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Horseback fighting. Attention Bing.


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Talon squeezed his mount tighter than necessary, while Brandeis went through the basics of mounted combat. The assassin had never had much cause for such fighting techniques, nor for riding horses in general--it was even a borrowed horse. Two men had met at an ale house, had a few drinks, and were now outside Brandeis' hinterland home, the faint outline of his well kept gardens just visible in the dark.


Talon had displayed an interest in cavalry tactics and ones ability to use a horse as a weapon of war. It was intruiging, and he never denied an opportunity to learn. So here he was, on a nervous little destrier, shield in one hand, sword in the other. Facing off against a seasoned campaigner. The irony that a dark friend was recieving instruction from one who would normally be torturing him for information did not escape Talon. Thank the Great Lord for strong drink and wagging tongues.


The other man, the Inquisitor started toward him at a slow lope, Talon forgot that he was intended to spur his horse forward with his legs and intercept, so Brandeis gave a shrill whistle and Talon's mount came forward. A most well trained horse indeed. Sadly the assassin upon its back was not so well trained, and before he managed to regain his upset balance, his shield caught the edge of a sword and he was breathing mud.


"Try again?" Brandeis offered.

"Does it normally happen as fast as that?"


"Reassuring. See if you can keep up next time."


Brandeis laughed and helped the assassin back to his feet. Brandeis trotted back to his position, and Talon to his . . . with less aplomb. There was always time for good natured sparring as far he was concerned. Especially when it involved learning something new.

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Fun. Something he had forgotten how to have, until the last hour. He felt a warm buzz from the alcohol he consumed then. Brandeis had been flattered that the lad sought him out, and brought Talon home. It was all about learning to improve his techniques.


The Inquisitor had a lot to teach about horsemanship. Ironically, he wasn’t interested in questioning Talon about his past. It wasn’t important. What was important was the way Talon sat his mount. A bony creature Brandeis had traded for from a ranch on the Saldaean countryside, but had not the chance to train once he brought him into the city.


Not bad. Brandeis spurred his mount on, but Talon must have felt every jolt from the sharp hip shifts whenever the pace shifted. There had been a trick the Saldaean horses liked to hurl on the unsuspecting rider, which was to change the beats to five instead of four. It threw Brandeis off the first time he encountered such creatures, and he laughed to see the lad fared no better than he did in that campaign.


Then there was the question of how to balance the weapons. The shield was hefty though Brandeis had been accustomed to the weight of his warhammer. Talon’s left hand clutched his in an ungainly wield that Brandeis corrected, and on the last try his sword had barely missed the head of the mount if the horse had not snaked away the instant before the strike. Brandeis felt buoyed as the pleasant sensation heated him, and he roared in approval as his lad managed to get up the shield for a block when they tried the spar again.

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Talon felt momentary pleasure as he remained seated. His balance was tenuous, but he was still holding on, they traded cursory blows before Talon took the flat of the blade to the forehead, which was an unpleasant feeling. No one in their right mind would sparr with edged weapons, probably not even steel unless they were really enthusiastic, but Brandeis was drunk, and Talon respected his own restraint, and the restraint of his opponent cum teacher enough that he felt secure with it.


It was strange to be in the apprentice seat once more, although by now he should have been more than comfortable with it. Better to learn than teach, anyway, not that he was so sure he would be as free with knowledge as the Inquisitor was now being. A strange sort of Child, that one, not at all given to many of the characteristics Talon had witnessed in them before. He was interested in seeing how well her performed out of the saddle, but he had to admit that this was an experience.


Talon jammed his heels into the ribs of his horse, and it crossed from stationary straight into a canter, Talon had thought himself fairly smug when he had decided to do it, but now that he was terribly off balance and new precisely what was about to happen, he was a little more conservative in his smugness. There was a loud clang, and he was once more sitting on mud instead of horse, the smiling figure of on horse-back looking down at him.


