Episode 7 Chapter 32

Oboe did not want to let him go. He pulled himself free of her, taking part of her with him. Harsh sunlight stole through the window, a thief come to steal Theo away. He gathered his equipment, moving quick but with the same precise care he handled paperwork.

“I need to hurry,” he said. “Can you help me?”

Squirming, Oboe made a feeble effort to get up. She fell out of bed onto the floor and hurried to his side. He fit a breast plate over his chainmail and pointed his back toward her.

“I can’t reach very well. Hook the clasps.”

She fastened the straps, wondering if she was doing it wrong, and worried. The reality of the tournament was sinking in, draining her of the ecstasy of the night before, leaving her sober and afraid. She had asked Theo to do this. That selfish part of her that wanted to run away pulsed, wanting to keep him safe, wanting him all to herself.

Theo turned around. His armor was simple, battered steel plates, greaves and leather gloves. For the first time he looked like the knight she always knew he was. It reminded her that he had a duty. There wasn’t any other choice. The Whirlwood needed him to fight.

“Don’t die,” Oboe said.

He slid his sword into a leather sheathe at his belt. He spoke with a firm confidence that made her believe. “I won’t.”

The horns sounded outside in the arena. There really was no more time. She hugged him tight. The iron in his armor stung, but she didn’t care. She kissed him one last time, gulping the last drop of water from the canteen, not knowing whether there would be anymore. He lingered, admiring her with his bright green eyes, before going to confront his fate.

Over the course of her life, Oboe learned to be nervous when good things happened. If she thought she made a friend it was never long before that creature, or that creature’s family, realized she was nameless. It was only ever a matter of time until something went wrong. Yet, she kept trying. Kept hoping.

The hallways of the palace were empty. All eyes and bodies would be drawn to the tournament arena. Oboe made her way to the seating, getting lost, trying to shake the looming sense of doom hanging over her.

“There you are!”

Oboe was startled to see her brother Fife marching up from behind. “Where have you been? Have you seen the Ranger Deputy? The tournament is starting soon!”

“He just left for the Challenger’s Paddock,” she said.

Fife relaxed, but only a little. “Good,” he said. “I was hoping we could do more to prepare the Deputy, but it looks like it’s too late now. What were you two even talking about for so long?”

“Um.” Oboe’s ears burned red hot. She didn’t know what to tell her brother, or if it would be a good idea to say anything at all.

“I suppose it doesn’t matter now,” Fife said, much to her relief. “There’s nothing left to do but pray. Come along. That surly sylph friend of yours is holding our seats.”

It was strange seeing the arena filled like it was when she was a child. It felt smaller now, and there was a tense and eerie quiet throughout the crowd. Below on the field, the Hive Mother was delivering a speech with lots of important sounding words.

“How many Titled are fighting?” Oboe said.

“Countess Stormbreak is, but that’s hardly a surprise. High Lady Willow was more unexpected. She struck me as too cautious for this. Apart from the Deputy, the only other combatant is General Warsong”

“That’s all?” Oboe said.

Fife grimaced. “The cost of losing is too high. If you yield, you are made nameless. You bore that shame, but most would rather fight to the death.”

Oboe realized that Feather was taking a risk the Highest were not. If Theo lost, she would be made nameless, and the Greater Whirlwood would lose the Gardner.

They found Thistle snarling at creatures trying to take the seats beside him and munching on caramel apples.

“How can you eat at a time like this?” Fife said.

“It’s called stress eating,” Thistle snapped. “Don’t judge me. I bought you a bottle of applewine.”

“Oh, thank the Mother,” Fife said.

They sat, and horns sounded one more time. Oboe stiffened as she saw Theo striding out onto the field, tall and ready. General Warsong stood opposite to him, with her coal black feathers and her talons curled like scythes.

The gong rang, and Warsong flew like an arrow at Theo. Theo stepped out of the way and drove her back with a flurry of slashes that caught her legs and arms. She knocked him away with a kick, staggering him, and swung her halberd in a wide sharp arc.

Theo’s sword came down, chopping the wood of the halberd and snapping it in half. Warsong dropped the pieces and lunged to tear with her claws, only for Theo to grab and twist her by the arms. He forced her down, beak in the dirt, pinning her. She wrestled, scraping and grazing him, fighting to get free, but he wore her down. It was not exciting to watch. There was no decisiveness, only a long struggle that ended with an exhausted General admitting defeat with a wail.

Warsong was stripped of her armor and forced out. Theo disappeared into the underground. Oboe felt some hope return, that this would all work out.

Then Beira arrived, naked without her caparison, scarred but proud. Standing opposite to her was High Lady Willow. She was tall and broad like a tree draped in silken robes. Whatever tactic she had in mind was a mystery and would stay that way. Before the starting bell finished ringing, Beira pinned her opponent to the ground with a javelin of ice.

The difference between Theo and Beira was night and day. Beira tore into Lady Willow, freezing her to the ground with ice, and goring her with her horn. Her hooves came down on the face of her opponent, crushing it, spilling the leshy’s amber blood. The victory bell sounded, but she did not stop, beating what was left of her opponent to a pulpy smear.

Oboe held her breath.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *