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The Tournament Part I

Posted By Ibn on 24-Feb-2005

by Brandon "meanbeard" Salinas

from the journal of Carlo di Cenza

It occurs to me that I have not written much regarding the Duke's daughter, Eleonora du Bellenesse. While she was born long before I entered the Duke's service, and has been the source of much consternation for the entirety of the Duke's household, her life did not intersect much with my own until recently. As long as I have known her, she has been nothing more than the rebellious, morose daughter of my Knight's lord. I never thought more of her than I did any other spoiled girl of noble birth. I certainly had no idea the thoughts she entertained within her tortured mind. Nor did I ever suspect the plans she had for the future of the kingdom.

This story really begins five years ago, when Eleonora was only thirteen years of age. The King and the Duke were on much better terms then. The Duke led the King's army to a great victory in Roulea a few years prior. It was this victory that paved the road for future incursions into that weakened empire, and eventually forced it to succumb to our King's banner. No lord was more favored by our King than the Duke of Bellenesse.

So, when King Varicci was informed of Eleonora's impending birthday, he invited the Duke, his daughter, and all of the Duke's house to a tournament at Lord Marden's estate. Lord Marden was a loyal retainer to the King and had hosted many tournaments in the King's honor. The King could have hosted the tournament himself, but Lord Marden's tourney grounds were far more impressive than any other in the land, including the Royal grounds themselves.

Eleonora was thrilled. She had never been to a tournament, but she had listened to Sir Bellas' many grand stories over the years, and consequently possessed an overly idealized view of the chivalry and majesty of those events. To think that she had finally been given the opportunity to attend such a tournament - one held in her own honor, no less - filled her with an excitement I had not witnessed before in the young girl.

She spent the entirety of the trip pestering our company for details about the various knights and warhorses she was to see. She wanted to know all of their names and histories so she could make an informed choice about which knights to cheer and which to jeer. Even at that age, she believed strongly in a lady's duty to be fair and just to her subjects. A notion, I realize now, that was not widely shared amongst the nobility of that time.

Her constant questions greatly irritated many of the Knights in our caravan, but Sir Bellas never grew tired of the young girl's interrogations. He answered her every question, even quizzing her from time to time on the stories and histories he had shared with her. I must say, I ignored most of their talk. The personal politics of the lowly Knights of the land have never interested me. But I was constantly aware of the girl's presence, which seemed to fill Sir Bellas with so much joy and peace. To this day, she is still the only one who can ease his war-torn soul. And for that, if for no other of her many fine qualities, I do love her.

When we arrived at Lord Marden's estate, the girl could not contain her excitement. The tourney knights had first arrived three days prior, and more arrived by the hour. There were hundreds of knights, resplendent in their gleaming plate and chain, their horses bearing the standards of their houses. They were tended to by hundreds more squires like myself, polishing armor and oiling weapons, erecting tents and cooking meals. The knights busied themselves with preparations for the tournament. At first glance, the grounds surrounding the tourney tent looked very much like a battlefield. Knights bearing the standards of Bull, Swan, Bear, Badger and countless other beasts jousted and parried on any piece of land they could find. Their wooden swords beat against shield and armor and created a cacophony not unlike a hailstorm beneath a steel roof.

Eleonora bounced in her seat, pointing to the Knights whose armor and standards she recognized from Sir Bellas' stories. Everyone in our caravan, even those who had long grown annoyed with the girl's constant prattle, beamed at her obvious joy. After all, this entire tournament was for her. It was good to see that it had the effect on her we had all hoped it would.

As we rode to the edge of the Knights' camp, one of them recognized our caravan. He stopped his skirmish and shouted as loud as he could, "The Lady of the Tourney! Eleonora du Bellenesse! The Lady of the Tourney! Eleonora du Bellenesse!"

As he shouted, the other Knights stopped their own mock battles, removed their helms, and took up the chant. In a matter of moments, hundreds of voices were shouting the young girl's name, pumping their fists in the air and waving their swords.

