Fantasy Fiction posted June 3, 2021 Chapters:  ...42 43 -44- 45... 


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Wolf Instructs Ralf in the Ways of the Sword

A chapter in the book The Stoneseekers

The Fencing Lesson

by duaneculbertson




Background
The novel deals with determining the nature of Justice and discussing the struggle of Good versus Evil
“Take off your helmet and gloves,” Wolf said.

Ralf happily obliged. Rivulets of sweat ran down his face.

"Just listen and relax. With a two-handed sword, or even a hand-and-a-half sword, you want to move forward with every blow. To cast a strike, the feet follow the hands. When striking from the right, you step with your right foot. When striking from the left, you step with your left. In your case, your guard will start on the left side of your body. Keep your right foot forward. As you deal a strike, your left foot will move forward and pass the right. This is called a Passing Step. The rules of fencing change when fighting with a one-handed sword. On such occasions, you want your dominant side forward, but don’t think about that now.”

            “Not a problem,” Ralf mumbled.

            “And don’t worry about your lack of experience. As long as you don’t panic, you still stand a good chance of surviving a fight. Green fighters are sometimes more challenging to fight than veterans. Personally, I hate fighting novices; they do stupid things seasoned fighters would never do. They get killed in the process, but often they take out their opponent too. A situation fencing students call “Two Dead Idiots.”

            “In fact, sometimes to shake up our training, Swordmaster Keels would test us against people without any formal sword training. He called this “Idiot Sparring.” Usually, he took drunkards or vagrants right off the streets – desperate people with nothing to lose and eager for money. I questioned the ethics of his actions, but he claimed nobody was ever permanently injured, and the volunteers were happy to earn their coin. Keels argued that had he not employed them, they would have stolen from others to feed their habits anyway. But I am digressing here. Back to the lesson. 

            “Put your right foot forward and keep your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart. The first guard is called “Von-Tag” which means “From the Day,” or “From the Roof.” There are two forms for this stance. Either the sword hilt is held at shoulder height, else it is held high above your head. Many believe it is better to use the higher guard because you can attack more easily to either side. Observe.”

Wolf raised the wooden sword. His double-handed grip was roughly two hand-spans above his head. He demonstrated the second guard option by bringing the sword down by the side of his face, the sword perpendicular and the quillons running parallel with the ground.

            “Some people call this guard Zornhut. You try it now."

Ralf mimicked both stances without difficulty. “Good,” Wolf praised. “Now that you have a guard to protect your centerline, you need to learn how to move.”

Ralf opened his mouth to ask something, but Wolf plowed ahead. “The most basic step is called the Passing Step. You simply shift your weight and take a step forward. For example, right now your front leg is bent at the knee in a comfortable stance. Simply bring the back leg forward, stepping so that it becomes the forward leg. Keep the same degree of bend at the knee with your weight evenly distributed. Maintain the width of your stance as you take your step and adopt your new position.”

            “Okay, I think I got it,” Ralf said. He smiled; his mood seemed to be improving.

            “Looks good,” Wolf averred. “Now try a few more Passing Steps. Keep the sword in the same guard but allow it to move naturally. You will notice how it shifts according to your stance. When you are in the high guard of Von Tag, it doesn’t matter, but if you keep the sword chambered at your shoulder in Zornhut, you will have to make a slight adjustment as you move.”

            “Yes … I see what you mean.”

            “Good. The next step is called the Gathered Step because you gather ground on your opponent. Watch me. With your forward leg, you take a small step and then drag your back leg to maintain a constant width of stance. Similarly, if you need to give ground, you step back with your back leg first, then drag your front leg backwards. It’s really important to master this step, as you need to change distance frequently whether you are attacking or defending. The strikes are all made using the passing step. There are exceptions, but generally you want to step forward when delivering all blows.”

            “Okay. What’s next?”

