The air was cool, but not cold; it was a bright, sunny morning in the early spring. The last vestiges of the winter snow were still melting on the ground, and the contestants in the tournament were preparing for their tournament. The winner would become the new King. Though it was still very early in the morning, a huge crowd of people had gathered at the arena, and excited buzz and chatter filled the air. The arena was located just outside of the King’s Castle at Rivermoor, but people from all over the Kingdom had arrived to see who was going to be the champion.
The five contestants were still in their tents; every once in a while, a tent flap would open and someone would step in or out of the tent, and a collective gasp would run through the crowd as they strained for a glimpse of the champion inside. Then a slight sigh of disappointment would follow, as the champions remained hidden from the crowd for the time being.
The champions numbered five, though the crowd only knew who four of them were. Josiah Burrough, the One-Legged Eagle, and the Hero of Whitefall, was by far the most well-known of the five, and was the crowd favorite. It was unclear whether he was going to have any serious chance of winning the tournament, however, because no one in the crowd knew what any of the contests would be. Speculation ran wild through the crowds.
“I heard that they’re each going to have to fight a giant dragon!” one man yelled excitedly.
“Don’t be silly,” his companions responded. “The Eagle already did that and won, so why should he have to prove himself again? Besides, where on earth are they going to get more dragons?”
The eyes of the children who were listening in on the conversation widened with awe, and a tinge of fear. “Would they really bring a dragon here?” one asked his mother.
“Hush, child,” she responded in a placating voice “There are no dragons here.”
“But what if there were?”
In other parts of the crowd, rumors were flowing just as fast. “I heard they’re going to have a fight to the death!” Someone shouted. “Whoever kills everyone else will be the new King!” He was quickly shouted down by those around him.
“They’re going to have a jousting contest!” another yelled. “The last man on his horse will take the crown?”
“That can’t be right,” the crowd said. “Josiah would be at a massive disadvantage. How would he stay on his horse?”
The suggestions grew more and more wild, and the crowd grew more and more impatient to actually see the contestants and find out what was going to be happening. In other corners of the crowd, men began to gamble, betting on everything from who would win the tournament, to what the contests would be, to the precise time of day when the games would begin. Money began to change hands, and with the money, alcohol began to be purchased, and as such it was not yet ten in the morning, and men were already becoming drunk.
All this flurry of activity stopped when the announcer stepped out onto the field, voice magically amplified by the Tao. “Citizens of the Kingdom,” he said, deep booming voice echoing off the stands and high up into the heavens. “Ladies and gentlemen of the Realm, Dukes and Duchesses, Magistars and Magistresses, Warlocks and Witches, may I have your attention! The Tournament of Champions to decide the future of the Kingdom is about to begin!”
Yells and applause resonated through the crowd. Someone catcalled the announcer from high up in the stands, and the applause turned to laughter as the announcer flushed crimson. However, he quickly regained his composure and continued. “May I introduce the Champions!” he shouted. “From lands unknown, student at Tao’lin University, the Hero of Whitefall, Josiah Burroughs!”
The crowd erupted in cheers and shouts and whistles as Josiah emerged from his tent; then a gasp went through the crowd. Somehow his leg had been restored! He was walking, no, running, on two legs through the arena, and was clearly enjoying every second of the attention he was getting. He bowed deeply to each of the four sides of the arena, and then took his place on the podium in the center of the arena while the other champions were introduced.
“Our next champion,” the announcer continued, “the nephew of the White King, Tallys Bennion!” A small, shrimp-like man emerged from his tent, eyes downcast as he shuffled over to the stage and took his place next to Josiah. Some polite applause came from the crowds, and a few boos as well. The nephew, son of the aforementioned White King’s sister, did not have many discernable talents, and whose only real claim to the throne was by blood. He was predicted to be the first to be eliminated from the tournament, regardless of what the challenges ended up being, and he looked as though he himself expected to be eliminated as well. However, his mother insisted that he participate in the tournament, as she was convinced that somehow all the other champions would fall before her son’s glorious might.
The announcer continued. “The third champion, Captain of the White King’s castle guard, valiant warrior, and bold knight, Ser Thorup of Avondale!” More excited applause came as the knight, dressed in full plate armor, marched out onto the arena field. Many of the women swooned; Ser Thorup was quite handsome, after all.
“Will you please welcome to the field our fourth champion, Warlock in the Royal Parliament, and Magistrate of the King’s Treasury, the Wizard Kal Samrook!” A tall man dressed in brilliant blue robes strode onto the field, a haughty, confident look on his face. As he marched, he muttered something under his breath, and his hands burst into flames. When he reached the stage, he threw several bolts of fire high into the air; the crowd “ooh-ed” and “ahh-ed”, impressed by his demonstration. Josiah scowled at him, and made some unheard comment to Tallys standing next to him. Tallys made a weak smile – the first time he had actually looked happy to be present since he had arrived on the field.
