The tournament at gorlan, p.26
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       The Tournament at Gorlan, p.26

           John Flanagan
 
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  The marshal stepped forward. “My lord, what are you doing?” he said urgently.

  Morgarath shoved him aside and began to march toward the tottering figure of his opponent.

  “He hasn’t conceded,” he said. “The fight continues.”

  “He doesn’t need to concede!” the marshal shouted after him. “You unhorsed him!”

  “He must concede or the fight continues!” Morgarath shouted.

  Both marshals were shouting now, but he ignored them. A killing rage was on him. Wallace turned to see the tall, black-clad figure striding toward him. He staggered. His eyes wouldn’t focus properly but it seemed to him that Morgarath had his sword in his hand. Dazed and confused, Wallace reached for the sword he carried at his waist, not sure what was happening but sensing the need to defend himself.

  He heard feet pounding on the turf as Morgarath was almost up to him. The Baron of Gorlan swung his huge sword back for a horizontal stroke as Wallace fumbled to draw his own sword, which had somehow become tangled behind his back.

  Then a blue-clad figure came into sight and shoulder-charged Morgarath before he could begin his forward stroke. Morgarath, his peripheral vision restricted inside the jousting helmet, never saw Arald coming.

  Arald’s shoulder drove into Morgarath’s ribs with a sickening impact. Even beneath the chain mail, Morgarath felt the force of Arald’s charge. He lost his balance and crashed over into the dirt. As he tried to rise, he felt his sword pinned to the ground by Arald’s foot.

  He struggled furiously, but to no avail. And now Arald had his own sword clear of the scabbard and its point at Morgarath’s throat.

  “It’s over, Morgarath!” Arald said coldly. “Let the boy be!”

  And now they were surrounded by marshals and officials, including Baron Naylor, the grand marshal of the tournament.

  “My lord, what are you doing?” he cried, aghast at Morgarath’s unknightly behavior. At last, the lord of Gorlan gained control of himself. He released his grip on the sword, allowing one of the marshals to help him to his feet. He pushed his visor up and shook his head in mock bewilderment.

  “My apologies, my lords,” he said. “I thought I heard the boy shout continue.”

  There was a general chorus of understanding. Naylor nodded wisely.

  “These things can happen in the course of a combat,” he said. “But no harm done and all’s well that ends well.” He gestured to the surgeon’s attendants to take Wallace into their care. Then he nodded approvingly at Arald. “Just as well Baron Arald was thinking quickly. He saved us from a certain tragedy.”

  Arald curled his lip as he and Morgarath locked eyes. Then Arald mouthed a single word:

  Liar.

  Morgarath leaned forward, pretending to embrace his fellow baron in gratitude. But as his mouth came close to Arald’s ear, he whispered his reply.

  “I’ll kill you for this.”

  39

  “THERE’S LITTLE DOUBT NOW THAT MORGARATH WILL challenge you,” Halt said.

  Arald shrugged casually. “There never was. I can take care of myself.”

  “Still,” said Duncan, “he’s a snake in the grass and he’ll do his best to kill you.”

  Again, Arald was unfazed by the comment. “He might find I’m a tougher nut to crack than young Wallace,” he said. “And even he wouldn’t dare to try and claim a misunderstanding like the other day.”

  “Keep an eye on him, nevertheless,” said Crowley.

  They were seated once more in the armorers’ tent in Arald’s compound. Duncan, Pritchard, Halt, Crowley and Farrel were present, discussing plans for the melee later that morning. Arald regarded Farrel. The burly Ranger had constructed a wooden replica of his battleax to use in the melee. Only practice weapons were allowed and an ax, even with blunted edges, was considered too dangerous to use in the event.

  “Are you ready?” Arald asked Farrel.

  The Ranger nodded. “Don’t worry. We’ll definitely cramp Teezal’s style.”

  “How many of you?” asked Arald.

  “Just two. That’ll be enough to take them by surprise. A bigger group might draw attention. We could be disqualified by the marshals. And the more of us there are, the more chance of Teezal realizing what’s going on.”

