1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 51:

When he opened the door to the training room—from the looks it was a ballroom the rest of the time—it looked like the whole room had been turned in to a gigantic human-powered mincing machine. There were what looked like twenty guys in Marine uniforms with leather vests over them, paired off around the room and, as far as Frank could tell, fighting. And in the middle, his back to Frank and glaring at one pair who had apparently stopped for a breather, was Ruy Sanchez.

“Senor Faul!” He was bellowing, “The rapier for honour, the back-sword for duty, your countrymen say! Pray you remember it! If Senor Crombie should open himself to a kick in the crotch as he has just done, you will administer him one, with great force! Duty is to kill the enemy, not treat with him as a gentleman! Now, again! And this time, Crombie, close your stance because if Faul doesn’t smash your balls for you I, Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz, will!”

The two marines came to guard positions—Frank thought that was the right word, although what he knew about fencing pretty much stopped at knowing the pointy end went toward your opponent. There was a blur of steel, and clearly Crombie didn’t make the same mistake again because the exchange ended with Faul yelping, saying something that was almost certainly filthy in Gaelic, and clutching his forearm.

“Better,” Sanchez shouted and, without turning around, “Senor Stone! So good to see you! Will you join us?”

Frank looked around—like there’s another Senor Stone in here, dummy, he thought. “I, uh, don’t have a sword,” he said, as Sanchez turned round.

“A lack we can remedy,” Sanchez said, “you will see a box of practice sabres to your right, and a jack which will fit you there also.”

Frank began to think he should have hung around for the gynecological exam.

Forty-five minutes later he had a fine set of bruises, was gasping for breath, sweating like a boar hog and knew how to take guard, stand, advance, retreat, sidestep, parry to quarte and sixte and and could perform two simple cuts and a lunge. All of them badly, but Sanchez grudgingly allowed that he might survive as much as thirty seconds of a real fight. On a good day. Against an opponent who was profoundly drunk.

After dismissing the Marines, all of whom seemed indecently fresh after their own training session, Sanchez came over to where Frank was trying to summon the energy to get out of his gear, or for that matter to work out which bit of him hurt the most. His thighs were burning, both arms ached, his stomach muscles were just on the good side of a cramp and his entire right side and arm seemed to be just one big bruise.

“Thanks, Senor Sanchez,” Frank gasped, pulling at the buckles of the one-armed, high-necked leather vest that had saved him from being turned into low-grade hamburger meat, “Maybe I should get me a sword.”

“Perhaps, Senor Stone,” Sanchez said, “But do you have a gun?”

“Yeah, a revolver, six-shooter. One of the ones they’re making in the USE these days. I really should practice with it more, but I just don’t get the time.”

“Find the time, Senor -”

“Please, call me Frank -”

“Thank you, and, outside the training room, you may also address me with familiarity as a friend of my intended. As I was saying, find the time to practice. You performed well for a first lesson, for you are a sportsman, yes?”

“Soccer. Lot of running in the game, for ninety minutes.”

“Indeed. It serves you well, and I worked you harder than I would have otherwise. Harder than I did the marines, Frank.”

“Yeah? You kind of caught me by surprise asking me to join in, actually,” Frank was starting to get his breath back, but a couple of gallons of ice-cold water were starting to seem like a really good idea about now. “Why’d you do that?”

“Dona Sharon asked me to. Not the instruction specifically, but among the matters she has tasked me with is the safety of the Committee. The opportunity to instill some rudimentary skills presented itself, and I took it as furthering the desires of the woman I love.”

Frank nodded. “Makes sense,” he said. “By the way, can you teach me to do the thing with the eyes in the back of your head?”

“When you came in to the room?” Sanchez was chuckling. “Frank, the first lesson of the destreza, the one that is never taught but must be learned most well, is to pay attention and observe. And the uniform of the Marines, and I insist they train as they would fight, includes a cuirass. A very bright, shiny, polished cuirass.”

Frank grinned back. “And there I was thinking your were pulling some kind of Obi-Wan Kenobi schtick on me.”

“Who is Obi-Wan Kenobi?” Sanchez asked, frowning, “A real person of the future or a fictional character?”

Frank grinned. “Fictional, as it happens. A jedi knight, a warrior and I guess you’d call him a wizard. If you ever go back to Grantville, ask Sharon to see that you get to see Star Wars, I reckon you’d like it.”

“Ah, the television I have heard so much about? I shall make careful note of your recommendation, Frank. But likewise make note of mine. Practice with your gun, please. Be ready to use it, as well. You have more skill with the sword now than the common run of ruffian, but that will avail you nothing against a man who has been fighting since childhood, however unschooled he may be.”

Frank felt a slight chill, and not a welcome one, however sweaty he might be. He’d seen fencing on the TV one time, and it looked like quite a silly sport—two guys in metal masks playing tag with car aerials. Suddenly he didn’t see the training session he’d just been shanghaied into as having anything to do with that game. It was about kill or be freakin’ killed. And he still got nightmares about the sight of Marius Pontigrazzi’s head bursting from where Gerry had shot him in the face. An episode that had calmed Gerry himself right the fuck down from his hillbilly-hardass pose, and sent him clear back to Grantville, with side trips to Rudolstadt and Jena, to rethink his life in major ways. “Right,” he said, when he’d fought down the shudder. “More range time. I can use the cellar, put some targets up in there.”

“You do that. Practice at short ranges, point and shoot. Those weapons are excellent devices, Frank, as good as having six pistols in one hand.” Sanchez’ usual good-natured grin was nowhere in evidence now. Frank felt the conversation was being altogether too serious for his taste. Sanchez wasn’t letting up, though. “Practice with your left hand as well. Practice reloading as swiftly as you may.”

“You really think there will be trouble?” Frank asked.

“There will always be trouble, Frank,” Sanchez said, “And there is seldom any easy way in which to predict where and when it will come to you. For now, I suspect there are those who will use your presence and activities for their own ends, and while they care little enough to order your death, I feel sure that they would issue no tears were it to happen. And, Frank, I, Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz, say that the way of honor is to prepare to flee, and cover your retreat with gunfire. Honor lies in doing one’s duty, not throwing your life away.”