[note: Spring has sprung, the grass is riz… leaving me with much restricted time for blogging. Fortunately the ‘Manifesto’ is already written, requiring only the usual scan for missed typos, misplaced modifiers and such like. Continuing on…]
“Yes I do Bal,” saying the name thus almost makes me choke with fear, “I will remember. I know I cannot survive Malefactus but what’s in my mind I will keep. I won’t let anyone have it. No force will take it. I’ve been under torture before, though not by neuro-inductor but we have a way on Altaria to shift our knowledge into parts of our minds that even we cannot access during times of stress or under duress. It may be the memory of this power will come to me should I need it and I won’t be lying when I say, “Je ne sais rien.” I do understand that strange ability to lock information possessed by the Cholradil on this world.”
[end blog post #37
[begin blog post #38]
He opens the door and I walk out into the sunshine. Deirdre is sitting on the flagstones just outside the door with the new axe. She jumps up when she sees me and her eyes light up but there is no smile, only concern. I let it go, it’s her problem, not mine and nothing I can do about it. The doctor calls the handlers and the same ones return, in the blue uniforms with the gold braids. Bal whispers, “They are the King’s aides, not regular handlers or trainers. Pay attention to anything they may say to you. They may have information that will save your life. I know they invested a year’s wages in bond notes on the events of this day, betting that you would overcome the Prince, which you have, and you would also kill his fellow conspirator. They have already doubled their money but they want to double that also. They will help you win any way they can. Be careful, these be men, not Cydroids; I do not control them.”
I heft the new axe and in spinning it I notice a slight discrepancy in one of the curved blades. I examine it closely in the light of the sun and smile inwardly. My blacksmith friend has put tiny serrations, like teeth of a fine hacksaw blade on one side of the weapon and has heat-coloured the metal to a dark blue hue on that side so I will recognize it . Now it truly is a deadly weapon. I can hack as well as slice through armour with this. I thank him in my heart and walk back to the arena with the two aides.
“The Torlat means to kill you quickly,” one of them says to me with an unusually soft voice for that of a man. “He has poisoned his weapons, including his boot blades. You cannot let him draw blood at all. We tried to expose it but he, or the Prince, had bought the weapons judge today. The poison is allowed. You must take precaution. Beware if he crouches low – we suspect that the boot blades may be designed to be sprung free and thrown. That is all we can do to help you. May the Spirit of the Great Desert Beast be with you and may you win.”
It may have been spoken from greed and not out of any concern for my welfare yet the words warm me greatly. In such situations even the smallest kind offer becomes a great gift. Again, in my heart, I thank them, not being allowed to do so audibly. I nod a brief acknowledgment.
And with the customary fanfare and trumpet blare the fight is on: time to completely change tactics. I cannot let Torlat know I am aware of his poisoned cutting blades but I can pretend I am afraid of his skills. To create this impression I circle him backward, wider than the tight circle I normally use to draw in my opponent and strike, usually allowing him to get in and do some damage. It’s a dangerous game no matter whom you meet. Always expect the unexpected.
I circle ever wider, dancing around his attempts at stabbing or cutting, following the movement of his feet by staring in his eyes. Most opponents do not realize how much they tell by where and how they focus their eyes, even those who pretend. A quick but deliberate look to the left means a sharp thrust on the right; up means down. There is more psychology in a fight than actual stabbing and slashing. You have to get inside the mind – that’s where the outcome is determined. In the mind is where you win or lose. I look into his mind. There is no bravado there, just pure concentration and determination. And that too can be taken advantage of. Too much concentration and you break if it leads to an expected move that does not manifest.
The crowd grows restless. Cries of “Kill her, kill her now, now, now!” bounce from the walls and over into Malefactus’ mad and twisted bones and sinews. After so many battles, my body hears the calls as music to dance to. I move with greater alacrity, giving him no chance to come at me, and for many of my improved dancing moves I silently thank Deirdre. How much she has taught me about my body and my perception of the fluidity within the material world! I wonder, at times, who trained whom the most!
He is sweating profusely now, unaccustomed to having to do so much walking, running and jumping to try to position himself safely within my defence. And all I give him is a defensive posture. I make no move to attack him, just keep drawing him to me and moving away.
“Kill her now! Kill her now! Kill her now!” They stand and chant until a dozen trumpets near the King’s pavilion call for silence. The last trumpet calls die and you could hear a fly buzz if there were one. The silence of fear; fear of that which is in authority over you and can get you killed in most unpleasant ways – strange expression, I know of no pleasant way to be killed. The King, you see (must maintain the image!) wants to hear the blows ring, not a bunch of crazies yelling. This would be a truly stimulating time for those who study the art of one-on-one combat. The Torlat and I are as professional a set of fighters as this place has ever witnessed. Unfortunately only a few of the minds in the stands can grasp and appreciate the deadly art form in our moves and the terrible beauty of our semi-nude muscular and sweating bodies gleaming in the reflections of the afternoon sun and plasma lighting. Few can feel respect for the terrible discipline that has created this dance between deadly opposites.
Obviously the King knows why I’m not attacking. Is he enjoying my performance from up there, observing the fight from his holo imager? Does he care that in the silence he has imposed, I may or may not prevail against the persistent, now crouching Torlat?
Watch his right hand drop to his foot, yes, now! He’s given me the one chance I so desperately needed. I jump past his guard and complete the serrated edge swing into his arm, cutting through the cheelth super-skin and severing it even as he draws his blade. I swing the axe end to end, upend him and spear him just below the rib cage, driving the weapon and the body into the ground. Leaving the axe embedded, I walk slowly back, refusing to stagger, not letting that all-male crowd have as much as one moment to gloat.
They will not see I’m tired unto death and weak from loss of blood in the earlier fight. They will see me walk straight and tall out of the bloody arena once more. And they will go away nursing their hatred and if possible, take it out on some unfortunate female servant. Compromised morality… what a price I’m paying and causing others to pay. The trumpets announce the end of the day’s fighting, unleashing a veritable storm of protests, boos and spitting against the ‘unfair’ results of the battle.
Where’s the light? Two “suns” and Malefactus remains the darkest world I have ever encountered.
The second fight has lasted over three hours. Later the doctor tells me it was the longest one-on-one combat fights ever recorded. Even as Torlat still twitches on the ground the King rises, ends the tournament and dismisses the unruly crowd with a show of force from several hundred black-clad uniformed and armoured Hyrete police held in readiness. As the police units file down the aisles in the stands all outbursts cease. The fans file out to consider their staggering losses and a few to rejoice over their winnings. Despite the mounting evidence that female fighters will overcome their male challengers on an average of three to one, these sick men cannot believe the evidence, going with their feelings of revulsion and hate; believing women are weaker than men and continuing to place their bets on the male challengers.
I live another day, and to what end? For the moment, there is but one end: to save Deirdre.
[end blog post #38]