his recruits and tested what he had taught them the previous two days. When he was satisfied that they had retained enough of the knowledge, he moved on to the next section of training.
“Alright Reldin, Rendls, before we move on to the next section of training, I have a question for you all. In battle, what is the best way to use a sword? Offense or defense?
Rafe and Linder looked at each other then back at Captain Greil and answered as one. “Offense.”
Captain Greil shook his head.
So then it was defense? Al’ev thought to himself. No, that couldn’t be right. Nobody has ever won anything by only being defensive.
“Reldin. What say you?”
Al’ev looked down at his shoes and decided to risk getting it wrong. “Both.”
The captain smiled. “Maybe. Then answer me this, Reldin. Why would you answer ‘both’ when I said it was one or the other, boy?”
“Because a sword can be used for both. It would be hard to win with just offense or defense.”
“Indeed it would. Very good. And so now we shall move on to today’s lesson. Defense! Bring up your guards and I’ll teach you about the three rings of defense.”
The students complied with the Captain’s orders, bringing their wooden swords into what they had come to learn as the ready position.
“Alright. As I said, there are three rings of defense. Each one is named based on how far from your body your blade intercepts your opponent’s weapon. First is the outer ring of defense. There are four positions to guard from in this ring, upper right, upper left, lower right, lower left.” He indicated each position with his own wooden training sword. “Know these positions well for this is the ring you had better be catching most of your opponents attacks in.”
The children spent the morning memorizing these positions and the associated stances they were supposed to take with each. This took up most of the morning and in the afternoon they moved on to the second ring of defense.
“Okay, the second ring of defense is aptly named the middle ring. Like the outer ring, this one also has four defense positions. They are high, low, left, and right.” The captain again showed the children each of the positions as he said them.
“Okay, let’s practice these.”
Al’ev, Rafe and Linder practiced these positions for much of the second half of the day. When it was nearing time to quit for the day, the captain mentioned the third ring would be discussed only after they had a firm grasp of the first two rings.
“I’ll be testing you all on these two rings tomorrow morning. Now got get some food and a lot of rest. Tomorrow is going to be a bit difficult.”
The night started out much the same as the previous two had gone. But in the middle of the night, a silent knock came at the door and woke Al’ev, who had always been a shallow sleeper. He answered it and was surprised to see Joshua standing there with his own wooden training sword.
“Hey Al’ev. Let’s go spar for a bit. The lessons ended so early that I’ve still got a bit of energy I need to burn.”
“I don’t know…Captain Greil said tomorrow would be a rough day and I want to be rested for it.”
“Oh come on. We won’t take that long. I just wanted to see what you’ve learned so far.”
Knowing that Joshua wasn’t about to give up any time soon and he was going to lose sleep either way, he agreed. Grabbing his things and throwing on some clothing, the two made it out of the rear entrance from the barracks and found a third dueling ring marked out in the grass there.
“I heard about the rules they are going to use for the tournament that we’re going to be in at the end of the week. Did the Captain tell you about them?”
“He hasn’t mentioned a tournament, no.”
“Pssh. Okay, well the rules are simple. The only weapon we’re allowed to use are our wooden swords. The objective isn’t to hurt the opponents. Instead, we get judged based on a point system. Supposedly the point system works like this. At the beginning of a fight, each person starts with a five points. Points are deducted at the rate of one to three points per hit depending on how serious of a hit they take. If the blow is considered to be a killing blow it is three points. Glancing takes away a single point. Disabling takes away two points. The last person with points wins.”
Al’ev nodded as Joshua explained. “Okay, but nobody is here to judge us, so I guess we just do this as we always do. But we shouldn’t be out here too long. I’m serious, I want to have some energy for tomorrow.”
Joshua waved Al’ev’s words off. “Right, right…”
The two of them took up ready stances and, as always, Joshua was the first to strike. As they continued to fight, Al’ev found that he was using the rings of defense that the captain had taught earlier that day without realizing it. It was coming to him naturally.
Joshua broke off after a couple minutes of being denied through Al’ev’s defense. Winded, he managed to say, “Wow! That old guy must have,” he took a few quick breaths, “taught you something. Normally by now…” another breath, “I’d have at least broken your defenses once.”
“Yeah. He was teaching us about these rings of defense today. It was great stuff. But he hasn’t taught us how to attack yet…” A thought suddenly occurred to Al’ev.