The girl was stunned. She sat in her seat, completely drained of her earlier excitement. Her face was empty of color. Her eyes were wide and glistened with tears. Her father placed a hand on her shoulder and whispered something to her, a smile on his face. She looked up at him and nodded. Then she slowly urged her horse forward, and raised her hand to the crowd.

The Knights erupted in a frenzy of raucous applause. The roar of that crowd was overwhelming - hundreds of warriors cheering the young lady of my house, shouting her name and hailing her beauty. Their display of pride and loyalty brought tears to us all.

The girl wept. She smiled. She shook. She laughed. She was a torrent of wildly shifting emotions. And none of us had ever been so happy to witness another's joy as we were right then.

The following days were the most thrilling of Eleonora's young life. She watched joust after joust, fight after fight. She witnessed the aged Sir Borlac defeat the young champion of the King's own army. She saw the savage weapons of the Gharu'ndim pitted against the superior steel of Viamont. She gazed upon the fearsome black warhorses of Milantos, who tower above all others. There was even a Silveran warrior, his long white hair and tattooed body - nearly naked, I might add - the talk of the many ladies in attendance. Eleonora had never seen such wonders. And she would never forget them.

During the tournament, Eleonora made fast friends with Lord Marden's own son, Darren. They spent many hours talking and laughing, debating the skills of each knight over the others. It was clear that the two of them were quite taken with one another, a turn of events which greatly pleased our Duke. The young Lord Marden was handsome, noble, and heir to one of the greatest houses in the land. He would have proved a fine husband to our lady had their romance been allowed to flourish.

I have had much cause to wonder lately, were I given the opportunity to step back through time, would I have stopped their romance before it had the chance to begin? If I had known what tragedies lay hidden in the future, would I have separated the young lady from the lovestruck lord?

Perhaps our lives would be easier now. Perhaps this damnable war would not be upon us. If we had just kept the lady away from that boy...

Bah! There is no sense in pondering such thoughts now. The events of the past must remain in the past, despite the present they have shaped. Our course is set. There is nothing left to do but fight.

The King and his two sons arrived on the fourth day of the tournament. Their arrival was greatly anticipated by all, and not simply because they were the ruling house of our kingdom. Prince Varicci II, the elder of the two princes, was highly regarded as a swordsman. He had participated in a great many battles and had emerged victorious in all of them. He, above all others, was the reason many of the tourney spectators had traveled such great distances. Much of the talk of the past few days had centered around the show the prince was sure to provide once he arrived. All of the knights - even my Sir Bellas - longed to meet the young man in battle. All of them wished to pit themselves against such a highly regarded warrior.

Unfortunately for us all, Prince Varicci II was unable to fight in the tourney. The young man's arm was broken. He had apparently fallen from his horse during an ill-fated hunting excursion six days prior. He could barely move when he arrived at the tourney, numb as he was from the pain-mitigating herbs and philtres his healers had doubtlessly administered. We were lucky to have the man in attendance at all; there was no hope that he would meet our knights on the tourney field.

The younger son, however, was in perfect health. And unfortunately for us, he wished to take his brother's place in the tournament.

Prince Renlen was an ill-tempered, hateful young man. At fifteen years of age, he was rumored to have killed four men already. All of them in duels that were supposed to have been conducted with blunted sparring weapons. It was widely rumored that he forced his trainers to use blunted weapons while he himself wielded sharp, poisoned blades. It was said that he liked to kill. And he especially liked those deaths to be as painful as possible.

So when he caught sight of the lady Eleonora and made his intentions towards her as clear as he could, we all fell into a deep dread.

Like Darren, Prince Renlen refused to leave Eleonora's side. But unlike Darren, his presence was not at all welcomed by the lady. She had heard the same stories about the prince we all had, and she detested the young man. Her distaste for him was obvious, but still the prince persisted in his pursuit. Darren played the good noble and stayed out of the prince's way, but it was obvious to all of us the pain that Renlen's attentions caused him. He became increasingly morose as the tournament progressed, and eventually left the lady's side altogether.

Perhaps he believed that the lady was taken with Prince Renlen. Many of us, in our youth, are prone to such mistaken, self-defeating views of the world. Perhaps he believed that Eleonora would submit to the prince's advances and become the new princess of Viamont. I suppose he came to believe that the only way to win her heart was to best the fiendish prince in combat and win the tournament.

