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The Song of Steel

Book One - Chapter 14

By W.R. Logan


Copyright 2004 W.R. Logan

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Jarco, the Jester Knight


He had dropped his sword again.  Twice he had failed his king in one day.  Jarco could not blame his sword for his failure.  It was the best blade ever to be foraged by the king’s smith.  The smith had made it special for Jarco and refused to take any gold for the fine weapon.  Jarco was well loved by the small folk of the kingdom, which made up for the hate the nobles had for him.


Most times, Jarco did not feel like the knight that the people had come to love, he felt like the jester that was laughed at by the whole court.  In every tourney he was the first to fall.  He took little comfort in the fact that he had twice the support in the crowd as other knights.  That just gave him more people to disappoint. At heart, he was still a jester with a sword.


The knight looked at his sword at rest on the wall across from his cell.  The head of the jester on the hilt, peered back at him with its laughing gaze.  His sword arm was a curse to the fineness of the steel.  Under the command of a finer knight, the sword would have known the taste of a foe’s blood.  In his hand it would only know defeat.


If Jarco had not been the one fighting at Caitlin’s side, the battle may have gone a different direction.  Brianna would have faired much better than the ill trained jester.  Caitlin and Brianna could have held the Ronan guards back long enough for the king to cast a spell.  That could have been the difference in the outcome.  Because of him, the castle would belong to King Geiger.


“Hey, jester,” his guard called, “Make me laugh.”


Jarco remembered him from the fight in the throne room.  This had been the one to disarm him.


“I thought I had done that already,” Jarco said.


“Haw,” the guard laughed, “that you did.”


The guard picked up the jester sword.  His face showed how impressed he was with the make.


“This is a fine sword,” he commented.  “How did a noodle arm like you get it?”


“It was a gift when I was knighted.”


“Oh yea,” the guard said, “You the one that saved that half-elf bastard from the assassin, right?”


“Yes,” Jarco answered happy to regain a little of his pride.


“What kind of assassin could have fallen to a blade in the hands of the likes of you,” the guard laughed.


“I didn’t stop him with a blade,” Jarco admitted.


“No,” the guard pondered, “Did you tackle him?”


“I’d rather not say,” Jarco said.


“Come on,” the guard coaxed, “Tell me true.”


The guard was not going to stop until he knew and if Jarco didn’t tell him someone would.


“I threw a melon at him and hit him in the head,” Jarco told him.


“Ha,” the guard guffawed, “Didn’t your momma tell you not to play with your food?”


The man continued to laugh taking away the little spec of pride that Jarco had regained. 


“Too bad you didn’t have any melons back in the throne room, huh jester,” the guard teased.  “You should have named yourself the Melon Knight.”


“That wouldn’t have been very decorative at the end of a sword.”


The guard laughed till tears streamed down his cheeks.  Jarco had been a jester for most of his life and was used to being the target of a prank.  It had been his job to make himself a joke and it seemed he could not break the habit.


“So, how did it feel to have two people disarm you in one day,” the guard asked.


Jarco did not answer, he just shook his head disgusted with himself.


“And one being a girl,” the guard pressed.


“I think that girl could have disarmed most of the guards in this castle,” defended Jarco.


The guard placed Jarco’s sword back against the wall and drew his own to his hand.  He swished it around in the air like a child playing with a toy.


“No woman could ever disarm me,” he bragged.  “I would have cut her to bits.”


“No woman, you say,” echoed Jarco, “How about Caitlin G’Leaze?”


“That half-elf courtesan with her thin little sword,” he chuckled.  “What does she call it?  Oh yea, “Feather”.  She would not stand a minute against me.”


Jarco smiled remembering the pile of Ronan guards dead around Caitlin in the throne room.  If one had not gotten past Jarco and grabbed the king, the pile would have been a lot higher. 


“She looked to do well against your friends,” Jarco reminded him.


“Because she did not test my steel,” he told Jarco.


