Friday, July 31, 2009

"The Game Chapter 4, Part 3"

Make sure you read yesterday's post first....

"You're gonna what?!? Valinor, this is insane!"

Teserk and the others stood in a small knot off to one side of the camp. While Broadbent's call to fight the archer had been unexpected, it was of little true consequence. Teserk was undisputedly the most skilled fighter in the group, but Valinor was nearly a match for him when he wielded his twin short swords together. The ranger would have made short work of the fight, in spite of the claymore's longer reach, but....

"YOU get choice of weapons and you choose single - SINGLE - short swords? Have you lost your mind?"

Teserk glanced across the clearing where Broadbent stood with his men, flexing his substantial muscles and swing the short sword about with practiced ease. He threw up his arms and grunted in exasperation.

Valinor looked at him, his visage calm. "This has got to be as fair as possible, Teserk. Broadbent is an honorable man at heart, but the respect of his men means everything to him. If he lost too easily, he might be tempted to renege on the deal."

"Besides," he added looking at the big man, "Have you SEEN the reach on that guy? I'd have had a hard time getting close to him if he'd have fought with that claymore. Now, at least, we're on more even footing.

Teserk didn't agree and was about to say so again when Broadbent's voice rang across the camp.

"Enough chatter. Let's do this. My supper's getting cold."

The outlaw leader strode to a clear area and Valinor moved to meet him. The other outlaws and the small company moved back to give them plenty of room.

Teserk was struck again by the size difference between the two. While Valinor was not a small man - standing about 6 feet tall and well toned - Broadbent towered over him and was easily twice his mass. This could get really ugly really fast.

"To first blood," Valinor said.

"Till the weaker concedes," the big man countered.

Teserk wanted to scream at Valinor to say no - the original agreement had been to first blood and a prolonged fight would certainly favor the outlaw leader - but he remained silent as the ranger saluted with his sword in acceptance.

The two men began circling each other warily. Broadbent attacked first - a simple, straightforward lunge that Valinor easily parried. The ranger riposted and Broadbent parried the counterattack. They continued in this way for over two minutes, each man testing the strengths and speed of the other. It became clear to Teserk that Valinor's speed and agility countered Broadbent's reach and sheer strength. The two looked evenly matched. That bothered the fighter more than a little.

Teserk's attention was refocused on the fight as Broadbent launched into a more complex attack sequence. Valinor parried each strike, giving ground until the sequence was finished, then stepped forward with an attack of his own. Broadbent held his ground and the two broke apart briefly.

Broadbent smiled grimly. "Now it begins in earnest."

He came in faster than before, his sword swinging in a downward crosscut. Valinor pivoted back on his left foot and swung up his blade, deflecting the attack to his right. Broadbent, expecting the maneuver, spun with the movement launching a vicious backfist at the ranger's face. Valinor ducked the punch and brought his blade across in a slice at the big man's exposed flank. Broadbent's sword caught the weapon and threw it out wide. Valinor responded in a diving roll that took him away from the outlaw, his follow up slash passing harmlessly over the ranger's head.

Valinor came to his feet and Broadbent was on him in an instant. The ranger barely managed to put his sword in place so furious was the outlaw leader's advance. Though he succeeded in blocking each attack, the blocks came at a high price. Valinor's arm was starting to go numb from the sheer force of the blows.

Broadbent seemed to sense this and he stepped up the intensity of his strikes. Valinor sidestepped an overhead blow that surely would have cut him in two had it connected. His counter was batted aside and he was forced to retreat a step.

Teserk began to worry. Broadbent was really pressing now and his friend was giving ground too easily. The outlaw was steadily forcing Valinor into a corner - a small group of tightly packed trees at the edge of the camp - and without the needed room to maneuver, Broadbent would finish the fight in short order.

Valinor was about five feet from the trees now, frantically trying to halt his retreat, but Broadbent would have none of it. His pace increased yet again, knowing that this fight was almost over.

