The Story So Far
In advance of the game between the Mytilan Militantes and the Stonecarvers, Militantes owner Cassandra Thordwall gets an update from her bodyguard Umberto on whether or not someone has been pushing rat-root to Karsgaard Neuvil, the coach of her team. She believes it’s Neuvil’s old nemesis, Rennigan Slythe. She arrives at her owner’s box to find her own nemesis. Eguardo Giamucci, owner of the Wharf Rats, already sipping her wine. Giamucci says he needs her help and makes a proposition.
Through a combination of bad chanting designed to enrage their Dwarfish opposition, tactical fouling, and a heavily bribed referee, the Militantes defeat the Stonecarvers 2-0. After the game, Jacyntha spots coach Karsgaard Neuvil throwing away a packet he had in his possession. Rat-root, perhaps? Then a distraction of her own arrives in the form of an invitation to join the star of the Quarrels, Pierce Rosethorn, to dine at an exclusive restaurant on the Isle of Ísquita. Her heart skipped a beat before running amok.
Pierce Rosethorn glanced up at Jacyntha but if he was surprised she had crashed his liaison with her best friend Ocllo he certainly didn’t look it. “Pardon me?”
“You heard me, you scum!” Jacyntha snarled an instant before slapping his smarmy face.
Except the palm of her hand only met air. The damned Sylvan Elf even had the gall to chuckle as he leaned forward again after having simply leaned backwards, out of the way of the slap. “Dear me! What language! It’s hardly regal.”
Jacyntha turned on Ocllo. “What are you doing here with him!”
At least Ocllo had the decency to appear shocked. She had set aside her fork and stopped eating her mussels. “He asked me to dinner, Cyntha. Is he sworn to you?”
“Of course he’s not sworn to me!” she yelled. “But he was courting me!” She turned and kicked out at the Sylvan but he skipped his feet and she again didn’t make contact.
Ocllo shook her head. “You never said anything!” Then she turned to the laughing Sylvan, “Nor did you.”
“Did I not?” Rosethorn replied, popping a cherry tomato into his mouth. “It must have slipped my mind … you know how the memories of the very old get.”
Jacyntha swung at him again but to no greater effect. Rosethorn took a last swig of his wine and rose from the table. “It appears my company is no longer as diverting as it once was. I shall take my leave.” He gave a curt bow to Ocllo and turned to Jacyntha. “Courting? I think not, Highness. You mistook professional interest for affection, perhaps?”
Jacyntha’s hand formed a fist and she stepped forward, sending a roundhouse into where his cheek had been an instant before. Off-balance, she toppled forward onto the cobblestones of the Plaza de la Torre.
Rosethorn said, “You forget yourself, Highness. I am the famed captain of the Gloriana Quarrels and do you not remember what I said to you when we first met? The moment you lay a finger on me is the moment I hang up my boots. I surely added, ‘on the pitch’ or some such caveat, but the principle still holds. That moment is not now. Good day.”
He strutted off like a cockerel. Through the mist of tears that sprang to her eyes, Jacyntha thought she saw him even wave to a pair of admiring fans … both women, of course.
She turned around to sit on the warm cobblestones. Her head fell into her hands as she sobbed. Ocllo knelt beside her and put a hand on her arm. Jacyntha stammered, “How … how could you?”
“How could I what, Cyntha?”
“Let him court you, that’s what!” She sobbed again and then, through sniffles, gasped, “He … he … we …” More sobs wracked her body. “We were lovers! He was the only one who wouldn’t be with me because of who I am!” Ocllo hugged her, letting her cry herself dry. “He gave me roses for my footy play and took me to Ísquita. How could you let him?”
Jacyntha felt herself pulled to her feet and then a goblet-full of water splashed into her face. Too stunned to react, she simply looked down at her suddenly sodden tunic. Ocllo leaned in and whispered. “You’re no princess here and I don’t have either to bow to your whims or be expected to read your mind. Pull yourself together before you disgrace us further.”
