Welcome back to the adventure! This week we get to explore an adventure for a second time and see what other kinds of dangers and treasures exist for the reader to find. Let’s get started =)
Rainwater drips from the porch above you and the siding of the building weeps with moisture but, for the moment, you’ve found a dry spot. It’s just a sheltered piece of cobblestone. A two-foot by two-foot section where the rain isn’t drenching the ground. There’s not even enough space to lie down but the spot’s yours and, as long as you don’t move from it, no one will challenge you.
You’re not homeless. You just can’t find an Inn that’s not already full because of the tournaments being held at the coliseum. For the moment, you may as well be homeless. But at least you’re a well-armed homeless.
Thus why no one will challenge you for your shelter.
A sword peeks over your right shoulder from its holster on your back. From your belt hangs a woodsman’s knife the length of your forearm and, unstrapped since you’re not hunting, you hold a bow in your right hand. Over your left shoulder, the fletching of arrows plays peek-a-boo around the hood of your cloak.
All of the weaponry right now is just extra weight. Your cloak is the prize possession with the rain.
But you’ve come here for a purpose. The tournament boasts a multitude of challenges. Fencing, archery, jousting, hand to hand combat. They all pay well for the winner.
You’re not here for the pay, though, you’re here for a person. For years you’ve heard nothing from your family, ostracized because of your choice to be a woods ranger instead of following in the family baking business. But last week a messenger found you.
“They took Ruben,” the messenger said, “because your family couldn’t pay the rent on the bakery. He’s being forced to work the quarry until he pays off the amount due.”
“And what do they want from me?” you asked. Working the quarry was hard, dangerous work but, considering the amount on the bakery couldn’t be that high, Ruben shouldn’t be there that long.
“The family hasn’t paid in over a year,” the messenger explained, “so Ruben’s assigned the quarry for the next five years to pay everything off.”
No one survived the quarry that long.
“All right,” you conceded, “what does the family want?”
“In the tournaments, you can ask for the release of a worker if you win one of the challenges.”
You have an ‘ah ha” moment. No on in the family could win such a challenge, expect you. You considered briefly refusing. The family hasn’t spoken to you in years, much lest lent a hand whenever you needed something.
But this was family and a man’s life. You couldn’t refuse.
“When does the tournament start?” you asked.
“Beginning of the week.”
And thus why you’re hunkered under a porch instead of sleeping in an Inn. By the time the messenger found you, you only had two days to get to the capital. It was a three day trip.
An Inn wouldn’t have helped much anyway. There’s only an hour or two before sunrise and then you have to be at the coliseum to check in as a contestant. So as you wait for the warmth to arrive from the rising sun, you debate whether to try archery or fencing first. You’ve never attempted jousting and don’t want to start now. As a last resort you can try hand-to-hand combat but that’s not your forte and you’d prefer to start with your stronger skills.
So do you try…
The Tournament Option B.Fencing
The rain subsided with the morning sun and now you’re standing in line to register for the tournaments with the sun warming your shoulders. It burned off the mist within an hour and your cloak’s almost dry as you approach the table at the entrance to the coliseum.
The man behind the table holds his pen over a sheet of paper. He waits for you to say which challenge you want to participate in.
“Fencing,” you inform him.
He grunts and accepts the papers you hold out containing your information. They tell him everything from your name to where you were born and to which family.
“Isn’t this a baking family?” he asks, pointing at your last name.
“Mostly,” you reply, perhaps a bit shortly but you’ve been questioned like that your whole life.
He eyes you and your weaponry and then shrugs and hands your papers back.
“The fencing field’s to the left past the archery section,” he says, “first tournament starts in an hour.”
You thank him and move on.
The coliseum’s huge, made to support gaming events and trials but today, instead of hosting a single event, the ground is split into five wedges like a pie. Spectators mill around the seating above, able to see all five areas.
On the ground, however, you can only see the wedge you’re standing in and the two neighboring wedges.
Archery is immediately to your left and beyond it you can see the fencing square. To your immediate right sits the hand-to-hand combat arena and you guess jousting is on the other side of the coliseum because you can make out the heads of several horses in that direction.
The fifth wedge you can’t guess at. All you can see in that area is a crowd milling about.
You pass through the archery wedge and make your way to the table in the fencing wedge. You hold out your papers to the man standing behind it. He grabs them from your hand and holds them directly in front of his watery eyes.
He snorts. “Baker. They’ll let anyone in these days.” He tosses the stack of papers onto his table and points to the outline for the fencing square. “Stand in line. Your turn’ll come soon.”
