A Spar Adrift

Finarvi — A Spar Adrift

????, Fire Season, Stasis Week


Context

1626, Fire Season, Stasis Week, Fireday. [[[s01:session-36|Session 36]]]

Continues in [http:journeyoftheheroes.wikidot.com/berra:a-sorry-apology A Sorry Apology], [http:journeyoftheheroes.wikidot.com/berra:pupilled-gaze Pupilled Gaze], and [http://journeyoftheheroes.wikidot.com/finarvi:apologies-accepted Apologies Accepted].

Events

Just before dawn, after seeing to the horses, Finarvi dons his armour, buckles on his broadsword and heads into the longhouse. The guard is napping at his post and doesn’t stir as the Grazelander slips inside. The interior of the longhouse is gloomy, the embers of the fire almost dead. He picks his way carefully towards the alcove where the Humakti bedded down for the night.

In front of the alcove, curled up into an unfeasibly small volume, is Berra, her sword tucked clumsily into the crook of her right arm, her whole body snuggled down protectively around it.

Near the back of the longhouse it is almost completely dark. He makes his way more by memory than vision. He can dimly see the pale shape of the curtain and a lump at its base that should be Berra. He reaches out, and treads on something that is definitely not floor.

Finarvi looks down, trying to make out what he’s stepped on. Feeling around, he loses his balance and shifts his footing to compensate. His other foot lands on something that feels like a body.

The sound of people sleeping is all around, the shapes of those under robes and cloaks and hides fill the place, for the palisade still contains much of the village. The sound of a Duck snoring – a small whistling sound – comes from behind the curtain.

Varanis wakes suddenly, grabbing at whatever has attacked her in the darkness.

Finarvi lets out a squawk and falls over as the corpse grabs his leg.1Varanis passes a grappling roll.

Amazingly, neither Humakti reacts to the start of the noise, at least. Then there is a lot more noise.

Varanis pins Finarvi beneath her, somehow coming free from a tangle of blanket and cloak. There’s an arm across his throat and a startled Vingan peering into his face.

Anyone watching the curtain would be surprised by how the Duck appears under it, rolling to his feet with his sword already not being drawn, the set of his shoulders denoting this as a clear decision. Berra rises rather less dramatically, the curled, compressed position turning out to be really good for getting to her knees as she takes stock, and for pushing back with a foot as she starts to get up. “Uuuhhh?” she asks, still hardly awake while balanced for combat.

Finarvi freezes, uncomfortably aware that the last time he was in this position, he had a shield between himself and the angry corpse.

Varanis registers the face beneath hers and lets go, rolling off the Grazelander quickly. “I’m sorry,” she says quietly as she takes in a few deep breaths.

Finarvi sits up cautiously. “Good morning?” he whispers.

A couple of other people are asking, “What the hell?” or calling for whoever just came in to keep it down. The Duck gives a look around that includes Berra – and everything else – and slips back behind the curtain.

“Is it dawn?” Berra asks. She sounds like she has not slept enough lately.

“It is outside,” Finarvi says softly. “But not yet sunup.”

Berra’s voice has a touch of a lisp in, too subtle to really hit the ‘th’ sound, but still definitely there. “I recall I said some stupid things yesterday about practice.”

“Like ‘wake me up at dawn’?” Finarvi hazards, regretting not waiting another hour.

The Vingan sits up, and tugs at her clothing, trying to straighten herself out. She slept with her hair in a single plait, which now looks fuzzy. She looks at Berra when she hears the word ‘practice’, and a slow grin takes over.

“And, ‘Yes, of course’.” Berra scowls, and then looks at her pile of equipment. Apparently she can sleep in greaves and vambraces, but the breastplate was beyond her, and her sword-belt is off, stripped of scabbard. “Can someone help me take this outside?” Definitely a quieter voice than she normally uses. The lisp is the only sign of a Durulz accent.

Finarvi reaches for the equipment, wincing at the scrape of metal as he lifts the pieces up. “Sorry,” he whispers.

“May I join you?” The words are asked in a whisper and are definitely a question, but Varanis is already reaching for her own gear.

Finarvi looks to Berra for confirmation.

