By HM Queen Anna
General Mattias has become more of a dad to me than Father ever was. As your servant-queen, I’ve gained a much better appreciation for his extremely difficult job. Destin’s fair, but stern: his attitude is (perhaps inevitably) more martial than mine. That’s fine. I’m used to growing up quickly, and I’ve already had some diplomatic experience over my first year. He’s training me in not just swordsmanship, but also strategy and the art of war. This is a complicated, messy world, and governing requires both the ideal of peace and the… well, the promise of resistance against those that might be tempted to bully, invade, or colonise us.
His favourite among the masters of war is Clausewitz, who he read assiduously over many years before being trapped in Northuldra. A few months ago, he gave me his father’s notes on this great strategist’s work. He says it’ll serve me well throughout my rule. I, for one, will honour this gift from Destin.
I’ve been taking fencing lessons for him for a while now. I wrote down my own thoughts in my practice journal the other week. Would you like to take a peek?
Well, if you’re not interested, too bad. Because I’m sharing them with you today!
Lots of love,
My swordsmanship has been getting better and better under the general’s tutelage. He always used a wooden sword and shield, while he had given me an oak mock-longsword that I’ve been practicing just to hold with my two hands for a whole week. “Posture and grip are the fundamentals to good swordplay,” he’d told me after I began learning basic attacks, parries, and counterattacks. “You’ll feel pretty impatient as I teach you the basics. But I promise we’ll be able to move quickly on to some light sparring and practical applications of forms. I also don’t want to dawdle.”
And so today was the day. Our training session was in the Great Hall, like every other week – there’s plenty of space there. I like training in tight, form-fitting pants and a simple shirt. Mattias had taken off his military uniform except for his trousers and boots, looking pretty intimidating and bulky underneath that black singlet of his. His muscles were huge and ropy. We faced each other, holding up our weapons. “Do you know why I encourage you to use a longsword?” he asked, peering at me from behind his shield with warm, alert brown eyes.
“Honestly, no,” I said. “You know my strengths and weaknesses better than I do!”
“When I saw you fleeing the collapsing dam, I knew you were the fast, lithe type. You’ve got a small frame, and as queen you’re not likely to take on heavily armed shock troops on a large battlefield. So I want your workouts to be rigorous but specialised. I’m going to train you in an elegant but aggressive fencing style. I’m gonna shape you into a first-class duelist. There’ll be nobody you can’t take down one-on-one. You’ll have gracefully struck at all their openings before they can even defend or resist.” He sounded really proud, and I couldn’t help feeling flattered and excited at making some progress – how couldn’t I, when he had such faith in me?
Destin shifted, and I sensed his energy change. “Try to apply what you’ve learned with stances and attacks and come at me.”
I breathed, calming my nerves and allowing my weight to sink comfortably into my shuffle, stabilising me as we neared each other. Mattias banged his shield with his wooden sabre. “Let’s go, milady.”
I roared, my legs burning as I burst into a sprint at him, my hair out of the way in a tightly bound bun. I recalled what I’ve been learning over the past month, hurling myself at my teacher, a red-and-green meteor. I swung my sword in an arc, and at the pommel’s apex I grasped the handle with both hands, swinging down on Mattias. He blocked easily with his shield, and I stumbled back, my arms shaking. I paused, allowing my mind to be swept up in an irregular tempo, before suddenly pointing my blade at him and lashing out with a forward thrust. He dashed back, bringing forward his own sword as I slashed at him as he’d taught me: bold, direct, unrelenting, and unpredictable.
But he’d warned me before: such a focused fencing style, devoted purely to ferociously overwhelming the opponent, depended very much on stamina and fortitude. All he needed to do was parry and deflect my angry blows until my pace began to slow. I recalled his words: “When you master this style, few will be able to match you. But the skill curve I’m asking you to set out on is extremely steep. It’s going to be demanding and you’ll feel as if anyone except novices can just defend until you’re worn out.”
I was quickly panting, caked in sweat. My small hands hurt, my blisters reopening again. Because Destin’s own swordplay preferred a much more classical, patient style (Arendellian soldiers all used shields as part of their defensive and offensive repertoire), my arms could barely lift my sword in any meaningful way. And he knew it. “Anna, your Vom Tag stance remains unstable,” he declared. I had raised my blade above my shoulders, but apparently not high enough. “The overhead cut’ll be weak if you don’t raise your blade higher. Your pommel should be above your brow. An aggressive play suits you. Make it count!”
“I can barely move,” I wheezed. “You can beat me down right here and now.”
“You see how your offence needs far more physical resilience than you’d think. Especially against an opponent who’s good at defence. That’s why you’re testing yourself against me.” He banged his shield again. “Come for me!”
I forced myself forward, forcing down another slash, which he stepped aside for, and in a counterattack, he dashed forward with his shield raised, knocking me off-balance and re-directing my momentum. I crashed onto the floor, my body unable to obey my desperate command to get up. My sword flew out of my hand and landed a few feet away.
Mattias dropped his shield and wooden sword, walking over and hoisting me up. “Are you alright, Anna?”
I panted furiously, unable to reply. I was too tired. He put his hand around my waist and another held my arm. “Don’t be discouraged. All your preparation and hard work is meant for just a few seconds or minutes of self-defence. Keep at it,” he said warmly, “and don’t lose heart.”
I looked at him, slightly dizzy. I thought I’d feel bad, but thanks for Destin’s encouragement and constructive criticism, I didn’t feel bad. “Thanks.” I grinned. “I’m ready for our next workout any day.”