All for One- Chapter Six
6. Parries, Thrusts, Feints and Ballet
Athos returned to his training room the next day, once again with his sword slung to his hip, but this time his wrist rested gently against the hilt. As such the sword didn’t weave back and forth as before but rather stayed tucked behind him. As usual, he found André waiting for him, with his sword drawn.
“Once you draw your sword, you assume a ward, a stance meant to both intimidate and prepare you to strike,” he said. He held the sword high, over his head, the point aimed right at Athos’ heart. “This is called prima, the first guard you can easily assume after drawing your sword.” He lowered the sword to shoulder height, but the tip remained at the same level. “This is called secunda,” he said. He lowered the hilt to the hip, rotating the wrist out and keeping the tip pointed at Athos. “And this is terza. It’s probably the most efficient guard, protecting you from both low and high attacks. There is an Italian master by the name of Capo Ferro who will tell you that terza is the only true guard.”
Athos nodded. Terza felt comfortable to him.
“You can either guard straight to your opponent, or you can guard across the body,” André said, demonstrating by angling his sword transversely across his body. “Once your opponent strikes, you defend against him by parrying. You can either push the blade aside, or you can beat it aside quickly. Always parry with the strong side of the blade, meaning the side that your knuckles are on.”
André showed Athos the basic parries. The parries of One and Two, vertical poses pointing to the floor, block an assault to the left and right hip, respectively. The parries of Three and Four block strikes to the right and left shoulders. The transition from Two to Three is a simple wrist flick, but the parry Four involves a parry across the body. The parry of Five is a horizontal block to shield a fighter’s head, while the parry of Six is a moving parry across the body designed to protect against a thrust to the chest. The parries of Seven and Eight guard the thighs. Athos also learned variations of the parries: the Low Five protecting the groin, the “window” parry shielding the head, as well as high versions of One, Two, Three and Four. Athos’ personal favorite was the hanging parry, where the sword drops down behind the shoulder to guard the back.
Athos spent the day deflecting cuts from André while his mentor called out numbers. Athos felt he was finally actually fighting rather than dancing around the room, although he was thankful he had mastered the footwork once André started to advance upon him.
“With these parries you create an impenetrable box,” André explained. “Each individual parry is a wall, and if properly executed the wall will hold against any attack. Your challenge to determining which barrier must be present at each time. If you misjudge where the attack is coming from, then your opponent can penetrate your defenses. You must therefore be patient and not be duped by feints.”
Throughout the week, Athos parried André’s attacks. After a few days, André stopped calling out numbers, forcing Athos to guess which parry to use. For these exercises, André placed a small wooden ball on the tip of his sword to protect his student from the sharp tip. Although Athos was more than once hit with André’s blade, he began to recognize his mentor’s body language, enabling him to predict which cut André would send his way. He also began to incorporate the footwork he had spent so much time learning. By now the retreat and volte were second nature to the young man.
André then instructed Athos in cuts and thrusts.
“Do you play tennis?” André asked.
Athos shook his head. He knew the sport was popular in Paris, and it was a particular favorite of Henri IV, but he never learned to play.
“Well, like tennis, cuts can come from either the left or right side of the body,” André explained. “When you strike from the right, the Italians call that ‘man dritto.’ When you stroke from the left, having to cross your body, they call it ‘riverso’.”
“Reverse?” Athos asked.
“Yes,” André answered. “Although most decent fights prefer to use the tip, other soldiers, the English in particular, prefer to use the blade.”
They practiced cuts for weeks until Athos mastered the form. After which they moved to thrusts.
“Although the cut is effective, it takes far too long. By the time you complete the cut, a master of the thrust has already driven the point of sword deep inside you. They are also much harder to anticipate. That is why most fighters prefer to attack with the thrust, but a combination of both, can throw off your opponent’s defense.”
For months, Athos practiced with André. As an unusual training exercise, André introduced Athos to Balthazar de Beaujoyeulx, ballet master. Athos felt odd performing plies and jetés but was surprised to find that the exercises increased his flexibility and mobility. Fortunately, no women were allowed to perform ballet, so he was very comfortable. André instructed Athos is more advanced techniques: reinforcing parries with the left hand and evasive maneuvers like jumps, ducks and the passata sotto, dropping the body almost to the ground. He showed Athos how to feint and how to parry a feint. He learned attacks with the blade, the sliding glissade, binds, closes, gripes and disarms.
