Al’ev woke up the next morning and almost immediately sprung out of bed to throw his clothing on. His mind was determined and his focus was absolute. He wondered if this was how the swordsman felt as he defended the fortress all those years ago.
That morning’s breakfast took far too long for Al’ev to eat. He looked around the mess hall and didn’t see Joshua anywhere. He hoped that his friend was okay. His thoughts shifted to a darker place when his eyes met with Taruk’s grin.
I’ll see that grin wiped from your face before this day is out, Taruk.
Captain Greil came into the mess hall as he had the previous mornings and gathered all of the students out in the main yard. “Students, it has been a long week for all of you but today is the day you’ve all been working towards. Today is the Day of the Swordsman. Most of you won’t get the opportunity to show the town what you’ve learned within these walls. But do not be upset by this. Hone the skills we have taught you and use them for the defense of your life and in the defense of others. If you do this, then your time here will have been well spent. Now, we have a lot to do this morning so let’s get right to it.”
Indicating the two dueling rings on either side of the yard Captain Greil continued to speak. “The younger students will split up into their individual groups and proceed to each ring. There you will test your skills against those in your group as part of a preliminary tournament. The rules are simple, each combatant…” Al’ev wasn’t paying attention anymore. He saw Mel and Brox come in through the portcullis and followed her with his eyes as she moved to what he had come to think of as her spot. She smiled and waved at him when she noticed him looking over her way and Al’ev quickly looked back to Captain Greil in time to hear him finish explaining the rules. “All group members will enter the ring at the same time and will fight it out. The one with points left at the end will be the one who advances to the semi final round which will be held in front of the town as part of tonight’s festivities. Are there any questions? No? Okay, split off and wait for your instructors to get to the ring before you start.”
A few moments later, Captain Greil had lead Al’ev, Linder and Rafe to one of the dueling rings. The captain looked at his three trainees with pride evident in his features and then spoke.
“So this is where we find out what you’ve managed to learn throughout the week. I don’t expect any one of you to be experts. That’s impossible after only a week of training. But you should be able to defend yourselves better than when you first arrived here. You all have heard the rules for this test. All three of you will enter the dueling ring at the same time. The rules are quite simple. Keep in mind that the only weapon you’re allowed to use is that wooden sword you each hold. Always remember that the objective here is not to hurt your opponents for a skilled swordsman knows who his true enemies are at all times. Instead, I’ll be judging you all based on the point system I explained earlier.”
Al’ev and the twins voiced their understanding to the captain and. “Good. Aside from that, fight with honor. Fight with the spirit of the lost swordsman you are all here to honor today. Please step into the ring and remember that if you step out at any point, you are automatically disqualified.”
Al’ev, Rafe and Linder all stepped into the ring and spread out. Al’ev noticed that Mel had moved to a better spot to see their ring and was now watching him intently. Brox sat patiently by her leg, panting. Al’ev began to feel heat rising on his face.
“Begin!” Captain Greil said.
Al’ev continued to watch Mel as he had missed the Captain’s words.
Why are you watching me like that? He got that far into his thoughts before he felt the sting of wood hitting his legs. He looked down to see the Halfling twins both had managed to nick him. He was lucky they weren’t better shots with their weapons and that they didn’t stand a little taller.
“That’s two points off Reldin. Perhaps that woke you up, yes? If this were a real fight, you’d already be lost. Pay attention!”
But Al’ev had already started moving and the Halflings quickly realized they couldn’t match his speed. It felt to Al’ev like the Rendl twins moved in slow motion. He watched their clumsy strikes into spaces he had just been and absently wondered if they were unable to see. He struck both Halflings quickly basing the first strikes against the inner most ring of defense. Both of his strikes connected with the Halflings, once each, to their chests.
“Fatal strike to each of the Rendls. Three points off each Rendl. Keep your wits about you!”
Al’ev stepped back and allowed them to recover from the force of his blows. He may have been determined to win but he still didn’t much care for fighting the Halfling twins. They were friends after going through this week together.
The twins looked at each other then at Al’ev and raised their swords as one before they let out battle cries and charged.
Al’ev noted that he wasn’t too far from the edge of the ring then, and decided that with the speed they were charging him, he could easily avoid them and cause them to run out.
