Brand had been busy. The tent that we were using as our base cape in Tuthom-Pothrie was in great shape, and was perfect for showing off the supposed wealth of the Skuza family. The New-Raphelian was used to a harsher environment though, and had reinforced it, as well as adding some extra flaps to give us more privacy where needed and some room to avoid the sun that was now sitting high in the sky.
I had done everything that I could think of to prepare myself for the fight, but still had many turnings until I needed to make a move. Several other traders had set yup shop throughout the morning though, so I decoded to entertain myself by imagining what I would spend my money on were I lucky enough to get paid. There were no swords finer than my own, and the dagger was a custom made one of a kind that I would struggle to replace this far from home. I contemplated the armour on offer though.
My chest was well protected, but a blow to the arms or legs could have easily crippled me. There was nothing to improve my situation that came within my current budget though. I did remember about the brigandine though; although it offered the same protection to my arms, and would be slightly more vulnerable to axe slashes than my chain, it was designed to be worn in polite society.
It had not come to me in great condition though, so would need repairing to be at all useful as an outfit that didn’t make it look like I was walking around just looking for a fight. There was an armourer or two kicking around, mainly looking to sell items they already had on them rather than make stuff to order. Once outside of the Profanerium I was sure I would find better appointed dealers with their own forge and slave children to keep the bellows blowing, but down here, there was only so much that could be carried on the back of a wagon.
One of them was happy enough to take a look at the armour, and offered to get it back into shape for a mere 50 Gold Dituri. That was still a little outside of my price range, but at least I knew where I could go when we got paid.
Just thinking back to how important it was to get paid back then. It’s hard to imagine a time in my life previous to then that I would ever have needed to worry about having the money on me to cover my bills. Might be why my attitude was still a little off when it came to money. It would prove difficult to convince a smith to repair a bit of kit without payment up front, but by the end of the day, I was happily racking up tabs for food, drink and a room for the night without even thinking about it.
By the time I was back from my almost totally pointless walk, Valerius and Fjorlief were back at the tent, but Caderyn was nowhere to be seen. I wasn’t surprised, but I was hoping to see him again soon. Hell, at all would have been nice.
Since the food we had mainly been surviving on was either killed in the wild or part of the rations that made up Skuza’s possessions, we needed to get some food from the market. Thankfully, there fayre was greatly improved from the last food I had bought outside of a Pelosian city. As we sat there munching away of fresh fruit and dried meat, a large and extravagant palanquin could be seen heading towards us.
Not long before I left home these had been all the rage. The larger and more ostentatiously decorated the better, preferably with a entire regiment needed to keep it aloft. Although this would certainly give any Raphelian the run for their money in the decoration stakes, its size looked more a necessity than a choice, as its passenger was a huge beast of a man.
I don’t use that term lightly here either, the man was messed up. He had lost an ear and an eye, one leg was sadly absent, along with several fingers and what good looks he may have once possessed. Luckily, he seemed pleased to see us, rather than in the mood to feast on our spirits, and introduced himself as Erasmus Costanzo.
The inner workings of the Pelosian legal system make about as much sense to me as Yerwian finances. It seemed that it was no good for either Valerius or Eduardo to just step into a court room and represent themselves. Hell, they could both have been lawyers, and I think they would still need someone more important than them to get involved. Well, this heavily injured ex-legionnaire was to be that man for them.
I did my best to shown my respect, bowing and offering to pay for a drink to lubricate a social situation I barely understood, and that seemed to go down well. Whilst he and Valerius talked I set out to find a cheap bottle of yellow grass wine to keep him happy, and some fresh water for the serviles that had been tasked with hauling his not inconsiderable bulk around the city. This meant I missed a whole bunch of talking about Skuza and his chances, but what little I did catch didn’t fill me with confidence.
