Chapter LV

‘Here - take it.’

Surprised, Beatrix took the sword, holding it before her in a careful, almost reverent way. Keiran laughed, shaking his head.

‘No, no. It’s not about to fall apart. Hold it by your hip - like that.’ With gentle hands he moved hers so that it rested on her right hip.

‘This isn’t the best or the safest guard,’ he admitted, ‘but it’s the easiest, and that counts for a lot. We generally rely on speed and skill rather than cautiousness.’ He grinned. ‘I think that’s why the guardsmen can’t cope with us. They hold their swords in roughly the same guard as that one - we call it ‘outside’ - but their other hand is occupied with their shields.

‘Never underestimate your other hand. People generally get preoccupied with the weapon, but your other hand can be extremely useful. Sabre fighters from the south like to throw it out to the side for balance, but then it’s just asking to be hit. Keep your left hand tucked in close to your chest, and then when you get in close to your opponent you can hit them, grab their sword, even sometimes use another weapon in that hand.

‘People always say that to swordfight, you need to be able to think on your feet, and to a certain extent that’s true. But you can’t be recognising what your opponent’s about to do and deciding what move you need to do, all at once. It needs to be almost second nature. For the real pros, it’s as natural as breathing, but that takes years. We’ll just stick with muscle memory for now, shall we?

‘There are lots of other guards, for instance ‘inside’- ‘ he moved her hand so it was on her left hip, twisted in some strange and rather painful way, ‘-open (which is good for intimidating people but can hurt your arm after a while)-’ she moved again: this time he straightened her arm above her in the air, ‘-low gardand-’ this felt like a lower version of inside - her hand went down to her left hip, the blade behind her as if in a scabbard, ‘-and true gardand.’ Her arm made an L-shape over her head, the blade pointing towards the ground on her left hand side.

‘That’s the best guard, undoubtedly, because you can do almost any move from there. It’s a basically impenetrable defence, but gets very sore after a while. I would suggest sticking to outside or low gardand. I use low gardand, Rhea favours inside, Ridley (who fights with two swords) generally does whatever he likes, Jaques uses open a lot, and Gideon goes with outside. The best thing would be if you can flick between the guards, depending on how sore your arm is, and what you predict their next move will be. It takes practice, but if you can do it, it’s the most useful think you’ll learn here. That’s assuming you actually learn anything - I don’t usually teach people.’

He grinned again, and Beatrix found herself smiling along with him. He was easy company, and being around him relaxed her. It was strange - no so long ago, she felt relaxed nowhere, especially not in anyone else’s company. And now here she was, being taught to fight guardsmen by an outlaw. This world was topsy-turvy. It didn’t make any sense at all.

The End

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