Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Welcome to Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer
(Art by Isaura Simon)

Don’t Look For Your Opponent

Don’t look for your opponent. Know where he is. I’m blind, and I see more than any of you. Because I don’t look.

— “Elektra” (2005)

Use Your Weakness

Max Suba:
Make yourself aware of your own weaknesses, as well as those of your opponents. The good ones try to cover theirs up. The great ones use theirs. Use your weakness.

— “By The Sword” (1991)

It’s Being Willing

J.B. Books:
It isn’t always being fast or even accurate that counts. It’s being willing. I found out early that most men, regardless of cause or need, aren’t willing. They blink an eye or draw a breath before they pull the trigger. I won’t.

— “The Shootist” (1976)

Men-at-Arms Would Continue To Fight Despite Wounds

…Armored men were often able to keep fighting, at least for a while, after receiving several minor wounds. Indeed, this was expected: both that fighters would be wounded and that they would continue to fight despite their injuries. One knight, whose own face was “so badly cut that it was disfigured almost all over” was “astonished,” when he met Sir James Douglas, to find that the latter’s face was not scarred. For a man-at-arms to emerge unscathed from combat could be viewed as a sign of laxness or worse: “I know full well that you are a coward: your coat of mail is neither pierced nor torn, and neither your head nor arms are wounded.” It is not unusual to read of a victorious force in which few or no men died but in which many were wounded.

Clifford J. Rogers, Soldiers’ Lives Through History, p. 216

Author’s emphasis.

Few Deaths While Combat Remained Undecided

…The close formations and the dominance of armored warriors in medieval fighting tended to result in relatively many wounds and few deaths for so long as the combat remained undecided. Once the balance tipped, the situation often changed rapidly and dramatically. Two quotations from the chronicler Jean Froissart nicely illustrate the point: “When once an army is broken, those that are defeated are so much frightened, that if one fall, three follow his example, and to these three ten, and to ten thirty; and also, should ten run away, they will be followed by a hundred”; “but in flight there is more danger than in the heat of the battle, for, when any one flies, a pursuit is made, and, if overtaken, he is slain.” When fighting face-to-face, a soldier strikes with some caution, needing to keep his guard up, but blows against a fugitive can be delivered with abandon, lose none of their force to an attempted parry, and are much more likely to be lethal even against an armored man. Even those who refuse to flee can be easily overwhelmed, with little danger to the lives of their opponents, once those around them have fled. The logical implication of this is that battlefield deaths were usually very lopsided, with the defeated suffering sometimes very severe losses and the victors losing only a few men killed. The testimony of eyewitness sources confirms that this was typically the result of medieval combats.

Clifford J. Rogers, Soldiers’ Lives Through History, pp. 214-15

Emphasis mine.

Medieval Battlefield Medicine Was Not Primitive

By the end of a battle, both captives and captors were likely to be wounded. Those who had taken prisoners could not benefit from their acquisitions unless both parties survived, which was more likely if they received some medical care. Basic knowledge of practical wound treatment was widespread among medieval soldiers and indeed among aristocratic women. Arrows and javelins that had not gone in too deep were usually pulled out (or pushed through) as quickly as possible, often by the injured person. Wounds were washed with vinegar or wine—effective antiseptics—to remove any possible source of infection (dirt, cloth, etc.), then covered with moistened lint, plasters, egg, or lard-based ointments, then bandaged, often with strips cut from a shirt. Sometimes herbal poultices would also be used. Later, the wounds would be washed and re-bandaged frequently, with any corrupted flesh being cut away. This was quite effective; in one sample of over 300 skulls dating from the sixth through the eighth centuries, only twelve percent of the wounds showed any evidence of infection.