"Harder than it looks, that." Talon brushed himself off and swung back into the saddle. This time listening to Brandeis when he told him how to sit. Heels down, toes forward, and holding on from the new up. Talon's legs shook quickly from the new and awkward position, but he felt himself more securey in place. With a deep breath he spurred his horse forward, gently this time, his eye always on Brandeis' sword.

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Indifferent to the provincial midnight that settled over his land, Brandeis remained too smashed to notice how dangerous this particular sport was getting. He grinned as Talon hung on tenaciously to his seat, and aimed a blow at his knee again. The flat of his blade caught the lad on the head instead.


If he were more sober perhaps he would have stopped the sparring then and there, but the alcohol did not subscribe to this point of view. The strong drinks wanted to continue, their humble servant was in no mind to protest after checking Talon was alright.


Going back to his spot, he was bemused that the lad kicked his mount faster. Oh-ho! Getting complacent, are we?


He laughed again, ignoring the tell-tale twinges in the chest wall at he surged to match Talon. Fragments of the past flashed before him, making his eyes water. He dallied with the notion of telling the lad about Con Stavros, but decided against tales of spars with the big man. He had not lost all his inhibitions yet, and unlike the average old man, the inquisitor did not spout random anecdotes as a habit.





“Told you it gets faster,” he smirked at the other figure. He had not realised how much time his occupation sucked out of him. It was good to be here - distracted from the gloom he confronted in his occupation, and it was even better with company.

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Talon groaned. It was fun, in the same way the riding a bull, or untamed horse was a pass-time entertained by meaning during the summers. It hurt, but he flattered himself that he was learning better each and every time. He was not winning, far from it, he was not even stale-mating, but what didn't kill you only made you stronger; excluding debilitating injuries, poisons and a whole host of diseases. Talon's horse was taking the entire proceedings well, and he guessed that Brandeis had much experience in dealing with equitation.


Picking up his shield and sword and hauling himself back into the hard military saddle was becoming harder and harder each time he was thrown. He would have to do something about that. Getting back into position he clamped his legs onto the saddle with all the strong in his possession. There was going to be no spill this time. He would not fall, he would not swallow dirt and flip sideways off the horse's flank.


He survived the initial charge, and the crucial melee trade-off went surprisingly well. He would not dare to think he was "getting the hang of it" that would be a prelude for something dire. Rather he was beginning to handle the exchanges with more of an ease, and began to actively strike and counter-strike, instead of hiding behind his shield, which was admittedly a safer option. He was not entirely certain how much alcohol had been effused by the Inquisitor, but he suspected quite a lot.


Thrust. Duck. Cover. Counter. Parry. Smack. Parry. Thump. Parry. Thump. Parry. Quit. Talon was not so much bleeding, as his skin had turned a rather strange looking shade of red. Still, of all the ways he could learn, this drunken hands on approach was proving quite effective. He was an assassin first and foremost. Some, he knew, did not learn the art of swordplay, or the military uses of weapons. They learned to kill with a skill and precision unmatched, the finish on their work breath-taking and beautiful, but if something went wrong, that lack of battle-readiness proved to be a weakness, one Talon could not afford. Failure was not an option.


"Again?" He asked.

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Talon was a marvelous study. That beautiful cat charged the Inquisitor and changed a tactic, adjusting to it every time, forcing Brandeis to focus on the task at hand. Of course, they both knew that Brandeis held the upperhand in this exchange and could not be beaten. But once the lad was knocked on his hoopy-doopy he’d get up again and ask for more.


Brandeis was not one to refuse somebody who asked for discipline. He waited, shifting slightly to knock Talon on his hoop-doopy, in the most precise manner he responded as the lad charged him, experimenting with many a stratagem, switching stances in an attempt to remain seated.


Boy, this was the life to live. His feelings as he put more strength into the thrust, yielding to the endorphins rushing through his veins. Talon had more to learn. His hoopy-doopy was to be sorely tried as Brandeis swept the other’s sword easily with his shield, barely angling it as he knocked Talon down again.


