Episode 9

The Story So Far:

The owner of the Mytilan Militantes holds an event in the Luffing Lateen in Guayamartí’s Barrio neighbourhood to unveil the newest signing, a player who will carry the team “over the finish line.” The young inventor and historiographer who we met at the end of the Militantes’ first season is present and is shocked when a knight from Chivalria and former player of the Guayamartí Imperials is unveiled to the public: Anne d’Arc. While engaging the crowd, Anne states that “of course” the Militantes would have won the championship game last season had she then been part of the team. She also says she’ll bring ruthlessness to the team, an oblique reference to Jacyntha’s part in the cup final, and she says she looks forward to captaining the team to glory.

Following the first training session with Anne d’Arc as part of the team, Jacyntha has to intervene to calm down a squabble that erupts when the Chivalron equates Anahuark’s style of play (rampant fouling) to the tactics of a commoner. Anahuark is convinced Anne only listens to Jacyntha because the latter has royal blood. They wonder how their new player’s arrogance will play-out when the Militantes’ season kicks-off against the Wharf Rats.


“Two to one, we win!”

Eguardo Giamucci burst into the owner’s box like a tsunami slamming into a secluded cove, his twisted hands thrust high in the air, one holding his cane aloft like a messiah of yore. “I’m tellin’ ya, Thordwall, there ain’t no way your Militantes win today.”

Cassandra Thordwall was glad Yekko had given a warning tap on the door. Otherwise Giamucci’s triumphant entry, complete with nigh-on kicking the door off its hinges and ear-splitting proclamation, would have scared the living daylights out of her. Especially seeing as she was already giddy with excitement over the opening kick-off of the Militantes’ second season.

“Eguardo,” she said. “you’ve mixed up owner’s boxes again. Yours is the next one over.”

“Hey! Who’re you?” Giamucci said, pointing his cane at Thordwall’s guest.

“Horatio, meet Don Eguardo Giamucci, noted spice merchant based here in Guayamartí and owner of the Wharf Rats. Eguardo, meet Horatio Thordwall, my brother and successful mariner and trader.”

“Mariner and trader, was it?” Giamucci said as he limped over to one of the two armchairs that had been set up near the balcony rail. He was wearing one of his flat, broad hats with golden brocade around its brim. But this particular hat had the sigil of the Wharf Rats embroidered on its front, a stevedore’s hands rendering asunder the rope that bound him to his wage slavery. The bright gold of the rope contrasted beautifully with the near jet of the skin, and was repeated in his similarly embroidered coat, undercoat, and pantaloons. He was absurdly overdressed for the early summer heat of a city, even Guayamartí with its cooling sea breezes. Giamucci continued with his thought, “No doubt you were behind the pirating of Ghost Daughter, Paragon of Commerce, and Raging Bounty, right alongside your charming sister.”

Horatio chuckled. “I confess, those names ring a bell.”

“Ha! I’m sure they do. Now, I can manage an under-move or two, but capturing and looting three of a ragazzo’s ships, that takes cajones.”

“Not if that’s one’s line of work,” Horatio said, plunking himself down on the second armchair and leaving Thordwall nowhere to sit. “What’s a ‘ragazzo’?”

Giamucci shrugged. “It means, like, a ‘guy’, a muchacho, you know, a ragazzo.” Then, returning to his point, he said, “Well sure, if it’s your line of work, bene, bene. You’re used to it. I get it. But the status quo ain’t never very quo hereabouts, am I right? Ain’t the Elven navies gearing up to … how’d they put it? … ‘stamp out the scourge of piracy once and for all’? Sounds like it’s about to become an even more dangerous line of work, hey?” Then he turned his frame and hollered, “Myra! Myra, where are you?”

Myra? Umberto’s ex-girlfriend?

Sure enough, Giamucci’s steward came in and gave a curt bow to Thordwall. She looked as surprised as Thordwall was by the invasion of the away team’s owner’s box.

Surprised and upset. She hasn’t taken well to Umberto calling things off with her.

“Myra, why don’t you set up in here? If I recall, Mistress Thordwall likes antipasti and massa. I’m sure her brother does too. Who don’t like massa? No one, am I right?”

By the time Thordwall could blink twice, Myra had ushered a chef and a team of butlers into her owner’s box, the former carrying a steaming pot of pasta sauce and the latter three lugging in the accoutrements for setting up a hot plate. “Uh, Eguardo …” Thordwall began.

