Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Chapter Nine, Scene 4

I generally try to choreograph my fight scenes so that they feel "realistic", for whatever that's worth. It is a difficult thing to do, at least for me, since I have very little sword-fighting experience. I end up doing a lot of research on western European fighting methods, and in the end, I hope that haven't hit too far of the mark.

* * *

Later that evening, they returned to the guild hall after a decent meal and a good rest. The deacon Diarmid was there to greet them, and he welcomed them into the hall with a much more friendly smile this time. Balfrith could smell the ale on his breath, so he had some suspicion as to the change of character.

“Come with me, Balfrith and Eldamir, we will go straightaway to the training hall. I have two testers ready for you. We also have several members with us this evening who have asked to watch. It’s a courtesy we normally give any members, seeing as how they will get to know you soon enough anyway.” He winked in a knowing manner at that, and Balfrith smiled in return.

“It’s no problem, deacon Diarmid,” he said. “My friend and I are looking forward to the test. An audience will just make it more fun.”

The deacon led them down a short hall past his office, toward the sound of voices and laughter. Opening the door at the end, they were led into the training hall - which apparently also doubled as the drinking hall. Balfrith looked around, and the room was certainly large enough to serve both functions. It was divided almost evenly in half, one side being a clean wooden floor with lines chalked down for dueling circles, and racks of wooden practice weapons against the walls. The other side was the same smooth wooden floor, but there were tables scattered about and a bar at the far end, and a dozen or more guildsmen sat drinking and joking as if they were at a local tavern.

A shout went up as they entered, men lifting their mugs in greeting to the new recruits. Balfrith grinned and bowed, playing the fool, which got another laugh from the crowd and a few shouts of welcome.

Diarmid spoke to the gathered crowd, loud enough to overcome most of the noise, and said, “My friends and fellow guildsmen, please welcome Balfrith and Eldamir, who have asked to join us this evening.” Another shout went up, and more raising of mugs. Diarmid turned back and said, “Let us proceed to the training floor, and I will toss a coin to see who tests first. Balfrith, you may call the coin. The winner of the toss can choose whether to test first or last, but your friend will choose your opponent.”

Balfrith’s brow went up, and he said, “I didn’t realize we were in a competition.”

Diarmid smiled and winked. “Balfrith, you will find that in training and testing, we are always in competition. I have no doubt there will be several friendly wagers this evening, not about whether you win or lose, but rather how quickly the tester is satisfied with your performance.”

Eldamir said, ironically, “As I recall, there is no time limit in these tests. Has something changed?”

“Just friendly competition, Eldamir. It will not affect your right to join the guild, although if you take too long, you probably won’t earn many friends tonight. These men are primarily here to drink, and welcome you into their ranks. A little testing session will be a nice break from the drinking, but their thirst will soon return, whether your tests are done or not.”

Balfrith grinned at Eldamir, who smiled back. He didn’t seem concerned in the least, which was better than Balfrith could say. He looked at the rack of training weapons they now approached, and all of them were simple one-handed sword staves. He felt a sinking feeling in his gut, thinking, I’ve spent the last five years training to fight in the Elefdar style, and my first test upon joining the guild of free-lancers is a fight in the style of Men. “This should be fun,” he muttered sarcastically under his breath.

Eldamir said, quietly enough so only his ears caught it, “Come now, my friend. You grew up learning this style before ever you set foot in Fanyamar. You’ll do fine.” He clapped Balfrith on the back, giving some encouragement, and Balfrith nodded in return.

“Let’s just hope I don’t embarrass myself.”

Diarmid spoke to the crowd once again. “Will the testers please step forward, so you can meet your opponents?”

At the table nearest to the door, two men set down their cups, stood and approached, giving slight bows to Balfrith, Eldamir and finally Diarmid. One was of average height and medium build, with the look of a native Sildaran: medium complexion, light brown hair cut short, and a clean-shaven face (although showing a couple of days’ growth). He also had a smirk on his face that Balfrith found he wanted to erase, just looking at it. The other was taller, with a lanky build, and appeared by his blond hair, light beard and pale skin to be of northern descent. His expression was serious, even dour, yet more evidence of northerly origins.

Diarmid introduced them, but Balfrith was so nervous that the names slipped away and were gone. He nodded politely, but his mind was racing elsewhere.

A small copper coin flew up into the air, flipping lazily, and Balfrith remembered to call out “Heads,” just before it hit the floor. It rolled about before finally coming up with a stamped image of the king of Sildara: heads.

Balfrith took a deep breath, calming himself once again. “I will test second,” he said. That will give me time to observe how the testing works, he told himself.

Eldamir nodded, and called out, “Balfrith’s challenger will be … Calunoth. I shall test with Hallgeir.” The taller one nodded, and Balfrith knew by the name that he was almost certainly from Nifflgarde, in the north.

