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The Riddle of Steel (open to all Soldiers)


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((OOC: Soldiers! Feel free to step in and just post your own responses in your own time.))


Baran stepped out onto the training field, the night's sleep quickly dispelled by the cold wind blowing across the half-frozen mud. He had come to the field early, hoping for some extra training. A few others apparently had had the same idea. They formed a small, shivering line in the early morning light. The sun was just starting to peak up over the treeline, illuminating the steam coming from their mouths. As he tried to keep himself from shaking, Baran wondered how long it would take for them to learn how to stop feeling the heat and cold so much. It had to be some weave, something of the Power that came with learning to use it. He had heard about things called Ter...something. Terangles? No, that wasn't it. Triangreels? Well, whatever they were called, they used the Power to do things. He wondered if the pins and swords that Asha'man wore had something to do with them.


He thought he saw Nandiel in the line of freezing men and boys. Maybe he knew something about the ter...whatever they were. He seemed to be a little ahead of Baran when it came to using the Power. He said it was because he was practicing all the time, which Baran had to admit was something he could be doing a little more of, but Baran had to wonder if maybe Nandiel didn't have a little more natural skill at channeling than he did. That was the way of most things in his life, after all. Other people tended to be just a little better than him at most things. It just made Baran work harder, usually. This was different, though. Why would he hasten his own madness just to prove he could be just as good as another Soldier if he tried?


He shook his head in an attempt to dispel the cold. When had the Storm Leader arrived? Oh no, it was Skechid again. He hadn't expected anyone different, but he had hoped, at least a little, that it would be someone who would have a little more pity on them this time around. He was still tired from all the channeling he had had to do the day previous. His body didn't have a reason to be aching already, but the thought of spending just as much time swinging a sword as he had spent channeling the previous day made his arms hurt. At least when it came to swinging a weight with his arms, he would have a little more of an advantage than most of these Soldiers. His arms were still corded with muscled from a childhood of swinging a pick, thrusting a shovel, and pushing carts of ore up-slope.


Baran shook his head again, though this time to dispel the thoughts more than the cold. He tried to assemble the Void without Seizing Saidin. At least that way he would be able to concentrate more on what he was doing. So he stood and waited for the Storm Leader to speak.

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Skechid hated only one thing more than lessons on Saidin: lessons on weapons. It bored him to no end. And he had never found the need to deal with swords or the like anything. But being one of the more skilled swords men the Tower had, he was regularly requested to teach the blasted things and that usually did nothing to elevate his mood. But his face held no contempt as he approached the group of Soldiers. His face seldom showed any expression other than ice cold serenity. Camigwen Sedai, the Yellow sister he regularly met, told him he had mastered that look far better than even some of the Aes Sedai had. But when you were constantly fighting the Taint, there was no need to smile. Or cry. Or laugh. Or frown.


"Good morning class." Skechid dropped the pile of wooden lathes he had carried with him. "I see you are all miserable this cold, cold morning. Which is just as well I want to get us all warmed up and ready to do exciting things with the lathe." His voice held no humour as he spoke. If anything the tinge of danger at every word sent a chill down any listener's spine. "We are from all walks of life, and I expect you have all had your brush with death. If not, it's high time you do. And learn to value your life as you see fit." He smiled. It did not touch his eyes. A merely curving of the mouth. "Today's training will help you keep your life a little longer. In circumstances where Saidin is unavailable. Or even as an added defense when it is." He picked up a lathe and swung it in the air. It made a whooshing sound that caused one or two of the men to retreat slightly. "As with every civilised man, we will begin with wooden lathes such as these. But do not be mistaken." He swung the lathe against a tree. With a loud whacking sound, it tore of a chunk of the wood and left a mark. A few of the Soldiers finally recognised similar marks around them. On stones. On trees. Even on some of the Dedicated and Ashaman. "They will serve as replicas of swords for now. I have no interest to do any Healing today, I'm afraid. Which means any wounds you receive today are your own to deal with. And will serve as a reminder when you are holding real swords."


Skechid held the sword before him in defensive stance. He moved from defensive to offensive, quickly, gracefully and with death by his side. It was a beautiful dance. But a deadly dance. He moved from The Falling Leaf to Cat Dances on the Wall. Wind and Rain translated seamlessly to Bee Stings which moved to Apple Blossoms in the Wind. Skechid danced, forrward and backwards, often causing the leaves around the yard to swish against his moves. Fallen leaves lifted into the air were punctured precisely and effortlessly by the lathe in Skechid's hands and drifted about him like snowflakes. But Skechid's eyes remained as impassive as he had started with. Emotionless was the dance. Deadly. Raw. Powerful. Dangerous.


