Sunday 2 May 2021

The Tournament of the Gods, First Round (2): Cave Bear and Giant Scorpion

The drawing of the next lots begins. The exercise is almost abandoned when one of the Gods, Knepsham of the Webs, thinks she sees Sleep creeping through the tall cedars on the hill overlooking the feast-grounds. For a moment, the Gods debate returning to the citadel in urgent whispers. But, if Sleep it was, he is not seen again, and they consider it likely that the fresh light of the morning will keep him at bay for a time. They resume.

The next bout is between Knepsham of the Webs herself and The Droll Knave, and the Gods gather once more around the purple blanket, some casting glances behind them lest Sleep reappear. But as the champions are revealed they are soon once more engrossed.

Knepsham slides a delicate hand into a silk pouch and produces from it two cave bears, gigantic, shaggy, ponderous. They lumber onto the purple, nosing the air for prey with their mighty heads swaying left and right, murmuring dark threats in their language of growls. 

The Droll Knave smiles ruefully for a moment, as though apologetic for the victory that he is sure is coming, and sits cross legged on the blanket's edge. He holds up a finger, winks at the audience, and then slides forth his tongue. On it are three armoured, many-legged chitinous things, curled up like pods: giant scorpions, which reveal themselves in slow movement as he takes them by the tail one by one and deposits them on the fighting surface. "Kill," he tells them lovingly as they lurch uncertainly forward; all they seem able to sense is that they long to obey his command.

The bears, intelligent, know they must focus their strength. As the scorpions meander towards them, snapping with their pincers at the air, plagued by their slavery to instinct, the bears isolate one and attack. They are pitiless, powerful. The first bear pounds with its claws, tearing at the scorpion's carapace, staving in the armour, making the soft body underneath leak its noxious fluids. The scorpion reacts with silent desperation, whirling to face its attacker; the other bear snaps at its legs on one side with its jaws, ripping limbs free from their sockets, making the scorpion sag and list to its side. Grievously wounded, the scorpion sinks its pincers into the first bear's hide and they clamp onto its body with relentless strength - but the jabbing tail flails wide. Knepsham of the Webs smiles softly, and meets the Droll Knave's gaze with eyes asparkle. 

But the other two scorpions now feel the tremors of the fight and come forward snapping. One fixes a pincer on the second cave bear and holds it still for impalement on its plunging sting. The poison has no effect and the bear roars its fury. The first bear, however, is not so lucky. The third scorpion jabs with its tail and the bear goes suddenly, horribly still. The poison stops its heart. Its body slumps, falls, rolls onto its side. 

The watching Gods make appreciate chuckles at the rapid reversal. The chuckles turn into laughter as the surviving bear turns on the scorpion which attacked it and simply rends it in two with its claws, casting the halves, still jerking and spasming with the vestiges of life, aside. The bear bellows for its fallen comrade; for a moment, all seems in stasis as the two remaining scorpions, one deranged by the damage it has already suffered, mindlessly turn this way and that. Some of the Gods are standing now, to gain a better view; a solitary voice calls out from their midst, "Is not poison to be a violation of the spirit of the game?" and is silenced.

But the denouement comes quickly, anticlimactically. The scorpions finally seize upon the second bear and it is cut, torn, lanced by stings; the poison ends the contest and the Droll Knave is the victor. 

He nods to Knepsham, winks. "Bad fortune. That could have gone either way" 

The Goddess of the Webs stands. "I like you better as a braggart."

The Droll Knave laughs. His scorpions advance to the next stage of the contest.


  1. I keep rooting for the losing team. I can only be thankful I'm not amongst the gods, prone to gambling

    1. Yeah, I wanted the cave bears to win this bout.