True.  This guard had made sure to stand on the side that Jarco would be defending.


“And how about Brianna,” Jarco asked.  Caitlin was as good with a sword as her sister but Brianna was more feared.  Her style was much more fierce.  The girl loved to taunt and belittle her opponent in combat.  Better men than this guard had fallen before the woman on the battlefield.


“The ork lover,” the guard spat.  “She would not be a challenge for a man of my skill.  You should know, you saw my skill.”


“I drop my sword to practice dummies,” Jarco explained, “I can be no judge of talent.”


“This is true,” the guard agreed.  “You would think a man with a sword like………..


The guard stopped mid-sentence as he turned to look on the jester sword again.  It no longer sat where he put it.  He became painfully aware that he and Jarco were not the only ones in the room.  As he turned he felt the icy steel of the jester sword at his neck.


“No woman could ever disarm you,” Brianna repeated to him as she held the point at his neck.


The man let his sword slip from his grip and clang on the floor.


“No, no,” Brianna said, “I could never take a victory from a swordsman like you in such a way.  Pick it up.”


The guard fumbled for his sword and held it out in a defensive manner.  His face showed the fear that was in his heart.  To his credit, the man did get off the first routine.  Brianna moved with such speed, the jester sword appeared to reach the point of the next strike long before the guard’s sword.


“Ah, I remember this routine,” she teased, “I learned it when I was four name days and stopped using it when I was five.”


The guard found a new strength from his rage.  He used a routine full of spinning moves and powerful thrust from all angles.  Brianna did not appear to be moved by the display.  She danced out of the way of his strikes wasting as little energy as possible.


“Are you tired,” she asked the guard at the end of the routine.  The man gasped for breath as his sword arm began to sag.  He ignored his fatigue and launched another attack at the half-elf.


Brianna angled the jester sword to block the guard from below his blade.  She moved her arm in a quick circle as the swords locked.  The guard’s fingers got a hard smack from the flat of her blade making his sword fall from his hand.  Blood streamed from the crack in his middle finger nail.


“Was that as painful as it looked,” Brianna quipped.  “Go on pick it up.”


The man looked nervously at the sword setting so close to the dangerous half-elf.  He made no move to retrieve the blade.


“Oh, allow me,” Brianna offered.  She pushed the sword in his direction with her foot.


The guard knelt down and picked the sword up.  In an attempt to regain some control, the man charged Brianna hoping to catch her off guard.  Before he could even swing his sword it flew from his grasp again.


“How does it feel to be disarmed by a woman twice in one day,” Jarco asked.


“Enough play,” Unglar interrupted.  The half-ork walked over to the unarmed man and palmed his face.  He lifted the stunned man from the ground and slammed the back of his head into the wall.   Then he dropped the remains to the ground.


“You know I may have wanted to question him,” complained Brianna.


“Ask him all the questions you like,” Unglar told her as he checked the guard’s pockets for keys.  He smiled wide displaying the two tusk-like teeth that grew from his bottom jaw. when he found a large ring of keys.


“We will have you free in no time,” Lord Tywell told him as he stepped from around the corner.  Lord Tywell’s face was swollen on the right side.  His eye had turned a dark shade of black that contrasted the redness of his inflamed lip.


“You don’t look very well m’lord,” Jarco told him.


“I am much better than the man who did this to me,” Tywell informed him.


Jarco looked to the man who had been his guard.  His eyes had popped out of their sockets from the jar of the half-ork’s blow and hung by stems on his cheeks.  Without even seeing the fate of the men or man that had beaten Lord Tywell, Jarco was quick to agree.


“I saw them take your weapons into that storeroom,” Jarco offered as Brianna unlocked his door.


“My ax,” Unglar asked.  “None of these Ronan chose to wield it did they?”


“No Unglar,” Jarco told him, “It took two of them to carry it.”  Unglar was pleased with the answer.


