The day’s competition had been fierce and draining on the participants. Some of the fights had been one-sided, with the victor making quick work of their adversaries. Others were hard-fought, with the winner able to find that pivotal moment to turn the battle in their favour. At the end of the day, with the sun beginning to set across the second level courtyard, two boys stood across from each other.
Mura stood at ease and surveyed the scene around him, hardly believing he had made it this far. The small stands were filled by some three hundred people, made up of the army and parents of the tournament participants. One of the rows at the front of the courtyard held the twenty Masters, finally given time to rest after supervising the fights all day, and the parents of Mura and of his opponent. His gaze returned to the person he needed to defeat to win the Challenge Tournament.
Mune sat on the ground, his legs crossed and his sword lying across them. With his eyes closed, he appeared to be meditating. This practice seemed to have worked, with his fights being much shorter overall than any other participant. Knowing Mura as well as he did boded well, but he knew that it should not make him complacent.
A smaller gong sat in the middle of the Master’s row. One of them rang it, signalling the beginning of the final. Mune’s eyes flashed open, and he slowly rose to his feet. Mura began his walk to the centre of the courtyard, and waited there for his opponent to meet him.
The Master who rang the gong spoke out. “This is the final of the Challenge Tournament. Whoever wins will be declared this year’s Champion. Boys, let this be an honourable fight.”
The pair put one hand to their sword hilts, and grasped forearms with their other. Mura gave a nod, while Mune gave him his standard smirk and wink. They turned and walked five steps, before turning back to face each other. They withdrew their words, and assumed their starting poses.
Both moved forward three steps, and began to circle each other. Swords held out in front, each waited patiently to see who would make the first move. Mune moved in to provide the first strike, which was easily fended off. Mura tried to take advantage of the gap with a thrust to the chest, but Mune brought his sword back just in time to deflect it. They both stepped back to a safe distance. To any who had seen the Castle students sparring, this process of initially testing an adversary would have looked familiar.
The process continued for a handful of minutes. When Mune looked to believe that he would have to initiate each sequence, Mura struck quickly. The change put his opponent on the backfoot, with Mune struggling to stop the offensive strikes moving him backwards. He kept his defense strong, waiting to find the moment in time to deflect an attack just long enough to move to the side and stop his reversing. That moment came just before reaching the edge of the courtyard, as Mura eased his push when seeing they were almost at the feet of the front row.
In a recognisable move to those who knew him, Mune jumped to the side then immediately jumped back at his opponent. The pair trades strikes as they moved alongside the front row, many of the spectators looking worried at the proximity of the fighters. As they reached the corner, Mura mimicked his adversary’s sideways jump, but then jumped to the side again. Mune continued his attack, with the pair now moving back into the centre of their battle field.
Mura attempted to use Mune’s own tactics against him, letting him keep the offence for longer than he would normally allow. He began to worry, as it became obvious that Mune’s stamina was stronger than this own. On top of that, the strikes he was defending against were maintaining their intensity, which was beginning to strain the muscles in his arms and shoulders. This continued for a time, with Mura providing some token offence to draw in his opponent.
The pair fought all over the courtyard, with neither participant being able to land the telling strike. It was becoming apparent that the first person to become weary would be the one to fall, with a lazy strike being taken advantage of. To those watching, it seemed that Mura was the one beginning to falter.
Mura knew this to be true, and tried to think of how to gain the advantage. He slowly edged back as he defended, hoping that is was slight enough that his attacker would not notice. The strikes he deflected were weakening, but not by the amount he was hoping for. He had to draw Mune into a badly-placed strike.
Mune’s strike placement was exemplary, making it impossible for Mura to take the offence. Hoping that eagerness would overrun Mura’s thinking, he slowed his attack and provided the chance for the tide of offence to turn. His opponent duly took advantage, though the long period of defence had lowered Mura’s strike quality. After a period of offence, Mura leaned too far forward to land a strike.
Recognising the pattern, Mune stepped in and placed his foot as he deflected the strike. As he did, instead of raising his foot, Mura crouched and spun behind his opponent. With forward momentum, and his leg caught between Mura’s thigh and calf, Mune overbalanced and fell forward to the ground. He rolled to his back as quickly as possible, but Mura’s sword quickly stood at his throat.
Mune released his sword, indicating defeat.
Those who observed the fight gave a large round of applause, with Mura’s parents standing and beaming with pride as they did so.
Mura smiled at his felled opponent, returned his sword to its casing and held out his hand.
Mune returned the smile, and pulled himself to his feet.
“Well played, my friend. You deserved the victory.”
The pair stood and gratefully acknowledged the applause. They moved to the Masters and their parents, accepting the Master’s compliments and embracing their loved ones.
– X –