So he did.
“Out of the ring. Rafe, Linder, you are both disqualified.” Captain Greil said. “Nice move Reldin.”
Al’ev left the ring to help the twins up. “You guys caught me good there at the beginning. The Captain should have taken two points from me for each blow if you ask me.”
They smiled and said something to him in their native Halfling tongue that he did not understand.
“I’m impressed with all three of you. You have vastly improved from the children who dropped their blades after one blow at the beginning of the week.” The captain looked over at the twins. “You both managed to land a blow on your opponent who has constantly surprised us all with his skill. Good work. But I’m afraid the half elf will be moving forward from here. Come along. Let’s see who else will be in the tournament tonight.”
As they left the ring, Al’ev saw Mel walking towards them with Brox. When they arrived at the second ring. Al’ev watched as the elven girl who had been with Joshua’s group delivered a beautiful looking strike to her dwarven foe.
“That’s one point from Gron. Nelya Vanvir wins with 3 points to 0. Good job both of you.” Lieutenant Farfellow said. “Ah, Captain Greil, have your fights finished already?”
“Yes. Reldin here will be participating in the tournament tonight, though the Rendl twins did spectacularly. It’s a shame about what happened to that boy, Joshua Drovernath, last night. He seemed to have some skill when I saw him earlier this week.”
“Yes, I can’t believe they let Taruk stay in the running. Hopefully one of the other two students in Grayson’s group beats him.”
From behind the garrison where Al’ev, Joshua and Taruk had been the previous night, Grayson’s voice rang out. “Taruk shall advance to the tournament.”
Al’ev almost smiled. That meant he still had a chance of taking the bully out of the tournament.
Mel spoke into his ear and made him jump a bit to the side. He hadn’t realized she was standing right next to him. “Where is Joshua? Did something happen to him?”
Al’ev turned to her and nodded. “That Taruk guy said some bad things to us both last night. Joshua attacked him but Taruk knocked him out with his wooden blade. I was going to go check on him after the Captain let me go.”
“I’ll come with you.” She watched Al’ev as he turned back to Captain Greil.
“Okay, Reldin, Vanvir. Both of you will be fighting in the first bout during tonight’s tournament. Remember the rules are the same as they were here. The winner will go on to face whoever wins between Taruk and the winner of last year’s tournament. I want both of you to rest up and return here before sundown. You’re free to do whatever in the mean time.”
“Yes sir.” Both of them said.
Brox, Al’ev and Mel all made for the hospital as soon as they confirmed Joshua was still there by talking with Lieutenant Farfellow.
The hospital building wasn’t too large, only a single story. It was made of a mix of both stone and wood and looked almost as old as Fort Halar.
Mel and Al’ev walked inside and were stopped from going any further by one of the hospital’s staff.
They were trying to explain why they were there when a Cleric of Sarenrae walked in behind them.
“Ah Al’ev and Mel was it? I was just looking for you. Lieutenant Farfellow mentioned you were here. What brings you to the hospital today?”
“Hello. We came to see our friend Joshua. Captain Greil brought him in last night. We wanted to make sure he’s okay.”
“Oh he’s fine. Just had a bump on his head from where that nasty Taruk hit him. I took him home a little while ago and he mentioned you would both come looking for him if I didn’t tell you everything was okay. Actually, I ran into Nelya on the way over here from his house. It would seem she was concerned as well.” She paused in thought about something, then she caused them to jump a little when she suddenly spoke up again. “Oh yes! I almost forgot! Joshua said he’d be meeting you both at the Fort before the Tournament started tonight. Are you going to be in the tournament Al’ev?” She said looking down at the wooden sword that hung at his side.
“Well now. Isn’t that amazing? I’ll be cheering for you. Do your best!”
“I had better get going. Lots to do and I don’t want to miss the festivities tonight. See you later.”
“Bye, Ms Tif.” Mel said.
They thanked the hospital staffer who had stopped them and decided to walk around the town. Al’ev hadn’t been outside of the fort’s walls for over a week. He was curious to see what had changed in that time.
“It looks like they are breaking out the decorations again.” He chuckled.
Mel was being strangely silent.
