A Land of Sorrow
The young ward of House Cordwoodloom
A young man, seventeen years of age, though he appears several years younger. The rich clothing and jewelry he wears, that befitting a noble, does nothing to enhance his presence. His soft hands have clearly never seen a hard day’s work, and no matter the temperature, he’s always slightly uncomfortable.
Francesco closes his eyes and allows the chanting to soak in. Those on the hills above the stadium valley, too far to see clearly, make themselves heard. They stamp and clap in time with the chant.
Francesco wishes he could see himself from their perspective. He must look magnificent. His armor, a fine sheen of gold and silver; his lance, raised high to the heavens. Francesco allows the squire to lead his horse to the starting position while he enjoys the praise a while longer.
At last he opens his eyes and regards his opponent. A hedge knight who, despite getting on in years and having only modest armor, is well known in the area for being formidable upon a horse.
Is Francesco Courtingbloom scared? No! When the trumpet sounds, he urges his steed forward and locks his lance into place. As they meet by the fence’s middle, Francesco strikes a glancing blow while the hedge knight’s point drifts wide.
In the next bout, each strike a glancing blow against the other. Though slight, the point connecting with Francesco’s shoulder nearly spins him out of his saddle.
What is that fool thinking? That was far too close!
In the third bout, just as they come together for the final pass, the hedge knight makes a split second adjustment and leans out towards the straying point of Francesco’s lance. The hedge knight’s own lance swings wide, while Francesco’s connects solidly with his chest. Francesco’s hand stings from the blow, and he drops the lance. It cracks from the impact and rather reluctantly shatters.
The crowd goes berserk, and Francesco opens his arms to them and basks in their adoration. He can feel his father’s eyes upon him, but he doesn’t allow the codger’s scrutiny to ruin the moment, his moment. The remaining matches of the first round proceed smoothly. He eyes the tournament rankings, noting the name of his opponent and not bothering to conceal his smirk.
Another hedge knight from my pocket. After this one I’ll fake an injury and forfeit.
“FRANCIS AND INGLEMERE, TO THE FIELD!”
Francesco, still astride his horse (for it took the effort of half a dozen squires to seat him), reemerges onto the tournament grounds to the cheering of the crowd. His opponent has yet to arrive, so he enjoys the cool, wet cloth his squire is accustomed to laying across his brow. There is some discussion with the herald, but Francesco pays it no mind. His only concern is to finish playing out this ruse.
“NOW HEAR THIS! THERE HAS BEEN A CHANGE TO THE TOURNAMENT RANKING! INGLEMERE IS TO BE MATCHED WITH SIR HARRATH, AND FRANCIS IS MATCHED WITH BRONTHORN!”
The flushed color drains from Francesco’s cheeks. Bronthorn, always the eager one, is already mounted atop his powerful steed across the way. His deep voice calls out to Francesco, easily heard over the crowd’s now frenzied cheering.
“Brother! I have dreamed of this day; the day when we would again meet as competitors. Is it not glorious?”
No… NO! That woman!
Francesco awkwardly turns to shoot a look at the lady seated beside Lord Cordwoodloom… his mother. She smiles back and waves in her coy manner. The trumpet call snaps Francesco’s attention back to Bronthorn, who has already begun to charge.
“WAIT! WA- MY LEG!” Francesco grabs his leg pitifully, but quickly realizes that won’t do him any good. He scrambles to get his lance into position, so panicked he fails to urge his horse forward.
Francesco doesn’t catch the rest of his brother’s battlecry. He becomes a gold and silver missile, hurtling off the back of his horse. He crashes into the ground a good distance away from the track, his armor ploughing the earth up around him.
Bronthorn does a victory lap around the stadium, holding his shattered lance high for all the crowd to see. He returns to his brother, who spasms pathetically as he gropes for breath.
“Ah! A fine battle, Francis, but the day is mine.”
“…you broke my back, you bastard…”
“Glory to our house, brother! Father will be pleased.”
“…you’re not even listening…”
“I look forward to the day when next we match our might. May it be as glorious a day as this one!”
“…I need the healer…”
Thunderous applause is all Francis Cordwoodloom can hear before fainting.