The Helm Breaker
It was funny how the little wounds always bothered Liam the most. The cut on his arm from his second round opponent’s sabre would likely need stiches if it was going to heal properly. There was a chance that one of the mace blows sustained in the third round had cracked at least one of the Rayward man’s ribs. More than anything though Liam was vexed by the small sliver of wood that was embedded in the web between his left thumb and index finger. When Liam struck the wooden shield of his first round competitor with his great-maul the timber planks had exploded in a shower of splinters. Ever since the miniscule partial of that poor dead man’s shield had taken residence in Liam’s left hand the former Master of Arms was finding it increasingly difficult to focus on the competition.
The broad-shouldered warrior from Ryaward had a few moments before the next match was called to start. This gave him an opportunity to try and pry out the nasty little splinter that was stuck in his hand. Liam dug at the sliver with his fingernails and picked at it with his teeth but to no avail. The tiny scrap of wood was tenaciously entrenched in his flesh. The splinter in Liam’s hand started to become his entire world. The animalistic chanting on the spectators sat in the stands of The Cage faded to a dull muted sound. The throbbing and shooting pain of Liam’s other wounds all but vanished. For the first time in ages the thought at the fore front of Liam’s mind was not about where he could find his next mug of ale. Everything was that miserable little splinter in his hand. More than that it was the fact that with all his considerable size and strength Liam was being thwarted by an infinitesimal piece of wood. Liam would not be undone by such a thing.
The former Master of Arms was not accustomed to losing. He pushed everything else out of his focus and turned all his attention to the taunting splinter. He would do whatever was needed to defeat this enemy. Liam sank his teeth deep into the web of his left hand. The man bit down hard. The pain was short but intense. Liam soon tasted the distinctive salty flavor of blood in his mouth. Her grunted and growled as he tore at his hand with his teeth. He finally pulled his mouth away and took a fair amount of skin with him. Liam felt the fragment of wood in his mouth and spit out the bloody mess triumphantly. His hand stung and he had inflicted an even greater wound in the process but he did not care. Liam had won.
He tested his grip and bound the bleeding area of shredded skin with a few scraps of cloth and leather that he scrounged up from his belongings. It would do for now but it would need proper medical attention before long. His hand would just be another thing to add to the apothecary’s wages after Liam finished his business in The Cage.
Liam’s head was not so preoccupied anymore and he could think clearly. He wondered if he should withdraw from the event. He was sporting a fair amount of cuts, bruises and enough other injuries to impair his performance. The coin he had won so far would keep him in drink and lodging for another week at least. That was even after paying to have his wounds treated by skilled hands. He could walk away safe right at this moment and not have to put himself in harm’s way for quite some time. It would have been an easy choice if Liam was only concerned with his own wellbeing but such was not the case.
For the better part of the last year every spare piece of coin the former Master of Arms got his hands on had gone towards her care. Her health was fading quickly now. He could not lose his faithful, Amurai, she was one of the only friends the man had left in the world. Liam had to do whatever he could to keep her with him and only things that Liam knew how to do better than most were fight and drink. If, Amurai was to live then Liam had to continue to battle in The Cage. Coupled with his current winnings the champion’s purse would be near half a hundred coin. That sort of money would buy the best care in Blackcloud for his friend. There was just one more man that stood between Liam and the grand prize.
A voice took Liam by surprise. “You ready to continue on or do you want to take your winnings and run away?” said the impish man who was in charge of the festivities in The Cage. It was clear that the man was not expecting Liam to keep up his taste for battle.
The Rayward man had not noticed The Cage’s Master of Ceremonies slither up beside him. Liam looked at the little man and wanted to break him in two. “Just send in the next one and then I will be on my way with my money once I’m done killing him,” barked the Rayward warrior.
“Are you sure the only man left is Gavett. The odds do not favor men who stand across The Cage form him,” pressed the little man.
“What makes you think I am the sort to be unsure? I said get him in here right now and I meant it. I will not tell you a third time,” snarled the larger man. Liam could feel his body beginning to shake. It had been too long since his last swig of spirits.
“As you wish,” chirped the Blackcloud man. He stepped away from Liam and returned to his perch that oversaw the action in The Cage below. “Friends, without further delay, the final match is at hand. We have our newcomer ready to face The Cage’s reigning champion. He needs no introduction. Ladies and Gentlemen, Gavett,” spoke the little man with a disproportionately large and resonating voice.
The myriad of spectators cheered and applauded as Gavett entered the fighting area below. Liam ignored all the fanfare and accessed the man he meant to slay. Liam was not the sort who liked to go into battle against a foe he knew little about. He was also the sort who hated the unexpected. Gavett was both of these things. Liam had been mentally picturing someone much like himself to stand on the other side of The Cage. He envisioned Gavett as a large man with wide heavy shoulders and killing strength in his arms. The person who entered the fighting area was the antithesis of what Liam was anticipating. Gavett was more a boy than a man. He was petite and far too pretty and delicate to pass himself off as a warrior. The reigning champion of The Cage looked as though he should have been attending some kind of high court function not brawling in the filth and grime of the Blackcloud underworld. Gavett was virtually unarmored and wore a rapier one his hip. The weapon looked about as threatening as a sewing needle to the Rayward man. While Liam had his bias about his opponent he had spent enough of his life in the pursuit of warcraft that he knew not to be ruled by first impressions. Underestimating an adversary often had lethal consequences. Liam realized that most of the people in the audience had likely seen him as nothing more than a foolish old man. No one would have predicted that a drunkard with as much grey hair as black one his head would have won four rounds in The Cage.
Liam was glad for his caution. Within the first three moves he could tell that Gavett was the genuine article. The boy might have looked like a dandy fop but he was a natural killer. It was like trying to catch a gust of wind in a fishermen’s net. Gavett was just so quick and he danced around the stocky Rayward man. Every time Liam attacked with a blow from his great-maul his opponent easily evaded out of the way. With each dodge Gavett opened up a small cut on Liam’s arms with a well-placed rapier strike. The fight went fast and brutal.
After four rounds of combat to the death and a plethora of accumulated wounds Liam’s considerable stamina was near depleted. He knew that if things were to continue on like this then Gavett would end him. The former Master of Arms figured that he had only one viable avenue to pursue victory. Liam knew the maneuver would be highly risky but if he did not take the chance then Gavett would continue to steadily cut him apart bit by bit. A small error in judgment would cost Liam his life. The Rayward man opened his guard and presented Gavett with a clear shot at his chest. The boy did not hesitate to seize the opportunity and lunged with his rapier. Liam was able to grab the other man’s blade as it plunged into his skin. Between his forceful grip and some awkward twisting of his core, Liam was able to keep Gavett’s rapier from penetrating anything vital.
Whit the boy’s blade still stuck in between his ribs Liam grabbed his opponent around the throat before Gavett could escape the larger man’s reach. With a single mighty squeeze Liam crushed the bones in Gavett’s neck. The Rayward man saw a look of utter disbelief come across Gavett’s face as he died. Liam could tell that Gavett was the sort of person who had had most things in life come easily to him. This was likely one of the few times, if ever, that the boy had known what it was like to fail but Liam could not know for sure. The Rayward man was certain that it would be the last time Gavett tasted defeat.
Liam slowly pulled the rapier from his own body and tossed it on top of Gavett’s corpse. The former Master of Arms looked up at the hushed crowd. To a man everyone was in shock over what they had just witnessed. It was a stirring upset and there was no doubt that several small fortunes wagered on this contest had been won and lost.
Cut to shreds and exhausted Liam turned his attention to the little man who presided over The Cage. “I’ll have my winnings now,” the victorious warrior said with bloody lips.