July 2015 – broken bones – Viking by John Pilling

Viking

By John Pilling

“A male bonding exercise?”

“A three day bonding exercise” he said gloomily. “It’s the latest bright idea from the new general manager, he reckons it will help to foster a team spirit in the chambers…get us all singing from the same hymn sheet as he puts it.”

“But why you? I thought that sort of thing was usually reserved for the lawyers and management…you’re a clerk in the invoice room.”

“He said he’d booked something special that needed a specific number of people so he asked me if I would make up the numbers… I didn’t like to say no.”

Sadie looked at her mild, inoffensive husband with her usual mixture of affection and exasperation. Not liking to say no she thought was probably the reason he was still a clerk , but he’s a good kind loving man, I wouldn’t change him.

“What sort of things will you be doing?” She said aloud.

“I don’t really know, probably messing about with planks and ropes and stuff, making bridges over non-existent rivers…one team against another…that sort of thing.”

“Well you be careful,” she said, “you’re not as young as you were.”

Three weeks later as he waited to get a sword, last in line as usual, Peter remembered his wife’s words. Far from building bridges, the booking was with a re-enactment group recreating a battle between Vikings and Saxons. He’d already decided that his would be the fastest death ever recorded in re-enactment, bugger being bashed about by chaps half my age he thought Sadie was dead right.

There were only a few swords left when he reached the table but one slightly larger immediately caught his eye, it was a heavy double edged weapon but when he picked it up…somehow it felt light and familiar in his hand. Thoughtfully swinging it he went to join the others already gathered round the instructor.

“This is a three day course,” he was saying, “today and tomorrow will be spent on learning tactics and how to handle your weapons… on the last day you will take part against another group in a battle scenario. So it’s up to you to learn to work together so that you will be able to overcome your enemy. I want you to remember,” he went on, “that although the weapons are blunted you can still do a lot of damage with them if you’re not careful…we don’t want any broken bones.” Bending he picked up a sword.

“Right… now before we split you into pairs to practise, I’ll show you a few of the basic moves…who’d like to volunteer?”

There was a pause then to his own surprise, and that of his colleagues, Peter pushed his way forward.

“I’ll have a go,” he said.

“Well done sir.” A wary look came into his eyes as he watched Peter instinctively relaxing his shoulders, testing the balance of the sword as he moved towards him.

“Have you used a sword before sir?” he asked.

Peter didn’t reply, something almost primeval was stirring deep within him…something fierce…something hungry.

“Sir?” the instructor prompted

“No…I …I‘m not sure.” Peter replied hesitantly, strange half formed pictures were flickering through his mind…he glimpsed a dented shield, a broken sword bloodied to the hilt, a field of gashed and torn corpses, desperate men falling away before him.

“I’m not sure.” He said again, but he knew with a deep growing certainty that he had faced swords, many times… he stepped forward eagerly, fending off the first cautious sword strokes with ease and moving into a fierce attack that drove the instructor several feet backwards. This is what I am he thought not some petty clerk…this is the real me. Sudden joy filled his mind as he slashed and parried with the sword feather-light in his hand, fighting instinctively, driving the instructor back and back …wearing him down, sapping his strength until all he could manage was a hopeless defence pattern. A pattern that Peter knew well… that finally allowed him to sweep aside all opposition and bring his own blade back and across to stop with the point just touching his opponents throat. For a heartbeat he held it there savouring the moment, then lowered his sword and stepped back.

The rest of the course was a revelation to Peter and even more so to his colleagues. The diffident, retiring clerk they were used to, changed almost at once into a confident, articulate leader. Voted unanimously into command, he drew them effortlessly together into a single effective unit…with them he plotted the strategy, the ambush and the final devastating charge that resulted in the total disarray and defeat of their enemies on the final day.

Two weeks later Peter handed his resignation and a personal letter of thanks to the general manager.

“But why? Peter…you’ve been here twenty five years.”

“That’s just it sir, that’s why I wanted to thank you personally, if it hadn’t been for you asking me to go on that re-enactment course I’d probably have stayed in the same job until I retired …and never known what I really wanted to do.”

“But…what are you going to do?” A smile of pure delight lit up Peters face.

“I’m going into partnership with the weapons instructor from the course. We’re setting up our own specialised weapons training company for re-enactors, I’m going to spend the rest of my working life fighting.”

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