The Great Melee
The Great Melee
With lunch over and the melee quickly approaching, the party went to the tournament grounds. Sif, Mal, and Durdeg went to the sign in area, and were soon met by Carta, returning from his lunch in town. Sharlot chose to watch the show and wager on her friends from the bleachers, passing on the more expensive box seats.
The combatants ran into some surprises with the rules, having never been to a melee in a smaller town. Many commoners had come from the surrounding areas, willing to bet their lives for a chance at something better. The prize from a melee could turn a farmer on the brink of starvation into a merchant or a yeoman, and the rarity of a shot like this caused scores of unqualified fighters into the ring. Most had nothing but their clothes and a tool of their trade, although some had moderate training and some equipment. Because of the large numbers, the Baron had everyone assigned a random number for where they would begin, splitting up any groups.
Sif was upset when she learned that her offensive magic would not be allowed, but she decided to enter with her daggers, regardless. She had a lucky draw, starting in the corner with just a few untrained, unarmored peasants facing her. Carta was near the edge, but still surrounded. He also ended up closest to the most dangerous fighters - a martial arts adept, a man with a rapier who looked like he knew how to use it, one of a group of four orcs that had joined, and the strong man from the carnival. That last kept looking at him, chuckling and calling him , "little man". Carta prepared for the brute to make up for the arm wrestling loss the previous day. Mal was across the arena from Carta, and surround by unskilled combatants. Durdeg ended up near the center of the battle, along with his companion V3, and close to Gerey Battleborn, one of the Dungeoneers they had met in Custone.
A blast of light started the melee, and the blood started to fly. Sif found something in herself, and wielded her dagger to deadly effect. Several untrained peasants fell to her blade - they were down and out, although they may have been saved by a good healer later on. The same could not be said of those who were within Mal's reach - he lashed out with his swords, and in moments, two heads had fallen to the mud. Carta went defensive, not looking to hurt anyone, and Durdeg stuck to non lethal unarmed attacks.
Many combatants broke early, either sustaining wounds that forced them to drop their weapons, deciding on the better part of valor, or simply succumbing to superior training and weaponry. A total of eighteen people died that day - a high number, to be sure, but understood in the terms of the fight. That included three of the four orcs, as none were willing to give up but one was knocked from the ring.
Sif was the first of the party to be eliminated - after she ruthlessly cut down two peasants, three more tackled her, bearing all of them to the ground and outside the ring. Meanwhile, people seemed to be closing in on Carta. The man with the rapier was slashing his way in, while the unarmed adept had thrown Merey Battleborne to the ground, eliminating her from contention. A number of town guards and simple soldiers surrounded Mal, but after making quick work of two of them, they began to flee.
Carta remained focused on defense, and realized that he had made a friend in the brute from the carnival. The brute, Vornam, wished to ensure he and Carta were the last to fight, but it was not to be. The unarmed adept slipped behind him and delivered a paralyzing strike, and Carta lost his weapon. He had to leave, and Vornam looked to take revenge. Unfortunately, he soon fell to the same tactic. The man with the rapier abruptly dropped his weapon and left as well.
Mal began to stalk the various combatants left in the ring, but the blood coating him and the cries from the crowd terrified the untrained, and they fled the field before him. As he circled the arena, all but a handful of the untrained combatants remained, and the fight was in the center of the ring. A few soldiers were pounding on V3, while Durdeg chipped away at the adept. He seemed to have an endless stream of red vials with him, and kept drinking them down. Eventually, he must have run out, because he dropped his wrap and ran from the field. Mal had come to join the fight, and perhaps save V3, until the last of the peasants charged him, bearing him to the ground. They tried to pry his weapons from his hands, but he was able to hang on to his long sword long enough to break free.
Meanwhile, Carta noticed that the man with the rapier had shifted to a stiletto, and was creaping up behind him. From nowhere, the man attempted to plunge the knife into his back, but Carta was prepared and avoided the blow, spinning towards him. As Carta turned, the man vanished, as if never there. A guard confirmed what Carta had seen however, though the reason was lost to them both.
As Mal regained his feet, V3 was beaten into parts. Durdeg quickly avenged his companion, and everyone had dropped their weapons, fled, or died, except for Durdeg and Mal. They looked at each other, both breathing raggedly with exhaustion. But it was to the last standing, and neither was willing to give in at this point. While Durdeg fought well, without his faithful companion, he was no watch for the trained ranger. Dropping his wrap, he left the victory to Mal, who walked away with the purse and the money that he had wagered on himself. Whether he walked away with any guilt over the lives it took is unknown.
