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Self-Defense
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Self-Defense

Written for B2MeM 2010:

Himring Challenge: En garde! This challenge is all about weapons and weaponry. Write a story about a character's chosen weapon, or learning how to use a weapon. Is the character a skilled fighter, or is learning to wield a weapon a bit of a struggle for him or her?


~~~

Geliran stared down at the small figure seated on the ground in bafflement. The other eight-year-olds in the beginning swordsmanship class clustered about, pointing and giggling and whispering among themselves.

“My lord prince,” the esquire said, though Dol Amroth custom demanded that the royal house put off their rank for training in arms, “you must participate in the exercises so that your body will grow strong and you will be able to wield a sword in defense of your people.”

“Nonsense.” Prince Amrothos looked up from where he sat, arms crossed. This was not a tantrum, he was perfectly matter-of-fact, and his speech was as clear and concise as that of a boy with many more years than he possessed. “That is Elphir’s job, and ‘Chiron’s, not mine. I told Father that I did not wish to do this. It takes up entirely too much of my study time. I am sorry that you are caught in the middle, Geliran, but I am not going to do this. You may as well release me so you can get on with teaching the rest.”

Geliran sighed. He had a gentle touch with youngsters, which was why this task had fallen to him. Other esquires thought it beneath their dignity, but he recognized that this class was the very bedrock of the education that made Swan Knights. It was almost inconceivable to him that there could be a lad in Dol Amroth who did not want to be a Swan Knight, but apparently such did exist and in the royal house too!

“I cannot do that, Prince Amrothos, not without a higher authority.” He gestured one of the boys over. “Go fetch Captain Andrahar.”

~~~

Andrahar had come and had defused the situation by simply tucking Amrothos up under his arm and removing him bodily from the list. As Imrahil’s blood-brother, he could lay hands upon the young prince without fear of reprisal. Gentle hands, at least-Imrahil did not beat his children, nor permit others to do so. Now he stared at the boy across the desk from him in frustration, though there was the tiniest bit of admiration thrown in there as well. Many grown men would never dared to have defied him as Amrothos was doing.

“It is time for you to begin sword training, if you are to become at all competent, ‘Rothos. Your brothers began at this age and you must as well!”

“I shan’t,” said Amrothos calmly. “I am not going to be a soldier, so it would be a waste of time. And I need all my time for my studies and experiments.”

“How do you know that you are not going to be a soldier? What if the Enemy invades Gondor? Will you not do your part?”

Amrothos’ eyes were the violet-gray of his late mother’s rather than his father’s storm-gray, and he had apparently inherited Nimrien’s implacability as well. Once she had set her mind on something, no one in Dol Amroth could move the seemingly mild and gentle princess and that included Andrahar and her devastatingly charming husband. Her youngest son was equally unimpressed by Andrahar’s attempt to guilt him. “I can do my part without being a soldier! Elphir is going to be a Swan Knight, and Erchirion is going to be a famous sea-captain. That is enough fighters from Dol Amroth. I am going to invent things. Things like signalers and faster ships and better armor and new kinds of weapons and siege towers. That is more important and will be better and more useful for us than my swinging a sword.”

“I will have to speak to your father and grandfather about this, ‘Rothos.”

