Traditionally, the tournament was scheduled to be held two weeks from the end of the Frost, which was still months away. Regardless, the Tournament always brought excitement when it came to the small town located just South of the abbey. Gonath wasted no time and finished dressing on his way to town. At seventeen, his life at the abbey had grown stale. He had no desire to devote his life to living in the woods as a monk and though he was never expected to join the cloister of religious men, he always carried the sense of indebtedness to the men who saved his life and virtually raised him without hesitation.
Over the years, while living at the abbey, he felt the world pass him by like the clouds that dashed across the open sky and wanted to live the experiences he could only dream about between studies and routine responsibilities. This is the year of change, he thought, and planned to compete in the Tournament. However, the likelihood of him besting any of the qualified men was laughable, but he felt there was no harm in trying. Besides, he thought, what was there to lose? There was plenty to gain, maybe even a place among the ranks of the King's Army. What better place for
Each morning the village was normally full of life. However, word of the Tournament spread fast and the preparation of countless festivities were well underway. The goods and food for sale brought with them a variety of people from
the neighboring villages and in some cases neighboring countries, and the streets were unusually swollen with visitors. Even the seams of the town itself were tested as merchants from all over the province were strewn about the streets. There was even rumor that the reclusive band from Narcania was seen lurking among the shadows in
town. Trader's voices barked and bellowed down the staggered line of tents as they sold their goods. The smell of cured game roasting over open flame wove its way in and out of the various tents that packed the street like a flock of
Gonath was both thrilled and apprehensive with the gathering of so many people in the small town. He suddenly scolded himself for being so naive to think only a handful of spectators and prospective recruits would be attending the trials. Gonath dodged carefree pedestrians, stray animals and loose children as he made his way into the heart of Cantlow. He was amazed at the transformation of what he considered a modest town. Although the farthest he ever traveled from the abbey was Cantlow, he figured this was how a big city would be. The familiar buildings were covered with bright banners that whipped through air like tethered rainbows. Music that mimicked talking birds tugged the senses and came, what seemed, from every direction. Gonath was tempted to stop and join the frolic but reminded himself that there would be time enough later, once he placed his name on the list of prospective soldiers.
Just on the opposite side of town, a clearing was set aside to accommodate the large number of men intending to compete in the Tournament. Gonath felt a shift in the atmosphere as he neared the assortment of men.
The music was gone and there were no children underfoot. In their absence were hundreds of men bearing weapons of every sort. He had only read about the curved blades carried by the Far Southerners and wondered at their savagery. There was also a seriousness that Gonath did not recognize. The feeling made his palms moist and quickened his heart with something attached to fear. This was not the Tournament he had visited in the past. The people here were hardened fighters. The young, anxious men he expected to see were not a part of this brooding crowd. An upsurge of wind threw dirt in the air. Gonath choked on the grime that coated his mouth. He knew he had no place among these