A Wedding to Duel For

It was a wedding that was nearly three decades in the making. From toddlerhood to adulthood, they rarely left each other’s side, different stations in life be damned.

When it was time for one to walk into the sun of monarchy, the mendicant fell in their shadow, their indigent generational coffers making it hard to even get a peek of sunlight in the trenches. But every so often, the monarch would step aside and allow their friend, confidant, lover, rival, a teacher in the ways of the people, and song and the monarch’s closet advisor, to get a drop of sunlight, the brightness helping the pauper grow more and more before going back to the darkness. As the seats in the arena started to fill, the audience mixed with those of higher classes and lower, judging each other because of entitlement or bitter forced respect. Some of either class, however, decided to talk and joke with each other, excited to see the final battle that has been going on for “eons”.

The monarch stood at the mendicant’s side, their pockets full of love notes and pressed flowers, as well as stolen trinkets and jewelry, that were suddenly of concern now that they were missing. Even with swords at their throat, the mendicant was laughing. The monarch was smirking. As the truth of the “stolen” jewelry tumbled from their mouths, the people in the crowd who told that lie faces fell, the smarmy smirk, falling off their now white faces like a piece of an iceberg. Those same people now sat on a raised dais in front of the ring, wrists, and ankles shackled by chains made of obsidian and topaz, that weaved around the legs and armrests of the golden velvet chairs they were fastened to. Compared to the colorful clothes of the rest of the audience, these guests of honor were dressed in white robes, covered from head to toe, with only their eyes showing through their veils. Beneath them was a thick glass container that had holes that were flushed with the legs of the chairs.

A hush fell over the crowd as two figures dressed in black robes made their way to the center of the arena, entering from opposite sides of each other. The sun was overhead, a natural spotlight on the two. The two figures stared at each other, feet hip-width apart, hands clasped in front of their bodies. A flock of herons flew overhead, their wings creating shadows over the arena. Robins, sparrows, and wrens were playing the role of drums, their songs mingling together and creating a rhythm of war. Ten vultures flapped onto the dais, dropping half-digested rats for the ten guests before hopping up, each vulture sitting on a headrest behind a guest. The birdsong grew louder, the people in the stands watching the two in the arena intently, the guests’ foreheads sweating, soaking through their white robes.

Caught in the lie, the ten people hemmed and hawed, babbled and baffled, and demanded that if this lowly thief was so in love with the monarch, then they must prove it through battle. Every month for ten years, the pauper was to battle a child of patricians, someone who thought they were worthy of their sovereign’s hand just because of their birth. They sent out one of their daft, brawn children first, as a jape, to embarrass the monarch, who sat alone in the audience during this match. They wore fanciful dress that was made up of cotton silk, consisted of a cape and gloves, and were speckled with rubies, that was nearly the color of the blood that spilled on their person. At the end of the battle, they would walk into the arena, and the cape that trailed behind them would drop over the fallen bumbling embarrassment to cover the shame and downright dishonored corpse that the pauper left behind. The pauper was tired, battered, and bruised, but the sight of their love made them weakly stand only to collapse into their arms, clasping their lover’s arm in one hand and the old dagger that had bits of sinew from the oaf’s throat in the other.

For ten, long, grueling years, the highbred sent their best, trying to save face after being decimated by an empty-handed person of no lands or titles. One hundred and nineteen people had to die for no reason. The last one, an old veteran, threw down their sword and laughed at the folly of his own betters. The veteran chastised them, damning them for wasting valuable people for someone who has already made up their mind, as well as ignoring a very capable fighter in front of their very eyes. The veteran brought up their shameful behavior in front of others who had no idea how it all started. Each of those ten sent twelve people went to die because the future monarch dared to rule.

The monarch and mendicant stared at each other in the arena, smiles playing across their faces. The birds stopped screeching. Black robes flew to the skies as the two fighters got into their fighting stances, each of them holding daggers in each hand. The mendicant bowed their head as if saying the monarch could attack first. The monarch bowed back, the years of training making some in the crowd gasp in awe at the gracefulness of the bow before the whole crowd went wild as the monarch took off in a sprint toward the mendicant. With a jump, they tried to slash at the medicant, but was too slow to fully strike them, knicking their arm with a sharpened dagger. One of the guests jumped in their seat, a thin, red line of blood pushing through the white fabric. The vulture that sat above them cried out, making the audience look up at the dais. Another vulture yelled, its corresponding guest yelping as a slash went through their leg, the blood slowly pooling at their foot, but dripping into the open ring around the nearest leg of the chair, collecting in the glass cube.

The dueling couple was unharmed as they struck each other, the daggers pushing into themselves like props for plays. The guests screamed and sobbed in pain as each attack struck them instead. They weren’t heard over the sounds of cheers and hooting from the audience as they turned their attention back to the elaborate wedding dance they were watching. One would try to stab the other, only to be pulled into their arms and twirled away. One would land a hit, pressing themselves into the other, their steps backward moving in unison, before kissing a part of their face.

The dance went on for what felt like hours to the guests, their white robes tye-dying to the same shade of red that the monarch wore on that first fight. A vulture let out a scream as one of the guests let out their last breath, their head and torso slowly falling forward as one of the duelers “stabbed” the other in the heart.

Metal tubes shot up from the armrests, entering the dead guest’s hand and clamping itself inside before sucking the blood out of the guest’s body and pouring it out into the cube below. People wearing black robes walked over to the body, releasing the corpse’s bindings and stepping away as the body fell onto the floor, arms at an angle that would be most uncomfortable for a living person. The vulture that sat at the headrest screamed again, hopping down onto the body before picking at it, tearing holes into the robes to get at the meat. Another one died as a dagger struck a jugular, blood pouring out of their neck, the white robe sopping up the red fluid like a thirsty person that just found water in the desert. Someone started to scream as their innards were sliced open, their vulture feeding on them before they died from sheer shock. As the chairs removed their blood and deposited it below, the dancers were laughing and giggling, leaving kisses and words and love on each other, as their violent strikes ended lives a few stories above them.

As the last body leaned in their chair before falling to the floor, their bodies were pushed over the side of the dais, the vultures crying out in annoyance before flying down and going back to eating the corpses. The two dances threw aside their daggers and kissed each other, the audience hooting and hollering with joy. As the dancers undressed, showing the world their unscathed bodies, they bowed toward the crowd before locking arms and holding hands. They made their way to the shadow under the dais, looking back at the crowd. Hands still clasped together, their free hand rose to the opposite side of their chest.

The blood of their enemies poured onto their heads, washing away the joy and awe over the crowd into a terrified hush. The monarch and mendicant stepped out of the pool of blood in unison, hands still clasped, but now covered with a small flame.

“Tell your corners of the world,” they said together, with the sound of a hundred voices talking with them. “Tell them that we do not mind showing how far we can go to make it known that–“

The fire in their hands exploded, covering their bodies, drying the blood, and burning it off before their skin absorbed the flames.

“–We will kill anyone who stands in our way.”

The birds in the arena started to swarm the dancers, covering their bodies with feathers and claws before flying away and leaving nothing but the “stolen” trinkets that meant nothing until it mattered.


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