“My lords and my ladies! Welcome to the Grand Joust!”
A man coated in multicolored robes tightly fitted at the forearms and shins, yet loosely fitted practically everywhere else, screamed from under a massive hat with his arms outstretched.
“Today, I bring to you, the finest lords and knights from round the land ready and willing to compete today!” He bowed down as a long line of nearly twenty knights and lords stood at attention with their backs to the peasants, facing the King and Queen in their alter above the rich and important. The strange little man then began half-assidly introducing the knights as they stepped forward and bowed. Most would compete in swords and joust, only a few competing only in joust.
Salin stood underneath a far balcony on a second story overlooking the Jousting arena. His arms crossed he wore as much black as possible above a layer of ringmail. His face shadowed within a thick hood, he watched with cold eyes breathing the hot steam from his tight lips.
Of all the days to Joust, he thought to himself, they always seem to choose the coldest.
It was the coldest. For he could see even now the small flakes of snow coming down from the heavens, the steam rising to blow such flakes around and away from the hard sand below. Everybody covered in thick and mass amounts of clothing, yet still somehow shivering as they watched eagerly, waiting for blood. Salin hated these foolish sports, for this violence he saw no point in. Protecting one’s home, one’s family, or one’s people was one thing. Protecting one’s honor however, that was a fool’s errand for sure.
And here these men stood with their chest pressed hard into their armor, their chins held up to the gray sky, and their bodies stiff with ego. None of them would agree to his statement, so he would make sure not to speak it.
For blathering about his own preferences after such a long journey and such a hard mission of getting inside this sickening Kingdom was not worth exposure. A well-seasoned veteran such as himself would not make those mistakes. He would instead bide his time, do his duty, and move on without a soul knowing he ever was there. This would save his life and make things easier, ease his nerves.
Yet he stood here, completely and totally nerve wracked.
For he could not contact anyone outside Windhelm.
It had been months getting inside. He had spent days and weeks planning and attempting, working with others and keeping his contacts well informed. However now that he was inside, it was like everyone he had confided in had dropped off the face of the Earth. No one was speaking about anything, and no one knew anything about the outside world past Windhelm. He felt blind now, and that made him uneasy. He would sense there may be a trap laying out before him. Such a thought forcing him to analyze every single thing around him, and analyze he would.
His shift of footing made his shoulder lean harder in the wood frame of the supporting beam. It also gave his back to the wall and would force any attacker to come at him from the left side. His positioning a placement that allowed him to see everything in that direction, and also be darkened by the shadows of the royal and rich stands that resembled almost a wall viewing the arena.
His odds were good to remain undetected, though still he would have to stroke the blade at his waist to feel comfortable.
“BEGIN!” The small man screamed.
Salin’s head shook out of trance. They had begun, he had been trapped in thought for much longer than he thought.
Fool, pay attention. Pay attention!
He scolded himself grinding his nails into his bicep.
The two knights, neither from Windhelm, rode their great warhorses with such furious ferocity it had immediately ignited the crowd. They screamed as the thick metal cringed together by the force of the wind, the men leaning forward and pinching their long jousting poles in the crease of their arm. Their aim struggling to steady on the heaving back of a moving horse.
The wood splintered into a thousand bits as one of the knights was struck in the arm. His balance shifting his hands grasped for the saddle neck to keep his mounted. And in his success the horse brought him off to the side, waiting to be readied for the next run.
The crowd screamed their appreciation, it was a good start to the tournament. The Tyrant King’s smile so large it was almost distracting.
Sick bastard. The man probably has a broken arm and for what, for the fat King to laugh?
The other knight rode around to the other side tossing his broken lance to his crew below. They then handed him another, gave him a few words of advice, then smacked his horse’s ass and sent him off to the ready. It was then the other knight came to the opposite end with a new lance, dented armor, and an unstable neck. The flag then went down and they pushed forward again, this time the injured Knight lowering his body forward and to his right away from the center line. The winning knight took the bait and leaned left hard towards that same center line, and as they closed the distance the injured knight shifted and practically lunged his lance forward.
