The Nightmare Rider - chapter 18

 

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Chapter 18 of
 
  The Nightmare Rider

 

 

 


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Chapter 18

 
 
 

The stands had filled quickly and were very noisy. Many could be seen holding wager slips from betting booths. The Board had been placed just after sunrise that morning. The main, reputable, Bookmakers had been waiting for it. Most already knew the Selection list and had taken wagers for favorites. The match-ups were the main concern now. People would want to mostly gamble on those. The odds would be in constant flux. Odds increased with victory. A single loss took a Selection out of Tournament. Very few actually placed large bets before the match-ups were posted. Many were familiar with the match-ups, mostly by points acquired. Some even paid Second year students to keep them informed of those points. It was no great surprise to see many of the match-ups.

Ben Surlaang against Sera Arden. Norr Luunos against Lara Tarika. Kern Winnower against Hevrin Aulder. Hirz Kez against Bron Zako. Klin Makaal against Goron Favell. Lyle Matrileek against Eaton Laanower. Aruna Moning against Fay Merfin. Doril Hunley against Moor Falek. Dirk Sharvot against Vaan Arento. Dagar Voluntas against Jeffries Talfar. Danze Marow against Debrie Beon. Ziekell Loxtonia against Jessica Weyden. Den Irth against Ponz Gerrare. Bon Loreen against Patrick Fotens.

Match order was randomly determined, which was expected. After a few Tournaments it had been decided that way to keep the spectators interested in all the matches. Several of the Bookmakers though could be seen talking among themselves and shaking their heads. It was the first match that had them confused as they re-checked their information. Bon Loreen and Patrick Fotens weren't even close in points, that is what had them all puzzled.

Bess Ginaar looked around then carefully pulled away the black strip from the shoulder of Patrick's armor to reveal the Regiment Commander insignia. Patrick nodded to her as she reached over and handed him his helm. Rositor Jazorr checked the shield. Only someone who knew exactly what they were looking for would be able to detect the water-wrap. A thin transparent film had been attached to the shield and held with special clips. The space between would then be filled with water. Long ago, a battle had been fought just as a thunderstorm broke. The falling rain began to short and nullify the plasma of the battle lances. Solos found a way to exploit that. Before battle they would secretly apply a film and fill the space between with water. Due to the impact most never noticed the spray of water as the lance struck the shield. The plasma would crackle and spark harmlessly, the Solo would only suffer impact damage. The opposing rider would suffer from the Solo's battle lance that would burn through and down the rider, usually in death.

"Everything is set," Doril Hunley said quietly as he walked up. "Sir Belvin will announce you himself. Its all in your hands now Commander Fotens."

Patrick nodded and sheathed his combat sword, "as I said; all I need is a bit of stupidity and I'm sure my opponent will oblige."

The Fourth year nodded. They all watched as Patrick mounted Daemon then took his shield. Carefully he held it to conceal the insignia and followed his two squires into the arena. On the other side Bon Loreen took note of his arrival and took a lance from his squire. Patrick snapped his visor down then took a lance from Rositor and moved to the starting position. Loreen took position as well. Now was the point of no return. If the Gentry had taken a battle lance he would be forced to use it. To discard it would indicate there was something not right about his lances and call for immediate inspection.

Sir Belvin spoke over the speakers, "WELCOME TO TOURNAMENT!"

The crowd in the stands cheered loudly.

"FIRST CONTEST. SOUTH LANE; BON LOREEN, GENTRY OF RANOM. NORTH LANE; PATRICK FOTENS, EIGHTY-SIXTH REGIMENT FREELANCERS' COMMANDER," Sir Belvin announced.

Though the crowd continued to show their excitement, many had been stunned. Only once in the last seventy-five years had a Regiment Commander been enrolled and rode in Tournament. Needless to say several young people left their seats to inform the betting booths. On the opposite end of the lane, Bon Loreen frowned inside his helm.

"If that was supposed to trip me up; it didn't," he said to himself.

The Flagman strode out proudly and took his place at the mid-point of the lanes. The crowd's noise level decreased. He checked Loreen and nodded at the ready signal then checked Fotens and nodded at his. The flag was held out.

"GO," the Flagman yelled and ran clear.

Loreen spurred his horse to bolt off the start and tore for the opposite end. The Gentry sat straight in his saddle and held the lance even with his line, aiming dead-center and activated the plasma charging. In motion like he was, no one would see it until it penetrated the shield and by then it would be all over for the Solo.

Daemon lunged forward and raced toward the oncoming rider. Patrick then leaned forward slightly and angled his shield down and in. The lance was held slightly back from line, aiming to the right and below center. Patrick knew it would slide harmlessly off. Just as planned.