With a final flourished he ended. Point vibrating in the air. Directly in front of a Soldier's terrified face. An inch more and it would have taken an eye out. That inch would never be, however. Skechid was not unskilled.


"We begin then. With discipline." He gestured for everyone to pick up a lathe. "There are many disciplines to follow, but today I only want to teach one. Which is the discipline of balance. The discipline which everything in nature seeks. To balance. Do not be too strong or too weak. Too strong and you crack. Too weak and you bend. Nor too defensive. Nor too aggresive." He demonstrated a defensive stance and an offensive one. "Copy as I move. But be conscious of your movement. Let your strength balance your weaknesses. Let your speed balance your grace. Be like the ever changing water, the firm and immovable rock, the blazing fire and the absence and presence of air. Change. Change. Change." He moved as they moved. And flowed as they flowed.


Discipline. Balance. Grace. Danger. Death. All in one. All as one. All for one.

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aran took his training sword with no small amount of trepidation. He wrapped his fingers around the handle, grimacing at the slight ache he felt as he tightened his twisted grip. He swung it up and down a few times to get a feel for it. It wasn't as heavy as what he was used to swinging, but he had a sinking feeling that by the time they were done here, it would feel heavier than any pick he had ever used. He looked around, making sure there wasn't anyone nearby that he could accidentally injure when they started to practice. He had seen the marks that thing had made in the wood, and he didn't want to break any bones, especially when the people around him could channel. The Storm Leader gave them a demonstration that made Baran want to sigh. How were they supposed to do that? For most of the Soldiers, this was the first time they had ever held a sword. It certainly was for him. Still, that didn't stop him from doing his best to emulate the stances of the older man.


His attempts were clumsy, of course. Laughable, really, especially compared to what they had just seen. Baran gritted his teeth. He felt like the eyes of the entire class were on him. He was fairly sure they weren't as most of the students were busy trying to do the same thing he was trying to do. Still, it didn't stop him from flushing as he stumbled from stance to halting stance. During a particularly ungraceful movement his fingers refused to bend the way they needed to, creaking in protest at the unfamiliar positions being forced upon them. Baran hissed in pain and almost dropped the bundle of lathes, fumbling for it as it twisted it's way out of his fingers. He caught it by the “blade”, flipping it back around quickly enough that he hoped no one would notice.

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"Well wasn't that a mess." Skechid shook his head as sighed to himself. There were a few promising ones, but in general... he was not keeping his hopes up. Skechid picked up a lathe again and swung it against the tree. The resounding thwack stopped everyone where they stood. "Very good, very good. One day if the Black Tower needed a circus troop, you get my recommendation." Skechid waved his hands at the feeble protests coming from the Soldiers. "It's alright. I see I've got a long way to go. But it's pretty expected since most of you have never seen a sword much less use one." Skechid lowered his lathe. "Pair up."


The group moved into twos and stood worriedly with their partners. "That's right, the fun part is about to begin." He stood to a defensive pose. "Looks like it's too complicated to teach it all at once. What you just learnt are called sword forms. But those are too complicated, let's start from basics. There are six basic moves that you will learn. The first four are aggresive moves. The first, a strike." He demonstrated. "A jab." Another demonstration. "A slash." And another. "A thrust." Move. "And the last, parrying is a defensive move." He showed them. "And the last is a counter, that requires you to attack with any of the four attack moves." He gestured. "One person on my left, you are called One. Person on my right, you are two. When I give the commands, One will thrust and Two will Parry. And then Two will counter with a thrust and so on and so forth. Back and forth until you get the feel of parrying a thrust, then we go into jabs, strikes and slash."


"Go." Skechid stood back to inspect the mayhem that ensued.

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Baran shrugged apologetically at the younger Soldier standing in front of him, who gave him a puzzled look in return. How could the fellow know that even though he was taller than Baran, Baran probably beat him in sheer strength? They took their positions, each holding their practice swords in front of them in what could hopefully be called a ready position. The commands eventually came, forcing Baran and his partner into a desperate scramble to avoid being hit. At first Baran tried to hold back, making sure he didn't use his full strength when he attacked. The other young man didn't seem to feel the same way, striking hard and fast with all of his strength as they moved back and forth across the mud. The lathes shook in Baran's hand after each blow the other Soldier struck, making him tighten his grip even more. He gritted his teeth as the aches in his hands sharpened.


