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Welcome to HELL WEEK y'all. Here is the fourth of my SIX entries for the week laid upon the altar of the mighty Idol gods. As always, may they be exceedingly kind and generous...





“Tell me you’re joking.”

“When have you ever known me to joke?”

The morning sun beat down upon them, shirtless despite the frigid morning air. Devyn rolled his eyes and lunged forward with his sword. Marik easily parried the thrust and with his opponent off-balance, swept his legs out from under him, sending him crashing to the dirt on his back. Marik smiled and leveled the point of his blade at Devyn’s throat.

“Besides, why couldn’t I?” Marik asked.

“To start with,” Devyn said. “You’re not a knight.”

Marik silently sheathed his sword and helped his friend to his feet.

“You’ve got skill with a blade,” Devyn continued. “But beating a stable hand in combat is one thing. Beating somebody formally trained in the arts of war is something else entirely.”

Marik rubbed the stubble on his chin. “I think I’d like the chance to try,” he said. “And could there be a better prize should I win?”

Devyn dusted himself off as he eyed his friend. “You love her that much?”

“I do.”

Marik heard the sound of the horses whickering and stomping the dirt as they walked back to the King’s stables to begin their morning chores.

“You’re forgetting a couple of things, you know.” Devyn said.

“What’s that?”

“You’re the King’s fool for one,” his friend said. “You’re a storyteller, a singer, a tumbler, an acrobat and jokester. You serve to amuse his royal ass and make him laugh. Not to marry his daughter.”

Marik laughed. “And the second thing?”

“That the tournament is only open to knights and those of noble birth. Of which, you are neither.”

“So you keep reminding me.”

The smell of hay and horseshit was heavy in the air. Marik didn’t mind serving as the King’s fool. It was a noble profession in its own right. His own father had served the Court and this King for many years before his advanced age forced him to retire. But like the heroes in the stories his mother used to tell him, he wanted more from this life than mucking stalls and being there for the “amusement” of his betters. He believed that he was destined for greater things.

“And how do you plan on getting around that, then?” Devyn pressed him.

Marik flashed him a smile that promised mischief. “I have a plan,” he said. “If you can contrive to be in the great hall when the petitions start today, you can see me in action.”

“Aye,” Devyn said. “I was afraid you had a plan. I just hope I’m not there to witness them cutting your damn fool head off.”


*******




Marik had cleaned himself and dressed in his motley well before the doors were opened to the great hall. King Caladen and his firstborn son, Prince Ault sat on a raised platform while he sat on the bottom step and to the right, his mandolin in hand. He strummed the strings and hummed a tune as the hall filled with Court nobles and the day’s petitioners.

“Fool,” called the Prince. “Play me a tune.”

“His name is Marik,” the King chastised his son. “He’s a good man and you will treat him with some dignity.”

The King had always been kind and had treated him with the same respect he afforded some nobles. More in some cases. And Marik loved him for that. His son was thirteen years and rapidly approaching manhood. The King was bringing him to official functions more often and grooming him for the throne.

He bowed his head to the Prince. “And what would it please my prince to hear?”

“Something lively, foo--,” the boy flushed. “Marik. Something lively.”

Marik smirked and let his fingers fly across the mandolin strings, a familiar tune coming to mind. It was one of the bawdier tavern songs he knew about a love triangle between a woman, a midget and a donkey. He belted it out with gusto which made the ladies of the Court, not to mention the Prince blush fiercely but made the King and the other nobles howl in laughter.

As he watched the line of petitioners settling their disputes and begging the indulgences of the King grow shorter and shorter, Marik’s nerves became frayed, his stomach twisting in knots. It was almost time. He caught sight of Devyn in the royal livery serving drinks to the nobles who stood clustered about. His friend looked over at him with questions in his eyes. Marik gave him a wink and a smile.

His breath caught in his throat as a door in the wall behind the throne opened and Princess Amarise she stepped through. She glided up on the platform next to her father, laying her hand on his shoulder. Her eyes briefly caught Marik’s before passing over him to the crowd of nobles in the hall. He wanted so badly to touch her, to look deeply into her eyes, to feel her hands upon his skin. His body ached for it.

“Is there anybody else with business before the King who wishes to be heard this day?” The voice of the royal page echoed around the stones of the great hall.

