Reiver Two Swords stood alone on the sands of the Battle Pit of Dnur. About him lay the bodies of forty-nine fighters, many of their spirits sent to the feast in Dath's hall by Reiver's hand. Yet Reiver still stood, blades in hand. After two years of captivity he had grown accomplished at waiting patiently for something new to be thrown against him.
Dnur's citizens filled the stands that encircled the Pit with their chanting of his name. The barbarian in the Pit raised his eyes to the Imperial Box and the sweating form of the corpulent wearer of the Ivory Crown. Reiver's eyes lingered long upon the barely concealed curves of the girl clad in slave silk who held the Emperor's cup. He had already decided she would be his. She looked upon him with both contempt and admiration, contempt for a man fallen slave, admiration for a man who still stood after a Bout of Fifty.
Reiver's eyes didn't miss the flash of anger that crossed the Emperor's face, nor the command that caused the slave-girl to blanche. Minutes later the Beast-gate creaked open and the crowd fell silent. Nothing stirred in the darkness behind the gate for several long seconds and Reiver stood, silent and poised, waiting. Then, with a roar that elicited screams, both startled and excited, from many in the crowd, a giant mountain grinyt charged onto the sands, straight for the lone warrior.
Reiver dove to the side as the grinyt landed on the spot he'd been occupying. His swords flashed sparks from the beast's scaled flanks. Both of them were back on their feet, circling, eyeing each other and snarling their defiance, within moments. The grinyt snarled, and charged again, head down, its quill mane abristle. Reiver was too fast though, he slipped out of the reach of the poisoned quills even as his blades flashed, scoring the lighter scales of the grinyt's face and blinding one of its eyes.
The grinyt howled and was answered by the crowd, all of them drunk on the first sight of blood. The beast backed away, momentarily disoriented by the screams of the crowd and its own pain. It was given no time to recover. Reiver crowded close now, his twin blades a whirl of steel striking the grinyt about the face and head, slashing sparks off of the armour and, when the beast was backed up against the wall beneath the Imperial Box, a blade flickered forward into its remaining eye and pierced through to the brain.
Reiver stepped back, flicked the beast's blood and brains from his blade, and waited for it to die. The grinyt shook its head as though trying to clear the blood out of its eyes and then, with an ear-shattering roar, it leaped. Reiver fell beneath it. The crowd screamed. The grinyt twitched, opened its mouth to roar but the sound was choked off by a sudden flow of blood. With one more twitch the flow of blood eased and the beast fell still.
The crowd was silent, stunned by the suddenness of the ending. Then, suddenly, there were calls as the grinyt began to move again, rocking from side to side. There were muffled screams as the barbarian, covered head to toe in bright blood, pushed the massive beast over onto its side and then crawled out from beneath it, retrieving the sword that had pierced the beast's heart before standing back and glaring his insolence once again up at the effetely silk-clad emperor.
There were cries of approbation from the crowd which soon turned into a chant demanding the barbarian's freedom. Coins, jewels, and scented scarves were flung onto the sand of the arena, more than enough for Reiver to buy his freedom from the Pit Master and start a new life.
The Emperor, sensing the mood of the people, ordered his servant to call out the proclamation of manumission. Several slaves entered the pit to begin clearing away the bodies and the youngest of them, barely a boy, gathered up all the accolades, wrapped them up in one of the scarves and carried them to Reiver who still stood, swords in hand, staring up into the Emperor's face.
The Emperor, trying to appear magnanimous, stood. The crowd fell quiet as he moved to the front of his box.
“What would you of me, barbarian? I offer you a boon. Anything you desire, up to half of my realm.”
Reiver smiled. “Your slave girl,” he called back. “The one there holding your cup.”
The Emperor grimaced, then laughed. “I offer you an empire and you ask for a slave?”
Reiver smiled. “Anything you have I can take, with these,” he said, half lifting the swords. “At the moment all I need is a woman.”
The Emperor stepped back as though slapped and the crowd hissed its delight at the barbarian's audacity. The guards about the Imperial Box slapped hands to hilts as though prepared to leap into the arena and defend the Emperor's honor.
“You speak like a reiver,” said the Emperor, trying to appear unconcerned.
“I am of the Blood,” Reiver answered.
“You have not their size.”
Reiver was still smiling. “I have not yet achieved my fourteenth year,” he said with a shrug.
There was a loud murmuring from the crowd at this.
The Emperor turned away, “Give him the girl, though I doubt he'll know what to do with her.” And he laughed.
The slave-girl was taken up by a soldier and cast down to the sand at Reiver's feet whilst the Emperor left the Battle Pit and the slaves cleared the sands of fallen bodies.
The girl rose smoothly to her feet. “What is your name?” she asked boldly.
Reiver looked at her coldly until, recalling her place, she fell to her knees and touched her head to his blood-smeared feet. After several moments she dared to look up and his fierce green eyes held hers until she felt her heart tremble. “What would you, … master?” she asked, lowering her head again to the sand.
Reiver turned away. “Follow,” he ordered, and left the arena, once again a free man.