True to his word, Tancred leaps into the fray and focuses all his attention on the bandit who wanted to see Pela get kicked over the hill. Even buoyed by his righteous fury, Tancred finds himself evenly-matched with his hairy, ugly opponent.
It’s all rather like, Tancred muses, fighting the wrong end of a moose.
Neither one has an obvious advantage and neither one seems about to claim it any time soon. Tancred has been able to keep his shield between himself and the bandit’s sword, while the bandit has been able to deflect each of Tancred’s own strikes.
Mentally, Tancred begins running through a list of the stratagems and tactics he’s studied recently.
No. Chess defences don’t translate well to a real-world sword fight.
No. Same problem.
Duke Mercurio’s Gambit?
No. He doesn’t have eight cavalry divisions waiting in the wings.
What would history’s finest strategists do in this situation, he wonders. What would Sally do? His mind’s eye is filled with images of the girl’s toothy grin.
The realisation strikes him like a lightning bolt.
He allows his sword to slip from his fingers and fall to the ground.
“Oh no,” he says. “Truly, I am completely and genuinely defenceless at this point. What an actual, veritable predicament I find myself in.”
The bandit grins that cruel grin of his and begins stalking towards Tancred.
Not yet, Tancred tells himself. Make sure he’s taken the bait.
“Tell you what,” the bandit says. “Gimme that sword, that shield, and whatever you’ve got in your wallet, and I’ll let you be on your way.”
Tancred gives him a non-committal, easily-misinterpreted smile. The bandit grins his ugly grin back at him and stoops to claim Tancred’ fallen sword.
Bait taken, Tancred notes, inwardly smiling a broad, Sally-esque grin.
He swings his shield arm.
He strikes true, sending the bandit crashing down to the ground and leaving him in a heap.
“And that,” Tancred tells the prone form of the bandit as he straightens out his collar, “is what we call a hustle! You’ve just been Sally-ed, my friend.”
Not knightly, perhaps. But certainly effective. And even a knight must sometimes rely on novel tactics. He picks up his sword, steps over the defeated bandit and hurries off to aid his guildmates.
“Thank you, Miss Sally,” Tancred mutters.
He is still, of course, going to devote his every waking moment back in Porthaven to finally defeating her on the chessboard. But, for now, he is glad to have sat at the feet of a tiny master. And her stuffed rabbit.
As the bandits and the adventurers fight, Jimmy the Rake encounters something he did not expect to see. The adventurers’ tall Elf has gone to her knees. She has her spear and shield laid down on the ground and her hands folded.
Every bandit instinct is telling him to just jump her, knock her down while she’s not paying attention, and then steal her wallet. Fatefully, his curiosity gets the better of him.
“What are you doing?” Jimmy asks the tall Elf.
“Praying,” she answers, half-opening her eyes to peer at him. “That Parthene may bring this fight to an end without any serious injuries.”
He scoffs. “I’m Jimmy the Rake! You’re going to have to pray pretty hard to get out of this without getting hurt.”
“No. Not me,” she says, rising from her knees and unfurling herself to her frankly bemusing full height. “You.”
“Say,” Jimmy says cautiously. “Are, uh, are you an Amazon?”
The tall Elf nods as she picks up her spear and shield. “I am.”
“I’ve never had the chance to beat an Amazon before,” Jimmy says, trying to sound tough.
“You’ll have to wait one more day, at least,” the Amazon counters, actually sounding tough.
Jimmy rushes the Amazon. She does something with her spear that he doesn’t quite see, but he feels it strikes his legs.
Why am I upside down? he wonders for a fleeting moment before he comes crashing down to the ground.
He staggers back to his feet just in time for her to lash out and sweep his legs out from under him a second time. When’s back to his feet, she lashes out with her spear once more, but Jimmy is confident he has her figured out by now. He leaps back out of range.
Jimmy the Rake comes by his name honestly. He may not be the strongest of Wulfbert’s bandits, but he’s one of the cleverest and most devious. True to his rakish name and nature, he decides to do what any good scoundrel does when faced with a superior opponent: cheat.
“Hey!” he shouts. “Look over there! Look right behind you, right now!”
She doesn’t fall for it. She continues staring right at him through narrowed eyes.
“No!” he says, feigning utter desperation, gesticulating wildly. “Look right there! Right now! There’s, uh, um—there’s a unicorn!”
“I saw a unicorn yesterday,” she tells him.
Her only answer is to sweep his legs again.
“I am getting very tired of you,” he tells the Amazon as he pushes himself back to his feet. Again. “You’re not going to like what happens next, I can promise you that.”
He raises his sword. Her spear lashes out again and there’s a clashing sound. It takes Jimmy a moment to realise he no longer has his sword.
He glances over his shoulder to see it tumbling through the air and clattering to the ground. Facing increasingly one-sided odds, Jimmy decides to do the second thing any good scoundrel does when faced with a superior opponent: run.
He is, however, no match for the Amazon’s long legs and iron thews. He is promptly caught and soon finds her boot sailing for his face.
“Ow,” he groans, regretting many of his recent decisions.
As Jimmy the Rake crumples to the ground, he hopes the other bandits are having better luck than him.
And he wishes that the Amazon had prayed just a little harder…