When his turn came to attack again, Baran used all of the power he could muster. The widening of the taller man's eyes was almost comical. Baran couldn't help giving a small smile as he took his revenge on his opponent, battering him back across the ground he had just scuttled across. His movements were clumsy of course, crude mirrors of the positions the Storm Leader had demonstrated. Still, the strength of his arms was effective against the Soldier. His attacks were brutal were Skechid's had been graceful, savage where Skechid's had been elegant, ugly where the other was beautiful..


After one particularly jarring blow, the other Soldier's sword was knocked from his hand. In mid-movement, Baran was forced to pivot on the instep of his foot, the momentum of his attack overbalancing him so that he fell to the mud next to the other Soldier. He was on his feet in moments, sweat beading on his forehead as he struggled to catch his breath while he waited for his opponent to pick up his practice sword.


Balance, the Storm Leader had said. If he had been balanced, he wouldn't have fallen. He would have to work on that.

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Two of the Soldiers had to be carried off on a stretcher. A good number. Two. Which meant they still had even numbers. Even as they paired up again, Skechid wondered if they would ever understand the importance of the sword. Or why they had that pinned on their collars. Skechid's own sleeves were embroidered with the twin lightning bolts of the Storm Leaders. Something he had not been comfortable wearing outside the Tower. Still...


"Right. That was an exercise I hope never to see from you lot again." Skechid lifted his lathe and prodded one of the Soldiers on his kneepit and watched as the man collapsed. "Great, great. This exercise will be repeated every morning until I am happy. Do you understand?" Skechid shouted at the group.


"But you said you didn't want to see-"


"That's right." Skechid spoke to the man who was dared question him. "I will not see it. You will do it on your own. And I will know. Because I will have Dedicated supervising you." Skechid moved to defensive stance again. "Right. For the remaining time, you will learn about Balance. " Skechid gestured to two Ashaman who had been standing nearby. "This is Ashaman Petain and Ashaman Tolliver. They are going to assist the next part of the exercise. What I want you to do now, is attack the three of us together. Together. As a team. So feel free to strategise. But don't take too long, because we won't be waiting to attack. In fact, our attack... begins now."


The two Ashaman and the Storm Leader lunged.

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Baran turned his head to look at his partner and started to walk towards him, hoping the pair of them would be able to come up with some kind of plan that would be effective against three fully-trained Asha'man. It was an objective that Baran was fairly sure was doomed to failure, but for some reason he felt compelled to try anyway. As he approached the other man though, the three Asha'man started to rush towards them. Baran's mind went blank at the attack, but luckily his partner had an idea.


“Blood and ashes, rush them!” The taller Soldier put action to his words, rushing forward to meet the charge. Baran shook his head and blinked for a moment before he realized what was going on. He waited for a few of the other Soldiers to get ahead of him first, then joined the charge, hoping he wouldn't break too many bones. At first he wondered who was muttering a constant stream of curses. He looked around for the source, searching the faces of the men running next to him. By the time he realized it was him that was doing the swearing, the two charges had met. Soldiers immediately started getting knocked to the side, some falling and not getting back up after sound thwacks on the head.


A gap suddenly opened up in front of Baran as the two Soldiers ahead of him fell victim to the swinging practice blade of one of the Asha'man. He decided it would be wiser if he swept wide, maybe drawing the Asha'man's attention so that someone could strike them from behind. He started to move, but suddenly felt a slash of pain blossom in his leg. Had he been that close? The practice sword came on again, the Ash'aman flowing from form to form as though he were merely practicing and not surrounded by Soldiers flailing at him with practice swords of their own. Baran felt pain at his shoulder, then his wrist went numb. The sword was a blur as it knocked the bundle of lathes from his nerveless fingers and twisted up to catch a glancing blow against the side of his head.


Baran stumbled out of the melee, stars bursting in front of his eyes. As they started to clear, be began to look frantically for a weapon, any weapon he could use to defend himself. Then he realized something new. He was supposed to BE a weapon! He immediately Seized Saidin, thinking to throw anything he could get lay hold of at the Asha'man. Apparently one of them noticed him channeling, because a club of air immediately cracked him across the back of the head, driving him to his knees in the mud again. He started to fall forward but caught himself on his hands, breath rasping from his mouth in great clouds of steam.


