My killer stood before me, silhouetted by the setting sun. The light made him faceless, a shadow with sword in hand, ringed in fire. His blade was wicked and curved, icy steel that seemed to leech the radiance from the sun behind him. He called the blade Night.
I took my sword in hand. It was long and straight, spotted with rust and nicked upon the edge. It was the blade that was supposed to have killed a king.
On my surcoat, a golden sun crested a distant horizon. It was meant to be a rising sun, but now it seemed to be setting.
A crowd was gathered in a wide circle around us, stomping their feet and calling for blood. I could hear the prince address them in his high, nasally voice. “This man before us stands accused of killing my father, our late King. He has been given, as is his right, a trial by combat. If he is innocent, may he prove it now in the sight of gods and men. If he is guilty, may he die painfully.”
This was no trial. The crowd knew it. I knew it. The prince and his champion knew it. This was an execution by combat. The charade angered me. The prince would never allow me to win, this facade just made a mockery of justice. No doubt the prince had ordered his champion to make my death long and excruciating.
The sun dipped further behind the horizon as I stepped forward and raised my sword. The sky was darkening quickly.
The executioner raised his curved blade, and my trial began. We fought back and forth, locked in a dance of death, moving to the rhythm of the crowd’s stomping feet. Swords flashed, steel, clashed, and the crowd cheered as each blow fell.
My death was a show to them; I let that fuel me.
I beat my killer back, scoring cuts across his pauldrons and chest plate. I thrust my sword at his hip, and the tip came away bloody. A hush fell over the crowd. I couldn’t turn from the fight to see the prince, but I imagined him white with fear. Then I imagined him dead.
For a moment, the sun burned bright.
He righted himself, and caught my next stroke on his cross guard. He began to move slowly forward, raining blows upon me and forcing me steadily back. I parried most of them, but one cut my shoulder, and another opened my arm from shoulder to elbow.
The sun was further eclipsed. My enemy was no longer surrounded by a burning brand, but faintly outlined with a dim yellow glow.
He slashed at my hamstring, and I fell to my knee, my breath labored.
The last rays of light painted the sky.
I raised my sword above my head, and he struck it with a flurry of savage blows until he beat it from my hand and sent it skittering across the ground.
The sun set, his sword rose, and Night fell.