Physique, without Dignity?
by Alan Mittag
The team was somber, broken. Once again, Dignity had failed to bring victory against a Norse team. Heads hung low, and in some cases, shoulders hung even lower. Two of Dignity’s members were seriously injured. Eccentric’s broken arm would prevent him from lending his hand to the final match of the regular season, and Jester will be suffering a niggling injury for the rest of his life.
Dignity was huddled together, sitting in the grass, centered on the field of the Grandiose Majesty, minus its two hospitalized players. They awaited their coach, who was already running late.
Royalty rested his head in his hands and muttered something just under his breath. My human ears couldn’t pick it up, but whatever he said seemed to strike Physique across the face.
The blitzer jumped up to his feet. “What did you just say?”
Royalty stood up too, tall and proud, not the least intimidated. “I said, you’ve been playing Blood Bowl like a Wood Elf.”
The rest of the team was on their feet. Tenacity interposed himself between Royalty and Physique, his size blocking them from each other.
Physique yelled around the bigger blitzer. “Are you trying to pick a fight?”
Royalty said, “Sure. After all the ass kicking I got last night, I could use a gentle massage.”
A second ticked before Physique caught the meaning, and then he launched at Dignity’s star thrower. And was easily caught by Tenacity. Royalty still showed no sense of intimidation.
The rest of the team was on their feet too, a few of them choosing this side or that.
Physique struggled against Tenacity, trying to get through to Royalty. “Let me go, Brother. Let me at him!”
“Let him go, Tenacity. That Ulfwerener left a crick in my neck that he can get out.”
Still holding Physique, the look that Tenacity gave Royalty forced the thrower to take a couple of steps back. Royalty lowered his head, deflated. “I’m sorry,” he said.
Tenacity nodded at him. “The pressure of losing is tough on all of us. But if we fall apart, that’s when we really lose.” Then he turned his eyes on Physique, and the rage seemed to instantly dissolve from him as well.
“It’s not his fault,” Stalwart said. “Their fighting style was so barbaric, its difficult to comprehend.”
Tenacity let Physique go and clapped him on the shoulder. Then he turned to Royalty. “You were the first of us to turn blame on a teammate.”
Royalty visibly slumped a little more with the accusation. “I know.” He said.
“You are supposed to be the pillar of the team. The quarterback. The leader.” Every word stung Royalty across his face. “That’s what we need now, a leader. Be that leader, brother. Bring us together.”
Royalty was silent. Physique was silent.
“Coach is coming,” Funny said, pointing downfield.
Dignity drew into formation and waited for him.
The look in Coach Sestonn’s eyes made me wince. I had to look away. So did the team. Only Tenacity could meet his Coach’s eye, and even he seemed far more downcast than usual.
Coach Sestonn said, “Did you forget you play Blood Bowl? Did you think this was Happy Playtime Patty-Cake Bowl!” Even Tenacity lowered his eyes. Coach Sestonn ripped of his cap and threw it at the ground. “That was nonsense. Worse than nonsense. It was hysterical.”
Coach Sestonn’s voice changed to a mockery of the typical High Elf tone. “But Coach, we did our best.”
“But but but…” Coach Sestonn was back to the original. “You guys aren’t a bashy team. That’s right. But you still have to be able to put an occasional opponent on the SODDING GROUND!” He pointed at Royalty. “Math! What happens when you don’t put anyone in the dirt, but they put five of you in the dirt?”
“Um…” Royalty said.
“That’s right. The next few moments are six on eleven. SIX on ELEVEN.”
Sestonn said, “But coach,” back to the whiny, mocking High elf voice. “You just said we aren’t a bashy team.”
He snapped his fingers and turned them into a point, one fluid motion, right at Physique’s face. “We have what is supposed to be the most aggressive, most dangerous High Elf in the whole sodding league!”
Physique shut his eyes. Coach Sestonn stepped up to him and slapped Physique across the face. “You look at me when I’m talking to you.”
The elf’s eyes opened. The two looked straight into each other. Coach Sestonn said, “It doesn’t matter how little armor they wear if you can’t put them on the ground!”
“I did my best,” Physique said.
Coach Sestonn slapped him across the face again. “No! YOU DID NOT!”
“General, if I may….” Tenacity started.
“Not now,” Coach Sestonn said. “You didn’t do a particularly good job at opening holes either.”
Tenacity’s mouth shut hard. He nodded his head.
“In fact, the only one of you that showed any understanding of how to drop one of these underwear wearing buffoons was The Lion.” Coach Sestonn turned his back on Physique and stepped up to The Lion. He pulled a medal from his pocket and pinned it on The Lion’s chest. “This is a commendation for doing what the rest of your team could not, adapt to your opponent’s fighting style. For the first quarter of last night’s game, you were just as confused about the opponent’s fighting style as everyone else. But you recovered. You’ve shown quick wit and a superior ability to adjust your own fighting style to counter your enemy’s.”
The young lineman looked down at the gleaming bit of gold with a broad smile. “Thank you, Coach.” He said.
“I wish I could tell you that this award doesn’t come with extra responsibility. But it does. You are now Dignity’s fighting style instructor.” The Lion’s mouth opened, it looked like he wanted to argue. But Coach Sestonn continued, “We cannot officially pay you as such, yet. The team is saving money in an attempt to bring Lithe back for Season 5. But as soon as we can afford it, both you and Tactician will be recognized as official coaching staff.”
“But Coach,” The Lion was finally able to get out. “I havn’t even learned to specialize in blocking yet.”