“Of course, Uncle Andra. Please do. But I shan’t change my mind. Good afternoon.” And the precocious little scamp nodded, turned on his heel and left as if he were a man two score years older.

~~~

“--and he needs to start now, you know that Imri, my lord,” Andrahar finished after recounting the interview to Imrahil and Adrahil. Dinner was long since over, the children had been sent upstairs and the senior members of the household, bachelor and widowers, sat in the Prince’s library with brandy before a cheerful fire. Imrahil had already had a couple of glasses and his face was flushed with more than the fire’s heat. But he was not drinking at the level he had directly after the Princess’s death, so Andrahar was disinclined to take him to task upon the subject. Adrahil was apparently of like mind, for the Prince of Dol Amroth said nothing when his Heir filled his glass a third time. Since Nimrien’s death, Imrahil could not sleep of a night if he did not get at least partially drunk.

“Amrothos has never been the least interested in martial things, Andra,” Prince Adrahil said mildly. “’Tis all right, truly it is. This is no fault of yours. I never expected all of my grandsons to be fighters. Sometimes it just does not work out.” Adrahil had been well on the track to becoming a Swan Knight himself as a young man, when he had picked up one of the recurrent Southern fevers while on a sea voyage. It had ended his career as a warrior. “I am sure that I need not tell you that an army needs more than warriors to succeed. If ‘Rothos wishes to become an engineer, then he has my blessing, and I trust that you will not think the less of him for it.” A bit of a warning there, though gently put, and Andrahar took note of it.

“I just assumed that all this bookishness was a phase,” he admitted, “though judging from his bones, ‘Rothos is not going to be a large man. He takes after his mother there.”

“He takes after Nimrien in more than that,” Imrahil put in of a sudden, his eyes over-bright. The Princess had been the castle archivist and librarian before she married the Heir. “And I won’t be Denethor, to put a racehorse in war rig. Faramir should have been let stay in his libraries and never been sent to war. I’ve seen what it has done to him and I won’t have that happen to ‘Rothos.”

Let off the hook, Andrahar sighed in relief. But his sense of responsibility still nagged at him. “But how will ’Rothos defend himself?” he asked almost plaintively. “You charged me with teaching your children, Imrahil-including the little princess! Even if he does not want to be a Swan Knight, I cannot let him grow up totally ignorant of arms. We all know that no matter how good your guards are, someone determined enough can always get through. He needs not to be totally helpless.”

The Heir gestured airily. “Oh, you will think of something. Shall we spar in the morning?” When Andrahar agreed, Imrahil sauntered off to bed, leaving the Armsmaster distracted and dismayed.

“I have faith in you, Andra,” Adrahil added before he too took himself off. The avowal did not comfort the captain as it ought to have.

~~~

Imrahil was actually on time for the early morning sparring practice, much to Andrahar’s surprise, given his drinking the night before. He was further surprised when the Heir refused to spar with swords.

“We’ve not worked with knives for a while, Andra. Let’s do that, shall we?” So they found a couple of the short wooden practice knives and worked hard for a couple of hours, until the Heir had sweated out the brandy and Andrahar felt invigorated. It was as much hand-to-hand as knife-work, bouncing and dodging, with lots of holds and lunges. They’d not worked with knives in months and Andrahar decided that he had needed the change as much as Imrahil had.

“This was good,” he admitted to his blood-brother when they were drinking from the water barrel after the bout. “A welcome change from the usual.” He looked up appreciatively at the perfect blue arc of the sky, studded with fluffy clouds. It was an early autumn day in Dol Amroth and the weather was lovely, neither too hot nor cold. “Now if I could only figure out what to do with Amrothos, the day would be perfect.”

“Idiot,” Imrahil said fondly, cuffed him lightly up the side of the head and walked off, toweling his sweaty hair. “I’m for a bath.” Andrahar looked after him for a whole minute before the realization struck him; he cursed for two more minutes after that in three different languages. An esquire stuck his head around the corner, drawn by the noise, took one look and fled in terror.

~~~

“Your father and grandfather have agreed that you do not need to learn sword-work, Amrothos,” Andrahar told the young boy in his office the next afternoon. “But they also agree that you must learn some form of self-defense.” He flicked his wrists and the knives in the spring-loaded wrist sheaths Imrahil had gifted him with years ago slid into his hands. Amrothos’ eyes widened.

“Knives are versatile,” Andrahar said, flipping one suddenly and throwing it unerringly into the middle of a shield hung on the wall across the room. Amrothos jumped. “You can throw them or you can fight hand-to-hand with them. You can hide them,”-Andrahar produced in quick succession two more from his boots, one from within his tunic and another from where his hair was tied back and sent them one after another into the shield-”or you can wear them openly. And they are everywhere, ready to be taken up. Most crafts and all kitchens have knives. So if you should by chance be found weaponless, you can arm yourself. You are safe from the greatest swordsman in the world, if you can keep enough distance from him and can put a knife in his throat or eye or gut. The throwing is something that I can give you the basics of and then you can practice on your own. The hand-to-hand will take time to learn, but not so much as swordplay and it does not require the strength a sword does. Is this something that you think you could learn?”

Amrothos eyed him rebelliously for a moment, but intelligent boy that he was recognized that this was as much a compromise as was going to be made for him. “Yes, Uncle Andrahar,” he said meekly.

