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20
The Tournament - Day Four

I was desperately seeking for a different word instead of mêlée. So far, I found none other than “general tournament”, which is both clumsy and not quite correct. Should we agree that we ignore the fact that mêlée is a French word? ;)


~~~

CHAPTER 20 – THE TOURNAMENT, DAY FOUR

After their well-earned two days of rest, the young knights gathered on the combat field to take part in the mêlée – the general tournament, in which all knights fought at once. This was the oldest form of war-games and had once served as the main preparation for true warfare, in a time when years-long training like that of the Swan Knights had not yet been widely established. ‘Twas also more dangerous than single encounters, as the rules were fewer and less easily enforced. Nonetheless, the general tournament was popular, above all else by such knights who had not enough confidence in their own skill to defeat a single adversary of high reputation. In the mêlée, where they could hope to meet opponents of the same skill as their own, they could still prove their valour.

The marshals of the field and their helpers had risen with the sun and ridden down to the combat ground by daybreak. There they made a list of all knights who intended to participate, marking their names according to the group in which they had chosen to fight. This was done to ensure that the opposing parties would be of the same strength.

Due formality demanded that Boromir would be considered as leader of one group, while Herumor, who had been second-best in the first day’s jousting, was named first champion of the opposing one. However, he politely declined, leaving the honour to Prince Théodred of Rohan, and chose to fight in Boromir’s group instead. Thus the group of the original challengers was split, with the Lady Aud fighting on Théodred’s side, while Lords Hirluin and Peredur stayed in Boromir’s camp.

The rows were filling up quickly. Around the second hour, about twenty knights were inscribed on each side, and the marshals declared that no more could be admitted, much to the dismay of several late-comers. To general astonishment, even Erkenbrand of the Westfold had arranged his mighty person in armour, to take his place among Théodred’s combatants. Apparently, the defeat of his daughter and future son-in-law two days earlier had dismayed him greatly, and he seemed now determined to “change the fortune of the Mark”, as his esquire put it.

“He will come after you,” warned Boromir Herumor, “as you were the one who defied his cynn. The Rohirrim take such things quite personally. Be careful, or he will run you over like a mûmak – the rules of the mêlée do allow that, and you are not half his weight.”

“I shall not give up ere the combat has even started,” replied Herumor indignantly.

“You will have enough other opponents,” said Boromir. “Choose them, and try to avoid the Rohirrim; your horse cannot stand a chance against the mearas.”

That was very true, despite the fact that Herumor’s destrier was from Rohirric stock, too. With his slighter build he was definitely at disadvantage in the melee, where it was allowed for two or more knights to attack a single opponent together.

At about the fourth hour(1), the whole plain was crowded with horsemen- and women, not to mention the foot passengers who were all hastening to secure themselves a good place from where to watch the mêlée. The galleries were filling little by little, ‘til finally the trumpets announced the arrival of Lord Forlong and his family. As this was the last game their young kinsman took part, the ladies appeared in full number, from old Lady Achren to little Morwen. The other children, being not of age yet, were again seated in the lower row of the ladies’ gallery, Liahan wearing proudly his fine new dagger earned as reparation from Lord Benniget of Gwenter.

Said good knight had joined Prince Théodred’s party, and so had Narion of Lebennin, both desirous to probe their skills, and, if possible, to earn themselves some ransom and thus even out their previous losses. The knights of Lord Orchaldor’s household, young Idanach and Captain Borondir (who would not miss the game, despite his broken nose) would fight on the side of their Lord’s son, of course, as well as Lord Peredur. Hirluin the Fair, too, had chosen to strengthen Boromir’s party, saying – only half in jest – that fealty was fealty, no matter the circumstances.

A very comely young man he was, Hirluin of Pinnath Gelin, only a few years older than Boromir himself, tall and slender of stature, noble-faced and grey-eyed like all nobles of Dúnadan descent, but with a thick mane of golden hair. Some people liked to think there had to be some Elven blood in his family – and he never answered questions concerning this fact straightly – although an ancestor or two from Rohan would be more likely. Whatever the truth might have been, he was a valiant young knight and already blooded in battle, thus a great asset to Boromir’s party.

When both parties were assembled at the opposite entrances of the lists, the heralds rode to the middle of the combat field to rehearse the laws of the tournament. Those had been established to abate the dangers of the day, as even a conflict maintained with blunted lances and training swords could cause severe injuries.