I wish I had had the foresight to take the young boy aside and counsel him in the ways of love. The lady's affection for the young lord - and not for the prince - was obvious to all but Darren. If he had only seen what we could see, perhaps he would have calmly endured the prince's unwanted advances, resuming his place by the lady's side once the tournament was over. If only that poor, doomed boy had not been so blind.

But as I said before, the past cannot be changed. There is no sense dwelling on such thoughts.

After hundreds of battles and only a few injuries, the final day of the tournament arrived. When the final battle reached its thrilling end, King Varicci announced that Prince Renlen would take part in a duel with any man who wished to prove his mettle against a Prince of Viamont.

The prince walked out to the center of the tourney pit and bowed to the spectators. He wore a royal cape - the Bull of Viamont emblazoned on its back - over a full suit of polished Alduressa armor. A page rushed in from the spectator stands. He carried a large purple pillow, atop which rested a massive wooden sword. Renlen took up the weapon and held it aloft. The crowd gasped in admiration and wonder. This was no mere sparring weapon. This was a sword crafted of Silveran oak, infused with the magics of the north. Strands of diamond-lace weaved about the blade of the weapon, granting it a strength equal to - and some say greater than - the finest Viamontian steel.

Again, the King offered his challenge, "Will any man here dare to meet my son in single combat?" But of course, no one responded. No right-thinking man would willingly walk into a duel with that depraved boy. He had not one spark of the nobility that graced his elder brother. Besides, no one could forget the rumors of the boy's poisoned swords.

The King, however, was unfazed. He had anticipated our reluctance. He had brought one warrior from each of the conquered realms of Roulea, Aluvia, and Gharu'n. They entered the grounds and declared their loyalty to the King. And one by one, they fought the prince and met their defeat at the end of his sword.

Prince Renlen did not kill his opponents. He could not have poisoned his blade anyhow, for its edges were blunted. But he did best those three men. It was clear to us all, however, that his combatants did not fight with the vigor of which they were capable. They put on a fairly entertaining show, but in the end they fell to the prince as they were no doubt commanded to.

When the prince was done with them, he raised his sword to the applause of all assembled. He dedicated his victories to the lady Eleonora, who made no attempt to hide her disgust for the young man.

The tournament was nearly at an end. The prince was on the verge of leaving the grounds when a voice called out from Lord Marden's box, "Good show, Prince Renlen. You have bested the foreign warriors which we have already conquered. But how will you fare against Viamontian steel?"

A deathly silence fell upon the tent. All eyes turned to the Lord's box. Lord Marden was white with fear as he looked at his son. Lord Darren was cloaked with a robe bearing the Swan of his house. He undid the robe's tie and let it slip to the ground, revealing a magnificent suit of gleaming Alduressa armor.

Darren opened the box's door and stepped into the dueling pit.

"Nice armor," the young prince called. "I'll try not to bang it up too badly."

Darren turned and pulled his own Silveran sword from his father's box. Lord Marden was frozen in shock. He could do nothing but gape. "I'd worry about my own skin, if I were you," Darren replied.

Eleonora tried to rise to her feet, but her father stopped her. She looked on the verge of tears. It was obvious she wanted to stop this horrible charade, but her father whispered something in her ear that stopped her mouth. What did he say, I wonder? Most likely, he told her that stopping the tournament would harm Lord Darren's reputation more than any defeat in combat. Most likely, the Duke assumed that the worst possible outcome was a bruised head and a wounded pride. Apparently, the Duke had not heard the same rumors we had.

Darren strode to the center of the pit. He raised his oaken sword, holding it in both hands. He bowed his forehead against the flat edge of the blade. Renlen did the same. The two boys turned in Eleonora's direction and bowed their heads again. Then Darren spoke, "I dedicate this victory to the lady Eleonora. May her beauty live on forever." Renlen merely smirked.

The two boys turned away from one another, took five strides, then turned back.

They attacked in a fury.

