It was ordained that every knight, shortly after earning their spurs, should go out among the world of men for the space of five of their years. What the knight did during that time was up to their discretion but invariably, it resulted in great stories to be told both among the humans and the fairy kind. Epic battles, wars, quests of vengeance, and great deeds.
I was in the human world for two years before this particular adventure. My journeys had been rather uneventful – I stopped by some ancient monuments of our kind, some of the human monuments, fought under the banner of a human lord in one of his skirmishes with another lord, and was subsequently chased out of his land by witch-hunters. I am not sure when wings and fairy-magic came to mean witch.
A few months after that incident I found myself in one of their cities, along the bank of a river. There were ships with sails full along it and I was making my way down to the harbor to watch them. My lord's estate was completely land-locked so I had not seen a ship since I was a very young squire. I had never seen a human ship. The townspeople stared as I passed but by that time I had grown quite used to it. They knew we walked among men, sometimes in secret and sometimes in open, but it was a rare thing and I was probably the first fairy most had seen. Furthermore, the humans did not knight females as my people did, which made me even more a rarity. My war-steed was of interest as well, being the double-horned horse that was sometimes mistaken for unicorn. He was a sturdy companion, far stronger and bigger than any of their war-horses, and able to bear me, my armor, and my shield for days without growing tired.
The road I took to the harbor was not the best one I could have picked. I had never been to this city though and so I was ignorant of the fact that it ran through the slums. This in itself did not bother me – after the first year among the humans I had grown accustomed to the squalor they sometimes subjected themselves to. Besides, they did not live as long as we did; it was understandable that they would devote their time to things other than improving the poor portions of the city. What bothered me about this particular slum is that it housed an ambush.
I suspect that word had been carried all across the city as soon as I had passed through the city gates. A fairy-knight is certainly something that would cause a spectacle; indeed, I had a small band of children and onlookers trailing me for a good half hour before entering the slums. At that point the crowd changed from the diverse city-population to a rougher crowd of men. These followed me as well and I did notice how empty the streets had grown when they arrived. And how many of them there were. I could have just leapt off my war-steed, ordered him to get out of the city – which he could have done with some trampling and goring on the way out – and flown up above the rooftops and escaped via the air. My armor was forged by the master blacksmiths of my kind and did not hinder my wings, although the weight did impede my flight somewhat. I did not take this route though. A knight does not back down from any battle. Besides, I was in the human world for great deeds and incredible tales and perhaps this would be an opportunity to add alongside the border skirmish war and the witch hunters.
They attacked me en masse and my mount killed two of them immediately, goring one and tossing him aside before rearing and splitting the skull of another with his hooves. I kicked free of the stirrups at that point, flipping out of the saddle and drawing my sword. My shield was still on my back and I did not have enough time to go for it. Besides, it is best to give the humans a fairer fight.
They were armed with cudgels, staves, and one even had a blade. I killed that one first, knocking his sword aside with a double-handed swing and then reversing the movement to bite the edge of my own weapon deep into his neck. I pivoted, jammed the sword hilt backwards into someone's face, and then thrust the tip into the chest of another. I could feel the men surge closer, pressing against my armor and raining down blows with their staves, until the knot was so thick that I barely had enough room to stand, much less swing my sword. I dropped the blade and used my arm to block a blow that was aimed for my head. That and my wings were the only parts not protected by armor. I could see my steed trotting away from the swirling melee, waiting for my order. I yelled in the fairy tongue for him to wait for me outside the city. Then I simply sat down in the mass of people and waited for them to back away a touch, keeping my arms up to protect my head.
Someone seized my sword, someone else tried to grab my shield. I snatched his wrist away from it, twisted, and was rewarded with a cry of pain from the man. They all stepped back a few paces and I pulled my legs under me to kneel and waited. The humans were talking among themselves, unsure if I had just surrendered, or if they needed to continue the attack. The person with my sword was backing away, out of the circle, and edging towards a nearby alleyway. I could see more people waiting in the shadows.
Finally one worked up the nerve to address me. "Oi, fairy, you're coming with us."
"I am Sir Nakish'li'culle, not fairy. You should have known I was a knight by my spurs and shield, human. I demand proper titles."
"You're not in a position to demand anything." He had bad teeth. I could not help but note that.
I wanted to tell him that I was still quite able – there was a dagger at my belt and I had not resorted to magic yet. And that their street brawling was no match for a knight that had trained for longer than any of them had been alive. However, it lacked a certain challenge to fight to my fullest capabilities. And I was curious as to what they wanted with a fairy.
"So what is the meaning of us? Hurry, before the authorities show or I grow bored."
There was little chance the authorities would care even if I was murdered and dumped on their doorstep. I wasn't human. Fairies caused too much trouble for anyone to protect them. But it was an incentive to get the bravado over with and to the point of the ambush.
"Right, you're coming with us."
"Shuddup! Get up and let's go."