            “Hmm, I could show you how to move laterally with triangle steps, but I think that is a lesson best left for another time. Right now, I want to finish discussing the guards. The terminology for the next two have a basis in agriculture. They are known as ‘Ox’ and ‘Plow.’ For ‘Ox’, you wind your arms up beside your head and your sword is roughly parallel to the ground; you will notice the sword resembles the horn of an ox. As a general rule, always threaten your opponent. Keep the point in his face. Give him something to think about.”

Ralf mimicked the Ox as demonstrated by Wolf.

            “Very good. Now, you’ll notice your arms are crossed on one side, but when you take a Passing Step forward, they become uncrossed.”

            “Yes, I see,” Ralf said excitedly, as if discovering some secret of the universe.

            “Now lower the sword in front of your body but keep the point of the sword where it is. This guard is known as Plow. You see how the blade is no longer parallel to the ground, but oriented at an angle? It resembles a plow.”

            “Yeah, that makes sense. What’s the last guard?”

            “The last guard is called “Alber,” which is Old Etrurian for “Fool,” a simple yet deceptive guard.”

            “What!” Ralf exclaimed. “Why call it Fool? And why use such a thing?”

            “It is a matter of debate. Most believe it is called Fool because only a fool lowers his guard. Others think it is called Fool, because you fool your opponent into thinking you are tired or defenseless. Almost as if goading him to strike your exposed upper left quadrant, the area containing your head, shoulder, and chest. To produce this guard, you simply hold your sword out in front of you, allowing it to hang down at an angle, as if you were about to use it to probe bushes or move logs in a fire.”

            “Seems kind of useless.”

            “Indeed,” said Wolf. “Unless … Come. Thrust your sword at my chest.”

            “What?”

            “Do it!

Ralf tried to hit Wolf in the chest with a quick thrust, but the point never hit home. With surprising deftness, Wolf flicked the sword up from Fool and knocked Ralf’s sword off the centerline. Then he stepped to deliver a quick cut to Ralf’s temple. Wolf pulled the sword back at the last moment to leave it resting against his head.

            “Zwhol!” Ralf cried. “That was fantastic!”

Wolf smiled. “Indeed. Every technique has a proper time and place. Some are more versatile and can be deployed in several situations.”

Sigfried returned with another full tankard of ale.

            “My third,” he boasted.

            “I’m glad you’ve been making good use of your time,” Wolf said mockingly.

Sigfried frowned and sat beside Demelza on the stone bench. “Well, I made good use of my coin … or rather, yours. They had ale pints for only a fen! Fenny ale! Can you believe that? Tastes like watered down piss, but they’re cheap as Helle and quench your thirst. It’s important to stay hydrated on a hot day.”

            “I’m not going to ask how you know what watered down piss tastes like, but I’m happy you're enjoying yourself on this hot summer day.”

            Sigfried had just upturned his tankard and was in the middle of a long swig, prompting him to respond to Wolf’s comment with an eloquent hand gesture.

            “We’re going to address your impudence at some point too,” Wolf remarked. “If you don’t start respecting authority and the chain of command, you’ll be dismissed.”

The boy scowled but said nothing.

            “You gonna give him some strikes?” asked Demelza. “He’ll not make it very far with only guards.”

            “Yes,” Wolf replied in an exasperated tone. “I was getting to them.”

Ralf looked at Wolf expectantly.

            “There are five masterstrikes, Ralf. The first is called Zornhau or the ‘Angry-man’s Strike.’ This strike requires no training. You simply step forward and deliver a blow to your opponent’s head or torso, usually at a forty-five-degree angle, but the trajectory can vary. It’s the easiest, most natural strike. When dealt from your right, you are striking your opponent’s left. When dealt from your left, you are striking your opponent’s right. It does not cross the center-line.”


            “What’s the center-line?” Ralf asked.

            "It's an imaginary line that divides your opponent in half lengthwise. Only one of the masterstrikes deliberately crosses the centerline. Most attacks will stay on the same side as they are launched.”


