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Hero's Song - Chapter Nine

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My throat was dry. Cheers filled the arena, but they seemed muffled, as if coming from a great distance. Shandra was helping me buckle on my sword belt and re-adjusting my gear, so that nothing would slide, sag, or come un-done.

"You know, sometimes I feel like your damn squire," she said harshly, not meeting my eyes.

"I feel rather like a gnome...which is good! Because I am one!" Grobnar smiled at me cheerfully; he was holding my pack until the fight was over with, in which case if I...lost...I had told him he could keep all that was in it. My legacy to another bard, so to speak. I fervently hoped he wouldn't accidentally do something to my books of music. Like eat them.

"Are you sure you want to go through with this? You can pick someone else to fight for you, you know."

My arena attendant came bustling up, catching the last part of Shandra's words. He nodded at me. "Actually, that's what I'm here for; if you want to choose someone else, now's your chance; otherwise, I have to go tell Lord Nasher that you're ready."

"Ready? Now?!" I inhaled deeply, trying to take the panicked edge out of my voice. I looked out over the crowd; Duncan sat next to Elanee and Sal, his face pale and grim. Casavir and Qara were behind them; Qara's face looked impatient, Casavir's a blank mask. He had his weapons with him, and wore his armor, unlike many of the others who had come in plainclothes. Khelgar was to his right, also armed to the teeth. His face was a mask of fury, and he glared at the end of the Arena that Lorne would enter from, as if by thought alone he could kill the man. Sand sat on Khelgar's side, his face calm; only the slight, tense hunching of his shoulders indicated to me that he was anxious. I recognized many people from the City that I'd come to know; some were talking, some were silent, a few were cheering desperately. I didn't even realize I was scanning the crowd for a particular person, until my eyes fell on him.

Bishop was at the back of the crowd, dressed in his leathers; his knives were all strapped on his person, and a full quiver was on his back. He fingered his bow distractedly, ignoring those around him. He was scowling slightly, eyes narrowed, looking at nothing in particular.

I pictured Lorne's blade driving into Bishop's gullett, and squeezed my eyes shut. "No," I said, and my voice, thankfully, sounded steady as a rock. "I've got to do this myself."

"All right, milady, I'll inform his Lordship. When I return, be ready, because there'll be no turning back." The attendant sprinted towards the main veranda, and Shandra shook her head at me.

"My gods, you're stubborn," she said. "Why don't you try and move all of Faerun while you're at it, Harper."

"You know, this makes me think of a song I've been working on, and it's perfect for this occasion!" said Grobnar, and took a deep breath.

"Grobnar, no--" Shandra said.

"Wait, you don't ha---" I said.

"For all the roads we've traveled,

For all the truths we've found,

Never before have I felt this way

To the dead of Ember bound..."

His voice was high and...not unpleasant. At least he hit the notes. But the little song reminded me that there were dozens of people lying dead, for no better reason than some wizard in Luskan wanted to use their deaths to get to me. The last traces of my fear and doubt slunk away, and I held my head high. Like hell was I going to let the spirits of those dead villagers leave this plane without a little revenge to sweeten their way.

My attendant ran back and nodded at me. "Go!"

I stepped into the arena, hearing the rush of crackling flames behind me as the attendant lit the line of oil spilled along the entrance; a wall of fire had sprung up, blocking my escape. I looked up into the crowd, and the cheers and chanting died down. I stared at all those faces for a moment; nice audience. Too bad it was for my possible death, and not for my music. What I wouldn't have given...ah, but I was stalling. As soon as I took a step and started walking across the huge expanse of compacted dirt, the crowd went nuts. Cheers, screams, whistles, applause; they were going to make sure I stayed alive by sheer force of will, if they had to. I felt immeasurably small; the walls towered above me, and hundreds of eyes marked my progress.

Lorned had entered the arena, and the cheers turned into hissing, spitting, cat calls, angry shouting. It didn't bother him in the slightest. He had a smug smile on his face as he walked towards me, and the sun was at his back, making his shadow stretch long and looming. When we met in the middle, he said, his voice rumbling, "Little girl, you're dead."

My inner fire crackled. "Poor Lorne; if only your mother could see you now. She'd probably die of shame...or would you kill her first?"

"Shut your filthy mouth!" He hissed at me, filling me with no small amount of satisfaction. We turned, and faced Lord Nasher and the nobles as the herald began his call.

"Just for that, I'm going to gut you like a fish, and hang you on a line on Luskan's walls," Lorne whispered fiercely from the corner of his mouth.

"I wasn't aware you knew how to gut a fish, Lorne. It seems too complicated a task for your mental faculties."

He sneered, but stopped talking. Lord Nasher was done with the rules of combat, which I hadn't listened to. Oops. Oh Lorne was really going to follow them, anyway.

We were supposed to bow; Lorne turned his head, and spit on the ground at my feet. I cocked an eyebrow, but glanced at the crowd and swept low, in the most floruishing curtsey I could have managed in multiple layers of skin-tight leather. The crowd cheered.

We turned from each other, and walked to our opposite sides. Move quickly, stay out of his reach, in and out like a snake. An extremely poisionous snake that isn't afraid of anything. And is immune to..uh...everything.

I turned to face him, only to discover that Lorne was already bearing down on me like a juggernaut. He was hollering some long, drawn out war-cry, and I waited in his path, my legs! I sprung to my right, sweeping my left arm straight across as he ran by, and I caught him a glancing blow on his side. Damn, his armor was thick. He was turning around, getting ready to come at me again. Bishop had been right; Lorne moved slow, and I had plenty of time between clashes to size up his next move.