“The combatants,” they announced, “are not allowed to thrust with the sword, only to strike. A knight may use a mace or a battle-axe, but daggers are forbidden. A knight unhorsed is allowed to renew the fight on foot with another unhorsed champion from the opposite side, but no mounted horseman must assail him. Any knight forced to the side so far that he would touch the palisade with his person or arms is vanquished, and his arms and horse forfeit. A knight struck down and unable to get to his feet again may be recovered by his kipper(2), but in that case he will be considered vanquished. The combat is to cease as soon as Lord Forlong should throw down his warder.(3) “

“Any knight who disregards these rules will be stripped of his arms and his honour and sent away, sitting backwards on a mule and with his shield hanging from his neck, reversed, in punishment of his unknightly behaviour,” finished the older herald the announcements.

Having made this proclamation, the heralds withdraw from the combat field to their stations. The two parties of knights entered from both ends of the lists in a long, colourful procession, each displaying the colours and the coats-of-arms of their House – or that of their overlords. As a result, there was quite some black and silver presented in Boromir’s party, and a lot of blue from Dol Amroth, while Théodred’s troops displayed various shades of green, which was the background colour not only for the Riders of Rohan but also for some noble Houses of Lossarnach.

The champions formed a double line, facing each other, with Boromir and Théodred being the centre of the first rank as the leaders of their respective parties. Rather than riding the magnificent war-horse he had won on the first day of the tournament (the contribution of Théoden-King of Rohan to the festive event), Boromir had opted for his trusted old destrier – less noble of lineage, perhaps, but attuned to his master’s fighting style. The Steward’s son was as determined to win this combat as his friend and now temporary opponent, the Prince of Rohan.

There they sat, the young champions of Gondor, terrible and beautiful to look at in their rich attire and shining armour, the blunted points of their uphold spears glancing in the morning sun, the streamers, in the colour of their Houses, flattering over the plumage of their helmets, waiting for the signal to begin the combat. Their great steeds seemed just as impatient, neighing loudly and pawing the ground with their front legs.

However, they all had to restrain themselves ‘til the marshals of the field rode along their ranks, controlling that only those previously inscribed would indeed appear on the combat field. Finding everything in proper order, they withdrew from the lists, giving the trumpets free to signal the beginning of the encounter.

As soon as the trumpets sounded, the knights lowered their spears and placed them in the rest of their armours. Giving the great horses the spur, the first ranks of both parties rode away in full gallop and clashed into each other in the middle of the combat field with an impact that would have thrown a stone troll off its feet, and the clang of which could have awaken the dead. The rear ranks of each party followed them at a slower peace, intent on sustaining the defeated, but also to follow up the success of the victorious members of their party.

The results of the first encounter could not been instantly seen, due to the huge cloud of dust that had been roused by the hooves of such many war-horses. After a short while, though, the dust began to settle, and the consequences as well as the continued fighting became visible.

From the forty knights, near half the numbers on each side had been dismounted. This either happened as a result of their opponent’s skills with the spear or by the heavier mass and greater strength of adversaries, having been simply ridden down, man and horse alike. There were those who lay limply on the ground, unable to rise again. Others had already gotten back to their feet and were sparring with their equally dismounted opponents. There were wounded on both sides, though none too seriously; mostly bloodies noses from the heavy fall, or disjointed limbs which would give them excruciating pain when being righted, but would not disable them for good.

The spears of the still mounted knights had been all broken by the fury of the first charge. Now they were closely engaged with swords, maces or battle-axes, shouting war cries (in the case of the Rohirrim) or fighting with clenched teeth and furious determination. The spectators encouraged them with loud cries like “Hail Eorlingas” or “Lossarnach for Boromir” and similar ones, depending on their favourites.

Even though the combat was being fought with blunted weapons, the clang of the blows and the shouts of the combatants were a fearsome sound to hear, mixed with the ringing of the trumpets, as the tide of battle flew now this way and then that. The shining armour of the knights was now soiled with dust and even blood, and dented on many places under the onslaught of the maces and battle-axes. The kippers of the fallen, together with Lord Forlong’s men-at-arms, had gone down to the combat field bravely to pull them away from beneath the feet of the horses, risking life and limb themselves – ‘twas a proof of their own skills that they had been able to leave the lists with their charges, unharmed.

