Grace’s groper pointed as he spoke, his mangled nose distorting the words. Now that she stood so close to the guard, she could see that he stood at least a foot taller than her. His bared arms rippled with muscle, his leather vest and trousers straining to conceal his very broad chest and trunk-like legs. His eyes narrowed menacingly, taking in the new arrival’s features. His gaze made Grace wrap her cloak around her.
“Were you the cause of this man’s injuries?”
She raised her head to look into his eyes, trying to keep a defiant look in her own. “I did. He acted inappropriately, and he paid for it. No man touches me without my consent.”
The guard sighed as his face relaxed. “Look, lady. I have my hands full trying to keep all these newcomers from destroying the Doxie.” He turned to consider the complainant. “Old man Will gets touchy once he’s far enough into his tankard, so I will let this one slide. Just stay out of mischief.”
A muffled roar sounded as Will charged for Grace, catching everyone off guard. Wrapping his wiry arms around her arms and waist, he pushed forward until she felt the ground disappear from under her feet. Her arms trapped, she braced her neck for the impact on the recently vacated pit floor. Will’s shoulder knocked the breath from her lungs, while he grunted as her weight fell upon his arms. The pair struggled to rise as their injuries impressed their full effect upon them, Grace doubled over and Will holding his left arm against his chest.
The crowd on the levels above gave a cheer at the new combatants to enter the pits. Grace saw that the guard and her ally moving to jump in after her, but she raised an arm to halt them. Sucking in all the breath she could, she stood up, removed her cloak and placed it at the edge of the pit. Her leathers and boots were well worn, the rabbit fur around the neckline of her vest was patchy in many places, and the long-sleeved shirt was a pale yellow in the light of the torches.
Her new friend looked on in dismay. “You’re a fool, Will. Get your drunken self out of that pit now. Fighting a lady proves nothing.”
She looked up to him with a disapproving glare. “You need not speak for me. I can fight my own fights.” She returned her attention to Will, who was trying to shake some semblance of sensation back into his numbed arm. She gave him a sickeningly sweet smile. “I have all night. Get that arm working, and then we can dance.”
Will took his time, rotating his shoulder, wriggling his arm and flexing his fingers to ensure he has full feeling. Her wind returned, Grace walked to opposite edge of the pit and laid her arms along it, her foot tapping and her eyes surveying the scene as if bored. The cheering continued from above, her ally looking worriedly at her as he walked around to her portion of the pit.
“What do you think you’re doing? He may be drunk, but he’ll be wary of you now. What will it prove to fight him?”
She shrugged. “He picked the fight, so I’m giving him the chance to finish it. And it will help my cause.” She tilted her head towards the table where Sebas and his doxies were watching with interest.
He nodded. “That’s the first time tonight that their attention has been drawn away from the two in the next pit. You mean to sign up for his venture?”
“I know from experience. You do not want to go.”
She rounded on him, her teeth bared and eyes blazing. “You attempt to speak for me one more time, and I shall hurt you far more than he is about to be.” She turned back to her opponent. “Come on now. I was being polite when I said you had all night.”
Her impertinence stirred Will’s anger further, and he bellowed as he began to charge towards her. She waited until the last moment to step aside, and he put him arms in front of him to stop hitting the pit edge. That second gave her all the time she needed. She grabbed one outstretched arm and wrenched it behind his back, pushing the elbow up. He howled at the pressure on his shoulder joint as she neatly dodged his two attempts to head-butt her, and then leaned aside to avoid an elbow shot. Continuing to push up on his other elbow, she quickly released his hand and snaked her loose arm around his neck. Grabbing his hand again, she tightened her arm across his windpipe and fell back to the pit floor, wrapping her legs around his waist. Will turned purple and wheezed as he feebly tried to break her hold, legs flailing and his available arm trying to loosen her vice-like grip. After a time, his body relaxed as he slipped into unconsciousness.
Rolling to the side, she released her choke hold and made certain that a pulse remained. Convinced the blood flow was slowly returning to his air-deprived brain, she pulled her leg from under him. The crowd cheered at the contest, appreciating quick victories instead of the drawn-out affair in the next pit. She looked to Sebas’ table, but only the ladies remained.
Her friend jumped into the pit to greet her. “I apologise. You are more than capable of handling yourself.”
“Young lady.” She looked up from the pit to see Sebas standing over her. “That was an impressive showing. He may be a drunk, but Will is not as easy to defeat as you made it look.” His calculating hazel eyes considered her. “You could prove very useful. I will be with a group of people on the pier tomorrow morning. Be sure to meet us there.”
She smiled. “Thank you. I shall be there.”
– ♥ –