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The Tournament Part III


Posted By Ibn on 28-Feb-2005

by Brandon "meanbeard" Salinas

from the journal of Carlo di Cenza

The next morning, I woke and began preparations to dismantle the tent. Sir Bellas stopped me. He wore a heavy woolen cloak that was closed at the front with a series of small bronze clasps. The cloak had a slightly misshapen look to it. After a moment's observation, I made out the shape of his armor beneath the thick wool. Sir Bellas was ready for battle.

"When it happens, stay close," he told me. He reached into his cloak. I noticed a heavy crossbow tied close to his side. He pulled out three long daggers and handed them to me. "Keep these in reach. Your belt, perhaps. I will do what I can to protect you, but I can promise nothing."

I took the knives and placed them securely beneath my belt. They were hidden from view, but quite easily reachable if I needed them. I am not well-trained in battle, and so I hoped I would not need those knives, but I had seldom seen my knight so grave. I resigned myself to the fight ahead - a fight against the Royal Guard of Viamont.

I did not pack the tent. Sir Bellas told me that we would need to flee quickly. We could not afford to be hampered by any more weight than was absolutely necessary. Instead, we filed into the tournament grounds. We had risen early and few had made their way beneath the tent, so we were able to take our seats on the front row of benches. We remained as close to the tent's exit as possible. When it finally happened, we would have to leave in a hurry.

Sir Bellas and I sat in silence for two long hours. He did not tell me what the day had in store for us. I did not ask.

The stands of the tourney pit slowly filled with spectators. When the stands were full, Lord Marden entered, the prince at his side. The crowd cheered the prince as the two of them sat in the Lord's spectator box. Then the tournament began. We were treated to the same sort of spectacles from the previous day - jousts, duels, and group battles. When each match concluded, the defeated knight or knights exited the grounds while the victor retired to the holding pen. Eventually, only two would remain. And they would compete for the honor of the tourney helm.

Eleonora's identity remained a mystery to all but Sir Bellas and myself. She never removed her helm, though the heat within must have been stifling. She fought ferociously, and defeated all who met her in the pit. With every victory, the crowd fell more to her side. By the time her fifth match began, the crowd was on their feet, cheering with more fervor than had yet been displayed at the tournament. They loved her, though they had no idea who she was.

Prince Renlen loved her as well. He wore the same suit of armor he had worn yesterday. He looked more like a combatant than a spectator. And probably, I thought, he meant to take part as a combatant. The princes of Viamont routinely attend tournaments, a tradition they began after Lord Darren's honor tourney four years ago. They do not participate in the tournament itself. They choose, instead, to fight just the one duel - the final duel against the tournament's otherwise rightful victor. Of course, the princes have yet to lose even one of those duels. Even if their opponent were not exhausted from a full day of jousting the kingdom's fiercest knights, no loyal subject of the King would dare claim victory over a prince of Viamont.

Doubtless, this was Eleonora's plan. She hoped to win the tournament so that she could engage the prince in a duel. But what then? Did she intend to shame him in defeat? Or did she intend a far worse fate? Either way, he would demand her execution. Probably ours as well.

When the light of day finally succumbed to the dark of night, the final battle of the tournament was announced. The mystery knight would fight Count Corcima, King Varicci's own nephew. Corcima had fought incredibly well that day. No opponent had lasted more then twenty seconds against him. I had seldom witnessed a more brilliant display of martial prowess. Eleonora would have a difficult time with him, I was certain.

Count Corcima strode to the center of the pit. He turned to Lord Marden's box. He raised his jousting sword to his lips. I noted that it was not the same one he had used in the tournament thus far. Those swords were common jousting swords made from common Viamontian wood. No, this sword was different. It was made of fine Silveran oak, and it was massive. The weapon must have weighed thirty stones. Eleonora's piddly jousting sword would stand no chance against a weapon such as that. If they were to actually cross blades, he would shatter her weapon like a child's playhouse. But worse than that was a more chilling thought - what would happen if he hit her in the head with that thing?

"Lord Marden, Cousin Renlen," bellowed the knight. "I dedicate this victory to the glory of Viamont!"

Lord Marden and Prince Renlen stood and clapped as the audience erupted into raucous applause. The simplest way to rouse a crowd to a wild fervor has always been to invoke the glory of Viamont, but these times of war engender an even greater sense of pride in one's kingdom than usual. It is nearly enough to make one fear for one's life.

