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17
The Tournament - Day One

I used Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe” as a model while creating the tournament’s combat grounds. Gesindel is an actually existing German word and means “mob”, more or less.


~~~

CHAPTER 17 – THE TOURNAMENT, DAY ONE

Once again, the town of Carvossonn rose early in the next morn, on the first day of the grand tournament. Every soul who had no duties in the Castle or somewhere else in town wanted to see the rare spectacle. Even many traders left their booths closed, as the fair would most likely be fairly abandoned during the combats, and wealthy merchants loved to watch knightly games as much as any nobleman. Besides, they could always leave their apprentices behind to guard the wares.

The place of the tournament had been chosen weeks earlier, and wood-workers had been busying themselves to prepare everything for the grand event for about as long. Between Lord Forlong’s woods and the horse-fair was an extensive meadow of fine green turf, fringed on the side of the fair by great trees. The ground sloped gradually down to a level bottom, as if it had been meant for such martial games, forming a space of a quarter of mile long and about half as broad.

The wood-workers had enclosed that space with strong wooden planks in the form of an elongated square. Only the corners of it were rounded off, to offer more convenience for the spectators. The carpenters had also built strong wooden gates for the combatants, at the northern and southern ends, each wide enough for two horsemen to ride through. Two heralds were standing at each of these portals, together with six trumpets, and a group of twelve men-at-arms who were responsible for maintaining order during the tournament.

There was a natural platform beyond the southern entrance, formed by the elevation of the ground itself. Upon that platform, the pavilions of the knight challengers were pitched, adorned with the colours of their Houses: silver and red for the Lady Aud, green and white for Prince Théodred, black and silver for Lord Peredur, the pure white of the Stewards of Gondor for Boromir and green and silver for Hirluin the Fair, the Heir of Pinnath Gelin, the fifth challenger. The cords of the tents were of the same colour, save Hirluin’s, which were blue – the third colour in his shield. Before each tent was displayed the shield of its occupant, and beside it stood an esquire – either the knight’s own or one borrowed from Lord Forlong’s court.

The central pavilion, as the place of honour, had been assigned to Boromir, of course. Not only due to his rank and position, but also because of his reputation as an excellent combatant (in war and battle anyway). On one side of his tent stood those of Prince Théodred and the Lady Aud, on the other one were the pavilions of Lords Peredur and Hirluin. Although both of those were older than Boromir, they had accepted the Steward’s son as the chief and leader of the challengers, and so did the Rohirrim.

The ten-yards-broad passage that led from the platform to the southern entrance of the combat ground was secured by a palisade on each side and guarded by a strong troop of men-at-arms. Not that anyone would expect the challengers to be waylaid or attacked in any way, but they had valuable armour and weapons with them, and the fair always attracted a great lot of thieves, cut-throats and other gesindel, as the people of Lossarnach called them.

At the northern entrance of the combat ground was a large, enclosed space for such knights who wanted to try their skills against the challengers. As the newly made knight, ‘twas expected from Herumor to be one of those, and traditionally many of the visiting young noblemen would join him. Behind that space, tents were placed, offering accommodation, refreshments and everything they might need, with armourers, farriers and other attendants, ready to give aid whenever necessary.

The two longer sides of the combat ground were framed by temporary galleries, spread with tapestry and carpets and cushions, for the convenience of noblemen and ladies who wanted to attend the tournament. A narrow space between the galleries and the combat ground offered less luxurious seats for the wealthy burghers of the town, so that they would not need to mingle with the common crowd. For those, large banks of turf had been prepared, so that they could overlook the galleries and get a clear view at the combat ground. Those who came too late to secure themselves a place there, could still perch themselves on the branches of the trees that surrounded the meadow.