Giamucci waved a knobby hand as if to swat away her concerns. “Don’t worry about it. It’s on me. But I’ve got a few friends joining me for opening day, just so you know to be polite, capiche?”

She raised her voice to be heard over the sudden din of dinner getting set up, “It’s not that, it’s just that this is my owner’s box for today’s game.”

“Well, it being my villa didn’t exactly stop you from throwing a bust-up party there last year, did it? Consider it a more kind hearted under-move than yours, hey? Besides, I wanna see the expression on your face when you see the Wharf Rats’ special tactic! Ha! It’ll blow your socks off.”

“I’m not wearing socks.”

“Like I said, blow ’em off! No ‘under’ just ‘over’.”

“What are you on about, Eguardo?”

“Already curious, hey? Well, you aughtta be! It’s the ‘up-and-over’ against your ‘up-and-under’. And I’m willing to place a lavish wager that it’ll win us the game. Are you takers?”

She glared at him. 

“What? Two to one odds aren’t good enough for ya?”


“What’s with shortie?”

Jacyntha glanced at Anahuark and replied, “Be respectful. Halflings are allowed to play footy too, you know.”

Ana shrugged. “Yeah, but since when do they actually play? He must be a new team mascot or something. New season, new mascot?”

“Perhaps,” she said. Then she thrust her chin at the Ogre stretching near the halfway line. “Big and small: they go from one end of the size spectrum to the other. That’s the player they brought in to replace Yupanki. Remember him? Didn’t you end Yupanki’s career with a foul?”

Ana shook her head. “No, that was Belyna.”

“Protecting Gods, Ana, it seems so long since we played the Wharf Rats!”

Anahuark chuckled, nodding. “First real game the Militantes ever played, to open last season. The league seems to want to make a tradition of it.”

“Can you blame them?” Jacyntha asked. “We’re called the Mytilan Militantes but we’re pretty well resident here in Guayamartí. They’ve figured out it’s another local rivalry to help generate excitement in footy and kick off the season.” She gestured to the ravening hordes bellowing and singing around the Sanger. “It’s as frenzied as the Guayamartí Derby,” she said, referring to the annual encounter between the Wharf Rats and the other local team, the Imperials. “I heard scalpers are raking in piles of silver, people are so desperate to get in.” She shook her head. “Wow, a whole year since Chico helped earn us a point.”

Anahuark’s chuckle turned into a full-on laugh. “I can still see Mistress Thordwall kicking his basket over on the sideline. Coach Karsgaard nearly jumped out of his skin!” Jacyntha’s face must have dropped because Ana grabbed her in a tight hug. “Let’s make him smile, wherever he is, sitting with the Jaguar or drinking in the hall of his ancestors, or whatever.”

“Thanks. Is all good between you and Anne? She didn’t look happy in the changing room.”

Ana shrugged. “It’s got nothing to do with me. I think she was unhappy about Coach Umberto not putting her in the centre of the line.”

“He’s looking to use her at the point of attack, not in the scrum,” Jacyntha said.

“It’s not me you have to convince! It’s her ladyship.” Anahuark let that last word drip off her tongue like spit. Their chat got cut short as the match officials marched onto the field to a raucous accompaniment of boos from the entire Sanger. The referee blew her whistle and Anahuark went over for the coin toss. Jacyntha’s eyes followed the Halfling parading around the Wharf Rats’ half.

He looks like he’s getting ready to play!

Ana whistled and made a spinning gesture with her hands: switch sides. The Wharf Rats had won the toss and had elected to take the wind in the first half. The Militantes’ starters trotted cross-field, with the reserves heading off to join Umberto and Miranda Esquiv in the dug-out. Jacyntha saw that the Halfling was switching sides just like the actual Wharf Rat players.

They really are playing a Halfling!

As the teams crossed each other, and with Jacyntha concentrating on the Halfling conundrum, she didn’t see a Wharf Rat striker throw out a fist and punch her under the chin. Jacyntha’s head snapped back and she buckled. The next thing she saw was a full-on brawl between the teams playing out right in front of her.

They kicked-off without me?

Then Umberto burst into the fray.

Coach Umberto’s playing?

But no! He grabbed Karolyse in the middle of throwing a punch and hefted her over his shoulder.

What the …?