His attitude rubs you wrong but you hold your tongue. People always comment on your family heritage. You’ve found the only way to silence such ridiculous assumptions is to show them you’re capable. No verbal argument seems to work.
You move to stand in line beside a man twice your height. His shoulders are broad enough to shoulder a wagon.
He glances over at you and raises a brow.
“Speed?” he guesses.
“Perhaps,” you kind of admit. “Power?” you gesture at the broadsword he’s carrying.
A toothy grin splits his face. “Perhaps.”
You grin back as you set the rest of your weaponry against the side of the fencing ring. You won’t be needing the bow and arrows and they might get in your way.
“First contestant,” shouts a man standing at the opposite side of the square. “Obstacle or Multiple?”
“What’s that mean?” asks the huge man.
You shrug. “Guess we’ll see.”
The first man in line shuffles from one foot to the other, then blurts out, “Multiple.”
The announcer gestures him into the ring, then he gestures at the big man beside you, at you and then the woman behind you.
“Multiple contestants it is!” the announcer shouts as you all move into the ring as well.
It’s not a lot of space for four people swinging swords.
“You must overcome two of the three others in the ring,” the announcer explains. “If you step out of the ring, you’re done. If you strike with anything but your sword, you’re done. Good luck, Contestants.”
You get a sinking feeling in your stomach. Before, they’ve always blunted the swords. There’s no attempt at this tournament to do so and the rules stated nothing about not killing. This could turn ugly really fast.
“Work with me?” the big man asks out of the side of his mouth.
You know nothing about him. He could turn on you without warning. On the other hand, someone watching your back could be a huge asset.
Bb. Work with Him?
Bc. Go It Alone?
The Tournament Option Bb: Work with the Man
Considering your odds, you’d rather have someone on your side in this contest. You nod to the man in agreement.
He smiles and, as you watch, he squares off against the other man in the ring, turning his back to you completely in a show of trust that’s startling.
The woman contestant smirks and moves like she’s going to surprise your partner from the side.
Not on your watch. You move to put yourself between her and the big man.
Then you all wait for the fencing match to begin.
“All right contestants,” the announcer stands on the corner of the fencing ring to be seen above the crowd, “remember, you must overcome two of the other three in the ring. Good luck. And GO!”
The woman’s fast. You duck her first swing and catch her return swing on your sword. The clash of it sends a shock into you hands.
You throw her off with a shove and take a step back to rebalance. The crowd in the stands roars. It’s deafening in the way a trumpet makes your ears ring. You go on the offense and beat the woman back several steps.
There’s a deep-throated scream behind you that sends chills down your spine. It’s your partner’s voice, you’re sure of it, but you don’t chance a look back as the woman tries to use the moment of distraction to her advantage. She swings and steps closer, trying to get within your longer reach.
You fast step and get out of her way, then reverse your motion the instant her swing goes past you. Before she knows it you’re beating her back again.
You’ve no desire to actually harm her but judging from your partner’s scream, a gentle hit won’t end the contest. The announcer said ‘overcome’ two of the three in the ring. So it’s knock her out or force her from the ring.
The fence around the ring sits just above her hips. To force her out will require some extra momentum but the longer you fight her, the more you realize that knocking her out just isn’t going to happen.
She’s extremely careful about her head. So force her out of the ring it is. Your chance comes when she stumbles in an effort to side step. She keeps her sword up, but you push it slightly to the side with your own blade, step in close by taking three quick, almost running steps and throw your shoulder into her sternum. Then you lift with your legs as you keep moving forward.
She huffs as the air is forced from her chest. Then the back of her knees hit the fence and she goes flying over the top rail.
The spectators scream their encouragement of your tactics. You stomach rolls as the woman’s head hits the ground and she’s knocked unconscious.
Only then do you turn to see what’s happening with the other two in the ring.
Your partner’s right arm drips blood in a steady stream from a slice across his bicep. The wound must have cut deep because he’s struggling to keep his broadsword up as he blocks a strike from the smaller man.
He pushes the smaller man away and attempts a swing but his movement is just too slow and the other man ducks inside his reach for a killing blow. The smaller man isn’t going to pull short. His face scrunches in determination and the muscles along his back and neck tense in total abandonment to his course of action.
You switch your grip on your own sword. You rear back and throw. At any sort of distance the throw wouldn’t be effective but the fencing ring’s small. The sword flies through the air and lands with a heavy thump with its hilt against the smaller man’s temple. He crumples in a boneless heap.