When Kal had taken his place, a hush fell over the crowds. Who would the fifth contestant be? Many people had tried to find out, but it was perhaps the most tightly-kept secret of the day. The announcer started to say, “And our fifth and final contestant is…” but his voice cracked a little bit, and a nervous expression ran across his face. He tried again: “And our fifth and final contestant is…” he paused again before finishing weakly, “the Chimera, Sub-nakht-re!”
Silence settled across the field as the massive beast emerged from its tent and moved across the field to the podium. Several people screamed. Children buried their faces in their mothers’ laps. What madness was this? Shouts of “Heresy!” and “Treason!” echoed out from several parts of the arena. Josiah looked unconcerned; Tallys went pale and appeared as though he might faint, and the other two contestants tried to look confident, but didn’t really succeed.
The announcer made to say something else, but found that being a few feet away from a beast twice as tall as him with massive blades for arms made talking difficult. On his second attempt, he managed to squeak the words out, casting nervous glances over his shoulder at the Chimera every few seconds. “It was decided…” he stammered, “that as the previous White King had no heir… the Chimerae… were in some sense his children and should be allowed to compete in the tournament.” The last few words came out in a rush.
Shouts of disapproval echoed throughout the stadium. “We won’t be subject to that monster!” they shouted. “We’d rather have the White King back!” Several members of the crowd tried to rush the arena, but were held back by the guards. The announcer looked nervously over his shoulder at the Chimera again, and opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.
The Chimera spoke. “My name is Sub-nakht-re,” he said. “I am a Chimera, and our Father was the man you knew as the White King. We rebelled against his domination, and thus we made war upon your Kingdom, but our grudge was not with you, but with your King. Now, your King is dead, as are most of my brethren, and as a child of the White King, I claim my right to compete for the throne. Any who wish to challenge this right may speak now.”
Silence again reigned; for the large majority of people here, it was the first time they had ever heard a Chimera speak, and its howling voice filled them with fear. No one dared respond.
“Very well,” said the Chimera after a few moments. “I will compete. If I win this tournament, I swear to you by our matriarch that I will rule you fairly and well; and if I lose, I will depart and return to my brethren to attempt to rebuild our nation from the damage that has been done to it.” The Chimera nodded slightly to the announcer, signaling that he was done with his speech.
The announcer said, “Let the tournament begin!” and then scurried off the field, anxious to get as far away from the Chimera as possible.
The tournament consisted of several rounds; the first round was a test of strength. A several-ton boulder was conjured in the middle of the arena, and a large circle was painted on the ground. The challenge was to move the boulder the thirty feet from its original spot into the center of the circle. Josiah and Sub-nakht-re simply summoned Tao around them to lift the boulder up and drop it into the circle with a heavy thud. The Wizard Kal had somewhat more trouble, trying several different things before finally casting a spell that caused the ground to become slick with ice; he was then able to summon several small creatures to push the boulder into the circle. Ser Thorup called a team of horses to his side, tied them to the rock, and then drove them towards the circle with a large whip and his harsh voice. It took him nearly an hour, but he finally succeeded, and the crowd let out a tremendous cheer.
Tallys, however, was nearly knocked out of the competition in the first round. He had no magical abilities with which to move the rock, and he could not control horses well enough to drag the boulder towards the circle (or even to lash the horses to the boulder). He stood in the arena for fifteen minutes, an awkward silence hanging over the crowd as he stared glumly at the rock in the middle. Every so often, an encouraging voice would call out to him, and he would walk around the rock once or twice, before giving up. The crowd was beginning to become restless, and finally he turned and started to walk off the field. Suddenly, he jerked to a halt, and turned back to the rock; he walked towards it strangely, motions rough and choppy. Then he raised his arms above his head, said some nonsense words out loud, and the rock lifted a couple inches off the ground and slowly floated towards the circle, where it set itself down again. The crowd erupted in cheers and hollers, and Tallys’s hands fell to his side; he took a step forward, bewildered, and stared at his hands, trying to figure out what had just happened. In a corner of the arena, Josiah smiled briefly.
The tournament continued through the day. A number of other challenges were presented to the champions, and they navigated them with varying degrees of success. As it turned out, the knight Ser Thorup was the first person eliminated from the tournament, when he couldn’t successfully navigate through a giant maze that was erected in the middle of the field within fifteen minutes. Perhaps surprisingly, Tallys was the first person to finish the maze, despite a number of dangerous obstacles that were present.
