Weaponry 1a: swords

Posted: December 16th, 2008 under Contents.

Weaponry in Paksenarrion’s world has clear connections to late medieval/early Renaissance weaponry in our world’s history except for one obvious lack: there is no gunpowder. Hence no petards, no bombs, no cannon.

There are, however, blades of many styles, in abundance. Where did these come from, and what does it take to maintain them? (Some of you, in various re-creation societies, are now licking your chops…back off, this is not going to be a definitive treatise–and yes, I’ve read definitive treatises.)

We’re well into the age of steel here, so blades mean metal blades–and metal blades mean that somewhere there’s metal ore and someone with the knowledge and skill to convert ores into steel–steel that will take a point or an edge (or both, but not necessarily) and not fall to pieces the moment it’s hit by another sword.

Along with the iron ores, the swordmaker needs the ability to make a really hot fire, and then control it: this means a fuel source, and a forge in which to control the temperature. That forge needs to be made of something that won’t burn up at those temperatures, that will contain the fire and yet let the swordsmith move the metal around, pull it in and out. And the swordsmith needs an anvil and the tools with which to beat the fire-softened metal into shape, and a container of the right liquid in which to quench it. And a lot of skill.

So there’s a lot of work behind every sword, whether it’s the short stout gladius type used by the soldiers of the Duke’s Company, Halveric Company, and some others–or the longer slimmer rapier used by freelancers in the south, or the hand-and-a-half longsword used by nobles and captains in the north.

Every blade shape, length, and weight imposes a style of fighting, and every style of fighting demands a blade to match. In close formation, the shorter sword is most useful–there’s not room to tread the steps of a Spanish circle, or perform any of the elegant moves available to the dueller with his free arm and lighter weapon. In a narrow alley, there’s no room for the longsword’s wide blow.

So consider the swords that Paksenarrion and those around her use in her career. She begins with the infantry short sword–short, with a stout, sharp point, the blade sharpened on both sides about halfway to the hilt. Strong, able to withstand many blows. A simple cross guard, fairly wide. Used mostly for thrusting, some for parrying, relatively little for a cut. Thieves and brigands often carry an even shorter, wider blade–far too hefty to be called a knife, but ideal for gutting someone in an alley, with a grip like an old-fashioned hand saw, to be held with the hand in a natural fist position.

Officers carry longer, slimmer blades, depending on their needs, preferences, and skill. Southerners prefer the lighter blades, such as rapiers, and have devised elaborate schools of fence. Lighter blades are faster–pure physics–and can be parried by even lighter off-hand means: daggers, small bucklers, even a mailed fist. Northerners prefer heavier blades: those from Pargun and Kostandan who fight outside their own lands use both two-handed and hand-and-a-half swords of considerable size and heft. Tsaians and Finthans do not use two-handed swords, but do use both heavier rapiers and one-handed and hand-and-a-half swords. The heavier the blade, the less useful are parries by lightweight defense such as daggers and hand armor.

The tradeoffs with swords always involve physics and metallurgy. Heavy swords will cleave bone and much armor, and push aside lighter blades (or break them) but they’re slower. Lighter blades are faster, but won’t penetrate armor and cannot parry those much heavier. The hardest steel is brittle; the most resilient steel isn’t as hard. The techniques for blending higher and lower-carbon steels to make a blade that can be very sharp and very strong and very resilient in battle require time and skill to learn–and thus make those weapons more expensive.

The standard Girdish sword is a plain sword of medium length with a simple cross-hilt and a round “disk” pommel with the Girdish G or crescent (it varies) stamped on the pommel. Despite the simplicity of design, Girdish swords are quality weapons. Their training blades are wood, usually oak.

The standard Falkian sword is a little longer, on average, and a little thinner, on average, then a Girdish sword, with more elegant proportions; the cross-hilt is usually slightly curved and the pommel is usually egg-shaped.

No sword is perfect for every purpose, against every opponent, for every swordsman or swordswoman. Each is perfect in its place.

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