Knights of the Couch - Part VII - Journey to the Dark Monolith

Lloyd stood watching the tournament match in the makeshift arena that had been erected that morning. The stage that was in the courtyard the previous night had been torn down and in its place stands had been erected on all four sides for the spectators. The actual arena itself was about fifty foot square giving the contestants plenty of room to maneuver around each other.
The two current fighters were in a heated battle. They seemed pretty evenly matched. This could take awhile Lloyd thought. The warblade was anxious. It was his turn next. He was up against Fafnar and there was more than just a casual battle at stake. The very livelihood of his companions depended on him winning this match.
It made Lloyd think back to his days in Penwick, when his father was first training him to be a warblade. Sir Remington Stealle was not a huge man. He was tall though and made of solid muscle. The man had learned to use his thin frame to his advantage. Remington had not invented the warblade style of fighting, but he had mastered it and then improved on it by creating his own maneuvers.
Lloyd had always been a big lad. He was already stockier than his father. This made it harder for the youth to move as quickly and spin around as rapidly as Remington did. But Lloyd was determined.
“Okay Lloyd, let’s try it again,” his father would say.
“Block, my attack. Now spin, then slice through. Watch your back! Spin again. Quickly Lloyd!” The older man rapt Lloyd on the back with the flat of his blade. “You need to turn around quicker after the slice through. Otherwise you will get skewered in the back, not slapped like I just did.”
“I’m trying Dad! I’m just not as fast as you,” Lloyd complained.
“But you have to be son. Let the blades guide you. They should always be between you and your opponent. After the slice through, pivot around and put them between you and your adversary. If you can’t keep your blades in position, then they’re useless,” Remington instructed.
“Okay Dad. Let’s try it again,” Lloyd replied.
“Good Lloyd. Now block, spin, slice through, then spin again….”
“Lloyd? Lloyd!” a voice said.
Lloyd blinked and realized he had been daydreaming. Andrella stood in front of him. “What were you thinking about?” she asked the young man.
“Nothing really,” Lloyd replied sheepishly. “Just reviewing some fighting techniques in my head.”
“Is that all you ever think about?” she asked him petulantly. She placed her hands on her hips and staring up at him.
“No,” he said embarrassed now. “Sometimes I think about food.”
“You’re impossible!” she said. Then she looked up into his face and saw that he was grinning.
“Oooo, Lloyd Stealle, if you weren’t so handsome…”
“Yes?” he said waiting.
“Nevermind,” she said quickly. “Oh, I have something for you.”
“What is it?” he asked her like a big kid.
She reached around her neck and removed her scarf. “Here,” she said. She tied the scarf around his neck. “You are now my chosen protector. Go out there and make me proud,” she told him. Then she stood up on her toes, reached up and kissed him on the cheek. She flashed him a smile, turned and strode away.
“Very nice my boy,” he heard Elvisda say. Lloyd turned and saw the bard standing behind him with the rest of his companions.
Lloyd blushed and said, “How long have you been standing there?”
“Not long,” Elvisda said.
“Just long enough to see you receive the Lady Andrella’s favor,” Glorfindle added.
Lloyd smiled. “Aww, come on guys.”
“Yes, Lloyd is right,” Elvisda said, “Let’s get down to business.”
Aksel spoke up. “Strictly by the rules, contestants are not allowed any outside help. So casting spells on him that would help him in the fight would be out of the question. However, according to Seth here, who did a little bit of spying…”
“It wasn’t spying,” Seth interrupted, “it was information gathering.”
“Okay,” Aksel continued, “Seth here was information gathering over in the Dunwynn camp and found out that the Duke intends to cast spells on Fafnar before your match.”
“But that’s cheating!” Lloyd declared.
“Yes,” Elvisda said, “Yes it is. That’s why we need to fight fire with fire.”
“Shouldn’t we just tell the Baron?” Lloyd countered.
“We wouldn’t be able to prove it,” Aksel told him.
“Well, okay, I guess,” Lloyd said.
“Better hurry. The last match is almost over,” Seth announced as he peered through the door to the arena.
“Very good,” Glorfindle said as he began casting a series of spells. The first enhanced the big warblade’s already impressive strength. The second spell augmented his bravery in battle. The last set would protect him against any fire, cold or electrical energy his opponent might use against him.
Then Elvisda cast a spell to instill powerful hope on the big man. Finally the bard took out his lute and began to softly play it while whispering the lyrics into Lloyd’s ear:

I fight and they hear me in Heaven
I fight and they hear me in Heaven
The gods ain’t got nothing like me

And they all want a hero to save them
Who am I to make them all wait
I’ll be feared by the kings of all peoples
Watch as my foes fly away

I tell you your magic can’t save you
You’re not stronger than me
Look, I am glorious
I’m built for killing
And blood spilling
This world I’m here to change

And they all want a hero to save them
Who am I to make them all wait
I’ll be feared by the kings of all peoples
Watch as my foes fly away

I’m bringing your dreams to an ending
Your doom I deliver to you
Don’t fear me because I’m a hero
Fear because I’m better than you

And they all want a hero to save them
Who am I to make them all wait
I’ll be feared by the kings of all peoples
Watch as my foes fly away

And I’m watching you
Yes I’m watching you
As you run away
And I’m watching you
Yes I’m watching you
As you run away
And I’m watching you
Yes I’m watching you
As you run away

“They’re done,” Seth announced.

