The atmosphere in Old Hall is iced with peril and cold, hard steel as neither Professor Duke nor Junior Bursar look set to give way. I half-heartedly brandish my redundant cross-bow in the vague hope that our adversary might flinch at the prospect of two against one. He does not. Bugger.
“Here, you chaps,” I say quickly “I am sure that there is no need for violence. Why are we fighting, anyway?”
“Well, I suppose,” replies the Professor, “Because he’s got a gruesome looking weapon and I’ve got a cool weapon. Battle is bound to be done now.”
“I am fighting because the very reputation of Old College is at risk of being calumniated!” Junior Bursar squeals. “I cannot allow that to happen.”
“Not that again. Listen. The reputation of Old College would be just fine if it wasn’t for the likes of you resorting to murderous methods every time someone so much as farts incorrectly…”
“There’s actually a right and wrong way to…?” muses Professor Duke. “I had no idea.”
“The current footing can hardly be compared to a fart, Deputy Head Porter,” it is difficult to tell if Junior Bursar is more annoyed at my comment or the fact he has been forced to say ‘fart’. “We are faced with the infiltration of a foreign agent who is unrelenting in his vocation to make fools of us with a fake Grail while all the time plotting to steal the real one away to his confounded motherland. And, yet again, I find you very much in my way. This simply will not do Deputy Head Porter.”
I had quite forgotten how difficult reasonable conversation can be with Junior Bursar. He is a man who occupies a space somewhere between incongruous and lunacy, particularly where the prominence of College is concerned. At one point I thought I might have grasped the concept of handling Junior Bursar, but it seems I am woefully out of practice.
“Firstly, if you present the real Grail to The Master we will be forced to reveal that we have left The Bursar trapped in the dungeon,” I say, as reasonably as I can. “That won’t look good for us and, even worse, there’s a chance someone might try to release him. Secondly, he hasn’t got the real Grail anyway so I don’t see what the problem is.”
Junior Bursar is irritated, now. He relaxes his grip on the pole-axe in order to wave a bony bunched fist at me.
“And that kind of thinking, Deputy Head Porter, is exactly what keeps you as a College servant whilst the likes of my good self are elevated to the grand heights of academia!”
Ah, yes. The grand heights of thinking like an absolute idiot. But with a great vocabulary. Well, that’s academia for you.
Taking advantage of the distraction of this brief oration, Professor Duke seizes his chance and strikes towards Junior Bursar, broad sword thrust boldly before him and emitting a terrible cry. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting that. I drop my cross-bow in shock.
Junior Bursar is equally taken aback. The pole-axe briefly quivers in his grip and he stumbles several feet backwards.
“Time for you to shut your mouth at once!” roars the Professor, moving forward for another parry. “Your argument is rather insufficient, just like you. Let us do battle!”
Oh, for goodness sake…
I fear that I have lost the control of negotiations to a surge of testosterone as both Fellows take up arms with quite some enthusiasm. It crosses my mind to intervene, but the abundance of large, sharp pointy things ensure that the thought is quickly dismissed. After all, members of The Fellowship trying to kill each other is something of a tradition around these parts.
Professor Duke is surprisingly nimble with such a large sword and reigns blow after blow on the fearsome pole-axe, pushing ever closer to the soft and stab-able assailant at the other end. The business end of a pole-axe is no friendly thing and I cannot help but be impressed that the Professor barely flinches as it jabs about his head and shoulders.
“It’s like you have a giant toothpick, or something,” he says at the increasingly frustrated Junior Bursar. “I shall…break you!”
The portentous echos of clashing steel and guttural gruntings fill Old Hall and give the impression of a most terrible battle erupting within its walls. Heart in mouth, I can only spectate and speculate at who might have the upper hand. Professor Duke is younger and stronger but the reach of Junior Bursar’s pole-axe gives him quite the advantage. Every lunge of the Professor’s is met with a deadly swish of pointed steel, only to be returned in kind by the resolute broad sword. This really could go either way.
The malefic sound of metal through air.
Swiftly followed by the sound of metal through something much more solid than air.
A haunting cry, like that of a stricken animal.
My heart stops. Time itself ceases to exist.
The Professor is down.