It had not taken much prodding to convince the armorers to hack off the end of a spear. It had been a regular length Wetlander training spear but now it was a proper spear, all the blunted and padded. Just like the ones she had used to practise with back home. No, not like home. The Three-fold Land was not her home anymore, Dianlinn knew that. The Grey Tower was, and she was here to Serve the Aes Sedai and the Asha’men. She walked swiftly towards the Evaluation Yards, new spear and buckler in hand, not wishing to be late and keep anyone waiting. That was not her way. She rounded the corner to find a large Wetlander completing some sort of kata with his spear. The man ended with the spear pointed at Dianlinn’s chest. Had this Wetlander heard her approach? If so, he might be a dangerous man indeed.
"I see you, Dianlinn. I am Carric Gaidin, and may you find Shade this day,” the man said, bringing the spear to rest on his shoulder, sizing Dianlinn up. She nodded her head to him, to his greeting of her, noting the Shinearan lilt to his voice. Dianlinn nodded to the Wetlander,
“I see you, Carric Gaidin, may you also find Water and Shade this day.” The Wetlands were full of both things, but she had no idea how else to greet someone properly. She would not wish to wish them wealth or something as pointless and crass, but that did seem to be what most Wetlanders wanted. “So you are my evaluator?” She sized the man up. He was quite large. Dianlinn had seen taller men, but rarely so wide, though she was maybe half a hand taller than she. She could meet most men in the eye, few were bigger than she. Carric seemed to have a lighter step than one would expect from a man his size, and a grace that you would not expect. But he also moved with the deadly grace that all the Gaidin seemed too have. A group of Bloodsnakes, all coiled and waiting to strike.
"Aye, I am your elevator." He replied as he swung his spear up and across his shoulders, resting his arms on either side of it with the spear head pointing towards his right. "We're going to talk a little bit first before I put your through your paces. It's an annoying process warrior to warrior, but it's good for us to know where you stand in your training so that we can help you obtain the best possible warrior status for you here with us." His posture became relaxed, but I was clear that he could spring into action at any time.
“I do not find it annoying, Carric Gaidin. It is logical to do such a thing, to prove to you I am not going to stick myself in my leg.” She gave him a rueful smile, as she had seen that done more than once. The man before her nodded his head once, and she was sure she had seen the corner of his lips twitch up.
"I want you to run me through your fighting style, and your postures. That will include your weapon grips and your stances. Once we're through that, we're going to put it to the test, and you'll take me on with my spear. I hope you're ready for a fight, because we're really going to see what you know." Carric said as he nodded at Dianlinn. "Whenever you're ready, tell me about your fighting style, and show me your stances and grips.
They wanted to see what she knew. He had hoped they would get straight to practical demonstrations but that wasn’t how these things ever went. Most of what he knew had started to go from technical lectures to muscle memory ages ago, but she decided to give it her best shot.
Like any Far Daris Mai, Dianlinn’s resting posture was light on the balls of her feet and showed the hints of a spear or unarmed stance. She stepped back with her right foot, pointing it shallowly to the right, and keeping her knees about shoulder width apart. She bent his knees slightly settling her weight onto her rear leg. She did all of this in exaggerated motions and began to explain in the kind of voice she remembered her own teachers had used, “The basics of any fighting, armed or unarmed, are stances and footwork. I can take a similar stance with my left side forward if I want, both must be as natural as putting on cadin’sor,” she switched to an identical stance with her right leg forward.
She raised her buckler, strapped to her left arm, “There are two basic ‘attitudes.’ Offensive and defensive. In this stance, with my buckler side back and my spear side forward, this is what we call an offensive attitude. Poking somebody full of holes is rather offensive,” realizing her joke probably wouldn’t be found amusing to the Wetlander, she continued switched sides, lifting her buckler before herself. “This is defensive attitude. I prefer to fight from defensive attitude. This is how my Spear Master taught us. She used to say, ‘The best way to avoid a blow is to not be there, and to not be where the enemy thinks you are,’” She said the last part in an imitation of Maudla’s gruffer sounding voice. “When you keep your guard up in combat, you are more likely to live long enough to deliver a wounding or killing blow.”
