Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Curse of Fierabras - Part Four

Part IV - Jerek

           The desperation thrust misses its mark and Dante stumbles past the guard, tripping over his feet. He skids across the dirt floor of the arena. Dirt clings to the open wounds in his side and his thigh, intensifying the sensation of pain. Dante braces himself for the killing blow that will put an end to his agonizing pain. It never comes.
           A stone pillar comes crashing down on top of the guard behind Dante, crushing him. Fragments of the pillar scatter in every direction. The last remaining guard pauses his advance, uncertain about his odds for success. Jerek steps forward with a sword in one hand and a broken dagger in the other.
           “Stay down,” Jerek says as he advances toward the center of the arena. He crouches down low like a cat, ready to pounce. The soldier thrusts with his spear and Jerek pivots to the right. Jerek counters with a quick dagger thrust and the guard shuffles back a few steps to avoid the attack. Jerek presses forward, feinting with the dagger and striking with the sword. The guard continues to give ground, trying to place some distance between them, but Jerek remains in close.
           The figures get smaller as Dante watches the battle unfold between them. Jerek fluidly moves from one attack into the next, keeping the guard off balance. Dante wonders how many men lost their lives to capture Jerek. Nobody could stand a chance in single combat against this swordsman. Jerek backs the guard into a pillar and the guard makes a desperation attack, much like Dante had done moments ago. It was the window of opportunity that Jerek must have been waiting for. The broken dagger pierces into the guard’s shoulder while the sword slices across his midsection. The guard falls to his knees, the spear dropping from his hands.
           A mixture of boos and cheers fill the arena. Small scuffles break out among the crowd. Dante gets to his feet, his muscles aching and sweat dripping down his face. Jerek crosses back over, slipping the sword into an abandoned scabbard. Two dozen of the king’s soldiers come into the arena and encircle the two victorious men. They take Jerek’s sword bind him in chains. Rage flashes in his eyes but he submits to the imprisonment. They chain Dante and then lead the two men back into their cell.
           Neither man says a word as they are placed into the cell and their chains removed. An hour later a loaf of hard bread and a bucket of tepid water are placed in their cell. Both men tear into the food and Dante finally breaks the silence.
           “I’ve never seen anyone fight like you.”
           “Thanks,” Jerek says between mouthfuls of bread.
           “I want to thank you,” Dante looks down at his reflection in the bucket. “If you hadn’t toppled that pillar I would be dead now.”
           “You ever been in a fight, lad?” Dante looks up at Jerek, caught off guard by his question.
           “I’ve sparred in the practice ring back home, but nothing like this.”
           Jerek nods and bends down to take a long drink from the bucket. He looks back up at Dante, droplets of water running down his chin. “What’s your story?”
           “I shouldn’t be here,” Dante says.
           “None of us should. These are bad times we’re living in.”
           Dante nods as he swallows another bite of bread. “About a week ago the Emperor’s army passed through our town. They stayed for two days, eating our food and drinking our ale. All the young men followed them around and staged mock battles, hoping to get drafted into the army. I kept to myself and tended my wares. When they prepared to leave, they told several of the men that they were part of the Emperor’s army now. When they told me that, I refused their offer.”
           Jerek raises an eyebrow at this, pausing mid-bite. “And they didn’t care for that, right?”
           “I was rewarded by being backhanded and then chained up. They brought me here, accusing me of being a member of the Reformation and inciting riotous behavior.”
           “And now you are going to die, here in this arena, because you didn’t want to wear the royal uniform. Why didn’t you accept? They’d at least be giving you better meals than this.”
           “I don’t know, exactly,” says Dante. He had been wondering that same thing ever since they led him to the capital. Why did he refuse? Few people had anything negative to say about the Emperor, and those who did were usually gone by the next day. “I don’t think the Emperor is as good as we’re led to believe. Towns are being found deserted, crops are scarce everywhere, people go missing and no one seems to notice. But he never tries to fix these problems.”
           “So you think they are hiding something?”
           “Yeah, I suppose I do. I’ve heard stories about what things used to be like, back before the Emperor.” The problem is that no one believes those stories. The Emperor has been reigning for as long as most people can remember. The few who do remember usually keep quiet about that. Those who don’t usually go missing, or end up hanging from a tree alongside a road. “What do you think, Jerek?”
    “Things were better before he came along, that’s for sure,” Dante stoops down to take a drink from the bucket. “That’s why I helped start the Restoration.” Dante coughs mid-swallow, unable to believe what he just heard.

Go To: Part Three - The First Battle

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