The location that Greg's disgruntled opponent had chosen was not as private as I thought it was going to be. I had thought that since it was out of town, it would just be a field in which they would meet, but it was an arena with seating all around for viewers, and there was a decent gathering of viewers. Mostly knights, but a few peasants too. A large seat that stood out from the others was occupied by a man whose outfit was even more pompous than the priest's. I learned that he was the governor. Apparently the news that a peasant might be able to defeat one of his knights had gotten his attention.
In the arena, Greg, furnished with a sword, and the offended knight walked toward each other. The knight was wearing the flashy clothes appropriate to his rank, but not the armor he had been wearing earlier. It was not good dueling etiquette to wear armor. If you couldn't defend yourself with your sword alone, then you didn't belong in the ring.
Greg had taken a block of wood and skewered it on the end of his blade to use as a handle. This was so that he could utilize the weapon less like a sword and more like a staff, to block jabs from his opponent. It was my idea to do that, since he didn't know the first thing about how to use a sword like a sword.
They met in the middle and assumed stances. Very different stances. The knight laughed at his strange handling of the weapon and then attacked. Greg blocked him. The knight's arms became a blur. Thrusting, cutting - all with skill. He had apparently been fencing all his life. Greg remained on the defensive, letting the knight wear himself out.
I followed the knight's moves with interest. His technique was a variation of one obscure method I had learned once. I didn't care for it. It too much offence and not enough defence. Vigorous thrusts and quick advances, but there were several moves that left him unprepared for a retaliatory strike.
After a long series of futile strikes and thrusts the knight began to get frustrated and make more daring advances. This was what Greg had been waiting for. The knight was less worried about protecting himself and more concerned with killing off the opposition. In such thought, he left himself wide open for attack.
Greg made his move. He ducked under one of the knight's high-cuts, and landed a punch in the stomach so hard that it sent his opponent reeling backwards. The knight caught his balance just barely, with his hands reaching forward to counter his weight. Greg took the opportunity to kick the outstretched hand holding the sword, making the weapon spring from his grip and clatter to the ground about ten feet from where the knight stood.
A gasp rippled over the crowd. There was a moment that seemed frozen in time as the astonished knight tried to decide what to do. Did he dare to turn his back long enough to retrieve the sword? Greg pulled off the makeshift handle on the tip of his weapon and pointed it at the knight threateningly. His choices were surrender or die. His eyes hardened. He would never surrender. What an utter disgrace to surrender to a commoner! He'd never hear the end of it.
He turned and lunged toward his fallen blade, but Greg was faster and planted the sword in his back before he'd taken two steps. The knight stopped reaching for his own sword and grabbed at the one piercing through his chest. As far away as I was, I could still here his last breath escaping his lungs as he collapsed heavily on the ground.
I frowned. It seemed to be an unnecessary death. But then again, I didn't think any of the townspeople would miss him.
Greg triumphantly pulled his sword from the dead man's back and cleaned it off on the latter's shirt before sheathing it. Then he walked vaingloriously up to where the governor sat.
The governor was awestruck, but seemed a little reluctant to give such a high title to a person of such low standing. Apparently he didn't do that very often. I felt fairly certain that there were only a handful of low class people who had fighting skills, and even those probably couldn't defeat a trained knight, so most of them knew better than to try. "You have certainly proved that you are a valiant man and skillful in battle. You are worthy of more than a commoner's lot, and I will knight you at once." There was a short ceremony very similar to the dubbing practice of long ago, and suddenly Greg became Sir Greg, and proprietor of all that his defeated foe had, including his wife. Ah! that was just like Greg. He always had a girl or two around.
Then Greg said, "There is another commoner here who could triumph over any knight with the courage to challenge him."
I froze. He was referring to me. Apparently he was trying to secure for me the same status that he had, not realizing that I didn't want to risk my life to get it.
The governor looked interested. "Who?"
Greg pointed at me. "My friend Kyle over there."
All the knights started laughing. I was not the body-builder that my friend was, and doubtless they found the idea that I could best any one of them comical. I wasn't keen on the idea of taking on a danger like this just so I could climb the ranks, but I couldn't handle being laughed at. Now I would have to fight, just to prove them all wrong.