As the applause died, Eleonora entered the pit. Her appearance caused the spectators to leap to their feet once again. She, however, did not bow to the crowd. She merely stepped into the center of the field, raised her sword to her lips, and bowed to Lord Marden and the prince. Then she took her battle position.

The crowd quickly settled down. There was utter silence beneath the tourney tent. Eleonora stood, her left side facing Count Corcima. She crouched low, her sword's point resting against the ground. Her bronze heaume stared impassively at Count Corcima, who had taken a more traditional tournament pose body front, blade held to his forehead. The two regarded one another for a moment, then Corcima attacked.

He rushed forward and swung low, that great battering ram of a sword grazing the earth as its pendulous motion sent it sailing up towards Eleonora's face. Eleonora leaned backwards, allowing the blade to swing up past her face. There was a loud ting as the tip of the sword grazed her heaume. She quickly stepped to the left and whipped her own sword around, smashing the knight in the back of the head with the most sickening thud I had ever heard.

Count Corcima tripped forward and landed flat on his face. He did not move.

Nor did the audience.

No duel of that tournament had ended so quickly or so fiercely. We were shocked at the speed of its resolution. But more importantly, we were concerned for the safety of the knight. Such a blow was more than capable of killing a man. And the pool of blood slowly spreading around Count Corcima's head gave us reason to believe that it had indeed killed this man.

But after a tense moment, the knight stirred. He placed his palms on the ground and slowly rose to his knees. He shook his head, spraying a light shower of blood into the sand around him.

He staggered to his feet and turned to Eleonora. The two regarded one another for a long moment. I feared he might renew his attack against her, but as shaky as he was, I knew she could have easily bested him a second time.

But such fears were unwarranted. The noble knight bowed to the victor of the duel, then left the pit.

The audience members rose to their feet and chanted Corcima's name. Lord Marden and Prince Renlen did the same. Eleonora merely watched him go. The chanting quickly died as he exited the tent.

Lord Marden called to Eleonora, "Mystery knight. You have bested every other contestant in these games. You have proven yourself to be the finest warrior in the land. You well deserve this helm of honor." Lord Marden gestured to a young page. The boy opened a small wooden gate and entered the pit. He carried a large quilted pillow before him. On that pillow rested a gleaming silver helm. A large horse's tail was attached to its top and flowed majestically behind it. The page walked to Eleonora, knelt, and raised the pillow before her.

Eleonora regarded the helm. Sir Bellas and I tensed. He reached beneath his cloak and grasped his crossbow. I rested my hand on one of my knives. If she removed her heaume now, how would the prince react? The two had not laid eyes on one another since Darren's death. Surely, he was quick enough to determine what Eleonora had planned for him.

But Eleonora did not remove her heaume. She looked up from the tournament helm and spoke. "Lord Marden." Her voice was muffled from within the tight-fitting heaume, but it was unmistakably a woman's voice. The audience gasped in astonishment at that. Lord Marden looked at Prince Renlen, clearly uncomfortable with this development. Prince Renlen merely gazed at Eleonora with a smirk on his hateful face.

"Lord Marden," she continued as the gasps of the audience faded. "I have bested all but one. Until that duel is complete, I shall not consider myself worthy of such an honor as this." With that, she held the hilt of the sword to her breast, its tip pointed toward the earth. Then she bowed her head.

"Young knight ," Lord Marden started. But Prince Renlen cut him short.

"Leave the pit, page. There is one more duel to fight," shouted Prince Renlen as he leaped over the railing of the Lord's spectator box. The audience erupted into a series of shouts and cheers as the page scurried to the sidelines. At the same time, a trio of retainers swarmed on the prince. They removed his cloak, equipped his helm, then handed him his wooden sword. His blade was not quite the size of Count Corcima's monstrous weapon, but it was made of the same fine wood. Certainly enough to shatter Eleonora's meager blade. I wondered if it was the same weapon he had used to execute poor Darren. I am sure Eleonora wondered the same.

Eleonora must have realized that she had no chance of ending a duel with the prince as quickly as she had the fight with Corcima. Her meager blade would not stand a chance against Renlen's sword. She strode to a young boy who waited on the sidelines of the pit. He held a large, cloth-wrapped bundle. She handed the boy her own small weapon and took the bundle from his hands. She unwrapped it to reveal her own Silveran blade. It was every bit the match of the prince's own, right down to the platinum hilt.

Eleonora handed the boy the cloth and strode out to the center of the field. She and the prince held their blades to their lips and nodded a curt nod to one another. With that, the battle began.

