End of last post: … His face turns into a snarl and he lunges. I parry and slash. The blade does its work and cuts between the slit in his coat. Blood gushes from his thigh and he winces, jumps back and prepares for another assault. He’ll be more careful and more dangerous now. [end blog post #35]
[begin blog post #36
He’s angry more than hurt. The cut was not life-threatening and did not slow down his movements. He manages to slice into my forearm but I pull out of his slash in time, replying with another long wide swing that takes him on the shoulder. To my surprise, the light axe bites through his protective armour and cuts deep into the arm. He reels back but recovers before I can jump him and administer the slash across the throat I had anticipated. I get a double cut on the calf of my left leg and now my blood is pouring out. Were it not for Deirdre’s gift of stim and the cheelth coating in the laces the fight would have ended there – a sobering realization.
Risking it all I pull within his swing and turning as if to drive my pike in his stomach, I balance on my good leg and let the other rise impossibly high – doing those splits everyday may yet pay off – and having activated the hidden sole blade, I bring my leg down again, the tip of my sandal aimed straight at his heart. This was beyond anything he could have anticipated or any information he may have purchased because I have never used this move since the day I killed that “careless” trainer, and that was pure accident. As for the blade in the shoe, I can only guess he thought such a weapon too silly to be of any value, the extra weight on the feet not worth the effort and dismissed the concept. Remember what I said earlier about difference? A weapon does not have to be superior if it can help create the unexpected.
He cannot parry the kick in time and doubles over, the look of contempt for me frozen on his face. I pull my foot back, regain my balance, swing the good edge of my axe and slash swiftly with my remaining strength. His head is almost completely severed from the neck and I watch the corpse twitch to its death, the bloodied mustache hiding the rictus smile. I practically eject myself from the fighter trance I’d hypnotized myself into to make myself aware of my surroundings and the sad shape my body is in. The stim is still working and I haven’t begun to feel my pain yet.
Instead of the usual spitting and cries of “Death! Death! Death” there is no sound coming from the stands. My trainers come and take me down through the tunnel. Is it over? I survived and I’m alive? Same question each time. You never get used to this even though you tell yourself each time you will return.
After roughly stripping me of my armour they take me to the shower stall and dump cold water on me. I almost collapse from the shock and pain from my cuts. I barely hang on to the edge of the trough, bent over, one hand in my mouth to keep from screaming. Then I’m walked to the doctor’s clinic and again Deirdre is there, having somehow managed to get herself released from the cage. She is allowed to follow behind, doing so in an uncharacteristically meek way. Once inside the doctor’s office and the door closed, he helps me on his working table and quickly goes to work cleaning the cuts to cauterize them with a laser pen and sew up the worst ones.
Deirdre holds me down but nothing is given to ease the pain. I want to scream with the added pain but I understand the need of it: I have to return to the arena for round two, so they cannot give me pain killers or any other drug that would slow me down, confuse my thinking or knock me out altogether. I must be able to feel my body, pain and all. Also speed is of the essence so no luxury of time for another treatment by the auto-med.
“The slave will wait for you outside; I must speak to you alone,” says the doctor. I sense another of those moods in him and say nothing. He continues to examine me carefully. I feel his emotions. I must be exuding an extra measure of those pheromones. I sense a kind of admiration mixed with loathing and hate towards me. He would have taken me, even in my condition, I can easily tell he wants to, but some greater force prevents him.
After taking several deep breaths and running his fingers through his hair he says, “You are the only fighter on the roster today, I must warn you. The reason is simple. You belong to House Tassard. No, you belong specifically to the King. When you first arrived here in Hyrete and were put up for auction by the freelance slave hunters who found you, his aides came to look you over and when they reported what they saw, the King decided to buy you.”
So that’s what the brother meant when he said he’d kill the King’s favourite animal. I am the King’s fighter. All the years I’d wondered who owned me until finally I gave up trying to find out and learned to concentrate on my purpose. Interesting. That explains a lot, especially the gradual ‘perks’ I’ve been granted with training and in weapons design, choices and handling. I wasn’t alone.