“What’s wrong Mel? Are ya bored?”
“Hmm? No, just thinking. I hope Joshua is okay. That Taruk guy seems so mean.”
“You were right, he’s a jerk. I don’t understand people like him.”
“Will you have to fight him?”
“I don’t know. I kinda hope I do.”
Mel looked down. “I kinda hope you do too.”
Al’ev tilted his head at this. Mel wasn’t one who appreciated or approved of violence. The fact that she was doing so now told him how much she cared for Joshua.
The two of them continued around the town stopping at a tradesman’s stall for some food. He didn’t charge them a thing when he found out Al’ev was going to be in the tournament that night.
“Good luck. You have another fan in the crowd tonight. Honor the Swordsman!”
Al’ev and Mel thanked him and then made their way back to the Fort as the sun was beginning to set.
“Reldin! Just in time. Your friend Joshua was starting to worry you’d be late.”
Al’ev and Mel saw Joshua standing by Lieutenant Farfellow as well as Lieutenant Grayson, Captain Greil and the remainder of the students.
“Okay students. Now we move on to the next stage. In the town square there will be a ring very similar to the one you all just fought in. There we will hold three more bouts in front of the entire town. The Lieutenants and I know that you will all do your best and we expect for you all to give us a good show as we know you can.” Captain Greil said saying the last part looking straight at Al’ev. “Come.”
The combined group of students all made their way back to the town square, following the lead of several town guardsmen. Joshua walked alongside Al’ev and then turned to talk to him.
“So how badly did you beat the Halflings? I know they couldn’t have been that difficult. I mean, look at them.” Joshua said.
Al’ev didn’t answer at first. He didn’t like that Joshua had spoken so loud when the twins were just behind them as they walked. They could have easily heard him. “They fought well. Pretty amazing people actually. I like them.”
“Really? Never would have guessed. Well, you did advance right? Lieutenant Farfellow said that Nelya advanced and gets to fight the winner from your group when we get to the ring.”
“Yes, I won.”
“I knew it. This is going to be great! Hey Mel,” he said looking at the elven girl who, up until just then, Al’ev didn’t realize was still walking right by his side. “Why didn’t you watch me during this week? You kept hanging around by Al’ev’s group.”
“Oh, uhm. Brox wanted to be with Al’ev and I promised Al’ev I would watch Brox. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. You’ll get to see me fight Al’ev when my head stops hurting.” Joshua said with a large grin on his face. “Who are you going to root for when we do?”
Mel looked from Joshua then to Al’ev and quickly looked down at her feet as they continued to walk. “Don’t hurt each other, okay?”
“Sheesh. What’s that supposed to mean?” Joshua was about to say more but Al’ev pointed ahead of them and he turned to see why.
The town square had entered their sight. It had been drastically changed from when they had seen it in the morning. Streamers of various shades of red connected the wooden buildings to one another, hanging above the dirt streets that people were crowded into. Al’ev saw that fires and lamps had been lit all around the square and provided a good amount of light into the area, warding off the darkening sky. Beyond that, he couldn’t see much. There were simply too many people gathered around.
It appeared that even the traders had ended their day a little early to watch whatever it was that was in the center of the town square. Al’ev recognized a few of the faces that were present, such as the head librarian, Zid, from the Arcane Library of Halar and the Sarenrae Cleric Tif. But many more remained strangers.
He realized then that he was starting to get nervous as the group stopped at the edge of the crowd.
“Okay students. This is how the tournament rounds are going to work. Farfellow’s group winner, " Captain Greil indicated Nelya “and my own group winner,” he indicated Al’ev “will be fighting in the first bout. The same rules apply here that applied before. Five points, first to lose them all is disqualified. Any questions?”
“Are there…are there always so many people?” Al’ev asked.
Captain Greil laughed. “Just relax, remember what we taught you throughout the week and above else have fun and duel with honor.” He clapped both students on the shoulders. “Right then. The rest of you will watch with us from the side of the ring.”
Then Captain Greil and his Lieutenants dove into the mass of people.
“Make way, make way! Those who will honor the nameless swordsman have arrived!” And suddenly, a lane cleared which was wide enough that Al’ev could see the dueling ring.