The Wharf Rat who was the target of Karolyse’s punch jumped forward to get in a parting shot but Coach Umberto danced away on the balls of his feet and yelled, “¡Ya basta! ¡Carajo!” The Wharf Rat strutted forward like a cockerel, chest all puffed out, but he didn’t dare strike out at Umberto again. Then Jacyntha saw Miranda Esquiv pull Pillcu off a diminutive opposition catcher. There was no sign of the Halfling.

It’s a brawl?

There was ringing in her ears but also a deep, thundering roar. And whistles. She shook her head clear of cobwebs: braying fans and desperate refs. Suddenly Huaco-chic’ya, the Militantes’ physician, was kneeling in front of her. “Lie back,” the woman ordered. A towel had magically appeared under the back of her head. Jacyntha felt her head moved gently right, then left. The ref was still blowing her blasted whistle but the din of the brawl was dying down, with just the odd insult being hollered back and forth. A deep voice echoed her own thoughts: “Is de game on? Can I hit people too?” Then Huaco-chic-ya peered into each eye. “Open your mouth.” Jacyntha complied and felt the physician’s fingers probe her tongue and teeth. “Good. Looks like you had your mouth closed when he hit you.”

“What happened?”

“You got attacked! Before the game even started. I must agree with your mother; this is a stupid thing you do, princess! Now tell me, do you know where we are?”

“In the Eztadio de Sanger.”

Huaco-chic’ya also asked the name of the city they were in, the date, who her roommate was, what position she played and who her most-hated rival was. The last question was easy: “Pierce Fucking Rosethorn.”

The physician nodded. “Not anymore. As of today, it’s Diandro Paredes.”


“Now THAT’S footy, Nykal me boy!”

Nykal’s cousin, Hansi, slapped him on the back and then pumped the air with his fists. All around them, the fans were braying in outrage, screaming for justice that last season’s Rookie of the Year had been decked even before the opening whistle that would officially kick off a new SSFL season. Only Hansi didn’t seem to be upset; indeed he was cheering on the brawl that had burst out on the pitch. 

Nykal felt his blood boil over. “Footy?! Are you out of your freakin’ mind? The game hasn’t even started yet! That was criminal!” Then he turned to those around him in the ranks of Militante fans, “Call the Inquestors! That was a crime! A crime! A crime! For shame! For shame!”

Fans took up the appeal and soon someone had made a song out of Nykal’s appeal.

The streets are safe, of this we’re sure,
Our ships intact, our homes secure
The Guard can walk, without a fear
’cause Diandro Paredes is right here!

Crime! Crime! Crime! Shame! Shame! Shame!
Kick him from our noble game!

It took the arrival of SSFL Commissioner, Dwarrig son of Dwarran, and his Guayamartí lieutenants to restore order. As these new arrivals helped the respective team’s coaching staffs pull the brawling players apart, the singing died out and the banks of fans quieted, awaiting the administration of justice.

Hansi took advantage of the growing calm to stoke further rancour. He shook his head and said, “You’d think the whole damned city’s gone soft on these women.”

¡Por el amor de los dioses!” Nykal bayed at his cousin. “What the hells are you doing here with us Militante fans? You should be over there with those Wharf Rat goons!”

Hansi slapped Nykal on the back again. “I’m here because I’m taking good care of you, cus.”


“It ain’t how things get done!”

The ref summoned Umberto and the coach of the Wharf Rats as well as both teams’ captains into a huddle and yelled at them about how they had to wait for her to blow the whistle before hitting each other. Umberto fumed at the red cards handed out to Tazipoca, Pochtli, and Tlatloc for coming off the bench to join in the fight, especially since only two Wharf Rats got similarly booked; for once, having a deeper bench than the opposition had hurt the Militantes.

“And what about that cheating bastard, Paredes?” Umberto snarled.

“What about him?” the referee asked.

“He started the whole thing when he punched my thrower.”

“He but gave her a pat on the back!” protested Wally Guano, the Wharf Rat coach.

Umberto spun towards the dug-out and yelled at Huaco-chic’ya. “Physician, where’s the chin?” The physician, puzzled, pointed at her own chin. “What about the back?” Again Huaco-chic’ya duly pointed. “There you go, Wally. A free anatomy lesson! It was an uppercut to the chin, see, and I expect Paredes to get a red card.”

“De la Calle is clearly blind,” Guano said to the ref.

“Stop the bickering,” she snapped. “Neither I nor my assistants saw this supposed attack. We can’t send anyone off if we haven’t seen a violation of the laws of the game!”