One gallery, in the middle of the eastern side, opposite the very spot where the actual combat was to take place, had been raised higher than the others, with three canopied seats for the Prince, Lord Forlong and Lord Orchaldor respectively, as the guests of honour. Opposite this gallery, on the western side, was another one, elevated to the same height, designed for the ladies of Forlong’s House and their royal guests, with a canopied chair in the centre for old Lady Achren, who would not miss the tournament for the world. That, or the chance to show off her power as the matron of the clan, forcing her daughter-in-law into the background… or, at the very least, to the side.

To everyone’s surprise, the Lady Almaren did not react to the offence by withdrawing from the entire spectacle, as Forlong’s first wife would have done. On the contrary, she had put on her most splendid gown, a dream of ink black and silver, with an elaborate headdress so high that it reached as far as the old lady’s canopy, and sat on the second-best place with an expression of cold, well-contained fury upon her face. Madenn and Achren sat on their grandmother’s other side, wearing their festive clothes in deep blue and dark red, holding silk handkerchiefs with which they were supposed to wave their knight of choice to encourage them.

Shortly after the second hour of the day(1), the interested townsfolk, regardless of rank or station, began to flood the place, eager to occupy any available space. That led to all sorts of quarrels, of course, as everyone was trying to get a seat with the best possible view at the lists(2), and some simply pushed their way to places they were not entitled to take at all. When the fights became truly loud and one had to fear that it would come to blows, the men-at-arms intervened to settle them, with the generous use of the shafts of their battle-axes. If the quarrels involved wealthier or more important persons, they were dealt with by the two marshals of the field – household knights of Lord Forlong – who rode up and down along the wooden planks, armed with swords and short, strong lances that could finish a wild boar, to keep up order among the over-excited crowd.

Little by little, the galleries became filled with the local noblemen and their ladies and daughters, all wearing their most splendid garments in the colours of their Houses, while the lower and interior spaces became crowded with the respected craftsmen of the town and with local and visiting merchants and their families.

Finally, the Lord of Lossarnach rode in as well, high upon his big-boned, heavy-limbed bay palfrey, dressed splendidly in his best burgundy red, slit-sleeved plated tunic, with tiny golden bells on the left sleeve and a belt of gold chain. The cut of the tunic was the most fashionable, brought to the northern provinces from the elegant circles of Pelargir and was called a houppelande, with a foreign word the origins of which no-one seemed to know. It was edged with squirrel fur, and Lord Forlong wore a fine silk shirt under it as well as dark breeches and supple leather shoes rather than boots. His head was covered with a rich velvet bonnet of the same colour as his tunic, attached to a golden circle, studded with dark red gemstones.

With him rode the Prince of Dol Amroth in his customary royal blue and wearing his crown, to honour the event, Lord Orchaldor in the black and silver of his House, his iron-grey hair down, tumbling over his shoulders and crowned by a masterfully wrapped capuchon against the heat of the sun. Erkenbrand of the Westfold wore green and white, in Rohirric fashion, and Lord Húrin wore dark again, with the emblem of the Wardens – a white tower on black flanked by two golden keys – embroidered upon his breast.

Little Morwen and Princess Idis, who wore the smaller version of ladies’ clothes and looked very lovely in their finest garment, were sent to the ladies’ gallery to sit with Madenn and Achren, and then the lords took their designed places, and the trumpets sounded, signalling the beginning of the tournament.

After that, the heralds – chosen for their loud, ringing voices for this task – rode up to the middle of the lists and proclaimed the rules of the tournament. These were pretty much the same ones as on any other such event, save that outrance was not permitted – which meant, the knights were not allowed to fight with sharp weapons. This was a tournament of skills; Lord Forlong did not want any one of Gondor’s glorious youth to be severely injured or even killed.

The heralds then withdrew from the combat ground, and no-one remained there save the marshals of the field who sat on their great steeds, motionless as if carved in stone, at both entrances to the field. By then, the gathering place at the northern entrance had been filled with knights who were eager to try their skills against the challengers. Quite a few of those knights were from the lesser nobility of Lossarnach and the adjacent provinces, but some of them had come from as far as Belfalas. Tournaments had become a rare event in these days, and every young knight desired to prove his achievements in the art of fighting. Thus they were waiting impatiently for the gate to be finally opened, and the first five of them, chosen by lot previously, to be allowed to enter the lists.