How were they supposed to win?

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The last 3 Soldiers fell into a heap as the 2 Ashaman withdrew and stood to Skechid's side. Skechid himself had since stopped attacking since it was apparent the group of Soldiers couldn't handle the two Ashaman much less Skechid himself. But it was a good lesson anyway. Noone was seriously hurt. And a few had tried to Channel, which was always a good sign for those who were learning to be living weapons of the Black Tower. Unfortunately, due to lack of control or other factors, channeling had caused one or two stray weaves to hit other Soldiers instead. Lessening the trouble for the two Ashaman.


"Very good." Skechid dismissed the two Ashaman. From the looks of it, they had barely broken a sweat. Still, Skechid had promised them a beer break, and both seemed convinced that was the best plan for the day. "I spoke about Balance before we started this rather... futile exercise. And know this, had you chosen to attack the strongest amongst us, me, this would have been over much sooner. But you didn't. And that is a good lesson. A balance of sacrifce versus gain. You tried to spread yourself between all three of us. Again. Not a good idea. You were trying to win. And that won't work. A balance between winning and losing. With 2 teams fighting to lose, you could have won at least one battle. And perhaps the non-casualties from that group could have gone on to win a second." Skechid shrugged. "A good effort all the same. And when in doubt, Saidin. Good job to those of you who went for that." Skechid threw his lathe in front of him. "Someone collect the lathes and pile them up here. Class is dismissed. And don't forget, you have daily routines of exercises."


With that Skechid turned his back and departed.

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Baran slowly struggled to his feet, trying, once again, to clear the stars from in front of his eyes. He stopped paying attention as the Storm Leader listed all the things they had done wrong. How had a handful of untrained Soldiers been expected to beat three fully trained Asha'man? He started to shake his head but stopped, wincing at the pain as the stars suddenly thickened and a black haze appeared at the corner of his vision. He finally managed to straighten, weaving for a moment on unsteady feet. So they were supposed to pick up all the lathes that they had managed to lose in the fighting? Expected to use Saidin to do it, no doubt. He sighed and tried to Seize hold of the Power. When he tried though, the pain in his head exploded, almost forcing him to drop to his knees again. Instead he simply bent over and clutched at his head until the pounding in his skull eventually stopped. He then tottered upright again and started walking from sword to sword, slowly bending to pick up them up and hold them under one arm.


He couldn't help wincing in pain each time he bent over. His whole right side ached from his leg all the way up to his head. Those strikes hadn't been gentle. The Asha'man hadn't been holding back, even though they had only been facing Soldiers. The idea almost made Baran chuckle. Why should he have expected them to go easy on him? This was exactly what he had signed up for. The methods were harsh, but they would hopefully force him to learn more quickly than he was used to.


So Baran staggered around the field with the rest of the Soldiers, trying not to join the men groaning in pain all around him as they picked up the weapons they hadn't used effectively enough to defend themselves.

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(OOC: I'm going to participate in this one even though my introduction is not yet finished, figure it just happens a bit later, and I don't want to miss all the classes. Let me know if it doesn't work.)



The morning was bitter cold and grey, the sudden winter was worse than any other that Lir could remember, and being out in it at first light was unpleasant. He found himself in a rough field of half frozen mud and scattered trees in a bunch with a handful of other Soldiers. He recognized a few faces, but not many, and his first impression of the Black Tower had been correct. It was not the sort of place to quickly make new friends.


He was still in something like a state of shock after learning that he could in fact channel. At least the long black coat of Andoran cut was familiar enough to him even if it fit somewhat tighter than was fashionable in Caemlyn at the time. The long curved sword in the warder's style that he wore on his belt was the only possession that they had let him keep, the only tie to his old life. They had burned his fine clothes and he had sworn allegiance to the Tower severing all his claim to noble title. They had even taken Seeker, how he chafed at the thought of some stranger riding that proud creature. He shook his head, there were more important things to be worried about now. At least his first class would be something that he was somewhat comfortable with.


His teacher this day was a grim man indeed, in fact Skechid was the physical embodiment of everything he had expected the Asha'Man to be. He seemed cold, not from the weather of course that did not seem to bother any man with the dragon pin, but cold on the inside. Given what Lir had learned about Saidin and the taint so far, he thought it might be a blessing to be that cold on the inside. The man lectured them on the value of their own lives in a tone of voice that suggested he cared not if they lost them this very day.


