Rorg bull-rushed his opponent. His opponent panicked. Making a hasty retreat, he lifted his head exposing the vulnerable flesh between his helmet and his breastplate. It was precisely what Rorg wanted. Rorg plunged his golden sword into its target, and quickly spun around, shield up. Dong! Someone had been sneaking up on him and tried to slash his back open. Rorg bashed his shield into someone without looking. No need to look. His new opponent staggered back. Rorg took a step forward, and then leaped into the air, brandishing his golden sword. He thrust it downwards as he fell, piercing breastplate, breast bone, and heart. The sword was stuck, so he held his foot on the corpse as he yanked it out. There weren’t many contenders left. He ran over to where Tar was fending off two meaty warriors. Rorg dashed in close and slashed the sword arm of one and the thigh of the other. Tar would finish them off. It wasn’t a favor. There were no favors, no alliances, no pacts in the Glory Arena. It was just… good business. There was no time to think about it. Rorg ran over to a Spare and easily dispatched him. It’s nothing personal, but he was never going to make it. It was a mercy kill as far as Rorg was concerned. Another Spare rushed at Rorg. Rorg feigned left and stabbed the stumbling man in the side. The field was looking thin now. Rorg found a Spare curled in the fetal position on the ground. Rorg dropped his shield and picked up the Spare by the hair and put the golden chipped sword to his throat. He looked at His Holiness the Eternal Emperor for permission. A distant arm extended giving a thumbs up. The trumpets announced that the day’s Champion’s Skirmish was over. Rorg helped the pitiful man to his feet.
“Congratulations, Spare. You’re a Champion now.” said Rorg.
“Th-thanks. My name’s Fob. Why did you call me a Spare?”
“Hm, you’re such a Spare. Spares are new people. Used as spare shields.”
“Oh. Yeah, I guess you’re right… Well thanks for sparing me…” said Fob, though Rorg had already walked off.
“Wait!” Yelled Fob. Fob ran to Rorg’s side. “You forgot your shield.”
“Oh. You take it. I gotta buy a new one.”
“Wow! Thank you! I don’t even know your name.”
“Well thank you, Rorg. How can I repay you?”
“By staying out of my way.”
“How about I watch your back?”
“You don’t talk much do you?”
“Ok. Fair enough. Thank you again, and I’ll see you out on the field.”
Rorg hated Fob already. He screamed Spare in his every aspect, from the way he walked, to the way he talked. He seemed to be fine in the muscle department, but muscles are only part of the story, as Rorg well knew. Rorg started at 18, as a lanky farm boy. That was 5 years ago. He killed countless Spares with bigger muscles than Fob in that time.
Rorg walked up to the Bounty Counter inside the Champion’s Den. 200 gold coins was the reward for survival, plus 10 gold coins for each kill, gave him 280 gold coins. Combined with his savings, that was just barely enough for a new shield. He walked over to the Armory. He reached down his trousers for his savings pouch. It was the only safe place to keep saved coins. He painfully calculated and counted out (math was never his strong suit) the exact right number to purchase this shield he’d been eyeing all week. It was gold, thick, light weight, and best of all, had a razor edge for the rare occasion he was without a sword. On the front was an etched picture of the sun with wavy tendrils emanating from the center, and a stoic face.
Rorg went to sleep easy that night. It was always easy on Skirmish night, and always difficult on Skirmish eve.
He woke up with the sun. He rolled out of bed and began his morning regimen of push ups, squats, and sit ups. He had 6 days left to prepare for the next battle. Each day played out the same as it did the last week. He practiced fighting straw dummies, re-read over and over the fighting strategy and technique tomes, and performed calisthenics. It wasn’t mandatory, of course. But there was a reason he was still around after all this time. He treated each week like it was his first and possibly his last.