“I’ve no objection,” Berra says, although she adds, “I’m going to be going through some broadsword drills I know,” in warning. She gets her helmet settled onto her head, with her padding trapping her hair mostly out of her eyes, and then concentrates on buckling up her belt. Even left-handed she is graceful, but it comes at the expense of much more care.

Varanis smiles in reply. “Shield or no shield?” she whispers as she quickly buckles on her greaves.

“Bring it,” Finarvi suggests. “Mine’s outside. I didn’t want to risk knocking something in the dark and making a noise, but I think I’ve managed to wake everyone anyway.”

Berra says, “You can do worse, I’m sure. Walking through the fire would be really embarrassing. It’s that warm glowy thing.”

“That’s just about the only thing I could see,” Finarvi mutters. “Ruined my night-eyes.”

“Only look with one, then.” Berra is buckled in, and picks up her water bottle, fastening that as she walks – quietly but not silently – from the longhouse.

Finarvi follows her out with less grace and more noise.

Varanis trails behind the two of them, the creaking and rattling of her armour apparently unavoidable.

Outside, in a clear space, Berra rolls out her shoulders and then her neck. “So… As I don’t have a shield, we’ll start without. Finarvi, I asked Thegn Harvan to leave a couple of wasters… ah, there.” She nods to a pale sliver peeking around the corner of a barn, which turns out to be the very edge of one of a pair of wooden broadswords. Her night vision is good, or else she just hears swords calling. “Varanis, we don’t have a rapier.”

Varanis shrugs. “I want to practice broadsword. I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to do so in Nochet. But there are only two wasters, so perhaps I should just watch for now?”

Berra nods. “In that case I’ll demonstrate with Wind Tooth, if I have to. She won’t mind. Pick up a weapon and see if you can cut the air with it, first.” So that would be a ‘no’ to just watching.

Finarvi claims the second waster and checks the balance of it, making a face.

“If you don’t like it, maybe you could wave it about and see if it improves?” Berra gives Finarvi a helpful smile.

Varanis feels the weight of the wooden sword, adjusting her grip for the difference in the balance. She rolls her shoulders a few times to loosen them up.

Finarvi dutifully swings the wooden sword through the air a few times, making a satisfying swishing noise.

“Just go through what you know already, as if you have an opponent, but without hurting anyone. I want to see how you’re standing, and get you a bit sweaty and thinking about swords.” Berra might have picked that phrase up from someone who knew what smut was, but she says it perfectly innocently.

Varanis works her way through a series of movements that are probably best suited for the rapier, but seem to work reasonably well with the broadsword in her hands. Her feet are light on the ground, her balance is good. There’s a smile on her face as she practices.

Finarvi slashes with the wooden broadsword, still wearing an expression of pained distaste. He feints, parries and lunges the blade through his invisible opponent’s stomach.

Berra is still rather bleary-eyed, but she watches the pair a while, and then sighs. “Right. I… am finding it hard to imagine where your opponents really are. Sorry. So… no breaking each other. Varanis, it’s a lot heavier than you’re used to. Don’t fight that. Finarvi, you know what length it is. Don’t try to hit with parts that don’t exist.” And then she just watches.

Varanis grins eagerly at Finarvi, adjusts her stance so that she faces him, and watches to see what he’ll do.

Finarvi sees that grin and looks like he’s rethinking the whole idea.

There is a subtle change in Berra, too. For a moment it looked like she was genuinely getting ready to fight. Then there was a slow relaxation. “Remember, you’re not here to shame each other, but to find out your own weaknesses.” No mercy in her.

Varanis nods.

“Broadsword is my weakness,” Finarvi confesses with a shamefaced grin. “Let me show you how terrible I am.”

“No. Show yourself, and work out why.” Absolutely no humour in Berra now.

Berra and Varanis notice a small figure leaning against the doorpost, slicing a dried apple into slivers with a dagger, and watching the practice. Or rather, watching Berra, as she runs the practice.

Berra spares only a quick glance to the small figure, and then discards any attention she might have given it, and watches the movement of wooden swords with the attention that it deserves. Now and again she sweeps a glance over the whole area, as if by habit, but she is not looking at anyone who might be looking at her.