Costanzo was not easily convinced of his clients innocence, and was instead pushing fro a straight up confession. The word around the city – or at least the Profinerium – was that justice was required, and that it should be carried out quickly. If my future ability to eat didn’t rely him on quite so much, I doubt I would have minded at all if Eduardo took this option, and let himself out the easy with his own honour blade.
Luckily, Valerius seemed just as pissed off with that thought as I did, and spent most of the afternoon trying to convince Costanzo of our patron’s innocence. There is talk of a twin brother and some under the table dealings with the deceased, but anything other than that I struggled to follow, and soon lost interest in. He seemed happy with what he had though, and left in the manner with which he arrived, but not before taking the time to ask me my own opinions of Skuza.
There was no point painting a picture that wouldn’t stand up to close inspection, so I kept my answer honest, “Well Ser Costanzo, he is a man of high ideals and high standards, but of low ability in trying to meet either of them. The physical evidence I am sure, will prove right what I have always suspected, and what you will see for yourself when you meet with him. No matter what he might claim otherwise, he lacks the constitution to even consider killing someone. Hell, they could be charging towards him with axes drawn, and he’d be more likely to faint than fumble his ferros from its scabbard. I’ve seen it happen, and so has everyone sat down with you today.
“On the road, it paid to convince Eduardo that he was a martial man of great cunning and guile, who only needed to resort to violence when every other avenue was closed to him. It was good for him to think himself indestructible, as it made him take some risks that allowed us to be hear as early as we are, and I was happy yo feed him the lies he wanted to hear. But they were just that: lies. Spend a turning in his company, and you’ll have no doubts at all about him”.
Costanzo’s eyes had never left my face as I spoke, and at the mention of the lies I told him, I don’t doubt there was a trace of a half smile playing across his scarred face. He seemed happy with my reading of the man though, and was soon away, leaving the rest of us with a few turnings left before we would be off.
* * *
It looked like everyone of us still there would be joining me in my little excursion. There was to be other activities that night, including some more mole fighting, and various other games, including Velochi. Being a sport of my homeland, I was looking forward to relaxing and watching a match, but regretted my short funds as I would be unable to place a wager. As it turned out, the games were not quite what I had in mind.
A large Randish looking fellow approached us at a slow meandering pace, making it look like he accidentally came upon our party rather than seeking us out. He introduced himself as Rembrandt, and taking in my orange sash inquired if I had arranged a “one-on-one” Velochi match for later in the day. I nodded, and invited him to sit and join us for a while, but he held up a hand, “Sadly, there are many things this eve that require my attention. I am here at present to ensure the terms of the match are agreed upon. Am I to understand that this is personal match, which will see no outside interference?”
“You are correct my friend, I just hope my opponent is just as sporting”.
“This is guaranteed. Just a couple more details to be worked out then, is this… match to the bitter end, or just until a wound satisfies honour?”, I nod at the word honour. “Very good, and should we expect both participants to come as they are?” Another nod as I realise that this could give a man with a large group of friends and financial backing some measure of an advantage against me, but going in without my own tricks would be the death of me.
“That’s everything I need to know, in which case I will wish you whatever fortune the Goods see fit to bestow upon you. Before I leave though, am I correct in placing you as part of the honourable Ser Skuza’s party”?
“That is true, it is his honour that I am defending. In the Velochi match”.
“Of course”, he replied with a smile, “The rumours are that he will swing tomorrow at the order of the courts, or be found in a pool of his own blood having taken his own way out. If such a thing is to occur, know that there will be a place for you, and those wagons contain just the kind of thing that can be easily removed and sold for a profit. Sterk is always looking for new friends. Be seeing you”.
And with that, he was winding his way back through the crowds. Sterk. The name I had been hearing on occasion for most of this journey. A mercenary captain who was looking to become City Champion to secure his position in the borderlands of the Margo Marrisi. Being tied to someone so important was something worth thinking about, but in a large company of mercenaries, I would surely be lost in the crowd.
