My dearest darlings, today we find out if the circus master really does always have a plan, or if – as the whispers on the street seem to say – he has lost his wits altogether.
Perhaps you would like to refresh your memories with PART ONE
It will be a quick fight. The tiny humanoid seems terrified of the monstrous man, and who could blame him? For years, Chran has fought with axe and shield, leather trousers for dignity, but otherwise naked. What need has he for armour? There are few that can get close to him, and for those who do, death comes swiftly. Smash! goes the axe, and the body parts bounce off the dirt. Well, usually. This little one is particularly fleet of foot; it manages to avoid the first blow and to dodge behind Chran’s back, amid jeers and riotous applause.
And once more, the applause turns to laughter, as Chran’s opponent hops onto his back, wrapping arms and legs around his torso and holding on for life. Chran thrashes this way and that, but cannot dislodge it. His massive muscles prevent him from reaching behind his own back. Why doesn’t he simply fall down? That is an easy question. Chran knows that once a fighter is off-balance, he is doomed. What is to stop the tiny creature from leaping off Chran’s back as he falls, stabbing him in the heart with its little dagger?
Gasps, now; gasps from the spectators. Where did this dagger appear from? The creature did not have one at the start. No matter; it has one now, and it jams the blade between Chran’s shoulders, making the big man bellow with rage. Not pain, no. Surely not pain from Chran, who has destroyed so many men, borne so many wounds without complaint. Anyway, the knife is tiny, too small to damage such a man as Chran.
And yet, does Chran not seem to be growing desperate? See his limbs flail without clear purpose. Hear his mighty roars, becoming more and more like howls. Around and around he spins, his opponent still holding on – but no. It cannot be the same opponent. This one has thick thighs, bulging with muscles. And Chran, too, looks different. His skin, before of solid white marble, now is shot through with blue, furiously-pumping veins.
The axe and shield fall from his fingers. Chran takes a knee. What can be happening to the hero of a hundred fights? Nobody knows. They can only watch as his throes become rhythmic and mechanical, but no less ineffectual. They can only watch as the bones of his ribs begin to strain against his skin. They can only watch as the strange creature on his back continues to swell and grow, sucking the very life from Chran not through a dagger at all, they can see that now, but through an elongated thumb. The thing on Chran’s back begins to shriek in joyful gluttony; it is now the same size as any normal man, and as fat as any king.
We will never know whether, as Chran struggled to his feet, he had already planned to crush his opponent, or whether it was the effort of standing that finally finished him, but what every man, woman, and child will remember to their dying day is the sound that the swollen monster made as it burst. As best as this old man can describe it, he will: imagine a butcher’s cleaver cutting through a steak in one stroke. Imagine, at the same time, a chamber pot being emptied from an upstairs window. Imagine, too, the sucking sound of horses’ hooves as they walk over a muddy river bed.
And now…the circus needs a new hero. And they will get one, as sure as the sun will rise in the morning. I may be an old man, but I knew what I was doing when I bought that strange little creature from the eastern pirates – though I do not think I will have them bring me another. It is always so disappointing when the slaves must roll two bodies into the flames.
It is true what they say; the circus master always has a plan. And it will forever be true that no man – and there are no exceptions – no man escapes the pit forever.