Wolves at the Door (part 137)

As the challenged party, Gil would have the advantage of striking the first blow. Then it would be Fargrim’s turn, and they would keep alternating until someone was bleeding.

Alfvin had been right about one thing. This was much simpler than a real battle would have been. Gil would have been sunk if he had to think about attacking and defending at the same time. Here, he could focus one one before switching to the other. It gave him a chance.

Gil hefted the heavy sword in his hand, taking an ungainly overhand swing as he stepped forward, to bring it crashing down towards Fargrim’s head. The stroke was as slow as it was powerful, and Fargrim had no trouble getting his shield up into place. The light, thin and flexible wood of the shield bent under the strain, but did not break.

Gil stepped back, raising his shield to prepare for Fargrim’s attack. The more experienced man would doubtless be subtler than Gil had been, using his skill to advantage. Oddly, that made him almost as predictable. He slashed at Gil’s legs, just as Gil thought he would. It was, after all, the most difficult area to defend, and therefore Fargrim’s best hope for a quick win. But Gil’s training paid off, and he managed – just – to get his shield down in time to deflect the sweep into the mat.

Fargrim stepped back to the far side of the mat, raising his shield. Whatever Gil did next, his opponent would have plenty of time to see it coming and position himself to counter it. If Gil tried to get fancy, he was far more likely to catch himself out than Fargrim. His experience wielding a sword in earnest amounted to only two weeks. Instead, he drew on a lifetime’s experience of cutting firewood, heaving his weapon overhead to chop downward, exactly as he had the first time. Once again sword met shield, a little better positioned this time so the blade skidded sideways until it met the iron boss at the shield’s centre.

All this time, Fargrim had been watching, analysing how Gil was moving. He launched at the weakness he had identified as soon as Gil was back in a defensive stance, thrusting the point of his sword at Gil’s own sword-arm. The heavy blade was useless for parrying, so he had to swing his shield around from the other side of his body. A week ago he may have made the mistake of simply blocking with the shield, and been stabbed right through the thin wood. But Alfvin had taught him that the angle of the shield was as vital as its position, and he swung it right around so the thrust glanced off harmlessly.

Gil’s third stroke was almost the same as the first two, but he stepped a little closer, catching the rim of Fargrim’s shield instead of smacking against the flat surface. Once more the shield stopped the blow, but it split in the process, rendering it useless.

Gil savoured the shocked look on Fargrim’s face as he realised that Gil’s slow, clumsy-looking attacks were making inroads. The shields were lightweight, designed more for manoeuvrability than strength, which was why each combatant was allowed three in a duel. Losing shields along the way was expected, but not so soon and not against a novice like Gil.

He may not take Gil so lightly as an opponent from here on in, but the damage had been done. Fargrim had gone for a quick win with his first two hits, but Gil intended to make this a battle of attrition. If Fargrim wanted to compete on those terms, he had some catching up to do.


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