D&D - Combat Chaos, Fantasy Stories of Battle
NORGUARD V.S. VLORN
Aron Norguard blinked once then looked up at his seneschal. “Yes?”
“My Lord. The jousting event is over, the winners have been declared.” The seneschal whispered through clenched teeth, nodding his head towards the jousting lanes.
Lord Norguard stifled a yawn and stood. Around him the crowd broke into cheers. “Thank you, thank you.” He smiled broadly as he waved to the massed crowd. Below him stood a half a dozen knights in battered armor. The victors of the second part of the tournament. Three days ago there had been almost thirty hopefuls, though they had been reduced to half that with the archery competition on the second day of the tourney. “It is my humble honor to have so many distinguished knights here, it is a shame that not all of them can be victorious.”
It’s a shame they’re not real knights, either. He thought gloomily to himself. Glancing down he recognized the crests of three of the knights. All sons of men he had fought and bled with. Two of them, he knew had grown up without their fathers, and the third would have been better off never knowing what war had done to his father. The two others he recognized as new blood; families who had won land and title from the king for their service during the war. Country-knights, as most of the nobles called them; farmers who had joined up near the end of the war. Aron doubted that either of their fathers had actually seen any of the real fighting.
Part of him wished he still competed in the lists. “I would show these pups how it was done.” He muttered to himself.
“But, now.” He proclaimed, gesturing broadly before him. “These six noble young Lords have proven their skill at archery, and horsemanship. So now, we do them honor. Tomorrow’s feast will give them time to recover their strength, and they will need it.” He grinned, winking at the crowd. “For on the next day we begin the true test of a Knight’s mettle. In grand Melee!”
The crowd broke into an uproar, cheering and applauding. The remaining knights saluting in unison and turning to leave the field; each one heading out to their respective tents to nurse their injuries and rest for the next event. Except for the last one. His shield bore no mark except for a red slash, and looked as if it had been blackened in a fire. Norguard raised an eyebrow inquisitively, the red slash was the mark of a bastard, while a black shield only meant grief, or vengeance. Lord Norguard laughed inwardly, some bastard had probably blackmailed a fool into sponsoring him for the tourney. He couldn’t even afford decent armor. Norguaard thought with disapproval. The battered armor was old, and of a make that was foreign, yet… familiar somehow. It looked as if it had been put together from pieces of mixed plate rather than a full suit. Where the other five knights had their visors raised and were looking expectantly up at Lord Norguard, that one solitary knight kept his visor down. He stood stock still, as if waiting… Then, following suit with the others he turned and walked out of the jousting lanes.
“Who was the knight on the end?” Norguard whispered out of the corner of his mouth.
The Seneschal leaned forward and pretended to scratch his face, covering his mouth. “I do not know my Lord. He entered the lists as ‘unnamed’.”
“Unnamed?” Norguard grumbled. “How did he make the lists without name?”
The seneschal cast his gaze towards the battered figure in question and made a distasteful face. “He made the entry fee. And by the king’s rules…”
“Anyone who can make the fees and has the equipment can make the lists.” Norguard repeated grimly, shaking his head. What was the world coming to? He wondered slightly.
“Don’t worry.” The seneschal replied with a smirk. “In the standings he’s dead last in points, the only reason he made it is that the knight above him broke his neck in the joust this morning.
Norduard watched the receding figure with narrowed eyes as the crowd cheered him on. “Never underestimate an underdog.” He muttered. “They’ve got nothing to lose.”
Sunlight glittered off the helm as it tumbled through the air, trailing a plume of crimson blood. Once it had been a beautiful work of art, carefully forged and embossed, carved with exquisite filigree that had cost a fortune. Trimmed in silver and gold it had truly been a sight to behold. Now it was junk, one side caved in as it was battered brutally from the head it had just been protecting. The audience held their breath in a collective gasp as it spun slowly in its arc, to land just shy of the spectators stands.
The owner of the helm, Ser Avengeld, reeled drunkenly as blood poured down the side his face. The blow had staggered him, but not knocked him senseless. Shaking his head to clear it, he advanced, sword ready.