“Here is your sword back,” Brianna offered, “and a fine blade it is.”


“Thank you,” Jarco said, “If only I could wield it as you do.”


Unglar tried each key in the lock to the storeroom.  After seven keys failed to open the lock his temper flared and the keys were forgotten.  A quick kick splintered the wood of the door knocking it off the hinges.  His temperament calmed at the sight of his ax.  The half-ork cradled the weapon in his hands like a lost brother.


Brianna had the same reaction to her sword.  Each of them checked the edge on the steel for any imperfections that could have been caused during their separation.  Jarco’s blade was a much better quality than Brianna’s but she had cast it aside at just the thought of holding her own sword.  Maybe that was the bond that Jarco needed to find with his own blade.


Lord Tywell took the sword that the guard had used.  He held it with all the grace of a three-thumbed hairfoot.  It was obvious to Jarco that Brianna and Unglar would have to be the muscle in the group but he was still not sure what role he could play.


“Maybe, I should stay here,” he offered.


“Why,” Brianna asked.


“My sword already devastated your sister’s efforts, I won’t have it the cause of your failure as well,” explained Jarco.


“Your sword,” Brianna repeated, “You haven’t named your blade?”


“Um,” Jarco stumbled, “No.”


“Well, no wonder it rejects your hand,” Unglar put in.


“All great swords must have a name,” added Brianna.


Jarco wondered if the two were just trying to have some fun at his expense or if this name thing had some merit.  Unglar’s ax, “The Goblin Splitter”, was known to all goblins in the plains and “Dragontail”, Brianna’s sword, even had a bard song about it.  Could it be that steel longed for the same recognition as any knight?

Then you shall have a name, Jarco thought to himself as he ran after his party.  I will name you, “Smiling Death.”  He kept the thought to himself in case the two had been playing him for a fool. 


It could have been just his imagination, but the sword felt as if it settled more comfortably into his hand.  The steel became more a part of his arm than a piece of metal in his hand.  The coolness of the hilt soothed him like it never had in the past. 


The passageway out of the cells was unguarded.  Darious must have assumed that the four of them had no chance to escape from their cages.  This would have been true if not for the quick thinking half-ork.


When Jarco had asked Unglar how he had freed himself, he was shocked at the resourcefulness of the half-ork.  The old stereotypes of the ork had begun to fall apart as humans had come to really know them.  Once Jarco had thought the ork just a race of animals incapable of rational thought.  If there were any of those feelings left in the man, Unglar’s story had vanquished them.


The ork had fought the rage that was known to possess the ork race.  In battle, the rage was a very perilous thing.  An ork in a battle rage could hardly be stopped till the last drop of his lifeblood drained from his veins, but it also deprived them of any clear thinking.  Unglar, even as he was sinking into his rage, was able to comprehend that his strength would not prevail over the bars.  So, he used the rack and it’s chains to help him.


The half-ork had wrapped the chains around the cell door and tightened them as much as he could before the rage took over.  His enhanced rage strength in addition to the pressure from the chains was more than the door could withstand.  And by the time he was free, his battle rage was at the peek.  Jarco had remembered Lord Tywell’s comment about his attacker and cringed at the thought of what a raging ork could have done.


Lord Tywell’s presence in the dungeon was somewhat of a mystery in it’s self.  Jarco had never been one that was shy about asking the hard questions.  Being a jester for so long had given him an immunity to the restrictions placed by social graces.  So as they stood on the stairs to the castle halls, he had asked the question that all three of them had been thinking.


“M’lord,” Jarco started, “How did it come to be that you were held in a cell and not with the rest of council?”


“King Geiger had taken a special interest in me,” Tywell answered and meant to leave it at that.


Jarco was not satisfied with that answer.  Not only did it leave his question unanswered but it had made new ones spring to his lips.


“An interest,” Jarco joked, “I thought he already took a queen and you my friend would look just awful in a dress anyway.”