Ralf nodded his understanding.

            “Returning to Zornhau … You want the upper third of the blade to hit your target. This area is called the center of percussion and delivers maximum force. This guideline is true for most percussive blows. Thrusts follow different rules. And you can also land a “push-cut” or a “draw-cut” – these can be delivered from any part of the blade. Such attacks will not usually end a fight unless you happen to slice the neck or inner thigh of your opponent. They can be demoralizing and may hurt your opponent as the fight progresses, but you never want to lose sight of your primary goal – end the fight as quickly as possible. If you strike your opponent with the center of percussion good things tend to happen, allowing you to achieve victory with a minimum number of strikes.”


            “Got it,” Ralf said in a voice that seemed to grow with confidence.

            “Unfortunately, there’s no one at your skill level to fight, but eventually you’ll get better. Perhaps one day we will spar as equals.”

            “Not bloody likely,” Ralf murmured.

Sigfried approached. “Just finished my ale; I’m ready to fight him.”

            “There’s been a change of plans,” Wolf informed. “You’ll be fighting me now.”

            “What!” Sigfried exclaimed. The boy grew pale, and Ralf flashed him a triumphant smile.


                  "But I don’t want to fight you,” Sigfried protested. “I’ve got a good case of the tingles going. It wouldn’t be fair. I thought I was fighting Ralf; I need to sober up first.”

            “Too bad! The enemy waits for no one. Gear up!”

            Fury replacing fear, Sigfried swore violently. “You tricked me!” he yelled accusingly. “That’s a shitty thing to do! Especially after your sanctimonious talk earlier about honor and righteousness—"

            "Think what you want, Sigfried. The fact remains that a swordsman must learn to fight in all conditions. Drunk. Injured. Sick. Snow. Rain.  Desert heat or arctic chill. It doesn’t matter. When the enemy attacks, you just have to deal with the situation no matter how inconvenient or unpleasant. That’s the warrior’s lot in life.”

            “Hear! Hear!” Demelza yelled from the periphery. She rose from the bench in anticipation of the duel, and Wolf wondered who she would cheer for.

            “Well, I’m a nobleman, not a warrior!” Sigfried spat.

            “Today you’re a warrior, son,” Wolf declared. “Now guard up!”

            “You smug sonofabitch!” Sigfried roared. This time, he did not bother with any flamboyant salute, nor did he wait for an invitation. He charged forward, throwing a spirited Zornhau at Wolf’s head, but Wolf moved sideways with a Triangle Step, and, in one continuous motion, raised his guard, twisted his wrists, and brought the sword down hard in an inverted strike atop the crown of Sigfried’s head. Not only did the blow resonate a crisp, pleasing thwack, but the position of Wolf’s blade shielded him from Sigfried’s Zornhau.

        
The young man swore vehemently, knowing he had been skillfully outmaneuvered.

            “Woooo!” Ralf cheered. “That was excellent!”

Demelza clapped her hands together too. “Well done, Wolf.”

Sigfried turned and glared at his bodyguard. “Traitor. Perhaps now's as good a time as any to renegotiate your pay.”

But Demelza simply laughed, taking the comment for jest. Furthermore, Wolf noticed she only had eyes for him. He wondered if the look she now gave him was motivated by feelings of genuine fondness or an appreciation of his martial skill.


            “Ralf,” Wolf said, once again adopting a didactic tone. “They are not called the Masterstrikes for nothing. The one I just employed is called Shielhau, and the technique is known as Breaking the Buffalo. When facing a fierce, charging opponent, or a man much bigger than yourself, one may defeat his powerful swing with a well-placed Shielhau, stopping him dead in his tracks. I figured Sigfried was angry enough to attack with a fully committed Zornhau. And I was right.”

Wolf paused to gloat at Sigfried. The boy appeared seething and on the verge of apoplexy.

            "Again,” the boy hissed through his teeth.

