“Use their ignorance. It will be infinitely more powerful than any other weapon you could possible possess.”


Between the Hindu Kush and Baghdad, summer, 1323

Johanna was no match for Firas in upper body strength, but he made her practice with a heavy wooden practice sword for a month before he found a small sword in another market which weighed half of what the practice sword did. She discarded the first rusty blade he had bought in Balkh and blocked his first parry at their next practice with skill and quickness and even some ability. Her surprise and pleasure was evident, as was a burgeoning sense of pride.

He dropped his sword and stepped back. She dropped her guard. He leapt forward and with one circular pass disarmed her. Her sword flew from her hand and landed several feet away and a moment later the point of his blade pressed into the vein pulsing in her throat.

“Unless you are facing another woman armed with a sword, a highly unlikely circumstance, you will be facing armed men. They will not be Jibran, who is a man not so bound by Islam that he cannot recognize strength when he sees it, no matter the vessel. Nature has made men stronger than women. We will always have the advantage in strength, and most of the time in training as well.” He dropped his blade and stood back.

She picked up the small sword and regarded it with a glum expression. “Then what is the point of all this practice?”

He could have pointed out that she had been the one to ask him to teach her. “Surprise will be your biggest advantage,” he said. “No man will expect to face a woman with a blade. Even when they do, they will very probably laugh.”

Her eyes flashed.

“Yes,” he said. “Use their ignorance. It will be infinitely more powerful than any other weapon you could possible possess.”

She looked from her small sword to his scimitar, which was twice as long and outweighed it by half. “Don’t allow the size of a weapon to intimidate you,” he said. “The fact that you will be able to raise a weapon in your own defense will make them pause in sheer astonishment. Use that moment to your best advantage. Take time to think first, then act. Remember, your best weapon is up here.” He tapped his head.

Dana sez–I write strong women characters. (I don’t seem to be able not to.) If you place a woman character in a patriarchal and often misogynistic era and you want that woman to be self-aware enough to know she needs to defend herself, you have to be realistic. Firas isn’t wrong here–running away is always going to be the right thing to do. But what happens if that isn’t an option? If there is no other choice but to stand and fight? Answer: You have to know how. I spent a lot of time on YouTube looking at self-defense videos, and I tried hard not to be too anachronistic in bringing some of those skills to Johanna and Hayat and Alma.

Also, Assassins? Yep, a real thing, although at that time like the Templars on their way out of the narrative. I loved the notion of Johanna adding one to her entourage.

Chatter Silk and Song

Dana View All →

Author and founder of Storyknife.org.

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