Episode 14

Previously in Up and Under:

Umberto de la Calle, head coach of the Mytilan Militantes, discovers something new in Guayamartí: a broadsheet devoted to footy. He is shocked to read in it that internal divisions are supposedly tearing his team apart. The article, written by someone called Thalia Espinas, claims the discord is all about the Militantes’ new star player, Anne d’Arc.

Umberto confronts his players, brandishing the broadsheet. He reads an excerpt quoting a “source close to the team” that says players are angry Anne earns more than the rest of the starting eleven and saying it’s “disgusting.” He lectures the team about airing dirty laundry in public and says he’ll fire anyone who betrays the team. Jacyntha goes red-faced and admits to knowing the journalist. Then Anne d’Arc speaks: “Mine earnings are not disgusting.” She declares she will have “satisfaction” from whoever slandered her.

Jacyntha meets with the journalist who asked to “document” her second season, Thalia Espinas. Jacyntha accuses Thalia of spreading gossip and lies in the broadsheet, This Week in Footy. Thalia takes umbrage at the accusation and asks how Jacyntha knows that what got reported wasn’t true. She shows Jacyntha notes documenting a meeting between the Militantes’ Catcher Anahuark and Duc Tancred de Baston. Jacyntha accidentally reveals that she’s under an edict not to speak to scribes. Thalia says she’s disappointed about how Jacyntha feels but assures the Militantes’ thrower that she has plenty of other sources.


Agony is underrated.

The Mongrels had won the coin toss and elected to receive. They had immediately put to the ground two of the three Militantes on the line of scrimmage, one of whom got knocked out and pulled off to the infirmary. In the Orcs’ backfield, Jacyntha’s erstwhile throwing mentor Agony Muerevarg had grabbed the ball and thrown a tight spiral over sixty paces, straight into the hands of striker Mik Mangenain. It had happened so quickly that Jacyntha hadn’t had the time to read Agony’s eyes and move to intercept the pass. Now the star Orc thrower was sauntering around the backfield …

chomping on an apple, of all things!

The Militantes’ own strikers pivoted to the right to confront the threat posed by Mangenain. Belyna and Karolyse worked together to up-end a line-Orc. Anahuark, the team’s unofficial expert in fouling, darted in to make sure the Orc didn’t get back up.

Uh oh.

Jacyntha gaped as Anne d’Arc stepped out of position and threw out an armoured fist, clotheslining her teammate. Anahuark’s legs flew forward whilst her head bounced back from the Chivalron’s metal vambrace. The Xonyxa spun three-quarters of a revolution in the air and fell on her face right beside the prone line-Orc. Then Anne stepped back into the defensive line, holding off the Mongrel thrust.

Jacyntha didn’t have time to process what she’d just seen. The rest of her team seemed not to have noticed and were fully occupied by dodging Orc blocks. The Militante line retreated as per Coach Umberto’s game plan and Orcs stepped forward again, leaving Anahuark behind the opposition advance. The Mongrels had a pair of Goblins in their line-up who were as sneaky as they were dirty. Konvisse Yeux didn’t waste any time; he kicked Ana in the gut as she got to her knees.

The ranks of Militantes fans in the Eztadio de Sanger cried out “FOUL!” whilst the Mongrels supporters let up a roar of approval. Then a whistle trilled and the referee brandished a red card to Yeux. The half of the Sanger that had roared in approval now erupted in boos at this heinous upholding of the laws of the game. But Ana was in no condition to appreciate the sanction: the ref was also waving over the medical staff to haul the Xonyxa to the Militantes’ infirmary. Jacyntha bit her lip.

A Goblin for Ana: that’s a good exchange for the Mongrels. Especially as we don’t have Ellpay.

Suddenly a big Orc blocker landed a solid hit on Belyna, swatting the Xonyxa aside. He burst through the gap in the line. When he laid eyes on Jacyntha, he yelled, “Score to settle with you, weak woe-man! Rookie got lucky.”

She remembered this blocker from last season. They had played the Mongrels in the Eztadio Matadoras. Then, she had ducked and dodged until suddenly springing forward at him. She had driven a fist into his chin and knocked him out of the game. Now she employed the same tactics, swaying and bobbing on the balls of her feet, ready for the next ham-fisted swipe. But the Orc didn’t come in swinging. He stomped forward and jabbed at her with his fist, gauging her reactions. She swayed to her own right, stepping away from the probing attack. He followed into the space she’d vacated and jabbed again. Jacyntha was assessing the blocker just as he evidently was evaluating her: he wasn’t extending his arms enough yet for her to do one of Umberto’s grab moves. If she tried now, she wouldn’t have the leverage to yank him around. He probed again with his fist and again she shifted, having now turned her facing nearly ninety degrees.

It’s as though he’s not really trying … oh Temple of the Viper!