Jacyntha’s fellow Xonyxa dropped some silvers onto the table, drained her goblet of wine, and apologized to the mesero. Then she left the square, leaving Jacyntha alone, surrounded by throngs of Guayamarteños going about their business in the Merchant Quarter and pretending not to notice the captain of the Mytilan Militantes standing ragged and dripping water on the cobbles of the Plaza de la Torre.
“You stinking son of a rotten puss-fish, I’ll gut you and drape your innards around your scrawny neck.”
Belyna hadn’t heard Jacyntha’s muttering but she must have sensed her captain’s presence because she glanced over in surprise and asked, “What are you doing up here on the line?” There was no need for Jacyntha to respond as the ref blew the whistle to get the match between the Mytilan Militantes and the Gloriana Quarrels underway.
A Sylvan accelerated through his kick and sent the ball sailing high into the ochre sky. Jacyntha didn’t stop to admire the beauty of the sunset sky hanging off the upper bowl of the Sanger; she was concentrating on a different sort of beauty.
Pierce Rosethorn was hanging back … waiting, no doubt to see who came down with the ball and on which flank the Militantes’ attack would proceed.
“Jacyntha! What in the thirteen sweet hells are you doing?” Coach Karsgaard yelled from the sideline.
She jogged forward, well ahead of the Militantes’ lines. Coach had drilled them again and again over the past week … “Not one line but two. Staggered so the buggers can’t slip through you, blah, blah, blah.” Jacyntha had hardly listened then and she had no inclination to listen now. One Sylvan, so puzzled at seeing the opposition thrower moving so far ahead of her teammates simply stood aside and let her pass. She matched Rosethorn’s movements, all the while closing in on him as he shifted to his left and dropped deeper into the Quarrels’ backfield.
Ocllo called out, “’Cyntha! Get back to Ellpay!”
She had no intention of listening to that witch, her former best friend; she continued jogging forward. A Sylvan catcher threw a block at her but she dodged out of the way, all the while closing in on her quarry. She heard the roar of the crowd … something was happening, but it meant nothing to her. Rosethorn was calling to his teammates in Sylvan, marshalling the defence. She heard the usual grunts, wails, and thumps as the lines met and the ruck formed somewhere behind her. There would be plenty of action now …
Sure enough, Rosethorn darted forward, either to seal a hole in the Quarrel line or to exploit an opportunity to get to the ball carrier. Jacyntha darted after him, closing in with startling quickness to the Elf who had caused her so much pain. She slipped between a line-elf and a thrower, focussed on that damned honey badger tattooed onto Rosethorn’s right flank, and threw the most vicious block she could muster.
And the damned Sylvan lifted off the pitch like an accursed grasshopper, leaping out of her way and clearing the first line of Militantes. She recovered her balance and turned in the direction of the bastard’s leap. A line-elf grappled her, slowing her down, but she ducked, twisted, and kicked free, suddenly finding herself in the thick of the blocking.
Rosethorn was dancing like a ribbon hung out on the wind, all graceful, sinewy movements that dodged clear of tackles and befuddled blocks. His dance was taking him closer and closer to Ellpay. Jacyntha’s sisters had seen the danger and the Militantes’ strikers were closing in. Belyna got flanked by a line-elf, though, and knocked off-balance. Ocllo, that sow, stepped in front of the Sylvan, reacting to his every movement, protecting Ellpay from his threatening dance. Jacyntha hopped clear of another block and dove at the back of Rosethorn’s legs. Again her arms met air as he pirouetted, arms vertical, legs spinning, and his left heel cracking against the back of her head. She pitched forward onto the ground, her ears ringing, She saw her former lover feint left, then right, trying to slip around Ocllo, who mirrored his feints. Then he leant forward, gave Ocllo a fleeting kiss on the lips, and leapt into the air. He arced above the stunned Xonyxa striker and landed in the Militantes’ backfield.
Jacyntha surged to her feet and bounded after the bastard. To the right, Ocllo twisted around, surprise still written on her features. To the left, the Militantes had opened a gap in the line. But in the centre, Ellpay, for all she tried to dodge clear of Rosethorn’s block, got a forearm to the head and she staggered backwards. The ball popped loose and bounced right in front of Jacyntha. She had this one chance to leap for it and retain possession, but that wasn’t why she was playing in this game.