My entire reason for leaving my home and striking out to the borderlands was to make a name for myself, not just make some money as a faceless soldier. Even the story men of Thorgrim were just men. I had defeated two of them in single combat, and left a third to report his shame to his master. I already knew that the only role I would be comfortable with in a free company was as a captain, but that didn’t interest me. Tonight I would find out how well placed I would be as a duelist though.
With Rembrandt away, and a mole tucked under Fjorlief’s arm, we set off for the fair. Everyone seemed in good spirits, with Drazar seemingly unable to keep his trap shut. Before long though he separated from us, probably hoping to avoid attention by going it alone and keeping an eye out on any of opponents’ friends who might decide to interfere.
The fair itself was a surprisingly simple affair. There was certainly plenty to do that would keep anyone entertained, but I had been expecting something much more gaudy fir a Pelosian city, even in the Profinerium. It was understated in its revelry, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. The Hutzlunr especially, as she had a mole to wager on. She had spent some time before entering it into a competition, making sure it would win. I knew she could do the same for me, but wanted to win my fight on my own.
Her little pet did well though, and even coming out with a few scratches that required some attention, Fjorlief managed to win some money on the contest. It seemed that she wasn’t the only one in a betting mood that evening. My lack of funds stopped me from putting an money down on the odds of my own success, but a few of the others seemed very confident in my abilities. Looking back, I imagine Drazar wishes he hadn’t bet quite so much money though, and that’s taking into account the fact that I’m still alive to write this account of my younger days.
* * *
With all the other fun out of the way, we arrived at the Velochi pitch with time to spare. We even manage to catch a game in progress, but I was too busy getting ready. I could see my opponent, and he was surrounded by not only his usual cronies, but a few unfamiliar faces including someone laying on hands. Earth Power it was then, but there were limits to what that could do. With the power of Geomancy, I could alter the laws of physics themselves, so smiled to myself as everyone began drifting away to place bets of their own. Fjorlief took the time to at least wish me luck with an embracing hug. I felt buoyed by her support, and whispered in Pelo-Margo, “I dedicate this victory to you”.
Her cheeks had a certain blush to them as we parted smiling, and I was even more determined to give her a victory she deserved. Our names were being announced so I shed the last of my outer clothing that could be used against me. I had left my cloak behind, so shrugged off my over shirt and left my new hat on the ground and began to write a rune of sharpening on my Basaedo. Used correctly, it would allow me to cut deeper into the and through the hardest armour, and do massive damage to the flesh beneath.
Unlike most of my combat runes, it would last minutes rather than seconds, but took far too long to scribe to be useful in a surprise attack. As I approached the markings and listened to Rembrandt introduce us and lay out the rules, keeping up the pretense of a Velochi match all the way through, I brought Pelanore’s rune of befuddlement to mind, hoping to launch it quickly to give me the edge.
Before I knew it though, the Velochi ball was hurled through the air and struck the bell to signal the start of a match, and our duel. I was still thinking of the rune, distracted by the noise and was barely able to drop into a defensive stance before the windbag in front of me acted.
He quickly reached to the small of his back and withdrew a small long object. My heart stopped as for a moment I thought he had managed to get hold of a Spitzroden. I didn’t have long to think on the matter though, as sparks and flames were soon whipping towards me after the telltale flash of an inscribed room being broken. I dropped down and to the left, but wasn’t quite quick enough and took a blast of sparks against my chest.
My armour did its job though, taking the brunt of the brunt of the attack and allowing only a slight burning wound to open up. Nothing like a wound that would give Rembrandt the chance to call a pause to the proceedings and allow my opponent the chance to claim first blood. So, earth power and runes were at his disposal; I would like to say I didn’t have to be worried, but that would be a lie. I was committed though, so just did what I could and tried to ignore the fear in my gut.
