Once again it is time for the adventures Nordan Twiceborn Ragnar Grimfang, trying to make sense of a murder in the city of Assassins.
“You don’t actually believe I’d trap you in a private arena and not make use of the occasion, do you Mr Grimfang?” asked Lily Gemarkand, eyes wide and smiling like a spoiled young child at her nameday celebration.
“Family tradition and all that, I suppose,” I said, shaking my head. I was more dismayed by the fact that Miss Gemarkand knew she could get away with this and even expect me to accept her money afterwards. In the North, not even a king could dare such a act without facing rebellion. Sadly I was not in North. “You do realize that I am going to charge double because of this.”
She laughed. As I listened, shuffling uncomfortably, some part of me still wondering if this was simply a jest on her part, men and women began shuffling into the room. My fists balled up. Ladies in bright silk society dresses began to take seats behind Lily, chatting excitedly with men in long black coats and tricorner hats. My blood began to boil. The head of the Gemarkand family herself watched me intently, like a child lording over an anthill. My lips curled into a snarl.
Blondie and several other guards filed in behind the guests.
After a moment, Lily turned to her guests.
“This is Ragnar Grimfang,” she said. “He’s a Northman. A twiceborn ascendant, I am told. Look at those eyes, see the beast that lurks within him. Ragnar had come to our city. He pretends he is like us. But he is still wild. We shall soon see how wild.”
She turned smiled down at me. I pictured my hands on that delicate throat, blood and fangs. Lily paused.
“You might ask where I might find a worthy foe for such a man,” said Lily, “However, this is Myrrhn and I am a Gemarkand. Gold provides.”
As she spoke a trapdoor opened in the floor of the little arena. An armoured hood appeared, followed by a massive, muscular body covered in sharp plates. I recognized the Heraldry at once: I was facing one of the Devout. He surged against the chains holding him in place.
The Devout are a people from a shattered land half a world away from Myrrhn, far to the south of Nordan lands.
“North versus South,” said Lily as I stared into the cold eyes beneath the hood.
He wasn’t ascended, but he would be a skilled warrior no doubt. The Devout worship power with fanatical fervour. They practice selective breeding, trying to create peerless warrior bloodlines. Their children are taught to fight before they can read I’ve heard. This particular specimen was impressively large, his enormous biceps straining against the chains that held him. A greatsword as tall as I am, with a wide, elegant blade stood before him. The cage suddenly felt very small.
An assassin would have struck while his opponent was still chained. I decided against it. I would not want to provoke Lily Gemarkand, and truth be spoken, I wished to face this foe. The Devout have a savage reputation and I had never had the pleasure of facing one.
“I am Ragnar Grimfang, Exile from Clan Shadow Wolf, Southron,” I said, pointing to my chest. “It will be an honour to face you.”
He stopped straining against the chains.
“Ravak Kal Marud,” said the Devout, pointing at his chest. He was even more impressive puffed up to introduce himself. Nearly as tall as a half-giant.
“Boring…” said Lily. The chains fell from Ravak, who immediately snatched his sword.
Contrary to expectation, he did not attack like a rabid animal but instead lifted his blade to a striking position, dominant hand just below his hooded forehead, blade towering above him. his eyes regarded me from either side of the blade, measuring.
I stood at ease, one foot slightly forward, both weapons held low and loose, staring back.
He moved first. Reach favoured him and he slid forward, fast for his bulk and thrust his sword at my face. A lunge is difficult with a blade like his, opening inexperienced wielders to all sorts of balance problems and potential responses. Ravak was skilled enough that I had to bat the blade aside with my axe and smart enough to shift his crossguard just enough to catch the spike of my hammer as I sought to skate it down the blade and puncture his hand. I stepped in and we clinched, but he shoved me back before I could bury my axe in his neck. His blade whipped through the air, chasing me, a brilliant arc in the torchlit fighting pit.
The small crowd cooed appreciatively.
Using broad flat sweeps of his long blade he drove me back toward a corner of the arena. I fell back until I felt stone behind me, waited for his next swing and ducked, catching his blade from underneath with my weapons and forcing his attack to swing over me while I darted forward and aimed an axe blow at his groin.
Ravak Kal Marud met me with a booted foot, a snap kick square in the shoulder. My axe went wide, glancing off his hip armour, drawing enough blood for one of the more timid nobles in the audience to gasp. The force of the kick robbed my attack of any real momentum, and sent me sprawling away.
I decided to see how smart Ravak was, making the kick seem worse than it was, and fell to the ground, trying to make it look awkward while getting ready to pounce. Ravak, seeing weakness, thundered toward me, raising his blade to strike. I coiled a leg under me to meet him, hoping to give him a nasty surprise.