The ring was surrounded by the crowd except on the far side where there was a stage that rose above its surroundings. Also around the edge of the ring was several staves stuck into the ground. Each was tipped with a burning wick. Al’ev looked at these a bit closer and realized that they gave off the faint tingling he associated with magic. He wondered if the townsfolk knew what they were.
As he passed even more people, his nerves starting making his arms shake and the fascination with the magic fire shook out of his mind along with it.
One of the older students who had been walking behind Al’ev bent forward to speak into his ear. “Nervous kid?” He chuckled.
It was Taruk, Al’ev realized.
“Don’t worry. Even if you do make it past the elven girl in this round, and I doubt you will, you won’t beat me. I’ve done this for years.”
Al’ev didn’t react to the taunts. He didn’t really hear them. He was still enthralled by the large mass of people. he had never seen so many in one place before.
And I have to fight in front of all of them?
“Okay students. This is where we part for the time being. Get in there!”
“Uhm, be careful. I’ll keep watching Brox.” Mel said.
“Oka..” Al’ev began but was cut off by a sudden hug from Mel. She let him go then went to stand by the stage as Captain Greil and Lieutenants Farfellow and Grayson moved onto it. The remaining students followed their lead. All except Al’ev and Nelya.
Nelya looked at him then she stepped into the ring. “Come on Reldin.”
Al’ev’s legs almost gave out as he stepped over the marker that outlined the ring’s boundary. He was beginning to doubt he could fight with so many people watching.
Should I just give up now and let her have the win? I’m not sure I even want to be here, let alone fight a girl. It just doesn’t feel right.
He began to turn and look at all the people that had collapsed in around the ring. Just as he was about to say he was going to give up is when he finally made eye contact with a pair of very familiar eyes. Eyes of black that had green flecks sprinkled throughout.
Eyes that matched his own.
She was smiling. Go on. Show me what you’ve learned this week. You can do this. His mother’s voice said inside his mind.
“Okay Mom.” He said quietly then turned to face Nelya who was already settling into a fighting stance that he recognized as matching the one Joshua had been using.
Captain Greil spoke up above the noise of the crowd’s chatter as Al’ev matched her stance. All became silent as the Captain’s voice became audible above the dying volume of the crowd.
“At the beginning of the week, nine young students came to study in Fort Halar. Their wish was to learn the way of the sword. Most came in as mere novices, hoping to someday match the skill and honor displayed by the one we honor today.
And so it is here with the actions of these young swordsman that we honor the Nameless Swordsman who fell defending our town and Fort Halar nearly two hundred and fifty years ago. These swordsman who fight before you tonight as well as those who stand beside my side now have already proven themselves honorable in my eyes as well as the eyes of the gods through their actions. Now, if our fighters are ready," He paused to look at both Al’ev and Nelya, “Let the first round begin!”
Neither Nelya or Al’ev wasted any time at all. They both charged from their corners just as the Captain’s final words echoed off the nearby buildings.
Nelya’s wooden blade fell towards Al’ev’s right shoulder. He intercepted the blade with a block in the outermost ring of defense. Then, using his blade, he shoved her away with a small bit of strength. Switching the positioning of his feet, he brought his own blade towards Nelya’s left hip and was intercepted with a block of her own, in the middle ring of defense.
After a few more exchanges, Al’ev realized that Nelya was already trying her hardest. He thought the girl was moving slow as part of a gambit to warm up, but he realized then that wasn’t the case. Now as they continued back and forth in the middle of the town square, Al’ev saw Nelya make her first mistake.
Nelya had been impatient, as Al’ev had gathered from the few times he had seen her fight during the week, so Al’ev knew it was only a matter of moments before the inevitable happened. He struck her in the arm just as Nelya lunged at Al’ev, knocking the first point away from the graceful elf. Nelya backed away rubbing her arm and Al’ev readied himself again.
“Disabling blow! Two points from Nelya.”
When Nelya didn’t take the time to take a recognizable stance before lunging again, Al’ev knew he had already won. Nelya’s form, which she had obviously picked up from Farfellow during the week’s activities, seemed to have left her mind and she was now fighting Al’ev like a novice would.
