Monday, April 16, 2012

Sword in the Dirt - Part 1 of 2

© 1984 by Henry Melton

It was fun watching the SCA hold their battles, beating each other with sticks wrapped in duct tape.  But what if it became an Olympic sport, or something more?

Lord Erin James North, Earl of West Hendryn, stood at ease, balanced, with his legs at a fighting stance. He was relaxed, his mind cleared of anything more serious than the play of the gold reflection of the room lights off his armor or the balanced weight of shield and blue steel broadsword. He took a deep breath and swung his sword in a blazingly fast overhead arc.
His shield warned, "Don't overtrain. It wouldn't help anything if you had a muscle spasm right now. The fight will be in five minutes--I'll be giving you more warm-up exercises. Don't go off on your own."
Lord Erin scowled, "I moved my sword because it felt right. Don't underestimate my feeling of what is right."
The large jewel on the hilt of the sword in question pulsed blue as it added, "You have to be careful! Shield has your training schedule. If you are not going to follow our advice, you should never have made us."
"Shut up. I've got to concentrate." The Earl was irritated. Sword could choose a better time to berate him. The Russian broadsword champion would be challenging him in minutes, with only a four-point spread between them to decide who would take the gold medal and who would take the silver. Sometime after the games were over, he was going to take his sword apart and re-do its personality entirely.
The warm-up room was empty. Before a fight he preferred communion with himself and his armor and weapons to that of any human trainer. He asked his tunic, "How am I doing?"
Tunic reported his agility and metabolism quickly and with no spare words. Its personality was not nearly as extroverted as Sword. Shield announced time for a quick dozen sword-presses to prime him for the bout. Lord Erin completed the exercise just as the door opened. A page decked in a white tunic decorated in the five colored interlocking circles entered and announced the royal request for his presence.
The Earl sheathed Sword, removed Helm and tucked it under his arm. He nodded to the page and followed him out onto the bright sunny meadow.
The light breeze ruffled his blond hair with a cool breath of spring. His eyes searched the ornately carved stands where the King and his court waited. He couldn't spot the cameras this time. In the North American preliminaries, when he took Johnson, he'd spotted a lens. The president of the association had reported the lapse of protocol. Lord Erin could see everything tightening up as the final round approached. Whether it was because of the importance of the match, or just a reflection of an old European sense of fitness he appreciated the care take to insure the purity of the scene. To the eye, there was nothing in this meadow to remind him of the modern world and its modern problems.
Count Carl Shenev, Protector of the Georgian Reaches, matched his pace as they neared the royal party. Lord Erin paid him no mind as he concentrated on the elements of the presentation. There was so much to remember, and protocol forbade the wearing of a helm at this time.
SWORD TO HELM: Have you got a fix on the competition?
HELM TO SWORD: AF. We are matched. The Soviet is augmented. There is a tracer on us as well. I would guess third-generation armor--Sanford design. Our primary is due for a shock.
SWORD TO SHIELD: What are our chances?
SHIELD TO SWORD: I am working on it.
SHIELD TO HELM: I need a physiological reading on our opponent primary.
SHIELD TO TUNIC: Give me a physiological reading on our primary.
Lord Erin enjoyed the ceremony. He always did. The King took the jeweled Cross of St. Forman from its velvet case and blessed the combatants. Then they both rose from their knees. Erin turned to his party and bowed-- first to the president then to his lady. Margaret smiled confidently and blew him a kiss. A page carried her token to him, and he tucked the blue gauze into the wrist of his gauntlet.
The King's Marshall raised his hand. They saluted with their swords, then sheathed and turned to their stations. Lord Erin had placed his helm on before he had taken two steps.
The earpiece was hot from the moment he had it in place, "Trouble, the Soviet is augmented"
"Don't you want more detail?"
"No," Lord Erin shook his head. "Just give me the best advice you can. If the count is getting good advice, then it should be a fair match." He smiled. The scent of spring flowers on the warm morning wind, the caress of his lady's token on his wrist, and the weight of his armor on his shoulders made it one of life's perfect moments. He began to whistle as he approached his circle.
SWORD TO SHIELD: It is obvious from our primary's words that strategy is being left up to us this time. I can think of three offensive strategies to take.
One, we can concentrate on the primary. It will be difficult if he is indeed using the Stanford armor.
Two, we can concentrate on the secondaries. Helm should be able to give us accurate target information in order to take out the opponent's sensors. We have to expect this strategy to be directed against us. Without secondary tactical advice, the battle would revert to a classical broadsword fight--a contest of the primary's stamina, strength and instincts. We have seen what happens when one primary is augmented and the other is not. It would be worse for us if our primary was deprived of our advice. His instincts have probably atrophied. But if we could take out our opponents sensors in a first strike, then the game would be ours.
And then there is option three--
TUNIC TO SWORD: I told you before, I will not consider that. I do not approve of the discussion. It is not our job.
There were three circles, each a rod in diameter, traced in the grass with rope. The two outer circles overlapped the center one as if they were links in a chain. Battle could only be engaged in the center, and combatants could only leave at the order of the Marshall. Retreat to the end circle was permitted to replace weapons, but only for a period of one minute. Lord Erin had never made use of this option in his five years of combat and he had no intention of starting the practice.
The Marshall's voice rang out clearly, and the Earl and the Count stepped into the center circle with sword and shield held ready. The initial stroke was not long in coming. This was no fencing match. The broadsword is swung in an overhead circle, with a twist of the wrist during the last phase of the stroke to double the speed of the blade as it strikes.
These opponents were seasoned. Every stroke was hitting the shields. The clang of metal on metal rang across the scene.
In the Earl's ear, Helm spoke continuous advice as to where to place his strokes and warnings as to where the shield must be to divert the flashing metal edge that came at him every other heartbeat.
SWORD TO HELM: We must do it my way. Shield and I are the tactical brains of this outfit, and our conclusions are identical. Unless we act now, we may not survive.
SHIELD TO HELM: I agree. I have sustained more surface damage this bout than in the last three combined.
HELM TO SHIELD: Shut up and feed me the tacticals. That last one was too close to me. Where will your strategic brilliance go if my sensors are taken out?
TUNIC TO SHIELD: Helm is right. Concentrate on the fight, and do it by the book. We know you are getting hurt. That is why we must spend our total effort in winning quickly.
SWORD TO HELM: Or losing quickly.
TUNIC TO HELM: Don't listen to them. It is not our job to lose.
SHIELD TO HELM: Tunic isn't getting any damage that I can see. But I'm getting chewed up out here. Sword and I are agreed that we can choreograph a quick end to this, with minimal damage to the primary. Don't forget that you are the number one target--even more than the primary according to the attack statistics. Unless we act fast, we both might finish the day in the scrap heap, and Tunic might end up with a cold body to monitor. The greatest good for the greatest number right now is to lose, and quickly.
HELM TO SHIELD: I don't know yet. Right now I need tacticals. And give me a plan of attack against my opposite number. I want to blind that secondary!
SHIELD TO HELM: I've been working on it. Okay, transfer this.

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