No context, no introductions, no info dumps. Just an unedited chunk of a chapter from close to the middle of what I'm working on. Let me know what you think could be improved or what you enjoy and don't think I should change!
The buzz of the pre-tournament pageant could be heard from almost a mile away. Angus dragged Sinrith along the path faster and faster.
“We’re not here for children’s games and puffed-up paraders!” Sinrith grumped as they entered the tourney grounds.
“Oh come on! Don’t you want the chance to show off your magic a little bit? Make some money off some ‘hapless townsfolk’ on our way to Cloud City?”
Sinrith paused to consider. “Fine, but we still need to find that hill troll and that dagger,”
“Yeah, yeah,” Angus waved him off as he went to investigate whatever diddy the band of musicians were playing.
There were three of them, all dressed as bugs. One stood and strummed a lute as he sung, he wore a bronze cap with two eye stalks sewn onto it and a short cape covering his white linens underneath. Strapped to his back was an imitation snail shell. The grooves of the shell were embroidered with silvery thread that looked like a snail trail. One played the fiddle dressed as a grasshopper. She had on goggles that resembled bug eyes and wiry antennae. Angus imagined that it would be very hard for her to see what she was playing while wearing it. Stitched under her tailcoat was a complicated looking abdomen piece complete with fake legs and wings. The third musician was seated, and running her fingers across a large harp. She wore a jumpsuit sewn to look like brilliant blue butterfly wings. Her dark hair was styled into tall braided cones on top of her head similar to feelers, but they didn’t quite match the realism of the eyes stalks or the faux antennae of the other two musicians.
A small crowd fanned out around them to listen to them play. Angus stood at the very back, trying to bend to see them through the throng of people, but the old man in front of him kept moving every time Angus managed to get a good view.
The old man turned to the person standing next to him, “They’re no good without Parzival’s boy. What kind of band thinks they can play without a pan-pipist!”
Angus moved on. He wanted to see as much of the celebrations as he could before they had to track down Godbert. And he wasn’t disappointed by what he found.
There were puppet shows, and a ring toss game, and stilt walkers dressed as lilies and dandelions. There was an acrobat doing tricks in hoops and on silks. There were card tables and checkers boards. There were carts of carnival foods, potato rings and steamed buns, hard candies and caramels, sausages and onions in bread, and strange blue star-shaped cookies.
And there was a betting booth set up, for when everything all kicked off.
Angus stood by a food cart and inhaled the smells. He and Sinrith had lived off of nothing but eggs, hartack and whatever they could steal out of people’s vegetable patches for almost a week. It had been absolutely miserable. He was so glad to finally be around real food.
He eavesdropped in on two men nearby whilst he took in the lovely caramel smell that floated through the air.
“I’ve got my money on Rocco. He would have won last year if it hadn’t been for that stupid Lord’s son entering last minute!” Said one.
“Rocco’s in it this year? Haven’t seen him at all,” Said the other.
The first man pointed, “They’re all in that tent, trying to stop ‘em from getting drunk before they have to fight.”
“Fair enough, don’t want a repeat of last year. Bloody disaster that was,”
“Have you heard about that hedge knight?”
Angus stopped listening. He craned his head to see the tent where they were supposedly keeping the men who would be fighting in the tourney. It was hard to spot but it was there. Far off, behind all of the booths and acrobats and musicians, was a red and blue striped tent and a roped off section of field where they would, presumably, be kicking each other's heads in.
He headed off to find Sinrith.
Angus turned, and collided with something solid enough to knock him to the ground.
“My apologies,” Said a man’s voice, as whoever had knocked him over pulled him back up. Angus stared up at a clean-shaven man in a green cape. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you,” The man said.
“Sorry,” Said Angus, “I have somewhere to be,” He turned and sped off in the opposite direction. He had learned from the fortune teller, and the polecat, and the Lord of the Hillfort. If a stranger has been ‘meaning to talk to you’, it was generally a bad idea to hear them out about it.
When Angus finally found Sinrith after spending half an hour searching in the crowd, the wizard had gathered a group of small children around him under the guise of showing them a magic trick. But, given how the pair had met, Angus knew that what he was actually trying to do was to get any and all money from them that he could.
“I don’t get it,” Said a little girl in pink in the front row as Angus approached.
“What do you mean, ‘you don’t get it’, it’s magic?” Sinrith was exasperated, “The point is that you don’t get it,”
He asked her for another coin so that he could make it disappear. But as she reached into her coin purse, Angus caught Sinrith by the arm.
“Come on,” Said Angus, “I found where they’re keeping the competitors,”
And with that, Sinrith stopped trying to con the group of five year-olds out of their pocket money.
They snuck around the betting booth to the striped tent at the edge of the field. Angus could finally get a good look at the tourney set-up. There was a set of wooden stands that had been built around it for people to sit, with the seats higher up having nice velvet chairs and shade from the sun for the higher-paying spectators. Nearby to the entrance of the ring was a scoreboard, with little shields representing each competitor. There were sixteen shields on the board, meaning that there would be four rounds and fifteen fights in total. Only eight would make it to round two, four to round three, and the fourth and final round would be fought between the best two of the day.
