90 Ashan 721
One thing the fight with the wolves had taught Dan was that he needed more practice with his weapons. It wasn't enough just to use them for hunting. Fighting something - or someone - that was actually trying to attack you took other skills than simply using his spear as a back up to his bow. Totrial was probably a good time for it. He had pulled three fat fish from his fishtrap, which meant he had a pot full of fish stew, and more fish hung up to dry in the smoke from his fire, his arm was healed, and the sun was shining without it being swelteringly hot.
He sighed, and fetched his spear, and took it out into the clearing in front of his tent. He shuffled his feet into position, and angled the spear across his body, one hand gripping the shaft about halfway along the spear, the other arm extended out to the side for balance, making him look, he thought grumpily, like a constipated seagull waddling along the ground with its wings partly extended. For now, he worked one handed. There were other drills for using the spear two handed, and he would do those later, or on another trial entirely, whenever he had the time and the energy left from plain survival. Or when he could make the time, or the weather had him stuck inside with nothing to do and no more excuses to make. He grimaced. He liked crafting things better, but doing that wouldn't keep him alive in a pinch.
He began by swinging the spear up one handed above his head, as if to block a blow coming down from above, then swung it smoothly - if a shade too slowly - down and to the side, first to the left and then to the right, as if to block blows coming from those directions. He then spun the spear in a circle in front of him, a showy trick that might impress a human, but would have no effect on an animal. Still, it was good practice at keeping a moving spear under control and possibly helpful to protect himself from a blow when he didn't know which direction it was coming from. He broke out of the spin into a move sweeping the head up as if to slice someone, or something, with the sharpened edge of the spear, and then finished up with a quick thrust and recovery back into the starting stance. Basic moves, that he repeated over and over in different combinations of block and sweep, slice and thrust, so that in theory he didn't get locked into a single pattern but could respond to whatever his opponent did.
In practice, he knew, it was just as much about movement and footwork as it was about blocks and thrusts, even more so when you were fighting one handed rather than two handed. The problem was, he wasn't entirely sure how to practice that part without an opponent. It wasn't as if he could spar Cloud and Smoke, and since he moved as often as grazing and gathering required, he wasn't able to access the more complex solo training set ups that the practice yards had had. Most of those involved sturdy frameworks or moving targets, or mechanical parts too big and bulky for him to haul around from one camp to the next. He shook his head, filing it away as something to think about. Maybe he could come up with a solution, but that wasn't likely to be an instant thing. It certainly wouldn't produce a training set up out of nowhere, just for him.
He traded the spear for a bow, and marked out a target on a fallen tree. He needed to practice with the bow too, and that might be easier for now. He drew an arrow and nocked it on the string, making sure that the flight feathers were at the right angle not to get accidentally sheared off as they slid past the bow-stave. Trying to remember everything he had been taught, he took aim and loosed the arrow at his target. He tried, at least, but the shot went short, and wide, and ended up nowhere near the target at all. He snarled silently and walked forward through the grass, making sideways sweeps with the toe of his shoe, until he uncovered the arrow and could retrieve it, clean it, and slide it back into his quiver.
Dan walked back to the starting line, drew another arrow and nocked it carefully, placing one of his fingertips on the string above the arrow and two below, with his littlest finger curled in against his palm out of the way and loosed again. The arrow actually hit the log this time. Hit it at an angle sadly, and bounced straight off again rather than the point staying in it, but it was, he thought, a slight improvement on not at all.
He tried another arrow from the same spot and it ploughed crookedly into the bark on the edge of the target, stayed there for a long moment as Dan held his breath, and then gently drooped under its own weight until it hung straight down as the bark came loose and the arrow wasn't far enough into the wood behind to support itself.
He tried out a steeper trajectory with the next arrow, aiming up so that it would travel further before it dropped. Not so useful in the woods, perhaps, where there was only a short line of sight, but definitely more useful in the flatter grassland and low scrub. He misjudged the angle of the shot though and the arrow went high, skidding over the top edge of the log. Dirt and bits of bark flew and slithered in all directions, and the arrow itself vanished down the other side of the log and into the grass beyond it. Stomping his way over to retrieve it, Dan took the time to retrieve the other arrows from the log before climbing over it and using the scrape mark caused by the skidding arrow as the direction to inspect. When he got there, he found the arrow was nowhere to be seen. It must have been buried in the grass and dirt. Dan's mouth tightened and his fingers shaped one of the rudest signs he knew. He had liked that arrow, up to this point. It was one of his better ones. He climbed down, and began to search once more at a slow, begrudging, pace, each foot sweeping and scraping a small arc across the ground before he committed his weight to it. Finally, he felt the ridge of the arrow shaft beneath his toes, drew his foot back so he didn't break the arrow with his weight, and crouched to free it yet again from its grassy bed.
Once he was back on the firing line, he shaped his posture carefully, putting everything he remembered into practice. Feet sideways to the target, shoulders squared, drawing elbow up, other arm straight but not locked, because locking it meant that the side of the elbow jutted out just where the string could catch it, and that always, always, hurt. He drew to the middle of his cheek, touching down there so that he could make every time he pulled be the same length and the same position, rather than wavering all over the place and letting his aim waver to match. The arrow hit the target point first. Not the middle of the target, and at a bit of an angle, it had to be admitted, but it was a hit, and Dan grinned over it. He didn't bother to hide his glee - what was the point when there was no one here to see it or mock him for it - only drew another arrow and took up his position there once more. He loosed and hit and fetched and loosed and missed and fetched, until he was hitting more than he missed, and his fingers were beginning to get sore from pulling the bowstring so much. Now he know how to hit that particular target. The trick of hitting it all the time and not losing your arrows - was to do it a lot, until it became instinct rather than thought. That much he was familiar with, but as he flexed his fingers, unstrung his bow, and began to pack everything tidily away, he knew it would take far more than one session of practice to get to that point. Still, just as even the smallest fish he caught could be turned into a meal and so add into his survival, so even a little practice and improvement would eventually add up to making him a good shot. He just had to keep at it, that was all.
"Signed words" Spoken words