Author's note: Zornhut, or Guard of Wrath, is one of the main guard positions in medieval sword techniques. Also, I've opted for the game's default name for the tactician, Mark.
He liked routine.
Just like almost every other day, he woke at dawn. Careful not to wake his other companions, who were still sleeping soundly, he took off his nightshirt, reached for a spare shirt in his pack and put it on. Finished, he buckled on his swordbelt and slipped out of the room.
He made his way downstairs and out the front door, nodding in greeting to the innkeeper at the counter as he passed by. He walked to a small clearing nearby that was clearly set up as an area for sparring sessions.
Just like almost every other day, he began his swordplay exercises, the way he was taught from the age of twelve. He drew his sword slowly from its scabbard, took a long, deep breath and raised the blade to the first guard position.
First, the Ox.
He could almost hear his old arms-master, Hans, lecturing him on how to form each of the stances.
"Your left leg forward, then raise your sword as if you were cutting upward. Your sword is to be held to the right, with the hilt back by the shoulder, and the point of your blade aimed at your opponent's head."
His body moved smoothly into the familiar stance, and he waited a swift moment before he launched into a thrust at his imaginary opponent. In his mind's eye, his opponent defends against the attack by deflecting it with a shield. He moved back and swung an overhead blow aimed at the top of his opponent's head, who responded by raising both sword and shield to cover. Now that he has forced his opponent into a vulnerable position, he brought his blade in a downward cut, finishing off with a thrust to his opponent's chest. He turned around and returned to his original stance before he took another deep breath and moved on to the next guard position.
Second, the Plow.
"Put your right foot forward. Lower your sword to the level of your waist, with the point aimed at your enemy's throat. Do not hold it so that the hilt is at the center of your legs, but hold it more off to the side."
He held his ground and his imaginary enemy launched a backhand swing, and he lifted his sword to meet the blow with the flat of his own blade. His opponent's flank exposed, he made a forward thrust with his sword, striking in the upper torso. Done, he returned to the second stance and held it for a long moment to catch his breath before he continued.
Third, the Fool.
"Lower the point of your blade to the ground, keeping the point between the legs. Your opponent will think you are open to attack, whereas this is not so, for this guard position allows you to counter-attack swiftly."
His imaginary opponent rushed at him with a full thrust, which he countered by taking a step back, at the same time raising his sword to deflect the blow, careful to do so with the flat of his own blade. Now that his opponent had over-extended the thrust, he swung his blade in a downward arc aimed at his opponent's sword arm. This time, he did not return to the third position, but went on to the next, for no one will be fooled into the same situation twice.
Fourth, the Guard of Wrath.
"Stand with your left leg forward, your sword raised and held near your right shoulder. Point your sword up, then slowly allow it to drop slightly so it slopes back over your shoulder, the point aimed downwards."
From the stance, he launched into a downward cut, but redirected his strike in mid-swing into a horizontal slice directed at his opponent's head, who barely managed to deflect the attack. He automatically took a quick step back, then aimed a quick thrust at his enemy's torso. Again, his attack is deflected, but he moved back and struck at his enemy's exposed leg.
He returned to the first guard position and held it for a few long moments, before he finally lowered his sword.
"Very good, young master."
Just like almost every other day.
Raven, formerly known as Raymond of the now-defunct House Cornwell, sheathed his sword and walked back to the inn.
"Finally," Hector sighed and stared at his meal, "real food. I am sick of eating pack rations."
"Agreed," Eliwood said. "This is a nice change from our usual fare. I do appreciate Lowen's cooking, as good at it is, but if I have to eat another hard biscuit again..." He shuddered. Lyndis, who had her mouth full, merely nodded her assent.
The party were at an inn instead of camping out in the open for a change, much to everyone's relief. The weather had been dreadful for the past few days, with heavy rain and even heavier rain taking turns. When they had arrived at the village, all wet and miserable, Serra announced that if she did not get a nice warm bath, a good meal and a proper bed for at least one night the party would have to go on without her, for she was tired of it all. Not surprisingly, Eliwood readily agreed, since he knew that everyone else was probably thinking of the same thing.