Before he could surprise me again I loosed my own rune. I had done my best to stop it being quite as obvious as his flashy trick, and it struck well. His next step was sloppy, and when he tried to flick the wand around to ready another blast attack he almost dropped it, and even looked unsure if he was ready to strike at me again. It was a momentary distraction though, and I was soon the target of more sparks. This time I was ready for it, and his aim was definitely off.
I quickly stepped around him, moving lightly on the balls of my feet until I had closed the distance between us. I had no idea how many other tricks he had down the back of his trews, so went all out to inflict a crippling wound. I feinted right, but spun on my heel and struck high and hard, the point of my sharpened steel pushing through his cheek like it was fog. I felt the grating of metal against his teeth as the shape of my blade pushed his jaws open.
The tip of my Basaedo saw sunlight again as it pushed all the way through, tearing his tongue from its root. With another spin I had pulled away and withdrawn my sword. If he had survived the attack, I had left myself open, but it was certainly enough of a blooding for the bell to ring. And ring it did, but before the first echoes reached my ears my opponent’s head had lolled back on his shoulders and his knees buckled. The crowd gasped as he fell fully backwards, a final gush of blood as his heart beat its last.
I held my arms up and open to the applauding crowd and walked towards the fallen man. Rembrandt had approached to lift my right arm up in celebration, taking the time to sneak in his own congratulations. There was something more to be gained from this victory than honour and renown though. The man had fallen because of his threats and accusations against Skuza as he lay unconscious on the floor. His friends might still make trouble for us, so I had to negate them too. Seeing the Rarkscian fallen from his limp hand, I knew my opponent had one more use.
Leaning towards Rembrandt, I asked, “Is there a rule on who claims the spoils of victory? That is a very good looking knife.” I was not shocked to see a hint of a disapproval on his face, but he didn’t stop me as I bent to claim my prize. A good part of the crowd went suddenly silent, but soon began to murmur amongst themselves. I walked towards the crowd that had surrounded the mouthy git that had fallen beneath my blade, looking for whomever seemed to demand the most respect.
It was an older Dummonii that stood out, so I walked towards him with the curved knife in my off hand. “Your friend fought well, and he should be honoured. I will always remember him. But the reason we engaged in that fight still remains, and I wish to see it gone. He accused my employer with no evidence, and tried to kill him as he lay prone on the ground. He has answered for that, but I worry his friends will also seek their own… justice. I offer you the fallen man’s Rarkscian as a token of peace and goodwill, with the understanding that we shall hear no more of this from your people.”
He looked down at me from his place in the stands, like I was but a bar room brawler, but in my right hand I still held a wicked looking blade dripping with his friend’s blood. He turned to talk to his friends, and even mo knowledge of the Dummonii tongue did me no favours as they spoke so quietly and quickly. When he turned back around, he looked happier, but still determined. “It is not our way to fight as he did, but you fought well. Taking a Rarkscian is not something done lightly for our people”, at this he motioned his group, which included some very unhappy faces, “but returning it like you have is appreciated. So we will honour your request and cease our activities in regard to Skuza”.
It had worked. I had won a victory, and saved my employer from some small measure of inconvenience. I could only hope that Valerius had it in him to pass on my good deeds. Hell, i had made him some money, so that might help. It looked like everyone had done well out of my victory too, but Drazar seemed pissed about something. The silly bastard had tried to interfere in the fight after the first runic attack against me, and the druid on their side had struck back with some amount of force.
I had no sympathy for him though; all I had asked of him was to make sure no one else got involved, and he had gone against my wishes just to make some coin. If this was known by too many people it could do considerable harm to my reputation, so I just dismissed him with a wave of my hand as Rembrandt approached smiling. “My friend! Come, drink with us! We toast your impressive victory and drink until the sin comes up!”
It had been a long time since I allowed myself to get drunk, but the looks I was getting from Fjorlief convinced me to invite her along and spend the night enjoying myself without worrying about anything but the pleasure of spending time with a beautiful woman.