She took the spear in a grip with her thumb towards the butt and held it over her shoulder, blade pointed forward and elbow bent. “This, this is a reverse stabbing grip, it is strong yes, but it is limited. It’s great for fighting shoulder to shoulder or in tight spaces but it lacks reach and versatility.” She flipped the spear so that his thumb pointed along the shaft towards the blade as she lifted the spear into a stabbing position, spear peaking around the buckler. “A regular stabbing grip offers the most flexibility in my experience,” she demonstrated with a forward jab then sidestepped and swung his arm in a motion like a right hook, stabbing inwards. She adjusted the grip so that her spear was lightly in her hand and thrusted rolling her wrist, so the strike ended with her hand facing the sky. “The standard stabbing grip can quickly be turned into a thrusting grip, but for what the thrusting grip gains in reach, it loses in strength.” She stepped back, standing at ease though she was ready to snap into action at a moment notice.
The Gaidan nodded in approval. "Good. That's good." He said as he grinned at the woman. "Now, if you will, please stretch to be ready for our spar and understand that I may add in more opponents as we progress to really test you." Carric said, as he also stretched out to make this as fair as possible. Dianlinn’s eyebrows rose a little, but she did not say anything. It sounded like it would be a challenging afternoon.
Dianlinn began a kata meant to stretch the muscles and warm up, the moves each had their own purpose but together did not have a place on a battlefield. As Maudla had told him, katas were for practicing footwork and stances, not actual warfare. As he brought his kata to an end, his mind felt more alert and body eager for movement and action.
She joined Carric Gaidin in the middle of the practice yard. He stood at a low ready stance and Dianlinn met him with her customary defensive mid. She rushed forward with a series of stabs aimed at his chest and gut. The big Wetlander managed to bat them all away. He let himself act from within the her emotionless shield, a veil over her emotions and as Carric Gaidin reset his stance, Dianlinn sidestepped to her right and around the man. Now on hers opponent’s left side, he stabbed in a roundhouse motion at the instructor’s back, keeping his buckler ready to ward off any retaliation.
But alas, luck was not with her today. She snarled as her spear was batted aside. Ducking past a follow up strike from the haft, she pushed that frustration into the veil. This wasn’t the time for pride or anger.
She dodged back from a thrust and deflected a slash on his buckler. Options spilled out in front of her. In the Veil they all seemed clear. One thought rang truer than the others, this was the time for unpredictability.
As she parried the downward slash with her buckler, she let the shaft slide down her arm. She stepped out from under it, twisting her left hand to wrap over the spear so she could grip the haft. With a violent yank back and down, she did her best to pull the spearman off balance, she stepped forward on her right foot and thrust towards the man’s broad chest.
She felt triumph well up but he fed it to the Veil. Instead, withdrew his spear and stabbed again, hand still gripping the other man’s spear haft like a vice. In the Veil, she knew she couldn’t let her guard down and that she had to be ready for a counterattack from this wily old soldier.
"Well played Dianlinn. Now, can you keep up?" He asked with a wide grin as he crumpled down, pulling Dianlinn with him. Once Carric’s ass hit the ground, his feet went up, and planted on Dianlinns stomach. Carric’s momentum carried Dianlinn over his body and onto her back, both of them not letting go of each other spears. This started a tugging match as both tried to obtain their spear back from the other.
Dianlinn’s flicker of triumph was cut short when the other man grabbed her spear and let himself collapse. She saw the man’s boots rushing towards her gut but she refused to let go of either spear to move. She braced for the impact and was lifted off the ground. She tucked her chin and kept her body as flat as possible when she landed. She looked up to realise neither of them had let go of the other’s spear. The absurdity of the moment shattered the Veil.
The fight wasn’t over yet, she rolled to the left crossing their spears with hers on top. As she climbed to her knees, she noticed other men carrying practice weapons waiting nearby. She got her feet under herself and growled, “Just let go!” She aimed a kick at the hand holding her spear. Hers position wasn’t exactly stable, so she let herself fall back onto her bottom. As she continued trying to kick the man’s hand free, she realised she had never been in a less dignified fight in her life.
“Enough,” Carric’s voice came out, with more than a hint of amusement in his tone. He let go of her spear suddenly, and she fell onto her back, the force she had been pulling on it, knocking her other hand free of his spear and driving her backwards. The two regarded each other as they rose, and the Gaidin held up a hand to her. This is enough for one day, I believe we will already be the laughing stock of the mess hall this evening.” Dianlinn nodded and bowed to him as it was the end of the spar. “Now go and wash up for dinner.” He told her and she bowed once again.
“Yes, thank you Carric Gaidin.” She told him, as she headed off, though over her shoulder she heard his words called out:
“Tomorrow we start with multiple opponents.”