|Английски оригинал||Перевод на български|
Makri's visor covers her face. Tournament rules state that all entrants must be fully armoured. As well as the helmet, Makri is wearing a metal gorget to protect her neck, and a thick steel breastplate. Her leggings are covered in chainmail, with steel plates hanging over her thighs, and there are more metal plates on her upper arms and forearms. It's all much heavier than the armour Makri would normally wear. I hope she's adapted to it. I'm not sure how often she's worn it for practice.
I make my way to her side and escort her into the tournament field. The field is roughly circular, with banks of wooden seats set up for spectators, making it into a temporary arena. There's a good crowd. While excitement during the early rounds is not exactly fevered, everyone is eager to see if there might be any new talents coming through. In the centre of the field, the presiding Marshal, in his distinctive red costume, checks her equipment. He studies the edge of her sword, making sure it's properly blunted, then examines her shield, checking that the rim hasn't been illegally sharpened. He glances at her armour. The Marshal is meant to ensure that no one's armour is deficient in any way, but in truth his examination is quite perfunctory. While the organisers do make a public display of protecting fighters' safety, the general feeling is that you enter at your own peril. If your helmet is so poorly made that it shatters under the impact of a sword, that's your problem.
The Marshal checks Makri's opponent. I couldn't find out much about him, other than his name is Parasas, and he's from Nioj, which is unusual. Niojans don't go in for tournament fighting, as a rule. He stares at Makri. Makri stares back at him. His manager stares at me. I stare back at his manager. The Marshal waves us back and we retreat, leaving our fighters behind us. Lisutaris is waiting for me at the edge of the field. Behind her are several Barons, two ambassadors, some Sorcerers, and General Hemistos, all here to see how Makri performs.
On the northern edge of the field there's a small wooden tower, another temporary construction. Sitting at the top is Markinos Moonstone, tournament Sorcerer. It's his responsibility to ensure that no one cheats by using magic. It's not unknown for Sorcerers to influence fights by boosting a combatant's abilities, particularly if there's a lot of gambling involved. A competent tournament Sorcerer should be able to detect and prevent this. I've no idea how competent Markinos is. Lisutaris thinks he's probably honest, though she has little regard for his abilities.
There are few formalities. The Marshal has a staff with a small yellow pennant. He raises it, then brings it down, starting the fight. Makri and Parasas approach each other. Each has their sword in their right hand and a small, round shield in their left. I don't like the way Makri carries her shield. It looks too casual. Parasas lunges in first. Makri easily blocks his blow, and counters immediately. I'm half-expecting her to land a lethal stoke, such is her speed, but Parasas blocks in turn. He's fast. Quite talented as well I'd say, from the way he next attacks. Makri blocks his sword but he hits her with his shield. Makri is knocked backwards. She thrusts with her sword but it passes over Parasas shoulder. He advances very quickly. To my surprise, Makri loses her footing, something she would never normally do. Parasas swings a blow at her neck, which connects, making a loud clanging noise. Fighters are not meant to deal mortal blows, but no one holds back much, and it's a powerful strike. The crowd roars. Makri stumbles backwards. The Marshal leaps in-between the fighters, raising his staff.
"Lethal Stroke!" he cries. The fight is over. Makri has lost.
I set off at a run, worried in case the blow has wounded Makri. By the time I reach the centre of the field, Makri is on her feet, shouting at the Marshal.
"What do you mean I lost? I didn't lose! You didn't count my blow to his neck!"
"You didn't hit his neck," says the Marshal.
"I did! You're just too slow to see it."
"I didn't miss! And something made me lose my footing! I've been cheated!"
Makri is furious. I know there's no point arguing. The Marshal isn't going to change his mind. Even if she did get in a strike which the Marshal didn't see, she still suffered a knockdown, and a very obvious hit to the neck. It was a poor performance. As I escort Makri from the field, she's still complaining furiously.
"Something grabbed my ankle! Someone must have used a spell against me."
I didn't feel any sorcery in the arena. Neither did Markinos Moonstone, or he'd have called it. We come to a halt beside Lisutaris. The Sorceress is very pale, probably imagining the financial catastrophe that threatens to engulf her.
"Are you all right?" she asks.
"Yes. I'm sorry I lost."
"Bad luck," says General Hemistos. Behind the General, Baron Mabados, Lasat, Charius and several others are making no attempt to hide their amusement. Lisutaris's much-vaunted bodyguard, claimed by the Sorceress to be a champion gladiator, has lost her first fight to an unknown outsider. Makri is seething with fury and humiliation. "The next fight will be different," she says.
Makri walks off. Lisutaris and I follow her. We walk as quickly as we can back to Lisutaris's carriage. I ask Lisutaris if she sensed any sorcery in the arena. She shakes her head. The three of us clamber into the two-person carriage. I take the reins. As we ride off, I can feel my own anger rising. I've lost my bet on Makri winning her fight, and we have no money in reserve. I knew she didn't prepare properly. I decide to give her a piece of my mind.
"Well that was a waste of time," I say, by way of getting started. "You - "
I don't make it any further. Makri bursts into tears. It's a shocking sight, both for myself and Lisutaris. We ride home in silence, save for Makri's sobs, which go on for a long time. I try and think of something comforting to say, but nothing comes. Makri, champion gladiator of the Orcish lands, undefeated in combat since she appeared in the West, has just lost her first fight in a tournament, and nothing I say is going to make that better.