“Good luck!” they all said clasping the warblade on the back.

Lloyd entered the arena from the door at one end at the same time Sir Fafnar entered from the other end. As Lloyd was walking towards the stands where the Baron was sitting, the rest of the companions watched him from the doorway.
Then Glo caught sight of the Duke of Dunwynn standing in the opposite doorway. The door was only opened a crack so you would have to be in the opposite door to see him. The Duke was casting a spell.
“What is he doing?” Glo said out loud.
“Who?” Elvisda asked.
“The Duke. In the doorway over there” Glo pointed.
“He’s dispelling our charms,” Aksel observed almost immediately.
“The scum! He’s using it on Lloyd!” Elvisda cried.
The spell released and Lloyd stopped walking for a second. Then he shook his head and continued up to the waiting Baron and Baroness.
The Duke had a smile of satisfaction on his face as he looked across at the KOTC members. Then he closed the door.
“Nothing we can do now,” Aksel said. “We should get to our seats.”

Lloyd was standing in front of the Baron and Baroness. Andrella sat at her mother’s side, smiling at the warblade the whole time.
Then Fafnar whispered to him, “Is that the Lady Andrella’s scarf you are wearing?!” The Dunwynn knight was incensed. “The likes of you does not deserve her attention. I will put an end to that soon enough.”
“What was that Sir Fafnar?” the Baron said suddenly. He had been instructing the two fighters of the rules. It was just a formality as everyone present already knew them. Both contestants wore a spelled scarves. They were designed to burn up after the wearer had taken too much damage. That way, no fighter would actually be killed in any of the games. The fighter whose scarf remained intact would be declared the winner of the match.
Fafnar looked up at the Baron and responded. “I was just wishing my opponent…luck” the Dunwynn noble lied.
“Hmm, yes I’m sure you were,” Grellus replied not fooled for a second. “Anyway, take your positions please. On Captain Gelpas’s mark you may begin the match.
Lloyd and Fafnar moved out into the center of the arena. They both drew their weapons and took fighting stances. The Dunwynn noble was also wielding two weapons like the warblade. However, he had a sword in his right hand and an axe in his left. Fafnar was in a classic fighter pose. But Lloyd had taken a warblade stance.
Seth was looking closely and the cried out, “Damn. Fafnar had an ice axe in his left hand!”
Glo looked and realized Seth was right. “I hope that Resistance to Ice wasn’t dispelled,” he whispered.
Gelpas was standing between the two men sword out. “Good luck,” the Captain said to both of them. Then he stepped back and yelled, “Begin!”
The two men slowly moved around each other at first, getting with sword range. Each made some quick attacks with their weapons more to test their opponent’s reactions than to cause injury.
Then Lloyd launched into an attack. It was a classic warblade maneuver. Move in, dual slice, parry the counterattack, spin and slice at the opponent. Fafnar, however, had anticipated Lloyd’s attack and had moved out of the way.
Lloyd quickly reoriented himself just in time to parry the fighter’s counterattack. Fafnar was fast. In fact, he might have been faster than Lloyd. But all that training with his father, and these last few weeks of experience in battle had sharpened the warblade’s reflexes and honed his skills. He now put this all into play. He caught Fafnar’s blade with his left hand and countered his axe with his right. The Dunwynn noble was taken off guard, never expecting the young man to counter both his weapons. He was left flat footed right in front of the young man with both arms out to his sides.
Lloyd slashed inward with both blades at once. Fafnar back-pedaled as quick as he could, but Lloyd’s blade tips still caught him; one across the chest and one on the left arm. Lloyd was elated. He had drawn first blood. But then his father’s training came to mind and he stopped himself from rushing forward. He fell back into a ready stance and waited.
Just as well because Fafnar immediately launched a counterattack on him. It was a flurry of blows. They came rapidly, one after the other. Lloyd managed to catch all but one on his attacks. The last slash caught him along his left arm. It was not a deep wound however. The warblade shrugged it off and began to circle his opponent again looking for an opening.
“Very good,” Fafnar said a smile creeping onto his face. “I thought this was going to be boring. But you seem to have some measure of skill.”
“I could say the same,” Lloyd replied. He too was smiling. This was turning out to be an exciting challenge. He had not had this much competition since he left his father’s side.
“Shall we continue,” Fafnar said to his opponent.
“Ready when you are,” Lloyd responded.
Fafnar launched into another series of fast attacks. These were coming even quicker that the first. Four slashes in a row. This time Lloyd was only able to catch two of them on his blades. The two others caught him in the right arm and the left arm again.
This was not good, Lloyd thought to himself. He had to find a way to negate the other man’s speed or this would be over quickly. Then he thought back to his training.