On the ladies’ gallery, while the Lady Almaren watched the fight with glittering eyes and excitement blowing upon her usually so pale cheeks, and old Lady Achren sat, erect and dignified, on her canopied chair like the goddess of fate, completely indifferent and unmoved by any gentler feeling, Madenn was deathly pale on her other side, trembling with fear and clutching her sister’s hand anxiously.

“Who could unravel for me the riddle of men,” she murmured, barely audible over the battle noise. “’Tis not enough for them to risk death and injury in war. Nay, they must seek to harm each other and themselves in peacetime, too. And what for? For a prize that would hardly be worth the harm they might suffer.”

“They are men,” replied Achren, stealing a look at her suitor, sitting opposite them on the Lord’s gallery. “They are either at war or preparing for war. We cannot change that.”

“And yet you are relieved that the one you care for was wise enough to stay away from this madness,” said Madenn.

Achren nodded. “That I am. As much as I enjoyed the joust on the first day, I find the mêlée little more than a bloody massacre. I am grateful that Lord Húrin was sensible enough to think of his daughter, rather than aiming for some foolish idea of fame and honour. I only hope that cousin Herumor will manage to get out of… of this with all his bones hale… and that it would be lesson enough for the future.”

Her concern was not entirely unfounded, for Herumor had found himself in a precarious situation indeed. The strength of the two parties was still fairly even, although the ponderous strength of Erkenbrand on one flank and the mighty battle-axe of Benniget of Gwenter had been hard to resist for Boromir’s party. Boromir himself was fighting Théodred with his word from horseback, and while his destrier was somewhat inferior to the Prince’s meara, his skills with the blade were unrivalled and thus balanced out the slight disadvantage provided by an older, slower steed. They fought with great skill and grace, without the intention to do each other serious harm, but determined to win, to the delight of the spectators.

Herumor, in the meantime, had found himself facing the Lady Aud, and wile she had the advantage of more experience and a better horse, he had the advantage of being light and limber and lightning-fast. They were a match every bit as even as Boromir and Théodred, and they, too, offered the spectators a splendid performance of swordsmanship the like was rarely seen.

However, it occurred to both Erkenbrand and Benniget of Gwenter at almost the same time that they might turn the tide of battle to the advantage of their party if thy aided one of their leading champions against his (or her) opponent. Somewhat reluctant to affront the Steward’s son (and besides, they both thought Théodred would be able to wear him off eventually), they chose the seemingly weaker link of the chain, spurring against Herumor from both sides at once.

Herumor saw them coming from the corner of his eye, but all he could do was to rein Caenneth with all his might, thus eluding the charge of both his new opponents. Erkenbrand managed to hold his steed on – he horses of the Mark were well-trained for just about every occurrence – but Benniget of Gwenter showed less control over his own steed and thus slammed into the Lord of Westfold with considerable strength.

The huge blue roan of Erkenbrand could bear the impact with little more than a shudder, and even Benniget managed to remain horsed, although his steed faltered for a moment under the shock and the considerable weight of its master in full armour. However, this little mishap broke the rhythm of their dual charge, and even the Lady Aud had to rein her steed back, to that she would not get caught in the middle.

This still could not save Herumor in the long run, though, and he was now fully dependent on the strength and speed of his beloved Caenneth. Fortunately for him, the Lady Aud’s horse had begun favouring one of its hind legs again – apparently, that slip on the first day had caused more trouble than thought – and those of Erkenbrand and Benniget were both tired and a bit shaken from their near-fatal encounter but a few moments earlier.

Thus Herumor was able to keep his opponents at sword’s point for a short while, turning and wheeling with the agility of a young falcon on the hunt, keeping the other three as separate as possible, striking with his sword now against one, now against the other, and dancing away from the blows aimed at him in return. ‘Twas an impressive show of horsemanship, yet even though his skills left the spectators in open-mouthed awe, there could be no doubt that he would be overpowered, and soon.

“You should throw down your warder, my Lord,” said the Prince of Dol Amroth to Lord Forlong quietly. “’Twould be only fair to save so brave a knight from the disgrace of being over come by odds.”

“I would, were he not my own nephew,” replied Forlong, gnawing his lower lip in anxiety. “I wish not to be accused of favouritism.”

To his great relief, he was soon spared that unpleasant decision. Lord Peredur and Captain Borondir had become aware of the perilous state of their lord’s son, and, shaking off their opponents, thundered to the rescue like the wrath of the Valar. Captain Borondir rushed up to Erkenbrand and dealt a stroke on his head that left him momentarily stunned, while Peredur wrenched the battle-axe from Benniget’s hand and bestowed him a blow upon the crest, rendering him hapless, if only for a fleeting moment.

