Once again it is Thursday, and Ragnar Grimfang is on the prowl.
Appear weaker than you are to foil a fearsome foe. Tis a favoured saying in Nordan lands, and one that has served me well in duels and street fights. Ravak Kal Marud, the hulking Devout greatswordsman, made a triumphant sound as he ran towards me, his blade arcing down toward my head as I made a show of getting up slowly. In reality, I was getting ready to spring. I shifted the grip on my axe, keeping my head lowered but watching his boots as he came in. Two steps carried him close. I surged up, taking a step to the side. I felt the wind as his sword swept past me, a silvered arc. I stepped towards him, bringing my axe up underhanded, backspike first. I saw his eyes widen, sensed him shifting. But his momentum was too great and the spike caught him under his chin, driving into his mouth and head. Blood dripped onto my hand and I pulled, swinging my hammer toward his head with my other hand. I felt a sense of triumph as his sword clattered to the ground.
But Ravak Kal Marud surprised me with his resilience. His hands shot up, one grasping my axe hand like a vice, the other snatching the haft of my hammer. With relentless strength he twisted the hammer from my grasp, pulling me close and raising my own weapon to dash my brains out. I caught his wrist as it descended, not enough to stop the blow, but reducing the impact. The corners of the hammer bit into my scalp, and my vision swam. He raised the hammer again. I sent a hobnailed boot crashing into his groin.
Ravak Kal Marud grunted. His codpiece absorbed most of the blow but not all of it. His meaty paw was still clamped around my axe-hand. I grabbed my knife from my belt, a smooth motion born of long practice. He swung the hammer again, clumsily this time. I sidestepped, then stepped in and rammed the blade into his throat. Blood ran out from around the edges then splashed forth in a torrent as a pulled the blade free. He staggered but did not fall. I heard the crowd cheer then felt something crash into the side of my head. My vision was consumed by darkness.
I know death. I have tasted the primordial darkness beyond and lost hold of myself, consciousness and spirit. This was to death as dipping one’s toe in a pool is to drowning in the boundless depths of the sea. I did not panic. In truth it was not unpleasant.
My eyes opened; light flooded in. I could see shapes moving, the crowd beyond the cage, still unfocused, their cheers and jeers giving them away. They sounded foolish, too self-conscious for fans — give me a crowd at a Nordan fistfight any day. They weren’t cheering for me. I looked around. A swollen mass jiggled towards me. I shook my head and the vision resolved into Ravak Kal Marud, holding his throat close with one hand, his other on the axe. With a grunt he pulled the back-spike out of his jaw and turned to me.
When confronted with a man who simply refuses to die, men without real courage will run. I have seen it often enough with warriors facing a berserker in my homeland. I admired Ravak’s fortitude, but I did not hesitate. As he stumbled forward, raising the axe, eyes wide, I rolled back over my shoulder. My head swam, but I grabbed his greatsword as I came to my feet swinging wildly.
The sword clove through one leg, breaking as the armour of the second. Ravak tumbled forward, gurgling, axe brushing past me as I pivoted, slamming into the ground. As the clatter of his armour hitting the metal grate ended, I rammed the remains of his sword into the back of his head. He jerked and stopped moving.
I watched Ravak’s corpse for signs of life. The hood slowly turned crimson.
The little crowd cheered. I snarled, just a little. I suspect my wolf-teeth were showing; they often do when I fight.
My eyes met those of Lily Gemarkand. Outwardly she was as haughty as ever, her face a studied portrait of arrogant nonchalance. But deep down I could sense that she saw me truly now. Was it fear I saw in her eyes?