People were starting to move from the pageant-ground to the stands, finding their seats. And the weapons were being laid out on tables, ready to be used.
It seemed that if Sinrith and Angus wanted to talk to Godbert before the tourney started, they would have to find him quickly.
The competitors were let out of the tent to mingle with the crowd. Seeing their chance, the pair cornered the first hill troll they came across. Skinny and long-limbed, and presumably wandering off to use the loo before everything kicked off.
“Are you Godbert?”
“Why do you ask?” Said the scrawny young hill troll.
He had brownish-green skin and cropped dark hair. The clothes he wore were tattered and the same khaki shade as his skin. There was nothing about him that suggested he was dangerous in any way, much to the dismay of Angus.
He had hoped, based on the description in the invitation and the concerned looks from the other hill trolls when they had asked for him back in their camp, that Godbert would be some sort of blade-wielding rogue. Who travelled the countryside getting in fights and bets and causing trouble wherever he went. The reality was very underwhelming.
“We are world renowned questers,” Said Sinrith.
“World renowned!” Echoed Angus for emphasis.
“And you see,” Sinrith continued, “We are on a quest, as is our job, for the Mayor of Cloud City. It is to our understanding that you have something of his. Something pointy and er-perhaps… dagger-shaped?”
“What about it?” Godbert crossed his skinny arms across his chest.
“Can we have it?” Asked Angus.
“No. I won that dagger fair and square!”
“We understand that,” Said Sinrith, “But you see, us getting the dagger off of you is sort of a pre-quest for a larger quest. And well, given that we are experienced questers, it would be a very bad look if we showed up to the larger quest empty-handed,”
“Experienced questers? Really? Because from here it looks like you’re an Ersatz-huffing old man and you’re a little boy,”
Being called a ‘little boy’ riled Angus up, “We have an invitation!”
He ripped off his rucksack and rummaged through the bottom to find the crumpled golden envelope. When he found it he held it out for Godbert to read. Which he did.
He looked at the pair contemplatively. They may not have been very good liars, Angus thought, but the invitation was very very real.
“Fine,” He said, “I believe you,”
Godbert thought through what he was going to say next, his dark eyes squinted and his brows furrowed. Sinrith and Angus exchanged a glance, wondering what bargain they would have to enter into to get their hands on the dagger.
The young hill troll seemed to be weighing up the pros and cons in his head. He was certainly taking his time with the decision.
Angus’ imagination ran wild. Maybe they would have to fight an evil witch to get him a new magical dagger? Maybe he would make them give over all their worldly possessions in exchange? Maybe he would ask Sinrith to conjure him piles of gold?
Godbert scrunched his face. A decision made.
“If you help me win, I’ll give you the dagger.”
Sinrith and Angus looked at one another. They could manage that.
The tourney line up was interesting to say the least. Sinrith had explained on the journey that this was an open tournament, meaning anyone from any walk of life could compete.
Normally at tournaments in larger kingdoms and cities, only princes and knights from noble families were allowed. Along with the idea that it was about proving your manliness and chivalry and earning the respect of whomever ran said competition. But, in rural tourneys it was a free for all. Anyone could sign up, at their own risk. Any and all weapons were allowed and sabotage was commonplace. Small tourneys weren’t about proving yourself or providing glory to your family name, but only about providing entertainment. Anything was fair game as long as it got a cheer from the crowd.
Therefore, the competitors were incredibly varied. There were baker’s boys and travelling sellswords, there were goblins and hill trolls, dwarfs and brownies. All lined up to win some of the people’s gold.
There was only one rule for each round, you had to get your opponent to the ground. Didn’t matter how.
Godbert stuck out like a sore thumb. He was short and built like a stack of twigs. With knobbly knees and elbows and long stick-thin limbs. Despite being almost twenty-six, he was barely taller than twelve year-old Angus, who self-admittedly was a bit of a late bloomer. The poor hill troll could barely hold up his spear, which had been his weapon of choice. Rather than the dagger, which he had tucked in his boot, far away from Angus and Sinrith’s eager hands.
Most of the other competitors were at least a head taller than him, and all were built for combat. The four human men - a hedge knight, the blacksmith’s son, a mercenary who was also travelling to Cloud City, and a baker’s apprentice - were all broad and muscled. The two dwarves, despite being well… dwarves, carried sharpened picks and axes which they had experience wielding with accuracy. The goblin swung a scythe around and around above its head, that boasted a handle covered in iron spikes. And Sinrith had told Angus that despite their cutesy name, Brownies were notoriously malicious when provoked. They would bite, claw at, or hex anyone they thought to be a threat.
And, while Godbert wasn’t the only hill troll in the running, he was certainly the smallest and scrawniest. The other hill troll towered over everyone who stood next to him, and had limbs as thick and bark-ish as tree trunks.
He didn’t stand a chance against the others.
Angus hadn’t the faintest clue to how short stringy Godbert had ended up winning a dagger off of the Mayor of Cloud City. Especially if he was as ruthless and unforgiving as Sinrith had said.
“How?” He said. “How the hell are we going to make sure he wins?”
Sinrith turned to him, “We don’t need to make sure he wins. We need to make sure the others loose,”
That got the wheels in Angus’ brain turning.