[It’s high time I posted some more of the Tale of Ayla here. This is super skipping ahead in the tale, but it has been waaaaay too long since I posted something Ayla related. Please enjoy :)]
This is the story of Ayla and the Blue Knight.
During her long travels, Ayla came to the Kingdom of Caerse, on the banks of the Elisan River. She arrived on the day before midsommer, and the city was bursting with all manner of folk, who had come from far and wide to join the festivities.
You see, the Kingdom of Caerse held a great tournament every year on the feast of midsommer. The king of Cearse, being a wealthy and generous king, bestowed handsome and lavish gifts upon the winners of this tournament. The year that Ayla arrived, he had promised something rarer than jewels and more precious than gold to the champion of midsommer. The king’s own magic belt, which stories say held anything the wearer needed within its pockets, would be the prize.
Ayla had no interest in this prize of course. Magic is a rare and wondrous thing to most mortals, but to Ayla, who had traveled the breadth of the Witch-haven, magic was as common as rain, and she knew better than to be greedy in seeking out such things.
No, Ayla had not come to fight, she had come to watch. To eat, drink, and to make merry with the people of Caerse. So Ayla came to an inn, and inquired after a room and a bath, for she had been long on the road.
As she entered the inn, the people of Caerse marveled at the young woman, no more than 16 winters, clad in dark bronze colored armor, wrapped in a tattered blood red cloak, and carrying a green warhammer.
Ayla did not like being greeted this way. She strode forward and the crowd of the inn parted before her, revealing a young man not much older than Ayla. He had the look of a nobleman, clean and well dressed in a blue tunic.
“Have I made a joke, good sir?” Ayla could see the man was a knight, and was confused why he would be laughing at her.
“I should say. Quite a good one too. I did not know the king sent his jestress out among the people on midsommer,” he laughed again.
“Oh? Do tell me. What is the jest,” Ayla said frowning.
The knight stifled his laughter, held up his hands and made hasty apologies. He told Ayla that she had the look of a foreigner, and so perhaps she need to be told after all. He then explained, not unkindly he thought, that in his part of the world, a woman dressed in such attire “like a man” was quite amusing indeed.
Ayla intended to dismiss him as simply rude, but she began to see nodding and smiles from the many gathered there. She hesitated, wondering if perhaps she was is the wrong. If she was perhaps breaking some important local custom.
She very nearly apologized, until the knight said, “I should hope you do not plan to carry this jest to the games master. It would be a shame to see you hurt.”
“I beg your pardon, sir?” Ayla said aghast.
“Perhaps there are women knights where you come from, young lady, but here knights are men. And men hit harder than women. You shall find yourself very soon outclassed,” he laughed.
Ayla stared in disbelief at this man. She had no patience for the Art, but she had been around witches and wizards long enough to know how to glimpse the true nature of another, for it is not so much a working of magic as simply knowing how to look at a thing.
This man brought Ayla to mind of a rotted fruit. One that looked pleasant enough on the outside, but was horrid within.
Ayla smiled at the man and said only “Good day” before retiring to her room.
The next day at dawn, when the tournament began, the knight in the blue tunic had donned his armor. Heavy steel plate, polished with an art that made it brilliant blue and wonderful to behold. He was a very wealthy knight, but had also earned his skill through years of training and war.
Ayla too, came to the tournament, In her ancient looking, tarnished armor. She gained entry from the game master, who acknowledged Ayla’s point that no law in Caerse forbade woman from the contest.
Throughout the day, both Ayla and the blue knight defeated many opponents on the field of battle. Though many who fought Ayla blamed their losses on her magic hammer and armor, none could deny her skill in combat and many more conceded that Ayla was the better warrior.
It came to the final bout, where only Ayla and blue knight remained. Even as the blue knight’s squires refastened his resplendent armor, Ayla undid her own. She left the armor, her hammer, and even her cloak behind has she took the field. She was determined that no one mistake this victory for one of her magical raiment over mortal one. Instead, she took the field holding only a lady’s shawl.
The blue knight scowled. He had watched with some amusement the fights of Ayla earlier in the tournament, but now, in his mind, the jest had gone too far. He decided he would have to teach this wench a lesson with the flat of his blade over her backside. Then she would be sorry she dared to mock him.
They met at the center of the field. They both saluted the king of Caerse, then Ayla saluted her opponent. The blue knight did not. Instead, he charged, swinging at Ayla with the flat of his blade.
And he hit nothing.
He swung again. Still he hit nothing. Again and again he swung, and each time Ayla stepped just beyond his blade.
Those watching laughed raucously at the display. The woman in the shawl dancing past his attacks like children playing a game. “How amusing,” they cried.
Then Ayla struck him.
Not the closed fist strike of a jab or a wild punch. Ayla struck the blue knight’s helm with the back of her open hand. Hard enough to make him stumble, and certainly hard enough to injure her own hand. But the laughter stopped.
The woman had slapped the blue knight. Like a parent to a petulant child, she had slapped him.
The blue knight roared with unbridled fury and turned his blade, no longer interested in leaving welts but deep cutting wound instead. The king’s game master stood, prepared to call a halt to the duel.
Ayla dodged the wild swing as easily as ever, but this time made sure her shawl looped around the wrist of the knight’s sword arm. Ducking under the arm and to the knight’s back, Ayla pulled on the shawl to bring the arm with her. The knight stumbled again. Ayla seized the moment and the knight’s other hand, looping the shawl over it as well. She pulled tight the knot around the blue knight’s wrists. Ayla’s foot caught his like a hook and a quick shove sent the blue knight face down into the dirt.
Ayla quickly brought her knees into the blue knight’s back and took a knife from the knight’s belt. She cut the straps of his helmet and cast it aside.
His helm removed, and the naked steel of his own knife before his face, the blue knight wept and cried out, “I yield!”
And so it was that Ayla won the midsommer tournament of the Kingdom of Caerse, though she had not gone seeking to do so. She was rewarded for her triumph over the blue knight with the magic belt of the king.
Ayla did not keep the belt though. Instead, she gave it away.
To the youngest princess of Caerse. Who would have her own legend I’m sure, but that is another story all together.
Aww, I miss the framing device! And there’s something stilted feeling about the writing in this one. Still, I’m happy to have more Ayla!