Part 9 - A Sore Loser
Finding Allana’s room wasn’t at all that difficult. However the girl wasn’t inside. He had been quite sure that she would stay put in her room, at least until the bruises on her face faded away, but apparently he’d been wrong. And so, even though he knew that he shouldn’t, he entered her chambers in search of some kind of clue that would point him in the right direction.
The reddish light of the sunset led him towards the window, which remained opened, the wind gently plying with its curtains. Peering outside a smile touched his lips as he found her escape route. In there, fixed against the palace walls, was a metallic ladder hidden beneath a beautiful and lush ivy. Easily climbing over the window, Elian went down the stairs and, once back on the ground, looked at his surroundings. He knew that place. He had been there that afternoon, during Selina’s guided tour around the palace grounds. He was at the back of the palace, near the stables.
The all too well familiar sound of clashing metal led him around a corner and across a wooden gate, which took him into the Knight’s training grounds. There a few tall, strong men, fully armored and wielding different kinds of weapons, had come together in a circle, surrounding some kind of event.
Many of those men were Knights of the Kingdom, easily identified by their heavy armors. But there were also common men, rudimentary armed but looking much more agile and dangerous. As he drew closer it soon became clear that the reason for that strange gathering was a duel.
In the center of the human circle a sturdy man fought against another one, much smaller and leaner. They both wore helms that covered their heads and faces, and that shone in fiery tones every time the setting sun bathed them. Contrasting with the full armor that the Knight wore, the smaller combatant wore a simple chain mail and leather protectors on his shoulders and legs.
Elian pushed through the circle in order to get a better view. Used as he was to watch and evaluate combats, he quickly concluded that the smaller fighter had the advantage, since his adversary was too slow and spent too much energy every time he struck a blow, unable to hit his agile opponent. In truth all it took was one quick look to know that the smaller fighter could end that duel whenever he wanted to. And, just as he had foreseen, not long after, he seemed to grow tiered of that childish game and, in a sequence of quick blows and an amazingly fast footstep work, his opponent’s sword flew out of his hands. A chorus of exclamations filled the air as the sword of the winner was firmly pressed against the tall Knight’s throat, marking his defeat.
“Your loss, again,” he simply told him in a stifled voice, sheathing his sword and turning to leave the circle.
The Knight, however, seemed unable to agree with that verdict and merely accept his defeat as it was his honorable duty and, drawing out a dagger he’d carried hidden beneath his breastplate, launched himself towards his adversary.
The sudden shadow that appeared from his left and the blade that skillfully pierced through his hand, striking perfectly at the metallic articulation of his gauntlet, made him roar in pain. The dagger fell to the ground and the winning warrior, betrayed by that cowardly attack, quickly pointed his sword at the man’s throat once again.
“Beg, Cramon! Beg for your life! For you have just lost your right to it!” he ordered and Elian pulled his sword from the man’s hand, as his intervention was no longer needed.
“I beg! I beg for my life!” the Knight shouted, falling to his knees in surrender, cradling his injured hand, which seemed enough to please his adversary.
“Then run away! Run away from here before I change my mind!”
The Knight stood, still shaken, and obeyed, running away from the human circle that had fallen deadly silent.
“I thank you for saving my life.”
Elian raised his eyes from the sword he’d been carefully cleaning and the sweet perfume of flowers that reached him, mixed with the smell of iron and blood, made him smile.
“It was nothing. Never really liked sore losers.”
“Even so, you saved me. If there’s anything I can do for you … Some way to repay my debt …?”
Elian smiled again as an idea crossed his mind.
“Well, if you insist, and if you’re not too tiered, would you accept a light duel?”
The warrior in front of him seemed to hesitate. However the men surrounding them had already started cheering and shouting phrases of encouragement, making it hard for him to refuse.
“Why not? If that will please you …”
The swords of both warriors crossed in midair, as means of salute. The men around them shouted enthusiastically, hopping to see a fight that would take a bit longer to reach an outcome than the usual duels.
After all, that stranger, that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, had already shown some measure of skill with his sword, in his fast intervention just moments ago.
Elian stepped back, lightly flexing his legs into a defensive position, and waited for his opponent’s attack, which didn’t take long. His adversary greeted him with a fast sequence of strong blows that forced him to step back, and the circle had to grow wider in order to grant him space. That little warrior wasn’t playing around, he noticed rather amused. However Elian was an experienced Knight and, although his adversary was impressively fast and agile, he was definitively lacking in terms of technique. His sequence of blows constantly repeated itself and it didn’t take long for Elian to be able to anticipate where the next blow would be. As he did exactly so, both swords clashed in midair and the combat stood on holding for an instant. He was getting tiered, that he couldn’t deny, but his opponent suffered from the same ailment.
“Not bad, I must say … for an amateur!” he added, daring to smile, and sounds of disbelief ran around the circle.
As expected, his statement had its effect, and Elian could almost see his opponent’s anger grow. Pulling his sword away, he attacked him again, but now his movements were led by rage, not by a mind able to reason logically.
And so, in a quick counterattack, Elian disarmed him, his sword flying across the sky like a ray of light.
A new wave of disbelief filled the air, as the undefeated warrior of so many combats raised his hands, signaling his surrender.
“Not bad at all. I hope there’s a reward …”
“I believe there is. The eternal admiration of all these idiots! You were the first one, in the history of Everlyn, to ever defeat me,” he answered, his voice still muffled but, even so, unable to hide his despise.
Elian smiled and pressed his sword against his adversary’s chest.
“Move! You’re my prisoner. Maybe I’ll keep you as a trophy, who knows?”
With a reluctant sigh the defeated the warrior turned and obeyed, leaving the human circle that opened to grant them passage. Whispers followed them but no one dared try to stop them from walking away. And so, not long after, the training grounds were left behind as they approach the stables.
“How long do you intend to keep up this joke?” the warrior asked him, without even bothering to look at him, and Elian pretended to think about an answer.
“Hum … Don’t know. How much do you think your Kingdom would be willing to pay for your life?”
“You’re not serious!” he contested in disbelief, suddenly halting, and Elian had to divert his sword or he would have ended hurting his prisoner.
“Don’t stop! I need to talk to you.”
The warrior looked at him, hesitating once again, but ended up obeying his order.
At the stables, Elian was greeted with a loud neigh, as his horse reared up, greeting him, almost making him drop his weapon. It then sniffed suspiciously at his prisoner and Elian nudged him forward.
“Please, mount!” he practically ordered and the warrior looked at him through his metallic helm.
“You’ve got to be kidding! Surly you don’t expect me to mount the horse of a stranger just like that!”
“Jeez! Are you going to argue every single thing I tell you to do? Just do as I say! Or do I have to take you to the royal quarters dressed like that?”
Obviously against his will, and still under Elian’s threat, the warrior mounted. The horse stood still, obeying his master silent command, and, after sheathing his sword, Elian mounted behind him.
“Where do you intend to take me?”
He didn’t bother answering, guiding his horse towards the wooden gates, and his mount took them out of the stables, happy to be able to move freely once again.
“Think about what you’re doing! I can easily accuse you of kidnapping!”
“You’d have a lot to explain, if you did,” he answered and led them towards the trees that stood tall outside the only wall of Everlyn, the one that delimited the palace’s grounds.