The crowd cheered in response. They knew, according to the rules of the tournament that Ser Avengeld could have called for a cease of arms, a rest to recover his wits and his helm. But, such a rest would have taken from the feel of the contest and cost him valuable points.
Growling back the pain he swung his sword hard, battering his opponent again and again.
Ser Gilbourne, was at least half a foot shorter and fifty pounds lighter than his opponent, He had done well, breaking Avengeld’s shiled in the first round. But since then he had been taking a beating until he had managed to land the lucky blow that had sent Avengeld’s helm across the grounds. Breathing heavily he huddled behind his shield, his arm going numb from uncounted blows. Seeing a gap he whipped his sword out in a low, short arc, catching Avengeld in a smart blow on the side of his knee. Metal rang out and the knee guard dented, sending the larger knight staggering.
In pain, but stubborn, Avengeld pitched forward dropping to his injured knee. Throwing his shoulder forward, he slammed into the startled Gilbourne. With a grin, Avengeld balled up his mailed fist and punched upward, under Gilbourne’s mail skit, flattening the steel codpiece.
Gilbourne’s eyes crossed as his world went black and he toppled backwards, landing heavily in the dirt his arms splayed.
Ser Avengeld raised his hand in salute, grinning bloodily at the crowd. Immediately two squires ran out to help the large knight slowly to his feet.
Lord Norguard stood and clapped loudly, a wry grin on his face. Such a move was not legal, with a weapon. “Congratulations, Ser Avengeld. You have earned the right to continue in the tourney.”
Ser Avengeld Saluted and staggered painfully from the field. Lord Norguard settled back as the herald announced the next two combatants. For several moments he listed the titles and accomplishments of the first knight. How he had fought at this battle, or defended the honor of that place. Lord Norguard stifled a yawn of contempt. He would willingly bet his keep that half the titles were false, but… on the other hand who would bother to dispute the outrageous claims?
Finally the herald finished with the first announcement. “And now.” The herald grinned. “The knight who needs no introduction, who needs no announcements. Who in fact… needs no name! The Unnamed Knight!”
Lord Norguard sat up a little straighter as the piecemeal knight stepped into the arena. The mysterious knight had been notably absent at the feast the days prior, not that any of the other knights had particularly cared. It seemed he had been keeping to himself since the beginning.
The crowd looked on in breathless anticipation as the battered knight strode resolutely forward. This was his first battle of the morning, winning this would place him in competition with Avengeld for a chance to win the tourney. Eyes, forward he never looked to either side until he took his place where his squire was waiting. Handing his blackened shield to his squire, the battered knight looked over the assembled weapons.
His opponent, Ser Godwin, had already chosen his favored arms, a heavy war axe and rounded shield, which he now impatiently knocked together in a two beat rhythm. The sound ringing across the arena, to fall upon apparently deaf ears. Finally, the battered knight made his decision, drawing a smaller rounded shield and a heavy spiked ball and chain.
Lord Norguard cocked his head in surprise, and odd and unwieldy weapon to be sure, but no less effective in the right hands.
Next to him, his seneschal chuckled. “Poor choice of weapons if you ask me my lord. If that fool misses once with his chain, he’ll find an axe buried in his helm quicker than he can blink.”
Lord Norguard stood and straightened his tabard. “You are a fine servant, but you know nothing of warfare.” He whispered as he picked up a goblet. Raising it high he held it out to the two combatants. “For honor!”
Ser Godwin raised his axe and swung it overheard. “For honor!”
Across the arena the battered knight stood unmoving, he might have been a statue for all practical purposes.
Ser Godwin pointed his axe at his opponent. “You, Ser, have blighted this tournament long enough! I shall return you to your rightful place in the gutter where you belong!”
In response the battered knight raised his spiked ball and chain and began swinging it in a slow almost hypnotic circle overhead.
From his seat Norguard could see Ser Godwin timing the spin of the spiked ball.
Circling warily, Ser Godwin stayed just out of the reach of the battered knight’s weapon. Just as it passed in front of him for the third time, he leaped forward with a mighty yell.
Quicker than Norguard, or Ser Godwin for that matter, thought possible, the battered knight brought his chain overhead and slammed it downward like a whip.