The clash of the impacts almost echoed in the arena, but to Bon's horror his lance tip hit the shield and less than a heartbeat after, there was a loud crackling sound and sparks flew. Patrick's lance tip broke, but not completely off.

Immediately there began shouts from the stands, "BATTLE LANCE! ILLEGAL! ILLEGAL!"

Others heard and began to call out, "CHEAT! CHEAT!"

Patrick wheeled Daemon around, jumped the lane divider and threw down his lance and shield as he bailed off angrily.

"PLEASE WAIT FOR THE WORD FROM THE OFFICIALS," Sir Belvin announced then went out with four others who had ran out immediately.

The officials and Sir Belvin examined the lance and all began to look angrily over at Loreen.

Loudly Sir Belvin shouted, "LOREEN! YOU USED A BATTLE LANCE IN TOURNAMENT, KNOWING IT IS ILLEGAL! YOU ARE HEREBY DISQUALIFIED FROM TOURNAMENT AND WITH THE HEADMASTER'S AGREEMENT; EXPELLED!"

"HOLD," Patrick called out after raising his visor. "WHEN HE USED A BATTLE LANCE IT WAS NO LONGER COMPETITION. TRYING TO KILL A COMMANDER OUTSIDE CONTRACT BATTLE IS MURDER. THIS IS NOW A PERSONAL MATTER, CLEAR THE FIELD!"

Four members of the Second Regiment had ridden out and blocked any attempt by the Gentry to flee the field. Many of the crowd gasped in shock as Patrick drew his combat sword.

"Off that horse. You wanted a fight and now you got it," one of the Solos remarked to Loreen.

Slowly Bon dismounted and took an offered sword. Cautiously he stood in place and brought his visor back down as the angry Solo Commander advanced. Everything about the young man in black and green armor telegraphed anger. The Gentry knew this was going to be a fight to the death. A death, more than likely to be his own.

The first swing of Loreen's sword missed, throwing him past Patrick. Unfazed Patrick stayed on the advance using every thrust and slash to move his opponent backward. The strikes from the laser-edged sword merely nicked and scratched Loreen's armor. Bon tried to defend, but any attempt to counter-attack was thwarted. In short he realized quickly that he was being toyed with.

Patrick stayed on the offensive. With every thrust and slash, he pulled back slightly at the last instant. This lasted for almost five minutes and Bon Loreen backed up into a wall. There was nowhere left to retreat to. Any move to the side to try escape was met with a powerful slash that scarred the wall, keeping him in place. Finally he dropped the sword and fell to his knees holding his arms out in surrender.

"I yield," Gentry Loreen stated and looked to the sand underneath him.

Patrick used the tip of his sword to fling the helmet off the guilty Gentry, "Your head is mine unless you have something more valuable to surrender."

"Lord Eaton. Lord Eaton Laanower. He bought the lances. He paid me twenty thousand to do it," Bon Loreen said quietly.

"Proof," Patrick snarled.

Bon nodded, "I have it written down and signed by him. The right pocket of my saddle. The squires for me are his too."

The Headmaster had approached and heard the exchange. He signaled for the horse to be brought over and searched the saddle to find the paper. He read it then waved two Second Regiment Solos over and quietly instructed them.

"Commander Fotens. I ask for this young man's life. You may confiscate the coinage promised in exchange for it," the Headmaster offered.

Bon quickly agreed, "its in my duffle at the Ices stand."

One of the Solos rode out and returned with the heavy sack of money.

Patrick looked inside and mulled it over then finally nodded, "for his life. Done."

Bon sighed in relief then screamed as Patrick's sword swung up suddenly and severed the arm between a gap in the armor on the underside. Medical staff rushed over to attend the Gentry.

Patrick turned, sheathing his sword, "he will live."

The crowd sat stunned. Most had no idea what all had happened, only what they could see. Patrick walked over to his horse and led him out. His squires had already collected his shield and lance.

"Due to Competition misconduct; Gentry Bon Loreen had been disqualified and expelled. Tournament will continue in a few minutes," Sir Belvin announced.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Four Solos approached the Nobles ready area and stopped, looking directly at Eaton Laanower.

"Laanower," one of the Solos stated. "Tenth Battalion Freebooters. You will come with us. Disarm him."

Two of the Solos gave the young Lord harsh looks, as if challenging him to refuse the instructions, and took his sword and dagger. Each held him by the arm on either side and roughly escorted him out.

"If any more have the idea that cheating will serve you, forget it. The one who just tried is not availible to consult you," the Solo group leader commented then left to follow his men.