Armies in the field were usually accompanied by physicians, surgeons, and barbers (who provided basic medical care). Great lords typically brought such men as part of their retinues, and infantry contingents often did the same. Medical personnel doubtless gave first priority to their own employers, but it was normally expected that wounded soldiers would eventually be tended by a physician if necessary: to say someone had been struck with such force that he would have no need of a doctor was to say that he had been killed outright. Despite the common belief to the contrary, western European surgeons of the Middle Ages seem to have been roughly on a par with their Islamic, Byzantine, and Jewish contemporaries. They could stop the bleeding of a cut artery with pressure and cauterization; they were skilled at treating broken skulls using trepanning; they could draw out barbed arrows using metal tubes or goose quills to cover the barbs; they knew how to splint smashed arms or legs. They could even suture intestines or severed jugular veins. They had analgesics and anesthetics made with opium, cannabis, and other less powerful substances….

Clifford J. Rogers, Soldiers’ Lives Through History, pp. 224-25

A World Where Chaos Was the Reverse Side of Order

Although Vikings did not shy from diplomacy, force was inevitable. Everything conditioned them toward achieving material goals, from religion to fame. Odin, their god of war, combined fierceness and heroism on the battlefield with cunning and treachery, and so it is no surprise that stratagems were a key part of Viking warfare. All hope for future renown was conditioned on what one did while alive; good deeds, unlike in Christian beliefs, were not a prerogative for salvation. The Viking lived in a world where chaos was the reverse side of order and where order could be imposed only by physical confrontation.

Antonio Santosuosso, Barbarians, Marauders, and Infidels, p. 143

Hard Bargaining Was the Essence of the Lord-Vassal Relationship

Shortly after [the battle of] Sagrajas [in 1086 C.E.,] Rodrigo [Diaz, called El Cid] and [King Alfonso VI of Castile] were reconciled…. We do not know who took the initiative. What is fairly clear is that Rodrigo could make his own terms. The king was desperate, and was prepared—or could be brought—to pay Rodrigo handsomely for returning to his service. The author of the Historia Roderici tells us that

the king gave him the castle of Duáñez with its dependents, and the castle of Gormaz, and Ibia and Campóo and Eguña and Briviesca, and Langa which is in the western parts, together with all their territories and inhabitants.

He may have been quoting from a royal charter. The word ‘gave’ (dedit) is probably to be taken as meaning ‘entrusted the defence and/or administration of’ to Rodrigo. The king was not alienating chunks of territory but giving his vassal responsible and lucrative employment. Duáñez, Gormaz and Langa were important strong-points in the network of defences which guarded the Duero valley. Ibia, Campóo and Eguña were districts in the extreme north of Castile. Briviesca, to the north-east of Burgos, was contiguous to the Riojan territories of Count Garcia Ordóñez. This was not all. His biographer goes on thus:

Furthermore, King Alfonso gave him this concession and privilege in his kingdom, written and confirmed under seal, by which all the land or castles which he himself might acquire from the Saracens in the land of the Saracens should be absolutely his in full ownership, not only his but also his sons’ and daughters’ and all his descendants.

This remarkable concession has caused much perplexity to commentators…. [The author does] not see why the passage should not be accepted at its face value, as a summary of—possibly a quotation from—a royal charter granting to the Cid a very unusual gift. We should remember that the circumstances were unusual. Alfonso needed skilled commanders, and in the hard bargaining which was the essence of the lord-vassal relationship he held a weak hand. It was a vassal’s market. Rodrigo could call the tune.

Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid, chapter 10

Emphasis mine.

A Magical Sword Is Used to Command, Banish, and Defeat Spirits

One of the standard devices in the magical toolkit since early times, the magical sword is used to command, banish, and defeat spirits, especially in the practice of magical evocation. The Key of Solomon, the most famous of medieval grimoires, provides detailed instructions for preparing and consecrating no less than four magical swords, as well as a scimitar, a lance, a dagger, a poniard, and a collection of knives—the Solomonic magician entered the magical circle as heavily armed as a knight going to war…. Most other grimoires suggest a somewhat less topheavy collection of magical armament, but at least one sword was normally in evidence….