I stood and followed. The men bunched up in a knot around me, each keeping about a foot of distance from my person while banging shoulder to shoulder with each other. They led me into the alleyway and down a couple more winding back pathways of the slums until we reached the core of it. There the buildings gave up trying to resemble order and simply sprawled across and over one another until the place was nothing but an anthill of wood. You could not see the sky. I knew that the human authorities never came here, as there were too many hidden crannies to get dragged into and never seen again.
The knight I had served under before being knighted myself had visited these slums on his own travels. Described them as "delightful fun, especially on the bottom level." That's where the darker creatures lurked, the non-humans and non-fairies that preyed on both our species.
Sadly, I noticed that we were staying on the mid-level and not going any lower. Eventually the collection of buildings opened out into one large structure with a gaping maw of an opening. Half the group split away from us then, heading towards that one, and the rest continued to escort me around to a side entrance. The interior was stone and poorly lit. I was ushered to a door, directed inside, and then the men left completely and I heard the click of a lock behind me.
Directly before was a set of bars facing out into a vast open expanse of sand. The entire area was oval in shape and the walls came up sharply about ten feet and then sloped back into rows upon rows of seats. The roof was domed and light streamed from the ceiling. I smelled magic.
There was the sound of someone approaching along the corridor to the right of the cage I was in. A man with a limp, carrying my sword. He passed it through the bars and I took it and returned it to the sheath, after first inspecting it for damage. There was none.
"Know what this place is, fairy?"
"Sir Nakish'li'culle, if you will. I am starting to suspect."
"It's an arena. Two combatants in a fight to the death. When we can get our hands on the rarer beasts we pit those against a group of fighters. Last month we got our hands on a manticore."
"And now you have a fairy knight. I came here willingly, you know."
He sniffed in derision.
"Aye, I thought so. Your kind does funny things like that. But the men that brought ya here were far too tempted by the bounty to listen to reason."
"Master of the arena here put one on ya as soon as he heard about a fairy in the city. Large one. But he'll make that and more easily tonight."
I didn't reply to this.
"Right, I've been told to tell you the rules of this here ring. No one leaves until one side is dead. No harming the audience. Err, no using magic. We've got some spells here-"
"I know them all already. The lights are magical and there are wards around the cages here."
"-right. And the witch ain't the best and so they can get funny if someone starts using magic around them."
I inwardly smiled. That held all sorts of possibilities.
"You win, you get a split of the profits. Don't know how much but even if it's a minute fraction it'll be a good bit of money. Going to be full tonight and master is raising admission."
"Unless your master decides not to grant that to me for being non-human."
"Yeah, that too. But you didn't hear it from me. Um, that's all I think."
"Are the other combatants willing, or prisoners like myself?"
"I wouldn't call you a prisoner, milady," he said and I started to like him at that moment, "but no, they're free men. A band of eleven that regularly take on the beasts we bring in. Course, their members keep getting replaced with new blood, but they got good strategy at least. Might be a challenge."
"I certainly hope so," I said, "The nobility in your world aren't allowing fairy knights to enter in their tourneys anymore and there haven't been any decent wars to speak of yet."
"Right. You've got a couple hours yet so rest up and be careful out there."
Later, another person brought me a flask of water which I refused to touch. Just as I could smell the magic I could smell the poison. They didn't want the fairy to win. I could imagine the bets were going in my favor and if the fight wasn't rigged somehow, the house could lose a lot of money. I chuckled. Oh, this was going to be delightful fun indeed.
A couple hours after that and people started trickling into the arena. I could hear the hum of voices growing as the building filled until it was a deafening roar and I wished I could fold my pointy fairy ears over to block out the noise. Then a voice boomed out across the crowd and the din slowly died down. It was the master of the ring, announcing the night's battle to thunderous applause. I was described as a bloodthirsty creature, wild and untamed, flying in the face of all the laws of civilized land. A woman armed with spurs and sword in grim parody of a knight, with devilish wings and vile magics (which wouldn't be seen tonight, sorry ladies and gentlemen).
I was laughing by the end of it. Couldn't have done better myself.
Then the bars to my cage dropped and I strode out into the light of the arena. The sand was packed hard under my feet so there would be no trouble with footing until the blood started loosening it. Around me, people leapt to their feet, yelling, cheering, and booing. The master of the arena started speaking again but was barely heard over the commotion. He was introducing my opponents. Out of the opposite ring came a group of eleven men. Four were up front with shield and swords, forming a wall with three polearms behind them. Two on the flank had crossbows and the remaining two spread out far to either side with a sword in each hand. I decided to start on the right side, sweep in, and when they pivoted to meet me fake a flight over their heads and instead land in the middle of the unit. It was dangerous and might result in me getting injured, but oh would it be entertaining.
Silence fell across the crowd. The voice of the master of the arena boomed out again and I sniffed the spell out to the source. There, at the top of the arena, directly in the middle of the right-hand size of the oval. I would have to remember that location and move fast as soon as the battle was over.
