The staccato clash of weighted practice blades rang across Ludwell. Spring, in all its frenzied bloom and uncertain temper, sang around the manor. Upon the green commons at the heart of Ludwell, among darting children and servants and under the listless stare of watchmen, fought Edern and Elad. The former straight and at ease, the latter just risen from yet another fall into the mud and spitting frustration.
“It’s not fair. I can’t beat you, you’re probably among the best if not the best swordsman in Salisbury! Why should I even try, it’s pointless!”
Edern wiped his brow and sighed as Elad nursed his many bruises in sullen silence. “Let’s take a short break. Clydno, fetch us all water. You should also hear this”
Clydno, Ederns second squire, leapt at the chance to be spared the sparring post a while and ran to fetch water, returning breathless. “Here Lord Ludwell, Elad”. The trio took water and at length Edern spoke.
“What is the greatest valor, do you think?”
“To know no fear, kill my enemies and stand victorious on the field with their banner in my hand!”
Clydno said nothing, deferring to Elad as usual. Edern didn’t allow it. “Come now, speak up! You must take the place that is owed you and say your piece, even among your peers and betters”.
“Saving the life of my lord, giving my own in return”.
Edern hid a smile behind a hand and a bout of light coughing.
“Commendable ideas both, but no. The greatest valour is simply this: To acknowledge ones fear, listen to its warning, and stand fast in ones purpose in spite of it”.
“Fear” sneered Elad “I’ll never fear like a craven!”
Edern simply nodded, took his practice blade and sauntered back to the center of the commons. “Come then, show me your bravery”. Goaded, Elad sprang to and over the course of five whip snap exchanges sprawled thrice more into the dirt, several bruises richer. As the youngster caught his lost breath, Edern continued.
“All sane men know fear. I have never been as scared as I was at Carlion. Fear tells us something valuable if we listen, warns us of danger and overconfidence, reminds us to protect that which we love most. The trick is not to let it dictate your actions. If you hide fear with bravado or defeat it with blind anger you get reckless. Recklessness gets you needlessly killed”.
“But Lord Ludwell, did you not charge the entire pict army to take their banner, and won great fame for it?” Clydno spoke where Elad could not, the latter was still gasping for air.
“Aye, I did. But most who tell that story gloss over that barely one in ten still stood afterwards. We were damned lucky. We four, you know us, were young men then. Foolish and with nothing to lose. Bryn was always the reckless one and charged ahead. I knew the risk, but would not leave his side. For me then, and maybe for you in the years to come young Clydno, such risk is our chance at something better. At this.” A wide gesture encompassing Ludwell expressed the point.
“For you though, Elad, you have no need of this. You serve lord and oath best alive, and when your father dies you will own more than most men need or desire. Recklessness for you is only folly, throwing away much to gain little. Courage is defying your fear with reason and intent.”
Elad, having finally caught his wind and tired of the sermonizing, retorted “All fine talk, but how does that help me win against you?”
“I’m glad you asked. Firstly, with forethought. In battle you would do well to avoid those champions whom you are not good enough to defeat. Salisbury has plenty of skilled and desperate men with nothing to lose who will gladly risk their lives to win glory. To allow them the chance is simply being a good and sensible lord. If you should be unlucky enough to face someone like me in a trial by arms, or across the shield wall, what do you do with your fear in mind?”
“I don’t know”.
“Pick up your sword and shield”. Edern raised his and stood at the ready. Elad, suddenly wary, took his.
“You think. Cover up, fight carefully and defensively, watch for an opening. What are your advantages?”
Elad, circling, furrowed his brow in concentration. “You’re old, you cough a lot.”
“Good! When are you defeated?”
“When I attack you?”
“Yes, very good! So, you don’t attack. You let me attack. Again… ” A series of feints and attacks, all striking shield or blade “… and again. Until I am tired and start making mistakes. Or am swept away by battle or misfortune. No matter how good you are, ill luck will kill you just as surely as the most dangerous enemy”.
Both men lowered their arms, breathing hard. “What’s the point?” groused Elad “What’s the point in just staying alive?”
“The point?” Edern glanced backwards, catching sight of his radiant daughter emerging from the long hall. With a wry smile he stepped aside, clearing the view between the two of them “Oh, I think you will find out…”