            “One moment, Sigfried, I’m sharing a teachable moment with Ralf. Of course, you’re free to learn too if you wish.”

Sigfried trembled with rage. “Blast your insolence!” he roared. “I’ll make you regret that glib tongue of yours!”

            “Calm yourself, boy,” Wolf said mildly. “It’s important to fight with emotion, but fury can lead you into trouble. Ralf, take note: never allow your opponent to unsettle you. This is applicable to duels, not battles. I’ve seen plenty of strange things happen with combatants taunting each other to gain an advantage before the fight has even started; it's best to be wary of treachery. On a battlefield, however, you would rarely encounter an enemy stupid enough to waste time taunting you. What you will encounter, though, are men bellowing their war cries to frighten you as they charge your position. In such cases, one must always resist the urge to flee.”
    
As Wolf talked to Ralf, his eyes never once left Sigfried. He recalled what had happened to his friend, Swordmaster Keels, just a few days before. The painful lesson Jocasta had taught him had made an impression upon Wolf as well, and he did not wish to become a victim of similar circumstances.

            “When you face your opponent,” Wolf continued, “the edge of the blade pointing away from you is called the “True Edge” while the edge facing you is known as the “False Edge.” The Shielhau is a false edge cut. It’s an awkward, unnatural movement, requiring much practice.”

            “I’m not sure I understand,” Ralf admitted.

            “Don’t worry about it. We can go over the mechanics and nuances of this strike some other time. The other false edge cut is known as the Zwerchau. It involves some unusual wrist action like the Shielhau, but it is a much easier strike to deliver.  However, I will save its demonstration for later as well. Preferably in a safe environment, not in front of an angry opponent. Furthermore, you never want to telegraph your intentions to your enemy. It’s best to give several different looks, then do the unexpected.”

            Sigfried seemed to regain his sense of calm, almost as if Wolf's words had reminded him of something.


            “As great as my skill is with a sword,” Wolf continued. “I’m not foolish enough to tell Sigfried which of the masterstrikes I’m going to deploy next – if any. I respect his swordsmanship too much for that.” Wolf meant the compliment as an olive branch. If Sigfried had felt shame at being beaten so handily, he thought this statement would help him regain confidence. However, the boy did not acknowledge the gracious remark, nor did he reciprocate with any compliments of his own. Instead, he remained silent.

            “I still say I can stop anyone with my crossbow,” Ralf volunteered, inspiring another round of laughter from Demelza.

            Wolf groaned. “Ralf, if you want to be one of us, you must gain competency with the sword to supplement the marksmanship skills you possess. Besides, here’s a hypothetical situation that could change your mind: let’s say you’re in battle. You’ve just taken your shot and killed an enemy warrior. You drop to your knees to reload when suddenly a champion breaks through the ranks of warriors tasked with your protection. A Vanadian warlord is now barreling down upon you. With his sword raised high, he prepares to cleave you in half to avenge his fallen comrade. Now, at this moment, wouldn’t it be nice to have a back-up plan rather than simply hoping that you can reload fast enough before he closes the distance?”

            “Yeah I guess,” Ralf admitted. “It’s always good to have options.”

            “Exactly,” Wolf replied. “Which is why the king’s arbalesters are all equipped with swords as well. And trust me, they practice often. In the hypothetical case I just mentioned, a Shielhau, like the one I used against Sigfried, could save your life.”

            “Fine,” Ralf replied. “I’ll learn your techniques.”

            “Thank you,” Wolf replied. He motioned to Sigfried. “Again.”

Snarling at his opponent, Sigfried hurled another Zornhau at Wolf’s head, but the latter merely stepped to his right, parrying the diagonal blow with another masterstrike. Matching the angle of the incoming Zornhau, Wolf caught the blade along his before knocking it downwards. With a quick flick of the wrist, he followed his counter with a false-edged Shielhau, cracking Sigfried along the top of his forehead. 

