Sunday, May 05, 2013

Sample Sunday: Boxing in the market

Happy first Sunday in May! I'm now back from my Mexican vacation and can pay attention to the blog again.
Image of “Thermae boxer," National Museum of Rome,
by Marie-Lan Nguyen (2009),
used under  Creative Commons

For Sample Sunday, I'm continuing my own tradition of posting action excerpts from my first novel, The Bones of the Earth. The selection below is from Part II: Tests. Here, the hero, Javor, meets for the first time a man who becomes his most valuable friend: Antonio.

Javor stepped back and found himself backed into a vendor’s stall. The locals yelled, protesting, telling the combatants to get away from their produce. The soldier stepped in and swung a heavy fist at Javor’s head. Javor ducked and the fist hit the vendor, who crashed to the ground. But the soldier did not take just one swing at a time—his left caught Javor on the side of the head and he, too, flopped onto the ground, smashing a flimsy table and scattering cheese.

The locals gathered tried to clear their property out of the way of the fight while avoiding fists themselves. Javor struggled to his feet when the Roman’s boot hit him in the chest, but it struck the amulet, which deflected the blow. Javor rose again to see the soldier in a boxer’s stance: fists up, elbows in, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet. Javor copied him. The man was at least twenty years his senior, toughened with years of drilling and war. He was a head shorter, but much broader. Thick muscles showed where his tunic parted. He clearly had the advantage over Javor, but he waited. He’s measuring me, Javor realized. He’s looking at my size, my moves. Javor lunged forward and jabbed at the soldier’s jaw.

He connected with a smack, but the Roman barely flinched. He grinned and jabbed back, catching Javor on the chest, again striking the amulet. It clinked and a painful grimace crossed the soldier’s face. He shook his hand, looking puzzled, then jabbed again with his other hand, getting the same result. Now he had two sore hands.

He swore and aimed a blow at Javor’s nose, but Javor dodged and struck back at the same time. This time he hit the soldier in the nose, splattering blood across his face.

The Roman stepped back, grinning. “Oh, ho! The brat has some fight in him!”

What’s the matter with you? It was just a bunch of stupid apples!” Javor shouted, dodging another swing of those heavy fists. This time, a fruit stand shattered and collapsed.

Javor jabbed again and hit the soldier’s arm, then followed up and hit him in the chest. He thought he felt a crack, and the soldier grunted suddenly, doubling forward. But he straightened and closed in, ramming his fists repeatedly into Javor’s chest. Incredibly, Javor barely felt anything. He grabbed the Roman’s head in both hands and pulled down while bringing his knee up and to smash his opponent’s face.

The soldier staggered backward, mouth bloody, spitting out teeth. He looked up and grinned hideously, blood streaming down his chin, sticking his tongue out through the gaps in his teeth. He laughed, but he was enraged now.

And from behind him, two more off-duty soldiers ran to his aid, carrying thick clubs. “Hey, Antonio!” called the first as he ran past the soldier and swung his club at Javor’s head.

Without even thinking about what he was doing, Javor checked the soldier’s wrist with his forearm and then kicked. He spun on one foot and kicked with the other; his foot connected with the second soldier in the side and sent him sprawling. But the first was swinging the club again. Why did I leave my sword behind? He dodged, jumped onto a table which immediately collapsed under him, leaving him standing on squashed fruit. A club swung, missed and landed on a table of vegetables, splattering Javor with pulp.

Javor saw a hand with a club and kicked the wrist, then seized the club as it fell. He swung it up at the other club as it came down. They collided with a bone-shaking thud that he felt all the way up his shoulder.

The new soldier was tough and brought the club down hard on the club Javor held. His hand went numb and he dropped the club. The second soldier was on his other side, grabbing at Javor’s left arm. Again instinctively, Javor jumped in the direction the soldier pulled, sending him off-balance. Somehow, Javor ended up standing on the man’s chest. He spun again in time to block the first soldier with a kick to the chin. The man staggered back, tripped and fell on his back.

But Antonio, the trooper who had started the whole fight, was still there, face bloody and hideous, snarling like a hound. Faster than Javor could think, he grabbed the young man by the tunic and pulled him close as his right fist cocked back for a brutal blow to Javor’s face. There was nothing Javor could do—the legionnaire’s grip was like iron.

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