The battle was going well, for me. I had caught a few glancing blows but I was almost dancing around him, and though I didn't do much damage to him with one hit, the little bits and peices were adding up, and soon he was oozing blood from dozens of wounds. The latest one caught him on his scalp (I still don't know how I managed to even reach that high) and suddenly he seemed to just...lose it. He went berserk, and charged me, and even my blade sliding along his ribs didn't stop him.

A huge, meaty fist connected with a crack! to my head and sent me flying. I slammed into the wall, my hands making sickening slapping noises against the stone, and my fingers lost their grip on my swords. I slid to the ground, wanting to vomit; my head spun, making the world a dizzying array of colors and too-loud sounds. I saw four versions of Lorne lumbering towards me, blood streaming down his face, looking like a fire-demon newly released from the hells. I couldn't focus, and I couldn't tell which one of the Lorne's was the real one. Deneir be with me, I thought through the shattered mess that was my mind, and I waited until the last second; as Lorne go closer, the four became two, and the two became one, and his sword was falling towards me...

Move! I rolled to the side, my aching right hand grasping the hilt of my fallen scimitar; as his blade cleaved the stone wall of the arena and stuck in a shower of sparks, I turned, placing my foot on the dull edge of his blade. My head was screaming, but if I stopped now I was dead, and I pushed off his sword, leaping into the air over his shoulder, my sword swinging down. The blade struck true; it's edge bit into the soft base of his neck and continued downward with a sickening crunch, severing his spine. The contact with bone jarred the scimitar out of my already throbbing hands, and I hit the ground behind him, rolling awkwardly. I staggered to my feet, and turned...Lorne gurgled, his eyes rolling up into his head. Slowly, painfully, he tried to take a step but his damaged spine would only allow him a shuffling stagger before he collapsed, blood pooling in the dusty earth.

I was vaguely aware of cheering, but the sight of Lorne falling seemed to have shut off my adrenaline all at once, and suddenly the world lurched. I turned, vomited, wiped my mouth, looked up. The flames on my side of the arena had been doused and a group of people were running toward me; at the front was Elanee, her face panicked, her legs pumping with incredible speed. I took a few staggering steps forward, wondering vaguely what she was so worried about.

The world spun again, and suddenly I was looking at the sky. Then I was looking at nothing at all.

o o o o o o

My head ached. I was sitting on my bed, stringing my fiddle, and trying to ignore the faint thrum at the base of my skull. Elanee had exhausted herself trying to save my brains from spilling out the back of my cracked skull; as it was, she only managed to stop the bleeding and mend some of the damage before dropping herself, and Casavir had to take over to fix the rest.

Still, I had been in my room the entire day. My hands were still stiff; Lorne had broken the left, and the right had taken almost as bad of a beating. Once again, I thanked any god listening for blessing my life with magic. If it weren't for healing spells, I'd be stone cold dead. And Grobnar would have my stuff.

The door opened, and Shandra poked her head in. "How're you feeling?"

I tied off the last string, and grinned at her. "I have a fiddle again; my day is complete."

"What, killing Lorne Starling and almost dying yourself wasn't enough?" She smiled wryly, and slipped into the room. "You look good, compared to how you looked ealier. Axle stopped by, said that he was going to come to the party tonight."

I arched an eyebrow. "Party?"

"Yes, didn't...oh. Right. You were sleeping."

"I was unconcious."

"Okay, so you were 'unconcious', and snoring like a bear in mid-winter." She sat on the edge of my bed, facing me. "Anyway, Duncan is sprucing up the tavern and thought that he'd kind of throw you a victory celebration. Everyone wanted to, at the arena. Celebrate, I mean. I think almost everyone in the entire city was pulling behind you. He's even asked a few other bards to come tonight, since he figured you wouldn't be up to playing the entire thing all by yourself." She looked at me, obviously searching for some sign that I was about to fall apart at the seams.

I blinked, and the thought of warm ale, music, and dancing banished the afterthought of my headache. "Hmmm. That doesn't sound like such a bad idea. I could have a chance to play this thing..."

Shandra looked down at the fiddle in my lap, and her eyebrows rose a notch. She looked back up at me. "Where'd you get that? It's awfully pretty." Her voice was treacherously innocent.

I snorted at her, and swumg my legs over the bed, struggling to my feet. "None of your business." I stood slowly, carefully, but the world stayed steady and I exhaled in relief.

Shandra laughed. "Yeah, that's where I thought you got it." She stood up herself. "Well, you've got a few hours to clean yourself up a bit, I suppose."

I frowned at her. "I am cleaned up."

"No, I mean, 'fixed' up. Oh for heaven's sakes, it's a damn celebration. And you'll be playing in front of people! Surely you don't think you can just wear...well, that." She gestured at my leathers. They were cut dramatically, and they looked good on me, but they were still leather, and their sole purpose was to act as my armor.

I got a panicked look on my face. "I don't have anything else."

Shandra rolled her eyes. "I grew up in Highcliff, and I can't believe I know more about this than you. Fine; go wash yourself, curl your hair a bit, and I'll be back." She left my room, muttering to herself.

I tuned my fiddle while I waited for my bath water to heat, going over my repetoire in my head. I owed someone a song, and I think I had just the one picked out.

Hero's Song - Chapter 9 © Avariel

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