He was between her and the left sideline! He wasn’t throwing blocks, he was corralling her, opening space for …

Sure enough, Mik Mangenain and the Mongrels had been thrusting up the Militantes’ right flank, but now they had a blocker in the Militantes’ backfield, and into the vacated left flank dashed Goblin Greenok Hork, flanked by Striker Killie Jefferz’n. Coach Umberto’s voice called out over the crowd noise, “ ’Cyntha, fall back!”

Then, over her shoulder, she heard Anne d’Arc call, “To me! To me!”

Anne had pushed past another pair of Blockers and leapt at the ball-carrier. But the Mongrels must have been expecting the play because Mik Mangenain handed-off the ball to a line-Orc. Before Anne could get past Mik, the line-Orc swept behind the lines and lateraled the ball back to thrower Agony Muerevarg. Agony, still chewing on a last chunk of apple, tossed the core over his shoulder and cocked his arm, suddenly bouncing on the balls of his feet.

Now she could read his eyes.

The Goblin!

She had to get cross-field.

Now or never!

She pushed past the big blocker. He stuck out a leg and tripped her. She pitched over. Then the Orc dropped on top of her, driving an elbow into the back of her skull. It hurt like the thirteen sweet hells but she still had her wits about her. The ref’s whistle trilled again and the blocker saw the game’s second red card. But it would take time to get the brute onto his feet and hauled over to the penalty box and meanwhile …

Agony Muerevarg stepped into his throw, launching the ball deep downfield.

The former Queensguard member, Moreaka, sprinted to interfere with the pass to the Goblin, but the escorting striker Killie Jefferz’n cut off her run. He threw a block, but she spun away from the hit and continued her sprint. Jefferz’n had forced her to arc around him and Jacyntha could see there was no way Moreaka would get under the ball. It dropped right into Greenok Hork’s hands as he scurried downfield as quickly as his feet could carry him. He bobbled the pass and the ball dropped sideways in front of him as he ran. He skidded to a halt and dashed over to the rolling ball. The Goblin shrieked upon seeing Moreaka bear down on him, but he snatched up the boarskin and dashed towards the end zone. Moreaka roared and lunged, diving and throwing an arm out to trip up Hork.

She brought him down and the ball bounced clear of their tangled mess and rolled into the end zone … where Killie Jefferz’n slid onto the ball, enveloping it in his muscled arms. The Mongrels were up one – nil.


“How much have they bribed you?”

Had Jacyntha not received that blocker’s elbow to the back of the head, she might have had the wits to anticipate Anahuark’s rage and blunt it before the accusation lay in front of everyone. Ana had refused to miss the half-time team talk, so club physician Huaco-chic’ya was stitching the catcher’s forehead whilst the player sat on one of the wooden benches lining the locker room. Jacyntha needed Huaco-chic’ya to look at the back of her own head, but that would have to come after stitching up the gash on Anahuark’s brow.

Anne d’Arc glanced up and snapped, “A knight doth not take bribes! Neither doth she permit her cause to be sullied by vile tactics that lieth beneath chivalrous conduct. I hath given thee honest counsel before that no team I leadeth into battle shalt stoop to such underhanded law-breaking.”

Ana made to get to her feet but Huaco-chic’ya pushed her back down on the bench and hissed, “Stay still.”

Umberto swept into the locker room and the argument receded. “Okay team,” he said, “they’re not playing like we reckoned they would. Instead of caging up and steadily progressing down the pitch, see, they’re moving the ball around. That’s more like we’d play. Luckily we’re used to tactics like that. If we’re to come from behind and win this game, we’re going to need to score quickly and then it’ll come down to aggressive defence.”

He paused and gazed around the room. “Normally I’d be confident we could spring the ball loose and score a second, but I’ll tell you now, we’d have to play like a team. I’m not seeing much cohesion in our play.” His eyes fell on Anne d’Arc. “Lunging through the Mongrels’ line wasn’t what we practised this week.”

“Attacking the ball-bearer beeth more effective than dodging and dancing. I didst force an opening and the ball-bearer didst lie within mine grip. It was a daring play that didst force the enemy to react. In battle, forcing the enemy to react beeth a sure portent of victory.”

“Why are we down one – nil, then,” Karolyse retorted.

Anne d’Arc was obsessed with hierarchy, lording over those Xonyxas she perceived as beneath her – almost everyone – and paying respect to those of royal blood – Jacyntha and Karolyse. Now she bowed her head at the reproach. Chastened, perhaps, but not enough to keep her mouth shut, “Even the most doughty of knights faileth from time to time, Countess, or have those around them fail in their own tasks.” That last comment was accompanied by an accusing glance in Jacyntha’s direction.