There was, in fact, a melee combat, whereupon the Wizard Kal found himself knocked out flat on his back by an errant swipe from the Chimera’s arm-blades. He was carried off the field on a stretcher, leaving Sub-nakht-re, Josiah, and Tallys alone on the field. Tallys had survived up until this point by mostly making himself small and unthreatening, and allowing the other combatants to fight among themselves, but now he couldn’t use that strategy any longer. Josiah jumped between Tallys and the Chimera, and brashly turned his back on the Chimera, lunging and thrusting at the poor kid. The Chimera took several swipes at Josiah while his back was turned, but somehow he always seemed to know when they were coming, and dodged out of the way. As they fought, Josiah muttered in a voice just loud enough for Tallys to hear, “Look, kid. Raise up your sword and hit me. I don’t deserve to be King – I’ve killed too many people – and I sure in the nine hells don’t want this Chimera lording it over us, so you’re gonna have to do the job.”
Tallys looked appalled at the thought, but as Josiah swung again and again at him, he dutifully blocked every strike, but made no attempt to retaliate. “Dammit, kid, try to hit me! I’m not making this hard on you, but you’re going to have to fight this Chimera behind me!” He rolled out of the way as the Chimera’s blade swooshed through the air where Josiah’s head had been moments before.
The young man took a few tentative swings with his sword, which were easily blocked by Josiah. “That’s better,” he said, “but you have to do better than that. Don’t let people like me walk all over you! You’ll just end up dead that way – or worse.”
The crowd in the arena was collectively holding their breath as the combat continued. Josiah seemed to be paying no attention to the Chimera, and the Chimera was becoming visibly angry. “Turn and face me, Josiah!” it roared. “Stop coddling this fool!”
“Listen, kid, do you want to be King?” Josiah asked Tallys. Tallys shrugged. “Wrong answer! Why are you here?” Josiah asked again, slashing at him with his sword. “Do you want to be King?” Tallys paused, then nodded hesitantly. “Then take it!” Josiah shouted and turned his back on Tallys to face the Chimera. Tallys struck out hesitantly with his blade, and stuck Josiah in the leg, the same leg that he had lost earlier. Josiah fell to the ground and was rushed off the field.
The crowd gasped in shock; the only two remaining contestants were the small, insignificant boy, and the massive Chimera. Money was flying between hands as bets, taken at humongous ratios, were lost left and right. Many people became much poorer that day, and the few who had bet for Tallys became much richer. Tallys himself, surprised, suddenly found within himself swordplay that he had never known before. He flew at the Chimera, ducking and dodging underneath its bladed arms, scoring hits against its heavily-armored skin wherever he could. The Chimera howled in rage as it struggled to fight against the annoying insect-like attacks from the tiny man. The crowd went wild, and began cheering and chanting Tallys’s name.
But as the battle raged on, it became clear that Tallys was becoming tired. He more frequently left himself open to attacks from the beast, and with every strike he dodged out of the way a millisecond or so later than the last. Several times it looked as though the Chimera had actually struck him down, but somehow he managed to dodge at the very last second. And then it happened; Tallys dove in for an attack, and did not see the Chimera’s tail flick out from behind. It snaked around his ankle and pulled his feet out from under him, and the Chimera roared in triumph. It raised up its two massive blades and prepared to strike the final blow, when Tallys found himself raising up his hands and muttering strange words, just as he had in the first challenge. The blades swept down, and landed on a wall of force just inches from Tallys’s head. The Chimera angrily brought all of its might to bear, but to no avail. Tallys slowly felt himself being drawn to his feet, the wall of force still in front of him, and striding towards the Chimera, a look of angry determination in his eyes.
Suddenly, faster than anyone could see, he jumped up on the Chimera’s back and ran to its head, raining blow after blow upon it. The Chimera spun in circles, trying to shake the man off, but he held on tenaciously, and then the battle was over. The Chimera fell to the ground, unconscious, and the stadium erupted in roars. The arena grounds were quickly covered with people, and Tallys found himself hoisted up on their shoulders, amid endless chants of “Long live the King! Long live the King!”
Josiah himself smiled, and slipped away; Idriys saw him leave out of the corner of his eye, and followed. “You cheated!” Idriys accused, catching up to the Eagle. “You rigged the contests!”
Josiah smiled slightly. “It didn’t seem fair to have the kid get knocked out in the first contest,” he responded.
“And the final battle? Against the Chimera? How do you explain that?” Idriys asked.
“Oh, that? I had nothing to do with that,” Josiah said. “I merely showed the kid what he was capable of. He’ll be a good king.”