Al’ev, however, kept Captain Greil’s techniques in mind. He allowed Nelya’s sword to get very close before he parried in his inner most ring of defense. Shoving the blade off to his left, he brought his weapon up to her neck level and allowed her momentum to take her neck against the wooden blade. Had it been a real sword, Al’ev would have just decapitated her.
“Death blow! Three points of Nelya. She is out of points. The winner is Reldin!”
The crowd cheered.
Nelya wasn’t happy about losing, but she also wasn’t about to show it in front of a crowd as large as this. Al’ev knew that she felt just as he would have had it been the other way around.
She had gotten the chance to prove herself in front of the entire town, though. They would both be honored as combatants who fought in the Tournament of the Swordsman regardless of winner or loser. The town never forgot those who fought in honor of the Nameless Swordsman.
The crowd’s cheering now included both of their names and showed both of the combatants how much their display was appreciated.
Al’ev and Nelya stepped out of the ring together and went to the stage.
Captain Greil was announcing the next fight and all Al’ev heard was “For the next round we pit the returning champion from last year against one of our more seasoned students…”
“You two were great! Did it hurt bad?” Joshua said, intercepting them before they made it to the stage.
Nelya grinned, “Not at all. Hardly even felt it. Reldin went easy on me.”
Al’ev laughed. “No, not really. You had me going for a bit there early on. I think you lost focus after I hit you the first time though.”
“Perhaps you’re right. I’ll have to think about that before we face each other again.”
Al’ev nodded. “Then I look forward to the rematch.”
Nelya climbed up onto the stage but Al’ev hung back to talk with Mel and Joshua
The three of them discussed Al’ev and Nelya’s fight. Al’ev explained what he was thinking during each portion of the fight and was so into it that he missed the fight that was going on currently in the ring. It was over a few moments later when Captain Greil announced something nobody had expected.
“I don’t believe it but Taruk moves on to the next round. What an amazing display of skill. The defending champion didn’t stand much of a chance though he fought bravely. He has lent the Nameless Swordsman much honor this night.”
Only then did Al’ev see that Taruk, the boy who had been taunting him and saying bad things about his friends, the one who knocked Joshua out without a second thought, was still standing in the ring, and that he was staring right at Al’ev. “Would the previous round’s winner please enter the ring.”
“Go get him Al’ev.” Joshua said and slapped him on the back hard enough to make him stumble forward a few steps.
Al’ev kept the momentum and took a few more steps forward. But he started to feel nervous again as he saw Taruk take a few vicious looking practice swings.
What if I can’t beat him? How would I face Joshua and Mel then? This guy had insulted them both and I have to defend their honor. I don’t know if I can do this…
He stopped just outside the ring and looked for his mother’s eyes in the crowd but couldn’t find them and began to shake a little.
Before he could have anymore self doubts, a hand turned him around. He found Mel’s eyes were very close to his own. The older girl looked him in the eyes and said “Promise me you won’t get hurt.”
A strange warm feeling entered his stomach then. It wasn’t something he recognized. In fact, he was worried he was about to get sick. But then he realized he wasn’t shaking anymore.
Since when have your eyes been so beautiful…
“I promise.” he heard his own voice as though it had traveled a great distance to reach his ears.
He was still puzzling out her action and how he reacted when Taruk called out, “Is your girlfriend going to fight for you, kid, or are you going to grow a pair and fight me on your own?”
Mel looked at Taruk from over Al’ev’s shoulder and gave him a look that Al’ev found to be disturbingly similar to the one he got from his mother when he was in some sort of trouble.
“I want you to win, Al’ev. Fight your hardest. I know you can do it.” She kissed him on the cheek then and the world briefly went white.
He was more than a little stunned.
What is she doing? Only my mother has ever done that before.
“Come on kid. I didn’t come here to watch you and the ugly longear girl make out.” Taruk.
Al’ev knew he shouldn’t judge the boy by his cover. He had learned that lesson a few years previous. But one thing was for certain.
This guy was a jerk.
If there was one way to make Al’ev angry, the boy had found the way to do it. Insulting his friends wasn’t something he’d allow.
Fourteen year old Al’ev stepped into the ring and dropped into his ready stance waiting for the Captain to call the fight to its start.
