They put me in a small cottage at the edge of town rather than the shack near the paper mill, which was a nice upgrade but still nothing to get excited about. A couple of the village militiamen were set as guards and they looked scared out of their wits by the couple of rough-looking lumberman who loitered around outside as well, talking loudly and generally being unpleasant. Well after dark the old woman Jasmi came to bring me some wine and a cold supper.
“I was wondering if you made it home.”
“That’s what you’re wondering about? I think you’re in more trouble here than I was in that giant’s sack.”
“There was a bar called the Giant’s Sack back in the capital. They had some kind of round fleshy thing hanging on the wall about the size of a lamb. I have no idea if it was an actual giant’s testicle though, I doubt it. Bar owners are an odd bunch.”
“You don’t seem worried.”
“I was a little worried before.” I picked up the bottle of wine and smiled. “But now I’m not.” I took a drink. “Not bad, for country wine.”
“Who’s going to fight on your behalf?”
“It’s a big secret. Not that I don’t trust you, but I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise for you.”
“You risked your life to save me, I wish there was something I could do to help you.”
“There is. I need a few things. If you can get me some paper and ink I’ll make a list.”
I got a good night’s sleep in my borrowed bed and was up before dawn the next day. Jasmi had brought me most of the things from my list so I got to work. Some people say that any woman can be beautiful with enough work. That’s not exactly true, but it gets to the truth that beauty is hard work. Most noble ladies have at least four maids to help them get dressed and primped and powdered for the day. Natural beauty exists of course, but it can always be helped out by artifice. The woman with the most glorious hair you’ve ever seen? Probably a wig. The most impressive bosom? Mostly that’s the corset doing its work. The most radiant skin? Alchemical elixirs.
The Queen herself is a good example. She reckoned to be a true beauty, especially for her age, and she is; but I’ve seen her at her most candid. Not unattractive by any means but she’s over forty and has given birth to five children – she’s not always the ethereal fetching presence you see on the King’s arm at grand balls and the like. My point is that looking good takes a lot of effort. Lucky for me now that I can mix in a little illusion magic I can make due even with the sub-standard cosmetics that Jasmi brought me. I would have liked a new dress as well, but you can’t have anything.
By the time of the appointed hour of the duel I was looking enchanting, if I do say so myself. When I made my appearance the militiamen outside the cottage were momentarily awestruck – then took it upon themselves to escort me past the loitering and staring lumbermen as if they were my personal guards. It was a short trip to the town square were everyone had turned out – they were quite taken by my arrival, which I have to admit was a little flattering. The crowd parted before me and I made my way to a circle (more of an octagon really) of wooden planks that had been set before the “judges bench”. Standing to the side, given a wide berth by the crowd, was a nimble looking fellow knotted with muscle and covered with scars. He wore nothing more than a ragged breechcloth and his arms and legs were masses of calloused flesh. He held a club in one hand and a spiked ax in the other. He had pit-fighter written all over him. Interesting that a trade guild would have such a man on hand. Clearly commerce is a rough trade.
As I stepped into the center of the “ring” Granite-face called out smugly.
“And where is your champion ?!”
I folded my hands demurely “I have none. I shall fight in my own stead.”
This caused and outcry/uproar from the crowd, Granite-face leapt to his feet “You can’t do that!”
“Of course I can. Let’s get this started.” I motioned to the scarred fellow to come forward “Come on pit-rat, let’s get this over with.” Granite-face continued to bluster from the “bench” and I turned him with a voice that cut through the crowd like the crack of a whip. “You said there would be a trial. This is it. If you don’t want to go through with it declare me innocent and let me go. Otherwise let’s get on with it already.”
The pit-fighter stepped into the fighting-circle and the crowd closed in behind him.
“Call it Mister High Judge Sir . . . say when.”
The crowd was so quiet I could hear him even though he barely rose his voice “Go.”
The pit fighter fell into half of a fighting crouch by instinct more than anything else, still looking around bewildered – this was clearly not what he had signed up for.
I gestured at him “Go ahead pit-rat, do your thing. This is what you came here for isn’t it? I can’t stop you, I can’t do anything, so go ahead and kill me already. I want you to do it, I can see it in your eyes. Come on, do it! Kill me! I want you to show these people who you really are. A murderer, someone who’ll kill women, children, anyone as long as you get your dirty money, you don’t care, you’re not even human.”
His eyes darted around as if being assailed by invisible enemies.
“You want to do it, I feel it coming off you, you want it so bad you can taste it. Oh, you want it so bad, like an alcoholic wants that last little but of booze in the bottle – you need it more than anything. Go on and do it then! Cut me open like a fish. Bash my brains out. That’s what you do isn’t it? Murderer! Do what you do best! Slaughter me where I stand! I won’t fight you, I can’t. Do it you coward! What, did your balls drop off?!”
I’ve never seen a man so obviously dangerous so afraid. I berated him. I got down on my knees with hands together and begged him to kill me. I got up and continue to harangue him, going so far as to slap him across the face. He reeled away as if he had been walloped by a warhammer. He dropped his hands to his sides and turned to look at the “judges” with a look of such utter hopelessness such that I have never seen it’s like before. That’s when slid my dagger out of my palm and stabbed him in the side of the neck three times.
He staggered in a circle, dropping his weapons to slap his hands on his neck , blood flowing between his fingers until I took up his club and awkwardly knocked him to the ground. If took a couple whacks.
I rained blows down on him with the club but I doubt he even felt them “Are you stupid? Is this your first day? You never take your eyes off your opponent! Ever!”
He was struggling to get up so I took his ax and started chopping into his ribs and back like cordwood. I’m pretty sure he felt that. Once he was well and truly dead I walked out of the circle , breathing heavily, and up to the “bench”, my finery dripping with gore, and slammed the bloody ax into wood directly in front of Granite-face. I blew some drops of blood off my lips like I was trying to blow away a stray hair.
“Well, I believe I have won the trial by combat, you want to declare me innocent now or do you have some paperwork you need to fill out first?”
Inventory: Blood-Splattered Noble’s Traveling Outfit, Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Dagger of Venom, Bracers of Armor +2, Ring of Protection +2, Light Crossbow, Fake Signet Ring, Map, False Papers, 2 carnelians
Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane,
Piltis Swine, Rince
Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle
the butler , Alice Kinsey , “ Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire
Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror,
Eedraxis, Skin-Taker tribe,
Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family,
Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale
Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna
Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee, Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer,
Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium
of Three Rivers