Umberto clapped his hands. “Enough! Yes, Jacyntha got pushed out of position and couldn’t sweep up when they pivoted, but Moreaka prevented the Goblin from scoring. She needed support. And that’s why your yelling ‘To me! To me!’ and bringing Belyna and Karolyse with you into the thick of the Mongrels hurt us so much, see. Either could have been useful keeping Killie Jefferz’n off that loose ball.”

His eyes swept the entire team. “Now, get back out there and play our offence like we’ve practised. When we score – of that I’m dead confident – then we do the high press after we kick- off again.”

The players got to their feet, even Anahuark, who Huaco-chic’ya had just finished stitching up. They trudged out of the locker room, everyone except Anne d’Arc, who remained behind with Umberto and his assistant, Miranda Esquiv. Jacyntha saw that the Chivalron and Coach Umberto were staring at each other, testing each other’s will. Coach Miranda sensed the coming storm and sauntered from the room, sighing and saying, “Humans.” Jacyntha nearly followed the Elf but something told her to hang back. Umberto and Anne were still glaring at each other. The tension between them was palpable. Jacyntha jumped into the silence, “Anne, would you do me the honour of keeping the Mongrels’ strikers off my back?”

To her surprise, Anne shook her head. “I cannot, Your Highness. During this pause in combat, that peasant Anahuark didst slander me, accusing me of accepting the purse of the vile Orcs, and this … this man of the streets didst chide me for excellent play upon the field of battle. Mine honour demands redress. I shan’t play for a side that dost sully me so.”

Coach Umberto jerked his thumb over his shoulder towards the door. “You’ve got this one chance, see, to get out onto the pitch and help us win the game. You don’t take this one chance, I’ll make sure you never play in blue and yellow again.”

“Blue: the colour of bruises, methinks. Yellow: the colour of cowards.” She shook her head, her chin raised, her jaw set. “You haveth this unique chance, Monsieur de la Calle, of getting down on thine knees and begging me to forgive the insult to mine honour of having a commoner accuse me of corruption. Thou shalt ensure that most-vile Anahuark is sent away and thou shalt remind every other player to mindeth my station and treateth me with all due respect.”

Jacyntha stepped between the two. “Coach Umberto, Karsgaard Neuvil told us all that footy players, real footy players, know that whatever happens, the game goes on. We grieve our fallen comrades after the game, not when it happens, not at half-time, not before the final whistle blows. Let us players follow that advice now.” Umberto clenched his teeth but remained silent.

Then Jacyntha turned on Anne d’Arc. “And you, sir knight, hath taken Mistress Thordwall’s silver to fulfil the quest of capturing the Blue Blood Cup. I might remind thee that in the matter of the Militantes, Mistress Thordwall represents the interests of the Mytilan Crown. Dost a Chivalron who hath earned her spurs quit the field of battle whilst that battle yet rages? For shame, Anne!” Anne d’Arc’s face went beet red. She turned up her nose but took a deep breath rather than lose control of herself. Jacyntha went for the coup de grâce. “As a princess of Mytilan and the ranking player on the team, I command you to uphold your parole, defend your honour, and not sully thyself like a hedge knight. Get thee onto the pitch or face mine wroth and that of Queen Beatriz of Mytilan.”

Anne picked up her helmet and stormed out of the locker room. Jacyntha was relieved to see she was headed in the direction of the tunnel leading out onto the pitch. Her heart pounding, Jacyntha turned to Umberto. “That’s only going to hold until the final whistle sounds.”

Umberto nodded and slammed his fist into his cupped hand. “Gracias,” he hissed. “But I can’t have a player solve my problems all the time. That won’t do. I have to do it my way.”

Jacyntha nodded. “But you’re a trained assassin. I wouldn’t like to see it come to solving problems your way.”

The joke made him smile. His shoulders fell back to their normal relaxed position, he took a deep breath and said, “Sometimes an assassin’s way’s the best.”

Umberto’s trust in their offensive might was well-placed; they scored early, with Jacyntha drawing on her training under Agony Muerevarg’s tutelage to hit Anahuark with a huge pass early in the half. The Mongrels hadn’t expected the deep throw when Moreaka was a more reliable option, being closer. Jacyntha knew Moreaka could have dodged clear of the Mongrel line-Orcs in her way, but she wanted Ana to score the touchdown.

After the re-start, the Militante high press failed to cause a turnover but at least the Mongrels couldn’t cage-up, having to disperse to confront the women coming at them from so many angles. The game bogged down and ended in a draw.

After the match, Anne d’Arc didn’t return to the locker room. As Jacyntha was removing her uniform, she received a note delivered by a young girl. The note was from Thalia Espinas paying her respects but also requesting an interview, “…to enlighten readers of This Week in Footy about the locker-room yelling at half-time.”

Jacyntha also noticed she wasn’t the only Militante who had received such a note.

So had Anahuark.


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