He was vaguely aware of the people in the crowd murmuring. He caught a word or two here and there.
“The little guy doesn’t stand a chance.”
“The old boy has such a vile mouth. Someone should have taught him better manners.”
“He shouldn’t be aloud to say such things. It goes against the honor of the Swordsman.”
Most of the remaining words he heard were comments on how little chance they perceived Al’ev to have. They were all judging him by his cover. It annoyed him a little.
I know you can beat him. Give it your all. His mother’s voice came again from inside his mind.
He was so focused that he almost missed Captain Greil calling for the fight to begin. But the older boy stood waiting. Neither combatant moved. Al’ev knew instantly that this was going to play out much differently than his fight with Nelya.
Speed and surprise. As long as I have those…
Al’ev jumped towards the older student so suddenly that he was afraid he wouldn’t be prepared to execute his next move. He was reminded that his opponent was good, however, when as he completed his feint, Taruk’s wooden blade cut the air swiftly where he had been just a moment before.
Al’ev spun to his left and brought his weapon around in an attack that should have connected with Taruk’s right shin.
The older boy jumped above it. Then Al’ev realized that he had left himself open. He began to move out of the way of the blade he knew was coming down on his head, but was too late, mostly. He only succeeded in moving far enough to the side that the blade hit his shoulder.
“Glancing blow! One point from Reldin.”
Al’ev continued moving to gain some distance, but his opponent had a longer stride and a wider reach. He was forced into blocking blows that were somehow becoming stronger and stronger. It worried him when he went from blocking mostly from the outer ring to the middle ring.
However, Captain Greil had taught him techniques for situations like this. As the opponent became stronger so to did the effectiveness of several techniques one could use against them.
Taruk wound up for a massive overhead strike meant to destroy Al’ev’s defenses and hit him hard on the head. Al’ev feigned fear then dodged to the side at the last second. Taruk put so much strength into his swing that the momentum was too much for him to recover from quickly. Al’ev used this to his advantage and struck Taruk twice. Once on the left shin and another time on his wrist.
“Two glancing blows! Two points from Taruk!”
Al’ev’s jubilation was short lived though. He had danced back towards the middle of the ring to avoid a ring out and was just getting into his ready position.
Then the monster attack came. He nearly lost hold on his wooden sword much like he had on his first day on training. Al’ev managed to hold on but the attack succeeded in breaking his defenses. He was overpowered and Taruk’s wooden blade connected with Al’ev’s chest, hard.
He screamed out shock and pain. It had hurt worse than anything else he had felt before.
“Killing blow! Three points from Reldin!”
Al’ev came to himself after a moment and found that he had collapsed to his knees. His chest was throbbing in waves of agony.
“Should we call it? If he takes another hit like that…” He heard Lieutenant Grayson begin.
“No. He still has one point. The Unknown Swordsman fought to his last breath. To not fight to the last point would dishonor his memory.” Captain Greil replied.
“Captain. He could get seriously injured if we let this keep going.” Lieutenant Farfellow said, obviously thinking about what had happened to his own student the previous night.
“No. That kid isn’t through yet. Give him a chance.”
“Your call Captain.”
“They just signed off on your death parchment, kid. May as well say goodbye to the world. Yes! That’s the way!”
Al’ev was currently fighting tears in his eyes. The pain was just starting to dim down enough that he again heard his opponent continuing to taunt him.
“Ha ha ha. Is that really all you’ve got? I was hoping you’d at least be better than my sister. How pathetic. Ha ha ha.”
He wants me to do something stupid. He wants me to attack. He wants me to embarrass myself. I won’t fall to this.“What? Did your mom teach you? Is that why you fight like a girl?”
What Mom taught me? He asked for it…sorry Mom. I have to…
“Or is it your elven friend?” Taruk bent down close to Al’ev’s ear so that only he heard what he said next. “Did that dirty bitch teach you?” He forced Al’ev’s to turn head and look at Mel.
Al’ev was already not paying attention though.
“Such a pretty little slut. I bet she taught you all kinds of things. I wonder if she’d be my special friend too. What’s that? What are you mumbling? Are you trying to surr….”
Suddenly there was a bright flash from all of the lanterns that lit the dueling ring.