_Actually…maybe he has already taught us. I think that, between the forms from the second day and the rings from today…yeah…that could be!
“Well, either way,” he took a breath, “it is kinda getting late. We should turn in.” Joshua said, dropping out of his ready stance.
“Right.” Al’ev did the same.
They both snuck back into the barracks and into their beds. Al’ev’s mind was storing away what he thought was going to help him out the next day. He had just finished when sleep finally claimed him.
On the morning of the forth day, Al’ev was relieved to find he had plenty of energy despite the previous night’s sparring session with Joshua. He couldn’t wait to tell the captain about what he thought he discovered.
The morning started off as the captain said it would. He tested them on their knowledge of the rings of defense. When he seemed to be satisfied, he let them take a short break while he prepared for the next lesson.
Al’ev spotted Mel and Brox and was elated. He went over and talked to her about what he had learned the previous day. Mel explained she had some chores to do around her house.
“I’m sorry. My parents wouldn’t let me leave! They just kept finding more for me to do.”
“Why are you apologizing? You know you don’t have to be here, Mel. It has to be boring for you to just watch Joshua and I practice with these sticks all day.”
“No, I uhm…er..I enjoy watching you practice. You seem so confident when you’re learning.” She somewhat bashfully said.
It sounded to Al’ev like he had said something to make her a little uncomfortable. He was about to inquire as to why that might be, but the Captain’s voice rang out across the yard.
“Reldin. Get over here. We’re about to start the next lesson.”
“Yeah Reldin! Stop chatting up your blond haired dog and that hound.” Taruk’s voice followed the captains.
“Taruk. You’re pushing it!”
“Sorry Captain Greil. Just trying to help you out, sir.”
Al’ev was starting to not like Taruk much. He didn’t much care for people who insulted his friends and pushed him around just for the fun of it.
“Like I said a few days ago, Al’ev. He’s just a jerk.”
Mel was sending an angry glare in Taruk’s direction and Al’ev heard the boy speak to one of his fellow trainees. “Oh look guys, the bitch is mad. Oh no.” He laughed again.
Brox stood up and bared his fangs as Al’ev took a step towards Taruk’s group and his grip on the wooden blade tightened, but before he could move further he was stopped by Mel who had a hand on his shoulder and the other on Brox’s head.
“Don’t Al’ev. That’s what he wants.”
The tension instantly drained from his shoulders and even Brox sat back down. “He deserves it though.” Al’ev said spitefully.
The boy was mocking fear of Al’ev after he noticed him take his step. Then he started laughing again.
“RELDIN. GET OVER HERE! NOW!”
Al’ev took a deep breath then released it letting his anger go with it. “Sorry Mel, I had better get back to the Captain.”
“It’s okay. Brox and I will be watching from our normal spot. Have fun!” She smiled at him and then walked off.
Al’ev returned to his training group. “Sorry Captain…”
“Don’t worry about it Reldin. That kid Taruk has always been something of a troublemaker. Hopefully you’ll get a chance to teach him a lesson later.”
“I hope so.”
“Okay, on to the next lesson in defense. The final ring of defense is known as the inner ring. This ring is different from the previous two because it doesn’t use blocks. Instead the focus is on using the blade to parry thrusts and lunges. This is the most dangerous ring to use as it allows your opponent’s weapon to get very close to your body. I don’t expect any of you to master this one as even some well trained guardsmen struggle with it. But I’m going to show you how it works anyway. Reldin, you’re up. I want you to attack me using only thrusts and lunges. Go!”
Al’ev did as he was asked and aggressively jumped at the captain using the tip of his wooden blade to stab at any opening he thought he saw. But the captain’s blade always seemed to catch his at the last second, making his attack flow to the one side or the other like river water around a boulder. A couple of times the parries would leave Al’ev off balance and in no position to defend himself. He found this intriguing and noted the offensive value this ring granted.
“Good. Now that you’ve seen it, you know what it is about. Let’s take a bit of time to practice the stance and positioning of the blade, then I’m going to work on your reaction times as that is critical when you allow a blade in this close.”
The captain spent the majority of the day working on their reaction times. He was impressed that all three seemed to be picking up their pace, though, as it had been up until this point, Al’ev seemed far more skilled than the little Halflings. That never stopped them from trying harder though and Al’ev decided he liked the Rendl twins because of that.
After some time Captain Greil ended his instruction on the final ring of defense and got to the part that Al’ev had been waiting for.
