Shortly after the conversation with my mother, my status reached even higher heights. The rise revolved around an individual duel I engaged in with an enemy warrior. A duel that carried with it a cost for either our side or the side of the enemy.
It was not common for our sides to agree to one on one combat between two of our best warriors. Such duels had been more common at the beginning of this new world, but it became evident, or rather it was decided, that much more could be accomplished in the mass warfare we typically engaged in; “much more” meaning: destruction and chaos and confusion for the masses, which was something that was not as evident to me then as it became to me later on. In reality, these duels could be more efficient, they were more conducive to compromises being made and, of course, they led to less blood being shed. Of those three seeming benefits, however, only efficiency seemed to be the major concern at the time; neither side put much thought into compromises, and less bloodshed on both sides defeated each side’s desire of continually increasing the bloodshed of the enemy. But despite despite our movement having moved away from agreed upon duels almost completely, I relished the time I got to engage in one.
The terms had been set ahead of time. If I won, we kept a mountain. If I lost, the mountain was theirs. It may sound simple enough, but in our war, mountains were never simple and always advantageous. Not only because it was always better to be on higher footing than to be down low in the case of an attack, or due to a mountain being beneficial in scouting out a potential enemy, but also because of what can be found on a mountain; the wood, the rock, the many sources of food — all of these were so important in building upon our Main Village and in providing for our people.
The reason the fight over this particular mountain came to allow for old tactics to be used was due to its possession having been split in half by both sides for many years. On one side was an army of our men, at constant, living on this mountain for the sole reason of not wanting to allow the enemy take it over. On the other side, was the enemy, doing the exact same. It was a stranglehold in which no fighting had taken place for some time. Attempts in the past had been made by both armies to march to the top and engage in battle but those attempts never ended well, and going around the mountain for assaults were also unsuccessful. There were even unsuccessful attempts by other armies of each side sent to attack the armies standing guard — again, the armies standing guard on higher footing were always at the advantage.
Both sides so desperately wanted the entire mountain, but they also desperately wanted a decision on its possession to be complete. Time, energy, and the resources of fighting men were being wasted.
As for me and my opponent’s role, we were to fight until one of us had killed the other. I was not chosen to fight, I volunteered. I was the best man available, the one most likely to bring about a victory, and yet the Leaders, along with Theodon, didn’t want me to be the man. This was of course understandable. Losing me would always be a great loss, no matter how it came about, but losing in a one on one combat, again something that was rarely even engaged in at the time, would’ve shown the Leaders to be irresponsible. However, they couldn’t tell me no. Doing so would have shown the other men a lack of desire to win as well as a certain cherishing of one man over others. And so, the likelihood that I would win, combined with the Leaders’ desire to be seen as just while also doing what was best for the Cause, trumped the potential embarrassment that could result from my unlikely but still possible death.
The optics for the Leaders were not at the forefront of my mind and of no importance to me, however. Winning for glory was all that I was thinking about. This is why I volunteered. Losing was not even on my mind when I told the Leaders that I wanted to be the one who fought, never considering it to be a possibility. Therefore there was no fear of this being my final battle and no thought of dying was present. I knew I was going to win, and I knew I was going to gain us that mountain. And when my brother even hinted that the battle could result in a loss, I shut him down.
“Valeric, there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll win. But you have considered everything, haven’t you?” he asked.
It was the night before the fight and I was lounging within my home, hands behind my head staring above me, into nothing in particular. I was confident, cocky even.
“You say you have no doubts, but in even asking that question, you appear to be expressing doubts,” I replied.
Theodon was visibly frustrated by my demeanor. I knew he was worried that my seeming indifference could result in some over-confident fall on my part.
“You will win, Valeric,” he reiterated, “It's just that you were so quick to volunteer… you did so before hearing what it means to do something like this.”
“I’m fully aware of what a one on one duel entails, brother.”
“I know… that’s not what I’m saying. It’s just…”
“Just what? Say it.”
“I don’t know anymore. But this…” he waved his hands in my direction, “this showing of overconfidence is dangerous… Can you at least act a little more serious? This is an important fight and you’re acting as if it’s all a game.”
I finally sat straight up, not because he had convicted me, but because I wanted to look him in the eye, so that our conversation would be ended with my final word.
