Short: The Cunning Warrior

Hey all, posting my first short to the blog!  Posted this on reddit as well in the writer’s prompt sub, so credit goes to gives-out-hugs for the prompt.

I felt the sweat trickle down my face in beads as I breached the inner circle. The sun beat down on me relentlessly as though it was the one I had challenged to the duel. I nodded to my second who stood off to my right side at the front of the crowd. The crowd had grown to a sizable number, perhaps a hundred, and circled up around the pitch.

What bloody fool came up with the idea of duelling at midday?

I wiped the sweat from my brow with my forearm and waited for my opponent to enter the circle. I thought I saw Pallos, my opponent, making his way to the inner circle, but with all the people and bustling activity it was difficult to tell one man from another. The moments passed like hours. My chest felt tight and my stomach quivered. My heart thudded hard within as though the gods were beating on it like a drum. It was to be my first duel, and if all went according to plan, it wouldn’t be my last.

The crowd of men across the way parted and my opponent strode towards me. He seemed to carry himself with an air of nonchalance as if to say he already had won, or at the very least that he didn’t care if he lost. The man waved to the crowd while the fine, billowing cuffs of his overcoat flapped in the wind. The people began to cheer his name.

“Pallos! Pallos! Pallos!” They called out, chanting his name over and over. Women were pushing to the front, fawning over him, fighting to get a chance to touch his hand. Pallos smiled and took a bow, his bronze skin glistened in the sunlight. I felt my brows tug upwards slightly when I noticed he wore the same simple tunic and pants I had seen him in this morning when the challenge was made. I had expected him to change into something a little more forgiving of movement.

Curious.

“I thank you, good people!” Pallos’ voice was silky and smooth. If he felt even a fraction of the nervousness I did he wasn’t betraying an ounce of it. He wore a bright coloured scarf over his forehead, which I suspect was to keep the sweat from cascading down his face, but to my mind it only served to make the man look even more effeminate. His features were already soft, his skin smooth, his long black hair flowed behind him in the warm summer breeze.

Growing impatient I drew my steel, the familiar ring of blade on scabbard silenced the crowd. The sound drew attention back to me and a resounding utterance of admiration could be heard from the onlookers. The length of steel being the measure of a man’s skill in these lands, I proudly held my steel for all to see. Barely a hand’s span of blade protruded from the hilt. I smirked across the circle at my opponent, but if he took any notice of my scant steel he gave no outward indication.

With a shrug he wriggled out of his overcoat and let it fall to the ground. He leisurely walked out opposite me on the pitch. Once at the appropriate distance he made a point of eyeing up my blade. I twist it in the light, trying to catch the sun and reflect it back at him but the angle isn’t right. He smiled playfully back at me, sticks his tongue out a little, and put his hand to his hilt.

“En garde.” He smiled, revealing his perfect teeth, and drew his own steel.

What?

I blinked to clear my vision, sure I had missed something. I glanced down to the man’s scabbard to confirm it is empty, then to his hand holding the hilt, then back up to his face. Pallos’ grin widened, his eyes crinkling as he took a step forward. I matched him with a step backward. I heard the crowd beginning to mutter in their confusion. I was hardly able to comprehend the situation before me myself. The mutters turned to jeers as I continued to back away for each step of advance Pallos made.

Let them jeer. This man is my focus. Him and his…hilt.

I swallowed with some difficulty as I tried to push the crowd noise from my attention. I tried to get the image of the hilt out of my mind, but found it continually wondering back there. I carefully watched Pallos’ eyes to try and gauge his next movement. His eyes never left mine. His features, once appearing soft and feminine now took on a new light and seemed hard as rock. He bore holes through me with his stare, and I felt my entire will collapse beneath it. His smooth skin, at this distance, was not so smooth but covered in fine scars. Scars I feared came from a lifetime of duels. I glanced once more to the hilt, highly refined and jewel encrusted, but completely without blade, and something inside of me snapped.

I’ll not be another notch for this man.

I dropped my sword. “Yield.” My throat was dry and raw, the word barely escaping.

Pallos nodded his head respectfully towards me and returned his hilt to it’s scabbard, tying it in place so it would not fall with an expert hand.

“Another bloodless victory for Pallos!” He called out to the crowd. The people roared in excitement. I picked up my steel and pushed through the ruckus, turning back only once to see a curious look on Pallos’ face.

Is that…relief?

I turned away and walked down the path back into the city with my mind swimming in my thoughts.

And what did he mean another…?

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