After Ardor and I agreed to trade my training of Great Leap for him training me to swim, we set days to train. I would train him after supper, and he would train me in the morning before work. The first day, Ardor was waiting down at the fishing dock, lying in a hung net like a hammock. Stripped down to his shorts, the sunlight shining off his blue skinned body. He looked totally relaxed, maybe even asleep. As soon as I stepped on to the first board of the dock, the head fin of Ardor rose about 2 inches. He opened his eyes and looked back over his shoulder and said, “Lord Stilicho I’m glad to see you made it. I know the water can be a scary place to name givers that do not know how to swim.”
Ardor climbed out of his make-shift hammock and walked over to the edge of the dock. The first thing that we need to do is get you used to being in the water. When you, Lord are at peace with the water, only then will it not be your enemy.”
He paused and continued; “Remember that water is part of you and that you should flow with it, not fight it.”
He then jumped of the dock in to the chest deep water and looked up on to the dock at me; “When you are ready, jump in.”
“We picked a nice day for this.” I said as I began removing my heavy plate armor. “I’m not completely out of touch with the water, but I certainly can’t claim that I can swim.”
I began unbuckling my greaves. "As a child, my brothers and I would wade in the shallow pools by the river Elbe. I loved the water, but never learned to truly swim… and I know that it is a very useful skill to have. “
After a minute or two I finished removing the heavy armor, clothes and gear, piling it neatly on the dock. I was wearing only shorts. I then buckled my knife scabbard onto my right leg, and hopped into the cool water.
Ardor started with simple stuff, having me hold my breath underwater. This gets name-givers use to having water over their face. Then laying on his back and floating in the water. “This can be tough without a tail to help with your balance.” He commented with a sigh; “Just try to relax. Like when you saw me lying in the net hammock. Allow your head to lay back and let the water hold you.”
I would be lying if I said it didn’t take me quite some time to surrender my will to the water.
When Ardor was finally happy with my understanding of the exercise, he smiled and commented that I was a quick learner. “Good, that is it.” He nodded in approval. I lifted my head out of the water to hear, and I started to comment, but as soon as I did, I sank right to the bottom, thrashing as I went. I came up sputtering and coughing water.
Though he tried, Ardor could not help but laugh; “I said good!” He chuckled. “Right up until you sank yourself!”
I couldn’t help but grin back at him.
After a couple of days of working on those simple moves, Ardor was ready to do something else.
“You learn quickly. Let me teach you a common swim stroke that I see most non tail having name givers use.” He showed me a crawl stroke, keeping my face out of the water. After he stopped he said “You have to kick with your feet, and pull with your arms at the same time. Now you try.”
It took some time, but this stroke I picked up rather quickly. We worked on it for a few more days, and I felt by the end that I had it fairly perfected. However, after each time, Ardor usually had some advice to give, or an idea on how I could improve. I had learned long ago that pride gets in the way of learning, and so I did my best to swallow my pride and absorb everything he was telling me. He was a good teacher.
A few days later, Ardor took me out to a part of the lake where the water was so clear that I could see the bottom 15 feet below the boat. Ardor looked at me and said flatly; Today you are going to learn to swim deep under the water and hold your breath for a long period of time. You will use a different arm stroke while doing this. Start with your hands in a praying position. Push them out in front of you and then sweep your arms out in a wide circle till they come back in front of you. Then just keep repeating. You will be kicking your legs like you were before.”
I stood up in the boat and began practicing and warming myself up for the challenge. Suddenly, Ardor reached down and snatched my knife out of my leg scabbard. Before I could say a word, Ardor tossed the knife over the side of the boat. I stared at him, a little angry and surprised by his action. Ardor looked right back at me and said “You want your knife? Go get it… its right there.” He pointed below the boat.
I scowled, looking down into the depths of the water. My precious knife, forged by Eldwulf when I was a boy, now lay deep in the mud at the bottom of the lake. I waited a moment for the cloud of muddy water to clear where the falling blade had disturbed the stillness, and I could see part of the hilt of the blade above the surface of the muck. I did not like the idea of going so far under water. I glanced at Ardor, and he was grinning. With a sigh I realized that although I didn’t like it, this was good training and something I must do. I jumped in and felt the cold blast of the chill water hit me like a war hammer. I pushed myself back to the surface as I had been taught, and caught my breath. I put my face under the surface again to look for the hilt. After a moment or two, I saw it clearly, still deep under the surface.
I glanced back at Ardor, who nodded encouragement, then I took another deep breath, and plunged into the icy water. I decided to attack this as I would a battle, straight ahead with all of my might and no looking back! I kicked with my legs and pulled with my arms as hard and fast as I could, trying to execute every stroke as I had been taught, and never taking my eyes off of the prize, which was the hilt of my knife. I was surprised by both the speed of my decent, and the pressure of the water. Before I knew it, I was at the bottom.
My first instinct was to grab the handle and rush back to the surface as quickly as I could, but I think that it was my battle experience that made me slow down, and make sure I got it right. I must get a good hold on the handle, for I did not want to fail. It was the correct move, for the silt at the bottom had made the handle slippery and slimy, and the suction of the blade in the soil below the silt surface, held the blade firmly. Had I tried to just quickly snag it while also trying to simultaneously swim back up, I would have surely failed to pull it free, and I would have had to start over. Once the blade was free of the muck, I bolted toward the surface. My lungs were screaming for air, but I made it back, bursting through the surface of the water and into the warm sunlight. I caught my breath and then triumphantly held the blade up to show it to Ardor.
Ardor’s face burst in to a huge smile. He reached out his hand to me and said, “You did it!” I clasped his hand and he helped pull me up out of the water in to the boat. As I plopped down into the boat, wet and freezing, he grinned. “You have learned all you need to from me about swimming. I have never seen a non tail having name giver learn to swim so fast. You will just have to keep practicing and you will be a very strong swimmer. “
I nodded, still catching my breath. “It probably helped that I had a little bit of an idea of what to do, but that was some fantastic instruction Ardor. You make a great teacher my friend.”
Ardor’s wide grin got a little wider. “Let’s go get some hot tea and some sunshine for you, that water is very cold.”
I nodded at that, and although I was freezing, the excitement of my newly discovered skills made the sun seem a bit warmer on my back as we rowed back to shore.
— Stilicho, Lord of Konigsberg