Now we begin Balfrith's five years of training with the Elefdar, and I wanted to write a few simple scenes showing the kinds of training he underwent.
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“Obdar!” Again. The sword-master said it flatly, but loud enough for all to hear. Balfrith wiped dirt from his face and got up from the ground, dusting himself off and retrieving his practice sword. The hard wood was dense enough to have the proper weight of the real thing, and was counter-weighted with a brass pommel - the only piece of metal on it - to give the correct balance.
His opponent, another young Elefdar like Eldamir - even younger, he thought - stood a few paces away at the edge of the sparring circle, bouncing slightly on his toes, waiting for him to signal ready. Balfrith nodded to him, and they both brought up their guard.
They weren’t really sparring, which is part of what drove Balfrith crazy. They were practicing forms, but instead of doing them solo as he was used to, each student was paired up with another, and their particular forms were meant to complement one another. When one attacked, the other blocked or dodged or parried. When the defensive actor riposted, the attacker went on the defense. And so it went, back and forth. As long as each student did their forms correctly - which was to say, perfectly - the attacks and defenses would be timed such that no one got hit, and no one got hurt. If someone made a mistake, then an attack or a riposte would get through their defense, and they would be struck. Balfrith had many bruises to prove the old saying, “Practice makes perfect”.
And his short temper was beginning to show once again, for in the previous bout he had mis-timed an attack, got off-balance, and then been struck by his partner’s riposte. Frustrated at his failure again, he lashed out foolishly and angrily, not following the form, and was struck again, causing him to stumble and fall.
It also didn’t help that the Elefdar way of the sword was quite different from that of Men, at least the Nûmidëan style that he’d learned from his father. Rather than using sword and shield, the Elefdar used a single blade, somewhat longer than normal, with an extended grip for two hands. Balfrith had once seen the two-handed swords carried by the king’s ceremonial guard, but those were bulky and decorative pieces meant only for show, not real combat. This was something completely different, and he was having a hard time of it.
It wasn’t even the same as a dueling style, for among Men they would duel shield-less but with a narrow one-handed blade, with strong side facing and weak side away, keeping a narrow profile towards their opponent. The Elefdar used the sword two-handed almost exclusively, and thus fought facing their opponent full on. It made Balfrith feel unprotected, with no shield and facing forward like that, his broad (well, somewhat broad anyway) chest open to a simple thrust. [*** It might be better to take the above two paragraphs and write them as an introductory training session for Balfrith. His instructor would teach him the basics of the sword, while Balfrith asked questions and made mental notes of the differences between Elefdar fighting style and that of Men. ***]
He struggled with that fear now, as he circled left following the form and counted the steps before his first defensive move. Even knowing that his opponent - my partner, he corrected himself - was locked into the complementary form and wouldn’t touch him as long as they remained in step, he fought the fear of being struck yet again. Taking a deep breath, he forced down those thoughts and strove to focus only on the movements and timing of the form.
Step left… step left… parry high, parry low, blade-tip forward and thrust… the timing flowed perfectly, his partner attacking on cue and Balfrith blocking as he took his steps, then defending when Balfrith counter-attacked, everything in order and flowing smoothly along. He lost himself in the movements, conscious thought ceasing, replaced only with rhythm and pattern. And finally, after agonizing minutes keeping his mind focused solely on the timing and movements of the form, they were complete. Balfrith found himself bowing to his partner, and turning to bow to their instructor, as his mind unbent itself from the pattern of movements and conscious thought returned.
“Blid!” said their instructor - Good. Balfrith breathed a sigh of relief. This was the first positive response he’d received - of course it was also the first time he’d been able to get through the entire form without making a mistake. Both facts brought him a flush of satisfaction and pride at the accomplishment, as he sat down at the edge of the practice ring while two more students stepped in and began their forms.
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