“Between this ring and the previous two rings, you now know all that I’m going to teach you of defense. That means that over the rest of today and tomorrow I’m going to teach you offense.” He paused and saw a look he began to recognize on the young half-elf’s face. “Reldin, you look like you have something you want to say.”
“Yes sir. I was thinking about the rings of defense last night and my answer to your question about how best to use a sword.”
“Well, can’t the rings of defense also be used as a basis for offense?”
The captain’s face grew a larger smile than any Al’ev had seen on his face before.
“Are you sure you’ve never had any swordsmanship training before, son? That’s a conclusion most of the best recruits don’t reach on their own. Very good.”
“As Reldin said, I’ve already taught you much of what you need to know for when you are going on the offense. All attacks start from your ring of defense positions and attack your opponent’s ring of defense positions. Let’s spend the rest of the day discussing this. We’ll put this into practice tomorrow.”
The rest of the day went quickly. The captain demonstrated how the rings did affect where the sword started when on the attack. He also demonstrated how easy it was for a defensive move to become and offensive one and vice versa simply by switching one’s stance.
That night nothing out of the ordinary happened though Al’ev seethed a little when he remembered what Taruk had said that morning about Mel. He had to force himself to think about something else. His mind shifted back to the various stances the Captain had shared and he ran through them all until he finally managed to drift to sleep.
Much of the fifth day was taken up by the Captain focusing on footwork. Once again, Al’ev proved to be a natural when it came to this.
“You don’t move like most first time swordsmen I’ve seen. Certainly not one in your age group anyway. You’ve been ahead of the curve on just about everything I’ve had to teach you. Even a natural wouldn’t start off this skilled. Why is it you seem to be experienced?” Captain Greil asked after watching Al’ev effortlessly move around several attacks from his Halfling friends without seeming to use much effort.
Al’ev spoke quietly at first. “I’ve read some books on swordplay. Oh, and my friend Joshua and I play with tree sticks every now and then. We sometimes spar in my backyard.”
“Hmm. That’s some of it, true. But you almost seem to…I don’t know…dance around when they were swinging those wooden blades at you.”
Al’ev blushed. His mom had been teaching him basic dance steps for the past seven years of his life. She had said that all the best swordsmen were very good dancers. He never actually believed her.
“My mom is teaching me how to dance,” he spoke quietly, sure the
Captain would make fun of him as Joshua had when he had learned what Al’ev was doing every other afternoon.
Instead the old soldier looked impressed. “Really? I knew there was something different about you. Ha ha! Farfellow isn’t going to like this!”
“Uhm…did I do something wrong?” Al’ev asked, unsure what to think. This was not the reaction he had expected.
“Not at all. You are aware of the tournament that is held on The Day of the Swordsman, correct?”
“I suspected as much. Well, all of the tournament’s combatants must take the training course you’re in right now before they’re allowed to participate. Farfellow didn’t see much promise in you when he was picking recruits. I knew differently, though.” The captain looked proud of himself. “Something about you told me I had to be the one to instruct you. I’m beginning to understand why. You know a first time student has not won the Tournament of the Swordsman in several decades, right? I think you have the capability of becoming the first to do so in a long time. But not if we stand around chatting all day. Come on, show us what you can do, Reldin.”
Al’ev learned much about switching between offense and defense throughout the rest of the day. The Halfling twins still managed to tag him every now and then, but only after they had been allowed to come at him at once and never more than a glancing blow. Captain Greil had claimed that, in a real battle, one would often be outnumbered and that it paid to learn how to defend against multiple attackers. He was happy to see that even when the odds were against Al’ev, the half-elf seemed to maintain his composure.
“Son, when you get older you should consider joining the town guard. If you keep honing these skills you have, you would be a real asset.”
Join the town guard? I’ve never thought about that. Perhaps I should give it some thought…
“Uhm, er, thank you sir.”
That night Al’ev didn’t even have the strength to head to the mess hall and eat. His energy had been completely spent on dodging around attacks for the latter half of the afternoon.
He slept very deeply.
“From here, I’m going to teach you all separately.” Captain Greil said to start of the lessons of the sixth day. “To be blunt, you Halflings simply will have different styles than our half-elven friend here. Rafe, Linder, I’ll start with you two. Reldin, work on some swings against the dummy over there, and watch that footwork.”
