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Gauntlets were gloves with an extended cuff covering part of the forearm that were worn by soldiers and knights. They were an important piece of armor, since hands and arms were particularly vulnerable in hand-to-hand combat. To "throw down the gauntlet" was to issue a challenge: A gauntlet-wearing knight would challenge an enemy to a duel by throwing one of his gauntlets on the ground, and the opponent would pick it up to accept the challenge. In some instances, the challenger would first use the gauntlet to slap the opponent twice on the chest before throwing it down.
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