Thrust. That was step one. Step two was definitely don’t get thrust into. Taslin danced out of the way of her larger opponent’s blade and, because she could, made a twist out of it so that she could then go for another thrust, this one a move that looked far more complicated than it was.
The audience – such as it was – cheered. Her opponent – such as he was – barely managed to dodge in time. Her teammates – such as they were – shouted encouragement and his – such as they really, really weren’t – hissed and yelled.
Taslin loved it. She slapped him in the face with the flat of her blade – not grandstanding, she told herself, she could tell Gan she’d done it because she wanted to get him angry.
If she’d been trying for that, it worked. He bellowed in rage and came running at her, head down and sword out.
It was too easy. It had to be a trick. If it was a trick, if he was actually planning this out, his off hand would come up like thus.
She dove out of the way – to his sword-hand side, not to his off-hand side – rolled up behind him while he was still trying to stop his forward momentum, and slipped her blade through the thin gap in his armor.
The crowd took in a collective breath.
It wasn’t a killing blow, but, then again, it wasn’t supposed to be. Instead, it was a humiliating blow, a distraction from what her off-hand was doing and, most importantly, leverage to get herself tall enough to get that off-hand and its weapon to his throat.
The crowd screamed its pleasure.
All of this had to be more than a bit painful for her opponent, but Taslin was going to have bruises over two-thirds of her body, so he could cope.
It wasn’t for him, it was for the audience, so her voice was pitched loud, aiming for the back of the amphitheater.
“Fountainspawn.” He lifted his left hand, palm-up. No, no, he was not going to start pulling power here, not in the middle of the sandbox, what did he think he was doing?
“YIELD!“ She made it a bellow because she didn’t want to make it a panicked shout. He didn’t care about his throat. He didn’t care about his throat. Didn’t care about…
She dropped her hold on her sword and wrapped both her arms around his left. From that angle, she could put the blade to his wrist the same as she’d had it to his throat.
The crowd rose to their feet.
“Yield.” This time, she kept it at almost a whisper. “Drop the weapon and yield or I drop your hand in the sand and you’re a one-handed bond-slave.”
Her opponent’s blade fell to the ground, and he fell to his knees. “I yield, damn you, fountain-spawn.”
She sheathed her off-hand blade and scooped up her sword, never taking her eyes off him. She’d learned that lesson the hard way in her second match.
He stayed on his knees. The audience cheered. Taslin, making certain she was well out of her opponent’s reach, bowed, turned, and bowed again.
This match – like all of her matches so far – was a warm-up before the main event, a crowd-appetite-whetter. Taslin didn’t mind. She needed the practice, for one thing, and for another, sometimes those who would be patrons showed up early.
The man on the ground twitched. Taslin ducked out of the way and struck out with a foot to his face as he dove towards her.
“Fucking fountain-spawn!” He fell back onto his face. “I’ll fucking kill you.”
She danced back again and shifted her blade into guard position. “No. No, you won’t.” Would the guards interfere?
“You miserable waste-lander, I need this win!” He dove at her again, and she danced backwards again. She was going to have to kill him if he kept this up. She didn’t want to kill him.
“You’re free with the insults for someone who can’t win a basic match of sword-fighting.” She stepped around behind him. “You’re pretty free with the insults altogether, actually. What do you think that says about you?”
“What do you mean, you useless waste of flesh?” He’d gotten to his feet again, oh, good. That was the last thing she wanted. Well, the second to last thing.
“Well, seriously. You’re relying on insults. You’re throwing around curse words.” She took a moment to unsheathe her off-hand blade and watched her opponent. “You’ve stepped outside the realm of honor, of course. You yielded.”
“Are you…. are you playing to the crowd?” He blinked at her. “Are you making a game out of my life? Some sort of show?“
It almost threw her off her game. “We’re gladiators.“ She took three steps backwards and pitched her voice to the crowds. “We’re gladiators. We fight for them!”
The audience cheered and jeered back at her. Her opponent, however, had clearly had enough. “Not me!” He rushed her, head down, a blade he hadn’t been showing before in his right hand. “Not me, you miserable fountain-spawn, not me!”
She’d been trying to get him angry, but there was angry and then there was raging. He was pulling power again, too, no, no, they would not be impressed with her if they had to seal off the ring, they hadn’t had to do that in at least twenty years.
Ten? Lots of years, at least, and that was in no way the point. The point was coming at her, followed by a bellow. She dodged out of the way, rolled – a different roll this time, in case he was actually paying attention – and came up under his legs with her offhand pricking where his balls ought to be if he had any.
Which remained to be seen.
Her sword, from here, nicked his wrist and rested just so on that delicate place where everything could go really, really badly. “Stay yielded this time, or die.”
She made sure everyone in the audience could hear her. She, of course, could hear them, too, as they chanted.
“Die, die, die, die, die.”
He’d frozen again. “Fountain-spaaawn…”
“Yield. Or die. It’s that simple.” She pricked a little deeper with both weapons.
“You cannot be this good!”
Frankly, she didn’t think she was, but she was also pretty sure that agreeing with him wouldn’t help the situation. “Yield. Do. You. Yield?”
“Blast and damn it, I yield.” He once again dropped his weapon.
“Don’t move.” She rose to her feet, slowly, keeping the points of her weapons in place. “Shall he be pricked or shall he be slit?”
“You forfeited everything when you ignored your yield. You knew that.”
“I had to win! They told me to win!”
“Honorably.” She gave a little twist to both blades. “Pricked or split, good people?”
The crowd – made noise. It was unclear, at first, what the running trend was going to be; there was just shouting and then a little more shouting. And then one man stood from the oligarch’s boxes.
The crowd fell silent. They were all looking at him. Taslin was looking at him. Her opponent was looking at him.
“Pricked or Split, good oligarch?”
Which one was it? From here, it would be almost impossible to tell, even if she knew all of them by sight. Male, she was pretty sure – he wasn’t wearing so much clothing as to obscure that, for one. But beyond that? He had black hair, copper skin, and nipples that were almost black through his white top.
“Pricked. And scarred. Let his treachery be remembered. Let it be burned into his Name.”
Taslin hissed. Even her opponent groaned, and she’d thought he was beyond that.
But then she lifted her voice up properly. “As I am commanded.” Her knives dug in until he groaned in pain, and then again, until she could watch the blood well up red and sweet from both target. “Remember this.”
“I’ll remember you. I’ll remember you, Fountain-spawn.”
Taslin pulled back her blades and wiped them on his clothing. “Good. I’ll certainly remember you.”