Protecting the King
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! Now, we have for your entertainment a final bonus performance on tonight’s program. A feature that is sure to thrill, amaze and entertain you all. Please put your hands together for the one and only Acrobatico!” That was our cue to start playing. Bo and Ben get the easy jobs. Ben hits a drum, and Bo plays a brass instrument called a Tri-horn. It’s exactly what it sounds like; three horns with three mouth pieces for him to blow through. He plays four notes. The three base notes and then at the end of each round he blows one slightly higher. That’s it. It’s all he has to do. He even manages to get that wrong almost every time we play the intro. Then again, Ben manages to forget to hit the drum every now and then too. When I began with Boss the first thing he did was teach me this tune on the horn. I can get four notes out of it. Most people can only get three. It took a while to train my mouth to get the top note, and I only blow it once at the end of the tune when Raf and May are finished.
It was funny watching the audience. When the announcer introduced Raf and May there were a fair few who were starting to leave. However, when they saw May, they sat back down. Then they waited while Boss and Alexis went up and down the aisles taking their money. It’s a fine line between waiting until Boss has all their money and starting before they get bored. There were about four hundred people waiting by the time Boss and Alexis collected all their money, but they weren’t complaining yet because May was striking new poses on the spot every so often. When Boss was almost finished collecting the money, May lifted her leg up straight up so her knee was against her chest and her foot was directly above her head, and a murder went out around the audience.
We began playing our tune and the audience were how they should be for a few seconds, then May grabbed Raf’s shoulders and threw herself into a handstand on top of him. Her skirt fell the opposite way to how it had been a moment ago and the audience suddenly went silent. Not like before, when the fights were on, and not like while they were waiting for us to start. They were completely silent. It was a bit scary actually. Even Bo and Ben looked at one another half way through. Their act has seven holds in it, and finishes with May doing a headstand on top of Raf’s head, with their arms out wide. We finished our piece, I blew my top note while Bo got his part wrong. At least Ben didn’t forget to hit the drum. Then the audience suddenly burst into a huge screaming applause; easily as loud as they’d clapped and cheered for Harry earlier! We walked off with Raf and it was a good feeling!
Boss walked out next and announced the special feature we were about to show them. Alexis was well known in New Haven and this was the third year he’d fought there. Last year Boss got him seven creatures that all went him at the same time. I didn’t get to see the fight because I had to do other stuff for Boss at the home cart, but I heard the mugs cheering anyway.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! It is my pleasure to be here again tonight! This is the tenth year in a row that I, Markus Poller, have been at New Haven to present you with some of the finest fighting, exciting exhibits and death defying daredevilry!!’ Boss began yelling. ‘But tonight – TONIGHT, ladies and gentlemen, you are about to witness what may go down in history as the night that became the final fight for the almighty Alexis! Tonight he will take on some of the most evil and wild of all creatures ever captured in the wilderness!! So now; ladies, gentlemen, girls and boys, please make as much noise as you are able to for the one, the only, the mighty, Mighty Alexis!”
The crowd went completely wild for Alexis. He walked out wearing just a white loin cloth and a piece of red rope around his belt with a few things hanging from it. His sword was the most obvious thing, because it was huge. He had it made specially for his show. It was wider, heavier and longer than most usual swords. But he only ever used it to finish the very last creature he killed. As he walked in the tip of the sword touched the ground twice, as he waved to the cheering audience. He stopped in the middle of the arena as Boss walked out through the door we were standing near. The mugs went quiet again.
There are three doors to the arena that the dead can enter through. I had no doubt that Alexis knew already what was about to happen, but I didn’t, and he acted like he was extremely surprised. The first door opened. It was the door behind him. It stayed open for a second or two which was unusual. Normally when the doors open the dead rush into the light. The sun was setting now but it was still light enough to see clearly. Then the audience all gasped at the exact same time. Into the ring came bounding five huge, fully grown, grey kangaroos. But these weren’t just normal kangaroos, they were dead! I’d never heard of or seen dead kangaroos before and it seemed that none of the mugs had either. What’s more, about half the meat they eat in New Haven is kangaroo meat. So the thought that there are dead kangaroos was a huge shock to everyone. Boss pays a professional dead catcher to get things like that for him. I wondered if he’d caught them dead or had live ones infected by the dead.