Lord Eaton soon found himself in the Headmaster's office and roughly shoved forward to stand in front of the desk. Both his parents stood to the side looking angry.

Eaton gathered himself and glared, "what is the meaning of THIS?"

"You've been disqualified and are now being expelled," Baron Laanower replied hotly.

The Baroness glared at him angrily, "thank you for this great HONOR you've contributed to the family name."

Eaton stormed to the desk and demanded, "WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?"

The Headmaster held up the page, "the evidence against you. Your parents have already compared it to sample of your own handwriting. It also has been compared to a receipt from a supplier in the village for an order of lances made to look as if they come from the school armory. Including a battle lance. Not even the worst Solo Regiment will take you now."

"I think it would be best if he avoided all Solos. As he just tried to have a Commander killed," the Commander of the Second Regiment remarked.

"What Commander? That fool was supposed to bring down Fotens," Eaton said angrily then realized his mistake.

Baron Laanower backhanded his son, "IDIOT! Fotens IS a Commander! That's what makes it all the worse!"

"A member of your household staff is currently collecting your belongings watched over by one of the instructors. Also there is the matter of trying to blackmail Lamia, Lady Tuala. Your handwriting matched that note as well," the Headmaster added.

Baron Laanower stared his son down, "I know you too well Eaton. You're not SMART enough to come up with this on your own!"

Eaton glared back, "Well then. I guess I'm on my own now!"

"Oh no. That's where you're very wrong," Baroness Rika Laanower said. "In fact you will be under closer watch than you've ever been! I know now why the Goddess blessed us with your brother and sisters. To make up for you!"

The Baron asked the Headmaster, "Headmaster. My youngest daughter; instead of joining the Sisterhood as per family tradition, would you allow her to attend the Academy? You have my oath that she will be the epitome of nobility and will not bring one breath of scandal."

"How old is she," the Headmaster asked.

The Baroness said proudly, "two Headmaster. She just had her birthday last month."

That surprised the Headmaster, "ah. Yes. That being the case; I believe she'll be acceptable."

Eaton stared angrily at his parents, "turn me out; see if I care!"

"You'd like that wouldn't you? Unfortunately for all of us that cannot be allowed," Baron Cane Laanower remarked then leaned in close. "However we must protect your siblings from your corrupt influence as well. You've forced our hand, we will be sending you to Fortress Hawk's Rock."

The young noble stood stunned. Hawk's Rock Fortress was an old fortress that sat atop a mountain that rose out of an alpine lake surrounded be mountains that were even higher. To date, no one who had ever managed to escape it had lived. Most that tried, were only doing so to jump to their death. It was where families and kingdoms hid their embarrassments. The guards there were Solos, but the battalion was unspecified. They wore no markings on their plain dull silver armor. To be publicly humiliated was kinder and Eaton Laanower knew it.

Eaton protested, "you CAN'T send me there!"

"You left us NO choice Eaton," Rika Laanower replied. "I have no idea why you even thought you could get away with such behavior. It goes against all we've taught you! You've humiliated us with this. We'll be spending a fortune to make amends with the families and Kingdom you've offended. Hopefully the Solo Commander will accept restitution to keep us off the list!"

Cane nodded, "trying to kill a Battalion or Regimental Commander outside contracted battle is MURDER. You may have only provided the means and hired some fool to attempt it, but you are still guilty! More so than that boy who just had his arm taken off by the Commander! He could demand your life and be within rights. Right now the way YOU'RE acting, I'd be tempted to allow it without trying to negotiate!"

"I think we're done here Baron, Baroness. I believe that if you wait in the lounge. You will be able to conclude matters before you leave for home," the Headmaster suggested.

The Baron nodded," thank you Headmaster. Again, we offer our apologies for this debacle."

The Baron then turned to his Captain, "take my Son back to the tent and get him changed. Coordinate with this squad of Solos to ensure he doesn't try to wander off. He is to have no visitors or contact with anyone. No letters or notes from or to him."

The Captain nodded as did the Solo squad leader. Eaton was then roughly taken out.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Down in the arena Ben Suurlang had defeated Sera Arden and would be advancing to the second round later that day. In the ready areas the Gentry and Nobles were clamoring for information. All they knew was that the first match had taken a dramatic turn. A Third year Solo was actually a Regiment Commander that had faced a Gentry trying to murder him with a battle lance which resulted in a duel costing the Gentry his arm. A side note that a Noble had been removed by Solos and now there was a scramble to rearrange two match-ups.

