Karl smelled his opponent before he saw him.
This was partly due to the leather strap that covered his left eye. The eye patch felt sweaty and stuck to his forehead- more than usual under the cloudless sky. It was a grisly punishment for failing to parry a spear in his ninth fight. As an arena brawler, scars were considered a sign of luck, for second chances do not come often.
The man smelled like rotten meat, s***, wood smoke, and most of all, blood. Probably because he drank it. He called himself Hudd. Hudd rhymes with blood, Karl observed. In fact, most of the stadium was chanting his name as the iron gate lowered behind him with a mechanical rumbling.
The arena itself was small, a sand-filled pit lined with spikes to prevent escape attempts- not that there were many. The brawlers were not slaves, at least not in the same sense that the men and women that labored in the mines or attended the gentry as servants were. Karl gave up his freedom in return for good food, lavish ceremonies, and the glory of the kill. In Dustport, arena brawlers were regarded as champions and Karl loved every minute of it.
He often remembered an old saying of his mother’s in the moments before a fight. The only two people who ever truly know a man are the woman who brings him into the world and the killer who drags him out. Karl had “known” a great many people in his life, but judging from the appearance of the man who lumbered out in front of him, there was not that much hidden.
A large man in his thirties, Hudd was a true veteran of the pits and a favorite of the crowd. His scar-striped back glistened in the mid day sunlight. In his right hand, he brandished a Jutte, a large iron pole with multiple metal hooks, designed to draw as much blood as possible. He wiped a day’s worth of blood of his chin with a forearm as large as one of Karl’s thighs.
“I will kill you,” Hudd grunted. Hopefully his prowess in combat is as lacking as his vocabulary.
Karl unsheathed his longsword and slashed a clumsy strike at the big man’s head.
Rather then block it, Hudd just took the hit, chuckling as blood dripped out of the gouge on his left shoulder. He began to spin the pole with such as speed that it made an audible whirring noise. The crowd roared. They want a bloody show, not a good fight.
Karl stared at the weapon, trying to discern when the forty stone piece of iron would find his skull stuck on one of its hooks. With his gaze on the deadly blur, he noticed Hudd’s left leg muscle tense- but it was too late. The kick directly landed above his groin and sent him sprawling in the corner. He coughed and tasted vomit in his throat.
With a kickflip, Karl sprung to his feet, but he had no sooner landed when Hudd’s mailed fist smashed into his chest. He heard (and felt) at least one of his ribs crack. A second punch and Hudd was sitting on him, pinning his entire lower body with his sheer mass.
“You will squeal little-man” Hudd sputtered as he reached in his boot for a carving knife.
Karl scanned for a way out. To his right was his longsword a few paces out. Karl reached for it, his index finger barely brushing against the pommel. If I could just- The knife plunged into his forearm, searing as Hudd’s favorite beverage poured out. The crowd’s roar was deafening.
Disoriented, the corners of Karl’s vision began to darken as Hudd shifted his weight onto his abdomen, the pressure on the cracked ribs was unbearable. He managed to stammer “Get off me!” despite the 200 stone man that was slowly crushing his lungs.
“What? You want another?” The knife came down harder this time.
Karl looked back up at the brute and screamed. “I said, get the f*** off me!”
With his left hand, he threw a fistful of sand into the gap between their heads and turned so that his eyepatch was facing up. Hudd howled as the fine particles entered his eyes and airways. With his wounded hand, Karl grabbed his longsword by the hilt and swung it at Hudd’s hip. He stood up giving Karl a chance to roll away. The dry desert air rushed into his chest as he climbed to his feet.
Across the arena, Hudd scooped up his Jutte and charged. The first strike was angry and easily dodged, but the second, Karl only just moved his sword in time to block.
Reverberations shot through his blade and up his arm, almost causing to drop it again. He twisted his hands so that his thumb was supporting the false edge of the blade and stabbed at Hudd’s face. Hudd stepped forward and forced the thrust up with his club.
Karl hooked the crossguard under his arms and lifted. With all the strength he had, Karl smashed the pommel of his longsword into Hudd’s exposed jaw.
Karl had eaten a coconut once. He remembered the taste of the milk and flesh. He also remembered the sound and feeling the fruit had made when he cracked it open. Hudd’s jaw made a similar sound.
“Uuuhhhhhhhhh!!!!!” he screamed, as a half dozen splintered teeth fell out of his mouth. He was coughing on blood.
The crowd was silent.
As he watched the man choke on bone, teeth, and flesh, another of his mother’s sayings flitted into his mind.
Karl darted forward and opened the big man’s belly. Hudd’s intestines slid onto the sand
He managed a final “Auuhhh!” before collapsing.
“Chew before you swallow.” Karl said as he threw down his sword and walked out the gate.
Blood in the Sand
Karl smelled his opponent before he saw him.