Sample story from Magic and Melee

Knight Training

The rattle of metal on metal disturbed the quiet of the practice yard. Two squires of the Michaeline order trudged into the muddy space; they shivered a little in the cold air, clouds of vapor forming just in front of their mouths. They wore mail shirts over light leather jerkins. Leather leggings and boots covered their lower half. In their hands, each carried a thick wooden practice sword and a poorly made metal shield.

The first lad was young Ambrose, squire to Sir Gawain, one of the most respected knights in the Order of St. Michael. Ambrose was lean and wiry and still growing at the tender age of sixteen. His clear blue eyes sparkled and he was beginning to acquire the straight nose and chiseled strong chin of his father.

Just behind him came Shard, the half-orc. Although he looked mostly human, expect for some much needed dental work and a low brow that made him appear more animalistic than the average man, he was not fully human — a fact few forgot. Worse still, he was a bastard, a product of a crude rape. Only the fact that Shard's mother had been a nun of the Order gave the child a chance at a decent life. Few knew the exact details of how Shard had entered the service of St. Michael, but everyone knew who he was, the music-playing orc with an indifferent mentor.

Behind the squires, came two older men; Sir Gawain, Ambrose's master and mentor, and General Kirkland, the knight responsible for training all squires in the Order. Gawain was a tall man with close set gray eyes. The hair at his temples was white, but the rest of it still retained the auburn coloring of his youth. The knight was dressed in red leathers and a polished breastplate with the crest of the order, a silver sword, hilt towards heaven, on a field of crimson, emblazoned on it.

General Kirkland was an older man and much shorter than Gawain, coming only up to the other man’s shoulder. Gray filled his hair and mustache, but his eyes were keen pools of sienna, darting from place to place and taking in much that others missed. Like his fellow Michaeline, Kirkland wore red leather and a polished breastplate.

The two squires walked into the middle of the yard and faced each other. They paused waiting for the word to begin. General Kirkland stood off to the side next to Sir Gawain and addressed the squires.

“As you know, we hold practice bouts such as this one so that I can assess your skills and determine what further training you require. What you may not know is I am not interested in fancy swordplay as such things will not save your life should you be confronted by a goblin or a ghost. Rather, I want to see how you react to battle and how you defend yourself. What techniques do you use to get passed your opponent's defenses? These are the important things.

“So do your best and fight fairly as honorable knights would.

“Combat will continue until I say stop or there is a clear victor. Begin.”

The two youths moved sideways and in opposite directions, as if to circle around the other while studying their opponent. Then Shard stepped closer and Ambrose charged forward. The half-orc brought his sword down on the human, but Ambrose blocked it with his shield. The force of the blow sent the good-looking lad staggering backwards. Shard pressed his advantage; Ambrose recovered quickly and was ready for the next attack, blocking it with his shield.

Ambrose made a half-hearted jab with sword.

Shard knocked it away with his weapon.

From the sidelines Gawain and Kirkland watched impassively. “Where's Sir Uriel, Shard's master?”

Kirkland shook his head and shrugged. “I don’t know. He doesn’t seem to pay much attention to his charge. I suppose it is his way of objecting to training the youngling.”

“And you paired Shard against Ambrose. Why?”

“Because they are about the same age and skill level, from what I can tell. They should be evenly matched.”

“Except that Shard isn’t human.”

“True. Shard may be a little stronger but that should keep Ambrose on his toes.”

“One wonders why Shard is allowed to continue training without his master's supervision?”

Kirkland gave Gawain a sidelong look. “And penalize the lad because of Uriel’s tantrum? That hardly reflects the principles we stand for.”

Gawain was silent for a moment. “Yes, of course,” he said at last. “I was foolish to suggest otherwise.”

Ambrose landed a solid blow on Shard’s shield and the half-orc stepped back to give himself time to recover.

The blue-eyed squire marched forward giving his opponent no time to rest. But those few seconds were enough for Shard and he swung his shield up so fast, he caught Ambrose on the side of his head, sending him sprawling back and into the mud.

A moment later, Shard sprang forward, kicking Ambrose's sword away and bearing the point of his sword to his adversary’s chest.

“Foul!” cried Sir Gawain.

“Halt!” said Kirkland.

Shard stepped back from Ambrose and looked up at General Kirkland. Slowly Ambrose got to his feet.

“You have a protest to lodge, Sir Gawain?” asked Kirkland.

“Yes. Use of his shield as a weapon is a violation of the rules.”

“I'll admit it is unorthodox, but it is exactly the sort of cunning and quick thinking I'm trying to assess. That’s worth a few points for Shard.”

“Nevertheless, he cheated.”

“I do not think so ... but I will declare the match a draw.” Addressing the squires, Kirkland said, “You may both retire to your chambers.”

Ambrose and Shard inclined their heads and watched Kirkland withdraw to gate through which they had first come.

Shard stepped up to Ambrose. “No hard feelings.” His voice was thick and gravelly. He held out his hand.

The human youth looked at his opponent and at his outstretched hand and after a long pause he shook it. “No hard feelings.”

Shard smiled, careful not to show any teeth, then he inclined his head to Sir Gawain and left the yard following after General Kirkland.

Ambrose picked up his sword and went over to his master. “Sorry for losing the combat.”

“You didn't lose. He cheated. They always cheat.”

“But Shard's attack isn't strictly forbidden.”

“But it has no place in a fair fight.”

“No, sir.”

“I don’t even know why it is allowed to train for knighthood,” observed Gawain. “It can never succeed.”

“It? You mean Shard.”

“Yes, the bastard orc.”

Ambrose's eyes widened. “Why can’t he succeed at becoming a knight? He’s as skilled as the rest of the squires.”

“Would you elevate it and make it equal to us?”

Ambrose felt his throat catch.

“Now let’s get you cleaned up so you can go about your chores.”

“Yes, sir,” said the youth as he slowly followed Gawain out of the yard.

The yard grew quiet again and was still for a moment. Then a few mournful notes from a recorder wafted down from an open window. Shard, standing in the window, had heard Gawain’s remarks. The lip of the instrument was in his mouth.

A tear ran down his cheek.