Book 2 – The Beta-Earth Chronicles Series
As the skies darkened and the fires became our main light, the bulky but powerful Legem lost his smile as he turned to Husband sitting next to him. “Honored guest,” the man pronounced thick, “I must tell you entertainments here are not what you may be accustomed to. Tonight, you must know, is not an eve of mere happy sport. My second son, the one we wish to send to one of your stadsems, must this eve accept his first wife from the daughters of our three villages. Our ways will seem crude to you. I will simple say you must interfere not with what you will witness this moonless night.”
Malcolm nodded as the man stood up and spoke loud in his native tongue. A young man, too young to boast a beard, came forward, kneeling his head to all of us before taking a place by his father. Suddenly, I knew what was coming. I slipped one of my hands through Malcolm’s fingers and laid the other over his wrist. I began whispering soft descriptions of what I saw.
As we listened to the murmurs of the seated crowd, three women emerged into the fire-light from each corner of the triangle of tables. Each woman, barely more than girls, were naked. Each wore faces of stern resolve. Eyeing each other full wary, they moved quick around the open area gathering what stones and rocks they could carry. When they came close to the fire-trenches, I studied the bodies of these women. To my eyes, the strongest was a tall, long-brown haired girl with long limbs, large eyes, and almost manly muscles. She was a head taller than the other two. Both shorter fighters were blonde-haired. One blonde had cropped her hair short and looked around her with fierce intelligence. The last girl, the shortest of the three, had looser locks and seemed to be a woman of a trade or craft and had lived not an outdoor life of hunting or farming. Her muscles were those not of one prepared for hard labors. Her eyes were dull and her movements listless. Judging by their movements, none of the three seemed experienced or trained in physical combat. This would be no demonstration in Kingrol or other skilled fighting.
Then, the three stood still near their corners. Each had one arm across their bellies holding their stone collections. Their free hands held one stone tightly. “Prepare to lower your head,” I told Malcolm,” The air may become thick with flying rocks.” I was correct. After a long minute of silence, the young man watching the game for his affections held up a horn and blew a long, deep note. With that, the three girls began hurling their weapons at each other. Around me, I heard laughs from the audience as they crouched low to avoid missent missiles. To my surprise, few stones missed their mark. I heard grunts and groans until all three had empty arms. “Now it begins,” I whispered.
Now with free hands, the combatants moved closer to the center of the field, each sizing up the other. If I were one of the blonde-ones, I thought as my heart began to pound, I’d team up and take out the tall one first. Against her, unskilled in such arts, neither of the others could possibly win. As if sensing my thoughts, the two shorter girls jumped at each other, scratching and punching as the brown-hair seemed to look on and wait. But then, the two light-hairs whirled and came at the brown. Her crooked smile, to my eyes, was premature. The girl with the intelligent leer lunged for her throat while the other danced a semi-circle behind her. Trying to watch both attackers, the brown was caught off guard as the littlest woman with the dull eyes jumped and wrapped herself around the brown’s knees, toppling her face forward to the ground.
The sound intensified as the grunts and cries were now almost lost in the beat of fists as the watchers began pounding a rhythm on the tables. Neither Malcolm nor I joined in as my hands clenched tight on my Husband. Out in the field, the brown-hair had twisted so her face was skyward. But her legs were trapped. While she flailed, the other blonde kept kicking her with her heels, striking hard blows on her cran and shoulders. Desperate, the brown tried to turn, and that was when a flying foot hit her exposed side. I heard a terrible crack – I certained a rib had been broken.
With that sound, the blonde who’d pinned the tall one’s legs let go and crouched back, studying the scene. The brown was rolling and crying, her hands on her side. I saw not the smiles of the other two, but the battle was now more even.
I looked at Malcolm, whose face was turned down. He said nothing and I felt sorrow. I was glad he could see this not. But I could keep my eyes not off the new combat and felt my own blood warm and my pulse quicken as if my heart was part of the fast pounding on the tables. It could have been me out there, primitive, savage, if not for the will of Olos. I raised one hand to circle my breasts with a protective loop. Then the two blondes flew at each other, both pushing their fingers in the other’s throats. “You waste force,” I muttered to myself, but neither heard me or would have understood. Instead, gasping and grunting, both fell to the ground, rolling and spitting. Then, the little one on the bottom – her eyes perhaps dull but her motions no longer listless – kicked up her knees, and her opponent flew near the fires. She jumped up and scrambled away from the hot blaze. The other laughed as she picked up two stones which she threw perfectly at the shorter girl. Then they were at it again, grappling and cursing and punching. Shocks of hair were pulled loose. Both faces darkened with blood.
Intense in their battle, neither noticed the brown-hair who was panting quiet but slowly rising to her knees. Her eyes were wild and bright as she painfully staggered to her feet. Silent, she moved toward the fight while the stouter of the blondes swung a hard fist square on the face of the little one with dim eyes. For one moment, she stood there, dazed. Then she crumbled to the ground. Too soon, the victorious blonde raised her fists high with a cry of triumph. But in that moment, the brown behind her quickly snaked her own arms beneath the other’s armpits and then wrapped her forearms behind the blonde’s cran. The seeming victor was now suspended in the air, her limbs flailing angrily.
Then, step by step, the brown slowly moved forward, bearing her burden closer and closer to a trench-fire. I saw the face of the blonde, now fearful and shocked. The brown-hair uttered, “Burn. Or yield.” The desperate blonde stopped moving her arms and tried to kick herself free. But the pair only moved forward, closer to the flames. The brown repeated, “Burn. Or yield.”
All around me, I heard breathing not. The drum-beat had stopped but I knew not the moment when sound had stilled. The meats in my belly rose to my throat in anticipation. Then we all heard the pitiful “I yield!” Then the brown whirled and flung her adversary away from the flames. In one moment, both women were lying on the ground.
Then, figures from two of the tables ran onto the field, the friends and family of the vanquished women collecting their wounded daughters. At the same time, the brown hair half-crawled, half-knelt her way to our table favoring her wounded side. Half her face was already swelling and turning ugly colors. She raised an open palm and slapped it on the wood before the Legem. “I have bled to share blood,” she panted hoarse. “I claim your son.”
The Blood of Balnakin, by Wes Britton, is available through these online booksellers. Click on any of these links to find out more.
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