"Did you see that, Tal?" the commentator asked his partner.
"Indeed I did Marr. I've never seen anything like it in all my years of commentating."
"Nor have I-" Marr began, preparing to wax lyrical over the numerous unusual things he had seen in duelling arenas over his many years of commentating-
-when an over-excited Tal interrupted him. "They came together, their knives clashed, and, bam! Broken knife!" Tal cried out, sitting back and giving his partner to explain the situation more fully for their audience.
"Thank you for that, Tal," said Marr, perhaps a little annoyed at his colleague's outburst. "But what do you think will happen now? Will the Magistrate call a halt to this?"
Tal vigorously shook his head for emphasis. "No way, Marr. This is more than an honour match, it's a fight to the death, and a death is what we're gonna get — no matter how we get it."
Marr nodded sagely. "So no Magistrate intervention then, and I don't think that' s really any surprise. Just look at that crowd, Tal. They won't leave until one of these Amazons is lying on the arena floor with a knife sticking out of her belly. And with that broken knife just now, it looks like that's about to happen a whole lot sooner than we all expected."
"That's right, Marr. Death can only be moments away now. What was a pretty evenly-matched fight - both Amazons at the peak of their game — has just turned into a tremendous mismatch. This was a fight, but now it's little more than an execution, make no mistake about that."
"I'm afraid so Tal, but first, as the two Amazons circle each other, adjusting to the new and unexpected situation, here's a quick recap for those who got here late."
Marr paused a moment, summoning gravitas into his voice before intoning, "It all began a couple of months ago when a turf war broke out between the encampments of the Jal-Tak and the Sarané.
"The Jal-Tak were the first to make an accusation, claiming the Sarané had snatched some of their outlying farmland and planted it over with tobacco leaf, the main cash crop of the Sarané.
"A few days later, the Sarané claimed the Jal-Tak had snatched some of their lands and fed their crops to the Jal-Tak's sheep, staving off a long spring when there was little for their flocks to forage on.
"Now remember folks, the Jal-Tak and the Sarané share a contested border to the north of their lands, so disputes such as this are quite common, though normally they die away after a couple of weeks, excuse the pun.
"But not this time.
"To try and stop matters from escalating, the Elders of the Jal-Tak travelled to the Sarané encampment under a flag of truce. But even as the elders of the Jal-Tak and the Sarané were huddled together, trying to argue out who had taken what from who, a messenger brought news that there had been a new outrage.
"A Sarané Bounds Walker had been reported missing, a search party had been sent out, and she had been found, impaled, on what the Sarané claimed were Jal-Tak lands.
"Outraged, the Sarané tore up the truce flag, and the Jal-Tak elders had to fight their way out, leaving three of their number and four of their guards dead, their deaths coming at the price of a dozen dead Saranés.
"From there, things get real bad real quick.
"Bounds Walkers began travelling in threes, all commerce between the Jal-Tak and the Sarané came to a halt, and each sought the help of their neighbours in trying to raise an army to wipe their enemies from the lands.
"In a word — chaos.
"After just a few weeks, with over two dozen dead on both sides, the Elders came together again, on neutral territory this time. It was agreed to settle matters traditionally, and a duel was set. Each settlement would elect a Champion and those Champions would engage in mortal combat, with winner take all. The losers had until sunset to quit their former lands or else risk enslavement, or impalement.
"Which brings us here today.
"As we arrived this morning, the final preparations were being made to the makeshift arena. Roughly circular in shape and about twenty feet in diameter, the land had been trampled as flat as possible, and had been packed with harsh sand, the harshness intended to 'inspire' the Champions to be as swift as possible in their combat. Around the edge of the arena, a series of wooden spikes, about two feet in height and a foot apart, had been driven into the ground, both to keep the combatants in the arena and, as we have seen sometimes before, as an extra weapon to impale a Champion on.
"Finally, with the sun peaking overheard at noon, the two Champions emerged from the crowds of their respective settlements.
"For the Jal-Tak there really was no choice in the matter, and it was Channa who entered the arena. Maybe five feet seven in height, lightly muscled, clad only in a brief loincloth, Channa's skin had been oiled to a sheen to prevent her opponent from turning their combat into a wrestling match. As she strode over the spiked poles, everyone could clearly see Channa carried the famous Parting Kiss in her left hand, the knife which had been passed, Champion to Champion, mother to daughter, from generation to generation, all the way back, it was said, to the founding of Jal-Tak itself. Undefeated, that knife had sent dozens to the dark halls of Hell over the years, and Channa carried it with the confidence that is was about to despatch another Amazon to Hell.
"For the Sarané, their choice of Champion had been less certain, their previous Champion having had to retire after her last fight, won at great cost; the loss of her knife-hand was an injury Maia could never come back from. And so the Sarané were thrown into confusion, hastily arranging a non-fatal tournament - protecting their future there - the winner of which was crowned the Sarané Champion.
"Her name is Jirina, and that's about as much as we know about her. Taller than Channa, she entered the arena in a thong-like loincloth, was similarly oiled, and had her dark hair pulled back into tight plaits as opposed to Channa's short cut. Jirina carried an unknown blade, leaf-shaped, with no history to inspire her — or us.
"But it seems she didn't need any-"
"-Not at all," Tal interrupted, frustrated at being silent for so long. "As the combat began, the Amazons started with the feints and bluffs we would expect of Champions, Jirina clearly impressing with some of her moves.
"As they settled down to the combat proper, after a couple of false starts, it was Jirina who launched herself into the air, bringing her knife down, intending to slash Channa across the chest.
"Channa, taking the best defence against such a move, had fallen to the side, bringing up Parting Kiss with the intent to cut at Jirina's hand.
"All this, of course, happened much faster than I tell it.
"But, as the knives clashed — bam! - Channa's knife-blade shattered, leaving her with the hilt and nothing more, the blade fracturing into dozens of useless slivers of metal.
"Stunned, Channa pulled back as Jirina — luckily for Channa — stopped her attack, surprised at what had just happened.