The boy released a torrent of angry words, but Wolf took no notice.

            “The lesson here, Ralf,” Wolf began, “is that Sigfried is still trying to beat me with his speed and physical talents, allowing his anger to govern his actions. Although very quick, his Zornhau was telegraphed and expected. I responded with the masterstrike known as the Krumpau or the “Crooked Strike,” so called because the wrists cross as the blow lands. This happens naturally as a consequence of crossing your opponent’s centerline. It is the only masterstrike that deliberately does this and is the defining characteristic of the strike.”

            “Wolf,” Ralf interrupted. “I’m not going to pretend I know what the Helle you are talking about.”

             “Don’t worry. I am just exposing you to the terminology. You need not grasp it all your first time. Just relax and watch. But perhaps I can put it another way … if you cast Krumphau from the right side of your body it targets your opponent’s right, not his left. In fact, you can break his ‘Ox’ guard with this masterstrike by targeting your opponent’s hands. Most of the time, though, your opponent will not be foolish enough to hang out in one guard for too long … although you were doing it earlier when you faced Sigfried. But now you know better.”

Demelza could not help laughing again, but at least she tried.

            “Most of the time, though,” Wolf continued, “the Krumphau strike is deployed to redirect an attacker’s Zornhau. As you saw, I met Sigfried’s blade before his strike could land.”

            “Sure," Ralf replied. “Whatever you say…”

            “The lesson for you both is that skill beats slaughter,” Wolf said. Smiling, he looked from one man to the other. “I knew Sigfried had little chance, but I wanted to make my point. We can not afford to be defeated by those who are more skilled. Approach every fight as a man of thought. Always think first and fight the fight that suits you best!

            “Hmmph,” Sigfried snorted. “The kind of fight that suits me best is the one where I run from you. I had no chance as you yourself just admitted. That makes you a poor winner in my book. Only a bully picks such fights.”

            “I was not picking a fight, Sigfried. I was illustrating a point. And there are always other options. Running away is a perfectly valid course of action, although it is not always possible. If I had been in your shoes, I would have done something to take my skill out of the equation.  I would have done something unexpected.”

Sigfried’s shoulders relaxed once again upon hearing these words. He looked at the ground as if in a state of contemplation.

          
            “How could he possibly take your skill out of the equation?” Ralf asked.

            “Well, he could have thrown some dirt in my face, or better yet, coins. Such a move would temporarily blind me. If followed by a quick attack, I could be beaten.”

            "That does not sound like honorable conduct," Ralf volunteered.

            "Indeed," Wolf agreed. "It is not honorable. You would never act in such a fashion in a proper duel, but on the street or battlefield you do whatever it takes to survive."

            “I’ll remember that next time,” Sigfried mumbled.

            “You will improve, Sigfried. I’m sure you were well trained once, when you were growing up, but you can always learn more techniques and practice often.”

            “Very well!” Sigfried replied with a sudden touch of bravado. “I’m ready to go again.”

            “You want to go again?” Wolf asked. “Are you sure? It’s pretty hot and we’ve both been under the sun quite a while now. We really ought to check back and see if Virriel has returned.”

            “I said I want to go again!” Sigfried shouted.

            “Have it your way, then,” Wolf sighed. “Guard up, my friend…”

Sigfried circled Wolf. As if engaging in some fluid dance, both men changed guards and stances constantly. It appeared Sigfried had adopted a new strategy – he would rush in rapidly to feign an attack and then immediately withdraw. If he hoped to frustrate his opponent, it did not work. Wolf’s countless hours of drills upon hot proving grounds had given him the discipline to wait for the right moment to attack; he would not be drawn. Nevertheless, it was brutally hot, and he did want to bring the fencing lesson to an end. He decided he would have to play the game and take the fight to Sigfried.

As Wolf closed the distance, Sigfried continued to dance around. He jumped behind Demelza, using her as a human shield.


