Here then is another Writing dot Com contest story. All my little stories tend toward a greater length than I intend. This one ended, cut too much for my liking, so here, on my own pages, I can make of it what I want.
This story postulates a world where people live in castles and strive to be knights (both men and women) but with all our technological advancement in place. How much harder must it be for a man and a woman who would love each other to find that out when they meet on the battlefield to fight each other? War is sport of the most exciting kind and sport is our gladiatorial games today. What if the pretense was stripped away and a fight was a fight, but with blunted weapons?
Squires and Swords (A Tale of Two Knights – Part 1)
Steel rang and hissed against steel as the two men stalked each other. Back and forth around the ring blows clanged off fending sword blow and sometimes clank and thunk when they slipped past a guard to the armor beyond. One man launched a powerful overhand cut, quicker than thought a viper like riposte brushes it aside and seeks an unprotected joint, but in turn that sally is knocked aside by a hammer blow. Under all the flash and clatter of the duel is heard the steam-engine sounds of ragged breathing.
Once more the bigger man’s sword rose and fell, driving the armored knight back, staggered, with his shield clattering against his helm and upper armor. This time the response was too slow and before the knight can answer with his own blow, the shield is whelmed again. Fatigue and armor conspire, robbing the knight of balance. Desperately, he flings his shield up to ward his vulnerable head as he stumbles, but the big man’s sword does not fall, instead it snakes beneath the guard to thump the knight heavily in the middle and send him sprawling.
There is a flash of light on the contest scry. The bigger man steps back while the knight clambers to his feet with the aid of the ring rail. “Four strikes to one,” puffed the knight weakly. “That’s enough Talon.”
“Wasn’t it to be best of nine?” asked the tall man standing in the ring.
“Oh aye, it was to be nine when the count was nil nil, but here at four and I’ve not been near a touch since the first one. . . You’re better than me Michael, and one more point won’t prove it more than the other four.” The knight straightened and stated loudly, “I yield!” The contest scry flashed, Black yields to Red.
“Well, thank you for the match sir Manfred,” said Michael Talon saluting chrisply, then withdrawing to the red side and exiting the ring. Manfred waived weakly, chuckling.
Talon gathered his things from the ready area as another armored figure pushed past to take the ring. Outside the ring he took a swallow of water between deep breaths. He rested heavily against the ring rail, trying to catch his breath.
Michael Talon’s was a restless mind, so while he tried to recover his wind enough for another go at the sword, his eyes were locked on the wide-screen Omni-View display. Another swallow and his breath was returning and with it the burning in his muscles abated.
“I’ve got Salazar in the third,” said Allard as he pushed by Michael, smelling of sweat and liniment, “I doubt anyone will touch the Three Eyed Eagle this week. Not in the tilt.” Talon was slightly irritated that he hadn’t noticed his fellow squire’s approach.
Michael tossed back a gulp of water and grunted non-commitaly. Truth was, Roseby had “touched” Salazar already, but Salazar had broken two lances to one on the Carnegie Steel knight.
Allard was annoying personally, but Talon thought his gambling habits betrayed a far worse moral decay. Michael Talon liked to hold his destiny in his own hands. He liked to do, not talk. Allard’s gambling didn’t affect Michael, but the endless chatting about the gambling irked him. “I think I’ll cue up for the sword again,” he said and shoved himself off the rail.
The tilt began on the Omni View and Michael froze to watch the combat. Salazar was a prohibitive favorite, and icon really. His gold chased, ebony, plastisteel tilting armor had spawned half a dozen copies. His opponent, in green and yellow, was Roseby, a knight Talon had seen in the pits, not that premiers mixed with the rabble like him very often, but he’d traded blows a couple of times in a practice melee. Lord Carnegie made more than his share of knights, thought Michael. Wearing Carnegie Steel, green and yellow, was fine if it came with his spurs. It was the man in the armor that made the knight.
Michael watched how Salazar handled his mount. Like a man, he thought, commanding. The flag dropped and Salazar spurred his courser down the list toward the man in yellow and green. “That’s Roseby,” Michael mumbled.
“I guess,” Allard barked, “Not that it matters against Salazar”
Talon frowned. Salazar, usually a rock, seemed not so well seated, his lance drifting. Roseby was solid, if unspectacular.
“Two and one,” said Allard, “I figure Eagles closes him out this pass.”
Michael wasn’t so sure. There is something wrong with Salazar. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the screen as he backed away along the rail. The view snapped to high-side-on for the impact.
“What the. . .” cursed Allard as the view tightened and both lances errupted in splinters, Salazar’s low enough to draw a foul for risking the horse and Roseby’s slipping over Salazar’s shield and striking his helm. Salazar reeled in his saddle, fighting to avoid a fall. Carried away with the shards of Roseby’s lance was Salazar’s helm, Ostrich feather crest and all.
Talon spun on his heel to make for the sword que. Anything but listen to Allard gripe about loosing his bet. He was so eager to get away, Michael almost ran down a dark-haired squire in practice arms.
