Vol.4, Ch.2, P.6
“Best hold the head firm, like so. And with the other hand, stroke the whetstone across the edge. Evenly, back and again.”
Emma had been hard put to split firewood. There in her garden were they lined up: the logs, basking in the sun, awaiting their turn to meet the hatchet. Only, the hatchet itself was apparently out of practice, its blunt edge passing through nary a grain of wood. Having noticed my neighbour at a loss, I had come by to offer a hand, and before I knew it, I was sat in her garden, giving her a pointer here and there.
“My! What learned hands you have, Rolf,” Emma noted with wonder.
“Comes with the trade, I’m afraid,” I remarked as I went on whetting the hatchet blade. A simple task by this point, thanks in large part to the five years spent maintaining Emilie’s arms.
“Oh, you say! That silly Frank of mine has never set stone to edge before, you ought know,” Emma revealed as she stared attentively at hand and hatchet.
“Really, now?” I said. “Then I might very well owe him a bowed head, if by me a tiff’s been started between you two.”
Emma chuckled. “Not to worry,” she assured me. “But enough of us. What of you, Rolf? Found you yet a fair frau for yourself?”
“…Now there’s a prickly riposte if I’ve ever taken one,” I tried to deflect, before checking the sharpened blade against the sunlight. “Lo—it’s finished.”
Graciously taking the hatchet, my neighbour then tested a swing upon the most patiently waiting of the logs.
“Wah!” exclaimed Emma, watching the wood split clean in twain. “Amazing, Rolf! It’s reborn, I must say!”
“A blunted blade’s a pest and a peril on its own,” I advised her. “Best keep it keen. But if it proves hard going, you know where to find me; I’ll happily have it done.”
“You’re a saviour, Rolf!” thanked Emma, before getting right to work on the rest of the logs. “Wah! Wah! A wonder in the hands it is!”
Clap, clop—so echoed cloven wood from the garden, one after another. Such was Emma’s enjoyment that she tired not in the least, even after many a log had been split. In fact, she soon ended up with more firewood than could warm a winter… or three.
Amidst the merry chopping, a man then came up behind her.
“Wotcha,” he greeted.
“There you are,” I said to him, finding whom but the former freelance himself: Sig.
Letting out a long huff, Emma lowered her hatchet. “Why, good morning, Sig,” she greeted him, smiling amidst a sheen of sweat.
“All right,” he greeted back—more nonchalantly than he should to another’s wife. But such was very like Sig. As he moved out of the glaring sun, however, I spotted Arno, yet again hitching a lift on his hero’s head.
“The finest helm little Arno makes,” Emma jested.
Sig clucked his tongue. “Aye, an’ a right sticky one, at that!” he cried, scowling and earning a mischievous chuckle from the boy himself. But then, about the man’s legs appeared four more children—Arno’s playmates they seemed, frolicking about and twirling their wooden swords, which were short and of crude make, but lovingly wielded nonetheless.
“Rolf, Rolf!” they called as they speedily encircled me. “Mind teaching us some swording again? Please, pretty please?”
“Not at all,” I said to them. “But first, I’ve got a bit of business with Sig here. Afterwards, though; I promise.”
With the alliance formally forged, the clan-hosts of Víly and Gorka were, at present, both bestirred with rostering and reorganisation, an effort going apace thus far. The very air tingled with anticipation; soon would we march on Tallien. For my part, today had me meeting with Sig to brief him on the operations to come.
“Yea, not so fast,” Sig said with exasperation before pointing to his head. “This ‘ere ‘elmet’s been fancyin’ a gander at Emma’s widge. Won’t pry off till we’ve done. Keep ‘em kids company, will ya? ‘Alf a while it’ll be, I reckons.”
“I see,” answered I. “Will do.”
Emma then led the two off to the horses’ pens, leaving me with the four other children, whose excitement only increased.