He declared the fight to commence. I broke into a sprint, pulling my shield off and onto my arm and drawing my sword. Two bolts whizzed out at me and I blocked one with the shield and the other simply missed entirely. They were reloading. The unit was bracing for impact, polearms leveled and ready. I dropped low just out of their reach and turned, lengthening my strides and spreading my pale green wings to help keep my balance. I slipped right past the first crossbowman and just extended my sword across my body, letting the tip and the speed of my rush do the work. He toppled behind me and I hit the double-swordsman next. My shield led the charge, catching one of his swords and pinning it against his body. He backed away, trying to free himself, but I followed, our swords clashed against each other, and I faked a thrust to the belly. He blocked it, tried to slip his other sword under my shield and failed, and I spun my wrist in a full circle and brought the sword down into his head. It took a sharp tug to free my weapon and I turned, just as a crossbow bolt hit my arm. Punctured the armor and I ignored it. I'd pull the bolt and heal it later. For now, time to take care of the rest of the fighters. They were charging themselves, but cautiously so as not to separate. I returned the charge and they skidded to a stop, bracing the shield wall and readying the polearms. I leapt, flapped my wings, and soared up over their heads. They spun in unison, ready to redirect and meet me from the behind. In mid-leap, when the polearms were slipping through middle of the shield-wall to get behind the reformed unit, I closed my wings and simply fell into the midst of them.
I kicked one in the head on the way down and he was knocked aside. Another looked up, dumfounded, and I let my sword slide into the space between his collarbones. Then I pulled it free, ducked under my shield as two swords came crashing down on me. First, take out the polearms. I was far too close for them to do anything but that would soon change. I cut open the thigh of the first one and stomped on his neck after he hit the ground. My spurs would probably slice some sort of vital in there. The next was almost free of the unit. I lunged, extended a bit more than I probably should have, and my sword went across his back. Not a kill, but enough to bring him down for the remainder of the fight. Then I turned and backed out of the unit, falling into full defensive as the remaining three swordsman surged against me. The last polearm had stranded himself and rather than hunt him down I simply drew up a bit of my fairy-magic and tore a hole in his heart. The lights above flickered a couple times before stabilizing. I could hear a murmur of fear pass through the crowd and I chuckled at that. To my left, the double-swordsman that had been sneaking up on me hesitated when his companion simply collapsed dead at his feet.
I went on the offensive then, moving quickly to keep the three from surrounding me, and slipped off to their left. They failed to pivot fast enough and it was one against one at the end. Then two against one. I legged the second fighter and he fell to his knees. Instead of staying by his fellow shieldman the remaining fighter continued to pursue me until he was all alone facing the fairy knight. Then, all that was left was the crossbowman and the last double-swordsman. The bolt fired at me missed and I dropped my sword, pulled my dagger, and threw. It did not miss and the crossbowman fell with the handle in his throat. The last fighter looked around at the field. All his friends lay dead, dying, or unable to fight. He backed away slowly, lowering his swords in surrender. I walked towards him, kicking my sword back up into my hand as I did.
"I'm sorry," I said sweetly, "but I was told the rules were everyone dies before the fight ends. And you did volunteer for this."
The ringmaster was hard-pressed to make an inspiring announcement about my victory while I finished up with the injured fighters I had left. I think "everyone dies" translated more to "everyone is left unable to fight" but I was going to take what I heard literally. That was a bit rough for human morale, I'm sure. Finally, the ring master wrapped up and I saw a group of men approaching me from my end of the arena to escort me off the field and carry away the bodies. Oh, but I wasn't done yet.
One of the goals of a knight was to uphold what was good and right. While this deferred between our two species there was at least one thing we had in common. Pitting people against each other – some against their will - for the sole purpose of money was wrong. I ran towards the side of the arena, hit the wall and spread my wings, simply running up the side, out over the crowd and into the air. I soared up, towards the roof, and the ringmaster stopped talking in confusion. The lights obscured me from view for a moment and I dove, straight towards his platform, and landed with my knees on the arms of his chair and my sword through his chest and through the chair back behind him. We toppled to the ground and I pulled my sword free and hopped off. He was dead before my feet touched the floor.
No one moved. No one spoke. I walked to the edge of the platform, backflipped off, and simply fell down into the arena again, spinning back and opening my wings to land safely on my feet. I did not sheath my sword. No one stopped me. Just stepped aside and let me exit. The man with the limp was in the corridor and he spoke as I passed.
"You weren't supposed to use magic."
"I got bored," I replied.
"You remember the way out?"
I shrugged. "I'll figure it out."
"Alright. Good eve to you, sir knight."
I nodded and exited the arena and into the slums again. Tried to remember all the twists and turns while cleaning the blood off my sword and pulling the crossbow bolt out of my arm. No one approached me. It seemed the passersby were even trying to avoid looking in my direction. Then, sword clean, arm roughly bandaged, I started off into the slums in an attempt to find the way out. I had not yet seen the ships in the harbor, after all.