Continued from the previous chapter, here.
𝔗he next few days passed easily and well. The green-clad man allowed himself to be entertained as a valued, honored guest, the Lord Deleiere seeing to his whims and many people from the town calling on him in his chambers at odd hours. The Lord Deleiere seemed increasingly to skulk about his own home, moving more and more furtively through its halls and between its chambers, as if sneaking through a place he knew he should not be. Preparations for the founding festival continued, and the mail-clad man continued to observe them as the people of the town continued to eye him with suspicion.
He also made to practice with his sword again, as he had hardly done since his days as squire to Sir Erflet. In those days, he had drilled relentlessly with the sword. Several days, in fact, he had worked from not long after dawn to not long before dusk on a single stroke, lifting the sword and bringing it straight down again and again and again, until blisters formed and burst upon the palm of his hand and the leather in which the hilt of his sword was wrapped was slick with blood from them it. Other days saw similar focus on other simple strikes–some days, an angled backhand slash, hundreds or thousands of times until his elbow creaked with the motion; other days, a slow and arcing cut that aimed towards an opponent’s knees, just blow the rim of the shield. Even when he worked on more complicated techniques, with Sir Erflet guiding him through long evolutions of swordplay, the simple, basic strokes were practiced over and over and over again.
And now, with a few days of idleness to spare, the knight fell back upon the old practice, tying stout branches to the blade to increase its weight and lifting the sword straight up again and again and again, bringing it down straight and true each time, and the force of it was like a smith’s hammer on the anvil, like a stone falling from high atop a wall onto the heads of attackers in siege. Yet the mail-clad man stopped the blade each time when it was level with his waist, not letting the point dip past that line before lifting it again. Dozens and scores and hundreds of times he did so, yet no blisters formed upon his palm, and if the hilt of his sword was slickened by sweat, his grip upon it did not falter.
From there, the knight changed to rehearsing again and again other simple strokes, working back and forth from the vertical, from backhand to forehand, from angled downward to lateral to arcing low cuts to thrusts and back again, every time swinging the weighted blade with certainty and truly, and shifting the shield that he carried to cover himself against the most likely evasions and replied. Soon, the shoulder of his mail was polished to a sheen from the rubbing of the shield against it, and the handle of the shield was slicked with sweat no less than that of his sword, yet still did his grip remain firm, and still was his shield held high, and still did his sword swing true.
When the knight was still a squire and riding alongside Sir Erflet in his service, he had often wondered why so much of the time that they were in one place had the older knight spent having him swing his sword so. Sir Erflet had always replied that it was upon such motions that much was decided, and the years since had shown those words true. For though the knight knew many ways to swing his sword, many patterns to apply to separate sinews and rend flesh, it was most often a simple stroke that won the day, most often an attack a child could make that unmade the one so attacked. There were opponents, true, whom subterfuge was needed to defeat, who could and did parry blows as quickly as they could be made so long as they could see them, and so took complex motions that evaded the easy understanding of eyes to make the telling touch. And there were circumstances in which the simple strokes that worked well against a single foe would not work well, for there is only so much that one sword can attack and from which one shield can defend, but the proper application of technique can make of one many, the better to face many in turn. But there were many more times that it took but one well swung blow to end a fight, and even the most intricate and arcane works of the sword often ended in one of the simplest strokes.
So it was that the knight found himself taking the time that was given to him to hone and refine his craft once again. He rose before the sun and did the penance appointed to him, praying and making ready to fast throughout the day. Then he tended to his weapons as he had been taught by Sir Erflet long before, and he worked again and again through simple strokes in abundance. Then again he tended to his arms, honing the edge of his sword and oiling it, ensuring that the shield he carried–for he found himself given another by the Lord Deleiere who still skulked about the place–shone in the sun as if a mirror bright and clear. As dusk settled, he secured his arms and prayed, and he broke his fast with reverence, but also with relish, for the work he did to improve upon his work was mighty, indeed, and a great hunger fell upon him. Yet he spoke little, even as he knew that he was watched by many eyes, and he watched in turn as preparations for the festival of the town’s founding reached their completion. And he waited for the festivities to come.
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