There’s a moment of stunned silence before the crowd above jumps to its feet in ecstatic joy. Your ears ring as you join the big man and check on his bleeding arm. Tearing the sleeve from his shirt, you tie it around the wound.
“This isn’t fencing,” you grumble as you work, “this is butchery.”
“Yeah,” the big man agrees. “Thanks for the save.”
Before you can respond, the announcer steps up onto the corner of the ring and raises his hands for attention.
“Well done!” he shouts. “Now, since you obviously worked together, you can pick between Obstacles or Mastery?” he holds out his hands for your choice. You glance at the big man and he shrugs. Neither one of you have any clue what those options mean. If they’re like the last two, they’ll involve more bloodshed then you’d like.
Do you pick…
The Tournament Option Bb1: Obstacles
Your partner’s arm has bleed through the bandage as you considered your options. If mastery is a test of his swordsmanship, he won’t do well. You’re not sure what obstacles means but it’ll at least give the man a chance with his wound.
“Obstacles,” you tell the announcer.
“Obstacles it is!” he shouts and waves for several men standing beside the ring to prepare things.
They haul two heavy wooden boxes into the fencing ring and set them in the corner.
Then a man stands on top of the boxes and waits to be told when to open them.
“What do you think is in them?” the big man asks.
You shrug but there’s a skittering coming from inside that makes your skin crawl.
“The goal,” the announcer shouts for all to hear, “is for our two contestants to fence with each other. Three strikes wins. But they must deal with the rats while they fight.”
“Rats?” the big man grumbles.
He sounds exactly as you feel. Rats. Of all things, they had to pick rats.
You help the man to his feet and you each take an opposite corner.
You nod you’re ready and the bout begins.
Although your focus stays on the big man and his heavy sword, you hear the scrape of wood on wood as they release the rats into the ring.
At first you think the tactic unrealistic. What’s to keep the little beasts from simply escaping the ring? But the rodents don’t head for the crowd. Instead, they race around the wooden fence several times and then head in small groups for you and the big man. They’ve been trained for this. Great.
The big man takes two steps and is within range to swing. When you take the strike on your own sword, your hands go numb. It’s then you know you’re in trouble because, although you can’t feel your hands, you can feel the rats trying to climb into your pant legs.
They swarm over his legs as well but he’s got high boots and his pants are tucked snugly into the tops.
You manage to duck around him on the next attack and tap him on the side.
“Strike one!” the announcer shouts.
The big man grunts and comes at you again. You almost drop your sword with his strike.
The longer you fence, the more the rats warm their way up your pant legs. One seems to have made it to your knee and has latched onto the skin at the back of your leg.
You kick in an effort to break him loose but all this does is set you off balance. The big man takes the advantage by taking a note from your own book. As you stumble, he rushes you and shoves one heavy shoulder into your stomach.
Before you can react, he lifts and you sail backwards. Your heels clip the top of the fence but there’s no way to stop your backward motion.
“Sorry,” he says as you land on your backside outside the ring. “Didn’t want to hurt you.”
You can’t blame him. With his heavy sword, which they never blunted, simply striking without bruising or worse is quite difficult.
You nod and shake your leg hard to dislodge the rat still hanging onto your knee. The beast flies from the end of your pant leg and you kick it back into the ring.
They line the contestants up in front of a pavilion once the day of contests is finished. You end up behind the big man as the second to win in the fencing matches.
The King steps forward to congratulate him. “What would you have as your prize?” He asks for all to hear.
“My daughter from the query,” the big man responds without pause.
You hold in a smile. Of all people to loose to, you couldn’t have picked a better one.
As he turns from the field, his eyes glisten with unshed tears.
“Thank you,” he whispers as he passes by.
Those who came in second place are handed a small purse of coins.
You pocket yours and head out to pay off a portion of Ruben’s sentence with your prize. Then you head back out to the woods.
A messenger finds you later.
“There’s another tournament to the south,” he explains, “the family would like you to compete again and use the purse to free Ruben.”
Considering how the last tournament went, you tell the messenger the family can make their own contribution to getting Ruben out.
You don’t hear from the family again but years later, Ruben tracks you down.
“Think I’m done with the bakery,” he tells you, “the family made no effort other than contacting you to help me. Maybe I’ll open my own shop.”
He spends the night beside your fire and does indeed open his own shop, a confectionary, in the city.
Yay, you didn’t die and, in a way, you helped a man save his daughter. Well done and thank you to everyone who participated!
Blessings and see you next time,