The use of the magical sword is at least partly a function of natural magic. Many occult traditions claim that iron, especially when sharpened, is inimical to many types of spiritual entity. The most common understandings of the etheric realm suggest that iron, like other conductive metals, can short-circuit etheric bodies that lack the protection of a physical form….

John Michael Greer, The New Encyclopedia of the Occult

Emphasis mine.

Military Incongruities in the Iliad

Because Homer’s subject is a siege five centuries old, his battlefield is full of military incongruities. He and his audience remembered, for instance, that the chieftains fought in chariots; but because men of the late eighth century [B.C.E.] had no idea how such warfare might have been conducted, Homer has his charioteers drop the heroes off on the battlefield where they dismount and then fight, often in close formation. The chariots, dimly recalled as essential equipage for aristocratic warfare, have little use in Homer beyond the aura of antiquity they lend to the proceedings. Once the heroes have dismounted, they appear to be much closer in technique and dress to the hoplite infantrymen of Homer’s own day, who wore heavy armor—helmet, shield, breastplate, greaves, sword, spear, and other bodily defenses that may have come to seventy pounds—fought in tight formation, and engaged the enemy at close quarters. They did not fling javelins from chariots as their ancestors had once done in a less populous world where warfare more closely resembled a game of chicken or a gang rumble than the massing of two trained armies on a field.

Thomas Cahill, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, p. 42

The Iliad and Dungeons & Dragons

I thought about D&D a lot while I was reading it, because I think the case can quite easily be made that The Iliad is the most D&D thing ever written other than D&D itself (or, vice versa, that D&D is the most Iliad thing ever written other than The Iliad itself, except obviously Mazes & Minotaurs?). What is Achilleus, other than a 20th-level fighter in comparison to the 1st-4th level Trojans he dispatches with ruthless ease? What are the Achaean invaders, if not murderhobos in search of booty, glory and XP at the expense of all else? How else can the behaviour of the protagonists be explained, other than that they are being controlled by the kind of wild uber-machismo that often overtakes groups of teenage D&D nerds?

On High Level Warriors, Gods, Mortals and More – Monsters and Manuals

There Is No Block

There really is no such thing as a block in traditional martial arts, at least not in the commonly understood sense. You see, the Japanese word uke means “receive” rather than “block” as it often incorrectly translated, a very significant difference both mentally and physically. Your defensive technique receives the adversary’s attack and makes it your own. Without this vital context you’re merely fending off a blow knowing that another is on its way, staying behind the count, whereas a “proper” block can end the fight all by itself without the need to throw what is commonly thought of as an offensive blow…..

There Is No Block – Kris Wilder

Different Fortifications Against Raids Versus Sieges

The earliest fortifications were likely to have been primarily meant to defend against raids rather than sieges as very early (Mesolithic or Neolithic) warfare seems, in as best we can tell with the very limited evidence, to have been primarily focused on using raids to force enemies to vacate territory (by making it too dangerous for them to inhabit by inflicting losses). Raids are typically all about surprise (in part because the aim of the raid, either to steal goods or inflict casualties, can be done without any intention to stick around), so fortifications designed to resist them do not need to stop the enemy, merely slow them down long enough so that they can be detected and a response made ready….

In contrast, the emergence of states focused on territorial control create a different set of strategic objectives which lead towards the siege as the offensive method of choice over the raid. States, with their need to control and administer territory (and the desire to get control of that territory with its farming population intact so that they can be forced to farm that land and then have their agricultural surplus extracted as taxes), aim to gain control of areas of agricultural production, in order to extract resources from them (both to enrich the elite and core of the state, but also to fund further military activity).

