Thing’s didn’t exactly work out as I had planned. Convincing Jonah to let me take his place in the duel took some doing but not as much as you might think. As much as he didn’t want me putting myself in danger on his behalf (or at all) he really didn’t want to fight Brevoy either. Once I had him convinced that there was no risk in this switch the rest of the convincing was a forgone conclusion. He didn’t even raise the masculine objection of being ashamed of hiding behind a woman’s skirts once, which I feel speaks well of him. Or maybe he’s just a total coward, but I don’t think so. And I’m a pretty good judge of these matters.
The idea was that I would walk out with Jonah’s appearance and then once everyone was ready for the bloodshed to begin I would drop the disguise, Brevoy would see that it was me – the woman who had taken his hand and presumably haunted his nightmares ever since. If necessary I would denounce him for the bounder, liar, and dastard that he is and either way he would crumble before my withering gaze, piss himself with terror, and surrender without a single blow being struck. Sure there might be some moaning from the dueling purists but with Lord Brandymoore having selected such a pathetic blatherskite for a champion there wouldn’t be much he could do about it. Unless he wanted to pick up a sword himself. Which he most assuredly would not. As you well know rich men prefer others to do their bleeding for them.
At first everything seemed like it was going to pan out exactly as I predicted. The crowd was gathered, ready for blood. Some bulky fellow with a massive white mustache blathered on about the rules of the contest for a while and then it was time to get down to business. Brevoy took his position, I took mine with Jonah’s appearance, and then when I revealed my true form Brevoy completely fell apart. His sword slipped out of the grasp of his fingers and he fell to the ground crying in a heap. I proclaimed to everyone in attendance that his tales of glory were naught but filthy lies and that I had taken his hand to protect the world from his predatory actions. People were disappointed they wouldn’t be seeing anyone slashed to ribbons but they were still entertained by this shocking turn of events so all in all they weren’t too angry.
What I hadn’t counted on is that once Brevoy was over his initial shock and fear that he would see this as an opportunity to reclaim his manhood. Turns out that if you humiliate and maim someone, depriving them of their main source of self-worth, they may hold that against you. Brevoy is a murderer and a rapist but that doesn’t preclude him from being able to gather up enough courage to do something about his reversal. I should know better. Bravery isn’t the providence of the just by any means, a fact which I am well aware of. I’m tempted to say that I outsmarted myself but that’s not quite right, I just misjudged things.
I was made pointedly (pun) aware of this when Brevoy returned to his feet with sword in hand and executed what everyone agrees was a picture perfect thrust towards my heart. I don’t know how much he’s been practicing over this last year with his left hand but his progress is pretty impressive. I only just managed to get my sword in the way enough to deflect his stroke from a killing blow to merely a massively wounding one. I got run through the belly with a spear once. That was pretty bad. Getting a sword through the chest, also not great.
His second thrust would have gone through my neck if not for the fact that I collapsed to the ground on account of had I had a gaping chest wound. I’m not sure why he expected that I would still be standing after that first attack hit home. On the ground I pulled out an adamantine bolt and stabbed him through the foot with it. He fell down next to me as I dragged out my crossbow as well. He tried to roll and stab at me awkwardly from his side but a rapier is not a good weapon for ground fighting. Neither is a crossbow really but I managed to get that bloody adamantine bolt loaded and shot him through the side of the head. He didn’t die, not right away, but he did stop moving.
One mistake was underestimating Brevoy. The other mistake was forgetting how seriously some people take dueling. Trading places with someone in a duel under false pretenses is definitely not okay with these those people. Nor is producing a hidden weapon. Or using a crossbow in what was supposed to be a sword fight. Fighting on the ground also not cool. And the whole not being a man thing doesn’t help either. I was still in the dirt guzzling healing potions as fast as I could and trying to avoid dying when several people stormed the dueling field to grab me. Jonah and some other people counter-stormed and then the retinues of the two lords were in the mix and before you knew what was what it was a mob scene.
I know a little (far more than I want to) about fighting now, but I don’t know much about mass battle. What I do know is that if you want to live you have to stay on your feet. If you get knocked down you’re fucked. If you’re on the ground you have to get back up immediately or you’re dead. What they don’t tell you is that getting to your feet is pretty hard when you’re being kicked and trampled. I had just managed to regain a vertical base when someone got a hold of my hair and dragged me back down to the ground. If I had any idea who it was I would put them in the number two slot on the list right after the Duke. What kind of human garbage would do something like that? Drag a woman down in a riot?
I heard a veteran opining once that when you’re getting kicked the instinct to roll into a ball and cover your head is the worst thing you can do – that leaves you open to being attacked. According to him you need to keep trying to evade and defend yourself. But I think that advice only makes sense when someone is specifically trying to hurt you, in a scenario like this where it’s impersonal it seems like better advice. I was able to get the Baron’s cane out and start swatting at legs, which worked okay to clear some space before someone I cracked on the shin fell on me. I’m not sure I ever wanted anything more than I wanted to get out of that tangled mass of suffocating confusion. I think the only thing that saved me is biting onto someone’s hand and being dragged up unintentionally by my fucking teeth. The man who did it punched me directly in the face afterwards. Hard. I definitely would have fallen back down if I wasn’t pinned upright by the crush of the crowd at that point. I think I was unconscious for a split second.
Eventually I managed to slither my way free of the main mass of . . . well fight isn’t the right word, it was more like the frenzy of fish caught in a net and being dragged onto the boat. I ran towards the vendor stalls and a man on horseback tried to grab me as he rode by. It was like being clothesline by a tree limb, and he didn’t even get a hold of me, I fell out of his grasp and the horse stomped on my thigh. Have you ever had a horse stomp on your thigh? It hurts.
I crawled under the edge of one of the merchant tents and almost immediately was set upon by a snarling man wielding a cudgel. I clubbed him in the groin first with the Baronial cane (probably the first time it’s been used like that) and then smashed him on the head until he stopped moving. A terrified woman was sitting in the corner (some tents have corners) clutching several bolts of cloth to her chest. He voice had that shrill thinness that people get sometimes when they’re so scared they’re beyond being afraid.
I spat out a gob of blood and reached for my Flask “I’m having a bad day.”