To his credit, Ser Godwin managed to raise his shield quick enough to avoid getting brained, but the force of the blow sent him to his knees.
Seizing his opportunity, the battered knight whipped the spiked ball around faster, battering the grounded knight’s shield again and again, sending Ser Godwin stumbling with each blow.
On the third such blow Ser Godwin anticipated the swing and raised his shield just a bit too high.
With a flick of his wrist, the battered knight swung the chain low, catching Ser Godwin behind the knee and jerking the knight’s balance out from under him.
Ser Godwin cried out in pain as he fell backwards, his axe flying from his hands. Cowering under his shield he cried out as the battered knight hammered it again and again with the spiked ball. “Mercy! I surrender!” He wailed as his shield cracked and splintered.
The battered knight halted his next blow and stepped back, the ball and chain swinging like a pendulum at his side.
He looked towards the judges, sides visibly heaving from the exertion. The judges gaped at him like fish, still stunned at the sheer brutality of his attack.
Slowly they each held up a white flag. Victory to the battered knight, five points. The battered knight nodded once, letting his chain and shield fall heavily to the ground. Slowly, as if weary, the battered knight walked out of the arena to disappear to the knights tents.
Norguard nodded slowly, Ser Godwin had underestimated his opponent’s tactics and paid for it. Five points would put him even with Ser Vernian, who had fought earlier.
“Yet another excellent contest!” Norguard proclaimed to the cheering crowd. “This gives us a tie! This means only one thing! There must be a contest this afternoon, between Ser Vernon, and the Unnamed Knight!”
As Lord Norduard turned to leave, a messenger ran up to the Seneschal and whispered something urgently.
The seneschal paled and watched the messenger flee. “My lord.” He whispered quietly. “It seems that Ser Vernian is unable to continue the tourney.”
Norguard gave the seneschal a cold look. “Unable to continue the tourney? Why?”
The seneschal swallowed hard and collected his thoughts. “Well it seems the contest between him and Ser Jerard was too much for him.”
Norguard snorted in disgust and shook his head. “The contest between Ser Vernian and the Wine was too much for him you mean. Tell him that I will not allow him to quit.”
The seneschal bowed his head solemnly. “I would my lord, but he answers to a higher court.”
Norguard looked at the seneschal in confusion. “A higher court? What the bloody hell…” Realization sunk in. “No, you don’t mean…”
The seneschal nodded sadly. It appears that between the wine and Ser Jerard that it was just too much for him. His heart gave out. His squire found him dead where they left him sitting, still in his armor.”
Lord Norguard rubbed his head in aggravation. Ser Vernian had beaten Jerard by breaking his neck; that left only Ser Avengeld and the unnamed Knight.
Word of Ser Vernian’s death had spread quickly, drawing a larger crowd than before. Whispers and rumors of the Unnamed knight were running rampant now. Ser Avengeld had seen a healer so was only walking with a slight limp. It had only taken the smallest of persuasions to convince him to see the Unnamed knight in the arena and settle the matter once and for all. “It will be an honor to send the mongrel back to the streets with the curs.”
Now Lord Norguard sat uneasily, waiting for the two combatants to finish their preparations and come forward. Even the crowd was tense with anticipation, the normal dull roar of conversation reduced to a muted hum of whispers and muttering.
Finally, Ser Avengeld strode boldly into the arena, a new helm under his arm, or rather, his old helm. Two large horns curled from the temples of the otherwise unadorned helm, that couple with his strength and stubbornness had earned him the nickname ‘the bull’.
Ser Avengeld raised his mailed fist over his head and roared for the crowd. Evidently his stay with the healer had put the large knight in good spirits. Grinned fiercely he strutted across the arena, only a faint stiffness in his leg betraying any previous injuries. Arching an eyebrow he set his eyes on a fair haired lady in waiting who was leaning so far into the arena it was small wonder she wasn’t spilling out of her dress. Striding over, he took her hand and bowed deeply, his forehead just touching her hand. Rising up he leaned close and whispered something into her ear that made her blush and fall giggling back into the crowd.
Two squires scurried around the outer edges of the arena, rushing to stand ready by the weapons rack for their Knight. Working deftly they unhooked Ser Avengeld’s shield and held it ready.