It was time. Now or never. If he acted, he could be signing his death warrant. In a couple of different ways in fact. If he did not, the woman he loved would be lost to him forever and he might as well not be alive anyway. Marik’s throat ran dry, his blood pounded in his ears and his heart thundered in his chest.

“Aye,” he croaked.

The page’s eyes turned to him and Marik cleared his throat.

“Aye,” he called again, his voice louder and stronger. “I have a petition for good King Caladen.”

All eyes in the great hall turned to him as he stood up and set his mandolin on the step. The King looked at him curiously, seemingly not sure if he was playing a joke or not. Marik took off the silly hat he wore, dropped it on the mandolin and on knees that were trembling, took his place at the foot of the platform where the petitioners stood. The silence in the hall was physical, tangible and entirely oppressive. Marik could feel Amarise’s eyes on him and felt the heat rising in his cheeks.

“And what is it you would have of me, sir Marik?” The King’s voice was full of mirth.

“I- I wish to,” he cleared his throat again. “I wish to beg your indulgence, Your Grace.”

“My indulgence for what, good sir?”

Marik looked up at the King for the first time, cutting his eyes briefly to the beautiful raven-haired girl beside him.

“Your Grace,” Marik started. “I wish to compete in the tournament for Princess Amarise’s hand in marriage.”

The silence in the hall reigned a moment longer before it exploded in riotous laughter. Humor shone in the King’s eyes, sure that he was being put on. Amarise’s cheeks flushed but her eyes were wide and burned with shock and anger. Eventually the din of laughter receded though Marik could still hear pockets of snickering behind him. The King looked at him and perhaps saw the seriousness in his face for he regarded Marik with a critical eye.

“But you are not a knight,” the King said. “Nor are you of noble birth.”

“No, I’m not a knight,” he replied smoothly. “But neither were half of the men in this hall before they bent their knee to you. I offer my sword and my loyalty to you, Your Grace.”

A smile tugged at the corner of the King’s mouth. “But you have no lands to offer my daughter,” he said. “Nothing of real worth or value.”

“I would argue that true love is a most valuable commodity, Your Grace,” Marik said and flashed his best smile. “And as for lands, you have more than enough for the two of us.”

Shocked gasps sounded around the room and the Prince looked at him with unveiled hatred. The King scrutinized him, an inscrutable expression on his face. Marik wasn’t sure if he was intrigued or irritated at this point, whether he’d let him compete or just cut his head off then and there.

“Good sir,” the King said. “You have served me well for many years now just as your father did before you. You have never failed to lift my spirits. Never once. A good jester is a rare and difficult thing to find. If I let you compete, you are sure to be killed and I will lack humor and laughter in this hall.”

“It is not difficult to find a fool at all, Your Grace,” he said. “Why, I bet if you threw a rock behind me, you’d be sure to hit more than a dozen of them.”

The King laughed long and hard. Some in the gallery followed suit while others grumbled and cursed him. Eventually, the King raised his hand and the hall fell silent again.

“Were it solely my decision, I would say no,” the King said. “I love you too well and would miss your presence in my hall far too much. But I will let the choice reside with my daughter.”

All eyes turned to Amarise who blushed beneath the attention. She seemed to press herself against her father a little more, trying to hide from all of the prying eyes.

“What say you, my fair daughter,” the King started. “Will you have Marik fight for the honor of your hand?”

Marik looked at her, his eyes urging her forward, begging her to let him compete. She stared at him for a moment before closing her eyes and shaking her head.

“If he truly wants to be killed,” she said sadly. “Let him fight.”

The King sighed heavily. “I will miss you, Marik. I mean that.”

“Thank you, Your Grace.”



*******




“Are you a fool?”

Amarise paced the chamber, furious with him. Marik sat in a chair before the fire, staring into the flames, the full weight of what he’d done finally sinking in.

“What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking that we could finally be together,” he said quietly.

“We cannot be together,” she huffed. “If you’re dead.”

Marik pulled her down into his lap and circled her waist with his arms, burying his face in her neck.

“If you were to marry somebody else,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to live anyway.”

She stroked his hair. “I love you,” she said. “Don’t say that.”

“It is the truth.”

Her black hair cascaded down and tickled his face as looked into her eyes and saw the tears welling up in them. One slid down her cheek and he wiped it away.

“Do you not think me capable of winning?”

