The Gauntlet of Peril
By Scott Wilson
Word Count: 1049
Despite its name, Black Falls was an ordinary small town in the southern province of Grendale. Situated on the banks of the River Cain it made a convenient stopover for river traders and passengers throughout most of the year. A few barges, rafts and sometimes even a large sailboat could usually be found moored at Black Falls.
However, all that was long ago, before the creation of The Gauntlet of Peril. At the beginning of summer every year now, the river is crammed with boats as people arrive from hundreds of miles around, hoping to witness the breaking of an ancient tradition in Black Falls and see a victor in The Gauntlet of Peril.
On the first day of summer each year, warriors and heroes come to Black Falls to face the test of their lives. Survival is unlikely, yet many take the risk, for the prize is great – a purse of 5,000 Gold Pieces and Dukedom. However, to become Champion is no easy task. Some years ago, a powerful Earl of Black Falls called Hashvein decided to bring attention to his town by creating the ultimate contest.
With the help of the townspeople, he constructed an elaborate and dangerous labyrinth deep in the hillside behind Black Falls, from which there was only one exit. The labyrinth was filled with all kinds of deadly tricks and traps and loathsome monsters, all trapped by the Earl’s expert rangers. Hashvein designed it in meticulous detail so that anybody hoping to face its challenge would have to use their wits and intellect as well as prowess with hand-to-hand combat. When he was finally satisfied that all was complete, he put his labyrinth to the test. He picked ten of his handpicked henchmen and fully armed, they marched into the labyrinth.
They were never seen again. The tale of the ill-fated henchmen soon spread throughout the land, and it was then that Hashvein announced the first The Gauntlet of Peril. Messengers and newssheets carried his challenge – 5,000 Gold Pieces and a Dukedom to any person surviving the perils of the labyrinth Black Falls. For the first year, only fifteen bold and hopeful treasure seekers attempted ‘The Gauntlet’, as it later came to be known. Not one was even seen alive again. As the years passed and The Gauntlet of Peril continued, it attracted more and more challengers and spectators. Black Falls prospered and began to prepare itself months in advance for the spectacle it hosted each summer. The townsfolk decorated their businesses; tents were erected near the entrance, dining-halls built, musicians, dancers, fire-eaters, illusionists, and every sort of entertainer hired, and entries registered from hopeful individuals’ intent on making ‘The Gauntlet’. The last week of spring found the people of Black Falls and its visitors in wild celebration and festivity. Everybody sang, drank, danced, and laughed until day broke on the first morning of summer, when the town thronged to the gates of the labyrinth to watch the first challenger of the year step forward to face The Gauntlet of Peril.
Having seen one of Hashvein’s challenges nailed to a tree, Joktar, a Sembian Ranger from the far northern lands recognised the artist’s sketch of Hashvein as the mighty wizard Sniesha. A rogue who he had been searching for the last five years, to bring to justice in the courts of Queen Geraldine, whose husband had died at Sniesha’s foul hand.
Joktar arrived the day after the first entrant began his journey into the labyrinth, too late to pretend to be a contestant and gain an audience with Hashvein. Any serious contestant arrived days before the commencement of The Gauntlet to enjoy the free food, women, and wine offered to all entrants. Though the second contestant would not enter until the corpse of the first was brought out for all to see, no late entries were accepted. This usually occurred within hours of the contest beginning. From the array of bloodied and battered armour on display in the great hall, seven warriors had already met their untimely demise in the Gauntlet.
The great hall was full of life, music played in the background as wenches served ale to the masses. Joktar tried to blend in the crowd, mingling and slowly making his way to the contestant board to see how many more entrants were left to make their way to The Gauntlet. Seated at the head of the great hall the daunting figure of Hashvein sat on a throne high above the others at the table.
Hashvein waved at a guard, who directed Joktar to a seat at the far end of Hashvein’s table, an honourable position for one to be granted. A drink wench poured Joktar a drink and winked at him. He brought the mug to his mouth and sniffed, thinking that there was a familiar aroma to the ale. He felt drowsy and quickly fell face first onto the table.
* * *
Joktar woke with a throbbing pain running through his skull and down into his chest. He tried to sit up, but cold steel pinned his arms and legs to the rough wooden bench he lay upon.
“Ah, our guest has decided to join us,” Hashvein said. “Welcome, ranger.”
“I know who you are,” Joktar said. “I’ve been searching for you for a long time now.”
“Unfortunately, for you. I found you the moment you walked into my hall. You are not the first to have found me. Many have come before you, and found themselves in this same room, in this labyrinth.”
“Yes, a great way to hide in plain sight, holding these competitions of yours every year. How many victims of this labyrinth have not been contestants?”
“Numerous and each one has helped me make this tournament even more challenging.”
The sound of a savage growl echoed outside the chamber.
“Now, I must go. But please, do smile at the silver orbs floating around the passageways; they show me how my victims are going. Those shackles should release in a few moments, maybe even before that Minotaur sniffs you out.”
Hashvein mumbled an incantation and vanished, leaving Joktar to contemplate his future.
The Gauntlet of Peril
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