Chapter 20: The Arena Part1
[Author Note: there’s a chance the arena section will be removed or replaced in later drafts. It is a little out of place, serves a purpose that could be expressed elsewhere, and, well, the pacing is already pretty bad in “Novella 1.”]
Lilllith and Natasha were both looking at a clipboard and shouting at each other. Natasha, by the pure physical characteristic of being the tallest individual in the stadium, apart from the King, was also the loudest.
“No, Lilllith, we will go by Solune rulings.”
“Then I shall leave!”
“How dare you!”
Chloe wasn’t sure what was happening, but she knew that Natasha was qualified in law, and would therefore likely win any argument that had to do with rulings.
“Should we help somehow?” Alex asked.
“Ah,” Chloe stopped and thought for a moment, “Perhaps. It is too early to know.”
They continued approaching, crossing the freshly trimmed field. The noise of the crowd increased and oppressed Chloe’s senses. Her nerves kicked in, and she stopped.
“Shouldn’t we…go where everyone else is?”
Chloe took account of herself, breathed, and let all the stimulus hit her mind at once. For a while she was very whelmed but she managed, by sheer practice and habit, to continue walking in a mostly normal fashion.
When she had taken in her surroundings, she tuned into her eldest sister’s conversation once again.
“Ah, yes, I see, those,” Lilllith paused. “Those are actually quite similar to our own.”
Natasha nodded. “It is all derived from Sollussa law.”
Lilllith was a baffled. Chloe noticed quite starkly that Alexandre was not; in fact her face had become more pale than usual except for her cheeks, which had flushed.
“What is it?” Chloe said.
“Did the Captain just mention Sollussa law?” Alexandre breathed.
“That—I had assumed that that had been long abandoned.”
“My father took the ancient laws into account when founding the nation. Although, I’m not sure to what extent.”
“More—I mean, please continue.”
“Ah, I—we will have to wait until some other time, I fear. Look.”
Lilllith was positioned in the centre of a ring of dark wooden planks, laid on the dirt and grass. She was ready to fight.
Natasha, it seemed, had already begun seating the potential travelers in the order in which they were to fight.
“Chloe! Come, you’re fourth. Sit next to this young homeless man.”
Siren frowned. He was not homeless, he just didn’t…take care of himself as frequently as others.
Chloe sat down. Homeless? I do not think he is homeless…
“Astore, stand up, you are not third, you are first.”
“Oh. Oh no.”
They were all lined up on a stone bench. Chloe could only imagine how difficult it must have been to move from storage inside the city walls out to here.
For the first time, Chloe looked at the physical capabilities of her new allies. Senica, it seemed, was to go third. She didn’t seem particularly strong; in fact she looked rather weak. A typical scholarly build, but a little more slight.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a shout from Natasha. “Astore will start. Before that, however, Lilllith will go over her own rulings.”
Lilllith shouted, quite effectively. “I don’t want to deal with liabilities. Thus, consider this a test. I will be watching for your skill levels, and when we finish duelling, everyone here will be given a score. All you have to do is beat or match a ranking of three.”
The crowd cried out. The noise hit Chloe again. She shuddered.
“You good?” It was Alexandre, leaning over Siren.
Alexandre shrugged and leaned back.
Lilllith stood near the centre, waiting. She held a weapon of her own, a sword crafted for training. Chloe had never seen anyone take such a stance, it seemed to be some sort of reactive position. I wonder how the visitor might fight.
Astore approached Natasha, who gave him a practice sword constructed out of metal, and accurately weighted. It was stockier, and blunt, but it bent easier and had a folded-over tip. The easiest way to cause accidental injury, Chloe knew, was by thrusting. That was why they had moved from wooden swords to these. As he took the sword, she whispered to him, “You represent the Solune Agents, and even the kingdom. I do not expect anyone to be capable of defeating this woman, however, fight fair and fight with honour.”
Astore nodded and walked over the wooden indicator into the arena. Lilllith straightened, holding her weapon not fist below, arm out, but rather with her fist up in front of her head and the weapon almost hanging down diagonally in front of her. Chloe vaguely recalled reading about such a stance in an old swordfighting treatise, but no one used this sort of stance in contemporary training.
Natasha called out; “Start.”
Astore held his position, sword out. He too had noticed Lilllith’s stance. He knew she wasn’t going to fight like anyone he was used to. Even her weapon was different; longer and thinner than his.
“Come now, don’t keep the crowd waiting.” There was cheering, making Astore’s position even more awkward. He frowned, so Lilllith continued. “We ill often be the aggressors, I expect. I need to see how you act in such conditions.”
Astore took a couple steps and cut across. Lilllith didn’t move. Astore’s sword swung across thin air.
“You are being too careful! Come! You don’t want to look bad in front—Yes!”
Astore had thrusted at the abdomen. Lilllith smiled and pushed it aside with a slight movement in her sword arm.