It is impossible for me to describe the ferocity with which those two fighters attacked one another. Nor am I a skilled enough warrior to accurately recount the various blows and parries each duelist levied against the other. All I can say is that the fight was the fastest, fiercest match I ever witnessed. It was immediately obvious that Eleonora had held back her full potential in the preceding duels. She had always appeared to be just slightly better than each of her opponents, but in this final battle with the prince, she displayed a level of finesse I have never before witnessed; not even in my own Sir Bellas.

But no matter how skilled she was, there was no way to escape the fact that this was Eleonora's seventh match of the day. She was tired, and Prince Renlen used that fact to his advantage. Though the two of them began the fight as equals, Eleonora quickly showed signs of fatigue. Her attacks became less intense, her parries less sure. The prince also grew tired, it was clear. No warrior can wield a sword the size of those Silveran blades for long without succumbing to exhaustion. But Eleonora's decline was much quicker than Renlen's.

I gripped Sir Bellas' arm. She was going to fall. I was sure of it.

Only moments after I came to that realization, it happened. The prince delivered a fierce upward slash. Eleonora parried the blow, but in the process lost her footing. She stumbled backward. Prince Renlen took that opportunity deliver a quick kick to the center of Eleonora's chest. She sailed backwards and landed in the dust with an audible thud.

The prince was on her. He clearly had no compunction against attacking a downed opponent.

The prince tried to swing his sword down into her gut, but she rolled to the side. His sword sank deeply into the hard-packed earth, and he lost valuable seconds struggling to wrench it free. Eleonora sprung to her feet, and delivered a fierce kick into the prince's right side. Prince Renlen staggered to his left, pulling his sword from the ground. He nearly fell, but he used his blade to correct his stagger.

He spun to face his attacker, clearly expecting an attack against his back. But Eleonora merely stood, watching. She wanted to win this battle; that much was clear. But she was a far more chivalrous fighter than the prince.

The two faced one another in a moment of stillness. Both had nearly lost the match. They were well aware of their own fatigue. Each understood this battle would be won in the next few moments. And so did we all.

Eleonora turned her left side to the prince and held her blade lowered to the ground. The prince did the same.

They regarded one another a very long time, taking advantage of this brief respite to catch their breath. Their chests heaved, and their breathing was audible, but other than that, there was neither movement nor sound beneath that tourney tent. Finally, when the waiting became almost too intense to bear, the prince spoke. His voice was ragged and low.

"Why do you wait, milady?" he gasped. "Come over here and finish this fight."

Eleonora said nothing.

A look of agitation crossed the prince's face. He was clearly not used to this sort of situation, and he obviously felt the crowd's favor leaving him. He called out to Eleonora, quite a bit louder this time. "Why do you hide, lady? What girl hides beneath that Bloodless heaume?"

Again, Eleonora said nothing. She stirred not a muscle.

"Fight, damn it!" shouted the prince. "Come over here and fight!" His body was quivering with rage.

Then finally, Eleonora spoke a soft proclamation that I almost missed. I almost wish I had, because those words tore at my heart. "I dedicate this victory to the young Lord Darren. May his beauty live on forever."

Lord Marden's eyes widened. He clutched at his throne and gasped. Prince Renlen turned to the Lord for but a moment, and that moment was all Eleonora needed.

She raced forward and swung her blade upward at the prince. He turned to her and tried to parry her blow, but her strength was too great. She knocked the blade from his hand and sent it spiraling into the crowd, nearly splitting Sir Borlac's aged skull.

Eleonora cracked the prince in the face with the hilt of her sword. His nose shattered, spraying blood onto Eleonora's bronze heaume. He staggered and doubled over, holding his bleeding face. Then she smashed the blade into his gut. It clanged against his armor, but still knocked the breath from his lungs. The prince fell to his knees, blood pouring onto the ground from his shattered nose, but Eleonora was not yet finished with him. She swung her sword upward and hit him in the face again. The force of the blow lifted the prince from his knees and sent him sailing onto his back.

The prince's Royal Guards had their hands on the hilts of their swords, but none made a move into the pit. The confusion in their eyes was clear. They were blood-bound to protect the prince, but until he called them into the pit, they were forbidden to intervene. For the disgrace he would suffer at being "saved" by his guard when he had not called for them would be too great. Certainly too great for one as proud as this young prince. Great enough to have the offending knight executed, whether that knight's efforts had truly saved his life or not.

