Aedenhrir ensured the tunic he chose for the occasion fit snugly over his lean, sculpted trunk. Leather trousers tight enough to showcase the cut of his thick legs and the swell of his dancer's arse, yet still comfortable. Something he could move in. He'd trimmed his beard to frame his fair, handsome face, combed his sleek, raven hair, and bathed off the soot and dirt and sweat of his labors. At his most ragged he'd never been in short supply of admirers, but if you're going to kill a man, you should damn well look your best.
He had not touched his sword in close to a year. Not since the Trukeans had paid him to fight the Catalonians, and the Catalonians had paid him more to leave. His uncle might have been ashamed of the weapon's state. In his neglect it accrued rust like red moss and flecks of brown tarnish, but the weight and edge? Those remained true, and if you're going to kill a man, the weight and edge of your blade is damn sure what matters.
Besides, the state of the sword had given the peasantry in attendance even more reason to cheer. Middling height and a rusty sword? It balanced the statuesque perfection of his form and visage with the humility of a serf. It looked like they'd plucked him up from their own number. Their chosen champion. A man of his people. If you're going to kill a man, you damn well ought do it in front of an adoring crowd.
His impoverished countrymen had encircled him and his opponent in a grassy clearing outside the disrepair of Glengow's eastern gate. A few of the foreign bastards seconding his adversary had showed face as well. Men-at-arms from the garrison in thick steel plate. Tall and golden haired with faces like rough-hewn rock. The churl he faced in the circle looked much the same. All the Agironders seemed the same to Aed – big burly blond bastards.
Big burly blond bastards with no manners and no charm. He'd challenged the one opposite him for making a lewd gesture to an Eran tavern girl the night before. At least he thought that had been why. Whisky often fogged his memory, but that was the reason the proud citizenry of Glengow had given him for his outburst. Gushing with pride as they recalled it. Too long under the conquering thumb of Agirond, they were eager for a hero. If you're going to kill a man, it's a damn nice change to be hailed as hero.
“The terms are agreed,” some monolith of a foreigner shouted in a garbled, gravelly voice. “The combatants shall fight to the death for the prize of honor.”
Aed untied a jangling purse of coins from his belt and hurled it at the steel clad feet of his foe, “I'll add a wager. If I take him in one stroke, ye match the weight of that purse in yer Lord Thranor's gold.”
The Eran folk roared their approval. His adversary and his compatriots sneered their disdain, but complied. It was an outrageous boast, Aed knew. But Aed was an outrageous talent with a sword, and, today at least, Aed was sober as the Bull's priesthood. Moreover, as those big burly blond bastards might soon discover, Aed had filled the purse with lead discs. If you're going to kill a man, you might as well earn some coin.
Of a sudden, his enemy rushed forward in a rage, and the beastly two-handed sword in his chain mitts swept high across the noontide sun. Lithe and nimble, Aed slithered to one side, let the man's weight and momentum carry him past, and pivoted. His shoulders pulsed, his forearms extended, and his wrists twisted. Dense sinew flexed from start to finish. It barely lasted a second, if that, and the Agironder's brains were spilling from a hole in the back of his skull. Glistening rubies on blades of frosty emerald grass.
For a moment the world was still. Aed could hear the jaws of the other Agironders click as they fell slack in the silence. And then, the people of Glengow erupted. Thunderous. Deafening. Beautiful. They rushed to his side, longing hands seeking to touch their savior. Men slapping him with vicarious pride. Children grasping at the garbs of the man they yearned to become. Women groping at their newest, deepest desire.
The spokesman of the guards shouted hatefully over the din, “I'll need a name and parentage to report this incident as a legal undertaking to my lord! What do they call you?”
“Oh me?” Aed broke free of his worshipers with a wink. “I'm Aedenhrir Cwynmara! King Eoskald's own bastard!”
If the noise deafened before, now it sundered the earth. Aed shrugged as they hoisted him up over their heads and carried him toward the tavern that gave birth to the challenge. A crowd always favored a good lie. When you've just killed a man, you might as well be a prince.