Surprised I was when they’d first begged me to tutour them in the ways of the sword. Evidently, they’d got wind of a mighty Man by the name of Rolf, living where but in Hensen itself. But absent such rumours, I reckon they would’ve searched me out nonetheless. After all, children are creatures of untiring curiosity, ever on the hunt for things to see and people to admire, and a new war-chief certainly fit the bill.
But once my surprise had subsided, I realised it then: just as some like Dita are yet harrowed by their hate for Man, there are some others still, like these little ones, who are all too happy to learn from a well-meaning Man.
“Now, tell me: what’s the lesson we learnt last?” I asked them.
“How to hold the hilt!” they all answered sunnily.
Never did I fancy myself the instructing sort. Yet an instructor was what the children much expected from me, and so did I oblige to the best of my ability. Though truth be told, I’d a mind to teach them but the basics of the basics, and withal simple techniques for self-defence and the demeanour of a rightwise swordsman. They were yet young—too young to be making enemies… and learning how to unmake them.
Should the day ever dawn when they are grown and see grave need for such solemn skills, then certainly will they deserve the martial lesson. By then, however, the winters of war ought have turned to a new spring of peace; a world where neither weapon nor warcraft are missed. This, I hoped for with all my heart.
“Yee-aaah!” the children cried as they clutched at my legs, tugging me this way and that. Valiant was their effort to have me tumble to the grasses, but not valiant enough. I stood as a tree, unshaken by these scampering squirrels.
It had been in the midst of their much-loved lesson when they asked: how strong ought be the sinews of a swordsman? The answer was simple: as much as he can make and maintain, for no warrior has ever gone long without thanking his own thews. But soon after did the topic turn to the contest of mettle unfolding about me now.
“Whoo—oa!” they all whooped, full of smiles and spirit. Yet try as they might, I yielded not in the slightest. The thought had indeed occurred to me to pretend to totter and treat them to a bit of triumph, but in each of them did I espy a seed of self-discipline, earnestly assaying to sprout. And so for their own good, I stood my ground.
“Uuwoo—oh!” they shouted again, pulling me another way.
“That won’t do,” I said. “Come—not even a toe of mine’s been moved yet!”
Their fires fanned, the little ones began pushing instead. “Hnnnwoo—oh!”
On and on the shifting and shoving continued, till Sig and company made their return. “‘Allo, wot’s all this faff’ry ‘bout?” said the nonplussed swordsman, knitting his brows at us.
Thereafter was the lesson wrapped up and the children herded back to their abodes by Emma. For his part, Arno was loath to leave the high perch that was Sig’s pate, but after being told that his hero had important matters to attend to, the boy relented at last.
I then briefed Sig on the upcoming incursion into Tallien. Not that the former mercenary was specially tasked that he should deserve a one-on-one. Yet his very standing was in itself special, and more than aught, I knew his mettle could prove much-needed succour. And so did I have plans for this spitfire—namely, in how his sword might best serve on the open plains betwixt Tallien and Former Ström, where was long-expected the clash with the knights of the 3rd.
“Raidin’s me forte,” said Sig. “Let me loose an’ I’ll do ya good, I will.”
I shook my head. “Real raiding’s not as loose as you’d like, I’m afraid. The battlefield’s no playground.”
“Yea, yea, no need to wet me ears, mate,” Sig groaned.
Raiders—or put another way, our mobile detachment. He who leads its charge requires a fine eye for the fight, that he might swiftly move his men to where they are most needed, whether in offending weak points or defending fraught allies. Sig himself was hardly a raider so logical and calculating. No; rather, I perceived in him a soldier able to sense by instinct alone the ebb and flow of battle. Thus I thought him much suited for the position, to have him lead as instinctively as could be suffered, that he might play to his strengths and avail ours in the same stroke.
“Easy ‘nough. Let’s mop ‘em up an’ be ‘ome to sup, aye?” he said without a worry.
“Home to sup”—already did he consider this land his home. If he were as malleable as he let on, then doubtless would he get along just fine living amongst the Nafílim.
“Right,” I said to him. “A mop-up it is.”
Yet, never could I have known that all we’d discussed on this day would be for naught.
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