“Curiously, it seems that historically both the worst treatment of prisoners and the fiercest fighting have been reserved for civil wars and rebellions.”
-Caurus Etrenius, “A Treatise on the Nature of Conflict”
“No, lad, run the loop under next to the point, like this.” Bat took the thin cord from me and demonstrated. “Do your wraps from the bottom up, and put your tail through the loop. Then, you can put your tail through the first loop and pull it tight with the other end, and it’ll stay tight when you use it.” He gave the spear head a couple of tugs, to show it was securely lashed to the haft, and then pulled out his knot and unwrapped the cord, handing it back to me.
I nodded as I took the cord back. “Thanks, Bat.” He gave me a nod back and returned to his seat on the little cart full of spear handles, resumed puffing on his short clay pipe. I sat back down between Munder Leward and one of the Wollen boys and started trying to reproduce his knot again. There were maybe a dozen of us sitting around on the ground, tying the heads onto spears and chatting in low voices. Everyone else had gone off with Skelley, to run some sort of errand for Sir Glen.
I held a loop of cord down on the shaft, and started winding the long end around the spear and the loop, just as Bat had done. For all that Sir Hagan had told us to treat the two men as our equals, for the past few weeks Bat and Skelley had been our teachers, trying to impart all of the things we needed to know to be soldiers. The earliest lessons were the most basic, and also ones that many of us already knew: how to forage for food in the woods, how to start a fire with a flint, how to sharpen a blade. As we mastered those skills, we were given new tasks, and new instruction: how to cut a stave for a spear, how to march in a formation, how to keep a watch and how to signal over distances. In among the big lessons were little ones, answers to questions one would never think to ask: how best to wrap up your boots and hands, how to quickly estimate an enemy’s numbers from a quick glance, the best stride to keep up your strength on long marches, who to trade what with to get a bottle of the distiller’s second-finest for the cost of his worst.
There was one sort of lesson that the two men seemed to have overlooked, though. “Hey, Bat,” I said, gesturing with the half-lashed spear head in my hands, “do you ever plan on showing us how to use one of these? Or is that for Sir Hagan to do?”
Bat shrugged. “Don’t imagine there’d be much need. The spear’s the easy part.”
“Maybe for a veteran like you or Skelley,” I said, “but before this I was a mason’s apprentice, not a hunter or a farmer or anything like that. I know about hammers, not about spears.”
Bat looked at me for a moment, and then set down his pipe. “All right, get up. And stand back.” He got up and picked up a spare spear haft from the cart. I stood as well, taking a few quick steps away from him. The other boys scooted back from the edge of the path, leaving an empty ribbon of bare earth between Bat and I.
He extended one end of the ten foot long rod toward me, and I took it. “Hold on to the end of the haft, with your hands wider than your shoulders. Left hand facing down, right hand facing up.” I looked down, adjusting my hands on the smoothed wood. “Widen your feet, as wide as your hands on the spear, and turn your shoulder toward me.”
I readied my stance, bending my knees and shifting my weight from foot to foot. “Like this?”
Bat shrugged again. “Close enough.” He released the other end of the haft, and took a single step back. “Now, poke me with the stick.”
I took a deep breath, tensing my muscles and preparing myself mentally for counter-attack.
Bat rolled his eyes at me. “Didn’t tell you to think about it, boy, told you to do it.”
I took another deep breath, and then shoved the spear forward, as quickly as I could. The wooden tip caught Bat in the middle of his chest, and he fell backwards, landing hard on the dry grass with an ‘oof’. I rushed forward, dropping the spear haft and extending my hand toward Bat. “Hells, Bat, I’m sorry. I thought you were going to…”
“Don’t worry about it, lad,” Bat said, taking my hand and hauling himself to his feet. “Didn’t bruise anything that hasn’t been bruised before.” He dusted off his backside with his hands, and then retrieved his pipe from the cart. “You know everything that I do about spear fighting, now.”
“What?” I said, “That’s it?”
“That’s it. First, final, and only test, and you passed. Congratulations.”
I picked up the headless shaft where I’d dropped it. “But what about… what about stances, or defending against different weapons, or…”
Bat shook his head, and smiled a little. “You’re a longspearman, lad, not a duelist. Any fight where you’d need to know any of those things, you wouldn’t want to fight it with a long spear.”
I frowned at Bat, confused. He ran a hand across his bald scalp, and then said, “How about this, then: hold that haft out in front of you in both hands, in the same place I told you to hold it before. Both palms down, this time.” I did so. “Now, take your thumbs off of the pole. Keep it level.” I nodded, pulling my thumbs back. “Now, open the first finger on your right hand. Now the second. Now the third. Now the last. Keep the pole level.” I strained to keep the far end of the pole from touching the ground as my right hand released the shaft. “Now open the first finger on your left hand. Now the second.” As I opened my middle finger, the weight of the pole finally became too much; it pulled free from my hand, dropping onto the ground.
I bent to pick it up, but Bat said, “No, leave it. Point is this: you’re a lad with strong hands, ten strong fingers, but even if you work every day to strengthen each of them, you’re never going to be able to hold the spear with just one finger, right? Doesn’t work that way.” He put his pipe in his mouth and held up his hands. “With all ten, though? You don’t even have to think about it. That’s what being a longspearman is like.”
He picked up the spear and tossed it back into the pile on the cart. “Spears aren’t about clever tactics and complicated techniques, they’re about putting a lot of sharp things in a line and running that line into the enemy. A single spearman against just about anyone else on the field of battle is going to die, because you’ve got one chance to stab the other guy, and then he gets past your point and cuts you apart or beats you to death, or rides you down if he’s a knight.”
“But,” he said, “you and the twenty men next to you all stab that knight’s horse as he rides in on you, and he dies, not you. You may miss when you try to stab that enemy swordsman or that blood-crazed Grardish barbarian, but not the guy next to you, or the guy behind you, or the guy behind him. If you all stand together, you don’t need to know anything about the spear except which end to stab them with.”
Bat pulled a long draw from his pipe, and tried unsuccessfully to blow a smoke ring. “The end with the metal bit, for future reference.”