No, not at all.
Especially given the knowing look that flower-for-brains Rosethorn gave her. She stepped forward and punched.
This time she knew he’d spin clear and so she turned as she punched, pivoting on the ball of her right foot and swung her left foot around, following the arc of her punch. And she felt a joyous, oh so joyous, impact … her own heel sinking into an unprotected midriff. The crowd roared. A wheeze of agony erupted.
Then a mirthful chuckle sounded.
She finished her spin, came to a poised readiness balanced on the balls of her feet, and saw Ellpay crumple to the ground clutching her gut.
Rosethorn plucked the bouncing ball from the air and said, “Nice try. But this is not the moment I hang up my boots!” Then he gave her a curt bow, and bolted for the Militantes’ end zone.
That was when she came to understand just how quickly the bastard could run.
Later, after her sisters had washed the dirt, sweat, and grime from their bodies, and after they had dressed, caught Chico and returned him to his basket, and after they had caught the coaches back to their residence across the Bridge of a Hundred Arches, Coach Karsgaard summoned her into the alcove he used as an office on match day.
“Cassandra Thordwall,” he said, “told me not to yell at any of you, so I will not.” His glowering features certainly made him look like he wanted not simply to yell but to rip the heads of things as well. “I will, however, demand that you explain yourself.”
His anger was merely a mirror of her own. “You said Sylvans didn’t wear armour. You said to hit them and hit them until there were no more them to hit.”
Coach narrowed his eyes and ground his teeth. “I told Belyna and Ocllo and Cuxi-Mikay and Laylalla to hit them. I recall telling you to catch the kick-off and hang back to give yourself time because Sylvans are quick. I recall telling you to protect the ball and dump it off to Ellpay or Anahuark once the battle-dancers committed themselves to coming after you. I recall telling you to stay in the backfield as a last line of defence if Ell or Ana turned the ball over.”
She struggled to feed her rage over the surging sense of shame she felt. “Hit him and hit him until there’s was no more him to hit.” She burst into tears.
Coach Karsgaard didn’t speak again until her crying had stopped. “I trust my captains to follow my instructions. If they do not, they do not remain my captains.”
“I’m sorry, Coach. I will. I really will.”
“This from the woman who refused to follow her mother’s instructions about not running off to join a footy team.”
Jacyntha shook her head. “I’m not the Crown Princess. I only wanted a normal life.”
Coach Karsgaard shook his head and gave a rueful laugh. “Then you have gone about it exactly the wrong way. Footy and love-tangling with a Sylvan.” He shook his head and sighed. He leaned forward and said to her, “I like you, so I am going to be honest with you. I have not led a successful life, so weigh my words carefully when it comes to everything other than footy. But I have been successful at footy as a player and a coach. You have immense potential, but you need to control your passions. You want to lead a normal life, so you run away from home and join a footy team. You were so happy at our first team event with fans at the Luffing Lateen that you drank yourself silly. You fall for the first Sylvan who gives you a rose. Perhaps that is how a life should be lived, but not the life of a successful footy player.”
She pulled the sleeve of her soiled tunic across her sniffling nose and nodded.
“One last thing,” Coach Karsgaard added. “I hereby strip you of the captaincy. You do not follow my instructions. Ocllo gets the honour now.”
As you might remember from Episode 9, the Monumento a los Aspirantes portrayed above is one manner the Sommer Sea Football League displays the league standings to largely illiterate fans of “footy.” Such fans can look upon the statue and know how well, or poorly, their team is doing.
We see from the image above that the Gloriana Quarrels, the Ebolicorum Skitteringi, and the Mongrels occupy first, second, and third positions respectively. Currently sitting in the wild-card place are the Mytilan Militantes. The Guayamartí Imperials, the Duskdaggers, the Stonecarvers, and Guayamartí Wharf Rats occupy fifth through eighth place.