The single champion riding in front was Herumor himself, splendidly armed, on the back of his trusted Caenneth. The other four followed him in pairs. Cheers broke out again, the ladies waved with their silk handkerchiefs and scars (Madenn and Achren before all others, encouraging their young cousin), the men stomped with their feet, and the children shouted as loud as they could.

Even the occupants of the Lord’s gallery leaned forward and watched with narrowing eyes as the five knights rode up to the platform where the pavilions of the challengers stood. There they separated, and each touched the shield of their chosen opponent with the blunt end of their lances.

One of them, a bear-sized local nobleman of the Old Folk, had chosen the Lady Aud, hoping perhaps that he could toss a woman from her saddle easier with the sheer force of his bulk. Baranor, the Captain of Lord Forlong’s household knights, who had refused the honourable offer to be one of the marshals for a chance to participate, had chosen Prince Théodred, while Boromir got challenged by Idanach, one of Lord Orchaldor’s youngest knights. Herumor had decided for Hirluin the Fair, which had been a wise choice, the Heir of Pinnath Gelin being of the same slender stature and only a few years older than him. Peredur, finally, got a hawk-faced knight from Belfalas as his first opponent.

Their choice made, the champions retreated to their end of the lists, where they remained in a straight line. The challengers, led by Boromir, mounted their stallions and slowly rode down from the platform, facing the knights who had touched their respective shields. They all rode cold-blooded destriers, heavy war-horses trained for ambling: a pace that provided the rider with stability, so that he would be able to focus and aim better with the lance. Also, these horses could give a devastating force to the rider’s lance through their weight. All steeds wore caparisons featuring their owner’s heraldic signs, and had their head s protected by a chanfron, a shielding of steel, as even the hit of a blunted lance could have been lethal otherwise.

The sound of clarions and trumpets signalled the beginning of the joust, and the knights started at each other at full gallop, each trying to find an opening by their opponent. Superior skills or strength – or simply good fortune – seemed to be on the challengers’ side, though. The bear-sized local knight was the first to roll on the ground, thrown out of his saddle by the Lady Aud with such force that even his horse staggered. Boromir knocked down young Idanach easily enough, too, and Prince Théodred had no difficulties unhorsing Forlong’s captain, either. Peredur and the knight of Belfalas were more evenly matched; they both stayed in the saddle, but while Peredur’s lance remained whole, despite the clean strike he had delivered, that of his opponent had splintered by the impact and thus he was declared the winner of this particular joust.

Herumor alone maintained the honour of his party, as he parted fairly with Lord Húrin, both splintering their lances without advantage on either side. As each knight was allowed to break five lances during the first day, this meant that Herumor could re-enter the joust and prove his skills against any of the other four challengers.

First, though, the victors retreated to their tents among the joyous sounds of the trumpets and the acclamations of the heralds, allowing their defeated opponents to leave the combat ground with the help of their esquires. Later they would send those esquires to the victors, to negotiate about the ransom of their arms and horses, which, according to the rules of the tournament, now belonged to the victors.

Herumor, basking in the apparent pride of his father and his cousins, also retreated to the northern entrance. In his excitement, he completely failed to notice the minstrel’s pretty girl singer in the lower ranks, who had encouraged and cheered him enthusiastically.

After a short break for the challengers to catch their breath, a second party of champions took the field. Herumor was among them again, and so was Borondir, the captain of his father’s household knights, and further three young men from the local nobility.

Those three young men were swiftly overthrown by Boromir, Théodred and the Lady Aud, while Borondir and Lord Hirluin both lost their seat at the same time, and an impasse was declared between the two of them, meaning that they could return for the third round. This time, Herumor had touched the shield of Peredur, his father’s chief vassal, and said to him ere the joust would begin.