Al’ev spent the next hour hacking away at the wooden dummy, pretending he was facing some monster of the wild he had read about. He ducked around an invisible swinging claw and then thrust his sword into the gut of the beast. Next he spun and blocked an invisible sword swinging in from behind him. He fought several enemies in his mind for almost an hour. Eventually he went back to practicing the rings of defense while he allowed his mind to drift.
Mel was watching again today. She hadn’t brought Brox this time though and Al’ev wondered why. She had seemed so nervous the other day when he had asked if she was bored. She had been acting a bit strange as of late.
Are all girls like this?
Eventually Captain Greil returned to Al’ev and found him deep in thought. “Reldin. Snap out of it. Hey, Reldin!”
Al’ev shook his head and realized he had been staring over at Mel. She hadn’t seemed to have noticed.
“Cute girlfriend you have there.”
“Huh? Oh Mel? Yeah. I guess she is kinda cute.” He said, not sure what the Captain meant by “girlfriend.”
Captain Greil chuckled a little. “Well, lets see if we can give her a bit more of a show then. I was watching you while I was working with the twins.” He pointed back at the Halfling children. The two of them were practicing blocks and parries, seeming to focus mostly on the first two rings of defense. “You seem to like to move around a lot when you’re fighting. More the dodgy speedy type as opposed to the shear power type.”
Al’ev thought about this for a moment then nodded.
“Well, either type of fighter can be devastating if they have the skills to back their style. As I’ve already said, you appear to have the skills. I just need to set you on the right path.”
Greil and Al’ev worked for some time together. They focused on parries and blocks that flowed into offensive strikes which could deal some serious damage. Al’ev was surprised at how quick he was picking up the movements as they felt natural. It seemed like the more he practiced, the more it felt like the wooden sword felt like an extension of his left arm.
When he commented on this, the Captain smiled and said, “That’s good. A weapon that doesn’t feel like an extension of you isn’t a very good weapon. As for why it feels so natural, I’d guess it’s because swordplay and dancing are very similar. A good portion of swordplay is in the footwork, just like in dancing. That’s really the hardest part for people to learn. You have the advantage of knowing how to memorize foot positioning. All I have to do now is show you where to go from there. But first, lunch. No warrior can fight well on an empty stomach.”
After they had took a break for lunch, Al’ev and Captain Greil began to work again. “Like the Halflings, you have one major disadvantage, Reldin. When you go to fight those who are older than you, they are going to be stronger than you too.” He gestured to the group of older students including Taruk. “These strikes and motions I’ve been showing your are techniques that specialize in turning your opponent’s strength against them. Even someone like me could be taken down by the techniques I’ve been teaching you if you use them properly.”
Captain Greil looked like he was going to say more but instead motioned back to the practice dummy. “I want you to go and practice the moves we’ve covered so far today. I need to go work with the Rendls again. They keep swinging their weapons at each other but can’t seem to manage to even make them connect. Keep at it, son.”
Al’ev heard him chuckle a little as he turned to walk away. He didn’t know what to think. Why did the captain think he could do what hadn’t been done in decades. Was he really so skilled? Al’ev doubted it but knew he wouldn’t know until he was actually sparring. From his experiences fighting Joshua, he knew nothing was ever the same during a fight. Everything, right down to flow of time, seemed to change.
Al’ev spent the next hour honing a few of the moves the Captain had shared with him. What the captain had said about facing bigger opponents actually had stirred a bit of excitement in him. He knew that older students would likely not think much of him on first appearance. Taruk had already expressed as much. He thought about fighting Taruk and began to consider tactical moves he could use on a larger opponent like him.
He didn’t have long before Captain Greil again interrupted him. “Whoa there Reldin. Save some of it for the tournament. Don’t want to let your competition in on all of you secrets, do you?”
“Good. While what I’ve shown you will help you, remember that surprise is a crucial element to winning any conflict. Your speed will get you through the rest.” The captain pointed to the sky. “The sun appears to have made its cycle again. The first part of the tournament will take place here in a few moments.”
He called the Rendls over from another dummy. "Alright you three. This week is drawing to an end. I’ve taught you many of the basics that should help you out in the future if you ever find yourselves in danger. But the entire reason why you’ve been here this week is for tomorrow, The Day of the Swordsman.
