September 28, 2004
I step onto the field. Though the night is dark, I see my Opponent waiting for me, the Author of all my miseries. I flex my hands, eager for the combat.
“Mal’ak,” I cry. “Step aside, or face my wrath.”
My Opponent does not move. He does not shirk, nor does he laugh. He simply nods, acknowledging my challenge.
Rage fills me. All the lies, and torment, and frustration that I have bottled up for years, decades, come pouring out of me, coursing through my veins. With a roar more beast than man I race toward the hated figure.
He shifts slightly then, bracing himself against my rush. No emotion yet shows on his face. I put my head down, and tackle him with all my strength and speed, hoping to force him down.
I hear him grunt softly as I knock the wind out of him, but he stands firm. My shoulders ache as if I’d slammed into a wall, but I ignore the pain. I wrap my arms around his abdomen and squeeze, hoping to constrict his breathing.
But he is too quick for me. While I’m still getting my grip around him, he lifts me by the waist and slams me down, loosening my grip and stepping away. I bounce back up, and hurtle forward again. This time he steps aside, dodging my rush, his joined fists pounding my shoulder blades and knocking me to the ground.
My anger tempered, I get up more slowly, and approach cautiously, circling. I know he’s bigger than me, stronger and faster. Smarter, too. The only thing I have going for me is that I want this more than he does. I hope.
We circle each other, hands pawing the air as we search for openings. I think I see an opening and lunge for his knee, but he jumps out the way at the last second. I quickly roll to my feet, to avoid giving him another free shot. The circling continues.
I know I can’t delay, since my Opponent can outlast me. I risk all on brute strength, hoping his overwhelming superiority will make him overconfident. I close quickly and leap forward, catching his throat in my hands. Too close for him to pry me loose, he responds by squeezing my ribcage, preventing me from breathing. It becomes a question of which of us will blackout first, if the lack of oxygen doesn’t force one of us to loose his grip.
Then, surprisingly, he smiles. “Persistent basted, aren’t you?” he chortles. Then without changing expression, he releases his grip on my waist, then pops a fist right onto my hip joint.
Pain floods through my leg, almost making me black out despite the air now finally rushing into my starved lungs. I slide to the ground, my arms nearly nerveless, my leg a lump of useless muscle. Yet, I see his feet before me, and with the last of my strength I pounce on his leg, and wrap my arms and good leg around him, like a small child hugging his father.
“No!” I cry. “I will not let you go.”
He seems surprised, and after a few half-hearted attempts to shake me off realizes that I won’t let go voluntarily. Yet, he seems strangely reluctant to exert more violence upon my person.
“What is it you want from me?” he asks in his deep voice, sounding almost — but not quite — puzzled.
I’m crying, pleading, clinging to his leg as if it was my only rope, and I suspended a thousand feet over jagged rocks.
“Please,” I beg. “Do not leave me without your blessing.”
I tighten my grip in a show of bravado, though I know I have scant seconds of strength left should he choose to resist.
But he does not resist. Instead, he laughs. The sound of his voice is like bells ringing, or birds singing. The very air seems to brighten at the sound. All my aches and pains start to melt away, though my arms are as weak as ever.
“Day is coming,” he speaks, after the laughter fades away. “I must be going. But you have earned your blessing.”
He reaches down, grabs me by the shoulders and lifts me upright. His right hand seizes mine in one bear-like clasp, while the other claps my shoulder — almost knocking me down again.
“You have fought well, but today you have learned what strength really is. No longer shall you be called Master Ernie, but Mister Ernie. You shall wear my livery, but you shall still rule your own kingdom. In the service of the Emperor Over the Sea.”
With that, he stepped back, then clapped his hands twice. Two servants came, dressed in white. One carried a gold robe, with a purple design sewn on front, which he wrapped around my shoulders. The other carried a golden sword in an ebony scabbard, which he banded around my waist.
My former Opponent stood watching my accoutering with an approving smile.
“They suit you well, lad.” he said cheerfully. Then, cocking an eye at the brightening sky, he added, “But now I must be off.” He began to stride toward the horizon.
“Wait,” I cried, limping after him. He paused and glanced over his shoulder. “Will… Will I ever see you again?”
He laughed, and resumed his trek, his speed increasing. I feared I would never get an answer to my question. But then, just at the edge of vision, before the rising sun obliterated his presence, he stopped, turned, and yelled back at me.
“Fear not. Anytime you forget who your Master is, I’ll be happy to come by and give you another lesson.”
And then he was gone.
I sink to my knees, exhausted. It would be so easy to lie down, to sleep. To heal. To rest.
Instead, I force myself back to my feet. I look toward the darkness, where the light has not yet come. I have a kingdom to win. An Emperor to serve.
Slowly, deliberately, I raise my sword and limp into the battle for which I was born.