“Where is he?” Ser Avengeld shouted above the roar of the crowd, as he made his way to the weapons rack. “Where is this unnamed Knight? Let him come forward, and meet me in battle, so that I may name him… DEFEATED!” He punctuated the last part by drawing forth a massive broad sword, swinging it overhead like a banner.
As if on cue the battered knight appeared at the entrance, his squire at his side. Walking slowly he came to stand in the middle of the arena, when he came to a halt, the squire ran dutifully towards the rack and fetched the now infamous ball and chain.
The battered knight took it without gazing for so much as an instant at his retreating squire.
Ser Avengeld smiled smugly. He knew full well the strengths and limitations of the ball and chain. “Surrender now, and save yourself the disgrace of defeat.” He called out, placing the horned helm on his head. “Lay your weapon at your feet, and kneel before me, and I will spare you the humiliation you would otherwise suffer by my hand!”
The battered knight stood, still as a statue. Looking like nothing more than a resolute, if battered, suit of armor a smith might have stood up in the corner of an apprentices shop.
Ser Avengeld strode forward, stopping at what he gauged to be outside the chain’s reach and looked to Lord Norguard expectantly.
All eyes turned to Norguard, whose gaze never strayed from the battered knight. Norguard now realized how much smaller the unnamed knight was, compared to Ser Avengeld who stood nearly a full head taller. Lord Norguard scrutinized the Unnamed knight intently, looking for something, anything that might give him a clue to what it was about the odd knight that was troubling him so. Almost imperceptibly he nodded, once.
Roaring like his namesake, Ser Avengeld ‘The Bull’ charged forward, seeking to bowl his smaller opponent over.
Raising his shield, the Unnamed knight stepped under the blow and batted it aside, smacking Ser Avengeld in the back with the butt of his weapon.
The Larger knight roared louder at the blow and threw his elbow back as hard as he could, grazing the top of the unnamed knights helm and sending him staggering forward. Regaining his composure the Unnamed knight turned and began whirling the chain over his head in the same manner he had used against Ser Godwin.
Avengeld was not as easily dissuaded, stepping in he took the blow on his shield and punched forward, striking the unnamed knight in the chest.
Growling Avengeld followed up with one crushing blow after the other, battering the Unnamed knights shield, each blow knocking him back a step.
Just as it seemed the Unnamed knight was going to be knocked down, he battered Ser Avengeld’s sword aside and danced backwards, swinging his weapon and entangling Ser Avengeld’s sword in the chain. To everyone’s surprise Avengeld let the sword go. As the sword went flying, Avengeld tossed his shield aside and charged, catching the smaller knight in a bear hug. Locking his fingers behind the unnamed knight’s back he lifted him off his feet and began to squeezed.
Staggering forward he slammed his opponent against the wall. The unnamed knight twisted and writhed in Ser Avengeld’s grip, dropping his chain to the ground. Lord Norguard leaned forward expectantly, he almost believed he could hear the unnamed knight’s ribs cracking from across the arena.
Amazingly the battered knight managed to get an arm loose, desperate he grabbed one of the horns and twisted it under his arm, putting all his weight into it.
Ser Avengeld bellowed in pain as his neck was wrenched painfully to the side. Dropping his opponent to the ground, he staggered away one hand clenched to his forehead.
As quick as a blink the Unnamed knight snapped up his chain and whipped it at the back of Ser Avengeld’s head, wrapping the chain around his neck. Placing one foot square in the Avengeld’s back he bore the larger knight to the ground.
Ser Avengeld went mad with fury, arms and legs thrashing wildly. Roaring he reared back and tried to roll over, but the weight of his armor along with the weight of his opponent kept him pinned. Slowly, the larger knights thrashings weakened, and slowed, finally he fell limp to the ground.
The battered knight staggered backwards, leaning heavily against the wall of the arena. Ser Avengeld’s squires, along with four other men ran out and picked up the unconscious knight, carrying him out of the arena.
The crowd cheered wildly at the new champion. Women screaming out for his attention as silver and copper coins were flung into the arena.
