Thraxas and the Ice Dragon / Траксас и леденият дракон: Деветнадесета глава

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Chapter Nineteen


By late afternoon, almost every noble in Elath has gathered in the vicinity of the tournament field. Word of Makri's impressive performances has spread. The Barons, either keen on sword-fighting, or keen on gambling, want to see her in action. I notice Mabados in the crowd. I should talk to him as part of my investigation but I've been putting it off. He's not going to be an easy man to interview. Lisutaris, having shaken off Kublinos, is waiting with Makri by the changing rooms.


"I brought you each a pie," I say.


Lisutaris looks with some disdain at the Samsarinan pastry. "Is it safe to eat?"


"Of course. I've had ten of them."


"I thought you ate nine in the contest?"


"I was still hungry afterwards."


Makri nibbles tentatively at the pastry, a sight I always find frustrating.


"Just eat the damned thing, you've got to keep up your strength."


Considering I have 1,410 gurans staked on her, I'm fairly calm as I lead Makri into the field for her last contest. I'm confident she'll win, although her opponent, Muxilos, has shown some good form. Both fighters need to win to qualify so there's a lot riding on the fight. As the match begins, he keeps himself well covered, evading Makri's initial attack, and then catching her out with a thrust of his shield, knocking her backwards.


"Makri still isn't good with that shield," I mutter to Lisutaris. "She's not used to it."


Makri rallies quickly, nimbly deflecting Muxilos's blade. She feints to attack and then, demonstrating her unnatural speed, she thrusts her sword towards her opponents throat. I'm on the point of cheering her victory when something odd happens. Makri is visibly jolted, as if by some unseen force. Her blade sails past Muxilos's throat. Makri is now out of position and Muxilos deals her a heavy blow on the shoulder.


"Half point to Muxilos!" cries the Marshal. The crowd roar.


"What's going on?" I yell. "They're cheating! Someone's using magic!"


Lisutaris has risen to her feet, knowing as well as I do that something untoward just happened. She scans the crowd, then looks towards the Tournament Sorcerer on his tower. The fight re-commences. Makri, for no visible reason, loses her footing. She's forced to defend desperately, down on one knee, while Muxilos presses his advantage. She's on the point of regaining her stance when the Marshal stops the fight again.


"Blow to the ribs!" he cries. "Half point to Muxilos!"


The crowd erupt. So do I. "There was no blow to the ribs! Cheats! They've bribed the Marshal!"


Makri is now really up against it. She has two half-points against her, a Marshal who's apparently biased, and a mysterious attack of sorcery to deal with.


"Do something!" I yell at Lisutaris. She doesn't reply. Her lips are compressed as she scans the crowd. Suddenly there's another great roar. Makri suffers another jolt, freezes for a fraction of a second, and Muxilos's sword comes down on her shoulder again. The Marshal waves his flag, signalling a third-half point. One more and Makri will lose the fight. I yell at Lisutaris again. "Do something!"


"Stop shouting," says Lisutaris. "You're not helping." She turns her left hand palm upwards, clenches her fist, then murmurs something I can't make out. I turn back to the fight, hoping that whatever Lisutaris did, it will end the attacks on Makri. Muxilos, now very confident, moves in quickly. Makri's sword and shield seem to be hanging too low. It's difficult to see exactly what happens next, but Makri, with some combination of sword and leg, sweeps his feet from under him. He crashes to the ground and his helmet flies off. Makri stands over him, her foot pinning down his sword-arm and her own sword at his throat. There's a huge cheer from the crowd. The Marshal looks surprised. It seems to take him forever to make a decision, but really he has no choice.


"Lethal stroke," he calls. "Victory to Makri."


Immediately the fight ends I sprint towards the Marshal. "What was that about?" I scream. "None of these hits made contact! And there was sorcery! What sort of crooked operation are you running here?"


The Marshal turns on his heel and walks off without replying. I'm about to pursue him when Lisutaris grabs my collar.


"We have to go."


"Go? We have to sort this out."


"We don't have time. We're due at the meeting. I'll have words with the Tournament Sorcerer later. Makri, are you all right?"


"I'm fine." Makri winces as she takes off her helmet. She rubs her injured shoulder. "But the sorcery made it difficult. Didn't everyone see it?"


"It was subtly done," says Lisutaris. "And it came from a powerful source. It took me a while to deflect it."