Athos thought he knew just about every move created when one day he walked into the training room to find two other men talking with André.
“Good, you’re here,” André said. “These are my two friends. This is Jean-Armand du Peyrer, the Comte de Tréville, and Bertrand de Batz-Castelmore d’Artagnan.” Both men nodded, which Athos returned. “You have fought well against me, but each fighter is different. To that end, I asked my two friends here to act as your sparring partners. Be careful, they’re both Gascons,” he said, to which the two men laughed.
Tréville was around thirty, short and muscular with dark hair. He was a favorite sparring partner of the young Louis XIII. Bertrand was tall and lean, with brown hair and a close cut beard, but was closer to forty, easily the senior member of the group. Both men spoke with that distinct accent marking them from Gascony, and both were nobility, but only recently purchased nobility. Athos, of course, was also nobility, but he kept his true identity a secret. Tréville was a born fighter and a military man. Bertrand was a family man and already had five children back in Gascony.
Athos sparred with Tréville first. Tréville was an aggressive fighter, often advancing quickly. By contrast, d’Artagnan was quicker and feinted more. The three of them decided to move their sessions out of the training room and into the different areas of the city, dueling on grass and on paved roads. They worked with uneven terrain, and even practiced on stairs. As they sparred, he found true friends in Tréville and Bertrand.
André felt that Athos needed training in areas other than fencing as well. Athos easily mastered the pistol. He had experience with firearms on his own property. He learned how to tie knots and scale buildings. He was already an accomplished equestrian, but he learned tricks in the saddle as well. Being ambidextrous, he had excellent hand-eye coordination. He learned how to throw a knife and the outdated, yet still useful, skill of archery. The idea of hand-to-hand combat was distasteful to Athos, but he was willing to learn to fight even if his weapon was lost. He discovered he had a mean uppercut.
One evening, Athos and André went to a local tavern to drink. Athos enjoyed wine, and after a long day where he sparred with André, Tréville and Bertrand, a cup of wine began to numb his sore muscles. He was starting to feel relaxed even in the crowded tavern. He noticed that many of the men in tavern were big, muscular men.
“So Athos,” André began. “How are you in a fight?”
Athos shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Let’s find out,” André said. He tossed his full cup of wine onto the back of the head of the man behind Athos. When the enraged man turned around, André pointed to Athos. The man promptly punched Athos in the face.
The tavern erupted, with men using the fight as an excuse to settle old scores. Athos and André, side by side, taking and receiving punches. They dodged tossed benches and thrown tankards. The two men held their ground, and by the end of the fight, they were the last men standing.
Once the fighting was over, it was time for the women. André was a ladies’ man and he wasted no time getting friendly with the wenches who served at the tavern. At the end of the night, both men were quite drunk in the company of two luscious barmaids. André paid for two rooms and took one of the girls with him. The other girl was fond of Athos. She was a robust young woman with curly flame-colored hair and green eyes. He had only experience the act of love with one woman, his late wife, and this wench was very different. She did things with her mouth that he was quite sure were illegal. But no matter what she did, he could only see blonde hair. Even when he was in the act itself, he could only see Anne de Brueil’s face. He left after she fell asleep.
One day, he walked into the training room. He was no longer sore, and he felt confident in his ability. André and des Essarts were waiting for him.
“Do you know what day it is,” André asked.
Athos shrugged. “May 28th,” he said.
“One year ago, you became my student,” André began. Athos started. Had it really been a year?
“A year of training, and you never complained, never gave anything less than total commitment,” André continued. “I have trained dozens of men. You had no experience at all, and yet I was able to imprint on to you everything that I knew. You are my finest creation.”
Athos beamed. He rarely smiled, but this was praise indeed.
“He tells me you’re ready,” des Essarts said. “Tréville is waiting for you at the Louvre. You’re on duty now.”
Athos bowed and headed back onto the streets of Paris.
- All For One (Chapter Five)
The next chapter in the Three Musketeers prequel
- All For One- Chapter Seven
The Next Chapter in the Three Musketeers prequel