“Lord Peredur, I hope you do respect me enough to treat me as you would any other opponent.”

“Worry not, my Lord,” Peredur’s teeth were very white in his sunburnt face; as the estate steward of his overlord, he spent a great deal of his time outdoors. “I shall do my best to give you as hard a time as you have ever had.”

And indeed, both of them charged bravely, and who knows what the outcome would have been, for Peredur was a Swan Knight, too, older and blooded in battle, had his hose not missed a step, falling out of the proper rhythm of the charge. That small misstep was enough for Peredur to fail in the attaint, that is, hitting Herumor’s helmet or shield with enough force so that his lance would break; and thus Herumor, although he still swayed in the saddle from the force of the impact, was declared the winner of the joust.

There was another break before the third entry, in which now only four of the original challengers remained in the game. Herumor now had the thankless task to choose between Boromir, Théodred and the Lady Aud, as he had already messed his lance with Lord Hirluin. He was a little out of breath already, and his side, where Peredur’s lance had hit him, was bruised and sore.

“What would you do in my stead?” he asked Borondir, who was an experienced knight in his mid-thirties and as strong as an ox.

“You have no chance against Lord Boromir,” said the captain of the household knights. “He is every bit as fast and as skilled as you are, but he is much stronger, and his horse is heavier than Caenneth. The Lady Aud is an unknown factor – I cannot guess what she is truly capable of, as I have never seen her in a serious fight. I say choose the Prince of Rohan.”

“He will ride me into the dirt by the first charge!” protested Herumor.

“Mayhap he will, if you try to gain victory by sheer force,” Borondir agreed. “You must try to catch him off-balance. The Rohirrim are so confident about their riding skills – and rightly so – that he would not even expect such an attack. If you manage to strike him in the right angle, his own weight could be his downfall.”

Herumor nodded thoughtfully. “’Tis sound advice, Captain, and I shall try to do so as you have told me. What about you, though?”

“I shall try my luck against the Lady Aud,” replied Borondir. “I am better with the lance than her; she has been trained to fight, not to joust. And I am also heavier. Even if I lose, I can tire her out a bit for you, in case you come in the fourth entry.”

That, too, sounded sensible enough, and thus Herumor, indeed, dared to touch the green shield with the running white horse next. An excited murmur rose from the rows of the spectators, as they all had seen Théodred easy victories before, and to be honest, few would give Herumor half a chance. On the ladies’ gallery, Madenn was torn between her cousin and her lover, unable to decide whom she wished the victory more. Achren, on the other hand, as well as little Morwen, were firing on Herumor enthusiastically, while Princess Idis encouraged her brother with Rohirric battle cries.

Compared with the huge Prince of Rohan, Herumor seemed child-like, almost fragile. And even Caenneth, big, well-trained war-horse as he was, got dwarfed by Théodred’s meara. Both horses being of Rohirric stock, the encounter between steeds promised to be just as interesting as the one between their riders.

At the sound of the trumpets, they galloped away with all their might, Herumor also fired by slightly vindictive feelings on behalf of his fair cousin. As Captain Borondir had advised, he was looking out for the deciding point of advantage. Taking a strike from Théodred’s lance in the centre of his shield with such force that he reeled in the saddle, he changed his aim in the last moment to Théodred’s helmet, hitting the visor with all his strength. The shock of the impact was so great that the girths of Théodred’s saddle broke from it, sending saddle, horse and prince rolling on the ground in a great cloud of dust.

For a moment, the battle ground became eerily quiet. ‘Twas an outcome no-one would have thought possible. Then the spectators jumped to their feet like one man and celebrated their Lord’s young nephew, who had done the sheer unbelievable deed, with loud cheers and joyous cries, laughing and dancing on their places, for they considered Herumor as one of their own.