As always, Makri is wearing a spell-protection necklace, made from Red Elvish Cloth. I wear one exactly the same. They protect us from the worst excesses of sorcery, which probably helped Makri resist the attack as well as she did. General Hemistos is waiting for us at the edge of the field.


"Fantastic performance Makri!" he enthuses. "Touch and go for a while, but you did it." The General falls into step with her. "Going to the Ambassadors' meeting? Splendid."


Kublinos appears, and sidles his way up to Lisutaris. I find myself walking on my own, while the General and Kublinos do their best to fascinate Makri and Lisutaris. I don't mind. I'm not in the mood for casual conversation. I'm troubled by what just happened. Now that's she's qualified, Makri has a lot of fights ahead of her. She can't afford to lose a single one. The main tournament is a straight knockout competition. The winner goes through to the next round, the loser goes home.


We pass the Bathing Houses on our way to the Royal Samsarinan Assembly Hall. By this time I'm in the midst of a long, loose straggle of Barons, Sorcerers, Generals and Ambassadors, all making their way to the meeting. It's not officially a War Council, as representatives from all nations aren't here yet, but it might as well be. Important matters of strategy have to be decided. The Orcs have stolen a march on us by taking Turai during the middle of winter. As soon as the roads in the East are passable, more Orcish hordes will be heading out from the Orcish lands to meet up with their leader, Prince Amrag. We've been talking about re-taking Turai, but a more realistic scenario might be the Orcs sweeping their way west before we've even had time to get ourselves organised.


The Assembly Hall is full of men in dark cloaks. Dignitaries here don't wear togas as they did in Turai. I find that odd. Not fully civilised. There are very few women, the only others apart from Lisutaris and Makri being two senior Sorcerers. There's a lot of milling around, and I notice the Simnian Ambassador deep in conversation with several Niojan diplomats. A delegation from the small nation of Juval has just arrived in Elath, and they've come straight to the Assembly Hall, still dressed in their riding clothes. Lisutaris and Kublinos are engaged in conversation with Barons Vosanos and Girimos. Makri, taking her duties as bodyguard seriously, stays close, silently watchful. I attempt to look like a Special Adviser, though I'm hoping no one asks me for advice, particularly as I'm distracted by the aroma of roasting venison.


"Is there going to be food?" I ask.


Lisutaris ignores me but Baron Girimos breaks off the conversation to sniff the air. "Yes! Venison! Excellent. You know, Thraxas, I've been to meetings here where there's been no food at all."


"That's just not acceptable. You can't do important business on an empty stomach."


"That's what I always say!" cries the Baron.


I like Baron Girimos. He's a man who cares about the important things in life. I can't say the same for Baron Vosanos, who's irritated at the interruption. Vosanos is a tall, lean man, who has a fancy fur collar on his cloak and a jewelled clasp at the neck, neither of which are quite in keeping with the seriousness of the occasion. I don't know that much about Vosanos, though he did fight in the Orc wars, so he can't be all bad. Baron Mabados approaches with his son Orgodas, who's due to marry Vosanos's daughter. They share a friendly greeting before Mabados turns to me, glares angrily, then asks me if it's true I've been interfering with his household by asking questions and making trouble. Not wanting to reflect badly on Lisutaris, I do my best to answer tactfully.


"I did have a few minor questions, Baron. Nothing of real importance."


"There will be no more questions, minor or otherwise," announces the Baron. "I'm not having an unwelcome outsider disturbing my family."


I remain silent. That doesn't satisfy Mabados.


"Well?" he demands.


"Well what?"


"Are you going to give up this annoying investigation?"




The Baron moves closer. "You Turanians amaze me. Here you are, a bedraggled refugee, a guest in our country, and what do you do? Start bothering important people with your impertinent questions. Really, Lisutaris, have you no control over this man?"


If it's an uncomfortable moment for Lisutaris, she doesn't let it show. "My Chief Adviser is experienced in investigation. If someone engages him for that reason, I see nothing wrong with it."


"What does the death of a woman at the Record House have to do with him? The matter was already investigated."


"It's possible that King's Steward Daringos may have overlooked a few details," I say, still trying to be tactful.


"What details? It was an accident. And if there were any doubts, it would be for me to pursue the matter, not you. I'm presiding Baron in Elath and I'm ordering you to end this investigation."


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