~~~

By the time Amrothos was fourteen years old, he was a competent knife fighter and a wizard with the throwing blades. The former was not general knowledge, for Andrahar fitted his lessons in at odd times as a captain’s busy schedule allowed, and Amrothos never spoke of them to his brothers. The latter was hard to miss, since Amrothos had a stump set up out in the garden as a target and a more proper target in his “workroom”, the extra chamber Imrahil had given him for his “experiments” and the animals whose habits he liked to study. It simplified matters of hygiene, for the maids had refused en masse to clean Amrothos’ room after one of them had encountered a furry spider the size of her hand that was Amrothos’ prize acquisition from a southern trade ship, and that had escaped its cage. Only Imrahil’s assurance that all such creatures had been eliminated from the boy’s bedchamber had brought them back. Imrahil knew about the lessons, for Andrahar kept him apprised of the boy’s progress and he declared himself well pleased.

What surprised Andrahar as the lessons progressed was that it was Imrahil’s least martial son who was actually closest to his own way of thinking about the art of war. For to Andrahar, the sword and other forms of combat were an art, and there was beauty in them beyond simply getting good enough to kill others without being killed. The honing of his own body into the finest weapon it could be was eternally interesting to him, but the subtleties were often wasted on his fellow Swan Knights. Amrothos actually understood this, for he wished to hone his mind in much the same way.

“Uncle Andra,” he said one day as they met for another lesson. “Do you know anything about the Brothers of the Palm? That odd sect in Khand?”

“Khand is full of odd sects,” Andrahar responded absently, adjusting the laces on his practice gambeson. “Could you be more specific?”

“You told me once that the stretching exercises we did before fighting were based on some things developed in Khand. And I really like doing those-I know it’s strange, but they really help me focus myself before we spar. Sometimes I even just do them when I’m having trouble with something I’m studying. They seem to help me clear my thoughts.” The captain looked up in surprise as Amrothos continued. “In any event, I consulted the library. There wasn’t much about them, but it was said that they studied weaponless martial techniques as a path to bodily perfection and an aid to enlightenment. I was just wondering if you’d ever met one.”

“I can’t say that I have,” Andrahar replied, “though I have heard of at least one Umbarian sword master who spent some time down there. He claimed that the exercises and meditations increased his speed and flexibility, and he had the reputation to back that up. Why are you wanting to know, ‘Rothos?”

“I was wondering if they ever taught outsiders and if so, if we could find one to come here for a while. I think it would be interesting.”

Intrigued, Andrahar considered this for a moment. “I have no idea, but we can ask your father,” he said at last, tossing Amrothos his practice blade. The boy snatched it easily out of the air. “He has trading connections who might know if it is possible. But you would have to learn some Khandian-some Khandians speak southern dialects of Haradric, but you could not depend upon it.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Amrothos said.

~~~

Amrothos was fifteen and reasonably fluent in Khandian before the monk in dust-colored robes reached Dol Amroth, an agreement made that he should tutor the young lord for a while in return for a sizeable donation to his temple. Brother Tarkay was a nondescript looking fellow in his late twenties, of middling height and build with dark brown hair, the golden brown skin common to many of his folk and eyes of an indeterminate hazel color. But he moved like flowing water and in perfect balance, a fact which Andrahar immediately noticed. Andrahar had also determined well before his arrival that Tarkay was a member of a celibate order, or he would not have permitted this enterprise to continue. He knew from personal experience that there were plenty of Khandians who would have appreciated Imrahil’s youngest, smallest, handsome son.

“You are much older than the boys we take as acolytes,” Tarkay told Amrothos, as the lad stood before him and stretched and bent at the monk’s command. “But your balance is good and there are things that I can teach you, if you would learn.”

“I would like to learn very much,” Amrothos replied, trotting out his newly acquired Khandian and the monk beamed.

“The desire to learn is one of the gifts the One gives us that sets us above the beasts,” the monk replied, “and he tells us that it is a sin to let such a desire go unfulfilled.”

Amrothos’ lessons began that very afternoon, and continued in the afternoons for a short time. Then Andrahar was told that they had been moved to the evenings so as not to conflict with the young prince’s other studies. Curious, he went up after dinner one night to the large empty chamber up on the western side of the castle that had been given over to Amrothos and his tutor to watch. Some of the initial stretching exercises that Tarkay and Amrothos did in the beginning were familiar to him, and he found the patterned series of moves that followed fascinating. Returning the next night, he found Tarkay and Amrothos waiting for him.

“Would you care to study, captain?” the Khandian asked.

“If Prince Amrothos is almost too old, then I certainly am.”

Tarkay nodded. “That is true, for the full course of learning. But there are things you could learn that will slow down the stiffening, stop it even and hold it at bay for years. It is already beginning with you, you know.”.

Andrahar, who did not consider himself to be aged in the least, nor to be slowing down at all, was a bit dismayed. But he nodded.

“If you are willing to invest the time in teaching someone my age, then I would like to learn. Though more than one pupil was not in the agreement we made with your temple.”

Tarkay shrugged, boneless as a Haradrim. “I am here to teach all who would come to me.”

“Excellent!” Amrothos said. “I told you we’d get him if we started training in the evenings, Brother!”

Andrahar looked at the young prince, startled, but Tarkay only smiled. “Do off your boots and stockings, captain, and we’ll begin.”