A young knight with stern black eyes, a cocky attitude and a cruel smile walked into the arena carrying two swords. His blood-thirsty gaze reminded me of that of a rabid dog. "I'll challenge him! Come down and fight... or are you too scared?"
That started another round of jests and laughs. I approached. His build was about like mine, so it would be a good match, and I had no problem killing this one. The world would probably be a better place without him. He tossed me one of the swords and immediately took position. I followed suit. He thrust and I parried. I made a riposte, but he caught it and came back with a cut so fast I almost didn't catch him in time, and he nicked my arm. This guy had the same technique as the previous one, but he was better at it. I lunged, he parried and we both retreated for a moment. "Not bad," I admitted.
He grinned devilishly and again I was reminded of a creature in desperate need to be put down.
We engaged again. He made a compound attack, hurling me a feint and then changing courses, but I followed him and slammed the tip of his sword into the ground. Then we took to beating, trying to knock the other one's sword down, but I was beginning to tire. The sword was much heavier than the traditional foil and saber I was used to, and was taxing to use. This needed to end. I switched to another technique developed years ago on the planet Yutzing. That technique was much more acrobatic than this one, was terrible for defense but had an attack strategy that was almost impossible to deflect. The Yutzing method was extremely challenging to master, but if done right, could deal a fatal blow in a very short period of time. I was very good at it.
I backed up to get some ground in which to gain inertia. He looked at me curiously, then grinned haughtily, like he thought I was retreating. I sprinted toward him, leapt into the air and flipped once to get the right angle, then descended as if to land upsidedown on my enemy's head. He raised his sword to skewer me. It was quick thinking, but a bad move. Had he been schooled in Yutzing, he would have darted out from under me, but I was prepared for his upturned sword and knocked it down. In the same move I brought my own sword around and pierced his torso from top to bottom. I didn't quite land as gracefully as I normally would have in harmless sparring sessions, because I had to drop all my weight on the handle of the sword before I could let my feet hit the ground. Normally, all I had to do was score a touch. I went sprawling. He fell over dead, blood spilling from his shoulder where the sword had pierced him, and dribbling from the corner of his mouth. I shook my head. Poor guy. No one was bad enough to be worthy of a death like that. But I guess he had volunteered.
I took his sword because it would have been too messy to remove the one that I had been using, and then I walked up to join Greg and the governor. Heaving from the exertion of that last massive leap, I took an informal moment to smile at my friend before looking at the governor as I would a peer who was about to speak. I respected him only as much as I would respect another human being. I would not bow before him or show him undue reverance just because he was a governor.
The governor sized me up for a moment, his jaw somewhat offset as he chewed the corner of his mouth thoughtfully. I could tell that he didn't like my casual attitude and disregard for his power, but he didn't say anything about it. "Very impressive," he said. "Where did you learn to fight like that?"
I shrugged. "Oh... here and there."
He paused for a moment. "Well it looks like you also will be rising in rank today."
By the same ceremony as Greg had been knighted, I too became a "Sir." I was awarded my opponent's horse, land and armor, but I gifted the armor to another knight. Greg did the same. We had no use for such encumbrances.
My opponent's horse was tall, brown, handsome and graceful, quiet tempered and well trained, but I didn't like him as well as I had come to like Snow. Snow was smaller and harder to handle, but she was smart and fleet-footed, and I had perfect control over her when in a crisis. She knew when it was important to behave herself. During Greg's first fight she had been nervous, but had listened to me intently and had not acted up.
Greg and I, each on our newly acquired horses, rode up to Gerald, who now had an entirely different sort of unease in our presence. We were knights now, and he was still a peasant, and somehow that made a difference. My horse came to a graceful halt and I dismounted. "Well, Gerald," I began, "I was wondering if you'd like to trade horses. I like your white one better than this one, and this one, being more easy-going, might suit your purposes better anyway."
He bowed his head slightly in deference. "Of course, good sir, if that is your wish, but it is not meet for a great knight to ride a mare."