The Asha'Man then took one of the lathes and began an intricate dance of the forms. Lir was impressed for this man was obviously more skilled than his tutor with the Guards had been. He struggled to keep up with Skechid's movements, and even thought that he recognized a few of the forms. In the end, the dance was too complex, and to quick for him to remember. When the soldiers were instructed to reproduce the forms, Lir's jaw dropped. He'd had the privilege of private tutors, and had seen a real battle however brief and unfortunate his own part in it, and he was sure that this task was beyond him. Many of the other men around him were looking at the practice swords with a mixture of eagerness and fear.


He sighed and took the practice blade in his hands, he had a swordsman's calluses already, and the weight of a practice blade was comforting to him. He formed the image of the flame in his mind and shoved in his irritation at the way the class was being taught. He could feel the tempest of Saidin behind him, calling to him, wanting to engulf him. He wanted to reach out for it but knew that if he did he might not succeed. He shoved the temptation aside and tried to emulate the stance that Skechid had started in. After a few minutes of attempting to copy the teacher, Lir grew frustrated and lost the void.


The Asha'man called them to a halt and derided them some more. Lir got his emotions under control, he realized now that the instructor was trying to push them mentally off balance, that was after all the point of this lesson. Balance. Lir took a deep breath and assumed the void, once again pushing aside the temptation of touching the True Source. He would strive to show balance in the face of adversity. Skechid had them pair up to work drills, something that Lir thought fit the learning curve of the class much better. It was at least something that he had done plenty of times before.


Lir was paired with a Soldier who was maybe a decade older than himself, and who was tanned and weathered in the manner of a farmer. He held the sword confidently yet with a slightly awkward grip. Before beginning, Lir moved the older man's hands a bit wider apart and explained why that would give him more control. When the drills started, Lir settled into the routine movements with ease preforming the required actions. His hip was protesting at the movement, the break in the bone there had healed ever so slightly off true, and extended activity always led to a dull ache. In the void it was easier to ignore, but the fact that he would have to work harder to overcome the injury irritated him.


Lir and his partner turned to listen to the instructor as he detailed what would become a daily workout for the group of Soldiers. Lir was pleased that he would be able to continue his study of the sword, it was something he'd always enjoyed, though not as much as his true passion, the study of tactics and battles. His eyes began to light up as Skechid spoke of the group leading a mock attack on them and strategizing. He knew the soldiers could not win but perhaps they could put up a...


"Burn me!" He cursed and pulled his partner to the side as the two Asha'Man charged into the soldiers. He had to get around to their flank, he could tell simply from the way that they moved that they were far more skilled than any of the class. "Come around here, wait till they engage." He thought quickly hoping the older man would pay attention and follow him. "Now, attack Tolliver!"


The two of them rushed forward, his compatriot ran full out, not even bothering to hold his sword up in front of himself for defense, and Lir was unable to keep up because of his hip so that their attack was uncoordinated. To top it all off, his shout had alerted Asha'Man Tolliver who spun around and cought Lir's partner full in the chest with a thrust. The horrible thumping sound of it was followed by the fellow falling to the ground gasping for breath. The Asha'Man gave Lir no time to react and spun through three forms faster than the young nobleman could name them. His sword lashed out in a defensive strike, but it lacked both power and placement, and the Asha'Man's sword simply twisted and sent his own flying. At nearly that precise moment, a backhand swipe from Petain that he never even saw cliped him behind the ear, and Lir went down in a heap. Tunnel vision threatened to rob him of consciousness, but he willed himself back from the brink. He had a moment of confusion as memories of the trolloc attack on the palace flooded to his addled brain, he reached for the hilt of his actual steel sword and one of the Asha'Man (He'd not remember which one later)casually kicked him in the head. Thankfully, he lost consciousness.


One of his fellow soldiers..his partner in fact slapped him awake. "C'mon Lir we'd better help clean up this mess, class is over."


Lir nodded and helped with the chore, noticing that many of the students were using Saidin. He'd stay away from that for now with his head swimming as much as it was. The soldiers filled him in on the closing lecture and Lir knew that all of the points had been true. He knew something else as well, he would need to get to know all these men better if they were ever to act as a unified force. Maybe that had been a hidden message to this lesson. Maybe he'd been wrong to try and stifle his natural friendliness. He went around to all the Soldiers still in the clearing and introduced himself.


