Methven - Day Two - Part Two
"Yo, chump. Word up: take tha spike out Blandy's nose or you be Steve Martin fo' real."
Then Læ spoke from behind Tong.
"I'm afraid I can't permit that, Mr. Lowe."
"I ain't playin', boo-boo head. Long as yo devil be gafflin' my boy, I got him in check."
Carleton withdrew the point of his saber from the unfortunate Blandy's nose and stepped back a pace from his vanquished opponent. He turned to face Tong, his sword loose in his hand.
By way of reply, Tong drew back his bowstring the last inch to bring the arrowhead just to his knuckles.
"Dis be reel-to-reel, peckerwood."
Then Bill did the bravest--or the dumbest--thing I've ever seen in my life. He stepped directly in front of Tong, right between him and Carleton.
"Git out tha way, fool."
"No, Tong. You have made your point quite eloquently. To remain intransigent is counterproductive to our collective best interest."
"Doggie's right,"Pith observed.
Tong glared at both of them in turn. Pith blinked puppydog eyes at him, while Bill's expression remained one of concern, rather than fear.
Bill reached up and grasped the shaft of Tong's arrow. They locked eyes. Tong's bow arm started to tremble with fatigue..or stress.
At length, Bill gently pried the nock out from between Tong's fingers and pulled the shaft loose, leaving Tong with a drawn bow and no arrow.
Tong threw his bow aside and stalked off, muttering darkly.
I started to breathe again.
. . .
It took an hour or so before all the parties involved calmed down enough to talk about the incident.
"Carleton, dude, that was, like, a total black card move you put on me."
"I'm sorry about the knee to the nuts. But, I hope you understand the point I was trying to make."
"I was hotdoggin' and you, like, put me in my place. I'm cool with that. I dig that it's, like, not an assault-type bout we're trainin' for. But..you kick me in the balls like that again and I'll rip off your head and spit down your neck, dude."
"No hard feelings?"
"No hard feelings."
Carleton put out his hand and Blandy shook it.
"Tong, do you understand why I did what I did?"
"You droppin' knowledge like tha 36 chambers or some shit."
"Sorry, I missed the reference."
"Like some Shao-lin warrior shit, you know whut I mean?"
"Oh. You mean like Bruce Lee? Yeah, something like that."
Carleton turned to face the rest of us.
"When you go into combat against rats, or bandits or especially against Drakenfoe and his allies, there aren't going to be any rules or judges involved. They're going to be trying to kill you, me, all of us, any way they can. You have to be just as ruthless, just as determined as they are. Strike that. You have to be more ruthless, more determined than they are. Or they'll win. And you'll be dead. Or captured..which could be a helluva lot worse, especially if they think you have information they need."
"Are you implying that we face torture?"
"'Implying' my ass. I'm telling you it's going to happen. And you'll talk, too, unless you succeed in killing yourself, first."
"We get black capsules?"
She shook her head.
"No, Mr. Pith. If our opponents should capture you, it will be in the best interest of the mission that they believe you to have useful information. Every moment that they waste attempting to extract it from you is another moment the rest of us will have to attempt to accomplish that mission."
"And if we talk?"
She met my gaze straight on.
"You will have nothing of value to tell them, Mr. Wilde."
Before it could become a staring contest, she turned to face the others.
"Of course, our adversaries will not know that..and, so long as they are unsure, they will continue to try and extract from you what information you have."
"The fate of the mission must take priority over the fate of any one individual, Mr. Carstairs."
"When they're skinning me an inch at a time, I'm sure that'll be a great comfort to me. And it doesn't sound like I should plan on being rescued, either."
"You are correct, Mr. Wilde. We will make no attempt at rescue, should any of our number be captured. The risk to the mission is too great."
"And suppose they capture you? Or your boyfriend over there?"
She shook her head.
"There will be no exceptions to the rule, Mr. Wilde."
Tong shook his head, admiringly.
"You one col' bitch, you know? You brick."
"Thank you, Mr. Lowe."
. . .
As a swordsman, Carleton mops the floor with Blandy.
Not that Blandy's a novice, but this afternoon it quickly became evident that, while Blandy is pretty good, Carleton is a true master.
"Dude! Like, where'd you learn those moves?"