Feats of Strength
Without knowing how, Carta had found a friend in Vonmar. Vonmar asked Carta and his companions to join them at the feats of strength area of the carnival. With time to kill until the Battle of the Bards, Carta, Mal, and Sif took him up on the offer. Durdeg instead got cleaned up and went to play his part in Fizban the Magnificent's magic show, and Sharlot began her preparations for the show. She had worked hard on her song, pouring her soul into telling the tale of their first adventure, and wanted to make sure it was flawless.
Their first stop was the Ring, where Vonmar was taking his place as the champion looking for people to fight. Carta agreed, and Vonmar was nonplussed. "Not yet," Vonmar told him. "Can't yet!" Carta realized he may have stumbled into a fixed fight, but gave it his all. Vonmar promptly picked him up and tossed him from the ring, to the laughter and shouts from the crowd. Mal was next up, and Vonmar just shook his head. They traded a few more holds, but Mal quickly followed in Carta's wake.
With that, They made their way to the centerpiece of the area, the Gauntlet. Bleachers surrounded it, as people watched the contestants attempt to make their way through. Sif, with boundless confidence in her abilities, tried first. She entered the first room, and ran as quick as she could, and was promptly tripped by the first wall. But she got up, and made good time as she easily cleared the rest. Her first shot at the high walls also missed, but after that, she got the rhythm and was able to push off the side wall and over the rest. But when she came to the salmon climb, her life spent studying instead of lifting heavy things caught up to her, and she fell to the ground, exhausted.
Carta was next, and as he approached the hurdles, he decided to play it safe. He vaulted over each one, slowing himself down, but keeping his feet. He made it through about as quickly as Sif. He cleared the first two high walls quickly, although he had a hard time getting purchase on the third, losing some time. Finally making it over, he faced the salmon climb. A grin spread across his face as he thought back to all the time he spent working his upper body, increasing the number of pushups every night. With a primal scream, he grabbed the bar and launched himself up. Pulling, thrusting the bar, catching, and repeating, he quickly scaled the wall. The crowd gasped at his prowess as he flawlessly flung himself over the 20 foot high wall and moved to the next room.
He paused at the entrance, watching the swinging hammers and getting their pattern. Then he ran, barely dodging the large hammer, and twisting to avoid the smaller ones. One clipped his shoulder, and he fell to the mud below. He slogged through it to the ladder leading back up, and faced the second half of the room. Unfortunately, he was starting to tire, and went down to the swinging hammers again. He trudged onwards, entering the next room.
In the room with the hanging platforms, he noticed that some were more waorn than others, but wasn't sure what it meant. He decided to jump for a newer platform, and it tilted on landing, and he went into the mud once again. Exhaustion set in, but he continued. The next to last room required him to lift a log into place and then cross it. Though tired, his strength was enough, and he made it through.
Staggering into the final room, he saw an ogre waiting for him. He had to fight through, without his weapons, and nearly passing out from exertion. He would have to end it quickly, and so he called on Adalci for help. With each blow, the power of Adalci flowed through him. The crowd went wild as the ogre twisted under his blows. With a final punch, he unleashed all he had. The ogre's face went slack and it's eyes rolled back, as it collapsed to the ground. Cheers rang out, and a cry of, 'you got knocked OUT!' came from somewhere. Carta waved to the crowd, and went to get his winnings.
With the Battle of the Bards approaching, they had enough time for Sif to attempt the Run for Your Life. Carta, meanwhile, was too tired to run, but not too tired to attempt one more prank on Sif. He bought the ballista ball, and found a kid to man it for him. Sif took off, her dexterity easily allowing her to avoid the balls being flung by the crowd. She danced across the poles, kicking balls from her path and making it look easy. But as she approached the end, she had to cross directly into the path of the ballista ball. The kid loosed at the perfect moment, and as Sif was midair, leaping to the next pole, the ball connected fully with her face. As her momentum carried her forward, the force of the ball made her flip over backwards. She fell to the mud, and a hush rose over the crowd. As she rose up and signaled she was OK, the crowd cheered, and Carta lifted the urchin into the air, showing him off. The kid got the bounty for knocking the runner down, and gave Carta a massive hug before running away.
With that, they realized they were out of time and had to get cleaned up in order to have a nice dinner and watch the Battle of the Bards.
The Battle of the Bards
Durdeg finished his time helping to entertain the masses several coins richer, and made his way to the Beer Tent, where the Battle of the Bards was soon to begin. There he found the three just making their way back from cleaning up, and Sharlot tuning her lute and making last minute adjustments to her costume. They wished her the best, and found a table where they could watch the show.
