An unusual duel.
“It’s normal in these matters for the challenged to choose the weapon,” said Bromley, who knew about such things. Clayton hesitated.
“What if I choose something he can’t possibly use?” he asked.
Bromley frowned. “Well, I guess that would be bad form, at the very least. It’s sorta expected that the weapons be familiar to both parties. Otherwise the challenger has an enormous advantage. Like opting for a gun if the other feller’s chosen a knife. Or a bazooka if he wants a gun.”
“Do I care if it’s bad form?” Clayton seemed determined to make the point.
“It’s tradition, John,” said Bromley. “By agreeing to the duel, you’ve already committed yourself to a certain format for the fight. If you’re going to quibble about the rules it becomes something entirely different. Might as well have a brawl and leave it at that.”
Clayton shrugged. “Fine by me. He’s the one who insisted on this outdated idea of a formal duel. I mean, what century does he think we’re in? And that’s without even considering the law. How’re you going to hide this from the authorities?”
“You let me worry about that,” responded Bromley. “It’ll be done in complete secrecy. And the Central Hospital is used to dealing with gunshot injuries. They probably don’t even ask questions anymore.”
“So you’re presuming we’ll use guns.” Clayton arched an eyebrow, as he spoke.
“It’s the usual thing. And Harman has that set of duelling pistols he’s so proud of. He’ll be hoping you choose those, of course.”
“Which is a great reason for thinking of something else,” said Clayton. “What about if I decide not to choose anything?”
Bromley shook his head. “No, that would just be ducking out of it. You accepted the challenge and now you’re bound by the rules.” He paused. “Unless you want to be a complete bounder, of course.”
Clayton laughed at the obsolete word. In a plummy accent he responded. “Oh, nothing like that, old chap. I’m just a cad, after all.”
Bromley sighed. “Yeah, I know it’s ridiculous but you shouldn’t have accepted it in the first place. Now you have to go through with it, like it or not.”
“I thought he was joking. It’s not every day I get challenged to a duel.”
“But you agreed.”
“I know, I know. Okay, what if I decide we should use magic?”
Bromley was silent for a few seconds before replying. “Comes under the rule about both contestants having to know the weapon, I think. Besides, I refuse to officiate at a duel consisting of throwing weird words at each other. Come on, John, think of something practical.”
“Stones then.” A sly expression had crept over Clayton’s face with this suggestion.
His second buried his face in a hand. “Are you serious? You want a stone-throwing match?”
“No, I won’t throw mine,” said Clayton. “He can do what he likes with his but I promise I’ll keep mine.”
“You’re mad. Look, John, I need to get this thing organised. If you’re sure about stones, that’s what you’ll have, but I doubt Harman will accept it.”
Clayton shrugged. “Don’t care. He’s the one who wants this silly business so he has to abide by the rules, same as me. I get the choice of weapons and I choose stones. One each and that’s it.”
“Oh great,” muttered Bromley. “Going to be a real bloodbath this. Not!”
“Don’t laugh, Hugh. Goliath was killed by a stone.”
Bromley snorted. “At least David had a sling.”
“Not required,” answered Clayton.
And so it was decided. Harman carped and protested at the choice of stones but Bromley insisted, pointing at the rule that stated the challenged had the choice. In the end, it was accepted and the venue chosen. In true traditional style, the timing was set at dawn on the first Wednesday following.
In the cold light from the coming sunrise, Bromley produced the box he had made in the preceding days. Opening the lid, he revealed the two stones that were to be the only weapons allowed. They were two pebbles, chicken egg-sized, smooth from constant rubbing against others in the river bed where they’d been found and apparently identical.
Harman, still grumbling about the ridiculous choice of weapons, picked one of the stones hastily. He hefted it in his hand, weighing it and glaring at his chosen contestant angrily. Clayton took the other stone without comment.
Bromley explained the rules, setting out the number of paces to be taken before the turn and throw. Or whatever was decided to do with the stones. As the first edge of the sun appeared at the horizon, the two combatants, back to back, began to walk in measured strides away from each other. The two seconds watched, Bromley counting out the paces.
“Ten,” he said and Harman turned, took aim and hurled his stone as hard as he could at the impassive form of Clayton, who now faced him, unmoving.
It was a superb throw, propelled with all the force that Harman’s rage could muster and aimed as precisely.as one would expect from the university’s prime bowler on the cricket team. Rumour had it that he could achieve over ninety miles an hour with a cricket ball and the stone certainly appeared to be approaching that speed as it hurried on its way towards Clayton.
The target might well have gone the way of old Goliath had he not, at the last moment, ducked into a crouch, to allow the stone to fly over his head and into the bushes. Clayton straightened then, unhurriedly, and regarded his opponent. Harman stood nervously, ready to dodge whatever was coming.
But Clayton did not wind up to hurl his stone at the figure caught in the growing light of the dawn. Instead, his arm lifted slowly, the stone held between forefinger and thumb, until it lined up perfectly between Clayton’s eye and the target. His lips moved soundlessly, apparently forming the words of some command or incantation.
A ray of concentrated light sprang from the stone, a laser beam that transfixed Harman right between the eyes. He stood, trembling but rapt as though chained to the spot as smoke began to rise from the spot where the ray struck his forehead. A brown circle appeared at the edge of the bright focus of the beam and Harman began to scream as the heat eroded a path through his skull. The seconds were frozen with shock and horror, watching the impossible scene of the stone’s power. Clayton remained like a statue, arm still raised and directing the beam precisely at its target.
Harman’s scream attained a new and higher note as the hole bored in his skull allowed the concentrated light to boil a route through his brain to the back of his head. As it burst through to continue in its ruler straight track onwards to the distance, Harman’s scream ended abruptly and his body went limp.
Clayton allowed his arm to drop, the ray disappeared and Harman slumped to the ground. The two seconds were released from their frozen status and moved to attend to the collapsed body. Neither of them heard the quiet words of Clayton as he watched the scene.
“Okay, I cheated a little. It was more about magic than the stone.”
Word Count: 1,223
For SCREAMS!!! April 05 2021
Prompt: Weapon of Choice.