She remained silent and wouldn’t meet his eyes. Marik simply nodded. He loved her with everything in him. He had since he was a young boy and caught a glimpse of her. And he knew that she loved him just as well. They had been seeing each other clandestinely for more than a year and with each day that passed, he loved her even more. Marik knew that his life would be incomplete without her. When the King had announced the tournament for her hand in marriage, he knew that whatever the odds, he had to take the risk. Or he’d lose her forever.

“Your father told me that when I win this tournament,” he said. “He will knight me as well as grant me titles and lands to ensure that you live in the manner you are accustomed to.”

“I love you, Marik,” she said quietly. “I do not wish to see you killed.”

“I do not wish that either,” he replied. “I plan on us spending many, many years together.”

Amarise said nothing, staring silently at the fire as tears streamed down her face. Marik kissed her cheek and held her close.



*******




Marik woke before dawn and stepped outside. The sky was streaked with soft hues of pink and purple as dawn began to overtake the land. By the end of the day, Marik would either have his every wish granted or he would be dead.

“Enjoying your last sunrise, are you?” The voice came from behind him. “There’s still time for you to run away, you know. No shame in that. Well, not much shame anyway.”

He smiled as Devyn walked up beside him and handed him a mug of beer.

“I would be honored to have you serve as my squire today,” Marik said. “Will you stand with me?”

“You know I will.”

Marik nodded. He knew that the knights who had come in from all over the realm for the chance to wed Amarise would soon be stirring, having hearty breakfasts and preparing their armor.”

“I’ve been able to cobble together some armor for you to wear today,” Devyn said. “It looks like shit and none of it matches but it should keep the edge of a blade from opening you up.”

Shaking his head, he turned to his friend. “No armor,” he said. “I’m good with the blade but it will be my acrobatic and tumbling skills that will help me the most today. I’m quicker than all of them will be in their armor. It’s the only advantage I have.”

Devyn sighed. “It only takes one edge to spill your guts all over the dirt in the arena,” he said. “Will you at least wear a shirt of mail to give yourself some protection?”

After a moment’s hesitation, Marik nodded.



The crowd roared and cheered as the jousters went at each other in the arena. Bodies flew, crashing heavily to the ground as the lances blasted them from their saddle. The day was warm and Marik felt the sweat running down his back. He closed his eyes and said a prayer to the gods as he tried to calm his racing heart.

“It’s time,” Devyn said.

Marik opened his eyes to see seven knights in full armor with wicked looking swords on their hips marching into the arena. The page announced them, listing off their lengthy list of titles as they presented themselves one by one before the royal family who sat in their pavilion above the arena floor.

He took a deep breath and strode into the arena with Devyn by his side. The shirt of mail was heavier than he wanted but it was flexible and offered some protection from the blades. He tried to tune out the catcalls and laughter that accompanied his entrance though there was a smattering of cheering and support, he was glad to note.

“I present to you, my lords and ladies, Marik… the Fool,” the page announced, confusion in his words.

Marik smiled and clapped the page on the back. He bowed deeply to the King, turning and bowing to the Queen and the Prince and finally bowing to Amarise. He stood and looked into her eyes, hoping to see some spark of hope or belief but saw only sadness and loss there.

“Where is your armor, Marik?” The King called. “Surely a knight needs his armor?”

“Good question,” whispered Devyn which earned him an elbow in the ribs.

“If one plans on being cut then yes, a knight does need his armor, Your Grace,” he called back. “But my opponents cannot strike what they cannot catch.”

Some of the nobles in the pavilion laughed along with the King.

“Well said,” the King called.

Marik stepped into the line of knights that would be battling, looking them up and down. Sizing them up. They all laughed to one another as they eyed him. Marik smiled, knowing that since he wasn’t wearing a bulky suit of armor like them, he had a distinct advantage in terms of mobility. He just needed to make sure he took advantage of that.

“Gentlemen,” the King called. “Good sirs and brave knights. You have come from all over the kingdom for the opportunity to wed my daughter, the Princess Amarise. All you need do is prove your worth in combat. The last man standing in this melee wins the right to her hand with my blessing. Though I would prefer a bloodless, non-lethal melee, you will fight as you see fit. Good luck to you all and may the gods be with you this day.”

The King returned to his seat and the knights started to fan out in the arena, forming a large circle. Heart thundering in his chest, Marik walked backwards, keeping his eyes on his opponents while keeping his distance from them. His plan, such as it was, was to let all of them pair up. Certainly some of these knights held grudges and had scores to settle with one another. Marik was content to take the leftovers. Chances were good that if nobody bore a grudge against him, he wasn’t particularly well-renowned to begin with.