It was decided that they would all stay at the local inn for the night and the day after, as they needed to restock on supplies and not to mention that they also needed a well-deserved rest, for even the knights' mounts and Florina's pegasus seemed exhausted. The night passed uneventfully and this morning the party sat at the main table in the dining area, enjoying a good breakfast.
"I'm sure," Hector said between mouthfuls of beef stew, "everyone is enjoying this."
Lyndis looked around, and frowned when she realised some people were missing. "Almost everyone. Where is Matthew?"
Hector made a vague gesture with his hand. "Oh, he finished before you came down. He's gone off to do some sneaky spy things, I suppose. Or stealing things. I hope he has the courtesy to stick his acquisitions in his own pack instead of mine this time."
"Our strategist is missing as well."
"Mark's still upstairs in bed, Lady Lyndis," Wil said from the other side of the table, "I wanted to wake him up, but Canas said I should let him sleep."
Canas, a little flustered, said, "He looked exhausted, milady, and I thought that he would appreciate an extra hour or two in bed."
"I see. Wil, could you take a plate of food upstairs for him when you finish?"
"Of course, Lady Lyndis."
"It's all right, I'm already here." Mark padded to the table, rubbing his eye sleepily with his hand and took the empty seat next to Wil. "Good morning," he mumbled.
"You look terrible," Canas said.
"I feel even worse." The tactician grimaced slightly. "But all I need is some breakfast and I shall be fine." He reached for some bread and cheese from the platter set on the table. It didn't take him long to finish, and he took another piece of cheese before he stood and said, "If milords and milady would give me leave, I would like to go and gather some information and make arrangements to replenish some of our food supplies."
"Of course," Hector said, nodding. "Oh, wait for someone to finish his breakfast and take him with you. Matthew says he doubts that the Black Fang are here, but there is no harm in taking precautions. I do not like the idea of any of us going out alone."
"Hector, you let Matthew go out alone," Eliwood reminded him.
"Matthew wouldn't have listened to me in the first place, so I didn't bother. I told you I always get stuck with the lousy henchmen."
Raven pushed his plate aside. "I'm done here, Mark. I'll go with you. I need to find someone to retool my armour straps anyway." He got up, nodded at the three nobles before he and Mark headed for the door and left.
"Now that's an enigma."
"What is?" Eliwood asked.
"Not what, whom." Hector waved his hand in a vague gesture towards the direction of the closing door. "Him."
"Raven? Or Mark?"
Hector swallowed a mouthful of bread and cheese before he answered. "Raven. The young lad's--"
"'Young lad'? He's probably about your age, Hector," Lyndis said, chuckling.
"Lyn, will you please stop that? Anyway, like I said before, I find that young man a bit of an enigma."
Eliwood finished his meal and pushed his plate aside. "Oh? How so?" he asked, curious.
"Have you seen him in combat? How he fights?"
"Not I," Lyndis said, shaking her head, "at least, not much. I have seen enough however, to know that he's not likely to take his comrade's head off when he swings his weapon, unlike certain others I will not name."
"Oh, don't you start about that again! I may have taught myself to fight and my technique is not as polished and as pretty as yours, but my skill with the axe has gotten us this far!" Hector protested, more than slightly miffed.
"Now, children," Eliwood said, "let's all play nicely." Hector grumbled something under his breath, while Lyndis rolled her eyes. Eliwood resisted the urge to smile and continued, "To answer your question, Hector, I have seen Raven's skils in battle. We fought side by side in that last skirmish with the Black Fang."
"Well, his swordplay is admirable. I do not excel in the use of great swords--I prefer rapiers and lighter blades myself--but I've learned enough from my arms-masters to know what to look for."
"And what, Hector?"