This was enough for Herumor and the Lady Aud to take their sparring further away. They were still fighting furiously, ‘til the horse of the shieldmaiden stumbled and gave way under the shock of Herumor’s charge. Rather than rolling on the field as most other knight would have been forced to do, the Lady Aud sprang to her foot gracefully, while Herumor slid from horseback to continue the swordfight on foot. In that very moment, however, Lord Forlong finally made up his mind and cast down his warder, putting an end to the conflict.

There were still some eight or nine knights standing on the field, but that was of no consequence now. The judges would decide whom that day’s honour belonged, based on the number of defeated opponents and on the splendid performances. The most important thing was that only a few of the combatants were injured and no-one of them severely, These now were escorted to the neighbouring pavilions where the healers could take care of their wounds.

Afterwards, there was a heated debate among the judges about whom they should name the champion of the day, for Boromir and Théodred had not had the chance to fight their duel to end, and there was no clear decision between the Lady Aud and Herumor, either. In the end, they came to a compromise. Instead of naming one champion, all three young men were given the prize of a golden cup, which could be fastened to their belts with a chain, while the Lady Aud received a golden clasp of the same worth, adorned with emeralds, and their virtue was declared to be equal.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Thus the fourth day of the tournament ended in mutual satisfaction (save those who had been defeated, of course), and there could be little doubt that a celebration with much music, singing, dancing and ale would follow in the evening. First, however, the heroes of the day needed hot baths and some tender care from their loved ones to regain their strength for said celebration.

Not being allowed to do so for Théodred any longer, Madenn lavished all her concern and attention on Herumor, who was sporting brand new and colourful bruises above the ones he had been nursing since the first day. She bathed and poulticed him, dressed his scratches and rubbed pepper oil onto his aching joints, all the time ranting about the foolishness of young men like a mother hen. Herumor endured her fussing good-naturedly. He knew she needed to voice her fears – for him as much as for a past lover who was now forbidden to her.

Besides, there was nothing wrong with being pampered by a lovely young lady, every now and then. Even if that lovely young lady was close kin.

Midday meal was skipped, due to the aftermath of the mêlée, and Herumor ate in his father’s and cousins’ company in the parlour next to the kitchens. There were further negotiations about ransom with the esquires of defeated opponents in the afternoon, and when they finally all got together in the Great Hall fore evening meal and to celebrate, he felt almost rested.

Priavel and his attendants were called to entertain the guests once more, and they sang the ballad of Young Beichan(4), and other, more… questionable ballads, performed in various voices and with great skill. Spirits were high, and everyone was pleased and had a good time. There was even dancing later, much to the delight of the young men and women. Herumor was careful enough to stay away from the ale of the Rohirrim this time, and only drank wine, which agreed with his sensitive stomach better. That did not keep him from enjoying himself very much, though.

Hours later, when everyone else was either gone or too drunk to care, he quietly withdrew from the Great Hall, where the Rohirrim were just about to truly get into the spirit of celebrating, and returned to his chambers. Still in high spirits himself, he entered his antechamber whistling cheerfully – only to startle in shock when the lean, dark-haired girl stepped forth from the shadows.

“My token seems to have brought you luck, o noble knight,” she said in a low, melodious voice. “No I am come to receive my reward.”

And seeing the fierce determination in those deep blue eyes of hers, Herumor knew he would not stand a chance.

~~~

End notes:
(1) Ten p.m.
(2) A kipper “was a person employed by a knight, usually a vassal of the knight such as a slave, serf or peasant. The function of the kipper(s) was to follow his knight in combat and retrieve armour or arms from fallen adversaries. If the fallen adversary was not completely subdued and ready to give up his armour and arms the kipper would bang on the armour-clad opponent with various blunt non-lethal (hopefully) instruments, like heavy sticks or clubs, in order to knock him unconscious for the purpose of removing his armour and weapons without further protest. This was done because it was the right of a knight to seize the armour and weapons of a fallen adversary during tournament.” (information from Wikipedia).
Of course, we would assume that in Middle-earth they only served to help their masters leave the lists relatively unharmed.
(3) A short, decorative staff, representing the status and importance of its wearer.
(4) This is an actually existing medieval ballad.


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