“Kill them!!!” the first man yelled in a panicked voice, then the rest of the audience; “Killll Themmmmm!!!!”
The dead usually eat anything they can catch in the woods. But I doubt they could ever catch a live kangaroo. Let alone catch one and bight it along with four of its friends. They bounded in, but panicked a little at first by the noise from the crowds. Then they saw Alexis in the middle and they all seemed to head toward him at the same time. What fascinated me was that kangaroos are herbivores. They only eat grass. So it seemed even more unusual that they would be rushing toward a living person to bight and eat him. They were all together near the door that they’d come in through. Headlong they began hopping at him, making their long bounds that made thumping noises into the dirt each time they landed. And then, I realised that although he may have known that the kangaroos were going to be sent after him, he was actually in over his head. He drew his sword as soon as they ran for him. He usually only takes his sword out at the end of a fight to finish it. But he wasn’t fast enough! Three of the five kangaroos knocked into one another as they got within several feet of him, but the other two jumped over their top. Alexis all the while dove to his right, but collided with one of the falling kangaroos, and it made him spin in the air as he fell. All five of them crashed to the ground after they collided together, with one coming straight to its feet and heading straight back after Alexis as quickly as it could. With one separated from the others he knew he had a chance now, and he swung wide with his sword as the others clambered to their feet. It wasn’t the strongest swing I’d ever seen him take, but he was probably winded from his fall. His sword cut three quarters through the front of its neck of the roo and it fell to the ground. It landed on its side, and kept trying to hop even though it was now unable to get back upright. He hadn’t killed it. Alexis put the sword back in its sheath and ran to the other side of the arena. He was really fast on his feet. He ran directly at the wall of the ring, knowing that they were following him and getting closer every second. Their long feet thumped into the ground as their strides got longer and longer, thumping as they landed, and then, quite predictably, Alexis got to the wall, and changed direction, sprinting to his right. The four remaining kangaroos slammed into the wall, making a sickening thud and crash sound as they did, scaring the audience who fell off their fruit boxes, followed by a huge roar from the rest of the crowd. The walls were made of thick and heavy stone slabs that were painted white. As they hit the floor in a writhing pile the white wall had black splats against it.
Alexis took his opportunity to descend on them and took out his sword, stabbing into the back of two of their heads. They didn’t get back up; but much to our surprise neither did one of the others. It just thrashed around on the ground, probably with broken leg bones or something. The first one he cut was still pushing its body around on the ground, unable to get up. Alexis pulled his sword out and did a windmill-like swing of it, slicing the remaining part of its neck as he walked past it, and it’s head rolled off. The crowd roared.
The last one seemed to be getting madder and madder by the second, and Alexis began playing the same games he often did with the human dead. He began by running this way, then stepping sideways at the last moment, letting the creature glide straight past him. Then again, and again, letting it get closer and closer each time. As soon as he has a good estimation of how close it can get to him without bighting him he uses the opportunity to finish it in the most dramatic way possible.
It bounded past him one final time after several attempts to catch Alexis, and he drew his sword again. The audience exploded. The beast turned to focus on him again, not realising that it was its last opportunity. It took off, flying through the air in long bounds as it headed straight at him; but this time he didn’t move. He stood, poised, waiting. Sword in front of him. The crowd seemed to freeze in their seats as they watched the roo hurtling toward him, knowing that it would be nearly impossible for Alexis to kill it from the front. But still, he didn’t move. The Kangaroo took one huge bound just after it passed the middle of the ring, it’s thump resonating a deep thump into the ground, and then flew through the air until it collided with Alexis without touching the ground. They crashed together as they hit the ground together in a ball of flesh that slid through the dirt until it crashed into the wall behind them. They both lay still. They lay there for what seemed like forever! The mugs didn’t make a sound! They just watched, and waited. Then the kangaroo started to move, and a murmur went out amongst the crowd. But then it rolled to the side, revealing a tired and scruffy looking Alexis. He pushed the kangaroo off of him and revealed that his sword had entered it in the middle of its chest, but passed up into its brain through its spine. The crowd went wild; cheering and cheering in a roar! But then, as Alexis found the middle of the ring, and was bowing proudly, the cheering started changing into a chant. It wasn’t clear at first, and it took a little bit for it to get to the whole crowd, but before too long it was quite clear what was being said.