Lord Norguard stood solemnly and raised his hand for silence. “Gathered people.” He called out, gesturing across the arena. “I give you… Our champion!”
At their Lord’s proclamation the crowd cheered even louder. Chanting Champion over and over again.
“Now, brave Ser knight. Step forward and remove your helm, so that all may look upon you and know the face of their champion.”
The battered knight pushed himself heavily from the wall and staggered forward. Slowly reaching up as he walked. The crowd leaned forward as the battered knight worked the clasps that held his helm in place, only to gasp in stunned silence as the helm fell away.
Norguard paled visibly as the knight looked up at him. Despite the beard there was no mistaking the features of the man before him. He might as well be looking in a mirror from twenty years ago. The only difference were the odd flat eyes. Eyes that looked so alien, yet so familiar at the same time.
“Ser knight.” He started smoothly, regaining his composure. “You have proven yourself to be champion of the Tourney. You may now claim your prize. Any boon within my power I will grant you.”
The battered knight breathed heavily, a thin trickle of blood running from his nose. Sweat plastering his dark hair to his head. “I challenge you!” He called out. “To fair combat, right here and right now, as is my right!”
Norguard’s mind worked quickly. “Without a name, and without an offense, you have no claim to challenge.”
The battered knight spat in disgust. “Offense? I claim vengeance in the name of the Dulani!”
Norguard laughed. “The Dulani were defeated years ago. There are no Dulani left today.”
The knight shook his head vehemently. “Knights came to my village, many years ago. They burned it to the ground and murdered the people. They raped the women and left them for dead. One of those women, my mother, lived. In shame she fled, carrying me. She raised me and told me the story, describing the knight that dishonored her in detail every night so that I would not forget. That Knight was you. I am the last Dulani, and I challenge you. Vlorn of the Dulani. Vlorn Norguard challenges you!”
Lord Norguard settled back into his seat at a loss for words. To his surprise, his seneschal stepped forward. “Preposterous! You bring shame upon yourself, Ser knight! You bring dishonor to this tournament with your lies! You will not subject these good people to your madness! Guards, take him away!”
“Wait!” Norguard called out before the guards had taken a step. To his seneschal he whispered. “I will accept his challenge.”
The seneschal paled. “But my lord, you haven’t fought in over a decade!”
Norguard grinned. “Then I am well rested. Look at him, he can barely stand. I will beat him easily, spare his life and be seen as forgiving and magnanimous. After the heat of the moment is gone I am sure he can be reasoned with. Perhaps a small bit of land of his own.”
The seneschal looked uncertainly at his lord and back to the battered knight. “And if he can’t be reasoned with?”
Lord Norguard looked back out at the battered knight. “Then he will be dealt with.”
Lord Norguard shifted uncomfortably in his armor. He didn’t recall it being quite this heavy. ‘Of course’, he thought wryly, ’I was a much younger man then’. Stepping into the arena he smiled and waved at the crowd who gazed upon him in awe. “Friends, Nobles, gathered peoples.” He called out as he walked to the center of the arena. “Today we have a special occasion. Some of you remember over ten years ago when I lay down my sword.” The older members of the crowd nodded in remembrance, murmuring amongst themselves. “Today, for you and for you alone, I take up arms and armor and battle our most worthy champion.” He gestured to the battered knight who still stood in the same spot he had several hours ago. Norguard had denied him access to any healers or refreshment. Eyeing Vlorn sadly he shook his head. “This noble Knight claims to be my son. Whether this is true or not, only the gods know. But now, we shall put that aside and engage in combat for your benefit. Your lord and your champion. Who will win? Only the fates can tell!”
Turning to Vlorn he saluted sharply. “Since you have issued the challenge, you may set the rules, Ser Vlorn.”
Eyes glazed over, Vlorn didn’t hesitate for a moment. “To the death. No quarter.”
Lord Norguard frowned. “If that is how it must be then. To The death!” he shouted to the crowd who gasped in shock.
“Now…” Norguard continued conversationally. “Since Ser Vlorn is the champion, has issued the challenge and set the rules, I choose the weapons.” Grinning he turned to the battered knight. “I choose swords.”