The entire crowd cried out and even Taruk gasped.
Surprise and speed.
He jumped out from under the older boy, stood and turned, then jumped back at his defenseless opponent, blade raised high in the air. He brought his sword down with so much force that a satisfying crunch emanated from the back of the boy’s neck.
The flash of light had been only for a moment but Al’ev had moved extremely quickly by drawing on his arcane knowledge for the first time in combat.
When the crowd again saw the center of the ring, they saw the fourteen year old swordsman standing over the one who had defeated the previous year’s champion with ease.
At first their response came as whispers.
“What was that light?”
“Perhaps the boy? No…he wasn’t even moving.”
The crowd’s collective whispers gathered and soon became a roar of confused questions.
Taruk still wasn’t moving, but Al’ev could see the boy was still breathing. He had been knocked out cold.
“Nobody talks about my mom or my friends like that. Nobody.”
He raised his sword to strike again in a blow that was meant to make the damage permanent. He knew it would. He had read about it in a book that covered human vital spots. But before he let his blade fall he found his mother’s eyes in the crowd again and peaceful waves of energy seemed to wash over him. Al’ev stumbled back away from Taruk and fell down.
“Perhaps now we should call it?” He heard lieutenant Grayson suggest from the stage.
“Indeed. That boy looks out cold.” Captain Greil gestured to a pair of clerics who had been waiting at the edge of the ring.
The two rushed over to look at Taruk while Captain Greil hushed the crowd.
“Calm down, calm down. I believe this battle has been decided.” One of the clerics nodded at him indicating a neck blow. “Yes! He fought with honor. He fought with conviction. LADIES AND GENTLEBEINGS WE HAVE A NEW CHAMPION OF THE SWORDSMAN!”
The crowd erupted into cheers and everyone was abruptly surrounding Al’ev patting him on the back and congratulating him.
He didn’t know what to do. He hadn’t been the center of attention like this before. And why hadn’t anyone made a big deal of him casting a spell? He doubted they missed it. The flash was bright enough to blind them all for a few moments. His mother always said they would fear magic.
Well, he wasn’t going to bring it up if they weren’t.
“I can’t believe you did it! You’re so lucky!” Joshua said from somewhere behind him.
He finally gathered his wits enough then to realize that Mel stood before him. He watched her as she looked him over. Then she did something he didn’t expect. She slapped him across the face.
“Ouch! What was that for? Gah..”
“You got hurt. You promised me you wouldn’t.” Mel said with tears shining in her eyes.
“So you decide to slap me? Are you crazy?”
She slapped him again.
“Ouch! Would you sto…” and suddenly she was hugging him again. She held on for a few seconds then pushed him away.
What is with this crazy girl anyway?
His mother’s laughter filled his ears then and he suddenly found himself in the arms of another elven girl. “I knew you could do it. You moved so well! Who taught you how to do that anyway, huh? That person must be a spectacular teacher.” She said after she released him.
“The best.” He said with a smile which quickly left his face. “Mom…I’m…uh…sorry.”
“We’ll talk about that later. I took care of it. I was close by after all.” She said with a wink.
“RELDIN.” Both he and his mother looked up at Captain Greil. “Get up here boy! We have to present you with your reward for winning this year’s tournament!”
“Better listen to the Captain. He isn’t the most patient man in town from what I hear.” She gave Al’ev a kiss on the cheek and then pushed him towards the stage.
Al’ev stepped up on the raised platform with a little hesitation. Though his chest was still hurting pretty bad, he hardly realized it. Most of the town stood before him, cheering for his performance.
“On behalf of the Halarian Guard, I present you with this.” The captain handed Al’ev a long expensive looking wooden case. Al’ev opened it and gasped. A sword sat within. Etched into its silvery pummel was the image of a tree that looked very similar to the Arcane Library of Halar. It was the crest of the Halarian Town Guard.
“Wear this weapon with pride and know that as you do, you honor all that Halar stands for and all those who have stood for it!” The captain saluted him then and Al’ev found himself returning the gesture as though it were a natural reaction. The Captain smiled and then they both turned to look at the people gathered around the town square.
He saw a lot of friendly faces in the crowd that night, but not one looked happier than his mother’s.
He loved his life.