The scene is set with two Celtic warriors facing each other, either of warring clans or over a serious dispute involving land and honour. It must be serious, this is a fight to the death.
The plume of hair rides down from the top of his helmet into his face as his eyes squint and his mouth carves out a sneer. He yells at me something barely intelligible that I take to mean he intends to kill me this day, and I acknowledge the receipt of this message by yelling something even more unintelligible back at him about how I have no intention of dying.
He raises his shield and his sword and I raise mine. He waits for a half-beat and I let loose with a scream that is matched in intensity only by the blow from my sword. It clangs heavily off of his shield. As I follow-up with two more heavy shots, I donâ€™t realise I am still screaming until I stop.
He was been waiting, biding his time and measuring what Iâ€™ve got to bring against him. His patience has paid off as I am panting with an effort that has nothing to show for it. He brings a wide swing into my side and my shield crunches uncomfortably into my shoulder and hip. He follows this with a growing roar and a slash at my unguarded leg, the parrying of which throws me off balance. The advantage is his at this point, and he knows this. A glint of metal above me warns that a slash is on a dead path for my head.
By the time my shield is up in defence, I realise that this was a mistake, as the weight of his swing throws me further off-balance, and his following shot cleanly slices across my hip. The impact produces enough of a grunt to make my cry of pain a mix of anger and surprise, and my shield thuds into the muddy ground nearer to him than myself.
I stagger backwards and attempt to regain my balance. I am panting heavily now, and I can feel twin drops of sweat gathered on the brow of each of my eyes. The sweat is already streaming off of my nose and trickling down to my upper lip. I spit, fiercely and in anger, and the spray hovers for a second before alighting gently to the ground.
Heâ€™s readying himself to press the attack, and I throw myself at him, furiously screaming and swinging wildly. I realise that he is waiting again, for me to tire myself out, for me to reveal another weak spot, for the right opportunity to kill me. I swing again, a half-hearted attempt at his head which he easily parries away with his shield as he raises his sword high above his head.
My trick has worked, and the feigned weakness that I put into my slash lures him into a high and heavy killing blow while I have positioned myself closer to him. My newly free left arm backhands his sword arm, knocking it off itâ€™s intended path, and I grip the back of his neck as one might if they were telling someone something very secret and very important. The surprise registers on his face a split second before I slam my head into his. Though his helmet absorbs the brunt of it, he is stunned enough to stagger backwards and drop his shield. We are now back on a relative par.
The sneer that was previously etched into his jaw has faded into the realisation that he may have underestimated his opponent. My confidence swells and I lunge at him again, swinging down across his body and forcing him onto his back foot. I press the advantage and thrust at his ribs, forgetting momentarily that he isnâ€™t wounded like I am, and his health gives him the agility to gracefully parry my shot away. One small step forward and he has once again neatly and cleanly sliced across my torso just below my ribs.
I back away, reeling and grunting, gasping and panting, knowing that this is going to be over soon, one way or another. Because of the decreasing length of this moment in this battle, I stay in relatively close with him, circling warily and heavily wounded. There is little hope that he will underestimate me again. Wounded and tired, I am going to have to outfight him.
I swing at him in a wide arc, testing his defences, and he parries easily. Heâ€™s waiting again. Heâ€™s smart. I throw another testing shot, and he proves how smart he is by slapping away my sword and then immediately raising his for another high and heavy killing shot. I am somewhat off-balance, not ready, and he knows this. Iâ€™ve been caught pressing too much again and he knows this as well.
I have only enough time to grab the end of my sword with my left hand and raise it feebly above my head before his blow drives the flat of my sword into my head, and me to my knees.
I donâ€™t know whether it is embarrassment or shame which drives my next action. It is most likely a combination of those and a primal survival instinct, an inner control that only exerts itself on our actions when our life is very nearly being taken. Iâ€™m on my knees, exhausted and badly wounded, and it is this instinct that tells my arms to swing my sword to my right, parrying his sword and using his momentum to direct it towards the ground.
I rise, almost into him, and in one fluid motion I swipe my sword heavily across his body, slicing into his open side, my sword finishing high in the air almost in victory. Before I can even begin to envision that his entrails are now trailing off of my weapon, he is growling at me and gathering his strength back.
Only now is he just as wounded as I.
The length of our swords isnâ€™t such that we can duel with both hands as effectively, this is going to continue to be up close. Knowing this, I move into him, growling and tensing my body, balling my shoulders up and winding back for a heavy swing. My sword arcs across his body and clangs heavily off his parry, knocking him back a bit off-balance. I lean in again and come back across his body. Iâ€™ve got him reeling. I press the advantage and plant my right foot in close, preparing for the kill.
Another trap. Iâ€™ve come from low to high, in an effort to get under his defences and finish him, but heâ€™s outsmarted me. His wound hasnâ€™t affected his agility as much as I had estimated, and this realisation is as much of a shock as the helplessness I feel when he bats my sword away from the inside, exposing my body. A heavy slash across my chest causes my arms to reflexively recoil into my body and my instinct to flee hits as I try to turn my body. Another swipe across my upper thigh and I am on the ground.
Everything slows down, and as I am acutely aware of my vulnerability I am also aware that he is circling me. As I prepare to marshal my strength in a final effort to rise and fight, I turn my head to see where he is. Iâ€™ve barely got time to raise my hand as his boot slaps painfully into the side of my head.
My next conscious thought is bewilderment at how I came to rest on my back. The overwhelming feeling of wrongness sweeps over me as I realise the difference between the energy and action of a fight and laying helplessly and bleeding in the dirt. This is not right, and I shouldnâ€™t be here.
Though I know this, there is little I can do about it. A primal and guttural growl lifts out of my throat as I force into action the ultimate focus of my energies, my sword.
I am not here though, not properly, and reality asserts itself by once again showing me that, although the world has slowed down for me, it hasnâ€™t for everyone. His boot lands firmly across my wrist, and itâ€™s message to my body is final. I am not to move.
The matter-of-fact look in his eye tells me that he has to do this. I glare at him, and when his eyes meet mine, he glares back.
I fight him. I defy him. I struggle against him.
He shoves his sword into my chest. My head tips back and my chin raises high as I cry out, voicing this injustice unto the world. Then I fall silent.
I am dead.
â€œYou can get up nowâ€ he says dryly and with a smirk as he walks across the grass to pick up our shields, â€œthat was pretty good.â€Praise from my reserved and sarcastic brother-in-law is as rare as my graceful acceptance of it. Usually, I either stay quiet or try to insult him. This time, I stay quiet, and I listen as he tells me that Iâ€™m ready, and that Iâ€™ve got the elusive â€˜itâ€™ and that most people either donâ€™t quite have â€˜itâ€™, or it takes them ages to learn â€˜itâ€™.
I am a warrior.
I am a showfighter.
And I am ready.