… Yes he parried, deflected a weak strike from Talon. To be the best you can be, to persistently revise your plans, if one plan fails, approach it with another (hopefully better) plan. From his vantage point, and the upperhand of being a seasoned campaigner it was very clear. His muscles knew by rote what to do, which was good as his mind was nowhere near as clear. Still, he struggled to blank out the other thoughts, the worries in his job, and trained his mind on giving the lad some hearty thumps.


All this, he gauged as he readied his shield and sword once more, stemmed from wearing down Talon’s hoopy-doopy. Then he charged.

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Talon did not seem to be gaining quite as much momentum as he thought he should by now. True, he could stay on his horse, true he could bring it to a swift gait with little to no effort, and true he could happily survive first contact . . . still couldn't win. He needed to re-think his tactics. How do you defeat an opponent who is bigger, stronger, swifter and more experienced? Normally you find someone else to do it for you but that wasn't viable here. Suddenly he had it.


As the two horses raced towards collision and Talon set himself in position, he looked to the side swifty and yelled, "beer!" The desired effect was that the fond drinker's gaze was momentarily draw in that direction, enough time for Talon to strike with his own weapon . . . almost. His aim was true, yet the edge of the shield came up at the last moment partially obscuring the blow. All told it seemed nothing more than a sally. For his trouble he took two shots, one to either wrist and a rap on the knee. Ouch


Three more runs and the results bore a certain strain of similarity. Defeat. The ante had been upped, such as it were. Brandeis was closing the openings sooner than Talon could percieve them. Attack and defence in one bi-lateral movement: stunning. Talon was truly impressed. To earn ones salt as a warrior you had to do such things, Talon knew, as he himself could--on the ground, and on his feet. To guide a horse, and split your attention between both stone-wall defence and still offend . . . fascinating.


Talon believed such a thing to be within the scope of his own capabilities, but it would demand patient endurance. The glimpse he saw now would better prepare him in future, if such a battle were to present itself. A light fool teaching a dark friend. Tragic. He would leave with more respect for the Children of the light, if nothing else, especially if encountered while on horseback. Perhaps it made him hypocritical to be enjoying himself . . . but he doubted his lord would hold it against him if he brought with him something useful.

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First thought; where?

His eyes cut to the trees, as if finding a stout in the wilderness was expected. Thus tricked, he turned back only to see Talon’s swing.

I am busy. He snarled, his shield catching the blow. Parry. Stopthrust. Low-line. See how you cope with that. In quick succession the poke of his blade found any softness it detected, which revealed certain spots Talon had to cover.


Circling the lad with his horse, Brandeis delighted in showing off his new tricks. Lunging sideways, he feinted. Talon was not prepared to tilt his parry aside and caught the blows with his chest. Harried, Talon retreated, resuming his original stance.


“Be merry! Chin up, lad. Try again?” He queried into the quiet.


And so they charged again.


Intoxicated thoroughly, Brandeis felt giddy as Talon dodged a head-cut, not wasting the energy of getting the sturdy shield up. Nothing but teacher and pupil on the field; he delighted in the rush to the fore of the battle. He loved the certainty of his skills, that he was capable of carrying this encounter off. He remembered one campaign that he rammed his opponent with the horse. Hissing happily, Brandeis cast his horse forward instead of his blade this time, making the lad recoil, though Talon was not so unsettled as to topple off his seat. He did not reenact bashing his partner in the face with the shield though. It would ruin his straight features. Brandeis permitted some time to pass for the lad to brace himself before they actively engaged.


All was as it should be, this exercise in improving technique has sharpened his co-ordination. He introduced series, and did one with his sword that involved beating the lad back with a feint in quarte and a feint in sixte followed by a lunge that that aimed a blow at his wrist. Parry. Dodge. Parry again. Talon took advantage of having parried the earlier lunge to recover his ground, his riposte whipped out true to the aim but he and his offensive were both knocked down by Brandeis’s horse once more. Who was it that claimed only women could multitask well?


After several times of ramming the lad with a warhorse, he meditated. “How’s your hoopy-doopy?”

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