Bow of the North



chapter 15 - Preliminary trials



I woke in a soft bed with a soft cover, lying beside a softer woman. It has been 4 nights since that day, and tomorrow is the day the tournament starts, though I unfortunately need to get up for the preliminary. Noble competitors can join the competition so long as they had the permission form their family head. They represent their families in the contests and the lords won’t let their names be tarnished if their family couldn’t compete. Peasants like me however not only need to pay an entry fee of 10 stags, but also need to pass a trial, where all the peasant competitors are placed in a ring and only a certain number will be allowed to enter the tournament proper. The tourney proper lasts 2 days, 32 contestants, the semi-finals and finals on the last day, the other matches on the first. As for the peasants there are about 83 people, so only 8 of us would pass.

Over the days I waited I would usually spend my days either training, exploring the town and looking for useful books or items to bring home with me. The nights I would spend usually at the tavern talking with the other patrons, exchanging gossip and stories. One of the groups were a couple of locals and they brought me to this brothel last night. I had quite a few last night, and thinking that the price was good and the preliminaries were in the afternoon, I should give it a go. Definitely worth it, the girl, I don’t know her name, was skilled yet not over ambitious or fishing for tips, though I gave a large one anyway.

I got dressed and headed back to the inn where I got both my bow and sword. Brutus spent the night happy with a bone and full belly. We headed to the outskirts of the city where the preliminary took place. The archery was first, simple to do, 10 people stood on a line and would fire arrows with different coloured feathers at a target, about 100 metres away, at the same time. The person who hits the closest to the centre passes, if 2 hit roughly the same then whoever shot first wins. This was a piece of cake, as soon as the referee called to fire, I had my bow raised, drawn and fired in under a second, admittedly I was using qi to speed up my movements. I heard a few cheers from the Stark area, seeing Arya clapping enthusiastically, to her father's, the lord Eddard Stark, surprise. Jon, I spotted in the crowd, clapping as well though a bit more considerate. This sort of event continued until there was 5 people who passed, only 53 people applied for the archery. With the preliminary over we were told that the competition would occur on the second day of the tournament.

The archery contest is done in a single day where 10 people, 5 peasants and 5 nobles in this case, would shoot 10 arrows each at individual targets, the lowest score would be removed and the next target, farther than the previous, would be fired upon until a the last 3 contestants were left, and the final target would be fired at and the highest score would win. Since it can be done in about an hour, it will be done between the melee finals in the morning and the joust in the afternoon. At least among the peasants I have no threat of being beaten.

The melee is somewhat more difficult, the rings are for a maximum of 100 people at a time, we use practice swords and proper armour, you are out the moment a solid blow to your body or head occurs, with referees around to decide when you are out. It is done until 16 people remain standing and they will join the nobles tomorrow. There are no preliminaries for the joust as it is a noble exclusive event.

The difficulty with the melee is that it requires not just skill, but planning. If you seem like an easy target and try to hide from fights, then you will be challenged by multiple people, tiring out and someone will eventually get a lucky hit in. If you show you are a difficult opponent then you might be able to frighten the weaker opponents, but the other competitors, those who feel they have a chance in the tournament, might try to group up against you in order to make the fights easier later on. I might be a good fighter, I could probably beat 4 in quick order, or 2 at the same time, but if 3 come at once then I will be brought down quite quickly. There are 3 solutions, the first is to balance your skills so you appear to be both good enough not to challenge, and not a threat to the real competitors. Second is to find allies, either someone you know and trust, or paid to watch your back during the preliminaries. The third.... scare the shit out of everyone.

The second the horn blew for the start of the match i dashed to the largest man I could find and swung my sword straight at their head. They got their sword up and blocked of course, that was the plan. Because I caught him by surprise and suddenly aimed for his face, he leant back at an odd angle, putting his left leg back while his right was left forward, straightened. The natural motion would be in the next half a second to retract his right and reset his stance, but I don’t allow that, in that half a second, stomped on his straightened leg, breaking it. As he fell down in pain, I swung my sword again, this time colliding with the side of his head knocking him out. That wasn’t the end though, as he laid on the ground broken and defenceless, I raised my sword above my head, ready to bring it down again, when the referee shouted for me to stop.

“Stop, he is out, another attack and you will be disqualified!” he shouted, some fear in his voice, likely shocked, as the audience is, on how brutal someone can be. I show a disappointed expression. As they carried my opponent off the field, l looked around, a feral look in my eyes and a bit of blood I smeared on the corner of my mouth, terrifying the ring and creating a large space around me. I think to myself, ‘step one complete’.

The people you least want to fight in these tournaments are not the honourable champion fighters, but the bloodthirsty maniacs. I have showed that not only will I cause injury that could cripple a fighter, but I won’t just stop after the first blow, I will continue to attack even after they are unconscious. I feel bad for the guy, but he is a mercenary that I scouted yesterday, a tough opponent that could give me trouble in a fair fight, and everyone enters these competitions with the knowledge that they could get hurt. That was the first step to my plan, now for part 2.

After scaring my surroundings for a good 4 seconds, I suddenly yawn and lose the look in my eyes. I turn around and walk to the edge of the ring, kneel on the edge and rest my head on my sword. This is the second story I had to spin, the fear they currently have will only work for a few moments, soon they will realise there are over 80 people here, I am greatly outnumbered, and as I mentioned earlier if they get the idea to gang up on me to remove a future challenge, thus I will lose. The trick is to appear as less of a threat, you don’t bother me, I don’t bother you. Everyone is in this fight to win, no one wants to lead the charge against me and be the removed or injured, not when there are easier pickings.

Like this the fight resumes a more normal setting, fights picking up here and there. Soon there are only 30 left and someone thinks to test whether I am really unprepared or not, kneeling on the ground with my eyes closed. They approach slowly, trying to keep quiet, several others are watching as well. Unfortunately for them I have another set of eyes. Just as he is about to strike me overhead, Brutus signals me with his qi, a signal that we spent the last few days to mean an attack from the left. My kneeling posture seems to be a weakness, but it means that if someone is going to strike me form above. With that knowledge and Brutus’s signal I know enough about where the attack is to get a block in and rise to my feet at the same time, throwing him off balance. With my sword I direct him into passing me, and with a kick between the legs with studded boots, I send him out of the ring and to the ground in a painful huddle. That earns me some cheers from the audience, not just the Starks siblings this time.

The rest of the competitors had lost all interest in challenging me now, they don’t know how I parried that blow and what is unknown is to be avoided, that was step 3. Like this the fighting continued till there were 8 left, mostly older blokes, merc heads who were veterans. With the winners decided we were told to come back tomorrow morning. I left the courtyard, waving bye to Jon and Arya.


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