Thursday, July 30, 2009

"The Game - Chapter 4, Part 2"

If you haven't read Chapter 4, Part 1, read that first.

Harmon Broadbent was enjoying a nice cup of tea when he heard a commotion outside his tent.

"What is it now?" he thought. The wood groaned as he rose from his chair. Broadbent was a very large man, standing six foot five with the build of an ox. He had spent most of his life in the military; being drafted when he was sixteen and then staying on when his term was done. He had been a scrawny lay-about as a kid, but the rigors of army life had toughened him up, given him a purpose. He had served admirably through the Hobgoblin War, a tough sergeant of a solid unit. Things had fallen apart when the son of a rich baron had been appointed as his commanding officer. The boy had no training, but had thrown orders about with the cockiness bred into most of the nobility. The critical confrontation occurred when the young dandy had ordered Broadbent's unit into a useless, no-win situation. Broadbent had refused. He wasn't about to lead his men to their deaths on the foolish whim of an untrained boy.

The boy's father had seen to it that Broadbent was court-marshaled for his disobedience. The Baron wanted him hung - but the judge was sympathetic to Broadbent's situation and settled on discharging him without pension. Broadbent found himself on the street, penniless and without the only job he had ever known.

He had turned mercenary after that, then outlaw. He found he liked the life of an outlaw leader. He was in complete control. At the beginning, he had run his camp with military precision, but as time went on things had slipped a bit. He himself had put on a little weight, but he retained the musculature that had made him the army's wrestling champion ten years in a row. He still carried the two-handed claymore he had used in battle - and he still knew how to use it.

Broadbent retrieved the sword from its place and exited the tent.

"What's going on…?" he began, but stopped short at the sight. Silent's horse was standing in the middle of the camp, saddle-less. Two men stood next to her, deeply involved in an animated discussion.

"You said the horse would lead us back to its home!"

"Well we ain't jest standin' in the middle o' the woods!"

"You're saying THIS is her home?!?"

The shorter of the two - a man with massive bulk, despite his short, almost dwarven stature - seemed to notice where they were standing for the first time.

"Yer right," he said after appraising the men that now formed a ring around the pair, swords drawn. "This cannae be her home. She's too good fer the likes o' these."

The comment drew murmurs of disapproval from the seven members of Broadbent's band that encircled the two intruders. Broadbent was less concerned with the insult than he was with how two armed men had walked unaccosted into the heart of his camp.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded. The two looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't place them.

"Using this horse to find the location of your secret hideaway," the taller one answered. He bent the first two fingers of each hand in time with the words 'secret hideaway'. Broadbent didn't like his tone.

"Well that was foolish. For what purpose?"

"So we could tickle your little tosies?"

"Wrong answer." Broadbent was in no mood for games. "String them up by their ankles. Perhaps they'll be more willing to cooperate after they've cured in the sun for a while."

Four of the outlaws moved in to secure the prisoners. The two men didn't seem very worried over their fates. In a moment, he saw why.

As the first of the band reached the two, the taller one moved liked lightning. He caught the outlaw's sword hand in a wrist lock and wrenched it in a simple maneuver that caused the man to drop his sword and howl in pain. He then shoved the man into one of the others, sending them both stumbling to the ground.

The shorter one used the confusion to rush the other two outlaws. He caught them both in the stomach with a massive arm. The resulting impact caused the two to fall to the ground, gasping for air.

Broadbent and the remaining members of the band drew their weapons. "Kill them," he ordered.

The intruders drew their own weapons with practiced ease. There was a short standoff as the four who had been taken by surprise got to their feet and spread out warily, joined by their companions.


An arrow and a crossbow bolt impacted the ground just inches from Broadbent's boots. He held up a hand to forestall his men.

"Oh, yeah," said the taller of the two intruders, "We've got friends."

Broadbent searched the trees around the camp, but saw no sign of the hidden archers.

"The way I see it," the man continued, "We've got you right where we want you. We can do this one of three ways. One: we can fight this out. You might succeed in getting one of us, but I can guarantee you that we'll win."

The man twirled his bastard sword about in a complicated pattern. It reminded Broadbent of the way that the army's drummers had twirled their drumsticks across the knuckles of their hands. The maneuver was subconscious and spoke of great skill.

"Two: you can surrender here and now. That wouldn't be much fun, and I just can't see you giving up so easily, being ex-military like you are."

"Three: you can fight one of us in an honorable duel to first blood. If you win, we walk away and leave you alone. If we win, you give us the hospitality of your camp and the money you stole from that poor traveler earlier in the day."

So that's what this is all about, Broadbent thought. They want the money back. He evaluated the situation. Two against eight, with a couple of archers in the background. Those odds weren't so bad. Of course, he could save a few of his men if he was willing to give one of these two a lesson in combat. Which one would he choose…The tall one with the big mouth or the shorter one with the big muscles? Or maybe both at once!

"Time's a-wasting," the man said brightly, "I don't think I can hold old Colin here back much longer.

Colin? It suddenly struck Broadbent where he had seen these men before. It was back when he was in the army. He had had the occasion to work a mission with the Duke's elite forces. Their names came into his mind in a rush. The shorter of the two was Colin de Trenchmar, ex-commander of the Elite unit. The man was as ornery as a bulldog and ten times as dangerous. That would mean the other was Teserk Deseau, master swordsman and all around pain in the arse. Either one of these men could clean his clock, he knew. The eight to two odds suddenly didn't look so good.

Broadbent was at a loss as to how he should proceed. He would lose if he fought the duel and he really wanted to keep that money - it would feed his band for several months. Most, if not all, of his band would be killed if they attacked the deadly pair. That was unacceptable. He was responsible for these men and he wouldn't see their lives wasted. But his pride wouldn't let him surrender. Then he saw his way out.

"A duel it is!" he said suddenly and pointed to the direction from which the arrow had come. "I'll fight your archer."

Broadbent could see that Deseau had not expected that response. Good. Maybe that would teach him for not thinking his challenges through thoroughly. Archers were notorious for being less than able with the blade.

Then Deseau smiled.

1 comment:

Christina said...

You've hooked fair waiting too long for the sequel!