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The Tournament Part II

Posted By Ibn on 25-Feb-2005

by Brandon "meanbeard" Salinas

from the journal of Carlo di Cenza

Shortley after Darren's murder, Lord Marden made his peace with the King. He retains his position as one of Varicci's most favored and loyal subjects. In fact, a tourney was held on the anniversary of Darren's death in the young lord's honor. Prince Renlen made a great show of expressing his regret at the outcome of the duel, but it was profoundly obvious to all assembled that in his rhetoric, he never actually apologized for the young lad's murder.

Two months ago, Lord Marden announced that he would hold a tournament in honor of the fall of Lizistan. He summoned Knights from all the duchies of the kingdom, including our own.

The Duke, however, ordered his Knights to decline the invitation. The Duke has been acting odd for several months now. He has ordered our Knights on several quests that seem to serve no purpose in the Gharu'n and Aluvian wars. Secret raids on the manors of other lords in search of "illegal" goods from Milantos and Souia-Vey. Secret weapons trades with the Silverans of the north. Midnight rendezvous with lords and Dukes who have nothing to do with the wars to the South and East.

He has also begun to espouse a whole host of strange new beliefs. Three months ago, he issued a decree forbidding anyone in the duchy from addressing him as "Sir" or "Lord." He no longer abides the kneeling and head-bowing that have marked our interactions with him our entire lives. He even re-fashioned the servants' quarters of his house, outfitting our chambers with as much luxury and opulence as he could spare, as if we were more than mere servants.

It seemed he was making a great effort to distance himself from the rest of Viamontian nobility. So when he forbade us from attending the tourney, none of us was especially surprised.

I was surprised, however, to be awakened in the middle of the night a week before the tournament was set to begin. I remember dreaming of the graceful Gharu'ndim dancers I had seen on my travels to the South when a rough hand shook me from my slumber. I peered into the gloom through bleary eyes, somewhat uncertain of my surroundings. Sir Bellas looked down at me, fully outfitted in his armor. "Wake up, Carlo," he whispered. "I have need of your service."

I blinked the haze of sleep from my eyes and nodded to my Knight. I stood up, my naked flesh bristling in the cold night air. I walked toward my trunk to retrieve my clothes when I noticed Eleonora standing in the corner of the room. She was wrapped in a thick, fur-lined cloak. She merely stood there, staring out my window. She did not notice me at all.

I looked at Sir Bellas, doing my best to convey my confusion with my eyes. He put a finger to his lips, his silent signal that all would be explained in time. I nodded and dressed myself. We exited into the Duke's courtyard. Three horses stood waiting. We mounted our steeds and trotted silently out of the fortress gates and into the night. None witnessed our departure.

We were at the border of the duchy when Sir Bellas informed me of our destination - Lord Marden's tournament. He did not say why we were going. He did not say how he planned to appease the Duke's anger at our disobedience. And he certainly did not say why Eleonora was with us. He merely informed me of our destination, then fell silent once more.

The lady did not speak the entire trip. Sir Bellas spoke but little - only enough to coordinate the setup and teardown of camp each night.

As we neared Marden's lands, the sky opened and poured its rains upon us. Day and night it rained. The ground became muddy and thick, slowing our pace to a mere crawl.

When we reached the border of the Marden duchy, Eleonora broke off from us without word or gesture. She headed into the misty forest along the road and disappeared from view. Sir Bellas spared not a glance as she left.

After a few minutes, he finally spoke. "Carlo, you have been loyal to me for many years. You have done all that I have asked without complaint and with great zeal. You have been honest and forthright to me when other squires would have lied to my face. You are a good man, Carlo."

"Thank you, sir," I mumbled.

"I have kept secrets from you, Carlo."

"Such is your right, sir," I replied.

He nodded. "Much will be revealed in the coming days. But for now, do as you have done all these years. Follow closely and move quickly. Our survival depends on it."

"Yes, sir," I nodded.

And that was it. He did not speak to me again until we made camp at the tourney.

The tourney grounds appeared much like they did five years ago. Knights from dozens of duchies made camp around Lord Marden's manor. Hundreds of tents cluttered the fields and forests. Despite the foul weather, there was much feasting and merrymaking. Were it not for Sir Bellas' ominous warning, I feel certain I would have enjoyed myself. There has not been much in the way of merrymaking in the Duke's house of late.

We erected a tent on the outskirts of camp and spoke to no one. Neither did anyone speak to us. We were strangers here, and Sir Bellas took care to hide all evidence of the Stag of Bellenesse, a fact which added to my increasing unease.

We ate our dinner in silence and slept uneasily as the rain pounded against the sides of our tent.

The next day, we made our way through the bustling camp to the tourney grounds. There was a significant crowd trying to work their way into the massive tent, but few stood in the way of Sir Bellas' immense frame. Even unarmored as he was, he was quite the formidable presence.

We worked our way to a pair of seats in the top row of the spectator stands. We seated ourselves near a group of Silverans. I've never grown tired of listening to their bizarre, twisting tongue. I once tried my hand at the language, but was utterly incapable of forming the words. But still, I do enjoy hearing it.

We watched the tournament in relative silence. Knights jousted on horse and dueled on foot. Groups of men fought mock battles against one another. In one instance, Sir Gaja fought a White Bear to the death - the bear's death, thankfully. Sir Bellas watched all this with little enthusiasm. My curiosity about our presence here increased with each match. What were we doing here? Why had we deceived the Duke? And where was Eleonora?

Soon enough, my questions were answered.

