“I must have dropped it, in all the excitement,” I said. “Just as well; I’ve no idea what to do with it. I’d likely have stabbed myself if I’d tried to use it.”
Ned eyed Jamie censoriously over his half-spectacles.
“Ye gave her a knife and didn’t teach her to use it?”
“There wasna time, under the circumstances,” Jamie defended himself. “But Ned’s right, Sassenach. Ye should learn how to handle arms. There’s no tellin’ what may happen on the road, as ye saw last night.”
So I was marched out into the center of a clearing and the lessons began. Seeing the activity, several of the MacKenzie men came by to investigate, and stayed to offer advice. In no time, I had half a dozen instructors, all arguing the fine points of technique. After a good deal of amiable discussion, they agreed that Rupert was likely the best among them at dirks, and he took over the lesson.
He found a reasonably flat spot, free of rocks and pine cones, in which to demonstrate the art of dagger-wielding.
“Look, lass,” he said. He held the dagger balanced on his middle finger, resting an inch or so below the haft. “The balance point, that’s where ye want to hold it, so it fits comfortable in yer hand.” I tried it with my dagger. When I had it comfortably fitted, he showed me the difference between an overhand strike and an underhanded stab.
“Generally, ye want to use the underhand; overhand is only good when ye’re comin’ down on someone wi’ a considerable force from above.” He eyed me speculatively, then shook his head.
“Nay, you’re tall for a woman, but even if ye could reach as high as the neck, ye wouldna have the force to penetrate, unless he’s sittin’. Best stick to underhand.” He pulled up his shirt, revealing a substantial furry paunch, already glistening with sweat.
“Now, here,” he said, pointing to the center, just under the breastbone, “is the spot to aim for, if ye’re killin’ face to face. Aim straight up and in, as hard as ye can. That’ll go into the heart, and it kills wi’in a minute or two. The only problem is to avoid the breastbone; it goes down lower than ye think, and if ye get yer knife stuck in that soft bit on the tip, it will hardly harm yer victim at all, but ye’ll be wi’out a knife, and he’ll ha’ you. Murtagh! Ye ha’ a skinny back; come ’ere and we’ll show the lass how to stick from the back.” Spinning a reluctant Murtagh around, he yanked up the grubby shirt to show a knobbly spine and prominent ribs. He poked a blunt forefinger under the lower rib on the right, making Murtagh squeak in surprise.
“This is the spot in back— either side. See, wi’ all the ribs and such, ’tis verra difficult to hit anythin’ vital when ye stab in the back. If ye can slip the knife between the ribs, that’s one thing, but that’s harder to do than ye might think. But here, under the last rib, ye stab upward into the kidney. Get him straight up, and hell drop like a stone.”
Rupert then set me to try stabbing in various positions and postures. As he grew winded, all the men took it in turns to act as victim, obviously finding my efforts hilarious. They obligingly lay on the grass or turned their backs so I could ambush them, or leaped at me from behind, or pretended to choke me so I could try to stab them in the belly.
The spectators urged me on with cries of encouragement, and Rupert instructed me firmly not to pull back at the last moment.
“Thrust as though ye meant it, lass,” he said. “Ye canna pull back if it’s in earnest. And if any o’ these laggards canna get themselves out of the way in time, they deserve what they get.”
I was timid and extremely clumsy at first, but Rupert was a good teacher, very patient and good about demonstrating moves, over and over. He rolled his eyes in mock lewdness when he moved behind me and put his arm about my waist, but he was quite businesslike about taking hold of my wrist to show me the way of ripping an enemy across the eyes.
Dougal sat under a tree, minding his wounded arm and making sardonic comments on the training as it progressed. It was he, though, who suggested the dummy.
“Give her something she can sink her dirk into,” he said, when I had begun to show some facility at lunging and jabbing. “It’s a shock, the first time.”