  Arald nodded. He had a good idea who would be assisting Farrel in the melee, but he decided to say nothing.

  At that moment, Mistress Pauline entered the tent.

  “Teezal and his group will be fighting in the blue force,” she said, placing two scarlet armbands on the table. “I’ve had you two registered with the reds.”

  Arald wasn’t surprised when Farrel retrieved the two armbands and handed one to Duncan.

  “You’re sure about this, my lord?” Arald said.

  Duncan nodded. “I owe these people a few bruises,” he said grimly. “And with the possible exception of yourself, I’m the best fighter we have. We need to thin Teezal’s group out quickly, then get off the field.”

  “So long as you’re not noticed and recognized,” Crowley put in.

  Duncan turned his gaze on him. “I’ll be wearing a full-face helmet,” he said. “And it’s been a long time since I’ve had one of those knocked off my head.”

  They heard a rustle of canvas as the outer door screen was pulled aside, then replaced. Then the inner screen opened in turn. The double screen had been Crowley’s idea, to prevent spying eyes from seeing into the tent when they were conferring.

  Martin, the Baron’s secretary, entered, a worried expression on his face.

  “My lord, serious news,” he said and Arald gestured for him to continue. Martin glanced around the table to make sure everyone was listening, then announced: “Tiller is dead.”

  There were startled exclamations from the assembled group. Duncan held up his hand for silence.

  “Dead?” he queried. “How did this happen?”

  Martin shrugged uncomfortably. “It appears that he took poison, my lord.”

  “Took it, or was given it?” Crowley put in.

  “There’s no way of knowing that, sir,” Martin said unhappily. He felt that Tiller’s death reflected badly on him. He was in charge of the Redmont camp’s administration. “He could have had the poison concealed on him all this time.”

  “Surely he was searched?” Duncan said.

  Crowley interjected. “My men searched him for weapons. But poison could have been concealed anywhere on his person or in his clothes.”

  “Still, it’s something of a coincidence that he managed to get his hands on poison just when we were about to use him to denounce Morgarath,” said Halt.

  The others muttered agreement, but Lady Pauline disagreed with the general view around the table.

  “It’s really no great loss,” she said. “His evidence wouldn’t have been conclusive. Morgarath could always claim that we’d recruited him and coerced him into the accusation. He would have provided useful corroborating evidence of Morgarath’s guilt, but that would have been all.”

  The others looked at her, realizing she was right.

  Pritchard was the first to speak. “The key witness is still going to be King Oswald,” he said. “That’s always been the case. And now this feud between Arald and Morgarath will give us our best chance to set him free.”

  “How so?” asked Arald.

  “Your interference in his fight with young Wallace has infuriated him. He’s fixated on making you pay for it. And that means his attention will be distracted from Oswald. Your duel will provide a perfect opportunity for us to get into the castle and release him. You can be sure his own followers will be distracted by the event too. Security is sure to be slack.”

  “Assuming, of course, that he does challenge you,” Pauline said.

  Arald smiled at her. “Oh, he will. And if he doesn’t I’ll challenge him.


  Outside, they heard the brazen note of multiple trumpets sounding from the jousting field.

  “That’s the first call for the melee,” Arald said. He glanced at Duncan and Farrel. “You two had better get ready. And for pity’s sake, be careful!” he added, looking directly at Duncan.

  Farrel smiled. “Don’t you want me to be careful, my lord?”

  Arald treated him to a mock scowl. “I can always get another Ranger,” he said. “Round here, they’re as thick as fleas on a stray dog. But we only have one heir to the throne.”

  The dividing fence down the center of the jousting field had been removed for the Grand Melee. The two sides, each wearing their distinctive colored armbands, formed up in three rows at either end of the field.

  Already, the crowd was buzzing with excitement. The Grand Melee was a popular event with the spectators. It was a guaranteed source of violence and action. The individual fights that took place gave spectators ample opportunity to wager on their outcomes, and there was always the attraction of wagering on either the red or the blue side to be triumphant at each stage of the melee.