At his words two squires scurried forward, each bearing a round shield and traditional long sword.
Lord Norguard accepted both with nod of thanks and raised his sword above his head. “For honor!”
Ser Vlorn took the shield but grasped the sword awkwardly, as if it were unfamiliar to him.
Lord Norguard saluted and stood at the ready. “Let it begin!”
Grimly the battered Ser Vlorn raised his sword, saluting in kind for the first time. Tentatively he stepped forward, sword in front of him.
Norguard eyed the sword as it wavered unsteadily. This will be too simple he thought. Stepping forward he batted Vlorn’s sword aside and punched the battered knight with his shield. “Surrender.” He hissed. “I will grant you mercy.”
Norguard’s words seemed to inflame Vlorn, whose eyes now glittered with hatred. “Never!” He hissed. Hefting his sword he swung it madly. Slicing from the left then the right. Vlorn’s sword rang dully off of Norguard’s shield, causing the old warrior to pause. Years of experience with weapons told him that a sword should not make such a sound. Something was amiss.
Dropping his shield he grasped his sword two handed, slashing in a deadly pattern.
Vlorn tried desperately to block the whirling blade but only succeeded partially, taking two blows to the shield, and the third finding a chink in his armor drawing blood.
Biting back the pain he charged forward swinging with all his might. Norguard parried the clumsy blows easily and slammed his pommel into Vlorn’s temple. The younger man staggered back blood running into his eyes and his shield slipping from his nerveless fingers. Still he would not fall.
“Surrender!” Norguard growled.
Vlorn wiped the blood from his face with he free hand and focused on Norguard. “Death first!” He hissed, slashing forward with renewed intensity, as if drawing strength from his declaration.
Norguard parried the furious attack and stepped back, on the defensive. The dull ringing of Vlorn’s sword still troubling him.
Vlorn gathered himself for his next attack.
Norguard eyed the beaten and battered warrior and anticipated the overhand strike, blocking upward as he began his swing. As steel met steel, Vlorn’s sword shattered, sending fragments flying. Thrown off balance, Norguard’s sword went high, too high.
Locking eyes with the older knight, Vlorn grasped the hilt of Norguard’s sword. “It ends, now.” He hissed, ramming the shattered blade between the plates of Norguard’s armor, piercing mail and flesh underneath.
Norguard let his sword clatter to the ground as the world fell away from him. Face to face he focused on the younger man’s eyes, seeing his own reflection. For a brief moment, he remembered years ago, seeing his reflection in eyes so much like Vlorn’s belonging to a young woman. More of a girl really, and the brief violent encounter with her, ending with her limp body being thrown into a pile of bodies.
“Lay one hand on me.” She had warned him, just before he took her. “And it will be your death.”
Now, looking into those eyes he saw the reflection of a promise, sworn in blood, now fulfilled.
Vlorn let the lifeless body slid to the ground. Falling back heavily he numbly began working at the straps holding his armor together. Piece by piece he cast it aside, and with it, the hatred that had consumed him. Twenty years he had hated the man who lay before him. Twenty years of training, scrounging pieces of abandoned armor from forgotten battlefields. Twenty years of blind unreasoning hatred, and now… Emptiness.
As he tossed the last piece of armor aside he pulled himself to his feet. Only a small part of him was aware of the aches and pains of his body. The dull throb in his head, or the tearing ache every time he drew breath. His left arm hung limp now, a ragged gash where Norguard had scored a hit. Slowly the pain faded in and out of his awareness. He was only slightly less aware of the stunned silence surrounding him.
Slowly the seneschal crept towards the battered knight. “Ser Norguard…”
“Vlorn.” He corrected wearily. “Just Vlorn.”
The seneschal nodded nervously. “Lord Vlorn, since you are the only heir…”
Vlorn looked at the seneschal with mild disgust. Here was a man who lived solely to serve, a man who could not survive without a master. The thought made him ill. “Norguard has no heir…”
The seneschal gulped nervously. “Then… What will you do?”
Vlorn turned wearily and made his way for the exit of the arena, heading east. A dead man, with a dead family, of a dead people, from a dead country in a dead land. “I’m going home.”
By: Jason Haley