A silence fell over the arena as everybody seemed to be holding their breath. The page dropped the flag and the place exploded in cheers and screams. Marik watched as three pairs of knights squared off with each other. Grudge knights, just like he’d thought. But where was the seventh?

He felt him before he ever heard the armor of the knight creaking as he strode up behind him. Marik rolled to the side just as a large, heavy blade cut through the air where he’d been standing just a moment before and slammed into the ground. He had little doubt that he would have been sliced in half had he been a moment slower.

“I can’t believe the King let trash like you fight for his daughter’s hand,” the voice was tinny and muffled behind his helm.

“He thought the field needed a little class,” Marik said. “Besides, he likes me better than he likes you. He told me so himself.”

The knight took a wicked cut that Marik avoided with ease. He countered by bringing his sword down as hard as he could on the hand of the knight. The knight screamed in agony as Marik felt the bones give and heard the crunch of his hand beneath his dulled blade. Seeing the knight simply switching sword hands, Marik moved quickly and planted his foot into the man’s chest, letting the weight of the man’s armor drive him to the ground. He placed the point of his blade against the hollow of his throat.

“Do you yield?” Marik shouted.

The man hesitated so Marik applied a little pressure with the point of his blade. “Do you yield?”

The knight raised his hands. “I yield.”

Marik kicked the guy’s sword away and turned just as another blade came whistling at his face. He managed to get his own sword up to block it just in time though it drove him to a knee. The knight lanced out with his foot and caught Marik in the face, opening a cut just below his eye. He could feel the blood, warm and sticky running down his face.

The knight pressed his advantage and came forward, sword raised above his head, poised for the killing blow. Acting instinctively, Marik jumped to his feet and lunged forward, the tip of his blade leading the way. The knight had foolishly not worn his armored throat guard and Marik’s blade bit deep into his flesh, blood spraying out in a gush. Marik pulled his sword back as the man fell to his knees before dropping face first into the dirt, a pool of blood spreading out around him.

He looked around the arena. Six of the seven knights competing were down. Some dead, some had yielded. The seventh knight, in white enameled armor circled him, his sword held at the ready. Marik watched him circle, watched the way he moved, so graceful and feline-esque and a cold chill ran through him. It was Sir Glabell from the Southern provinces. Marik knew him by reputation and did not know if he could beat him.

“Tell you what,” Marik called. “Yield now and you won’t have to tell anybody you were beaten by the Court Jester.”

“Tell you what,” the knight called back as he removed his helmet. “Yield now and I’ll still cut your heart out.”

“Well that’s not much incentive to yield, is it?”

The knight rushed in, feinting to the left before bringing the blade in from the right. Marik grunted as the blade bit through his mail shirt and opened a gash on his arm. He swung his sword and it caught the knight in the side, glancing off of his armor. Marik rolled to his right as the knight brought his sword down again, narrowly missing his leg. Popping back up, he found himself slightly behind the knight who was slowly bringing his blade up again. Striking quickly, Marik drove the point of his blade into the unprotected area behind the knight’s knee. Sir Glabell screamed and fell forward, blood flowing from his injured leg.

Marik held the tip of his sword to the back of the man’s neck. “Do you yield, sir?”

In a flash of movement, the downed knight got to his knees and drove his hand backward, the point of a dagger biting into Marik’s thigh. He screamed and grabbed at his injured leg. Using the distraction, the knight turned and started to rise. Seeing the movement, Marik drove the point of his sword into Sir Glabell’s throat with an animalistic scream. The knight fell to the ground, blood bubbling from his mouth and wet, gurlging gasps coming from his throat as he died.

His breathing labored, his body aching and blood flowing from his multiple wounds, he felt Amarise’s arms encircle him, felt her lips upon his forehead and he knew that everything would be alright.



This has been my entry for [livejournal.com profile] therealljidol Season 8, Topic 36(D): Tumbler. We're down the Final 8 left standing and things are getting intense! As always, thank you so much for stopping by to give me a read and thank you for all of your support over the course of this season. It really does mean the world to me and I know that I wouldn't be here without you guys. Should we have a poll this week, don't forget to stop on by, read some of the other fantastic pieces and spread some voting-love around! THANK YOU EVERYBODY!

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