The tournament is held in a field outside the village. Everyone capable of dragging themselves out there attends. We don’t have currency, but people make wagers with food and livestock. If I weren’t in charge of the thing, I would put Beaux’s entire herd of sheep on Elgar.
By random lot we pair the men up, all except young Artr. He gets what in modern terminology would be called a “bye.” I see him off by himself, practicing his skills, such as they are. He doesn’t have a prayer.
The chief, his wife, Beaux, and I sit together to oversee the tournament. There aren’t much in the way of rules except to forbid killing anyone; the village can’t afford to lose all its able-bodied men in a contest like this. Instead, the opponents will try to beat each other into submission, until one finally yields.
I munch on a half of chicken while the combat begins. As you would expect, it’s not a civilized affair. There’s a lot of bruising and blood. Elgar of course draws the most amount of blood; his opponent will probably never walk properly again, not unless Merlin uses magic to fix both of his legs.
I have to look away as Elgar finishes his match. The poor man he fought is dragged away screaming and crying. If he’s lucky, he’ll survive the night. “Bring me another!” Elgar roars.
For the sake of the rest of the village, I award Elgar a bye for the next round while his brother gets into it. Artr is much scrawnier than his brother, but he’s quick. Apparently he’s been practicing with his spear as well. He draws a cut on Bleeth’s left pectoral before Bleeth can even move. Then Artr whips the end of the spear around to bash the other man in the stomach. Bleeth crumples to the ground. While he gasps for air, he pleads for mercy.
“Perhaps the boy is more ready than I thought,” the chief says.
By the time we’ve winnowed it down to two, there’s no doubt Artr can handle himself. There’s also no doubt for a fat slob the chief has some good DNA; only his sons remain. The chief’s wife—and mother to Artr—takes her husband’s arm. “You can’t let them fight each other.”
“Why not? It was bound to happen eventually. It might as well be now.”
“But Elgar will kill Artr. You must know that.”
“He won’t kill him. He’ll just break a few bones.”
The chief’s wife wails at this and then runs off, unable to watch. “She’s right,” Beaux whispers into my ear. “You know what will happen.”
“What am I supposed to do about it?” I ask. “The boy wants to be a warrior. This is what it means to be one.”
“As if you would know.”
“It’s out of my hands. Let the boys decide it for themselves.”
They march into the circle, each armed with a club similar to Beaux’s. “You might as well scurry back to Mother’s bosom,” Elgar says. “You’ll save yourself a lot of pain that way.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” Artr says, though his voice quivers.
Without further preamble, they have at it. Elgar presses his advantage in height, weight, and strength by charging right at Artr, swinging his club. The more nimble Artr dances out of the way. He manages hit Elgar in the back of the leg, but the blow doesn’t faze him. He spins around to hit Artr in the back with his club; the boy sprawls on the ground.
Artr is quick enough to roll out of the way before Elgar’s club can cave in his skull. Artr hits Elgar in the back of the leg again, this time in that sweet spot behind the knee. Elgar shouts with pain and staggers. Artr hits him in the back, but it’s too late.
Elgar spins around with his club. He swings it from underneath to knock the club from his brother’s hands. Another blow sends Artr to the ground, on his back. Elgar lands a flurry of blows that leave Artr bloodied and bruised.
“That’s enough,” I say. “The fight is over.”
“It’s over when I say it is,” Elgar growls.
“It is over, son,” the chief says. “You have won.”
“It’s over when I say it is, old man.” He resumes beating on his brother, who by now should be unconscious and yet somehow the lad is still trying to fetch his club. The chief and I should try to stop Elgar, but neither of us has the courage for it.
Beaux gets to her feet. “If you won’t stop him, then I will!”
Before she can try, I see our salvation on its way. It’s a streak of gold light whizzing towards us from the south. As it gets closer, I see it’s a spear made entirely of gold. Like a cruise missile nowadays, it circles over the battlefield, where Elgar continues to pummel his brother. Then the spear dives straight to the ground to land within Artr’s reach.
The boy is no dummy; he immediately grabs the spear. He whips the end of the spear around to hit his brother in the side of the head. Elgar staggers to the ground. A kick to the midsection and Elgar ends up on his back. Artr holds the spear point at his throat. “It is finished. Yield.”
“I will not.” Elgar spits blood and then grins. “You’ll have to kill me.”
Artr stares at him for a moment. He pulls the spear back. Everyone watches with anticipation. Then Artr brings the end of the spear around to slap his brother on the side of the head again. Elgar passes out.
Beside me, Merlin says, “We’ve found our warrior.”
TO BE CONTINUED...
Monday is the training montage!