Lord Rulf found himself ambling towards the practice courts, enjoying the early morning sun. It was his sixth day visiting Tortall, and his second in the palace. So far he had found the country endlessly fascinating, and he had seen many things worth putting in his official report for his king. He was supposed to give his king an assessment of the Tortallian's battle-readiness, so his king could decide whether or not to treat with them. Today Rulf was hoping to see some of Tortall's famed knights in action, practicing for the upcoming tournament.
He entered the first court he encountered, unnoticed, only to be met by a curious sight. Four knights did drills, while an extremely pregnant red-headed woman sat on the ground. Her back rested against the wall as she watched the men practice. One of them, tall and brown-haired with a bushy moustache stumbled, and his opponent's sword swooped in to rest at his exposed neck.
"No, no, no! Gary, you never stand right," The woman called out, one arm raised in an annoyed gesture. She struggled to get to her feet, her massive belly impeding her progress. "Oh, for Mithros's sake, somebody help me up."
A very tall black haired man with a ruddy face strode over, and with a grunt hoisted her to a standing position. She panted slightly, though the man had done most of the work. He grinned down at her and asked, "Would you like me to carry you over there as well?"
"Shut up Raoul, I can walk," The woman's tone was peevish, but from where Rulf stood he could see she smiled back at the man beside her.
She could indeed walk, although it was more of a graceless waddle than anything else. The men waited patiently for her to reach them, the black haired and bearded one grinning widely, while the one she called Gary crossed his arms impatiently. The man who had helped her up, Raoul, walked behind her, politely matching her slow pace.
"Gary, you get lazy with your footwork," she scolded once she was within arm's reach. "Here, give me your sword." She held out her hand, and to Rulf's surprise the man passed his weapon over to her. She carefully positioned her feet in an approximation of a fighter's stance, one foot slightly in front of the other, and held out the sword. Rulf noted, with more than a little admiration, that she held the blade as easily and lightly as one might a feather.
"Stand like this, or you'll get knocked over," she said sternly.
Gary took back his sword, and smiled impishly. "Oh, stand just like that?" He rearranged himself to look exactly like her, legs splayed and leaning back awkwardly to offset the considerable baby weight. The men laughed at his impression of her, and he shuffled around miming being hugely pregnant for their amusement.
The woman went bright red. As Gary approached her she turned and punched him in the shoulder, hard. "Asshole," she called after him as he jumped away, rubbing his arm. When she turned back around Rulf could see that she was still blushing, but now she was laughing too.
"Ow!" Gary whined, still massaging his shoulder, "That hurt!" He flexed his hands into fists, then rounded on her. "Ok, now you're going to get it." He circled her, fists up and grinning.
Bizarrely none of the other men stepped in to protect the woman from Gary; they continued to laugh instead. Rulf wondered what kind of knights would take the code of chivalry so lightly that they would allow a man to threaten a defenseless woman. Before he could continue to wonder she moved to put her fists up as well, her feet back in her ungainly attempt at fighting position. Gary darted in to jab at her but she blocked him with her arm, then returned a blow in his direction. She missed him by an inch, and the momentum of her swing made her stumble off balance. Gary reached out to grab her, holding her until she was steady on her feet again. Once she was righted he moved quickly, hitting her hard in the shoulder.
She yelped, then to Rulf's amazement began to chuckle. "Fine, now we're even, alright?" She and Gary shook hands, signifying their truce.
"I'll go back over there and leave you to your drills, but do it right this time!" She rubbed her swollen abdomen, then said, "I'm living vicariously through you, so you better make it good." She smiled up at the fourth man and said, "And Douglas, as acting King's Champion it's your job to punch Gary when he's being impudent. Don't let me down here." The man laughed and saluted her, and she turned back to her seat at the wall.
Rulf slipped out of the court as quietly as he had entered, composing the letter to his king in his head as he walked.
Your Majesty, we must be very careful with the Tortallians. I fear for our safety, as in Tortall even the pregnant women are knowledgeable on the topic of swordplay…