It was a start.


Lir Gilbearn


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Ful leaned on his chair with a faraway look. He was inside the kitchen of Isha's house. A pot of tea and two cups were set out, next to an untouched plate of cut cucumber sandwiches.


"Just . . . what did you say?"


"Oh I mentioned it yesterday. Weapons training. I recommended you join in it."


"Wait, wait a minute . . . what?" Hands clutching at his cup, Ful frowned. Weapons training again? But he was too slow to qualify for Skechid's private class; he had made sure of that fact.


"It's a great opportunity for you to learn with others."


"But . . . so sudden!"


"Don't plan to go?"


"Since I wasn't fast enough during Saidin class I wouldn't be able to keep up with the rest of the class. Besides it's not good for my body to not get any rest."


Sa's cold gaze rejected Ful's suggestion. Ful wondered if he should even bring up that he had previous training with the sword under attack leader Isha's instructions, although considering what had happened to Isha it might not have been the best reference to mention. The training would take place in an open area next to a certain . . . dormitory, even though that was more like barracks than student dorms.


"More reason for you to go. How long can you find shelter under the name of a dead man? Sooner or later you will be stripped of Isha's protection, and you need to learn nothingness and other disciplines only the way of the sword will bring you."


"Yeah well," Ful smiled, troubled. Isha was the one who taught him the flame and the void. "I'd better get going huh? Excuse me, Asha'man. Please enjoy the rest of the afternoon tea." Sa would let himself out of the house afterward, as he'd always done.


The training ground looked and sounded as bleak as ever. He watched as Skechid demonstrated some sword forms for them. It was truly beautiful to watch, but Ful knew they'd not be able to execute the elaborate forms anytime soon. When they were asked to reproduce the forms, Ful could remember a little of what had transpired since he was always a visual learner, but doing them was really difficult. He couldn't follow what their instructor did at all.


"Excuse me . . ." Ful raised his hand "I don't have a partner."


Glimpsing both Nandiel and Baran in the group didn't give him much confidence. As nice as it was to have familiar faces in the participants, they were two who suspected him of poisoning them, so much so that he himself was unsure anymore. It spoilt peaches for him that was for sure. But maybe, maybe Nandiel would like to partner up with him? Ful sent a hopeful look toward the first soldier that had been friendly toward him during training, rather like one Blaze would wear at a particularly juicy cut of rabbit meat.

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Gavin Mortisane rubbed the sleep out of his eyes as he rolled out of bed. The air was still chilly from the previous night, and it was promising to be a rather cold day as well. Grumbling to himself, Gavin shaved and dressed himself, and strapped on his sword. "Bloody thing," he muttered to himself. "What's a man supposed to do with one of these? Give me a decent set of knives over a sword any day." When he had originally been issued the sword, he'd found the balance on his hip unwieldy, so he had taken to wearing it over his shoulder.


Pausing to check his reflection in the bubbly mirror, Gavin straightened himself. "Well now, I suppose that the sword does make for a dashing figure. Now hopefully I don't cut off my own hand."


The weapons class started off about as one would expect at the Black Tower. Skechid intimidating everyone, then people getting hurt, then more intimidation. From the start, Gavin had trouble with the practice sword. He tried to copy the forms that they had been shown, but to no avail. His gleeman upbringing afforded him an excellent sense of balance, so he didn't spend any time falling over himself like some of the other Soldiers. However, he could barely hold onto the practice blade. For all that the sword forms were an elegant and graceful dance, Gavin still felt that the whole thing felt awkward, and he kept fumbling the blade.


One particularly bad attempt at a form ended with Gavin's lathe flying out of his hands behind him as he lost control of the follow-through. He trotted to pick up his blade, cursing the whole way.


After a while, Skechid had them pair off against one another. Gavin looked for Baran or Nandiel, or even that weird fellow Ful, but wasn't given a chance. Just as he spotted someone, anyone, that he knew, another rather large Soldier came up to him and said he was to be Gavin's partner.


Gavin groaned to himself. Of only middling height for an Andorman, his opponent seemed to be almost Aiel in comparison. The man wasn't Aiel, not with that black hair, and definitely not with that Saldean nose, but he was huge. Saldeans aren't a large people, Gavin knew, but this man must have been a blacksmith or something in a previous turning of the Wheel. The man stood half a hand taller than Gavin, but seemed as wide as a wagon. And he had no fat on him. "Light," Gavin mumbled under his breath, "His arms are bigger than my legs!"