“Kill the king, kill the king, kill the king…”
Kill the King
Alexis’ arms dropped as he heard the doors behind him fly open. He spun around to see what the audience had seen as it entered the ring. To all our surprise, there, being wheeled in to the ring was the king. It was in one of the small, portable cages on wheels that they transport the dead in before the fights. He saw the creature being wheeled into the arena, wearing its clothes, but also now wearing the blue hat as well pulled down low over its brow, and he spun back the other way to see Boss entering from the other direction.
“Kill the king, kill the king, kill the king…” the audience were still chanting. Boss made his way quickly into the middle of the ring and stood beside Alexis. He began gesturing with his arms for quiet from the crowd, and then slowly they stopped until there was calm once more. It was getting darker now, and Boss began to speak.
“Please, ladies and gentlemen! Out of respect to this man who was once a king! I ask that you spare him his life and allow him to remain in this state, to be shown to the other communities as my troupe and I continue travelling!”
“Kill the king, kill the king, kill the king!!” the crowd began again – this time louder than before. I had seen the beer sellers selling lots of beer all night, so I guessed they were also pretty drunk. Boss gestured for Bo, Ben, me, Raf and May to run into the ring. We ran in thinking we were about to have to fight our way out to save the existence of that fowl, stinking creature, but as we got into the ring Boss again began quieting the crowd.
“You lot, get up there into the audience as fast as you can, and get ready to collect a blow-off of B2 per person, from them to see this!”
So we ran up into the seating area and waited with the buckets that Bo and Ben already had with them.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I would be a fool to deny such a discerning audience the chance to see the finish of this creature; this wretched and evil monster!” They cheered. “What’s more, I KNOW that this is what you want to see, IS IT NOT?!” they screamed again! “Who wants to see this?” And again, they screamed! “Then ladies and gentlemen I ask that you please hand my performers B2 to see this final performance of the night – the only time in your entire lives that you will see the beheading of the King of all the dead!” There was a mad flurry of hands reaching into pockets and into bags. Some people left, but not many. Once we’d collected the money we held up the buckets and then headed back down to our underground storeroom to watch the fight.
“But to make this all the more interesting, ladies and gentlemen, before I release this creature for its final moment on earth, I want to give you one last thrill!” He took his sword out from his belt and held it up in the air above him; holding it by the blade with the handle up high in the air. Then he lowered it until the handle was inside the cage, and the creature grabbed it frantically! The audience gasped and cheered! Boss opened the cage and the creature saw its chance, freeing itself as quickly as possible. Alexis yelled out to it, then ran toward it, baiting it while Boss exited the arena through our door. He was sweating now and out of breath. We shut the door behind him and he went straight to the window to watch what would happen next with us.
“Sorry about the king, Boss”, Ben said.
“What are you talking about?” Boss asked with a surprised look on his face. Then he took Ben by the shoulders, and turned him to face behind us. There, standing in a small cage, was our real king, naked as the day it was born! We all rolled around laughing.
“Dressing the dead is a LOT harder than stripping them”, Boss added.
As we watched Alexis fighting we realised that he was now performing a comedy number. Giving the creature in the ring a sword meant that Alexis could pretend to have a proper sword fight with it. It was brilliant showmanship because I have never heard of any other show giving the dead a sword before. It was Boss’ own idea. The creature instinctively swung its sword back a dozen or so times before it got sick of that and dropped it then ran at Alexis. The crowd cheered when the creature dropped its sword, and Alexis wasted no time in completely beheading it as soon as it made a dash toward him. Clean off. The crowd cheered, but it was more like a clap. They were tired I guess, and they wanted to leave since it was the very last of the twilight now and the taverns were all opening.
“See all those people?” Boss whispered to me. “Every one of them has paid me more than they paid to see the entire night of fights, and I only paid a couple hundred Baznas in bribes to work them tonight. The guy who runs this place pays about half his door in bribes and rent to own this place.” He was proud of himself, but he was only telling me. He’d never been that familiar with me before. It felt nice.