What the Duck may see: Mostly, dismay over how the broadswords are being used. Concentration. Decision over whether to intervene at any moment, or note things for later. The balance creeping into her of someone who wants to end this fight, or at least improve it. Dismay again, because at least when they were fighting the air they had a chance of hitting. But she manages to keep all of that where she is not going to be noticed by the participants, and most of the time it is just concentration. And very well disguised dismay.

For a little time it seems that both are equally matched, but it soon becomes apparent that they might just think they are, because there is Varanis thinking her blade lighter than it is and trying to move it with her usual competence. There is Finarvi who might be better suited to an adze or a club or a fast retreat. Berra starts calling out instructions after watching for a while. “Keep going… Finarvi, length. Slow down if you have to. Where’s the killing part of your edge? Always length.”

Finarvi grimaces and steps in closer. He doesn’t look happy about it, but he’s trying.

It might not be strictly Doctrinal, given that a Sword is Death, but ‘hit with the weighty bit’ is decent advice for a beginner.

By round three, Varanis is annoyed with herself. This is not working right and she knows it. Her face is red with frustration. Her blows have become clumsier, and her breathing is irregular.

“Varanis, try without slicing. You’re tired now. This is the part that hurts. This is the part where you learn best by slowing down. Rapiers are fast. Broadswords are Death. Relax.” Berra is always calm, and her voice is matter of fact. It could grate if someone is angry, or it could be a way to hold on to doing it right.

Varanis steps back from Finarvi, keeping her sword up to guard if a blow comes in. She takes some slow, calming breaths. She rolls her shoulders to loosen them, as they have risen higher and higher through the bout, while her tension and frustration mounted.

“Good. Remember weight. A broadsword is thicker and the front of the blade can do more damage. Less slicing, more placing, more precision.” Berra does not look approving at Varanis, but the word ‘Good’ was there, at least, and for a moment that was praise. Admittedly, it was for when the Vingan stood back and calmed down.

A watching Duck might think that Berra had taught before, even if he had not paid attention to her Regimental habits. He might also see that this time, she is paying much more attention to fewer pupils than is usually the case, but that can be explained by their level of skill, and the chance that she might have to jump in.

By contrast, Finarvi’s breathing is calmer and slows as he stops focusing so much on the sword and starts watching his opponent, the set of her shoulders as she prepares to strike.

“Cuts, not cat scratches,” he says out loud, as much reminding himself as confirming to Berra he’s heeding her advice.

“That’s good.” Finally saying it, Berra obviously means it. “Finarvi, that’s the right distance, for what you’re doing now. I’ll explain more about what you are doing later. Varanis – yes. That’s being the sword properly…. no, don’t worry, you’ll get it back. It comes with practice. Just get the drills right and the rest follows with time. Finarvi, you’re hoping, not thinking.” She was not even looking at him then, but glancing around. “And we should be able to ride back soon. So …. Finarvi, you need basic drills. As long as you’re thinking, you can do this. We need to stop you from having to think about it all, so you can just do it. Varanis, I’ve got a couple of suggestions about your grip. You’re falling back on what you know, and I want to make that harder for you, and also stop heavy-blade thinking from getting into your rapier.” Berra finally stops concentrating, but does not stop watching the sparring, just in case.

Maybe, at that point, a careful watcher would pick up a touch of uncertainty, a drift in the stance towards realising there will be no fight with Berra in it, and a twitch of the right shoulder that says it would not be the same right now. Of course, you would have to be looking for that sort of thing, and definitely not tired and facing a tired opponent.

Varanis backs away from a series of well aimed blows, blocking successfully but finding no opening with which to press an attack of her own. All of her concentration is on Finarvi. Her footwork is getting heavier and her sword arm is moving more slowly, just managing to put the sword where it needs to be.2Failed a stamina roll, so she can’t keep this up – getting sloppy.

“Don’t forget to breathe,” Finarvi reminds her with a flash of a smile. His own breaths are coming easily, and the overt tension has gone out of his shoulders. He casts a quick glance towards Berra, looking for a sign they should stop and rest.

Varanis scowls at him, and attempts a lunge.