~~~

Three days later: “Andra, whatever is the matter with you? I never win two bouts with you in one day! I hardly ever win one! Are you ill?”

A heartfelt groan. “Imri, do you know those little knot-cakes they sell in some of the taverns down by the docks? The ones twisted up in all the intricate patterns, then baked and salted?”

“Yes.”

“That’s what I feel like.”

~~~

Three months later: a hand reached down to scoop up Imrahil‘s fallen sword and hand it courteously back to him. He gave Andrahar a pained glare.

“Whatever it is you’re eating, can I have some of it too? It’s obscene-I think you’re actually getting faster! And at our age too!”

“It is those lessons Amrothos and I are taking with the Khandian. You could join us, if you liked.”

For a moment, Imrahil looked tempted. Then he shook his head. “You know I spend my evenings with Father these days, going over the court cases and council notes. And besides, I think perhaps that this should be something that is just between you and Amrothos. You have more to do with the other two boys most of the time, and I am pleased that you and ‘Rothos have this interest in common.”

~~~

When two years had passed, Tarkay announced that it was time for him to return to his temple. “For the evil one that your people call the Giver of Gifts is moving, captain, though I suspect you know that already-” Andrahar nodded. “-and I should like to return home while I still can. Also, I have done all that I can here.” He looked at Amrothos. “You could come with me, young prince. Though you started late, you have mastered most of what is needed to advance to the next level of training. You could join our brotherhood.”

“You flatter me more than I can say, Brother,” Amrothos replied warmly. “But I fear that my path does not lead to Khand.”

Tarkay nodded, unsurprised. “I did not think so either, though I had hope. It is not often that the high-born come among us, but it does happen.” He looked at his two very different pupils and smiled. His hand sketched a quick gesture of blessing in the air.