"Oh, man! So, that's where you got the scar?"
"Geez, I'm, like, glad we're using single sticks, dude! You're fuckin' awesome!"
"I've had some practice."
. . .
Since none of us knows anything about fencing, Læ declared that Tong, Pith, Bill and I should have one-on-one instruction. Mantami sat the party out, since he's only going to be with us to our first stop. The rest of us paired up, Tong with Blandy, Bill with Bruno and Pith with Carleton.
I got my own Zorro lessons from Læ.
As it turns out, she's nearly as good with a sword as Carleton is. (Not that I really benefited from her advanced skills. Given my complete lack of previous exposure to the sport, her mastery of the nuances was pretty much wasted on me.) Somewhat to my surprise, she also turned out to be a patient, thorough and supportive teacher.
She started out by showing me how to hold a sword. I'd've thought it was obvious, if I'd've thought about it at all, but I'd've been dead wrong. She handed me one of those basket-hilted wooden sticks, hilt foremost, and I grabbed it and wrapped my mitt around it as if it was my Webley's pistol grip.
"That will never do, Mr. Wilde. You must hold it lightly between the thumb and index finger, as if it were a scalpel, rather than a meat-axe."
"Yes, that's much better. Use the other three fingers simply to aid your grip."
"Excellent! Soon you will have Carleton out-matched!"
I grinned like a school kid. Couldn't help myself.
"Now..as to your stance.."
. . .
She spent what felt like a couple of hours teaching me the basics: stance, grip and the barest rudiments of offense and defense.
It doesn't sound like much, but it sure was a lot of work. I had no idea there were names for all those fancy moves I'd seen in so many old movies, but there are separate terms for even the most subtle variations. Not just thrust and parry, mind you, but a dozen or so different axiomatic attacks and no less than nine separate types of parry, each with its own name. Plus variants and combinations.
In a word, it was overwhelming. I said as much to Læ.
"I'm afraid that we have only just scratched the surface of this art, Mr. Wilde."
She shook her head.
"I'm sorry, but no. We have yet to consider such elements as rhythm--what we call 'time'--and deception. Not to mention the use of multiple weapons, such as the main gauche, to permit the simultaneous use of both offensive and defensive moves."
"I'm never going to learn this stuff in time for it to do me any good, you know."
"You may well be correct, Mr. Wilde. And yet, should you face an opponent with a blade, would you rather do so as a partially-trained swordsman or as a totally untrained one?"
"I'd rather just run away at high speed."
"To be sure. Shall we address the relationship between your opponent's point in line and your choice of parry?"
"Oh, by all means..let's."
. . .
There's a Far Side cartoon which shows a Neanderthal in a class full of Cro-Magnons raising his hand to ask, "Teacher, may I be excused? My brain is full."
I felt a lot like that by the time Læ got done teaching me to dog-paddle in the ocean of fencing lore. My head was buzzing from trying to remember all those new terms and the actions they represent.
Apparently I wasn't alone, because, when Læ called a halt to our dueling lessons, the Berkeley contingent let out a collective sigh of relief. And when, seconds later, she announced it was time for us to start in on unarmed combat, the chorus of complaints was loud, long and bitter.
"Give us a break, willya?"
"Word up, mama: Lincoln done freed tha slaves."
"Been doggin' it purty hard."
"I believe I speak for everyone when I say that we would all appreciate a respite from our labors."
Læ arched an eyebrow in silent conference with her fellow instructors.
Carleton shrugged. Predictably, Bruno was silent.
"You dudes are such wusses."
"Yo, Blandy! Dis wuss gon' whup some white boy ass, you keep flappin' them gums."
"Very well. There are less physical activities in which we might profitably engage."
She turned to Bruno.
"Bruno, please break out the small arms."
"I thought guns were against your version of the Prime Directive?"
"Not precisely, Mr. Wilde. Combustion-based propellant technology is unknown here. However, small arms based upon spring action or upon compressed air as propellants are widely available."
"Dart pistols, to be precise."
"Whutup wid dat? We gon' try ta poke they eyes out?"
She smiled grimly.
"Hardly, Mr. Lowe."
"So, whussup wid tha dart gun shit?"
"On Methven, it is customary to employ poisoned darts, Mr. Lowe."
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)