“Careful Mike. Save that charge for the melee,” said Janeen Taylor winking, she patting Talon on the chest before looking straight into his eyes and smiling that irresistable smile. Michael couldn’t help but look away from her frank stare and crooked smile. He knew he blushed as she slipped past him and hoped that redness from exertion in the ring covered his discomfort.
Michael didn’t quite know what to make of Janeen. He thought her too lovely for a knight, almost too lovely to bear. Then too, as she brushed past, he smelled lavender and horse. Good smells compared to the sweat stink of training.
“Geez Taylor, I’m at training.” Allard whined, “Must you descend upon me, like an ill wind, begging for money?”
Janeen laughed, “Begging? No, I’ll have my money from you or your factor. You’re an idiot, not a welcher. I’ve descended upon you to gloat and for no other reason.”
“It was a lucky blow, struck false.”
“Say you so? I’d say that Salazar’s blow was nearer a foul than a hit to make the tie, not that it would help you, but judges favor the Three Eyed Eagle for his reputation, as do gamblers.”
“How could you possibly know that Roseby had a chance against Salazar?” Babbled Allard. Talon began to edge away from Allard and his gambling talk, making for the sword cue, but couldn’t help listening as long as he could to the music of Janeen’s voice and. . .
“Roseby isn’t much better than you, but he is a knight and Salazar is hurt. Didn’t you watch his tilt with Jessop?” teased Janeen. Even being cruel there was that about Squire Taylor that made her beautiful.
“Salazar won three to one!”
“Aye, trading blows on the last pass and getting pulled off his horse and tended on his lance side. He’s old and he’s hurt. I knew he wouldn’t be ready to conceed, too stubborn, nor well enough to win, too old.” Of course she was right. Trust Janeen to notice and act upon something that Talon had felt without knowing the whys of it.
Janeen stood, hands on hips, slim even in her practice armor, and Talon imagined, that wide grin on her pretty face. Michael couldn’t help but stare at her back and try to imagine it. Ask her or forget her, you idiot, one or the other. You’ve no time for giddy schoolboy antics and I doubt she has patience for them either. They were here for the same reason, to try to become knights.
“Fine, I’ll get my scry and I can settle up,” pouted Allard.
Janeen turned with Allard toward the lockers and Michael was left standing awkwardly watching her go. Janeen glanced over to Michael and graced him with a brilliant smile, a wink, and a flip of her long dark hair. Get a grip boyo, remember what you’re here for. Talon shook his head and once again headed for the sword cue. Truth is, if I was all about the pursuit of a knight’s spurs, I’d find training nearer my estate. He’d Paged here, and Squired here while he was competing for his schools, but that was now three years past and, if he was honest, he really didn’t care for those of his mates who were still training here. I’m here for Janeen. He looked back over toward the locker-room, but she was nowhere to be seen.
Talon sighed and turned wearily back to the sword cue. If Phillip knew I was wasting time and resources because of a girl I can’t get the courage to even talk too, he’d more than laugh at me. Knowing his brother, he’d figure in his head what Michael’s silly infatuation was costing him in real money and present him with the bill.
The cue was short and he was quickly matched against a young hotshot who thought he’d nothing to learn. Talon took out his frustration. The boy was so sure of his conditioning, that he requested a longer match length. the best of thirteen afforded him a good beating before it was over at seven to three. Michael had a kind word of encouragement, a formality that he observed without really thinking about it.
“Hey Talon,” Janeen caught his attention. Talon flipped up his visor. Janeen was dressed in street clothes, riding pants and a doe skin jerkin. “Gee, Mike. I never figured you for a bully.” Janeen laughed.
Michael blushed and figetted with his armor, trying to remove pieces with his gauntletts on. “I didn’t. . . I mean I. . .”
Janeen cocked her head, “I’m just kidding. He’s a squire same as you, just not nearly as good as you, or even as good as he thinks he is,” she slapped his hands away and began to help him with his breast-plate. “You done?”
Talon shrugged out of his armor, “Yeah, I guess that’s good enough.”
“You hungry? I bet you’re hungry.”
“I could eat, would you do me the honor. . .”
“No no, no lord and lady stuff. I just took five pounds off Allard and I don’t like to eat alone. Besides, I’ve wanted to talk to you for a long time Michael Talon. I’ve never had so much trouble getting a man’s attention before.”
“You always had my attention.” Talon admitted.
Janeen laughed, smiling, “You had a funny way of showing it. Am I going to have to do all the talking at lunch?”
“That wouldn’t be so bad. I’d like to hear what you have to say.”
“My father says I talk too much, my mother too. What do you say Michael Talon?”
Talon laughed, “I’m not one who’s heard you enough. Keep talking, please.”
“Go get showered, I’ll send my coach away, and we can take yours.”
“Are you sure? I’ve the light lorry today, I went to the engineers for my brother. . .”
“She waved him off. The lorry is fine. I prefer a horse to a lorry, but this training field is so bloody far away. I’m used to lorry’s and horse trailers. I like lorry’s and horse trailers. Go get clean.”