"Don't you find his technique... interesting?" Hector persisted.
"Hmm, now that you mentioned it..." Eliwood looked thoughtful for a moment. "His style is rather... unorthodox. But that is to be expected, he is a mercenary." He shrugged. "And you know how mercenaries tend to pick up a few tricks here and there."
"Well, yes, but that was not what I meant."
"What did you mean then, Hector?" Lyndis asked, her eyes sparkling with mischief. "Am I sensing jealousy here?"
Hector snorted. "No, I am most certainly not jealous--"
"Peace! Both of you!" Eliwood pleaded. "Please Hector, tell us then, what did you mean by your questions?" he asked, eager to prevent another wrangle between his two friends.
"I noticed," Hector said, "that most of the time his swordplay is very well what I expected from a mercenary. Like Eliwood mentioned, he just blends in all the things he's learned, but haven't you noticed? Sometimes his footwork, stances and deflections are just exactly like what our arms-masters tried to teach me--and yes, Lyn, I hardly listened to them, I was more interested in axes, not swords. And I swear that some of the swordplay exercises he does when he's practicing by himself are identical to the ones we were taught."
Lyndis shook her head slightly, her expression puzzled. "I do not follow you, Hector."
"What Hector is trying to say, Lyn," Eliwood explained, "is that he thinks that Raven's been taught by well-trained arms-masters just as we were. Well, as I was, anyway. Arms-masters you will hardly find in regular mercenary companies, but the ones you find at military academies, or at noble holdings."
She nodded in understanding. "Ah, so you think our Raven here is nobility of a sort? Well, why didn't you just say so?"
Hector pretended he had not heard her and instead, asked Eliwood, "Well, what say you, Eliwood? Do you concur with my guess?"
"Well..." Eliwood hesitated.
"He does have the character of a lordling," Lyndis observed. "The other day, Rebecca spoke to me about how he was, and I quote, 'all gallant and dashing' when he assisted her on the battlefield. Wil speaks highly of him as well."
"Really? Now that is surprising... gallant and dashing indeed. I never would have thought of him as such, especially how he's always got that stern look on his face."
"It's all right Hector," said Lyndis sweetly as she patted him on the shoulder, "I doubt that I will ever think of you as gallant and dashing either."
"Stop that! Oh, not you too, Eliwood!" Hector glared at his close friend, who was nearly doubled up in laughter.
"I'm sorry," Eliwood gasped in between laughs. He gave one last chuckle before he spoke. "Well, I shouldn't be too surprised if our Raven is of noble blood."
"Why so? I thought that it is uncommon for nobility to end up as mercenaries," Lyndis said, curious.
"Uncommon yes, but not unheard of. I doubt that the heir or a second son would readily accept a life as a mercenary, but a third, fourth or fifth son? With no property to inherit, a military career in the army or as a mercenary does sound promising." Eliwood smiled. "Either that or the monastery. Or for some young lordlings, a career as a tactician is a better alternative than the cowl."
Lyndis raised her eyebrow in surprise. "Mark?"
Eliwood stared at her. "Why, you mean you didn't know?"
Lyndis shook her head. "He did not volunteer much information about himself when he assisted me in Caelin. I didn't think it was my place to ask."
Eliwood made a rueful smile. "I had a few opportunities to sit down and talk with him. He told me that he's from one of the minor Houses of Etruria, he's the youngest of five siblings and he wasn't all that interested in swordplay as a boy and was more fascinated with military strategy instead. So his parents sent for the proper tutors and when he was of age, he left to further his training. Then he met you, Lyn."
"Interesting," Hector mused, "it seems that we're surrounded by enigmas. I wonder, if I were a strategist..."
"You wouldn't be a very good one, I can assure you of that!" Lyndis said, grinning.
"Now wait just a moment--"
Eliwood decided that it was far easier for him to leave the two to yet another one of their little squabbles instead of trying to make peace between them, and so he did, chuckling softly to himself.