Ashling – Chapter 42

Chapter Forty-Two

The game has been announced as ‘The Ride’ and Elspeth puts up her hand to be involved. She bent the rules a little, and had sensed that there were indeed horses nearby, and ‘The Ride’ does sound like horses are involved. Rushton acknowledges her nominations but tells her that she can’t just be good on the horse, she has to show aggression, as that is what the Sadorians are looking for. When Rushton names Elspeth as their (single) member, Malik names himself. It is the showdown we have been waiting for!

The two were brought to the small herd of beasts that Elspeth had already farsensed and they had to choose their mounts. Malik chose a huge horse, obviously looking for the most powerful beast, but in a race (though we don’t know what they will be doing) strength is not enough, you need endurance. Elspeth takes her time and talks to the horses finding out who is fastest and stronger than the rest. Then she spots the little mare, Faraf, who she aided at the city gate when she arrived in Sutrium. Wow, even the horses end up coming back into the storyline somehow, seriously is there nobody who is seen once and actually disappears?

Faraf greets Elspeth and tells her that clearly she did not make it to Obernewtyn. She was captured and sold to the Sadorians, who are better than most when it comes to animal rights, but she still dreams of being free. Malik is growing impatient and tells her to choose already, which Elspeth just ignores. Faraf tells her that Malik has indeed chosen the strongest horse among them, but that Elspeth should choose her because she is small and NOT strong. Elspeth asks her why, and asks if the other horse would let them win, because she is Innle. She says that the horse would, BUT they are going to be fed a leaf, called pickleberry (this too has already been introduced to us, has it not, when Dragon was in the market and Gahltha was rearing). Because of this, it is better to ride a weaker horse, so Elspeth is not thrown off. Elspeth chooses Faraf and leads her out, with an almost smug look on her face. Malik seeing the horse she has picked cannot believe his eyes. Next they are told to choose their saddles, and Malik chooses a great solid armour piece, that has sharp metal spurs, Elspeth on the other hand (on the advice of Faraf) chooses the lightest and deepest seated saddle, and the simplest bridle, without the metal bit.

They return back to the isis pool, and an area of which had been cleared for them. Jakoby repeated what Faraf had already told her (how exactly did she know? Did she hear them talking – and for that matter can they understand human speech – probably not. So does this mean she has done this before, or did she learn from the other horses what exactly would happen?). They would ride their horses who would be fed the pickleberry and be maddened. Their aim was to last the longest on the horses. Elspeth asks if the horses would die from this pickleberry, like the bear from the drug. Jakoby tells her that the bear did not die from the ‘gurrug’ but had a weak heart and died from the stress of the battle. The day was drawing to an end, which means this may be the final battle, and if Elspeth wins, they would probably be equal in terms of the games.

Faraf sends to Elspeth ‘Courage’ as Elspeth mounts her and she feels unnatural in the saddle and with a bridle. Faraf then ate from a bag a servitor gave her, and Elspeth wonders how she could impress the rebels. Elspeth asks Faraf to open her mind so she can block some of the effects of the drug. Faraf agrees but warns that the drug is already taking hold, and her whole body is already twitching. The drug moved quickly through Faraf’s mind, but Elspeth was able to move faster, blocking nerve paths and sending the effects to the bowel where it wouldn’t make Faraf mad. Still there were some traces of the drug, so Elspeth took control of Faraf’s body and immobilised her senses. Eventually, Faraf stood still. Malik’s horse was already pacing about and shuddering, and he looked pale trying to keep in control.

The horse without warning, bucked and reared, and Elspeth even tried to get into the mind of the horse to assist him (you can see that the Misfits are kind and compassionate enough to try to help the rebels, though I think she was more concerned about the horse rather than Malik). But the drug had taken hold. Malik was a skilled rider though, and was able to remain in his seat. Malik saw that Faraf was not moving at all, and decides to become aggressive and make the horse charge straight at her. And the worst thing is, that Elspeth cannot move Faraf out of the way, as she shut down all of her nerves.

Malik’s sharp spikes cut into Faraf’s neck and Elspeth’s leg quite deeply, and he goes around for another attack. Elspeth screams at him to stop, as she frantically tries to get Faraf’s muscles to work again, but the drug stopped her from doing so. Malik strikes again, and he is clearly trying to kill Elspeth or at the very least kill Faraf. The next time, the spikes missed, but he was able to strike Faraf in the head with his feet. How can he control the horse so well, as it is still under the control of the drugs? Faraf was in a bad state and blood was streaming down her face. Malik turns for the next attack, but Elspeth jumps off of Faraf and yells that she forfeits.

Elspeth has a strange ‘roaring’ sound in her ears, and her legs were oddly numb. She strokes Faraf’s bloody head, and the mare sends that she is sorry to have failed her. But Elspeth says, that she hasn’t, and the two limb back to the pens. Elspeth did not even glance at Malik who had jumped clear of his horse, who is still affected by the drugs.

Now all assembled, Bram says that there is nothing to say as the game was forfeited (though I think a lot can be said about the game). The others try to comfort Elspeth for doing the right thing, but she (now out of pressure, and with time to think) cannot believe she didn’t try to coerce Malik to stop him from attacking. Elspeth cannot look at Rushton who had trusted her to win this game. Even if they won the next game, they would not win overall, as (in their opinion) the rebels have won three games, whereas the Misfits have only won a single game (and was that because the rebel was killed before getting to the other side?) and there is not nearly enough time for more than one last game. Elspeth is tired and all she can do is sit, Freya notes that there is blood on her trews.

The next game is set to be announced. But I’d like to continue breaking up each post for one single game. I find it unfortunate that Bram did not comment on the events that were able to happen before the forfeiture because there was a lot of interesting things. Elspeth clearly had the right idea to stop the drug and then she wouldn’t have to try and stay on a bucking horse. But she forgot to incorporate Malik into her decision, and forgot that she would be vulnerable as movement was not an option. I think she neglected to consider that Malik was a powerful rider and would take any opportunity he got to harm Elspeth, and he would do anything to win, including kill Faraf and Elspeth. Overwhelmingly the rebels have shown aggression, and a lack of compassion towards their fellow warriors. Conversely, the Misfits have shown compassion to themselves and animals, but a lack of aggression. Both have their uses, but since this is about battle-readiness, the aggression will likely win out, but of course just because the Misfits lose does not mean they have lost everything. I think this is a learning experience and it is showing them that they are not capable of aggression in a large sense and that they are much more defensive than they are offensive. Sure some among them would be suited to war, but their talents lie elsewhere and the rebels may realise from these games that they are lacking in some qualities that the Misfits have aplenty. No matter what the outcome, the Battlegames is a turning point in the story, as I think the Misfits will know who they are and what they are trying to create in a world. Bring on what is likely to be the final battlegame!



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