And with that, Eldamir and Hallgeir each walked over to the wall lined with equipment. Eldamir watched as Hallgeir pointed out the protective gear first, and then they each put on a thick leather coat and padded leather helmet. Finally, they took practice swords from the rack, and walked over to the dueling circle, stepping inside and placing themselves at opposite edges.

Diarmid nodded and said, “Very well. Eldamir, Hallgeir, the rules are simple: the duel is to the first touch; I will judge; keep your distance - you’re not allowed to close on your opponent; no deliberate attacks at the head, and head strikes do not count; all other parts of the body are valid areas to strike. Eldamir, since you are new to the guild, do you have any questions?”

Eldamir shook his head No.

“Very well - begin.”

The two immediately went on guard into a classic duelist’s stance: sword arm forward, and body held sideways to present the most narrow aspect toward the opponent. Balfrith’s brows shot up in surprise, for he’d not guessed that Eldamir would know the dueling style of Men. Of course, he thought, he is over two hundred years old, and when we first met, he was returning home from a journey with his father into the world of Men. I suppose it’s only natural he would have learned something of the ways of Men, even including our fighting styles.

The fighters circled each other, blades reaching out from time to time, tapping one another, then withdrawing. Hallgeir showed himself a competent swordsman, patiently taking stock of his opponent - and Eldamir appeared to he doing the same.

Suddenly Eldamir lunged forward, there was a flurry of blades, clickety-clickety-clack!, and then he withdrew to a standing guard. Hallgeir also stood, but he tapped his foot on the ground and signaled to Diarmid that he’d been struck, though apparently the deacon had not seen it.

Diarmid blinked. “What? Really, it’s already done - and Eldamir won?”

Hallgeir nodded and said, “Aye, deacon Diarmid. He slipped past my guard faster than I could react, and then I felt the touch on my arm before I could withdraw or parry. It was a fair strike, and a good one. I say he passes the test.”

“Very well, thank you Hallgeir. And welcome, Eldamir.” Turning to Balfrith, he said, “Now Balfrith, it is your turn with Calunoth.”

Balfrith was already walking over to the equipment racks, pulling off a jacket and testing its fit, then hanging it back up and trying one that looked slightly bigger. That one fit correctly, and he took a helmet next, putting it on his head and fastening the chin strap. Finally he stepped over to the sword rack and found one that had a decent balance to it.

Calunoth was in the circle, waiting for him, so he turned and entered too, taking position and looking at Diarmid. Calunoth grinned, though it was more of an insolent smirk, and again Balfrith wanted to strike him. Well, perhaps I’ll get a chance right now, he thought.

The deacon said, “You know the rules. Balfrith, do you have any questions?”

“No, deacon.”

“Very well - begin.”

Balfrith stepped forward on guard, but had to struggle to keep his off-hand back, rather than reaching forward to grasp the sword two-handed. Putting one foot forward, he advanced a step, keeping his guard up, eyes on those of his opponent.

Calunoth’s eyes betrayed his first attack, a quick thrust down toward Balfrith’s knee that he easily parried. But his riposte was too slow, and was just as easily parried by Calunoth, who chose to step back on guard again rather than make his own counter-attack.

They circled right a few steps, then Balfrith probed Calunoth’s guard with a tap of his blade, which was quickly and sharply returned, knocking his blade off point. That was a stronger parry than I expected, Balfrith thought. He’s got a strong wrist.

Another step, then Calunoth lunged, and Balfrith was forced to both parry and step back, to prevent himself from being struck. Unfortunately, he was now off-balance, and Calunoth lunged again, striking home: Balfrith felt a solid punch in the ribs just below his arm, which knocked him back another step and out of the ring.

“That’s going to leave a bruise,” came a voice from among the crowd, as Diarmid halted the duel.

He glanced at the assembled guildsmen for a moment, then said, “Calunoth, what say you? Does Balfrith fight well enough to join us?”

Calunoth stood for a moment, thinking. “He’s slow. And his balance is off. But I think he fights well enough to not embarrass himself, or us. Though I daresay we’ll want to keep him in the practice circle for a while before we recommend him for any work.”

Balfrith’s face flushed with embarrassment, but he held his peace. It was a fair fight, and though he was out of practice in the dueling style of Men, that didn’t mean Calunoth was wrong about his fighting. I’ve become so used to fighting in the Elefdar fashion, I forgot my old skills. But not for long, he thought, promising himself that this would be the last time he was driven from the ring like that.

Diarmid called out, “Balfrith, Eldamir, welcome to the guild of free-lancers! And now my friends, let us celebrate their joining our ranks!” A cheer went up, and more voices were raised, welcoming them to the guild. Balfrith smiled, relieved that he’d passed. Though he hadn’t expected to win, he really hadn’t thought it would be so close either.

Well, we’re in now, he thought. And we can start earning some coin. That’s a start.