In a sudden movement, Valinor blocked a strike out wide, spun and placed a boot firmly on the closest tree trunk. Broadbent lunged, intending to skewer the ranger against the tree. Using the tree as a base, Valinor reversed his momentum and flipped backward over the thrust. He landed lightly on his feet behind the surprised outlaw and launched a devastating spinning sidekick into the man's back.

Broadbent crashed head first into the tree. The force of the impact dazed him and he stumbled, his free hand touching the ground to keep him on his feet. Valinor kicked the hand away and the big man fell to the ground.

It only took Broadbent a moment to recover, but by that time, Valinor had one foot pinning his sword, his own blade leveled at the outlaw's face.

"Do you yield?"

Broadbent sighed in frustration, a large purple bruise forming on his cheek from the collision with the tree. "Aye. I yield."

Valinor withdrew his blade and offered the outlaw his hand. "Come, then. I'm getting hungry."


There was an uneasy truce in the camp, as Broadbent kept his word and offered his hospitality to the party. The stew was watery, but palatable, and when everyone had a full stomach the tension eased a bit. The men on guard duty were rounded up, their pride hurting more than their wounds and they listened appreciatively as Colin gave them some tips on how they could improve the effectiveness of their watch.

Broadbent returned the stolen gold, albeit reluctantly. He apologized for the theft, explaining that his band had to eat. When Theadina pointed out that his band had killed Mort's companion, he claimed self defense.

"The guy launched himself at poor Dawson there, practically impaled himself on Dawson's sword."

"Ah, spit," the accused outlaw said, "I never meaned t' hurt 'im."

"But what about your man who chased Mort through the forest," Teserk pointed out, "Surely THAT wasn't self defense."

Broadbent looked hard at the swordsman. "Silent was not 'my man'. He wandered in on us maybe a week ago looking for work. We said we'd put him up, but he couldn't join until he'd proven himself. His actions in this case just go to prove that he wasn't Broadbent's Band material."

Teserk looked dubious, but Broadbent forestalled further comments by asking Mort to tell his story.

"I've heard of this Nefarious," he said when Mort had finished, "Mean old wizard who lives in a disserted manor house down the road a bit. We avoid his place - bad things happen to those who wander to close."

"We don't really have a choice in the matter," Theadina said. "If we want to get Mort's daughter back, we have to face the wizard."

"Well, if you mean to go, let me give you a few pointers. First - directions. There's a road that leads straight to the manor - cuts right off the North road. That's the fastest route, and Nefarious is sure to have it watched. Course, he's expecting company, so that's not really an issue. You could try to cut through the woods, but that leads to point number two: the Knobby Gnolls."

"Gnolls?" Mort asked.

Broadbent nodded grimly. "Nasty creatures, dog-like, but walk upright like men. Strong and quick, but not so intelligent. More clever than anything. Favor the axe and ambush tactics."

"We know what Gnolls are," Teserk said shortly.

"He asked," Broadbent retorted. "The Knobby Gnolls live up under Knobby Ridge - not too far from Nefarious' place. Rumor says the wizard has a deal with the beasts. They keep trespassers away and he throws them a bone from time to time."

"A b-bone?" stuttered Mort.

"Nefarious releases defenseless souls out into the woods so the Gnolls can have a hunt."

Mort blanched, thinking of his daughter.

"And third," Teserk prompted.

"What makes you think there's a third?"

"Things like this always come in threes."

Broadbent laughed. "So they do. Third, then. The manor is one big trap."

"And you know this, how?" Teserk inquired.

"Common knowledge. Anyone who gets in, whether the wizard is home or not, is not coming out in one piece - unless it's as the fox for the Gnoll hunters. Nefarious has made sure that everyone round these parts knows it. It's his house and he likes his privacy."

"So let me recap," Teserk said, standing. "In order to get Lucinde back we've got a choice of traveling down a well-watched road - alerting the man to our approach - or cut through the woods and take our chances with these Knobby Gnolls. We then have to enter a trapped house - from which no one ever leaves alive - bypass the defenses and then confront this very private wizard - who knows we're coming - in his own domain."

"Sounds about right," said Broadbent.

"Sounds insane!" Teserk corrected.

"And yet, we go," Valinor said firmly. "For the sake of Lucinde, we go."

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