“Theodon. I know what’s at stake. I know the importance of winning. And that’s why I’m going to win. And I can assure you that tomorrow this will be no game for me. My eyes will be full ahead. The reason I am the way I am tonight is because this seems to be a game to the enemy. They know I’m the one fighting tomorrow, and they know what I’m capable of, and yet they’re still going through with it. I find that disrespectful. Also… it’s laughable. Tomorrow, they will pay.”
It was the final word. Theodon left, yet I knew he was still annoyed with me. But I also knew that, with my final words to him, I had vanquished any doubts he had been entertaining.
The setup to the duel was a spectacle to behold. A manmade arena had been organically formed for the event; no actual work had been put into this so-called arena — it was merely two opposing forces standing on opposite sides of each other with fifty yards of open space in between. The space was where me and my opponent were to fight.
But the spectacle wasn’t necessarily in what was set-up. Rather it was in the energy coming from both sides. Everyone knew what was at stake, they knew the process in determining who would win, and we’re aware of the rarity of the scene that was about to unfold. Excitement was in the air, men on both sides looking forward to watching the fight, instead of having to participate in one themselves. There was a sense of it being a historical event, of it being one of those moments you tell your children about and then they tell theirs.
It seemed, for a little while, that this excitement surrounding the match may have actually caused some on both sides to neglect the seriousness of what a loss could possibly mean for them. The anticipation, the adrenaline, that energy and excitement, all of it made the spectacle seem almost unreal.
I stepped forward, and he, my opponent, did as well, and with these two movements reality made its return. We were alone in these actions, as everyone else stood still. We kept walking until we were twenty yards away from each other. The rules of the battle had already been laid out. We now simply had to wait for a flag to be waved, commencing the fight.
His eyes were intense as he glared at me, seemingly attempting to stare directly into me. He was bigger than me, but he was no giant. I recognized him. A strong fighter, one of their best. He had to be. I had witnessed him a few times in the midst of battle. He swung his sword with great power, almost always only needing one strike to end the warrior opposite him. He was fast when running in a straight line but while his agility and quickness in side to side movements were better than most warriors, they weren’t his greatest strengths, and I made note of this as I stood there.
The most important attribute he possessed was that he was ruthless and intense. He fought with one thing on his mind: he fought to kill. Nothing was more important to him than the duty he was asked to perform. And despite being my enemy, I could respect him for that, because although it could be believed that all warriors carried this mindset, it was simply not true in practice. In practice, some gave lip-service to it but weren’t consistent in living it out, while others only fought to survive. Not this man. This man was out here to kill me, to conquer me, and he was already trying to gain the upperhand through a stare of attempted intimidation.
It was during this stare, though, that my respect for him actually began to wane; he should’ve known that such a tactic wasn’t going to work on me. So I just looked back at him, merely so. No hint of burning intensity could be found within my eyes.
As we both stood there, the energy rose and the people’s adrenaline could be felt. The energy made sense to me in one sense, it not being difficult to understand the excitement of the event. But in another sense, the adrenaline stood out to me as peculiar, because I wasn’t able to fully grasp how the men could be filled with it when they had been reduced to being spectators. Thus, despite the confident indifference I was displaying, within me was a feeling of gratitude. I was thankful that I was one of the privileged two who got to be participating, instead of being cursed with having to watch.
We continued to stand, and when the energy seemed to be reaching its peak, I knew the flag was about to go up. The crowd knew this, too, because the energy began to turn from excitement to anxiousness, and then to nervousness.
Up it went.
Immediately after the flag was raised, he made his charge at me, angry with me for not showing him as much care as he had been showing me. I stood still and waited, for just a few seconds. After those few seconds and as he got closer, I leaned forward, sword in hand. When he was five feet away from me, I crouched and balled myself up, placed my sword back in my sheath, fell to the ground and rolled directly into his on-coming legs, performing all of this if in one motion. My act tripped him, and as he was falling to the ground, I jumped back to my feet, pulled my sword back out, and before he even landed completely on the ground, I stabbed my sword through his back and into the ground itself. His fall was stunted by the blade of my sword as he was pinned to the ground by it. I ripped off his helmet, grabbed him by the hair and lifted his face to see if he was still breathing. He was not. His eyes no longer contained a look of intensity. Instead, they were blank. Blank with death.
To make things final, I pulled my bloody sword out of both the ground and his body and then drove it through his neck, severing his head from the rest of his body. I grabbed the hair of his head again, picking the head up entirely, and I threw it in the direction of the enemy’s side. Then I walked back to my own side. The mountain was ours.