I rolled my eyes. "Oh, knock it off, Gerald. Quit talking to me like I'm your master - I'm the same person you rode into town with yesterday."
He smiled mildly. "But I was never sure of who you really were."
"Did I ever hurt you or threaten you in some way?"
He shook his head slowly.
"So what makes you think I'm going to now? Being a knight doesn't automatically make a man cruel, and social power bestowed on a human being does not make him any less human or any more superior to those around him. Forget what just happened. We are just people - all of us - regard me as such, please."
He shrugged and continued to look uneasy. "As you wish."
I sighed. My words had made no impact. He still thought of me as a superior. Probably nothing I said would make a difference, so I changed the subject. "As far as transporation is concerned, I want to ride the horse that suits me best, and I prefer yours. I don't care what is and isn't 'meet' for a knight to do."
He nodded, but didn't seem pleased. Culture made what I was doing seem to be a disgraceful thing, but he yielded to my desires and we switched horses. Then, thanking him again for his providing for us when we were unable to do so for ourselves, we bid him farewell, as we could live by our own means now and he could return to his home without us.
Greg's horse was a big red gelding by the name of Cobra, and the name suited him well. He was well-behaved, just like my other horse had been, but more powerful and exultant in battle... sort of like Greg. The two were a match, but Greg still didn't like him. Nothing could convince him to enjoy riding a big beast that had its own mind and will. He was used to piloting shuttles who never balked at or even thought about anything you told them to do.
We decided to take a look at our spoils. We went to my newly acquired house first, which was basically an apartment in the governor's castle, and I immediately went to my victim's wardrobe to change. I was ready to do away with my lerask, and knights were the only people who's formal outfit included bifurcated bottoms. As men who practically lived on horse-back, they had to have something comfortable that way. It still wasn't temperature-regulated, but it was an improvement.
The fashion seemed to lean towards excessive fabric - folds and gathers about the wrists and such, and dramatic poofing everywhere else. This was good, because I don't think Greg would have fit into anything I had there otherwise. He filled up his outfit much more than I filled mine. I sort of felt like I was swimming, but after a while I got used to the feeling of trailing fabric following my movements.
After looking around we headed towards Greg's apartment, which was on the other side of the castle. But before we reached it, he stopped and said, "I don't think I want to go there."
My eyebrows lifted. "Why not?"
He looked uncomfortable. "Well, I don't want to have to face this guy's wife. I just killed her husband, and I don't know if I want to be the one to break the news to her."
I scoffed. "Have you looked around? These people are barbaric. They come alive at the sight of blood and the women hardly even bond with the men. She'll probably be overjoyed to be in the spoils of your victory."
He shrugged noncommittally. "Still... I mean, it sounds good, but it could be... awkward."
I raised an eyebrow at him and gestured in the general direction of the house that contained the girl in question. "Dude, are you seriously going to pass that up?"
He chuckled and a devilish gleam entered his eye. "Well when you put it that way... no, no I'm not." Then he looked at me for a moment. "In fact, you're not invited, you stay put and mind your own business. I'm going over there alone."
I laughed and leaned against the wall of the corridor we were standing in. "Well when you get done in there, we still have other matters to address. Namely getting off this rock."
"I know where we need to go next," he said.
I tilted my head slightly. "Where?"
"Eldron city. According to what I've heard, it's the biggest city in this hemisphere, the capital of this country, the place of residence for the king, and that's probably where the surveillance station is."
I frowned. "Surveillance station?"
He nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah. Those ships up there aren't up there to enjoy the view. There has to be a surveillance station somewhere, and where better to put it than in a really large city?"
I shook my head. "That doesn't check. What are they surveying?"
"Who knows? My theory is that those ships are there to keep this backwards offshoot from reaching the stars, and if that's true they'd put something down here to keep tabs on them, but whatever the reason, they would need to have feelers, or their presence would be fairly pointless."
"So we're going to try to find them and get them to send us home?"
"That's the idea."
I smiled. "Sounds good."
He nodded. "We'll talk more later-"
"Yeah, yeah," I interrupted with a knowing grin. "Have a good night. Catch you later." And with that I urged Snow forward. I sighed and tried not to think about how much I envied him.
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