“It isn’t me in a dress that the king is concerned about,” Tywell admitted, “It is the dresses that I have been in that angers him.”


“Oh, stole a woman from the Mad King, did you,” Jarco pressed.


“Hardly,” Tywell laughed, “I used to frequent a brothel in Karal called Tully’s.”


“You bed the Queen of Whores,” Jarco announced remembering the stories he had heard of King Geiger’s lowborn queen.


Lord Tywell nodded at Jarco to confirm his suspicions. Jarco was more than a little surprised that the lord had frequented a brothel, even one as well known as Tully’s.  But he also knew that all men had their weaknesses and that it would be wrong to expect Lord Tywell to be any different.


“King Geiger came upon a book that Old Tully kept of the nobles that the queen had bed,” Lord Tywell informed, “The king has sworn to kill every man on the list by his own blade.”


“Do you think he will kill his own nobles in the book,” Jarco asked curious of how mad this king had really gone.


“He killed his brother when he found his name in the book.”


That answered Jarco’s question.  Yes, the king would kill his own.  Furthermore, this king had reached the end of a plain of madness that had once been thought endless.


“Then it is good that Unglar was able to free you,” Jarco concluded.


Lord Tywell did not answer him.  In fact, he did not even blink.  His face had frozen in a permanent glazed look.  Brianna and Unglar were five or six steps ahead of them and seemed to have suffered the same fate as Lord Tywell.  A familiar voice chimed out orders to people that Jarco could not yet see.


“Is every merc that I hired a complete idiot,” Darious screamed.


Jarco crept up the steps and peered between Unglar and Brianna.  He was careful not to let any see his movement.  Darious was standing in the hall just beyond the door.  In his hand, he held a small wand.  A plume of smoke rose from the end of the wand and dissipated into the air.


“Do you know how much I pay for charges on this wand,” he asked the two men with him.  They did not reply to the question, either not knowing or not caring about the answer.


Jarco had seen the wand before.  It was a gift from a noble of Ronan.  Most likely a payoff for some court action that need a vote.  All in the land knew whom to come to if a vote was what you needed.  For the right price, this man would sell his own father to a slaver.  It was hard to say what a wand of such value had purchased the noble.


“Slit the ork’s throat,” Darious told them.  “Make that the ork and the half-elf.”


Darious did not realize that he and Lord Tywell were in the staircase as well.  Jarco realized that it maybe the only advantage he would get in this fight.  He steadied his shaky sword arm and waited for the men to approach.


The first man got to the door and looked down on the four of them.  Jarco stood perfectly still. 


“Hey, you got four of them with that thing,” he called back to Darious.


“Four,” Darious asked.


“Yea, that jester and the old man were on the stairs behind them.”


The man had his back to Jarco.  While stabbing a man in the back did not strike Jarco as a very brave act, it did seem to be a necessary act.  Smiling Death plunged into the man’s unprotected back and ripped out the front of his chest.  The man died in mid laugh.


Jarco understood the power of that wand.  One blast from it would have him frozen in place for hours.  The jester pulled the dagger from his victim’s belt with his free hand and just as Darious was raising the wand, the dagger flew.  Jarco was not a great swordsman but he excelled at darts.


The dagger struck Darious in-betweens his thumb and forefinger.  The weapon cut a gash in the man’s hand sending the wand skipping across the floor.  When Darious saw Jarco step from the cover of the stairs, his face relaxed.  He made no move to retrieve his fallen wand.


“I won’t waste a charge on you,” Darious laughed, “Why don’t you just drop your sword now and save me the trouble.”


The other of Darious’ escorts chopped at Jarco’s head.  Smiling Death met the attacks with equal force.  Jarco waited and watched for a weakness.  Gone was the thought of his death that had always plagued his mind during battle.  All that existed in the world was his next move. 