Meanwhile, almost unnoticed by the crowd, Lady Aud and Captain Borondir broke their lances fairly, reaching an impasse again, which bought them the entry in the fourth round, while Boromir achieved an easy victory against one of the visiting knights from Lebennin.

Now the joust had become truly interesting, as all possibilities were still open, even though Théodred had to admit defeat and leave the lists. That could mean enormous gain for Herumor, as the mearas were worth their won weight in gold, which, in case of Théodred’s huge stallion, was no small amount. No-one would expect him to hand over his mount to his opponent, of course, as mearas simply did not allow anyone but the members of the royal family to ride them, but Herumor could hope to make an excellent bargain out of his victory. Riding along the western side of the lists, he glanced up to Madenn apologetically, but his cousin smiled down at him with love and pride. It seemed that he was forgiven for the unexpected victory.

The choices for the fourth entry were not numerous, however. He could choose the Lady Aud, who seemed fairly unbattered by her previous jousts – or Boromir, who would wipe the combat ground with him in mere moments. Captain Borondir had already broken lances with the Lady, thus his only choice was Boromir. Even for an older, more experienced warrior, that was not a promising choice.

And thus the first day of the tournament came to its semi-final round, with Herumor facing the Lady Aud and Captain Borondir determined to accept his inevitable fate with as much dignity as possible.

Once again, the trumpets gave the signal, and the champions thundered down to the centre of the lists with lightning speed. The lances of Herumor and the Lady Aud burst into splinters up to the very grasp, and for a moment, it seemed as if thy would both fall, as the impact made their horses recoil backwards, so that they had to recover them with the help of bridle and spurs. Yet it soon became evident that only Herumor had succeeded. The steed of the Lady Aud had apparently suffered some minor injury, for it clearly favoured its right hind leg.

Herumor rode back to the northern entrance and offered the Lady Aud, by a herald, the chance of a second encounter with a fresh horse. This the Lady declined, gracefully declaring herself vanquished, and thus Herumor’s way to the all-deciding fifth entry was free. His final opponent – how could it have happened differently – would be Boromir himself, who had just hurled poor Captain Borondir to the ground with such force that the good man had to be carried off the lists, senseless and with a bloody nose.

By then, the excitement of the spectators knew no limits, even though no-one truly expected Herumor to repeat the marvellous deed he had done with Théodred against the Steward’s mighty and valiant son as well. Even less so as he had several encounters with much stronger opponents behind him and was tried and sore already. Still, the chance to test his skills against Boromir, of all people, excited him to no end, and he was determined to make Boromir’s unquestionable victory as dearly bought as he could.

The combat ground was very silent as they rode up against each other to decide the final outcome of the joust. This time Herumor aimed at the centre of Boromir’s shield, knowing that he would have no more than this single strike, and he gave Caenneth the spurs harder than ever before, urging the horse to throw its full weight into that one strike. He hit his target fair and true, forcibly enough to rattle his own teeth, but even so, Boromir sustained his high reputation and stayed in the saddle… barely. At the same time, however, Boromir hit Herumor just as forcibly on his helmet – with enough strength to knock him off the saddle, and though Herumor managed to grasp Caenneth’s bridle ere hitting the ground, he was – rightfully – declared vanquished.

So the first day of the summer tournament in Carvossonn ended, and Lord Forlong and the marshals announced that day’s honours to the Steward’s son, who had fought valiantly and with great skill. The townsfolk, however, and all the attendants of the Summer fair, celebrated the youngest of the knights, who had done so well on his first tournament, achieving the second-best place against such great opponents. And all the knights who had attended, including the Lady Aud, had a merry feast that night, with music and dance and an abundance of fine ale and good wine, and they were content. For however fortune might had dealt with them on this first day, no-one had to feel less brave or less honourable than the rest of them.

~~~

End notes:
(1) In Gondor, hours were counted in the same manner as in medieval Europe. Accordingly, the second hour was at 8 p.m.
(2) Lists was the medieval name for the combat grounds, where the actual fighting took place.


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