Astore furrowed his brow. Was this some sort of game? He cut across from the opposite side, where it would be harder to defend. Lilllith rotated her elbow to block, then pulled her arm inward, cutting across. Astore stepped back and pulled his own sword inward.
“Don’t overswing, you’ll never block in time.”
She stepped after him, and he took advantage of that moment—the second she only had one foot on the ground—to stab at her again.
“Smart.” Lilllith snapped into position, balancing on one foot and cutting his weapon aside. “Good. That likely would have worked on someone who was not me.”
As she spoke, Astore retreated about ten cubits.
“Hello? Finishing?” She lowered her weapon.
Astore lowered his body, and then launched himself forward, sword first, across the distance, closing the gap in nigh an instant. Lilllith’s eyes widened.
“Done!” Natasha called.
Lilllith moved her practice sword from Astore’s neck.
Astore’s breathing was heavy. He looked at his own sword. Lilllith had pushed it aside with her other arm.
“That’s good,” the Lussa said, “I’ve never seen that before.”
Astore stepped back and said, “What did you…do?”
“Hmm? You lunged. It seems you do that a lot. Either way, a lunch has very little lateral force, so when you push it aside, it doesn’t push back. Just have to avoid the cutting edge….which our weapons lack. Your score is six.”
Astore nodded. He was far above the requirement. He bowed and exited the ring.
“Next, Kent Rhye, third Prince of the Solune.” Kent came, and Natasha gave him a sword.
Senica leaned in and said, “Have you ever seen him fight? Is he any good?”
Chloe replied, “He was a half decent guard. His skills were…good. He is lucky that he is build like that. This sort of thing comes naturally when your shoulders are that broad.” She wondered if Kent was still as strong as he was a few years ago when he was in the guard with Natasha.
Senica looked at Kent (who seemed to be arguing with Natasha) and then back at Chloe. “You—what in the world, you’re almost as broad as he is! How did I never notice; you’re torso is sort of…masculine.”
“Ah…it is…due to lower gender dimorphism compared to the average population.”
“What? I study culture not…biology.”
“I—let us say that my family is unique? Some of us have less physical gendered differences. I am broad, and I have the skull structure of my father.”
“Does that mean—oh, it looks like Kent isn’t using that sword.”
Kent received a two-handed practice sword and headed to the centre. “Perfect.”
Lilllith tilted her head.
Natasha called for the duel to begin.
The crowd clapped.
Kent and Lilllith crossed words a few times, and then Lilllith said, “You seem to have some sort of ability, but it is muted.”
“Yeah,” Kent huffed, “I haven’t done this in…years really.”
Lilllith smote him in the rubs with a lunge.
“That is a win for Lilllith.”
“Work on your skill. And pay attention. Now, as I have promised, here is your ranking.”
“Yeah?” Kent was interested in how he ranked in her view.
Kent shrugged and exited.
On the benches, Senica shivered. “Chloe, I don’t know about this. I don’t fight; not with weapons I—I—”
“Do not worry, everyone has passed so far, you should be no different.”
Senica turned her head. “I’m not everyone! I’m me!”
“Ah, well…you said you do not fight with weapons?”
“Senica, you are next!” Natasha called, “Come.”
She ceased up, and stood. Chloe stood too. “Finish what you were saying first.”
“I…I know how fight unarmed. It’s…kind of common in the Djeb, it’s, a lot of women get training.”
“Oh. Well, perhaps you can use the same movements with a weapon?”
“I’m going to try that, but, I’ve never…I’ve…ah, don’t worry. We’ll see. If I have to stay behind, I’ll just make sure Kent stays too.”
“You will be fine.”
Chloe watched her go to Natasha, say a few words, and then test out her weapon for a couple of minutes.
The crowd grew impatient.
Senica stood in the arena, facing Lilllith. Natasha called for them to start, and Senica froze up.
“Come now, is this normal on your side of the planet? To fight by standing still? Astore started the same; shall we skip all this and begin?”
Senica approached. Chloe was interested; her footwork, at least, was quite good. But sadly, her bladework was not. Senica cut across clumsily, and was blocked easily.
“She does not look very strong,” Chloe said.
“She’s not.” Kent replied.
Chloe nodded, and watched as Lilllith blocked another attack. The fight felt as if it was happening in slow motion. Lilllith blocked again, and caused Senica to actually drop her weapon.
They both stopped for a moment. Senica gaped. Lilllith swung across at her. Senica’s muscles gripped her and she leaned back, dodging the cut. She stepped inward and gave Lilllith’s neck two alternating strikes.
Lilllith recovered and defended with her off hand long enough to step back and offer a finishing blow.
Kent was the first in the arena to cheer the fight.
[Author’s Note: It isn’t a big deal now, but you’ll see in coming chapters; especially during travel times, that my description of setting is always lacking. This writing problem is magnified because my setting is high-fantasy, so there aren’t many real reference points for the reader to fill in the gaps.
I’ll probably bring this up again around chapter 25/26 when travelling starts. As of right now, I think it’s good enough, but it’s something I’ll want to address in later drafts.]