“This isn’t about Block,” Coach Sestonn said. “This is about technique and adaptability, especially against Norsemen.”
The Lion nodded his head. Still smiling. Still proud. But now with an edge of heavy worry and responsibility.
Coach Sestonn straightened the medal until it looked right and proper. “Starting tomorrow, I want you to do what you can with Physique, get him ready. Next week we play the Kentucky Bourbons. I want him to remove beastman after beastman, dwindling their numbers until they can’t protect their own ball.” He paused. “Do you understand?”
The Lion nodded. “I understand, Coach.”
Coach Sestonn stepped back and drew himself up eye to eye with Physique again. “Do you understand?”
“I do,” Physique said.
“If you fail to knock down a single enemy again, then I’m done with you. I’ll train a new hunter.”
Physique’s eyes fell to the ground.
“Do. You. Understand?”
“Yes, coach.” Physique said. “I do.”
Coach Sestonn took his usual place at the front of the team. “If we can manage a win against these Chaos swine, we will make the playoffs and the MML will be forced to recognize Dignity’s supremacy. High Elf supremacy! Is that what you want?”
The team cheered. Coach Sestonn let them cheer. He walked over to join me on the sideline.
Coach Sestonn said to me, “Every member of this team has his place, do you agree?”
“I do, Coach Sestonn. In fact, a few members have more than one, like Tactician. And now The Lion.”
“Yes.” Coach Sestonn took in a deep breath and said. “And now I have another responsibility for you.”
“You do?” The sound of my voice must of been so full of excitement.
“You aren’t going to like it,” Coach Sestonn said. “But I believe its necessary.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and nodded. “Whatever I can do to help.”
Coach Sestonn smiled. He pulled another medal from his pocket and pinned it to my shirt.
“What’s this?” It was gold and silver, with the image of a closed fist right in the center.
“It’s a commendation for bravery,” he said. “And it makes you an official part of the team. In fact, once the team has money to put you on the payroll, I’ll make it more official.”
I was about to ask about the bravery part, but I forgot it when he mentioned I would be an official part of the team. “More official than Archivist?”
“Yes,” he said, but his voice seemed sad somehow, like he had just crossed a line he wished he had not had to cross. “I want you to go wait in training room 4. I’ll be right there with the new project for you.”
I looked out across the field. The Lion was already taking to his new job and was working with both Physique and Tenacity. Neither blitzer seemed particularly fond of being trained by an unskilled lineman. Royalty and Funny were practicing the long pass. I was glad to see that, since Eccentric was going to be out for the big game next week. The rest of the team was running block and dodge drills.
I packed up my notebooks and went inside. I wanted to stop by the Medical Wing to check on Jester and Eccentric before going to Training Room 4. Jester was asleep, and the nurses told me not to bother him, so I went to Eccentric’s room only to find it empty, the bed unmade.
“Nurse,” I called. “Where’s Eccentric?”
The nurse said, “He’s right in….” She stepped into the room, saw the empty bed, and smacked her forehead. “We have got to tie that man down. This is the second time today and its not even noon.” She shook her head and let out a long sigh. “And right after he promised me he would behave.”
She called a stadium wide search for Eccentric, and I suggested they make sure to look in the ceiling.
Then I made my way to Training Room 4. I would have to get my interviews with the injured elves after I finished whatever Coach Sestonn had planned for me. I couldn’t help but wonder what that new responsibility would entail. I didn’t have any skills that could help the team other than recording them for the fans. I supposed that I could help with basic maintenance or book keeping. Maybe the team had to cut a few staff members to save up for Lithe. Whatever it was, I was ready to do my part.
The training room itself was small compared to the others. There was a mat on the ground with a kind of synthetic grass similar to a Blood Bowl pitch, perhaps made with elven magic. There was a series of weight lifting equipment and two wood and straw dummies, currently dressed in mock uniforms of the Kentucky Bourbons. And in the back corner was a closed cabinet that stood a full six feet high.
I approached the cabinet. “I wonder what’s in here,” I said to myself as I opened it.
Eccentric jumped out at me. “Alan!”
The sudden motion startled me. “Eccentric?” The remains of his cast were on the floor of the cabinet, next to a saw and a pile of bloody bandages. “You’re supposed to….”
“Shhh,” he said, pressing the fingers of his right hand, broken arm and all, to my lips. His arm was blooding, but poorly bandaged. “I have something for you.”
“Open,” he said, opening his own mouth in example.
Confused, I opened my mouth the same, expecting him to give me a candy, or perhaps even a piece of something more sinister. Instead, he pressed a thick leather strap into my mouth. “Bite down,” he said.
I bit down.
“You’re welcome.” Then he ran out the door as fast as he could, leaving me in a daze.
I spit the leather strap into my hand. “What the heck is this?”
Eccentric’s head popped back in around the corner. “Oh! And you never saw me.” Then he was gone again.
I looked down at the simple strap of leather. “Well, that was weird.”
A moment later Coach Sestonn and Physique joined me in the room. Physique and I exchanged looks, it seemed he didn’t know what we were here for either.
“It’s simple,” Coach Sestonn said. “Neither of you can leave until a certain condition is met.”
We both looked at him. “What condition?”
Coach Sestonn looked at me, and I swear there was a tear in his eye trying to burst out. “You’re right handed, yes?”
He closed his eyes, took in a deep breath, released it, and said. “The condition is simple. One of Alan’s legs and his left arm have to be broken.”
“What!?!” I said.
“What!?!” Physique said.
Coach Sestonn exited the room. He locked it from the outside.