The Duel

The Duel Image
The prompt:8. Hor. Sto. Man makes appt. with old enemy. Dies—body keeps appt.

The Research: That the Dead May Walk

Betwixt the hills in the foggy land, lay the village of Rindoon. And twin smiths worked iron and steel, for farmers and for kings. Richardson the younger, his family recently (well, as recent as any movement was in those days, so a century or so) came to the town and set up trade. Across the way, and down the main road Leewood made spears and swords and plows for kings and lords and farmers of yore.

Never a feud north of Italy was as great as between the two craftsmen. Apprentices of both were seen in the dead of night, on mission from there master, hammers in hand with which to smite plough and nail, and discredit their foeman. Journeymen in the streets would tussle, or break into shops to make off with prized steel or product. Eventually, the lord of Rindoon tired of the feud.

“The two are worse than French with their quarreling,” he declared to his court, pacing his throne room, “They threaten the sanctity of my realm more than blasted Englishmen or Norsemen, they have the guile of distant Byzantines, and the honesty of a Spainard. If this continues, iron and steel will have there way, and stay unmade. And what then? How shall I muster men-at-arms if the king were to call? If Papal Bull come’s down, to bear a cross to Jerusalem or plauge from hell rises up again? Or civil war rock the land? Or some dreadful Norman or fierce German with cruel pagan axe comes for our land?”

At this the lord’s minister spoke, perhaps the only man so close to a throne with loyal intention in the long history of man. He was a thin man, made more so by being so near to the Lord of Rindoon, and was known to have traveled far and wide for a man of his day. To distant Sardath and far away Timbuktu had he ventured before returning to his native land, wise in every way of the world.

“Sire, if they yearn for blood, let blood be small. Arrange, between the two men, a duel. Let them with all their skill craft a blade for the occasion, so that they’re skill can be tested. Then the matter will be resolved once and for all, with the greater blacksmith being amongst the living. And swear to use the victors sword, that way you may profit yet from this feuding.”

“Ah, and let my subject tear into each other like savages? I am a lord of men, not of wolves and apes. No, blood and steel will not solve this day. Some accord between them must be reached, some grace given or allowed,” spoke the court chaplain, a portly man, bent with age into a boulder of a man. He had studied in Rome and Paris, under many wise men. Some said he dated back to the great wars of Faith, that he had set foot on the emerald Isle with Saint Augustine.

“It will be blood, either by your will or by theirs. And what shall be said, of the lords of men, if peasants so defy them,” the minister said, frowning.

The lord stood still, staring now at the throne of his dear castle, a flame roaring behind. Hollowed tapestries hung from the walls, many common to what you would expect such a man to have. But one had hung since his father’s father time. A host of knights and swordsmen stood with white and red shields to overthrow embattled castle, clanging steel on wood.

“By blood, mi’lord, a castle is bought, by blood it is maintained, and by blood it may be lost should God will it,” the minster said slowly. The lord raised his hand to silence him.

“Send word to Leewood and Richardson. This dispute must end, lest chaos and fickle chance reclaim the world. They will forge their swords, as fine as they can make, and in three months time, the week before our Lord rose, they will settle this, that Easter may make them clean.”

And the court chaplain frowned, though it was barely noticeable among his many wrinkles. The message was brought down from the castle on the hill to Richardson and Leewood. The smiths read it each, rejoicing it seemed. Hammers thundered for days, in the smitherys. Apprentices were worked until they were passed out at the door. Journeymen were left unwatched, spending days at the taverns. Some said chaos had grown mightier rather than feebler with the lord’s command.

The oldest apprentices joined in as well, boasting of their masters skills. Leewood had learned Damascan arts, which no armor could stop. Richardson had stolen away with a piece of the cross from a ruined chapel. Leewood had saint bones for a crossguard. Richardson had gone to Danmark and learned the ways Weyland smith. Shards of Excalibur had made there way to Leewood. Richardson had sharpened his on the Blarney stone.

But there was an apprenetice, youngest of Leewoods, his seventh that spoke otherwise. Leewood had gone up yonder, into distant woods and hinterlands at night. He had dealings with Fairies, the apprentice said over ale. Leewood had spoken to Oberon and Nudah and other pagan forces down in the woods, among the people who lived there, who’d neither heard nor cared for Christian ways. Distant horns had echoed at nights when Leewood went down below, into dimly lit valleys and glades amongst ruins steeples and grave yards.

And the day of the duel did come, each standing atop the hill across from each other, dressed as they wished to be buried. Richardson came, dressed in greenery and white, his sunday best, with his one ring of gold and his other of iron on his hand. Leewood came, with a great collar and a red scarf around his neck, a short cloak draped behind him. Both drew swords, broadswords of well made steel. The chaplain, the lord, and the minister stood of to the side, waiting to see what would come of this. The people of the village, the apprentices and journeymen of every trade, and even some travelers came to see the spectacle.

The duel began in earnest, and the clang of parry on parry continued for only a moment. Leewoods ankle gave, and Richardson struck sudden and fast at his shoulder, cutting a fatal blow. Darting back, Leewood seemed to topple over for a moment. Richardson smiled. The crowd held its breath.

And then Leewood righted himself, and turned to face Richardson. And that seventh apprentice cried out in terror as he sped forward, striking with reckless abandon. Richardson swerved and slashed, tearing cloth and skin as the steel fury of Leewoods sword beat on like a smiths hammer. Back Richardson stumble, giving first feet then yard to the advancing madman. At last he stumbled down. The chaplain stood upright, as did the rest of the crowd as Leewood advanced, rolling his head back in laughter. Thousands of crimsons lines marked Leewood, across his face and side.

“That is an ill omen, for men such as him to laugh,” the chaplain said, “My lord, fetch the guard. No good has come of laughter bought in blood.”

As the men-at-arms drew near, they saw Leewood’s sword come crashing down, again and again into the screaming form of Richardson. As the noise stopped, the men drew near with spears, as if apporaching a wild bear. Leewood turned and stared with beastial eyes, eyes cruel and capricous. And then he ran laughing into the woods, his sword slumping to the ground as he ran.

“Follow him! Get the horses!” The lord said, running to stables.

The hunted for Leewood in those wretched woods for days. In fen and valley, over hill and dale, through village and beneath willow, until they found him at long last, hanging from a tall tree. His eyes vacant, and his hand carved with some strange sign. None could say what it read or meant. When they returned his body to be buried in the churchyard, the ground turned to stone beneath him.

“The earth will not receive him. He is not among the children of Adam any longer,” the chaplain said, “Bringing him into the chapel and I will preform what I can.”

And so Leewood’s coffin sat outside the chapel, a stone box that shook as others passed. And the minister, who meant no harm, was gone. The apprentice, the seventh who saw him go into those dark woods, said he heard Leewoods voice echoing from the trees still, even as the box remained unopened.

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