“May the One hold you both in the hollow of His hand.”

~~~

Dale, Erebor. April 3022. “How long do you think it will be before King Eomer arrives with the rest of the army?” Bard II of Dale asked King Aragorn. He, Thorin III, Aragorn, Imrahil and Andrahar were all seated in a council chamber in the Lonely Mountain. “There was another raid on an outlying farm last night. The family was slain, the livestock run off and the steading was burned. This is the second one this week.”

“This is how it began last year,” Thorin Stonehelm said glumly. “Little raids here and there, picking at us. No rhyme or reason to it.” He drank deeply from his mug of beer.

“Eomer should have started north by now,” Aragorn replied. “I’ve not had a messenger yet, but that was the plan. But he can’t have started any sooner-we need grass to feed all of those horses.”

Bard nodded. “That’s true enough.” He too looked unhappy.

“We can increase the frequency of our patrols for the next little bit,” Imrahil said. “We can’t hold that schedule for long, the horses won’t support it, but we’ll try to keep it up until Eomer arrives.” He and Aragorn had arrived in the early winter the year before with a vanguard force of two companies of Swan Knights and two companies of Gondorian foot, to help the Lonely Mountain and Dale with an incursion of Easterlings.

Andrahar, who was also seated at the council, said nothing. There was an abstracted look on his face, by which Imrahil knew that he was already altering patrol schedules in his head.

“We do appreciate all that you have done so far, Your Majesty, Your Highness,” Bard responded gratefully. There was a clatter of iron-shod dwarvish feet on stone outside and a dwarven sentry burst into the room.

“My lord Kings, there has been another raid! Close to the Mountain itself, out on the siege engine range!”

The Prince and his blood-brother looked at each other, horrified. Amrothos had ridden north with them last year, not to fight but to meet and consult with the dwarves on matters of mechanical engineering. And the dwarves, usually taciturn about their methods, had taken him to their hearts. Imrahil’s youngest was finally getting something of a head for drink, after spending the winter enjoying Dwarven hospitality, which included being forced to consume Dwarven beer on a regular basis. And he had come with them today, to try a siege engine he had designed with the dwarves on the range.

As fast as Imrahil and Andrahar got to their feet, Aragorn still beat them, hastening out of the room on his long legs. But they were hard on his heels, with Thorin and Bard following after.

Though the Dwarves still kept much of their Mountain’s works and passages secret, many visits over the winter had given the Gondorians familiarity with the public thoroughfares. They hastened through them now, indignant dwarves flattening themselves against the walls to get out of their way, offended mutters starting in their wake, only to be quelled by the presence of King Thorin. It did not take long to reach the main gate and from there the dell where their horses waited at the foot of the mountain. The range was between the northern and northeastern spurs of the mountain, a few short minutes on horseback.

As the warriors approached, the huddled shapes of downed horses could be seen, with the truncated forms of dwarves moving about them. There was no sign of Amrothos initially, but when they drew rein he could be seen, seated upon the ground, propped against a siege engine. He looked up at the sound of their approach. His father swung off his horse, his face stark white with fear, and covered the distance between them in three long strides.

“Are you injured, ‘Rothos?”

“Just my hand, Father-I think I broke a finger,” Amrothos replied shakily. Imrahil swept him up into his arms.

“What happened here?” Aragorn asked the dwarves. One of them, the one with the most ornate belt and braiding in his beard, bowed.

“Norri I am, my lord. We were just setting the distance for the siege engine when this lot came charging up, whooping and hollering. There were eight of them. Now of course, we’ve got sentries,” and he indicated the two spurs of the mountain, “and they’ve got bows and they did for two of them before they reached us. But it could have been a bad business nonetheless, even though some of us aren’t just artificers and know how to fight. Don’t like dealing with horsemen, that’s why we asked your folk to come north. Amrothos there dropped four of the horses with knives in their eyes-never saw the like! Didn’t even know he had the blades on him. And that took one of them out as well-I think he broke his neck when he fell. Alf took one of the other horses down with an axe to the belly and Sirri the last. Then we mixed it up with them. The young Prince took up one of those big knives we use to cut the cables and started dancing around one of them, dodging his axe. He managed to put the knife in that one’s belly but it stuck there. Another one came up on him and I thought he was dead for sure. Too far away for me to reach him in time. But he did this odd sort of dancing thing,” here the dwarf starting shuffling about, waving his arms in the most comical fashion, “and hit the man in his throat. That Easterling just dropped, clutching his neck like he’d been axed there, and we didn’t have any more trouble out of him. The rest we dealt with. Good thing the lad can take care of himself.”

Good thing indeed, Andrahar thought, weak with relief. There had always been a fear in him as regarded Amrothos, that if the lad were ever in peril he could not bring himself to kill, even in self defense. Some people could not, sometimes even young men he’d trained as Swan Knights. To Andrahar, the world was divided into several sorts of people-people who were parents and people who weren’t. People who had killed, and people who had not, and the various combinations of those four states. For the engendering of a life and the taking of it changed the nature of a person more than almost anything else. Imrahil had tried to spare his son this day as best he could, but it had come. And Amrothos had survived it.

He walked over to where the Prince stood with his arm about Amrothos’ shoulders, head bent, talking softly to him. “Let’s see the hand, lad.” Amrothos held it out. The middle finger was indeed blue-black and broken.

“I don’t think Tarkay’s techniques are supposed to be used against people in armor,” the young prince said, only the slightest quiver in his voice. Up close, Andrahar could see that he was still trembling a bit with shock. ‘I wasn’t quite set right and my hand clipped the top of his gorget. But even so, it worked.”

“It certainly did. You just bought every morning of the rest of your life with your own arm and will.” Amrothos must have been recovering, for he gave Andrahar one of his penetrating looks.

“No, sir. You bought them for me, because you insisted I learn and insisted that I keep practicing, and when the time came, I hardly had to think at all.” He took a step forward and embraced Andrahar, whose own arms came up and hugged him tight without being told to. “Thank you, Uncle Andra!”

Imrahil’s eyes met Andrahar’s above his son’s head, echoing the same sentiment and Andrahar smiled one of his rare, sweet smiles.

“You are very welcome, lad!”

~~~

An explanation of this line from Dol Amroth Yule:
"I nodded, remembering the youngest Prince’s arrival towards the end of my lesson. I had noticed that he was actually wearing a gambeson, and wondered what it was that he and Andrahar were going to do, since no one ever saw Amrothos with a sword in his hand."


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