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And Itza Danced coverA new challenge has been struck and the answer comes back in the form of Vilfort’s head in a bag, his tearful son carrying it. Itza has her doubts, but knows she must do this to protect her family and friends.

Finally, she too stood and walked out of the shrine. The sun was sinking on the horizon, illuminating the sky in shades of rose, crimson, lavender, azure tinged with gold. Despite her fear, the sight did her good and she felt a little of the despair lift.

The fighting area had been marked out again in the same place as before. Crex had taken his position on one side of the ring. The same old farmer was back where he had been. Elveric did not seem to mind the fact that Crex was there, even if he was no longer his boss. He didn’t care, he was so confident that he could beat her. It was apparent in the way he carried himself that he was not afraid. Itza tried to put on the same demeanor, determined not to show her fear.

Elveric was already in the ring, hands bound with cloth as before, broad chest bare, massive arms flexing as he balanced on his toes, shadow boxing as he waited for her. He still favored his left leg and she could see bruises on his torso from her blows. He would be slower as a result, she hoped she could use that to her advantage. Despite his injuries, he still was a formidable opponent and had a reach half again as long as hers.

Walking confidently to the ring, she entered to the cheering of her people. Elveric’s men took up a half hearted jeering, but she saw their faces. What threats had he made, what demands? Would they attack her people even if Elveric lost? It was possible. Perhaps, instead, they would honor the deal and leave quietly. Some would cause trouble, she could see it in their eyes. Others would be no problem. That was up to the militia, her order of business was to kill Elveric expeditiously, before he could kill her.

Turning slowly, Elveric noticed her and smiled. It was a cold, mirthless smile, like a crocodile on ice. He was evil, heartless, wicked, devious. She would have to be very careful. Crex stepped between them as the two combatants met in the middle of the ring. Looking from Elveric to Itza, he examined each carefully before speaking.

“We all know why we are here,” he began quietly. “The deal is,” he spoke more loudly so that all could hear him, “if Itza wins, Elveric’s men will leave this village alone forever. If Elveric wins, his men get the spoils of the town, down to the least crumb of food. The fight is to the death, no holds barred, no rules to break except it must be a clean kill.” He looked at Elveric pointedly when he said this.

“A clean kill,” he repeated, staring Elveric down.

The bandit leader glared at his former compatriot and spit in Crex’s face. Crex wiped the offending spittle from his cheek with the back of his hand, blank expression on his face. The look in his eyes was murderous, but he said nothing.

“Take your places!” The old farmer cried loudly.

Itza and Elveric went to opposite corners, waiting for the signal. Crex took an improvised flag, held it above his head for a few seconds, then dropped it. Snatching it up from the ground, he leapt out of the way.

Elveric ran, bellowing like a bullock, at Itza, who stood her ground quietly. Brutal, meaty fists sought her, but missed as she stepped aside. Elveric faltered, turned, digging deep troughs in the turf with his hobnailed boots. Itza prepared for his next rush, crouching low, fists close to her chest, waiting.

Elveric ran blindly at her again, roaring loudly, swinging his arms wide, trying anything to land a blow on her. Instead of stepping aside, she ran at him full tilt, silent as death. A foot or so away from him, she ducked low, sticking out her leg. Elveric saw it in time, stumbling to one side. Itza shifted her weight quickly and clipped Elveric’s sore leg with her foot. She had the satisfaction of hearing the kneecap pop out of place. Elveric grabbed his leg, bellowing in pain.

Before he could rise, she sprang forward, grappling for a hold. Summoning his wits, Elveric’s huge fist shot out, catching her in the midsection. With a whoosh of breath, Itza doubled up, faltering, nearly falling to the ground.

Using her as a support, Elveric levered himself upward, pushing her face down. He ground her face in the turf, slamming her head repeatedly with his fist. Itza’s hands grasped the grass, pulling her to a kneeling position. Suddenly, Elveric howled in pain, blood gushing from half a dozen wounds. Until now, Itza had not used her best natural weapon, but in a desperate attempt to save herself, the vestigial claws her people rarely used, sprang out of their own accord. Seven inches of razor sharp bone ripped into Elveric’s body.

© 2015 Dellani Oakes

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