            “Blast you!” she yelled. “Get your hands off me!”

The boy then leapt upon the plinth adjacent the rose garden.

            “You can’t beat me now, Wolf. I have the high ground!”

Artfully, Wolf threw a hopping side-kick, bringing his back foot to rest where his front foot had been, and using his front foot to strike Sigfried square in the chest. The boy flew backwards, landing hard on his back in the dried dirt of the dead flower garden, losing his weapon in the process.

Wolf adopted the Fool guard angling his sword down at Sigfried’s neck. He shook his head at the boy. “That’s not a thing, Sigfried. The high ground is only important in the shield wall. When you are fighting an uphill battle and a wall of men is pushing down upon you … when gravity, or weight rather, becomes important. It is not a factor in a duel and will certainly not negate your opponent’s skill. It’s great to use the environment to your advantage, and situational awareness is important, but don’t plan on it bailing you out of trouble.”

   
Demelza clapped her hands together. “Well said, Wolf!”

            “It’s time to gather our forces and go,” Wolf said. “Come on, Sigfried.” He offered his hand, but the boy waved it away.

            “One last time,” he insisted. “This time I’ll be ready for your tricks!”

            “Sigfried, when you’re out on the street, you don’t get a second chance. You need to do it right the first time, else you end up dead.”

            “Spare me your sententious wisdom! I’m coming for you!”

            Despite the remark, Wolf’s words must have had some effect, for Sigfried approached with great caution. This time, he was not playing games; he did not dance around or use any false attacks. When he edged within striking distance, he dealt a series of vigorous blows, which Wolf countered  without difficulty. The boy tried again, launching another flurry of strikes. Wolf was hard pressed this time and had to give ground, but he never once felt that he was in any danger of losing the fight. Once again, the boy grew frustrated by his lack of progress. Seething, he spat insults through his helmet.


            “Always keep your cool, Ralf,” Wolf instructed. “Don’t listen to anything your opponent says. Stay focused.”

Sigfried feinted left. But stepped right casting a furious Zornahu. Wolf matched the angle of the incoming blade, knocking it down and away with a Krumphau strike. He followed with a rapid backswing which caught Sigfried in the face.

            “Shistra!” Sigfried swore. The fight ought to have ended at that moment, yet with surprising quickness, Sigfried tried to club Wolf in the head with the pommel of his sword. Wolf leapt clear, then struck Sigfried's chest.

            “A murder blow!” bellowed Wolf. “Sey’dsblud! What do you mean by that? This is sparring practice between friends. Not an actual battle!”

            “Well, you said ‘do the unexpected’ – I was just following your orders.”

            “Blast you!” Wolf yelled in an exasperated tone. “A murder blow is reserved for the shield-wall or close-quarters combat with heavily armored men. It’s a half-swording technique! It’s employed when fighting is tight, and lack of space prevents the use of the masterstrikes. It has no place in a duel with a single opponent on open ground. It’s far too telegraphed a move. You try that in a real fight, and you’ll get yourself killed.”

The boy took off his helmet and cast it to the ground, throwing a surly look in Wolf’s direction, but not meeting his eyes. "I almost beat you," he mumbled. 

            “That gear is not ours,” Wolf warned. “Treat it with respect. Unless you want to be held accountable for your actions.”

Sigfried reluctantly retrieved the helmet, placing it on the bench beside Demelza.

            “I don’t know what fighting master taught you,” Wolf continued. “But he did a disservice if he told you to bring that technique to a duel. That strike is easily anticipated and leaves you vulnerable -- you could end up dead yourself, instead of killing your opponent. And such a dangerous strike has no place when sparing between friends.

Sigfried simply shrugged in response.

            “Why’s it so dangerous?” Ralf asked.