Norr Luunos and Lara Tarika hurried to get into the Arena before their own match changed. They had nothing to worry about actually. Neither did Kern Winnower or Hevrin Aulder who faced off afterward, followed by Hirz Kez against Bron Zako. The bookmakers were more than glad as those contests were within their projections. Bron Zako winning was no real surprise. Kern Winnower was strong as well. Lara Tarika was a minor surprise.

Many were now paying close attention when Goron Favell enter the arena to face Klin Makaal. The Fourth year Solo held a strong showing. Lyle Matrileek was offered the chance to face Fiona Doucet in place of the match against Eaton Laanower and he quickly agreed. Many thought it amusing when he stood up from the third unhorsing to wave his helmet smiling broadly. Fiona, ever the sport, rode over to lean down and kiss his cheek in consolation. Some in the stands threw flowers down to her as she waved and rode out. Her squires went in and collected them for her.

Very few noticed the party of Laanowers quietly leaving and within the next hour their set-up team began to take down their encampment.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Jeffries Talfar sat waiting for his name to be called. He had quite a bit longer to wait. Across the way in the Royals' area, he could see Vaan Arento up to his usual antics while Jessica Weyden sat with Lamia Tuala. Both young women were listening intently to the captain of the Lurbourg Royal Guard.

He, too, had seen Eaton taken away by the Solos and not return. When one of his servants whispered into his ear that the entire Laanower family left quietly, with Eaton under guard, Jeffries became concerned. There were too many opponents that could challenge him. It was a First year that gave him the most disturbing news. Eaton was not only disqualified from Tournament, he had also been expelled and his family was sending him to Hawk's Rock Fortress. Jeffries would have been able to take him on within his own private squad, but that was not possible if Eaton was sent to Hawk's Rock. Once in; there was no release for any reason.

Jeffries already knew his opponent; Dagar Voluntas. Unfortunately he was not on good terms with the Noble. In truth, Lord Dagar hated him. Many did so Dagar wasn't alone. Dagar took special mention due to the fact that Jeffries insulted Dagar's twin sister Diena. Diena Voluntas attended the Institute of Finance and was named the Student President there. Talfar had made one of his usual comments; stating that she was attending the Institute to become a more illustrious whore. The Third year had chosen long ago to make hand-to-hand combat his hobby. Talfar ended up spending a day and a half in the infirmary. Sometimes irony caught up with a person.

Dagar looked over at Jeffries and smirked then walked over to stand in front of him.

"Tournament has arrived. Finally," Dagar said with a hungry smile.

Talfar tried to shrug off the attitude, "I'm surprised you made it to my level."

Dagar nodded and turned to walk away, "yeah. I can't believe I had to hold back so much."

The future Duke was about to scoff, but stopped cold. Fourth years' points were always posted before Third years'. It would be easy to know what one needed to do to follow a certain individual and either be more aggressive or hold back to match them. Jeffries Talfar now knew he had been practically hunted the whole time!

The matches for Aruna Moning against Fay Merfin, Doril Hunley against Moor Falek, Dirk Sharvot against Vaan Arento all passed quickly. Aruna won by points, Doril Hunley won by unhorsing Moor Falek twice and points for the win. Vaan Arento left his masquerade behind and completely decimated Dirk Sharvot.

Talfar found himself staring down the lanes at Dagar Voluntas. It took all five lances to name the winner. Jeffries won by one lucky lance on the fifth run. However Lord Voluntas had made him pay heavily to earn it. He felt like his shoulder had almost dislocated. Dagar had learned deception well. For quite a while he had favored his right wrist and even dropped a few lances during training during the year. Talfar discovered that it had all been a ruse.

When facing an opponent with a weakened lance wrist, a frequent tactic would be to lean forward and hold the shield angled to be flat. That would increase the impact shock to the lance. That also increased the impact shock to the shield as well. Talfar falling for the ruse did have an effect. His shoulder had been strained from the strong grudge-holding Third year.

For the rest of the matches; Danze Marow won against Debrie Beon. Ziekell Loxtonia lost to Jessica Weyden. Den Irth had been merciless against Ponz Gerrare. The winners all gathered in the arena to see their names move up the board. Points would not determine placement now.

Sir Belvin read off the board, "Den Irth and Jeffries Talfar. Patrick Fotens and Kern Winnower. Vaan Arento and Goron Favell. Fiona Doucet and Bron Zako. Jessica Weyden and Doril Hunley. Danze Marow and Aruna Moning. Ben Surlaang has sustained injury and is being withdrawn. That concludes today's rounds of contest. Please enjoy the evening!"

The crowd cheered and clapped then began to filter out.

 
 
 
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