Sparring with a partner went about as one would expect. Gavin awkwardly tried to wield his sword with hands that were never meant for one, while his opponent repeatedly clubbed Gavin around the practice area. At least he's no better with the sword than I am., Gavin thought to himself. The larger man seemed to have as little understanding of swordplay as Gavin did, yet he used his vastly superior strength to his advantage. Wielding his sword more like a club, he easily battered aside any of Gavin's feeble attempts at attack. Or defense. The one time Gavin managed to score a hit, he had had to overextend himself so far to get inside the huge man's reach that the blow landed with almost no force. The man didn't even flinch. Gavin didn't even see the counter attack coming, but he saw stars.


After a few moments, Gavin's vision returned and he found himself laying flat on his back in the mud. His large opponent was standing over him, offering a hand to help him up. After shaking his head clear, Gavin took the proffered hand, muttering to himself once again about swords. The large man was grinning. "Sorry about that," he said. "Sometimes I let my strength get away from me."


"Don't mention it," Gavin replied. The man grinned wider. "No, really. Don't mention it." The man laughed, then stuck out his hand again. "I'm Haver," he said.


"Gavin," Gavin replied, shaking the man's hand. "Nice to meet you. You didn't happen to be an Ogier the last time the Wheel spun you out, did you?" More laughter.


Haver's laughter died off, and none to soon, as Skechid began speaking again. He didn't speak for long though. Almost as soon as Gavin had his wits about him again, Skechid and two other Asha'man attacked the unwitting Soldiers. It was a rather one-sided fight, to say the least.


Gavin had been near the front line, and was one of the first to get beaten back to the ground. As he dragged himself up, he launched a futile attack at one of the Asha'man. He took no more than three steps before he was hit in the ribs by one of the other Soldiers who lost control of his blade. Two more steps and he was within striking distance, sword raised. A kick to the ribs doubled Gavin over, then the large man he sparred with earlier shouldered him out of the way, knocking him over again. I haven't spent this much time on the ground since my dad first started teaching me tumbling, Gavin thought.


Gavin pulled himself back off of the ground, and narrowly dodged an errant swing by one of the other Soldiers. Gavin felt someone seize the Power, and looked around to see who it was just in time to see the unfortunate man get clubbed down by Skechid. A couple more Soldiers tried the Power. One of the others was beaten aside quickly, with the practice swords no less. One man though, he was wielding a club of Air and bashing aside his fellow Soldiers in an attempt to get at the Asha'man. That didn't last long however, as he was quickly rendered unconscious by the combined efforts of one of the Asha'man and a few of the Soldiers he had beaten aside.


The melee had moved past him, though there were few enough Soldiers still standing. With one last ditch effort at attack, Gavin threw his practice blade at one of the other Asha'man before collapsing to the ground in a mixture of pain and exhaustion. The lathe flew through the air, directly towards its target, only to get battered aside by the Asha'man.


The fight was over. Gavin sat there on the ground, collecting himself. At least I'm still conscious. That was more than many of the Soldiers could say. Skechid then informed them that there was to be sword practice every day.


"Light, give me stength," Gavin muttered. "Bloody swords. Bloody flaming swords."


* * * * * * *


Gavin tried hard to control his breathing. He had cracked a few ribs this morning, and would need to go for Healing before his next class, but these private sparring bouts between himself and Haver were definitely helping. Haver was apparently a quick study, and was improving every day. Gavin on the other hand, seemed to be improving only in defense. No matter how hard he tried, he could not do anything with the flaming sword while on the attack, but he was becoming much more adept at dodging blows.


"Enough Haver, I think we've had enough today." Gavin coughed up a bit of blood. "I think you've broken a couple ribs."


For his part, Haver smiled. "I told you that you weren't ready."


"Yes, well," Gavin said, "I learn by doing. Next time I'll know better, and maybe I'll dodge that instead of trying to block."


They both gathered their coats and practice swords. "Same time tomorrow Haver?" Gavin asked, sticking out his hand.


"Same time tomorrow, friend," Haver replied, shaking Gavin's outstretched hand.


"Bloody flaming swords," Gavin mumbled to himself as they trudged back to the ground for their lessons. Haver laughed.

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