But the prince did not call to his guard. I don't know why. And to a degree I am glad he did not. For the prince was a vile young boy who grew into a vile young man; he deserved his fate.

Instead, he lay on the ground with his hands on his bleeding nose. He tried to stand, but his knees gave way. He sank to the ground, kneeling before his attacker. He looked up and spat a mouthful of blood and teeth at her. "Bitch! What right do you have?" he screamed, his voice petulant and childish. "What was he to you?"

Eleonora lowered her blade and removed her heaume. Her dark hair clung to her sweat-drenched face, but her identity was clear. And when the prince saw her, hope fled from his eyes.

Lord Marden stood. His mouth hung open. He seemed a man torn between his duty to his kingdom and his love for his long-dead son. His mouth opened and closed, struggling for words. But none came.

Eleonora lifted her massive wooden blade with both hands, its hilt above her head, its tip pointed downward towards the prince's breast. "Hail Bellenesse," she cried, then plunged the sword downward. It tore through the prince's armor. Its bloody tip ripped through his back and pinned him to the tournament floor.

The boy screamed. I had never heard such a pitiful, heart-rending scream. But I had not long to relish it.

The crowd erupted into cries of shock and outrage. As one, the spectators rose to their feet and unsheathed their weapons. The crowd surged forward, and we were taken with it. I was lifted from my seat and carried forward, my feet dragging along the dirt floor.

Eleonora released her blade. Renlen remained pinned to the ground, his now-dead hands wrapped around the hilt of the wooden weapon. Eleonora produced a small gem from within the folds of her armor, then closed her eyes.

At this point, my feet finally reached the ground and I was able to move under my own power. The crowd rushed towards Eleonora, intent on slaying her where she stood. I looked to Sir Bellas, hoping that he would tell me what to do.

He motioned for me to close my eyes, and I did so without question. Though my eyes were shut, I was not completely shielded from the blinding flash of Eleonora's gem. A burst of brilliant light forced its way beneath my eyelids. As one, the hundreds of spectators in the tourney tent erupted in screams of agony.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. Sir Bellas quickly whispered into my ear, "Let's go!"

I opened my eyes. The entire tent was on their knees, hands clawing at their faces. Blood poured down their cheeks, as though their eyes had erupted in their very skulls.

I looked to Eleonora. She was already gone from the tent. Sir Bellas and I fled after.

Those few people who stood outside the tent looked to us in puzzlement. They had heard the commotion, but still had no idea what had actually happened in there. I unsheathed one of my blades, expecting one of them to try and stop our flight.

Eleonora ran ahead of us towards a group of three horses tied up near a small tent. Three small packs sat on the ground nearby. Eleonora picked up a sword that was stuck point-down in the ground and severed the horse ties with one quick stroke. She then picked up one of the packs and tossed it over her shoulder without looking back. Sir Bellas grabbed it out of the air and tossed it back to me. I quickly slung it over my shoulders. The others did the same with their own packs, and we mounted our horses. Eleonora sped off into the nearby forest. Sir Bellas and I followed.

It was nearly an hour before we heard them behind us. There must have been hundreds of them, scouring the forests for any trace of our retreat. But we left no sign. Though we careened through the forest at an incredible pace, we did not do so heedlessly. I learned later that Eleonora and Sir Bellas had scouted their retreat several months before. That fact was obvious as we made our escape. Not a branch was broken nor a bush stirred. We sailed through the forest as silently as our mounts would allow. In a matter of hours, all signs of pursuit faded into the evening gloom.

We have been in hiding for days now. We did not take the direct route to the Duke's fortress. We instead traveled South for two days. Once we reached the shore, we headed West for a time. Our current plan is to commandeer some sort of small fishing boat that will allow us to travel up the coast to the port of Salizzen. From there, it will only be another three days to the lands of Bellenesse.

We have not spoken much since the tournament, only enough to coordinate escape and survival plans. I still do not know why they brought me with them. And I can only assume that the entire reason for this expedition was to avenge Darren di Marden's death. But one thing I do know: I am terrified. Because I know what is coming. Eleonora showed herself when she killed the prince! Everyone there knows that the House of Bellenesse is responsible for his death! It is only a matter of time before the King wages war on our house.

But again, I must wonder, was this really about Darren di Marden? Was he the only reason for this horrible turn of events? Or is there some larger plan at work? I almost hope that there is. For unless the Duke has some plan in mind to repel the might of Viamont, I see no hope in surviving the civil war that is sure to come.

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