One of the major events that takes place every year is the Tournament of the Swordsman which is held in honor of the nameless warrior who held back numerous enemies in front of this very fortress centuries ago." He paused to look them all in the eye. “Each one of you honors that being’s memory by coming here to learn the ways of the sword. To showcase what you have learned is the final step. However, only three of the students who have come here for the week are allowed to participate in the actual tournament itself. Both Lieutenants Grayson, and Farfellow as well as myself can only pick one student to participate. To do this, we will hold a preliminary tournament tomorrow morning. After that, the winners are given the day to rest and prepare for the Tournament of the Swordsman which takes place tomorrow evening. Questions?”
Al’ev, Rafe, and Linder all shook their heads. “Okay, go get some food and them some rest. We’ll start first thing in the morning again tomorrow.”
Al’ev didn’t like the idea of having to fight the Rendl twins the next day. Over the past week they had become good friends. But he also knew it would be an insult to the memory of the Swordsman to throw in the towel already. Plus he wanted to face Taruk in a match so that he could have the chance to put the older boy in his place.
Al’ev thought about what waited the next morning and was unable to sleep. He wasn’t jolted awake when there came a knock at his door. Like the last time, it was Joshua. And also like the last time, he wanted to spar again.
The two of them snuck outside and squared off once more in the dueling ring. They exchanged a few blows as a warm-up. Al’ev could tell that Joshua had improved quite a bit since their previous meeting a few night ago.
“Not bad Joshua. You’ve gotten better.”
“Thanks Al’ev. Lieutenant Farfellow taught us a lot.”
Laughter rang out into night air. Laughter Al’ev recognized as belong to Taruk.
“You call that ‘better?’” The laughter continued and Taruk dropped out of a nearby tree. Al’ev noted that the older human boy had his training sword sheathed at his side as he started towards them.
“What do you want, Taruk?” Joshua asked.
“I wanted to see what you two had learned, though now that I have, I’m thinking that coming here was a waste of my time.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Joshua said.
“It means that neither of you is a threat to me tomorrow. Even if you managed to make it to the tournament, you’d just be torn apart in front of the town. You should just quit now.”
“No.” Al’ev said.
“No? So you want to be embarrassed in front of that little girly of yours?”
Al’ev’s grip tightened on the hilt of his blade.
“Don’t talk about our friend like that.” Joshua said.
“Oh, so you two share? She’s even more disgusting than she looks.”
Al’ev felt himself losing his temper, fast.
“Did that make you upset? Are you going to cry?” Taruk mocked both of them.
“Shut up or I’ll make you shut up.” Al’ev threatened.
“Ha ha ha.” He laughed into the air then stopped and looked straight into Al’ev’s eyes. “Try it.”
And, as always, Joshua charged first, this time before Al’ev had even moved. He was also dropped before Al’ev had even moved.
Al’ev looked down and saw Joshua laying on the ground. He was out cold. Taruk’s weapon had been drawn before Al’ev even recognized it. He had dodged to the side of Joshua’s charge and smacked the boy in the back of the skull with his training blade.
“One down, one annoying child to go.” He grinned and dropped into a ready stance waiting for Al’ev to make the same mistake Joshua had.
But before their fight could begin, a voice called out. “What in the name of the gods is going on over there? Reldin? Taruk?” Captain Greil came into view from just beyond the garrison’s stone wall. He immediately noticed Joshua on the ground and ran over.
“What happened here?”
“I was just wanting to have a chat with the children here, sir, and the stupid kid charged at me.” Taruk answered before Al’ev could say anything.
“Reldin? Is this what happened?”
Al’ev thought about Taruk’s words then looked down at Joshua. The older boy was an ass, but he was right.
“Taruk provoked us, but Joshua did attack first.”
“Uh huh. Sounds like something you would do Taruk. I’m going to talk to Lieutenant Grayson about your behavior here tonight. You may be thrown out of the running for the tournament tomorrow.”
“Sir, I was just defending myself.”
“Reldin says you provoked the attack. But your comments have been noted. Both of you get to bed.” He looked from Taruk to Al’ev. “Now.” Captain Greil picked Joshua up and made for the garrison’s hospital building, which was located across from the fort’s entrance.
Both complied though Al’ev had to try very hard not to attack Taruk as they went up the stairs.
“I’ll see you tomorrow kid. I’m going to enjoy demoralizing you in front of the town.” Taruk said with another annoying grin.
Al’ev said nothing and tried to go to sleep. Tomorrow was looking to be an interesting day.