“And Itza Danced
Itza stood in a defensive pose, facing down the most recent bunch of marauders. So far that month, there had been three, each more brutal and grasping than the last. Both other times, her village had fought them and won—just barely. Today, she didn’t know. She rather doubted they could win, for these were large and many. The men of her village stood behind her, armed the best they could with farm tools. One or two had actual swords which were ancient, dull and rusted. They could do more harm to themselves than to a burly warrior. The leader smiled nastily, as he shifted weight from foot to foot uncomfortably, her stare boring into him. He had thought he had the upper hand in this fight, now he was not sure. Tilting his head to one side, he eyed her critically. She was slightly built, tall for a Zarbanni cat, sleek muscle rippling under her fur. He couldn’t help thinking what an attractive little kitten she was, wondering how much he could get for her at market. Itza saw this and much more in his eyes. He hoped to take her down without spoiling her looks. At least he would be more careful of her and probably not ravage her since he hoped to make some money off her. She automatically sized up her adversary, noting his height, weight and musculature without knowing she did it. An eye for detail, she noticed he was big, but flabby. However, he had close to fifteen stone of weight on her, making him roughly twenty-five stone. Speed and agility did not always win a fight, although it went a long way toward it. She could wear him out if she could keep away from him. He had long, hairy arms, bespeaking half-giant blood in his veins. He would have a lengthy grasp. The men behind Itza did not understand what the delay was. They had never seen a band like this stop and stare before. It made no sense and the mounting unrest caused a feeling of electricity rippling up Itza’s spine. She had to do something or the entire situation would explode into something she could not contain. “What is it you want?” she spoke more boldly than she felt. “We want food, wine, whatever you have. Give us what we want and we will leave.” “I doubt that. I see how your men are eyeing our village. I see the look of lust in your eyes. You’ll take what you want and kill us all anyway. I have a solution.” The leader threw back his head, laughing gruffly, but he kept a wary eye on Itza. She could be formidable and she scared him. It was ludicrous! He, Elveric Woodgluc afraid of this tiny little cat less than half his size! “What is your solution, little one? Do you wish to kiss me? I can arrange far better entertainment than that, I assure you.” “No. I propose a duel, you and I will fight. If I win, you leave with nothing but your lives, never to return nor do my people any harm. If I lose, you have me and whatever else you want.” “And if I refuse?” “Then we shall see how many of you will die.” He laughed again, more uncomfortably. “As you wish!” His men tried to convince him not to agree, but he was ready to get this over with. He wanted to quell that look in her disturbing, golden eyes. Itza walked to the nearest hut, stripping off her extra clothing and arming herself with knives. None of the swords were worth a damn, but the farmers had all purpose knives which were well balanced, sturdy and a good size for two blade fighting. A quick prayer to her gods, and she let herself fall into a calmness which was virtually unshakable. “Itza are you mad?” Her younger sister, Bastia, ran up to her, dragging on her arm. “You can’t do this, sister, you will die! We will all die! Please, please!” Her protests did nothing to change Itza’s mind. As head woman of the village, she had to do something decisive or these men would never leave. Her father and mother, the former village leaders, were dead, killed in marauder’s raids in the last few years. The job had gone to hear, as their eldest child. “Bastia, I didn’t want this job, but I must consider all of you. I can win, just have faith.” Taking her things, she walked quickly back to the fighting area which the men had staked out for her and her opponent. Elveric was waiting for her in one corner of the ring, smirking as he wrapped strips of cloth around his hands. Itza walked to the corner opposite him where her brother, Orris and Uncle Brev were standing, waiting to wrap her hands as well.