“When facing an opponent who is faster than you,” Remington told him, “you need to use his speed against him. Let him approach, time his movements. Look for patterns and anticipate the next blow. Let your opponent become overconfident. It will make him careless. Once you have set him up, use this advantage to put him off balance. Then you will have him.”
All this flashed through Lloyd’s mind in a matter of milliseconds. Fafnar was circling around him again getting ready for his next assault.
“Too quick for you to handle, eh Lloyd,” Fafnar boasted.
The warblade declined to comment though. He was concentrating intensely now. Watching the other man’s every movement. Remembering every detail of the first two attacks. When the third attack came, he paid careful attention. He counted as each stroke came. He timed each swing and rolled along with each one. He was getting the timing now. He knew when and where the last blow would land. But he would not be able to pull his opponent out of position and off balance. So instead, Lloyd took the blow. It caught him in the left side.
It was a superficial wound, but it looked much worse than it was. Lloyd pretended that it had hurt him more than it did. He acted as if he was favoring his right side now, presenting that to his opponent. If he was right, Fafnar would come at him using the same type of attack but from the opposite direction. And if he had timed it correctly, the Dunnwyn Knight was just a hair slower with his left hand than with his right.
“What’s the matter Lloyd,” Fafnar taunted. “Was that last attack too much for you? You know you could give up now. It might save you from further humiliation. Pity too. At first I thought you were a more worthy opponent.”
“Your bark is worse than your bite Fafnar. You’re all speed and no strength. I could stand here all day and take your blows,” Lloyd lied. If he could get Fafnar mad, it might help.
“Why you insolent pup!” Fafnar cried. “Well you earned this then!”
With that Fafnar launched into another quick attack. Lloyd was right though. Fafnar had led with the right hand to make up for Lloyd’s switch in stance. That meant he would end with his left. And he seemed to have slowed a bit as well. He was trying to put more muscle into each blow.
Lloyd slowed down his parrying to make it look like he was having a hard time keeping up. Then when the last strike came at him, he spun and parried with his right hand; something he should not have been able to do in his condition.
Fafnar had been following through with more strength so the parry had caught him off guard. He was overextended and off balance. Lloyd continued his spin and brought his left blade around to bear on his opponents now exposed flank. Fafnar threw his left hand up at the last minute in a last ditch effort to fend off the blow. But Lloyd’s momentum carried his blade through the other’s axe and landing firmly in his left shoulder.
Fafnar went flying past Lloyd and landed on the ground, his axe clattering out of his hand. Lloyd turned to face him immediately back into a warblade stance. His opponent got up, still holding his right blade, but his left arm was hanging limp at his side. AND, his scarf was gone!
Lloyd could not believe it. He stayed in his stance unwilling to drop his guard. Not sure if this was some kind of trick.
Then he heard Gelpas’s voice. “Stop!” the Captain cried. “This match is over. Victory goes to Lloyd Stealle of Penwick.”
The crowd began cheering. Lloyd looked around and realized that it was indeed over. He stood up with a sheepish grin on his face. He saw the Baron and Baroness smiling at him. Andrella was on her feet cheering. Over on the other stands he saw his companions cheering as well. “Way to go Lloyd!” Elvisda was yelling. Even Seth was standing and clapping. He gave Lloyd a thumbs up.
Then Lloyd looked back at Fafnar. The man was having trouble standing. Lloyd dropped his blades and went over to him catching the man before he fell.
“That was some fight there,” Fafnar gasped. “I never…expected a…move like that…from a… country bumpkin.”
“Yeah, well you gave me a run for my money,” Lloyd told the fighter.
Then Dunwynn guards appeared and pushed Lloyd aside. “Unhand him knave. We can take care of our own.” Then they dragged the Lieutenant off to be healed.
Andrella jumped down off the stands and ran to Lloyd’s side. Then she grabbed him and kissed him soundly on the lips. “Lloyd Stealle,” she whispered, “you never cease to surprise me. Showing compassion for Fafnar of all people. There is far more to you than just an ordinary fighter.”
With Andrella holding on to his wounded side, Lloyd turned and approached the Baron and Baroness.
Grellus said, “Please have the rest of the KOTC join their young friend down on the field. This concerns all of them.”
The group of companions soon joined Lloyd on the field. They went to pat him on the back but Aksel pushed them all away. “Let me heal him a bit first. He did take some wounds you idiots.”
“Ahem,” Grellus said. “Lloyd has won this contest and thus cleared the good name of the Knights of the Couch in fair battle.” He stressed the word fair. Then he turned to the Duke. “I trust that all charges against these fine gentlemen are now dropped Kelvick?”
The Duke had a sour look on his face. “I suppose,” he replied flippantly.
“Then it is settled!” Grellus declared.
The crowd cheered and began chants of KOTC! KOTC! once again.

Knights of the Couch – Part VII – Journey to the Dark Monolith – Section 2

Knights of the Couch - Part VII - Journey to the Dark Monolith

Rise of the Thrall Lord starlord