Chapter Ninety-Seven

June 29, 2013


10th of Plowmonth


After a moment, two other men approach, though after the previous two went down so quickly, they are slightly more hesitant in their onslaught.  One of them is down almost immediately, but the other lasts through a few blows.  Across the field, we see Lucien go down to two men fighting in a coordinated effort with gruisarmes.  His two assailants now make for Finn and Briggette, and as they approach, they see that the men bear the sigil of the Ralphsen baronette, whose house words are “All can fall.”  They trade a few blows, each of the combatants except for Briggette being knocked off their feet at least once.  When Finn is finally on the ground, he fights from that position, taking out the one still standing.

At that moment, a burly bearded man across the field bashes his opponent with his shield.  He turns, throws his arms out, and yells, “Lord Protector!  It looks like it’s just me and you!”  Finn chooses that moment to stand up, and he says, “Ah, and him.”  He pauses, “No matter, do you have that dress ready?”

“I’m sure I can have it fitted to you,” Briggette replies.

“Ah, so the bet’s on, then?”

“Did you speak to my husband?”  He looks momentarily nonplussed.  Briggette looks into the stands, “Ulric?  Shall I take a bet against this commoner that I shall serve him at table in a dress should he beat me?”

“At times like these,” Ulric says with a sly grin, “I find that I count myself lucky to be married to the Lord Protector of Grozney so I don’t face such difficult decisions on my own.”  A raucous laughter erupts from the crowd, and even though her helm’s visor is down, I can feel that Briggette is rolling her eyes.

“Fine,” she says, “for the good of the chapter house, where you will serve in a fine gown should I win, I will accept your wager.”

“Good!  Now, which one of you wants to look up at me from your back first?” the stranger asks.

Finn is not amused, “Why don’t you come on over here and find out?”

With that, the barbarian approaches and begins the struggle.  He fights well, using sound strategies one would see on a real battlefield.  His skill, however, is no match for Finn’s gruisarme when it strikes, pulling the man to the ground.

The barbarian kips up and strikes at Briggette four times, missing each time.  Then he appears to lose his temper and begins yelling nonsensical things as he tries to block her attacks to no avail.  Briggette feints backward for a moment and prepares to swing again, but first his blow lands hard on her side.  They trade a few more solid hits on each side before Briggette slams into his shoulder, and he falls in a heap.

“Shouldn’t have made that bet!” she taunts.

As she turns, she realizes she and Finn are the only remaining contestants.  He swings, trying to trip her, but she manages to keep her footing.  The wear of the battle is beginning to show on her armor and in the way she carries herself.  She hits him squarely, and he tries again to trip her, but again she remains standing.  On his third attempt, though, the sweep of his gruisarme catches behind her calf, and Briggette is pulled to the ground.  Before she can get up, he slams the end of his gruisarme into her chest, and she passes out, leaving Finn as the champion of the melee.

The crowd goes insane, and Ulric turns to the Duke and quietly says, “Uh-oh.”  He chuckles in reply, and Wren removes Briggette from the field.

When she wakes up, Briggette finds her future mother-in-law standing above her, “You know, it’s very unseemly getting your ass kicked by a commoner.”  She smiles ruefully, “Don’t worry, you were beaten by a chosen of Cuthbert both times.”

A few moments later, the Barbarian approaches Briggette and says it is good that Finn won.  “I don’t look good in a dress.”  He grins and offers her his hand, “Uncle Quinn says hello.”

“Ah,” she shrugs and offers a hug instead, “I should’ve known.”

The Duke presents Finn with a small parapet and a silver longsword, as well as 1,000 pieces of silver.  He reminds Ulric of dinner this evening.


We all go back to our tents and prepare for the dinner that evening.  Brianna comes in to visit with Briggette, who is shocked when she sees the damage her sister bears.  Brianna’s eye is swollen shut and she is beaten black and blue.

“What happened to you?”  Briggette asks.

