Over two thousand participants awaited their turn to best their opponent before king and countrymen. They huddled as those at attention, known and unknown, of varied ages and backgrounds – journeymen, foreign born, and common brawlers. Within their ranks stood men of notoriety who gained fame in battle or past tournaments, and these too arrived from across the northern realm.
The warriors stood fast at the blowing of a single horn upon the dais. Armond took a proud stance among the combatants, raising his right hand in the air in unison with the others, repeating the words of oath called out by the judges present: “For honor and service! To King and Country!”
The tournament was set – elimination down to the last man. Blunted weapons were doled out: swords, axes, spears, and wooden shields. The judges kept order and awarded victory at their determination of any blow of certainty to the head, neck, or heart. Eleven rounds separated the beginning rabble down to the one champion. The first two rounds, called ‘the weeding out,’ cut the number down to five hundred, eliminating the less deserving. Armond had no desire to join in their number.
In the end came the Champion’s reward: two thousand forty-eight silver krones gathered from the fighters prior to the festival as presented by the king.
Sharp-edged spears pushed the participants to the edge of the circle. Armond took a seat upon the grass to watch as a spectator until called. Pairs were singled out, dozens at a time, and after hasty instructions, judges dropped their hands and the melee began. Armond witnessed a clash of arms: the fray appeared a clumsy orchestration as fighters stumbled and rushed, slashed and conquered. Some lay bleeding, bruised, moaning in pain, or red-faced and angered over a sudden loss. The melee continued. As one pair finished, another fight began. The arena was now awash with dueling combatants; the dust roiled and the crowd kept up its loud chorus. The winners of the first round received a white feather – the losers, jeers and a quick exit.
Armond glanced over his shoulder searching for his friends in the assembly, but the faces were many and noise drowned out their voices. After some time, an eternity in waiting it seemed, a large man in a traditional white tabard approached.
“You there – here!” he commanded, pointing Armond to a position upon the grass.
“And you, hurry it up,” he called to another in wait.
An odd fellow lined up opposite Armond. Rangy arms tensed with hands folded at his waist and sweat beaded upon a cleaned-shaven head – the man looked strange even in Nordhiem.
“Choose!” bellowed the judge. Two young retainers stood near holding two swords, an axe, a spear, and two shields. Armond took a firm handled sword, its edge smoothed away, and a wooden shield. His opponent chose the second shield and a spear.
“Line up,” called the judge once again. “The fight ends when I say, or my spearmen will end it for you. My judgment is final – now fight!”
With a drop of his hand, the contest began. Armond felt a flame surge in his heart, but it was met by the distraction of a roaring crowd and forty other fights going on simultaneously in the forum.
“Come boy, see what I have waiting,” challenged the adversary, his accent thick and clever.
“Odd again,” thought Armond, his mind drifting. “Is he Noldarin? Perhaps from the western flanks…”
A sudden attack ended the curiosity as Armond blocked a spear thrust with his shield. The man returned with slashes and drives, keeping him on the defensive. He came quickly on the attack, skilled with his weapon. Crouched low with spear in left hand and shield upon his right, he squatted ready to strike. Armond lunged forward hacking with the sword, but his blows were blocked and countered. The exchange continued until the man found an opportunity and swept low as if to strike a leg; then with a sudden dip and a deft twisting maneuver, he managed to get behind Armond’s shield from below, blocking with his own shield and stabbing upward towards the heart. Armond reacted instinctively. He spun away from the near victorious strike, and with both shields knocked aside, struck a sword blow to the neck of his opponent. So sudden it came and it was done. Armond looked on as the strange man writhed in pain upon the ground, hand clutched upon a throbbing neck.
“The Victor!” called the judge. He raised Armond’s hand above his head. He was given a white feather and walked back to where the victorious sat, waiting for round two. His opponent sent away cursing.