            “Because you basically turn the sword into a hammer or club. In fact, some pommels are especially weighted for that purpose. Some have knobs, teeth, or even prongs to augment the blunt-force damage. By gripping the blade near the end with one hand and near the middle with the other, you windmill the hilt towards your opponent. Imagine how your hands move when you chop a piece of wood with an axe. Often the blow can puncture the plate-mail armor of a helmet, stunning your opponent, or killing them outright.”

            "Wouldn't you slice your own hand in the process?" Ralf asked.

            "Not if you do it correctly. You simply slide your thumb and fingers along the fuller of the blade, avoiding the edges."

            "I think I'll leave that technique to the experts," Ralf quipped. 

            "Please do. I never want to see you try such a ridiculous move. Nor is it likely you will find yourself in a shield wall anytime soon. Not if I have anything to say about it."


Ralf offered his hand to Wolf. “Thanks, for the lesson. I know you are trying to help me. And despite my resistance, I appreciate your efforts. And, who knows, maybe one day you’ll make a fine swordsman out of me.”


Wolf smiled. “Sure. It's possible. You just have to work at it. Day by day. Year after year. Until one day you wake up and you are no longer terrible at it."

Ralf laughed. “Well, thanks again.”

Wolf nodded. As he stared into the jowly face, he considered once again his recruiting decision. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Ralf’s connections to the Thieves' Guild could prove useful. On the other hand, his lack of martial skill could prove a liability to the team. Wolf had to admit, under normal circumstances, he would never be spending time with such a man. He preferred men of energy, discipline, and character. Ralf had little of these qualities. Still, under the right circumstances the smuggler could change, but how long would that take?

Wolf knew it was long past time to get going. He had planned to isolate and confront Sigfried about his Black Dragon addiction, but now there was no time. They had spent far too long in the park this afternoon. And the thought of them burning more time made Wolf anxious. At this very moment, someone could be spiriting the Putragle Stone out of the city. In fact, there was no guarantee it was still in Malden at all. Nor did Wolf know who their enemies were. They would just have to wait and see who would try to stop them from achieving their goal.


Wolf followed Ralf, Demelza, and Sigfried back to the food tent. It would not do to start their mission with negativity, so he did his best to banish the nagging thoughts now plaguing him.

When they returned to their shaded table Ketri was still fast asleep. Virriel had indeed returned; she carried a large wooden staff with her now. At the top, some type of crystal sat in a dendrified housing. Probably quartz, Wolf thought.

            “Did you have fun?" she asked Wolf.



            “We sure did,” he replied. “And now that you’re back … and Ketri is awake.” Smiling, he took the dregs from a tankard of ale and poured them atop the face of the slumbering dwarf. The effect was galvanic.

            “You bastard!” she roared. “I’ll bash you good!” Leaping to her feet, Ketri chased Wolf throughout the food tent, much to the amusement of others. Wolf weaved around confused customers and doubled back.

            “The nice thing about evading dwarves,” Wolf said casually. “Is that they have such stumpy legs!” Showcasing his nimble agility, he dodged her every move with never a concern of being caught. Demelza looked as if she considered tripping him yet did nothing, eyeing him with an emotion he could not place. Maybe she was just daunted by the thought of having to restrain Ketri to prevent her from killing him, as the dwarf’s fiery temper had already reached legendary status within the group.
 




In 2005 I studied German Medieval Longsword fencing for the purpose of writing the Stoneseekers. I met with a group of MIT graduates who had a passion for the topic. On Friday nights we would gather to read through the actual verses of Johannes Lichtenauer in a local karate studio and then try to interpret the meanings. If you are interested the group still exists. It is run by its founder, Jeff Tsay, and is called Forte Swordplay. I was one of the founding members. Back then we had about six regulars. Now, I think they have twenty to thirty people and it seems much rougher with a younger crowd. We would gear up and hit each other with actual swords. Surprisingly, injuries were rare. This is no longer the case when I went to meet with them a few years ago. Some of the newer members were talking about shattered hands and wrists, and I was a bit reluctant to return, although I honestly do miss fencing a lot.
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