by Abby E
I woke up for day two of Viking combat training and assessment suffering from a distinct and rather mysterious lack of pain. See Part 1 of the story here. I felt great – time to go take out some enemies.
We did a bit more practice with shield wall formations, and this time, we had to fight off N and P, who were busy jabbing at us with two-handed spears and looking for ways to break through our defenses. A shield wall can quickly fall apart when someone on the front line goes down, so they taught us to keep our shields tight together and to quickly close ranks if someone got hit. However, when everyone is reaching over their shields to strike at the spearmen (who are often just out of reach), the line tends to move. If you’re not careful, gaps can open up while you’re busy attacking and you might not even realize it. The guys with the spears will notice, though. Trust me.
We ran through this a few times, and on one occasion, I wound up being at the very end. I managed to land a few good shots on the trainer before he got me. The second time, the person beside me was doing just fine, but apparently I left a big gap in the shields and – you guessed it – I took a spear to the gut. Because I was wounded, I had to back out of the line, and the others had to close up the hole. But it seems that before I could “recover” for ten seconds or so and return to the line, the chieftain went down and the whole line went right to hell. That’s the point at which you’re all supposed to head for the hills, except for the chieftain’s most loyal subjects (usually the special guys in chain mail), who stay and fight to the death. And yes, we did practice bravely running away once or twice.
By this time, I was actually starting to like shield wall exercises. My shoulder was holding up quite well and there’s a certain excitement to the skirmish scenarios. However, there’s definitely a price to pay in blood. Well, bruises really. When I got home, I realized that I had a massive, nasty bruise on my lower abdomen, which I am quite certain came from the stab I took in the shield wall exercises. Whatever. it was just a flesh wound. I could have bitten his legs off if I had wanted to. What really surprised me, though, was the number of small, light bruises on my left side, from my ribs to the top of my thigh, and on the inside of my shield arm. It looked like someone had squashed blueberries all over me. Too bad the little bruises don’t show up well on camera.
The rest of the day was devoted to the more theatrical elements of one-on-one combat. N and P are expert trash-talkers and showed us the “Yo mama” exercise where they circle each other and throw insults at one another. It’s hilarious. I however, was worried about making words and being entertaining on the fly. I prepared something in advance of my fight, but didn’t open my mouth soon enough so my opponent took the lead. I managed to produce a comeback on the spot while proving that I’m an irredeemable asshole. Oops. I have decided that I need to come up with a slew of prepared statements and adaptable comebacks that are suitable for a general audience and appropriate for my male persona, Njall, who I intend to use when fighting.
[My female persona, Isfrid, is Njall’s wife and she will appear in the village when Njall is not on the field. This means you will never see them together, but that’s probably just as well because they fight a lot. Isfrid usually wins, anyway.]
The last thing we did was learn how to kill and die in a highly entertaining fashion because audiences love a gruesome death. This is where the fight can start to look like the WWE with weapons other than folding chairs, and some of the things you do involve wrapping your arms around your opponent to hang onto the weapon while you pretend to jerk them around. I had trouble with some of the moves when I was working with the tiniest member of our group, so there’s no way I could successfully pull off those tricks with a larger opponent. Other moves were much easier, like landing a belly shot with an axe and holding still while the “victim” grabs the axe and flips the blade so it’s lying flat against their stomach then flops around like the axe is being ripped back out of their guts. It’s a great move, and turning the blade makes it a lot safer because if you fall, they won’t get skewered by the axehead.
After taking a break to watch the trainers show us a few more moves, including the flying chokehold, another member asked me if I wanted to do some more practice with him. Sure, I said. For some reason, the two of us like kicking the shit out of each other, so we practiced our dark art for a little while.
This was one of the best weekends of my life. I had an amazing time with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.
One year ago, I couldn’t even walk to the corner without a cane. I was still hobbling around on a necrotic hip so fucked up that every day was painful and some days I could barely even walk across my apartment without support. I was biding my time until I could get my new hip on May 19, and after that, I spent the summer working to get back on my feet. By this time last year, I had been looking forward to doing Viking combat for months. And now I can do it.
I don’t care much if I live or die in a show. That’s just a fight. The real battle has already been won.
Abby E. is a Toronto-based freelance editor who loves science, philosophy, and speculative fiction. She is not a crazy cat lady, just a crazy lady who has cats.