  On the blue side, Teezal mustered his six fighters around him.

  “Remember who we’re targeting,” he said.

  They had been briefed on a dozen knights whom Morgarath wanted removed from contention and they had spent the morning memorizing their crests and individual insignia. The six men, clad in chain mail, wearing pot helmets and carrying an assortment of drill swords, clubs and maces, all nodded.

  One, however, raised a hand in doubt. “Sir David of Holder and Morris of Norgate are on the blue side,” he pointed out. “Aren’t they our allies in the melee?”

  Teezal regarded him scornfully. “We’re here to get rid of them. If they’re wearing blue, they’ll be that much easier,” he said. “They won’t be expecting us to attack them. Just get behind them and hit them hard and fast. Nobody’ll notice in the confusion.”

  The trumpets rang out, sounding the one-minute-warning signal. Teezal set his shield a little more firmly on his left arm and drew the weighted wooden sword from his belt.

  “One minute to go,” he said. “Get ready!”

  A minute later, the trumpets blared long and loud and, with a roar, the two sides charged across the field at each other.

  As the first ranks crashed into each other and weapons began to rise and fall, Teezal found himself behind Sir Morris of Norgate. Teezal glanced quickly around to make sure nobody was watching, but the blue force were all intent on the enemy facing them. Quickly, he brought his sword down onto the warrior’s helmet. Morris staggered, looking round in alarm. He hadn’t realized that an enemy had got behind him. He saw a black-clad fighter a few meters away, then saw the wooden sword swinging toward his forearm. The bone cracked as the blow landed and Morris cried out in pain and anger. Then the black-clad man backhanded the pommel of his sword into Morris’s face and he went down under a surge of trampling feet.

  “Come on!” Teezal yelled to his small force, and they followed him through the struggling mass, forming a wedge behind him as they sought their next victim.

  “There!” Farrel yelled, pointing with his ax at the little formation forcing its way through the melee. In a series of disorganized individual combats, it was easy to see Teezal’s group, working together as they surrounded one of the red fighters. Farrel recognized their target as a warrior from the fief of one of Arald’s supporters and he shoved his way through the fighting mass of men to get to him.

  “Take them from behind!” Duncan yelled and they swung in behind the six men, who were surrounding the knight as he desperately tried to defend himself. But there were too many attackers and he was taking blow after blow from the wooden weapons.

  Duncan slammed his shield into the side of one of Teezal’s men, sending him flying. The man stumbled and fell to his knees, where an enthusiastic member of the red force, seeing his chance, brought a wooden mace crashing down on his head.

  Duncan didn’t bother to see what happened to his first victim. He went at the rest of Teezal’s group like a battering ram, his heavy wooden sword flashing from side to side, beating down his opponents’ defenses, finding the small gaps left unprotected by their shields and delivering crunching, crushing injuries. They went down before him like wheat before the scythe. Some turned away, nursing broken limbs. Others crashed to the turf, unconscious. Duncan was a master warrior, powerful, fast and pitiless, while Teezal’s men were, for the most part, semiskilled bullyboys accustomed to striking from behind and with overwhelming numbers in their favor.

  Too late, Teezal realized that his troop had been cut down by the terrifying red-clad knight, who moved through them like a hurricane, his sword rising and falling, sweeping and thrusting almost too fast for the eye to follow its blur of motion.

  He turned to see if any of his men had survived these first violent few minutes and found himself facing a grim, heavy-set man in chain mail and a surcoat bearing Arald’s blue and yellow colors. The man smiled at him and brandished his heavy wooden ax.

  “Didn’t turn out quite how you planned?” he asked.

  Morgarath’s henchman realized that he had been outwitted. Instead of targeting Arald’s followers, he and his men had been targeted themselves by these two fighters. With a scream of rage, he swung an overhand blow at the man.