A memory of his first week bubbled up. He got no sleep because it was too cold and he hadn’t earned enough to purchase a blanket. Instead he exercised over night and through the next day until he passed out from exhaustion. On the Friday before the Skirmish he found a bouquet of 3 flowers wrapped in twine: One sprig of white heather, a sprig of solomon’s seal, and a single yellow daisy. It was trash as far as he was concerned. Maybe it was some weird initiation prank someone was playing on him. His fist hovered over the trash bin. Something caught his attention, but he couldn’t tell what. Then it hit him. The smell. The yellow flower wasn’t a daisy. It was a rudbeckia. Rudbeckias weren’t even in season. In fact, the other flowers must have been imported from some far away country. This would the most elaborate and stupidest prank he’d ever seen. He tossed the flowers and didn’t think any more of it. He had to focus on the fight ahead of him the next day.
Luckily, he survived his first fight, but just barely. He bled profusely and managed to kill only one other. By the time his second Friday arrived, he had forgotten the first batch of flowers entirely. Except there on his cot was another bouquet. This one had sage, a peach colored rose, and another sprig of white heather. There was no way this was a coincidence. It reminded him of when he was a kid. There were always a few flowers in a vase at home. His mother taught him something about the “Language of Flowers.” His father always brought red roses or red tulips or other flower that meant “Love”. His mother brought Forget-Me-Nots to mean “True Love” or honeysuckle to mean “Bonds of Love” depending on what was in season. He wondered if these in his hand flowers meant something. He racked his brain. Sage meant “health.” The peach colored rose was “congratulations.” White heather meant “good luck.” He closed his eyes and tried to remember the flowers he threw away last week. White heather for good luck, just like this week. Solomon’s seal meant, “Secret.” Rudbeckia meant, “Justice.” “Justice for what?” Rorg wondered. “For the burning of our farm? For the slaughter of my family? For enslaving me in this ‘Champion’s Farce.’ Yeah right. Must mean something else.”
That was a long, long time ago. That was the last time he received solomon’s seal or rudbeckia. There were only ever 3 branches and they were usually used for warnings. Today there was a sprig of wolfsbane. Literally, wolfsbane meant “Misanthropy,” but the last time he received wolfsbane, they brought in a few champions from another arena. He didn’t sleep easy that night. Instead he visualized different fighting counters he read about that day until he drifted into a daze.
He woke before the sunrise today and did his morning routine workout early. The battle wouldn’t begin until noon today, so he had nothing to do but wait. He didn’t want to work out because he didn’t want to tire himself out. He couldn’t read because he couldn’t focus with all of the nervous energy bouncing around inside of him. Instead, he just sat on his cot and alternated between meditation, polishing his armor, and sharpening his sword. Finally the trumpets sounded. He donned his gear and strolled onto the field. He took his helmet from under his arm and slid it on. It had a single fin running from front to back, jaw guards that ran up to his chin, and fearsome carvings around his eye slits. It cost almost as much as the breastplate, and it was worth every coin. His breastplate was made of 4 shiny gold plates layered over his torso to allow flexibility. His shoulder guards were giant and had a large rim to protect his neck from wild swings. There were many important features of his suit of armor, but the most important was that it gleamed in the sunlight. It looked like it was made of pure gold. Most Champions left him alone, especially the ones that hadn’t saved up enough for a blunt weapon.
Tar was easy to spot, both because he was 7 feet tall, and because the other Champions kept their distance from him too. Fob was behind him, now armed with a full body shield. It wasn’t a bad purchase. Many weapons could be picked up from the dead soon enough.