“That uppercut could have taken her head off!”

“Are you looking for a red card too, Coach de la Calle?”

Guano chimed in. “Good idea. He clearly deserves it, having instructed his team to swarm my poor, unsuspecting lads. They’ve brought the game into disrepute!”

“I know where you live, Wally.” Then he turned back to the ref and said as calmly as he could, “Twenty-five thousand fans saw the punch.”

But it did no good. Paredes remained on the pitch for the kick-off. He even had the temerity to give Jacyntha a friendly wave just before the Wharf Rat kicker got the game under way.


“He’s gotten off, Elf-free!”

Nykal had bellowed above the boos shaking the Militantes’ supporters’ sections. But Hansi frowned and gave his cousin a look as if he were checking to see whether a second head had suddenly sprouted out from between his shoulders. “Word on the street says Paredes is gonna be one of the best players in the league this year. Do you really not want to see him play?”

“He attacked ’Cyntha! He’s gotta be sent off!”

“Look around you, Nykal my boy, there’s a shitload of fans here ready to riot if they don’t get to see the new rookie sensation strut his stuff on the pitch. You think the league wants that?”

“Sometimes I hate this game!”



The Wharf Rat kicker finally got the game underway, booting the ball high to catch the wind. It dropped into Anne d’Arc’s gauntleted hands. Coach Umberto’s game plan was to advance the ball conventionally until such a time as the attacking thrust might get bogged down. Were that to happen, Jacyntha was to get the boarskin into Cuxi-Mikay’s hands for an up-and-under. The reasoning seemed sound; the Wharf Rats had never seen the Militantes’ iconic play first-hand and there was a good chance of catching them off-balance.

Jacyntha slid laterally towards Anne so as to get the ball. But, as she was watching for threats and opportunities downfield, she realized she wasn’t seeing the movement she was expecting from her peripheral vision. She glanced left and her still-aching jaw dropped. Anne had knelt and bowed her head, her hands holding the ball aloft as though in offering to the gods.

“Anne! Now’s not the time to pray!”

The helmeted head lifted (Anne was the only Militante so armoured), so Jacyntha couldn’t tell what the consorore’s reaction might be. Anne stood and the helmet pivoted left and right, assessing the tactical situation, no doubt. And then she cocked her arm, stepped forward, and threw a tight spiral cross-field to Cux. The Militante kicker wasn’t expecting the pass; it hit the back of her head and bounced to the ground.

“Anne! We’re only supposed to resort to the up-and-under if we get bogged down!”

A tinny voice, emerging from beneath the helmet, called back, “Methinks we are already bogged down.”

Jacyntha glanced back downfield. The teams had hardly engaged one another. Belyna and Laylalla had upended a lineman, Coatoatl and Pillcu were taking turns blocking Diandro Paredes, and Moreaka was closing in on Zokete Grandullón, the Wharf Rats’ Ogre. Ellpay and Anahuark were both readying themselves for a dash downfield once a gap opened up. It was normal, early match action … except for the loose ball and the stunned-looking Cuxi-Mikay in the Militante backfield.

Jacyntha bellowed, “How can you say we’re bogged down?”

“How not? I am not on the front lines to vanquish our foes!”

Umberto yelled “Protect the ball!” Jacyntha ran cross-field whilst Anne charged forward. The consorore didn’t get into the mêlée in time to prevent Paredes from up-ending Pillcu. The man wasn’t so much a dervish in the way Pierce Rosethorn had been, but he seemed to make those teammates around him play better, guarding the flanks of each other as they got stuck in along the line of scrimmage and helping each other hem in opponents. And as Paredes and his flankers threatened to crack a hole in the Militante line, the Halfling popped out from behind the Wharf Rat screen and kicked Pillcu in the head as she struggled on the ground. 

Jacyntha could hardly credit it; there were no howls of protest or wild cheers from the fans in response to the foul. The small player was too screened for hardly anyone to see that he’d hit a prone player. The referee certainly didn’t see the infraction for she didn’t blow her whistle and brandish a red card.

Well, that’s one reason to field a Halfling! They can’t be caught if they can’t be seen.