  Farrel’s drill ax was fashioned like his real one. The cutting edge of the blade was a crescent of hardwood, with a supporting center strut connecting it to the long haft. The ends of the crescent extended past the center strut, giving him a large striking surface, without the prohibitive weight of a solid blade. As a result, there was a gap between the top quarter of the blade and the haft of the ax. He used this now to his advantage, trapping the descending sword blade in the gap and twisting savagely to spin the sword out of its owner’s hand.

  Teezal looked aghast as his weapon flew through the air. Then the flat of Farrel’s ax slammed against his head. He was wearing a helmet, but it did little to stop the concussive force of the blow. His eyes glazed and his knees sagged as he sank to the ground.

  Above him, he was dimly aware of the red-clad knight dropping his hand onto the axeman’s shoulder. He heard the words he said as if the knight were a long way away.

  “They’re done. Let’s get out of here.”

  As Teezal sank into unconsciousness, Farrel and Duncan shoved their way back through the ranks of the red force, stripping off their armbands as they went. A group of brown- and gray-cloaked men were standing ready by the rail to the public viewing area. As the two fighters scrambled under it, the Rangers bundled them in cloaks and spirited them away, out of sight.

  40

  TEEZAL SLUMPED IN A CHAIR IN MORGARATH’S PAVILION, HIS head heavily bandaged, his temples still throbbing with the headache he had suffered all night.

  Before him, the lord of Gorlan paced furiously, unable to stand still as a terrible rage swept over him. He stooped before his wounded servant, thrusting a pointing finger in his face.

  “I don’t know if I explained this,” he said sarcastically, “but the whole idea was for you and your men to injure and incapacitate as many of Arald’s allies as you could. That way, some of those barons who are wavering in their decision would have been driven over to my side. Was that so incredibly hard for your tiny mind to grasp?”

  “No, my lord,” muttered Teezal, shrinking away from the shouting voice as it set his head throbbing even worse than before.

  “But instead, you’ve made me a laughingstock! You allowed yourselves to be ambushed by two men. Two men!” He screamed the last two words as he repeated them.

  “They were working for Arald, my lord,” Teezal said miserably.

  But his words had no soothing effect on Morgarath. Rather, they had the opposite result.

  “Well, of course they were working for Arald!” he roared. “
Who did you think they were working for? The Great Badger of Bumbleberry?” He named a beloved creature from a well-known children’s story.

  Teezal guessed, correctly, that it would be wise not to respond.

  “I’ve had to pay out a small fortune to have you and your idiot men released. Did you think that was my plan?”

  “No, my lord,” Teezal whispered. Even though Farrel and Duncan hadn’t taken Teezal and his helpers prisoner, there were other fighters in the red force who had taken advantage of the situation, claiming the unconscious, injured men as their prizes and dragging them from the field.

  Morgarath stopped pacing and held his clenched fists up to the sky, shaking them with impotent rage. The number of Arald’s allies who were to be captured or defeated had never been the real issue. The point had been to show those uncertain barons that Morgarath’s arm was long and merciless. Instead, he sensed a wavering in the resolve of several barons and knights who had previously been favorable to his cause. He had been outwitted, and it had been done in public.

  Even worse, his force of seven men had been routed by two warriors. One of them, he recognized as Farrel, the Ranger from Redmont Fief whom he had tried to have discredited. The other was a tall man in a red tunic over silver mail. There was something familiar about him, Morgarath thought. But so far, he had been unable to place the man.

  Now he would need to take drastic action to restore his position and preeminence among the ranks of the barons. Fortunately, that drastic action would match something he already planned to do.

  He glared at the pitiful figure in the chair before him. “Get out of here!” he snapped. “Send in my armorers. I’m going to have to take care of the situation myself—as ever!”

  Teezal looked up warily as he rose from the chair. He crouched slightly, fearful of what Morgarath might do to him. “My lord, what are you going to do?” he asked, his voice quavering.

  Morgarath fixed him with a basilisk stare that sent a shiver of dread down his spine. Never before had he seen such hatred in a man’s eyes.

 
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