Thus, the goal in besieging a fortified settlement (be that, as would be likely in this early period, a fortified town or as later a castle) is generally to get control of the administrative center. Most of the economic activity prior to the industrial revolution is not in the city; rather the city’s value is that it is an economic and administrative hub. Controlling the city allows a state to control and extract from the countryside around the city, which is the real prize. Control here thus means setting up a stable civilian administration within the city which can in turn extract resources from the countryside; this may or may not require a permanent garrison of some sort, but it almost always requires the complete collapse of organized resistance in the city. Needless to say, setting up a stable civilian administration is not something one generally does by surprise, and so the siege has to aim for more durable control over the settlement. It also requires fairly complete control; if you control most of the town but, say, a group of defenders are still holding out in a citadel somewhere, that is going to make it very difficult to set up a stable administration which can extract resources.

Fortification, Part I: The Besieger’s Playbook – A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry

Author’s emphases.

Where the Power for Spells Comes From

Where exactly does the power for your spell come from? Well, there are several possibilities, and rather than leaving it to chance, the spellcaster would do well to consider this question before operating and make a conscious decision. The first and easiest power source to access is you. You take subtle energy in all the time from the surrounding universe—it is called ki in japan, qi or chi in China, and prana in India, but the concept is the same. It is poor occult practice to use your own power reserves as a source, though. If you use your own reserves of energy you will feel drained and unwell at the end of the operation; effectively you have become a drained battery and will need to be recharged. In the long run, continued use of your own body’s energy for magick can lead to more serious conditions. Furthermore, it is a very limited source, and as a result not particularly effective.

The next source of energy to consider is elemental force, the neoplatonic system of earth, water, air, fire, and spirit. Depending on the spell, you may channel one or more of these forces, and they can be very effective. They are particularly useful for cleansing or blessing operations, which are often simple, localised events, and this gives a clue to their weakness, which is that these are pretty much “blind” forces. I feel that they are less effective where the spell is more complex, requiring an intelligent power source. Still, they are forces that every serious spellcaster should become familiar with and be competent in using.

Moving up the intelligence chain of possible sources of energy, we come to ancestors. But what do we mean by ancestors? Do we mean the other people on our family tree, now in spirit? Do we mean the people who lived where we do now? Or all the people bonded in some way by a common cause or set of beliefs? Actually, it is all these things….

Martin Duffy, Anna Franklin, Poppy Palin, Morgana SidheRaven, and Leah Whitehorse, Spellcaster, pp. 79-80

Emphasis mine.

Trial by Combat Was a Legal Privilege

Trial by combat was…a legal privilege, the privilege of oathworthy persons to refuse to submit to the ordinary process in a court. The duel over the point of honor was fundamentally different….

The two forms of noble combat certainly did bear some resemblances…. Trial by combat rested on two assumptions…: high-status persons were persons whose word had to be accepted as true, and they had the privilege of settling their disputes through violence. Dueling rested on the same two assumptions, at least to some extent. The starting point for a duel might well be some form of the insult “you lie.” Just as the honorable truthfulness of an oathworthy person was theoretically proved by victory in trial by combat, the honorable truthfulness of the challenger could be proved by a duel. In that sense the purpose of dueling, in its early history, was close to the purpose of trial by combat.

Yet at their core the two institutions were deeply different. Dueling, unlike trial by combat, was not a proof procedure, and it did not symbolize the lawful nonservile privilege of settling one’s disputes without going to court. Trial by combat was an alternative to ordinary trial, used by privileged oathworthy persons to resolve a legal question.… Dueling, by contrast, was purely a contest over the honorability of the duelists…, and apart from the possible criminal liability of the participants, it had no legal consequences whatsoever.

James Q. Whitman, The Verdict of Battle, pp. 150-51

The Composite Bow Did Have Limitations

Though a highly effective weapon, especially as part of the mounted archer system, the composite bow did have limitations. The crossbow and the dismounted archer could outrange the horse archer. In addition, chain mail, shields, and even the padded undergarment, the gambesons, were effective protection from the horse-archer attack at some ranges. Thus, the composite bow was a weapon that a well-trained and well-led adversary could overcome. Still, its rate of fire, accuracy, power, and most important, the fact that it could be employed from a moving horse made the composite bow an important weapon until well after the arrival of gunpowder. Steppe archers from the Crimea employed the weapon with good effect well into the seventeenth century [C.E.].

