Raising the Stakes
Trendel looked over at his two primary instructors for this station, and then looked over towards Mikkelson.
“Sergeant Hennesy, would you consider a side wager?”
The stocky Sergeant cocked his head to the side and stared at Baron Trendel, as though trying to see inside his skull to figure out what he was planning. After a long pause his face split into a wide grin through the beard, and he replied, “Well, hell, sir, I’ll ALWAYS consider a side wager. What’s on yer mind?”
Baron Trendel turned to squarely face the Sergeant, and said, “I’ll wager that Mikkelson will win.”
The Sergeant thought about it for a moment more, and then asked, “And what’ll I be getting if it happens I should win, sir?”
Trendel looked Hennesy right square in the eye, and said “If you are able to coach the three young men in your corner well enough that they can defeat Mikkelson, then in addition to all the wagers you would win from your other bets, I will add in 150 crowns.”
Sergeant Hennesy’s face became a grim, stony mask as he frantically tried to figure all the angles. “With that kind of pot, sir, what do you expect to get out of me if Mikkelson wins?”
“Well, Sergeant, if Mikkelson wins, you’ll have to pay a very dear price. You will spend one full month without drinking.”
Lieutenant Darling had observed the entire exchange between the two men without interference or comment, his expression becoming increasingly sour at the imagined fraternization, but at the last comment, he broke into a harsh laugh, like the fluttering of crows in flight, and exclaimed, “He has you there, Sergeant! Everyone knows you couldn’t go a week without a drop of that rotgut you favor, and you’d die before you saw a whole month through! Excellent jest, sir!”
Sergeant Hennesy looked over towards the Lieutenant, but although it was clear he had a few things he was thinking of saying, he held his peace, possibly to make sure he didn’t lose the new suckerfish that had just leapt out of the water and right into his lap, so to speak. He grinned even more broadly, clearly pleased as could be, and said, “You’ve got yourself a wager, sir! Shake on it!”
As Baron Trendel and Sergeant Hennesy shook hands over their bet, Trendel said, “Sergeant, if you lose, I’ll cover half of your other losses. I feel it is only just, in light of what I intend to do.”
Sergeant Hennesy had the presence of mind to say, “Wait a minute, sir. Hold on just a second!” before Baron Trendel turned his attention to the sparring circle, still gripping the Sergeant’s paw of a hand, and in a tone of command, called to Trainee Mikkelson, “Mikkelson! Since it seems that I am in a wagering mood, I offer you the chance to face me in single combat for evaluation should you win this fight and beat all three of your opponents!”
Baron Trendel turned his attention back to Hennesy and smiled a shark toothed grin. “Just a little incentive for him, to give him a reason to push himself this time. If you want your lads to win, you might want to go down there and coach those boys well.”
Casting a black look at Baron Trendel over his shoulder as he went, Sergeant Hennesy all but flew over the rail, and lunged across the sands to where Dickson, Grant and Lawrence were getting ready to begin. He yanked all three out of the circle and into a huddle, grabbing Grant by the back of his leather-shod head and yanking it down to within whispering range when he acted balky, and began talking to them in a very earnest manner, keeping an eye out for eavesdroppers. Trainee Mikkelson took the opportunity to stroll over to where Lieutenant Darling and Baron Trendel still stood, and said in the formal way the soldiers were taught, “Perrrmission to speak to the Commandant, sar?”
Baron Trendel nodded his head in the affirmative, and Mikkelson went on, “Begging yer pardon, sar, but I ain’t been wit the Guard for all that long a time. It seems like to me that you meant a bit more than just another fight when you offered up to spar with me. You said it like that was some kind of a prize. Now, I’ll do my best, no matter what else is going on, but it would ease my mind a bit if you’d help me to be understanding what you’re offering. I may do all right on the sand, but I don’t like getting hit any more than the other guy.”
“Trainee Mikkelson. I’ve watched you since you arrived here. You know damn well you’ve got a gift that doesn’t belong on any farm. Or at least if that’s your upbringing, it shouldn’t be your life. I also don’t want to see you waste away as a minor member of a Guard detachment, because I see the makings of a better soldier in you. You are instinctive when it comes to tactics in personal combat, yu have initiative, you have shown common sense and you have never hesitated to question authority when there was something about your duties you were unclear on. Those are fairly rare traits in a soldier of your age, son. You have the physical skills to be a great warrior, but the other things I have seen of your intellect and character lead me to suspect that, with the proper training, you could have a different future before you that the guards. A Guard needs to place teamwork and his fellows before individual accomplishment, and strive to work together and fit in… but a Knight must often travel alone and see to it that justice is done without support or assistance.”
“My hope in offering you a chance to spar with me wasn’t just to have you go against someone of more skill, but to evaluate your true initiative and improvisation against a skilled opponent in melee combat, as part of a final recommendation to the Order of Radiance as to your suitability to become my squire. Does that satisfy your question?”
Mikkelson cocked his head to one side and eyed Baron Trendel for a moment. Then, with a very serious expression, his light eyes shadowed in the sockets of his face, he said, “Let me get this straight, yer lordship. If I win against these three, against the Sarges’ coaching, I get to fight you?” Baron Trendel shook his head in the affirmative. “And if I fight you, even if I don’t win, but just do a damn fine bit of ass-kicking, then you’ll take me on as yer apprentice? Sir, what would that do to my standings here? No offense meant, yer lordship, but I have to keep a steady job, so’s I can send the money back home to me Ma. Only reason I left the farm was to make enough money to cover the taxes we’d been owing to the Duke. Tyr knows I’d like a chance to learn direct from someone that’s been there and done that and lived to tell about it, but I have to think of my folks.”
Baron Trendel rocked back on his heels for a moment, considering. It was clear Mikkelson did not realize that a Knight of the Order of Radiance was entered onto the rolls of nobility in the borderlands, and as part of the labyrinthine politics surrounding the Order, would be sponsored by one or another Duke of the borderlands to his own income generating lands.
Finally, he just settled for saying, ”You’ve brought up a good point, Trainee Mikkelson. I try to be a just man, so I give you my personal pledge that, if you win this fight, we will work something out that will ensure you, and through you your parents, receive proper compensation for your skill and dedication.”
A grim smile formed on Mikkelsons’ face, his skin tightening across the backs of his hands as he knuckled a salute to Baron Trendel. Backing away, he said “Some I’ve known may dither about when faced with a hard task, but you’ll not find me turning away. All I’ve ever asked is to be given the chance to prove myself, and I’ll not be found wanting today.”
As Trainee Mikkelson turned around and returned to his end of the circle, Lieutenant Darling, who had observed the entire exchange, remarked to Trendel, “You know, there’s another point you may not have considered, your lordship. You have been granted command of this Academy, it’s true, but somehow I don’t think Duke Arneghast placed you here so that you could steal away his most promising Guardsmen into the arms of your Order. Especially one with the potential of Mikkelson. With all due respect to your station, my lord, you might want to take that into consideration.”
Baron Trendel mulled that thought over as he watched Sergeant Hennesy finish up his instructions to the trio with a very hard look towards Mikkelson. Dusting his hands off as he walked from the circle back towards Trendel, the three boys he left behind grabbed their weapons and shields and readied them as they took their places within the circle, their faces set in determined masks of stone.
The other instructors, seeing the unusual activity centering around Mikkelson’s circle, got all of the other trainees broken up and out of their circles, to form up around Mikkelson’s circle in a loose ‘Sit, kneel, bend, stand’ observers formation. There was a lot of chatting and excited whispers amongst the trainees, only reinforcing how hard the betting must have been on this match, since all of them were clearly eager to watch the results directly rather than hear about them second hand.