The duels heretofore seen in the tournament had followed the traditional rules of tournaments from ages past. They were more stylish than forceful, more concerned with the show than the victory. But this fight was different. Love was in these boys' hearts, and blood would be shed.

Their swords smashed against one another, against each other's armor. They kicked and punched and screamed and cursed. At one point, Renlen knocked Darren's sword to the ground. But Darren just grabbed the blade of Renlen's sword with a gauntleted hand and smashed his forehead into the prince's face. The prince's nose shattered and blood exploded from his ruined visage. Darren tossed the sword to the side and kicked Renlen in the chest, knocking him to his back.

The prince scrambled to his feet and turned to meet his attacker. The two boys grappled with one another and wrestled each other to the ground. They punched and bit and ripped at each other's hair.

Renlen was younger than Darren, but he was stronger. He pinned the boy to the ground and straddled him. He punched Darren in the face several times, shattering Darren's nose and teeth. Darren maneuvered his arms underneath Renlen's crotch and lifted with all his might, tossing the prince to the ground.

Both boys scrambled for their swords. Renlen reached his first.

He wheeled about and ran towards Darren as the young lord crawled to his own fallen weapon. Renlen screamed and leapt at the prone lord. He landed on Darren, his boot crashing into the small of Darren's back. The prince raised his sword high with both hands.

Eleonora let out a strangled cry. "No!"

Renlen sank the point of his blade into Darren's back. The Silveran wood cut through Darren's armor and severed his spine. Darren screamed, his cry shattering our ears. He grabbed handfuls of earth and tried to drag himself forward, but his fading strength was unable to do aught but claw. Renlen leaned forward on the hilt of his sword and wrenched it round, like a cook stirring his stew. Darren screeched and moaned. The crowd merely watched, sickened to silence.

Finally, after moments that felt like hours, Darren breathed his last breath. His body went slack, and his face rested in the dirt.

The crowd was silent. I looked around me at hundreds of faces contorted in shock and horror. Many wept.

Lord Marden merely hung his head. His face was red - with grief, anger, or shame; I do not know which. But he refused to look at his son's body. He merely stared at the floor at his feet.

Renlen released the sword, which remained pinned into Darren's back, and looked up at Eleonora. He smiled and bowed to the lady of the tournament. "I dedicate this victory to the lady Eleonora. May her beauty live on forever."

Then he pulled his sword from Darren's back, lifted it on high, and plunged it into the young lord's skull. The crowd gasped. Women shrieked.

"Renlen!" the King shouted. His face was purple with rage. The veins in his neck strained against his flesh. But Renlen did not even acknowledge him. He merely stared down at his prey, a satisfied smile on his face.

Eleonora's resolve cracked. She burst into a fit of wailing. She clung to her father and sobbed into his chest.

I was standing next to Sir Bellas when I saw something that filled my heart with terror. Sir Bellas placed his hand on the hilt of his sword. He exchanged glances with the Duke's other Knights. Soon, all of them had their hands on their own sword hilts. The other squires and I stepped away from our knights, knowing full well what was about to happen.

Sir Bellas took a step forward, but a cacophony from outside the tent stayed his assault. The entrance to the tent was ripped open. The Royal Guard poured into the pit, forming a circle around the prince. The King made his way to his Knights, followed by the elder prince. The Royal Guard encircled the King and his sons and escorted them out of the pit, barely averting a civil war.

You can imagine the tone of the caravan home. No one spoke. The young lady remained enclosed in her carriage the whole journey. From time to time, she wailed and wept. But mostly she was silent. And those silences were more terrifying and heartbreaking than her cries.

The next five years were quiet ones for Eleonora. She spent most of her time reading or riding alone. She no longer teased the servants' children. She no longer talked the cooks into playing games with her when they should have been preparing the Duke's supper. She became the girl that I think of when someone mentions her name to me now. Quiet, lonely, and distant.

To think of the thoughts that raged in her head. To think of what she was reading. To think of that great secret Sir Bellas kept from me. I can scarcely believe such world-shaking events were unfolding right before me, and all without anyone in the house suspecting a thing.

Part II

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