Louis A. DiMarco, War Horse, p. 120

Castle Life in Winter

For a thirteenth-century [C.E.] baron life indoors was always a poor substitute for outdoor activity. Despite the great fireplace and the screens blocking the draughts, the hall was frequently damp, dark, and cheerless during the long winter. The high cost of candles and the inefficiency of rush-lights drove most to bed soon after nightfall. Life in winter was only enjoyable when a crowd gathered for a great feast, or when a minstrel’s song, and the welcome warmth of the fire, added to the pleasure of supper on a cold evening. Under the prevailing harsh and uncomfortable conditions it is little wonder that the medieval poets, and even the sober chroniclers, sang the joys of spring with such lyric intensity. It gave them back light, warmth, and their freedom of movement.

Margaret Wade Labarge, A Baronial Household of the Thirteenth Century, p. 36

Magical Practice Required Specialist Knowledge

Magic was accepted without exception by all strata of society, but its practice required considerable specialist magical knowledge; amateur dabbling with such powers was generally disastrous. In the official rhetoric of these times magic is a powerful but ambiguous quality, sometimes practised by specialists or charismatic individuals, and also by priests and rabbis drawing on religious lore. Magic is intimately bound up with religion for the Greeks and Romans, somewhat more removed for Jews. It is by turns valued, contested, debated and deemed dangerous; it is a variable quality but still central to social and cultural forces, as well as being a good diagnostic of them. Magic is as important for the historian in the present as it was for contemporary people millennia ago, and in order to understand it we must briefly sketch out broader cultural traditions and histories, many of which also provide the foundations of the world in which we live today.

Chris Gosden, Magic: a History, p. 240

Iron Did Not Replace Bronze

The earlier Iron Age had seen the change that gave the period its name: the introduction of iron and the decline of bronze use. However, although bronze use declined at the end of the Bronze Age, iron did not immediately become common in many areas of north-west Europe. Only after around 400 BCE did the use of iron really take off, at which point bronze also started to become common again, together with items of gold and silver. Iron did not replace bronze, but repositioned it within a suite of materials that was available to Iron Age people. Not only were there changes in the metals used, but the styles of objects shifted dramatically: around 500 BCE a newly complex style of objects emerged that is often termed Celtic art, which was found between Ireland and western Russia, linking the whole of Europe in a common set of styles. Celtic art…like the Scythian art…derived from an animistic, indeed magical, engagement with the world.

Chris Gosden, Magic: a History, p. 226

The First Martial Arts Schools in Japan

Conventional martial training did not follow a common structure throughout [feudal] Japan; every clan had its own methodology and philosophy. Many clans had certain individual soldiers serve as group teachers, working with younger, newer troops. As a comparison the modern army, where new recruits learn from more experienced veterans on a fairly informal basis, is a similar system.

Some clans actually took the next step, establishing formal dōjō, or martial arts schools, to provide instruction to their men. Veterans of many campaigns, whose skill had been noted, would serve as instructors. This became their duty, and they lived to perfect their skills. They were more like drill instructors training recruits rather than modern teachers of martial arts. These sensei were teaching their charges how to kill and survive, not how to score points with flair and panache.

The philosophies that became a major part of martial arts as we now know them may have been in place, but only nominally. The subject of instruction was tricks and strategies to be used in defeating the enemy, not inner peace and self-control.

Another unusual martial art still practised in small numbers is armoured wrestling. Grappling with the enemy while in full gear is very different from conventional wrestling, and it needed practice. Related techniques included seizing and dismounting a rider while passing him.

Anthony J. Bryant, Samurai 1550-1600, pp. 15-16

Emphasis mine.