Sharlot was the seventh to perform, second to last, and she settled in to listen to her competition. She was confident in the quality of her song, and had done everything she could to make sure she gave a fine performance. The first bard competing had a lovely voice, but Sharlot was sure that she would beat him on the strength of her song alone. Things got substantially more interesting from there.
The other competitors were somewhat of a blur, although a few moments stood out in particular. At one point, a pair of long bearded dwarves performed while Vonmar played the drums. The crowd applauded them, but most of it seemed to be because they were afraid of what Vonmar might do, as he pounded the drums and screamed. The liquor started to flow pretty freely after that, and the kitchen began cranking out meals. The crowd was getting looser, warming to the acts. Sharlot was glad she hadn't gone yet, but hoped that she didn't miss the wave.
She was afraid she had when a man in raggedy clothes, carrying a beat up old lyre, took the stage. He strummed the lyre once, then said, "My name is Ossert and I want to sing about the The Hero of Castow." With that, he launched into a heartfelt song about a man who was somehow revered in what appeared to be his hometown. At first, she and the rest of the party thought it was a coincidence when the hero's name was Mal, but after seeing his face, they realized that he was the hero. Durdeg noted that they learned more about him in those few minutes than they had in months.
While the crowd loved the sang, the wave came crashing down when Ossert had to sing a second song. He lost the crowd, and Sharlot thought her chance opened back up. She took the stage, and began with the The Ballad of Custone. She poured her heart into the music, and the audience was captivated. As she sang of the first attacks of the undead, the crowd went quiet. The drinks stopped flowing, and every breath was held as she sang of the horde overwhelming the town, and the heroism of the party throwing them back. They gasped at the story of Durdeg nearly dying attempting to save a farm, cheered when they beat back the crowd around the inn, and cried when they heard of the death of Father Eofred. As she finished her song, the applause swelled, and the crowd took their feet.
With the crowd in the palm of her hand, Sharlot went smoothly into a lively standard - not a daring new song, but a crowd pleaser, and she played it well. The rest of the party were on their feet, clapping and stamping to the music. Soon all the crowd joined in, and the beer and wine flowed faster than every before. Waitresses spun across the dance floor, mugs in hand, dropping them off in time with the music. The crowd cheered again as she finished, and though another Bard was still to go, it was a formality by that point. Sharlot had won the crowd, and won the masterwork lute that was the prize. She admired the craftsmanship, and promised to create further tales of their journeys, worthy of the instrument.
End of the Night
With the carnival winding down, the party took one last trip to the Feats of Strength, Carta hoping to see Vornum again. Vornum was back in the Ring, and Carta signed up for another match. Vornum signaled that it had been enough time, but Carta asked for a serious match. Vornum smiled enigmatically, as the dwarf barker began to pump up the crowd. The story of Carta's earlier ejection from the ring, and the reminder that Vonmar had never lost a bout, soon had the thick crowd in a frenzy to bet on the match, and almost everyone bet on Vonmar.
The two started to play to the crowd, posing and smiling at individuals they picked out. They exchanged a few tentative grapples, the Vonmar launched himself away from the surprised Carta. Vonmar hit the ropes, and used them to push him across the ring to his opponent. Carta deftly avoided him, and the crowd went wild. Carta knocked Vonmar down, and paused to play to the crowd, whipping them into a frenzy. He began his own rope assisted charge, winking at a maiden fair before launching across the ring. Vonmar had recovered by then, and he evaded Carta, knocking him to the ground. Vonmar screamed for the people, and they screamed back. He climbed the ropes in one corner, stretching to his full 7'6" height, and beating his chest. His shadow fell on Cart as he launched himself.
Carta was ready, and spun out of the way. Vonmar slammed chest first into the mat, his breath knocked from his body and his vision splitting. Carta worked the crowd for a moment, a last bit of showmanship, before pinning the motionless Vonmar to the mat. The dwarf barker looked on, slapping the mat once, twice, and as Vonmar kicked feebly to get up and several long seconds passed, a third time, signalling Carta as the victor.
It had grown late, and the carnival had ended for the night. Carta, flush with victory, left to pay his respects to the halfling magician's assistant he had met the day before. Everyone returned to seek lodging for the night.
As Sif left the group to return to the Koleran College, the rest began to talk about Carta's meeting with the judge. Tempers flared, and Mal left to do a night hunt on the island. Carta and Sharlot exchanged words about how they were each handling dealing with the lost book, and eventually went to sleep without a resolution. Durdeg was there, but took his nightly dose of the Water of Life and was soon unable to keep up. Morning would come soon enough, and they could discuss it without the raw emotions of the night intefering.
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