The trumpets sounded again. Rorg bounded forward and dispatched a Spare from behind. To his right was another Spare. The Spare saw Rorg coming, dropped his standard issue shield and sword and started sprinting away. He ran smack into a different Champion. That Champion had an insane happy face, armed with two small curved daggers. The Spare crumpled to the floor and the crazed Champion started running for Rorg. Rorg had seen it all before. He put his shield arm into position to brace for impact. Then, at the last minute, side stepped. The crazed Champion face planted and died face down, his head rolling off. Someone grabbed Rorg’s ankle, so he chopped off the hand, and then head, of the owner. The fray turned into a blur until the field thinned. There was only a few Champions left. One big guy lumbered toward him. He was bald and shirtless and glistened with sweat. His nails and teeth had been sharpened. He held a two-handed hammer. Rorg knew that one hit from that thing would be the end of him. The big guy swung sideways to push Rorg back. Then he wound up and slammed down on the ground, with Rorg barely back stepping in time. He wound up and did it again. This time, Rorg was ready. He took one step on the head of the hammer, jumped and loped off the guy’s head. The field was looking especially empty now. Rorg guessed that His Holiness wanted more blood before the day was over. Luckily Tar was still standing. He was always good for some non-lethal sparring. Rorg jogged over to Tar as he took off his armor. Tar swung his mace at Rorg, but not that fast. Rorg easily dodged it, but let it graze his skin. A trickle of blood emerged. Rorg spun as he dodged and nicked Tar on the arm. The two wore each other out. They weren’t in pain from the blows, they were just physically exhausted. Finally, out of no where, BAM! Someone bashed the brains out of Tar with a hammer. The trumpets sounded and the battle was over. Rorg slunk to his knees. He had never known Tar. They had never spoken. But he would miss their unspoken agreement not to kill each other. Tar was the closest thing to a friend Rorg had. He was stunned. All he could do was stare at the damaged contenders pick among the damaged arms scattered across the field.
The field was strew with swords, shields, maces, hammers, daggers, and all manner of instruments of death, each in a different state of repair. It looked like a the armory had been struck with lightning and exploded. Rorg saw a Spare, newly minted into a Champion, pick up a shield which had been split in half, but a shield none the less. The Spare then pulled a decoupled head out of a helmet, and placed the helmet on his own.
Rorg pulled himself together. He was covered with a thick crust of oozy blood. It would only be a minute before the medics would come to dress his wounds. Then he could kick through the wreckage to collected his armor. He fell asleep to nightmares that night.
He woke up the next day and lied there instead of doing his morning routine. This week could be his last. What was the point? He killed week after week. Week after week. For what? No friends. No family No comfort. For the whole week, he only got out of bed to eat and use the chamber pot. He decided this would be his last. He would enjoy some rest. On Friday he was surprised to see a bouquet delivered by a guard, with two flowers he had never seen before. Libertia and a yellow rose. The last one was solomon’s seal. The solomon’s seal meant secrecy. The yellow rose meant friendship, but that didn’t make sense since Champions don’t make friends. Libertia made even less sense. There was no meaning he could think of… except literal liberty. It didn’t matter. Only one more battle to go.
Fob jogged up with Rorg on the field before the skirmish started. He was decked out in full body armor and short sword. None of it matched. It was most likely scavenged from the previous battle. With that armor and his burly frame, Fob might actually stand a chance.
“Rorg! I have to talk to you.”
“No, it’s really important. This is my last battle. If you stay with me, I -”
“No.” said Rorg as he walked away.
“It’s not like that. I have a way out. If you help me I can get you out too.” The trumpets interrupted Fob before he could explain the plan.
The two of them stood back to back. Champions and Spares alike challenged and fell before the duo. Rorg couldn’t believe how easy it was to defend himself when he had a partner. Amid the chaos, Fob yelled, “To the wall!” The two walked, back to back, over to the base of the stone wall where the audience watched. Fob laid his sword down and laced his hands together to act as a step for Rorg. With a heave, Rorg was able to reach to top of the wall, and pull himself over. It was unexpectedly crowded up top, so he slew the audience in a 5 foot radius. He reached down and pulled Fob up. Several guards approached, their swords drawn. Rorg bull rushed them. The guards didn’t stand a chance. They never had to fight for their lives. They weren’t prepared to defend their life by fighting recklessly. They ran ahead past the guard’s bodies. In front of them was the opening to the street. Rorg began sprinting at full tilt.
“Wait!” yelled Fob. He turned to the right, in front of a locked door. He reached deep into his armor and pulled out a key. The two entered. Inside was the guard-room. Two guards were snoozing and quickly killed. Rorg and Fob donned the guard’s armor.
“And now, we stroll out of here.” said Fob. “I can tell this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” The two patted each other on the back in congratulations.