My next uninvited guest was my father. When he strode in after Standt’s quiet departure, I was shocked by how much larger he had been in my memory. I realized that I had grown a great deal in the two years since our last audience.
“Either you are a brilliant strategist, or you are suicidal.” he stated bluntly as he sat down on my bed and have me a measuring stare. ” Do you have a plan, or do you secretly want that not to kill you? “
“If you must know, father, I have a plan. I will win his loyalty rather than demand it.” I said looking him squarely in the eye.
“A worthy plan if you can manage it. I do hope your secret practice sessions have readied you for this. It would be difficult to provide another heir.
“I will, of course, be present at your duel. I wish to see what you are capable of on your own.” With that statement, he abruptly stood and strode from the room.
The time of my duel seemed to come in no time at all. I put on my protective gear and armor and went to the dueling courtyard in the north wing of the house.
Slaith was already in his traditional place at the East end of the lifeless dirt tract. Many recent duels taught by my father had pounded the dirt and compacted it into a hard, dry span that even insects had no use for. Slaith had opted for standard invasion style gear. It was heavy, but did not encumber his muscular form as much as it would have mine. His helmet was obviously borrowed from Standt’s old combat gear. The crest on the helmet had been struck from it, leaving a scar of abused and scratched emptiness. I wore basic chest protection and bracers of hardened steel. My jet black hair was only obscured by a band of cloth to keep it and my sweat out of my eyes.
“So, the little Lord has come to face me after all. Where is the rest of your armor? Are you so weak that you cannot even fight in full gear?”
” I just did not wish to waste the effort on you Slaith. You look like half of the kitchen pots have tried to mate with you! “
Slaith did not take the insult to him or his fallen house well. His face flushed with the effort to restrain himself, he shot back with, “Maybe the little Lord would like to enhance the wager? Since you are so confident, how about, if I win, you join the invasion forces with me instead of running off to the cloisters when you are of age? Do you have that much courage?”
Feigning lack of interest, “I guess I could stand that bet. In exchange, you must agree to one additional requirement if I win.” I said with a languid tone.
“What is your condition?” he replied in the same seething tone.
“I’m not sure yet, I will come up with it when the time comes. Besides, what have you got to fear? It’s not like you expect to lose, right?”
Chuckling with a cynical grin, he shot back, “If you studied your fighting as much as you seem to have studied your psychological warfare, you would already have beaten me.”
Our fathers had observed this verbal sparring with amused shock. Neither had guessed how much frustration had built in Slaith, nor had they expected my confidence in the face of unrestricted violence from a larger opponent.
As Standt cleared his throat, we both looked to him. “The taunting is not what we have come here for. We will begin with the weapon based combat. Once one of you has disarmed the other, we will move into the unarmed match. At the end of the unarmed match, the second armed match will commence. At that time, the outcome will be determined by either surrender or death. Are we all clear on how this will be happening?”
We both nodded out assent to Standt without taking our eyes from eachother. Slaith chose a sizable sword as his weapon for our fight. I chose a staff that was almost as tall as I was. Father’s eyes narrowed when I chose the staff. Undoubtably, he would wonder that I chose a peasant’s weapon while Slaith chose one considered the favorite of nobility.
I knew, from practices and from my own covert observations, that Slaith’s main attacks would be mostly earth and fire based styles. Historically, he did not use defense as often as offense. Because of this, I was unsurprised by his initial charge into a frontal attack.
I used a water based block and used the momentum of our combined movement to sweep myself to his left side, where I was able to strike into his less protected flank with a wind based strike that shocked more than hurt the boy.
As he turned to face me for a thrust that would have pierced my throat, had it not missed, I hit his helmet with a ringing strike on the right side. Squaring his stance directly facing me, He came down with a full strength, downward slash that split my staff in half. I had been disarmed.
We both stripped out of our body armor and stepped into the center of the courtyard. Slaith waded in without hesitation with a hard strike meant for my head. I stepped inside of his swing and grabbed the wrist of his striking arm. Pivoting on my heels, I pulled his arm over my left shoulder with my back to him. Now, with both hands gripping his arm I pulled harder so that his arm became a leaver that pulled him from his feet and, and leaning forward, threw Slaith over my head and onto the ground.
Slaith came up red in the face and sputtering. He turned and charged at me, bent on my defeat by brute force. Before I could dodge, he was on me and forced me to the ground and drove the wind from my lungs.
“Final round” bellowed Standt.
We each jumped up and dove for the weapons. Slaith got the halves of my staff and I came up holding the sword. Looking closer, it was a simple but well made blade. The worn grip was smooth and comforting in my hand. The blade edge had been honed down many times to fix notches and flats, leaving the shape of the blade more slender than it had been meant to be.
Facing one another, unarmored, tired, each hurting from our conflict, bearing damaged and worn weapons, we began the real fight.
Slaith took one half of the broken staff in each hand and began circling towards me. He calmly spun the pieces in his hands, easily whirling them and an almost hypnotic pattern. He made a half circle around me before he came in at me. I managed to block his strikes and give him a gash along his right side. My bracers were still on my arms since I kept them on when we had the hand to hand round. His next run, one bracer blocked one of the staff halves while I took half of the other off with the sword.
It seemed a good time to take the attack. So I pretended to make a mad charge at Slaith with sword held high. As he swung one staff piece at my head and the other at my sword hand, I leaned back to go into a slide. As both of his strikes went harmlessly above me, I reversed my grip on the hilt of the sword and jammed the pommel into the tip of his shin, just under his left knee. The crack of shattering bone was followed by his bellow of pain. As I tucked and rolled away, he threw the remains of the part of the staff I had cut and hit me squarely in my left shoulder blade. That half of my back exploded in pain as I head the crack. The odds were high that the shoulder blade was broken.
I managed to regain my feet in time to raise the sword in defense as Slaith came limping towards me. Bloodied and broken, he was still formidable. I spun to the right and slammed my left bracer into the back of his head as he dove past. landing on his face in the dirt, Slaith did not move until I kicked him in his wounded side. Groaning he rolled to the side to try to get to his feet to continue the fight. He stopped as the cool edge of the sword lay gently on the left side of his neck.
“Surrender!” I croaked.
“I surrender.” he groaned. “Now what?”
With a grin I offered my hand to help him up. “Simple, my additional demand is that my new brother go with me to the Cloisters. People will assume that ‘The Little Lord’ needs a body guard. I think I will let them make that mistake.”
My father looked at me doubtfully. “You want me to send him to the Cloisters as your foster brother?”
“It is far from unusual to have a foster sibling attend with a weaker heir of a house. Standt always tells me to hide my advantages. Let my enemies think me weak so I can take advantage of their mistake.
“Now, may we seek medical attention father?”
“Standt, these boys are old enough to use the regen chambers. Please have the staff arrange for it. This way the boys can be fully healed in a week or so.”
“I shall arrange for it at once!
“Young Solan, would you help your new brother to the medical area? I think his knee is causing him some… trouble.”
As requested, I put my arm around Slaith and we hobbled, leaning on eachother, to the medical chambers in the north wing.