“I won,” Brianna replies.  As everyone continues to get ready, we also hear that Korvinean won the archery contest.  St. Cuthbert has ruled the day, with his representative winning every event in which one was entered.

Dinner is fantastic and everyone drinks and dances the night away.


The following morning, bright and early around 7:30, Gustav wakes Ulric to say that someone is here to see him.  “Normally, I wouldn’t wake you, I would tell him to come back later, but he was the third in the melee, and he said he wanted to talk to you about your coming war.  I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that, sir.”

“You did the right thing,” Ulric replies, “give us five minutes, and we’ll be out to see him.”  As soon as Gustav exits, Anna comes in to help Briggette don her armor.

They greet their guest, who introduces himself as Hrærek Ericson.  “Your wife’s Uncle Quinn says the following, ‘There have been delays, trouble on the mainland.  My troops will land in fall.  I bring 3,000 men.’ He says, and this makes no sense, ‘The serpent’s banner must be destroyed.’  That was before . . . it is not that I am forbidden to go home, it’s just that I’m not a popular fellow there.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Briggette interjects.

“I serve the wrong god.  I serve Thor.  But when I faced the dragon I wear, no lightning came to my aid.  The priests of Thor broke and ran like cowards, but an old man in a blue robe stood with me.  I serve his god now.”  When Ulric looks, he sees that Hrærek wears a silver symbol of an impaled dragon.  “His prayer or spell—it matters not which—the dragon’s breath did not hurt him.  I have seen the power of this god.”

Ulric explains that there is a small church to this Dragonsbane here in town, and Hrærek says that he shall go and speak with the priests there.  The men continue to discuss war and victory, and he says that should Ulric replace the Duke of Malness, he fancies himself a count.  Ulric seems amused, but does not agree or disagree to these terms as of yet.  He swears, however, that he is loyal unto death, and that he is offering to join in this quest.


After a while, the new friends part ways, and Ulric and Briggette prepare to take the children to meet the Duke.  Court is fairly light today, with many fewer petitioners and visitors than before.

The Duke greets them, and Ulric says, “Your Grace, I have come to present my son.”

“Ah, yes, the heir!  What name have you given him?”

“Stefan Heltragen.”

“Then, step forward, Stefan Heltragen, first of your name.”  The child steps forth, and the Duke steps down from the dais and kneels next to him.  He speaks very low to the child, then tilts his head to listen for a reply.  “I think you have a very worthy son, Count Heltragen.”

“Thank you, Your Grace,” Ulric replies, “and as we are here anyway, may I present my daughter, Bernadette Heltragen?”

“Ah, yes!  She is very young—as is my son,” the Duke replies.  Briggette steps forward with the girl.  “May I?” he reaches out for her.  Briggette hands him the child, and he speaks to her as a cherished uncle speaks to his beloved niece.  He carries the babe over to the Duchess, who also fawns over her.  When he brings her back, he says, “You have a very beautiful daughter.”  He turns to Ulric and changes the subject to his brother’s impending nuptials with a daughter of the Brajdic house.  This is news as he has previously been betrothed to a young girl who we learn had died shortly before her wedding day.  This new match is new to us.  “It occurs to me that since the Brajdics have no sons, it would leave a great deal of the West in control of the heirs of Zurwald.”

“Some people might be concerned about that, Your Grace, but I assure you there is nothing to worry about.”

“Of course,” he says, “I’ve learned in my life that you don’t mistrust the West, you certainly don’t mistrust the Heltragens, and you only mistrust the Mladenovs if you’re a bad person.”  He shares a grin with Ulric.


We spend about nine more days in town, celebrating our victories and generally enjoying a few days off.

On the ninth day, Briggette presents Ulric with a helm made to look like a bear’s head.  It is enameled brown, and made to match well with his armor.  It has the ability to make him pick up smells like a bear would upon command.  He is thrilled with his new gift, and cannot wait to ride into battle wearing such a fearsome aspect.