Chapter 8: Swordplay

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Grimbert

On the agreed upon day, Grimbert showed up to the weaver's shop with a wooden sword of his own. He had been able to purchase it from a traveling merchant, Nikolaus, who he occasionally had dealings with. It was not made with the same level of craftsmanship as Hildegund's, but it sufficed. 

He had never taught anyone how to use a sword before, but he was confident that he could teach her the few moves that he knew for defense.  His mother still hadn't come around to the idea of teaching a girl how to swing a sword, but Grimbert had no doubt that this was the best decision for everyone's safety.  If Richart insisted that the girl joined them, then she better know how to handle a sword!

When Grimbert walked into the shop, Hildegund bound over to greet him, sword in hand. She was obviously excited to begin.  Grimbert wished he felt the same joy. As a matter of habit he had stopped by the alehouse on the way over to Richart's shop, and a slight grogginess dampened his mood.

"What are you wearing?" he sneered at the broad-smiling girl, "Is that a skirt?"

She hesitated, her head tilting ever so slightly. "Yes?" she answered in a questioning tone.

"You can't fight in that!  Go put on some riding pants, sturdy shoes, and here, try this on," Grimbert tossed her a leather vest, "It's not heavy armor, but it's the closest that we will have."  Hildegund beamed even wider, despite his sour tone, and she ran back to her room to change.  When she returned, he continued, "When we travel you will wear that over a linen shirt, but under a wool cloak. You will need to learn to move smoothly while wearing all those layers, but for now, just become comfortable with that vest."  He led her out into the back courtyard.  It was a narrow and putrid space, but it allowed for more movement than inside. Once they were situated Grimbert commanded, "Now, hold your weapon."

She did so without question. But the sword trembled, vibrating like a leaf caught in the autumn breeze.

"Steady your arm, girl," he barked, maybe louder than he meant. He hoped she couldn't smell the alcohol on his breath. Her eyebrows knit in concentration as she tightened her muscles to steady her grip. He continued, "The sword you hold was designed to be swung with one arm, but you will not have a shield and are small enough that the grip can accommodate both your hands. If you are fighting a larger opponent, do not be afraid to add the strength of a second arm."

Hildegund just nodded in response.

"Always face your opponent, but be aware of your surroundings. You don't want to get surprised from behind." Instinctively, Hildegund turned her head both ways, but the only thing behind her was a heap of debris and a sooty stone wall.  "Stand like this so you can quickly change direction if the situation demands it," Grimbert demonstrated, standing with his legs wide apart, his weight distributed equally so that he could pivot easily.  She tried to do the same.  "No, like this!" he walked over to her and with his large sausage-fingers he moved her feet, and pressed down on her knee. "Keep your center of balance low so you can't be knocked over." He gave her a moment to adjust, and then pushed her.  She moved with the blow, but easily maintained her stance.  "Good. Now try to hit me with your sword."

Grimbert tapped his blade on hers as a signal to begin. She hesitated momentarily, biting her lower lip and shifting her eyes. But then she lunged at him, all confidence, but no skill. He batted her away easily, the swing of his sword continuing downward and knocking her foot out from under her. She fell onto the hard-packed dirt and a small plume of dust rose up with the impact.  "Get up.  Try again!  And this time, don't just try and stick me like a needle to cloth. Remember – I have a sword too!"

She got up easily, and without bothering to wipe the dirt from her pants, she held the sword in front of her for a moment, watching Grimbert intently. Instead of lunging, she swung her sword high to meet his. They struck with a loud bang. He used the backwards momentum from the blow to counter with another low swing to her legs, but she was able to redirect her swing to meet his. He parried, switching his footing, and pressed onward. The next time their swords clashed Hildegund's weapon was wrenched from her grasp from the impact.

"Better," he said, "but not good enough.  Again."

They went at it for only an hour, but afterwards they were both exhausted.  Grimbert's arms ached and were heavy with numbness;  he was panting heavily, and was rasping for breath. Hildegund's shoulders and legs were bruised from where they had been struck. "I think we are both in need of practice," Grimbert said honestly through heavy gasps. Sweat beaded his forehead, the stench of alcohol dripped from his pores, and he looked ready to pass out.

"Can I borrow the second training sword?" Hildegund asked with a tentative voice. "I think you are too strong for me right now. If it pleases you, I would like to continue practicing with my cousin Adso."

Grimbert nodded with approval, "But you also must work to increase your strength.  Remember, bandits on the road will be more advanced foes than I am."

Hildegund thanked him and ran off, he assumed to find her cousin.  Grimbert limped home, ready to pass out for an afternoon nap.

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