He did none of his usual routines.  The jester had chosen them before he understood combat.  The routines were flashy and impressive to watch but took a great deal of energy.  Jarco could hardly do two of them without losing his breath.  He concentrated on the basics of the sword.  Simple, well timed blocks to redirect his foe’s blade the way he wanted it to go.  And he waited.


The guard’s sword arm had begun to tire.  Sweat poured from his body from the effort of his failed routines.  Jarco stood before him untouched by exhaustion.  His arm had barely moved the entire fight.  Frustration overpowered the guard and forced a fatal mistake.


As his blade met Jarco’s, the guard reached out a hand intent on grabbing the knight by his collar.  Jarco swayed his head making the grasp miss and then ducked under his arm pulling his blade along.  The angry steel cut deep across the man’s stomach from the right side of him all the way around the left.  For the first time in battle, the clang of a sword hitting stone was not that of Jarco’s.


“Well done,” Darious applauded. “Now be a good clown and drop the sword.”


He was not going to mix words with Darious.  Too many times he had seen Brianna unnerve her foe with just words.  Darious was known to be a great swordsman, one of the best in all of Ronan and that was all he had to care about.


“Very well,” Darious said, “I did hope to give you your old job back.  I did used to love watching you get pelted with pies and tomatoes.”


The words fell on deaf ears.  Nothing mattered to the knight but the blade of his foe.  The whole of his being was focused on that one thing and could not be deterred.


Darious drew his blade and met Jarco with a blazing routine.  It was far more advanced than the ones of the guard.  The same blocks were just as effective.  All Darious had to show for the impressive display of skill was a small cut where Jarco’s blade found a weakness in his defense.  The cut did not hurt, in fact, it only spotted a few drops of blood, but it was enough to shake the skinny Ronan.


“You think that means something,” Darious spat.  “Just because some tainted king touched you on the shoulders and called you a knight, you think you are one?”


Jarco’s ears heard the words but they did not get in.  The desired effect was lost.  Darious could see the determination in his foe’s eyes and was smart enough to respect it.  He abandoned the useless war of words and focused on his sword.


The dance of their knives was as stunning as any that had graced the tourney grounds.  At that moment not even Bigsby Littlefoot had ever handled a sword so well.  Neither of the combatants wasted energy with flashy moves for there was no one to impress.  This would be a long battle with only the victor living to tell the tale.


Darious had used every routine that he knew and had still failed to score even the tiniest of cuts on the fool.  He had to use a more drastic approach.


The skinny man fell back coaxing Jarco to attack.  He had hoped to excite the jester into opening up.  This did not happen.  Jarco made careful and direct attacks not exposing himself to any easy counters. 


Darious realized that he had taken his retreat too far when he felt the warmth of a body behind him.  He was startled at first letting Jarco score a light hit on his upper thigh.  He laid flat against Brianna’s body to dodge a slash of the jester’s sword.  In her belt Darious found his salvation.  His free hand gripped it and pulled it free hidden from his foe’s eyes.


With all the speed he had, Darious took the dance of knives high.  When Jarco was firmly dedicated to the high attacks, the Ronan swung his hand forward.  Brianna’s dagger sank deep into the meat of this right leg.  He staggered backward fighting the pain and his legs cry to buckle.  His balance was regained after his back came to rest against the wall.


Darious followed Jarco’s retreat waiting for him to halt.  As the jester hit the wall solidly, Darious plunged his sword at Jarco’s chest.  The jester was still aware enough to knock the blade off course.  The point sliced into his shoulder and hit the wall behind him with a crunch.


The Ronan withdrew his blade and moved again for the kill.  Jarco caught the strike in full on his blade.  Another attempt swung the blades around in a full circle.  When Darious felt Jarco’s grip on his sword slip, he smiled in delight.  The sight of the sword leaving his hand was heavenly.  Until the man realized where the sword was headed.


The sword turned round in the air on it’s way to the mark.  The throw was perfect and there was no stopping it.  The wand sat right in the blades path.





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