• Zenia Platten

Chapter 5 Joust

As I read through this chapter I found too many mistakes to track. The worst of them have been edited to make things at least legible. Grammar aside though - I thought this one turned out okay..

Still, I'm mortified I ever thought this was worth querying agents with! Definitely not! Ah, well. Hind sight is 20/20.

Wilder gazed across the field, stunned and having only survived thus far on blind luck and a reliance on his witch hexes. He wondered briefly if the hexes still counted as cheating if they didn’t technically register as ‘magic’, but it didn’t prey on his mind for long. After all, he thought it’s my strength, and this is a contest of strengths.

This was not the final tilt of the competition, but he'd made it to the upper lists. His opponent’s horse was led onto the field, draped in familiar black and yellow barding, and Wilder’s chest tightened. Dray still wore his ornate full-plate armour decorated with stylized snow-flakes, steaming under the late afternoon sun.

The herald moved onto the field and was mounting a shield with the crest of each competitor onto the scoreboard. The Jones’ crest of a silver dragon on a field of red, and a yellow shield with a black eagle for the house of Dray were both well-known within the city and the crowd cheered in delight. Rogar approached with a new lance and lifted it, one handed, to Wilder, and waited until it was well braced before letting go of the weight. Looking across the field he whispered to Wilder out of the side of his mouth.

“Do you want that extra trick Aangle sent with us?” Wilder nodded and pretended to fuss with the strapping on his greaves while Rogar carefully rubbed the purple liquid between Wilder’s thighs and the high-backed saddle. The concoction hardened immediately and Wilder tested it as subtly as he could, finding himself unable to stand in his seat. Seeing the crier already in the middle of the field Wilder barely had time to re-grab the reigns before the flag was dropped and Rogar was stepping back, slapping Wilder’s mare on the rump.

His horse lurched and the sudden movement nearly made him bend backwards over the saddle as he tried to regain control. Twisting to face forward, Wilder saw that his opponent had already worked his horse into a gallop and was quickly closing the distance between them. Spurring his mare as best he could Wilder fumbled to ready his lance for the pass. He watched the tip of lord Dray’s weapon dip smoothly, years of practice adding grace to the motion. Moving too quickly, Wilder lost his bracing and to his horror his own lance slipped from his grasp, throwing up sand as it landed.

He felt impact before he returned his gaze from his lost weapon or raised his shield. His ears rung as the side of his helmet buckled inwards painfully against his left ear. Stars danced in front of Wilder’s eyes and he sagged dangerously far in his saddle, held only by Aangle’s adhesive.

His horse spun in circles under him trying to dislodge the lop-sided weight. As he felt his saddle begin to slip a strong hand pushed on his hip, forcing him upright and holding him there as the horse stopped spinning. Wilder was vaguely aware of a cheering crowd but could see nothing through the blackness until Rogar came suddenly into his vision with the rest of the world behind him awash in too-bright sun. The half-orc held either three or six fingers in front of Wilder’s face.

“Wilder, can you hear me? How many fingers?” Rogar questioned.

“Six?” Wilder hazarded through a mouth tasting of blood and bile. Roger looked briefly at his three extended fingers and shrugged.

“Close enough. It’s a good thing the helmet spun the direction it did when he smacked you or you’d be spitting out all those pretty little teeth of yours. Here’s the lance again, this time try not to drop it and win yourself that nice armour he’s wearing okay? Just focus on the armour.”

Wilder fought groggily through his slowly clearing thoughts before realizing what Rogar was referring to. It is the right of any victor to demand the armour or mount from the losing side. He hadn’t taken advantage of the rule yet, due to his previous opponents being as poorly equipped as he was. Focusing on the obviously expensive full-plate helped Wilder to clear his mind and he was ready this time when the starting flag was lifted.

Spurring his horse into a gallop and holding tight with his legs Wilder concentrated hard on the jousts he had seen growing up and tried to calculate the best place to hit the approaching Urkest. Lowering his lance he tried to maneuver the tip in line with the upper left portion of lord Dray’s armour to put the maximum amount of torque into a potential dismount. He quickly found his lack of experience, and the horse’s rolling movements, kept him from controlling the weapon beyond simply trying to hit his opponent and not the empty air.

The horses passed each other and Wilder felt a satisfying pressure in his lance arm as he made impact with Dray’s chest. The tip of his pole splintered and broke, as he felt Urkest’s blow glance off of his shield. As he trotted back towards Rogar he looked at the score board, three points for Dray, with only one point to himself going into the final pass.

Unused to the amount of work they had been put to, Wilder’s legs burned and ached as he sat his mount, his arms shaking when Rogar passed him the next lance. Whether he won this bout or not he looked forward to the respite that would follow. He breathed the smells of sweat and leather deeply as the herald made his way to the middle of the field, starting flag ready.

Looking inside himself, Wilder gathered the power needed for his last, and least subtle, hex of the day. The energy of it began to build in his lungs and he used the little yellow and black flags fluttering in the hands of the audience to feed it. The crowd went perfectly silent as the herald reached the middle of the field and readied the starting flag, and erupted into a wave of movement and sound as the flag was raised. Both contenders spurred their mounts to a gallop, careening towards each other at break neck speed.

As soon as Wilder’s mare broke from a canter into a gallop he unleashed his held energy into a wild cackle. The sound of it traveled the length of the stadium and echoed around his helmet. Through his narrow view of the world, Wilder could see the slight change in Lord Dray’s composure as the sound reached him and Urkest hesitated before redoubling his grip on his lance. Again Wilder endeavoured to aim his blow for the upper left part of Urkest’s chest and, ceasing his laughter, bit his lip in concentration.

Tasting blood, Wilder squeezed tight to his mount and lowered his lance the last few inches as they came together in a cloud of splinters and chaos. Wilder closed his eyes to shield them from the flying debris of he shattered lances. His shoulder throbbed with pain and he turned to see a piece of lance six inches long protruding from between the breastplate and the shoulder guard of his poorly fitted armour. He snarled wordlessly at the injury, as if that could intimidate it out of hurting, but it stubbornly continued to sting.

He turned at the end of the field to make the return trip, and to offer empty congratulations to lord Dray. Wilder endeavored to remove his sweat-soaked helmet with his good arm, finding it stuck. After several hard yanks he was forced to give up and he raised his eyes, his jaw dropping into the damp chin strap at the scene before him. Urkest was on the ground, being helped to his feet by one of his squires and glowering furiously at Wilder. The half-elf slowly closed his mouth and a smile crept across his face, growing wider until he was grinning ear to ear. The audience had had a mixed reaction to the unhorsing of the reigning champion and Wilder noticed for the first time the odd combination of cheers and derision directed at him from the stands.

Wilder kept his horse at a walk crossing back to his side of the arena, and watched as Urkest prowled immediately to the judges stand to have a heated argument with the head of the event. An older man, separated from the other blue-robed judges by a prominent hat that reached with curled edges to a full foot above his head. When Wilder returned to Rogar, he found one of the event’s healers waiting to administer care to his shoulder - a plump woman with watery eyes. Between the three of them they managed to remove the rented helmet. As the medic was finishing casting her last spell the head judge approached Wilder and Rogar with Urkest fuming close on his heels.

“Good afternoon Wilder, it appears that the lord Dray has raised some concerns about the legality of your victory.” Judging by the puce shade of Urkest’s face, Wilder guessed that was putting it mildly. “His inquiry, and mine I might add, is whether or not your laughter just before the third round had any magical properties that we should be aware of.” Urkest couldn’t contain himself and jumped in, keeping his voice just below a shout.

“Of course it was magic. Who laughs when they’re losing like that? Something weird happened to me when he did it. I haven’t lost a tourney in three years, then he comes along, completely inept, and manages to unhorse me? He’s cheating, your honour!” He finished jabbing his finger at Wilder. The judge scrutinized Wilder expectantly until the witch responded.

“Your honour, to be entirely honest I’m not sure what came over me. I was still dizzy from the first round and I guess I just wanted to put him off his guard, which was apparently not a bad strategy.” Wilder smiled sweetly at the judge. “Besides, surely your wizards would have called the match off if they had sensed anything?” The last was asked as more of a question than a statement and the judge looked unconvinced as he turned to the waiting lord.

“I’m sorry lord Dray, but our mages didn’t detect anything from Wilder the entire match. I’m afraid your accusation cannot be acted upon.” Urkest breathed heavily from his nose as he turned towards his waiting entourage several yards away. Wilder spoke calmly to Urkest’s back before he could get more than ten steps, not attempting to hide the smugness from his voice.

“Oh, Urkest? I was going to be gracious and let you keep it, but as you tried to smear my name just now I do believe I’ll exercise my rights as victor. If you could have your armour polished and sent over I would appreciate it.” Wilder smirked as he watched Lord Dray fight for self-control at the request.

“And I believe there’s the matter of our bet to settle as well.” Urkest gave only the smallest perceptible nod before storming off with his retinue close behind.

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©2019 by Zenia Platten.