“Wonder not I know these things. I am assistant to the King on a regular basis. He it is who orders me to take care of you… but I cannot be here all the time. I spend much time in the castle with the King, dealing mostly with the more serious state matters for politically, things are not well in Elbre. Because I cannot always be here when you need me, I arranged for the Cholradil to be given to you. We have taught her many new medical skills so she can take care of you when I cannot be here, or when I’m otherwise busy. She has not spoken to you of these things because we bonded her into silence. Once so bonded Cholradils cannot violate the trust put into them, however impossibly they be tortured or put through truth probes. They cannot unlock their information to divulge it outside of their own minds.
“So I must warn you again that today is a special day. It is adoption day for the King. He has chosen a son from a specially raised group of boys bred for leadership among the aristocracy. That is how they get their heirs here. As a sign of goodwill he has opened the arena seats free to all propertied and moneyed interests who wished to attend and has decreed no taxes would be levied – today only – on any profits made from the gambling. The King of course, hopes you will win. He has promised to put his personal winnings in a special account for his son. Believe me, if you do win, that money will be considerable.
“So it’s a great celebration but on the downside, it became known that his brother has been seeking to kill the King to take the throne. There was much hate between these brothers – who were boys from different crèches. It was the brother who contrived to have you fight the drook. Your death was to cost the King a fortune and was meant to weaken him financially. When you defeated the drook, the brother lost a fortune to gambling debts and legal claimants to the drook’s wages. He went into a terrible rage and made a vow to kill you himself – a vow eternally binding upon the person who takes it if taken before three reliable witnesses, which was done.
“So he had you watched and also came to see you fight himself. He took special training in the axe because, as you said, it is a most difficult weapon for a female to handle. But he failed to recognize the value of your new designs. He also underestimated both your strength and endurance though it was your speed that cost him his life. Now his hireling and aide has, by contract and previous arrangement, to avenge the death. Your next encounter is against Torlat whom I am told, you have already briefly met?”
“Well doctor, I only saw him. He did not speak to me, nor did he come near me. The Tassard did all the talking.”
“That is how it is. Another warning: he is taciturn, yes, but highly intelligent and thoroughly into hand-to-hand weaponry. Likely he will prove to be even more formidable and dangerous than the King’s brother. With this one, I suggest you take your time for the obvious reason: it is easier to outlast a known opponent once you know his basic moves than to take on a new one. Well, I don’t need to tell you that, it’s just a reminder. Also, since you are the only defender for the day, it’s all a matter of lasting out the time. The King will terminate the sport once you kill this Torlat if you make it last long enough. Otherwise the rule is that you must face a third contender to satisfy the requirements of gambling. Third contender, triple winnings.
If the King leaves, the fighting ends. So make it last, for your own sake. They won’t give you any reprieve in terms of time, not after killing the Prince.”
He suddenly reaches for me, pulls me up so I am sitting and we are face to face. He puts his arms around me and holds me tightly. There are tears in his eyes and even in my pain I feel a moving of my heart for him.
He takes my hand in his, squeezes it. “I care for you, Antierra. I have lived here fifteen classic years and I am cursed with this planet’s madness, ‘tis true, but I know in my clear moments that I care much for you. Please be careful in this next fight. One at a time; just one at a time. Remember no one can do what you do. No one can fight like you and certainly no one knows weapons like you do. You can win this next fight. You must win it and you will win it.”
His entreaty is genuine. I reply, “You’ve given me two reasons to come out alive sir. Deirdre and you. To be cared for as a slave woman in this place is truly the ultimate gift. To be cared for by a man? If I did not honestly believe that all things are possible I’d say to myself, ‘this is impossible; it’s a trick.’ But I believe you. I want to believe you doctor. I need to believe you.”
[end blog post #36]