Jacyntha reached Cuxi-Mikay and screened the ball as the kicker gathered it up. Anne d’Arc charged into the breach, throwing a block at Paredes. She thrust him back and plugged the hole, but Paredes remained on his feet and his flankers each wrestled with Anne. Jacyntha lost sight of the dirty striker as the Militantes pushed downfield at a snail’s pace. Belyna and Qispi finally cracked the edge of the Wharf Rat line, allowing Ellpay to go deep. Cuxi-Mikay saw what had happened too and tossed the ball to Jacyntha for a downfield pass.

That was when Zokete roared and stepped forward. He swatted Moreaka aside and collapsed the Militante left flank. Two Wharf Rats leapt over the fallen Xonyxas whilst another dropped back with Paredes. Jacyntha hesitated.

Have faith in Ell. Throw the Viper-bitten ball.

The pass flew in a beautiful arc, over Zokete’s outstretched arm and into Ellpay’s hands. The Militante catcher sidestepped Paredes as he tried to tackle her. But Ellpay hadn’t spotted a short little half-height opponent who clamped onto her leg. She dodged another tackle but could hardly make any headway. She punched down on the Halfling’s helmet, but didn’t see a final Paredes tackle and she pitched over, with the ball bouncing away.


“Nil – nil, with you kicking to us!” 

Giamucci crowed around a mouthful of pasta. “Those fifty gold are gonna feel so nice and heavy in my pouch, Thordwall, I’m tellin’ ya!”

Thordwall huffed. Half a dozen paragons of Guayamartí’s merchant class had joined them in Thordwall’s now-crowded owner’s box, each gobbling down antipasti and pasta during the half-time intermission. Horatio didn’t have the good grace to look miserable and even seemed to be actively engaged in finding out which merchant was sending what cargo to which market on what date, exactly.

She snarled at her counterpart, “Congratulations Eguardo, but I hadn’t expected your team to engage in the dark arts quite so much. You can’t honestly be proud of how your team played! That little Halfling bugger is nearly as dirty as Diandro Paredes! He’s put two of my top players off!”

“What of it? Your new brute of a player K.O.ed one of my lads. It’s all in the game, Cassandra. I’m tellin’ ya. Paltho Plugnickel is a straight-up guy, even if he’s short.”

“No it isn’t! Kicking a player when they’re down’s against the laws of the game, not in the game at all!”

“Ha! You only squawk when it’s not your team doing it! Only your precious Anahuark’s allowed to foul is she? And the best part is you haven’t even seen the up-and-over! I’m tellin’ ya; that gold’s gonna be soooo heavy!”


We’re in trouble.

Jacyntha got into position for the kick-off.

The second half started with the Militantes down three players; Huaco-chic’ya was assessing Ellpay for broken ribs, Pillcu hadn’t regained consciousness, and Laylalla was seeing double. Even Cuxi-Mikay was ordered to remain in the treatment room because of pain in the back of her head. With the reserves having all been red-carded, the Militantes had to kick off with only seven players on the pitch. Anne d’Arc had claimed a knock-out of her own, so they’d be up against ten instead of eleven. Anne declared she could do anything that footy demanded, including putting her boot through a ball, so she assumed Cuxi-Mikay’s place and kicked off. Jacyntha had to admire the kick, for the consorore placed the boarskin into the back corner.

The seven remaining Militantes played great defence. They engaged along the line just enough to slow down the forward advance only to dodge out of reach when the pressure became too intense. Even though outnumbered, Anne punched through the Wharf Rat centre, knocking out a lineman and tilting the odds back a degree away from the Human team; conventional wisdom suggested that seven against nine wasn’t so bad when one of the nine was a Halfling.

But Moreaka, for all she wanted to uphold her role as vanquisher of monsters and take down Zokete, kept getting pushed off the Ogre when she could finally close in on him. And, as the grains of sand were running out on the second half, the Wharf Rat thrower handed off to the Halfling.

Jacyntha, who had been hanging back off the line as a sweeper, remembered the pre-season games against the Salamanders. The Halfling surely couldn’t run as quickly as a Geckoid, but if he was even half as slippery, then the Militantes needed to be careful. She whistled to Qispi, the Militantes’ dedicated tackler, and yelled, “The ’fling’s got the ball! You and I mustn’t let him get past us!”

And he didn’t get past them.

Instead, he got passed.

The entire Eztadio Sanger looked on in awe as Zokete scooped up the Halfling, cocked his arm, and threw the Wharf Rat player – still clutching the ball – downfield. Jacyntha looked on as the dirty little villain landed on his hairy feet and bolted into the end zone for the winning touchdown.


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