Finarvi deftly sidesteps the lunge and brings his broadsword down in a perfect arc at Varanis’s head, stopping short a bare two fingers’ width from her helm. He stills, huffing a breath in surprise.

Berra steps back just a little, and is holding her hand up to stop things when Varanis lunges and Finarvi comes back at the Vingan. She gets caught by surprise, for a moment. “Mm-So… Step back, both.” She says it calmly, evenly.

Finarvi steps back, sword dropping to his side. His eyes are a little wide, as though he was the one who’d just narrowly missed a blow to the head.

For a moment, it looks like the Vingan is going to continue anyway, but then she comes back to herself, straightening her body and lowering her sword. She is breathing hard, her cheeks are red, and her eyes are glittering angrily. After a moment, she takes a long, slow breath, and her shoulders drop marginally.

“I am starting to lose concentration,” says Berra, still in the same instructional voice. “Yelm is up, and Finarvi has just learned that it is the nature of swords to Separate. We have done enough.” She gives the faintest, slightest of bows to each pupil, Finarvi first. “Breakfast.” Her voice cracks on the last word, as she drops out of the last of whatever condition was keeping her keyed up and alert all that time.

Varanis suddenly looks ashamed, as if she’s just realized something she should have realized sooner. “Finarvi, I…” She doesn’t find the words she needs yet. “Let me have the sword? I’ll make sure they are undamaged and find out where to return them.” Her tone is apologetic, even if she hasn’t said the right things.

Finarvi hands her the wooden waster mutely. “Honey cakes,” he says to Berra. “I have some,” he adds, realising a little more detail is necessary. He gives Varanis a concerned glance.

Varanis takes the sword, tucking it under her arm with the other, so she can fiddle with her water flask. Getting it off her belt, she offers it first to Berra.

Berra gives Varanis a glance and then a wide smile a moment later, as the water is offered. “Thank you. So, as I was saying, Finarvi, basic drills.” She drinks, washing some of the growl out of her voice. “Ow. And Varanis, you need to learn how to separate two methods that are related. That is hard. I can help you, but you’d need to want to.” Then she drinks more. “And I… should make sure you know the signals for stopping. I forgot you were not lay members. Sorry. That went on longer than it should have, and I was getting tired.”

Berra looks down, somehow draws on strength, and goes back to calmness from strain.

“I’ll need you to show me the drills,” Finarvi says. “My learning the broadsword was haphazard.” He makes a wavery gesture, indicating the vagaries of wartime.

“I know.” It’s simple, and Berra says it easily, without blame attached.

“You can’t keep drawing on magic to stay in your feet, Berra.” The tone is respectful, but there’s an edge to it. Then she draws another deep breath, finally seeming to relax. “I’m sorry we kept you out here so long. And I’m sorry to both of you that I lost my temper. There’s no place for that in training.”

“I think we all need something to eat and drink,” says Finarvi in a respectful tone.

“I’m not…” Berra looks surprised, but hands back the water. “Did it seem that way?”

“Yes, it looked that way. You looked ready to fall over, and then suddenly you weren’t.”

Finarvi, noticing D’Val at last, keeps his face impassive and as innocent as he can manage.

“Oh. Well, I’m keeping myself together because I was concentrating hard. But I’m not using magic. Just a good example.” Everything about Berra is careful right now. “I’ll talk to you about grips and footwork.” Such care. Perhaps the concentration is still there, but turned inward.

Varanis watches her for a moment. “Finarvi, you two go find food. I’ll put these away after making sure there’s no damage to them. Then I’ll come find you both and learn about my grips and footwork.” The tone is decisive and brooks no argument.

Finarvi gives a nod that’s deep enough to be taken for a bow. He steps towards Berra. “Come on, there’s fresh-made honeycakes and they should still be warm. Let’s not let them go to waste.”

“We’ll be riding back today,” Berra reminds Varanis, but there is no challenge in it. It’s a little flat, but polite. Then, calmly again, she turns to go. Only now do her eyes seek the doorpost, as if to see if anyone is leaning there, and even then there is little curiosity in her glance.

Berra picks up her breastplate and backplate, the hard leather making hollow sounds, and wriggles into it, watching for where Finarvi might want to take her.

Varanis strides away, wasters in hand.