Near the end of the day, Lord Marden's page announced a duel between Sir Luchissi of the duchy of Filuria and a mystery knight from an unnamed province. Sir Bellas leaned forward and finally took an interest in the games.

Sir Luchissi stepped onto the grounds in his Alduressa plate. He was a crowd favorite, having bested three other opponents that day with incredible speed and ferocity. He bowed with a flourish, to the wild adulation of the crowd.

The mystery knight received far less applause. In fact, he received more jeers and snickers than anything else. He was much smaller than Sir Luchissi, and his armor was old and battered. An Aluvian heaume awkwardly covered his head. He did not bow to the crowd. He merely took his position, unsheathed his simple wooden sword, and stood ready.

Sir Luchissi did not even wait for the page's signal. He launched himself at the young knight, delivering a flurry of jabs and strikes. The mystery knight parried them all with silken ease, dancing away from the larger knight and spinning to face Luchissi's back. The mystery knight went to slash Luchissi in the back, but Luchissi awkwardly leapt to the side.

The smaller knight could have pressed the attack, but he did not. He simply lowered his sword, turned, and walked away. When he was a respectable distance from Luchissi, he turned back to the knight and readied himself again.

I looked at Sir Bellas and noticed that his fists were clenched tight. His face was drained of color. He was almost white. I could not recall a time when I had seen him so worried.

At that point, the identity of the mystery knight became incredibly obvious. I had seen that armor and sword many times before, had wielded them myself on many occasions. They were used by the boys of the Duke's house in combat training. When I was a younger man, I spent many days in that armor, fighting and sweating in the Duke's own courtyard. I understood now why Eleonora had been absent from us all this time. And I understood why we had defied the Duke. He never would have agreed to his daughter's participation in this tournament. Had he known that she intended to fight against the knights of the realm, he surely would have locked the girl in her quarters.

But uncovering the identity of the mystery knight only raised more questions. Why had Eleonora risked her father's ire to take part in a tournament? Why this one, instead of some smaller tourney closer to home? And why had she concealed her combat ability for so long? I certainly had no idea the girl could even lift a sword, let alone fight with it. And to fight with the grace that she displayed before me on the tourney floor... the girl must have been training for the last five years at the least.

Sir Luchissi bowed at his opponent. She bowed in return. Then the battle renewed. This time, Luchissi attacked much more conservatively. He maintained some measure of control, keeping his sword close to parry her attacks. The two of them danced around one another, a more graceful pair than had heretofore been witnessed at this tournament. Luchissi lunged and attacked. Eleonora parried and stepped to the side. This happened several times. Each time, Eleonora stepped around and behind Luchissi. She could have struck him in the back any one of those times. But she did not. She simply waited for Luchissi to regain his footing and turn back to her. She was clearly enjoying this fight.

Sir Bellas, however, was not. "Damn it, girl. Hit him!" he muttered under his breath.

Sir Luchissi's face was purple with anger. This young, unknown knight had made a fool of him, toying with him like a cat with his prey. He was ready to end this fight, and fiercely, too, it seemed. He roared and charged at Eleonora. He swung wildly, clearly hoping to lop the poor girl's head off. But she effortlessly parried his attacks. And when she saw an opening, she cracked him on the side of the head with her wooden blade.

Sir Luchissi howled in agony. He dropped his sword and fell to the ground, holding his bloody head in his hands.

The crowd erupted in applause. The same audience that had showered Sir Luchissi with so much praise just a few moments before now cheered his defeat.

Eleonora strode to the center of the field, bowed to Lord Marden, and exited the grounds.

Sir Bellas leaned close to me. "Let's go," he said. We stood and made our way through the cheering crowd. When we reached the floor, we turned to exit. But a surge in the crowd's wild applause caught my attention. I turned to see what the excitement was about, and my blood ran cold.

Prince Renlen strode out to the center of the pit. His armor gleamed in the tent's torchlight. His purple cape swirled about him, emblazoned with the magnificent bull of Viamont. He helped Sir Luchissi to his feet, then waved to the cheering crowd. That was all I saw before Sir Bellas grabbed my arm and pulled me outside.

The evening passed in tense silence. Eleonora did not visit us. I wondered where she had hid herself. I wanted to ask Sir Bellas what he needed from me, what exactly he had planned - though I had a pretty good idea what his answer would be - but I am not in the habit of questioning my betters, no matter how much of my life I have spent at their sides.

It was only when I bade Sir Bellas good night that he finally spoke. "Carlo," he said.

"Yes, Sir Bellas?"

He looked me in the eye for the first time that night. "It will happen tomorrow."

I did not sleep well.

I lay awake, listening to the rain as it pounded against our tent. I despaired at the future, wondering what tragedies and horrors the Lady Eleonora had in store for us. She planned to harm the prince; I was certain of that. Why else would we have traveled so far to this tournament, when if all she wanted was to fight as a man, she could have attended any number of smaller tournaments in our own lands? What would her father think of such treason? Surely the King would demand her head, if we could even escape the tourney grounds. Would the Duke give it to him? Would he choose his King over his daughter?

But then another thought struck me. Perhaps the Duke knew of our plan. Perhaps he had even ordered it. The Duke has greatly distanced himself from Viamontian society these past few months. His behavior has been strange. He has not traveled to the King's castle in months. Is he planning a rebellion?

It was the book. In the past years, I have seen many copies of this ancient Roulean text lying about the Duke's fortress. No one speaks of it, but I know everyone has read it. The ideas contained within that book are so dangerous, so intense... I have never been so moved by another's words. It is no wonder the Emperors of Roulea suppressed this work for so long. That book could start a revolution.

Perhaps it already has.

Part III

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