The splinters of wood blocked the sight of the winning knight now flying through the air, yet his body crashing into the sand and rolling like a limp puppet was viewed by all. The other knight rode around on the side of his horse, holding his saddle and pulling with sore arms to be back in the seat. Then he raised his arms high to the roaring crowd.
As the other knight was tended too, more so woken up, Salin felt a smile cross his face. He immediately shut it down.
Do not fall to their level, this is a fool’s game and only fools enjoy. Break yourself free, and do it now!
He had to be hard on himself, it was the one thing that had kept him alive this long. Mistakes were made much less when one made a large deal of even the smallest of them. That was what he had to do to himself. It kept him aware, kept his mind working and his body listening. It was necessary.
Now, the next two knights had come up. This time one was from Windhelm, yet for obvious reasons his horse was not. Salin thought to that with a questionable smirk, all these men had taken their prized possessions, their honorable warhorses, to a place where all the horses were either dead or dying. Didn’t seem like the smartest choice.
That didn’t seem to be even a thought as the two silver knights paraded around the ring in front of their rose throwers. The knight from Windhelm wearing the customary dark blue, moved with a false pride over to his crew. The other knight, a knight from some Kingdom somewhere far, rode wearing orange and yellow. His long golden hair flowed down the back of his armor from out his strangely square helmet. His visor looking around painfully as he waved his hand to the crowd.
They marked their positions, speaking to their crews and readying their lances.
Then the flag was dropped.
Bursting through the cold sand they rushed forward, lances pointed downward and heads forward. Then at the last second their heads tilted up to protect their eyes from the shards of wood soon to come spraying out.
“OH, COME ON YOU COWARDS!” Came the sound of an enraged peasant from the sideline. The two knights gathered themselves from the complete and utter miss, and the one in bright colors bowed and shook his hand as if to apologize.
Well you can’t blame them for not wishing to die so young.
Salin responded from the hidden chamber in his skull.
The two competitors then circled around again and came back to their positions. No crews came to speak to them, for the flag was dropped almost immediately. This time they forced their heads forward even harder, rode faster. Salin watched in curious anticipation as the distance closed, the knight from Windhelm held his lance steady, the other holding his at a strange wobble. Then as they came within striking distance the bright colored knight lifted his head…
His body was thrown sharply back, his legs caught by the feet within their stirrups. His arms flailing out he stay lay limp on the horse’s rear end. His crew immediately ran up to grab him and move him off to the side.
Windhelm cheered like no other. Screaming as loud as possible every person danced and paraded the winning knight. His hand waving, Salin noticed something, for as the man rode once his hand dropped his eyes went to a specific spot in the crowd. Right to a balcony where the men in dark robes stared ahead, their hands filling with coins they smiled at him, one even waving.
There’s always vultures when money comes around.
And there was always a fix in a game, no matter what people played. Salin scoffed, his eyes went to the King who drank wine from a goblet. The Queen next to him looking grim as ever, and his children to their Mother. The boy was fat, as to be expected. But the daughter, she was looking thinner, a bit stronger too. That surprised him. Good for her, he thought turning around and moving back into the darkness. He needed to get deeper into his mission.
Discovering the King’s darkest secrets and most useful weaknesses were all that mattered to him as he moved away from the Grand Joust. His mind racing and his heart pounding as he thought to the blind feeling again. His contacts, the ones who were still left, were all within the walls of Windhelm. He would be on his own, and if he were to be caught then he would surely have no help coming for him. As if he would even if he did know what was happening in Vanderlyne.
It was time to scope things out, watch the castle and begin picking the weak points, counting the guards, and logging the movements. The sooner it was done, the sooner he was to be back home drinking from his own goblet.
That made him feel better.